The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, in a new interview with Kore Ogidan talks about childhood, business and life in the palace.
What has been your experience since assuming the throne?
My experience so far has been a life of service and giving back. I don’t have a life of my own as I constantly work towards giving back to the society. It’s about making sure that everyone is alright. Many people in the community look up to me and study everything about me – my body language and the things I do before they take their decisions. I am a natural ruler and the monarchy, especially of Yoruba land, is very ancient. This is where we all came from and it is still intact. People believe very much in the monarchy and for that, everything should flow properly, and that is what I do.
As a young man who would probably want to do the things people of your age do, does the demands of your position overwhelm you?
Naturally, I am a very simple person. The Yoruba race has been proven to be the oldest race in the world – by virtue of empty DNA tests and mitochondria DNA tests.
The things we do here have to do with our ancient beliefs, tradition and heritage. The Yoruba people have contributed richly to the way the world is emerging daily in terms of our dress sense, arts, culture and especially music. We play a very pivotal role in the entire continent of Africa. I am the custodian of the spirituality and heritage of the race. It is my duty to ensure that everything remains intact. Of course, I feel the gap in the regular life of a young person, but as a custodian, I must carry the heritage well. It is one of the things I had to trade before coming on my throne. Unfortunately, the things I used to do, I do them no more.
How do you combine your life as a king with that of a corporate worker?
I am an accountant but I did many engineering works – engineering, procurement and construction – before I became king. By virtue of my business, I built factories and homes. I came up with different products and initiatives that involve providing shelter for the teeming population of Nigeria. Also, I invested in banking. I am a director in one of the leading mortgage banks in Nigeria. But like I said, I don’t do the things I used to do anymore. The work I do now is far more than just working. This time, my work is all about humanity and the heritage of upholding the Yoruba culture and tradition. Also, it involves giving back to the less privileged. In summary, it is a life of service all the way.
What do you like to eat?
I like good food. Now, I have a restriction on my diet; having many dos and don’ts on what I eat. As a king, I have many things that I can’t afford to do just like that. But basically, I like to eat rice and other regular food.
As a kid, did you always know you would end up being a king?
The prophesies came before I was born. Also, kings are actually born, not made. In my case, before I was born, it had been predicted that I would be king and to God’s glory, that prophesy stood and came to reality. There are many predictions and destinies that actually don’t get fulfilled but thank God that mine came to pass. It was God who made mine to become a reality. I had been very conscious of it growing up. Also, before I became king, as a prince, I had been friends to many other kings. I had learnt the rope for many years before I assumed the throne.
Apart from friendship with other kings, what other characteristics prepared you for the throne?
One major characteristic that prepared me for my throne was selflessness. I believe in considering others before myself. That is one of the true characteristics of a good leader. All along, that has been my mantra and watchword. To God’s glory, that really prepared me for this position.
Another thing was taking up responsibilities. As a leader, one has to do that. You must also be very protective of your subjects. I decided to carve a niche for myself in youth emancipation. Anything I do everyday has to do with the youth of this country. When I preach and breathe, I consider everything about them. For me, the throne is dedicated to the Nigerian youth. They are always coming here; there is an influx of youths around me. I believe they own this country and very soon, they will take over what rightfully belongs to them. I am a very strong advocate of the Nigerian youth.
Knowing that you were going to be king, you still decided to pursue education?
Education is important. One must prepare oneself. In this day and age, just being a prince is not enough. You must be well educated and exposed. You must be able to reach out to the world; the world is fast becoming a global village. If one weren’t educated, how would one be able to interact with other people from around the world? My race as a Yoruba, from the throne of Oduduwa which I occupy, has hundreds of millions of people in all the continents of the world. How would I interact with them if I were not educated?
When you were invited to Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles promised to visit your palace during his visit to Nigeria. What changed that you had to go to Abuja instead?
Because of a very long standing relationship with the British monarchy and the kingdom of Ife, when I became the King of Ife two years ago, I was indeed invited to the Buckingham Palace in England. And yes, it was agreed that whenever he was going to visit Nigeria, he would pay a visit to my palace. But because we have many first-class monarchs in Nigeria, it would have seemed unfair if he only visited my palace without reaching the other palaces of these monarchs. So, we the kings agreed amongst ourselves that it was better for us to meet at a common ground. The common ground we have in Nigeria is Abuja. It is not like we went to welcome him. Ideally, he would have visited all our palaces, but for the lack of ample time, we decided to meet at the common ground. These kings are myself, the monarchs of the South and the North of the country.
Tell us about the recently concluded Olojo Festival
Olojo Festival is celebrated in Ile Ife. It means the day of creation, the day of the new dawn. The Olojo is the owner of the day. And who is the owner of the day? Olodumare – the almighty God; He is the one who brings the day. Anytime any human being wants to leave this world and go to another world, it is said that the Olojo – the owner of the day – has taken that person. That is the general saying in Yoruba land.
It is the day when the first monarchic crown in the world comes out. That is called the Ade-Are. Olodumare translates to Olodu to mo Ade-Are. He is the mystery king and diviner who moulded the Ade-Are crown. It is a very strange crown as Are means something that is strange. On that Olojo Day, everything is different. The weather and the atmosphere change as we give honour to the crown. The crown is very powerful and it’s one of the oldest assets in the human race. In fact, before human beings were created, the crown had been in existence.
As a result, the crown is donned on that day to honour God and the other divinities that came and walked along with the Almighty to create everything; to put nature, humanity and divinity in place. There is no specific date of its happening but it usually happens between the third and fourth week of the ninth month – between September and October. It falls on a Saturday which is the very last day when God put everything in place.
Does it upset you when you see people of the new generation who can’t speak Yoruba?
It is not about getting upset, it is about orientating them, about getting them to associate themselves with their heritage. Without your heritage, you are a nobody. You should let the world know who you are and know your tradition. You must be proud of your heritage. Many children don’t even know how to speak their languages. However, we have different programmes, pamphlets, awareness campaigns and other resources that help people know that they should be proud of their heritage. So far, it is working and we do that all over the world. We have track records of testimonials to prove that we carry that boldly and let people know the importance of your culture.
What is your favorite possession?
I don’t really believe in worldly things; they come and go. I will say that my greatest asset that I thank God for is patience. God has given me a lot of patience in life. Speaking of physical assets, I like good cars and building good homes.
Tell us about your notable works as a developer.
I have built event centres, factories, lead recycling plants, steel rolling mills and galvanising plants. I was the first to work on Jakura Mines. We needed to resuscitate it and we discovered the depth and potential of the deposit in the said mines, then the government gave it out on concession to Obajana Cement. I worked there very actively. I worked with the National Iron Ore Mining Company and did many EPC contracts.
For real estate, I did quite a lot in terms of building and development of many warehouses. Also, I did a lot of foundation construction, construction of piles, soil improvement techniques and technologies. I set up many industries along the line, coupled with a lot of good equipment. We were the largest real estate development in Lagos at some point. We also did the piling at Ilubirin (Obalende area on Ikoyi, Lagos). I did quite a lot of projects in Yaba (Lagos), Abuja and many other places.
What’s your favorite movie to watch?
I like to watch a lot of Yoruba movies but I like Game of Thrones – although that is not a movie but a television series. It has to do with kingship; so, I developed an interest in it.
You must have had a great birthday with your wedding just two days apart. Tell us about that experience for you.
I don’t know why the whole world made a big deal about it. To the glory of God, marriage is one of the things that one should do. Honestly though, I was never really single. I have a permanent Olori in the palace spiritually but I just joined my new one physically. The permanent Olori in the palace is the Yeyemolu, who is the first Olori in the palace and she has a spiritual role to play in here. As a matter of fact, the Ooni can never be single because he permanently has a wife in the palace. Even if there is no woman in the palace, she, the Yeyemolu, is there always. Many people probably just thought I was single all the while. What I am going to say about my new wife is that to the glory of God, she is a good lady.
What are your hobbies?
I like to motivate people and I play lawn tennis. I actually play a lot of sports. I have many gifts and I try things. I play table tennis and badminton very well and I want to improve on some indoor sports like squash and others.
Do people let you win (because you are the Ooni) when you play against them?
I am very good at the sports I play; so, I will beat anyone. I went for competitions.
Do you like to drive?
I haven’t driven in a long time, since I became king. I loved driving but now, they won’t even allow me to drive because they’d rather I concentrate on my duties here in the palace.
What kind of a child were you?
I was a very inquisitive kid; I wanted to know everything. I asked questions a lot and you could never get bored with me. When people met me, they always immediately concluded that I was a very inquisitive child. I liked to think outside the box. When a child is inquisitive, they could be a little troublesome. I became very mature at an early stage, when responsibilities started coming in.
Knowing you were going to be king, were you spanked as a kid?
Of course! But they were advised never to touch or hit my head, even as a kid. But, everywhere else was beatable. I became very conscious of my head growing up.
What was your worst childhood experience?
When I got into secondary school at about age 11, there was a classmate of mine who beat me up one day by the classroom and gave me a very deep scar on my hand. The scar is on my left hand and it almost rendered that hand useless, especially for me being left-handed. Every time I see that scar, I remember the experience.
Left-handed people (especially in Yoruba land) always try to change their children’s active hand to the right. Why did your parents leave yours on the left?
Mine was pretty deep and when my parents tried to change it, it almost became a problem. They had to leave me like that, so it wouldn’t affect me growing up.
What other fond memories do you have of your childhood?
I used to win a lot of prizes as a kid and that always made my parents proud. Another memory was getting into Loyola College, Ibadan, and there is a story to that. I always came first in class in primary school. One day, I came third, losing to a boy and a girl who both came first. There was no second position and I came third. My parents were very disappointed and I promised them that I would finish well. When I went in to sit my common entrance examination, I came first in my entire primary school and with the tough competition there, I was able to enter Loyola College. I got in on merit. That made my parents proud and I was able to prove to them that I was still in control of the situation.
Tell us about your background.
I was born to Prince Oluropo and Wuraola Margaret Ogunwusi of blessed memory. They are both from Ife and my dad is from a ruling house. I am the fifth generation of the Ojaja Dynasty and I became the Ooni of Ife. My ancestors were Oonis as well till 1880 before it came into our family. My parents were strict, especially my late mum. I will never forget my mum. My father is still alive but we don’t see because of tradition. I attended two primary schools which are Subuola Memorial Nursery and Primary School, Agodi, Ibadan, and Ibadan District Council, Akobo, Ibadan. For my secondary education, I attended Loyola College, Ibadan, and for my tertiary education, I attended The Polytechnic, Ibadan.
I then did my professional examination, ICAN, and proceeded to do other professional courses in line with my background as an accountant.
What can be done to improve the state of the country?
Firstly, many Nigerians don’t believe in the country and the first thing to do is to believe in it. They make money from here and take it elsewhere; send their kids to school abroad. They don’t want to have their babies in this country but they like the money of Nigeria. It doesn’t add up. Once we start to believe in this country, we would have solved many problems. We have to be patriotic and give the youth of this country a chance as they own the country. They need to feel the sense of belonging that they are leaders as well. Also, we should not focus on ethnic issues in the country but focus on how Nigeria belongs to all of us.
Even as a king, do you cook in the palace?
That is not even possible. As the king, you have to knock 16 inner and outer doors before you get to me. It’s a big process and there are so many processes and procedures that I met from my ancestors before becoming king; so, no, I don’t cook. However, before I became king, I did cook a lot and very well. My mother taught me how to cook.
Tell us about your first girlfriend.
In primary school, there was a girl I liked and when I was about five years old, our parents used to call us husband and wife. That’s unbelievable, but I won’t go further than that. Then, in secondary school, I had a small feeling for someone and I used to write letters to her. I still have those letters till today. I mean, I am human.
Your regalia looks amazing. How do you really like to dress?
To the glory of God, my dress sense has to have a proper blend of spirituality and modernity. My dress sense must connote who I am as a spiritual head of the Yoruba race. Before Christianity or Islam, the Yoruba heritage and culture and tradition have remained intact to date and we didn’t blend our tradition at all in Ife. There is a particular divination and spirituality we go through and I had to master them and see how to blend that with my everyday life. This is why my dress sense depicts what happens in Ife, and by extension, the Yoruba land.