How I became King after family line was abandoned for 350 years ­– Ekiti monarch

His Royal Majesty, OBA DR SUNDAY AIKUIRAWO ANIYI, the Obaleo of Erinmope, Ekiki State in this interview with Olumide Olusegun shares his kingship journey, and community development among other issues.

Can you tell us about yourself?

I attended St. John’s Primary School, Erinmope and I proceeded to Erinmope High School. Thereafter, I relocated to Niger State and lived there for about eight years. I then attended Niger State Polytechnic where I obtained a diploma in accounting. However, I didn’t like the course because every household had an accountant in my community. While other Ekiti people were craving to have a professor in their family, Erinmope people were producing accountants. So we have a large number of chartered accountants in our community. I probably have 15 of my age mates who are chartered accountants, and we have over 70 chartered accountants in this community. So, I thought I didn’t want to be where everybody was running to be. Particularly, the political environment of that time also influenced my career choice. I finished secondary school during the June 12/ Abiola-Abacha crisis. What I noticed then was that the public opinion molders, and people who got reported in the newspapers were primarily lawyers, journalists, academics, and then a few labour leaders who were not employees of the government. Many businessmen and other professionals were silent for self-preservation. In those days, the major people whose views were heard, and whom we were reading every day were people like Bola Ige, Frank Kokori, Abraham Adesanya, Pa Adekunle Ajasin, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory, Keyamo, GOK Ajayi, Tunji Abayomi and host of other courageous lawyers who confronted the military junta through sociopolitical activism. I believed most of them could speak courageously because they were private lawyers. And then in the media, I probably learned the English language from the newspapers reading people of like Kunle Ajibade, Babafemi Ojudu who later became a senator, late Bagauda Kaltho, Osifo Whiskey, Kayode Fayemi, his wife, Bisi Fayemi, Publisher of The Source Magazine, Comfort Obi who also became Senator among other notable journalists, some of whom are dead now.

How did they influence you?
They were critical voices and the mobilisers you would hear in the media. So, I wanted to be like them. I can say I had in me a furnace of activism, but never radical to be violent. So, I left accounting and decided I was going to study law. So I applied for law, despite that I had good JAMB scores, for some reason I was disappointed along the line but I decided to study English. Thereafter my interest moved from law to journalism. I attended Adekunle Ajasin University and I was among the first set, so we had the opportunity to pioneer almost everything from the University Union, Church, and others. On campus, I co-founded The Paragon magazine with some mates like Sandra Dickson who was the Editor in Chief. I was the Production Editor or so.

How did your journey into kingship start?
I was appointed by the immediate past governor of the Ekiti State (Dr Kayode Fayemi) as a Senior Special Assistant for Special Projects in 2019; before that, I was a lecturer at Elizade University where I taught courses in Mass Communication. I worked as SSA Special Projects for about six or seven months. Later, I was upgraded to become the Principal Private Secretary to the Governor. Being the secretary to the governor allowed me to coordinate his daily meetings, and his office, interact with his guests, review documents, and write his drafts be it letters, speeches, or lectures. You know, he is a highly sought-after scholar-politician, so I was always busy with one intellectual assignment or the other. I was there when my predecessor, Oba James Olaifa Aina joined our ancestors after 45 years in the saddle and died in May 2021. I had thought I was too radical for the traditional role but a lot of people thought I had always exhibited kingship in character, traditional knowledge, native intelligence sage behavior, and service to the community. While I was trying to run away, a lot of people kept dragging me into it. At a time, I had to succumb but I said since Ifa would be consulted by the ruling house as jointly determined, I was convinced Ifa would not want to pick a radical intellectual who is also a committed Christian. I assumed Ifa would not prefer someone who would come to the throne and begin to seek reform because I had always felt a King should be one who would be a core traditionalist and I was not one. I was a Christian. So I thought Ifa would take someone that would do his bidding. Unfortunately, Ifa decided that I was the one that Eledua (God) had ordained for the role. The initial response was shock and emptiness. I knew the course of my life and that of my immediate family would never remain the same. It was a sobering moment. All the same, I accepted my fate and thanked God while preparing for the unknown future. So I became the king on December 27, 2021. And here to the glory of God, people say we are doing well.

What were the processes that surrounded your kingship?
Modern kingship in Yoruba land, especially in Ekiti, is governed by Chieftaincy Law. Thus, every community will have what is called a chieftaincy declaration which is more or less like the official gazette of how a king should be selected. In Ekiti, the process is common and like the standard Yoruba process. In our culture, when a king passes away, the rite of passage is 90 days. When the 90 days were completed, traditionally, before the government came in, there used to be what is called a council of Iremo, which is like the convocation of the elders of the ruling houses. They know the next ruling house that will bring a prince. They then consult Ifa and whoever Ifa picks would be the person that will be King. That was in ancient times. In modern times, after 90 days, the community will notify the government that they have completed the rite of passage and that the process of installation of a new king can begin. Then, the government will write a letter to the local government, telling them to inform the next ruling house. These ruling houses are already listed in our declaration according to rotation. So, we don’t have a crisis of which house should be the next king. We have three ruling houses in Erinmope. The Iloye, Iworoaro , and Ijewu ruling houses. The historically significant thing about my appointment is that my ruling house had been out of the throne for over 350 years for one reason or another. When the gazette was being made in 1976, some people felt that since we had been away from the throne for centuries, we should be removed as one of the ruling houses, but very reasonable elders disagreed and said that it was impossible to do because the first Obaleo came from this particular ruling house and rites of installation are performed within the Iworoaro Quarters for all Obaleo. Chief Afin and Obapetu are the two principal chiefs of Omo Owa and it is they who are responsible for the installation commissioning of an Obaleo to the throne as well as the ones to decommission him when he passes away. Both are from my Quarters, the Iworoaro ruling house. So, that way, we were not removed as one of the ruling houses in 1976 despite some conspiracy to do so. To commence the process, the local government wrote to the ruling house that they should produce a candidate or candidates to the Kingmakers for consideration to fill the vacant stool. When that was done, there were six of us who indicated interest by obtaining the form, and we were screened. We also wrote exam and were interviewed. After which they subjected us to Ifa consultation. So, at the end of Ifa Consultation, I was declared the most suitable candidate for the throne. Subsequently, the ruling house submitted my name to the kingmakers for consideration. I was appointed on October 8,2021 by the majority of the kingmakers. I must put on record that in a thing like this, not everybody will support your nomination. So, out of the five Kingmakers, two were not in our support but we had three supporting us, which is what the law prescribed as valid majority.

How have these changes of becoming a King shaped your perspective of life?
I grew up with two of my father’s uncles. They fostered my father. Because my paternal grandmother was their elder sister, but she died young, they took over the responsibility of taking care of my father. I grew up also in that family. After some time, my father came back to his father’s quarters in Iworoaro but he left me with his uncles. So, I grew up with elderly people. I was the youngest boy in that family and that me the errand boy for everybody. The two uncles built houses together, and their wives cooked and sponsored their children in school together. I learned a lot from them. The senior between the two was the oldest person in the family called Olori Ile (The oldest person in the family quarters). They called the quarters Odo Ikole. So, because he was the oldest, all the people of that quarter came to him for meetings every nine days. Issues concerning their immediate quarters such as land management, disputes, cultural issues, and others formed their areas of discussion. I was always made to stay with them during the meetings to serve palm wine and go on errands for them. Most of the time, I was not happy because my friends would be in the field playing football. I would be there in their meetings that I didn’t have any interest in. But I later understood that God was preparing me for this role. Through them, I was exposed to tradition and elderly wisdom to manage the complexity of issues. When I became king, even from day one, people asked if I had been practicing how to be a king before because it was more or less like I just came out of an induction class. People hardly had to tell me where to put my leg or where to put my hand. But no matter how well prepared you are in a role when you get there, you will still become more or less like a newborn baby who had to acclimatise.

Tell us about your community, Erinmope.
The name of our town should be Erimope-Ekiti But just like many communities were wrongly spelled and written during the colonial time, our name is written as Erinmope and that has caused a lot of confusion. People had to create a very popular story of ‘Ha Erin ni mo pe’ to justify the “Erinmope” spelling error. In our dialect around here, we call Ori (head) as Eri. Ours is a very ancient community. In size, we are not that big, but we have a very huge history behind us. And so we know that we couldn’t have been here for anything less than 700 years. At least, if you count the number of Obaleo, and you decide to give them maybe 25 or 30 years average. We have a big history. Unlike some communities that create very funny stories to link themselves to Ile-Ife. We don’t have to create stories. We are of the Ejio dynasty in Ile-Ife. That is why our market here is called the Ejio Market and that is why I am Obaleo Elejio Oraufe. Here we have a chief, she is called Abalufe. Even though she is a woman, we call her Abalufe. We have Oraufe Groove here, which is the highest deity and we have Onan Ufe here. During my coronation, Oni of Ife was here and he told our people what many had not known. He said our name originated from the Olomomope. That Olomomope was the mother of the first Oni. Indeed, we have a unique heroine who had the status of a masquerade but not a masquerade.

What differences do you observe in being a King and your former life?
As a lecturer and intellectual, you query everything. Your training is to question so-called established knowledge and beliefs, to cast doubt, and to be cynical about assumptions. And this is the thing with the journalist also. Even when things seem right, you still have to look beyond the surface. But in a traditional system, you are not supposed to dig deep, you are not supposed to question tradition and you are not supposed to be scientific in your views because it is a form of rebellion against sacred beliefs. But, beliefs are phantoms in reality. They have no basis. All beliefs, either Christianity, Islam, or whatever, are just a collection of unfounded assumptions. In all these, you will always find fault, you will wonder if what they are saying on a particular issue is meaningful. You would want to challenge and tell them that there is no substance in what they are saying. But you dare not do so because it would seem you want to spoil things. And a king must not spoil things. As somebody from that kind of background that I had, it could be challenging trying to reconcile logicality with taboos. You are just to believe what they say as it is.

‘Practice of ancient taboos have become impracticable’

What are some of the taboos?
For instance, you will be told that a certain water is not to be seen by certain people and you begin to wonder what happens if they see it? They will just make sure nobody sees the water. So, you won’t even know what will happen to the person who sees the water. So, you just have to accept and give peace a chance and allow people to live in their delusional world as they want it. As a traditional king in Africa, Nigeria, and Ekiti in particular, your job is everything. You are a spiritual leader, a judge, a mediator, a lobbyist, and a politician in the context of understanding the politics of your environment. You have to know how to position your people so that you are not disadvantaged politically. You are an economist, town planner, and pastor, and some people want to make you an imam, a priest, and you are everything. People expect you to be rich to take care of the community. So, in other words, you are supposed to be an entrepreneur. You must have a sustainable source of livelihood. Yet, they don’t want you to work because nobody wants to see his king struggling to cultivate tubers of yam. People don’t want you to be yourself. You cannot just wear your shorts and move around town. For instance, by tradition, I am forbidden from entering my family house. I can no longer enter the home where my people are. If I go there, I will stay outside and they will come outside to greet me or they create a canopy outside to welcome me, I find that too stressful for them but that is part of the tradition. Sometime last year (2023), a rainstorm removed the roof of our family house and I contracted some people to fix it when they finished it, I was supposed to go there to see if they had done the job to my satisfaction but I couldn’t enter the place. These are what kings do. There can be a lot of taboos in the institution. In fact, in ancient times, the person who pounds the yam for the king would do so in a dedicated room naked and would not talk throughout for the sake of the sacredness of the Oba.

Does that still happen now?
No, the system of living now has changed such that no one can do that again. For instance, we no longer fetch water in streams, there are boreholes everywhere including my palace and I drink table water. And we are in the generation of pounding machines.

Does this mean that ancient taboos have become irrelevant?
The principles are not irrelevant but the practice is practically impracticable. For instance, the principle is that when you want to pound the yam or make food for the king, it must be done with the highest level of hygiene and this is still effective. They don’t want people to know how the food of the king is prepared, who prepares it and they don’t also want people to meet them cooking. They created a mystery around how the king feeds. Even when the king is eating and you come to visit, they won’t tell you that he is eating. This is so as it is believed that the place of a king is that of Alase ikeji orisa (Second in command to the gods). So, he must be fenced from what is associated with ordinary human beings. It is a system of creating myths around the king to retain the authority and respect that he would need to be able to command people. When people see the king as just any other man around the street, he will lose the power of leadership because he does not use the power of the police or soldiers to enforce the law. He has a moral and divine authority. That is why he must position himself in a place of divine authority; a place of serious discipline. A king cannot be drinking in the beer parlour. There is a festival I do here. Once I sit at about 5 pm, I will have to be there till it ends by midnight. Once I take my seat, I cannot stand up even if you are pressed for urine. That is the test of your resilience and discipline as well as your ability to give your totality to your community. In the past, I would question such and say what is that for but when you understand the principle, then you will do it.

Tell us about your wife, Olori, how you met, and the marital journey.
We met at the Adekunle Ajasin University about 20 years ago during my first degree. While I was rounding off at the university, she just entered as an undergraduate. So we were living in the same compound. The day I first saw her, she caught my attention, and the first thing I did was to ask her where she was from, and she stylishly said Lagos. That was after I scolded her for not greeting me. I expected her to snob or to talk to me angrily like a typical Eko girl would do but she apologised. Later in the evening, she apologized again (E ma bi nu e kan oo), and from there, we became friends, and then from friendship, we courted for about five years and when she was in her final year, we got married, in Lagos.

How is your relationship with your kinsmen and the experience of managing people amidst these challenging times?
I must tell you I am about the luckiest king around. My election and installation were received with overwhelming support, and I can tell you I am an envy of many kings around here, and in Ekiti in particular, because my subject put in their best to support me. I built a new palace within nine months. If you had been here like five years ago, you would not believe that such a transformation could take place in the palace. And all of these were done by the same people who were there before but who maybe did not feel motivated. But that motivation is there now. I was hosted last year by Erinmope Indigenes in Ikorodu, Lagos. It was a big carnival at Ayanbure’s palace. By God’s grace, some of them are already talking about sponsoring my trip to North America and Europe to visit them. So, I have a very beautiful relationship with them. They are all very supportive, generous, and kind to me. They make life easy for me. I cannot tell them I have a challenge, even when there is, I sometimes tell them there is none so as not to overburden them.

How do you navigate the expectations placed upon you by both traditional and modern governance structures?

In Ekiti State, we are very educated and Erinmope people in particular are highly educated. Our people are well travelled across the diaspora and this comes with a lot of enlightenment, civilisation, and modernity. Our people know how they must uphold the culture and maintain the limitations. It is those who understand the intricacies of modern life that can navigate it. Yes, we have a community of maybe about 70% Christians, 20% Muslims, and 10% traditionalists. But, the Yoruba are generally syncretic and ambivalent in religious practice. In mathematics, there are the principles of intersect in Ven theory. People can believe and practice both. There are certain things you cannot do away with, especially those things that people think are not fetish, and they bring happiness and joy, unity, and excitement to our people. Meanwhile, whatever things are not practicable or suitable for modern life, we enlighten people against it. For instance, you cannot declare a curfew that the governor is not aware of. Only the governor has the power to declare a curfew. In another scenario, we give limits to traditionalists, churches, and mosques to ensure there is no clash. You cannot say you are doing vigil and then you begin to make noise that will disturb other people. We enlighten them that air pollution is a serious offense. We all have this understanding and it brings peace.

Since you have been on the throne what has been your most challenging moment?
Every day comes with its challenges. When I was to host my coronation, I was two years as a King. I wanted it to be the best coronation ceremony. The template was to have the best coronation in Ekiti. We had a budget and getting the money became a problem but to the glory of God, we exceeded and made more than the budget. That was a challenging moment. Challenges are bound to come. You may be in a good mood and the next thing someone brings a bad news, you just have to look for a way to manage the situation. There are also challenges with development. You may have lobbied and done your best for a project to be brought to your community and suddenly they tell you that the government has taken it somewhere else, it can be saddening. And since I came in, there had been no community clash. God has helped us to manage the community peacefully. On personal grounds, we thank God. He has been faithful.

What do you think government at all levels can do to support the development of rural communities?

The Nigerian environment is a very difficult thing to intellectualise. When we were in secondary school, we studied basic economics, and they will tell you that localisation of industry is determined among other factors, where raw material is close to the industry. The raw materials are in the rural areas where the industries should be located. But what you see is that these industries are not situated in rural areas and that is why there are no job opportunities there. And so the best of our young people who should be the baby boomers; replicate the population, bring vibrancy, and be the hand of the community in terms of economic empowerment, have moved to the urban areas. A father leaves the community to Lagos, he makes it there. He may still be coming home and supporting the people. But the children he gave birth to in Lagos grew up there. They only come home maybe during Christmas with a little affinity with the people. The next thing is that the children move to America, the UK or Canada. And then they begin to tell you that they are Canadians, Americans, or British. So they may no longer care about the people in the rural areas except a few. And these are the resources that God has provided to lift their communities and the nation at large. If you ask me why the urban areas are so overpopulated, I will tell you the problem is that there is an over-concentration of developmental programmes in the state capitals. There must be a deliberate policy to create satellite development centres. You know when people are talking about living in the state capital is too expensive. People are struggling for small space. It is because everything is put there. A state capital that has about five higher institutions. The higher institution combined alone may have 200,000 to 500,000 people as students. If those institutions are located in certain areas, they will take away the pressure of the cities. And then we will have new urban centres. We need a new development philosophy and another orientation to nation building.

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