By Dele Momodu.
Fellow Nigerians, it is no longer news that I was born and bred in the ancient town of Ile-Ife, the spiritual home of the Yoruba people of South West Nigeria. That great city prepared me for the incredible journey of life. It was where I spent about 26 out of 28 years of my earliest sojourn on earth. If Nigeria had grown out of the cocoon of ethnic discrimination and attained the assimilative tendencies of the United States of America, I would be handsomely qualified to dream of actualising anything I wanted to achieve in that community. But that is a story for the gods.
The big news out of Ife started months ago when The Ooni of Ife Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II took ill and then joined his ancestors. This sudden development threw Ile-Ife into some confusion and conundrum of sorts. The reason was simple. The news of His Imperial Majesty’s demise had filtered out of London. Eewo, taboo, the traditionalists screamed! The departure of such a spectacular monarch demanded a monumental drama to it. Ordinary mortals with feet of clay could not open their mouths wide and spew out such profanity. The king did not die. A king does not die here. He can only retire to the ceiling or loft, which I interpreted in modern parlance to be the equivalence of a penthouse. So the Ife Chiefs sent death back to wherever it came from and pronounced our dear king alive and kicking. In fact one Chief said matter-of-factly that he had just spoken on phone with the influential monarch who had been supposedly killed repeatedly by bloggers on social media.
Anyway, the king eventually left us on earth. I won’t know what day, or the appointed time, the doctors and nurses, recorded in their death register in far-away London. The theatrics would not just go away like that. When would the king return or arrive home? It was a long suspense. We held an interdenominational funeral service for our royal father but we had no knowledge of his presence anywhere near the palace.
As this went on, other things were cooking and brewing tempestuously away from prying eyes. Who becomes the next Ooni of Ife? It was a question no one could answer with certainty. But it soon became obvious that a motley crowd had more than casual interest in filling the gaping vacancy. As always, all the Ruling Houses of Ife expressed interest including that of the immediate past Ooni. Most of them did not bargain for a festering propaganda that would soon explode and consume and exterminate whatever ambition they harboured. It was the existence of a nebulous Chieftaincy Declaration which the government of the day had been sold on as a Testament. As I write this, it is still subject to litigation seeking interpretation and adjudication. The Declaration is one powerful and invincible document that has made it possible for one of the aspirants to the throne of Oduduwa from the Giesi Royal Family to be declared the brand new Ooni of Ife today.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge. My most wonderful friend, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, had thrown his hat in the ring and I had taken a kamikaze dive with him. Trust me, we gave it everything we had. We are not ones to do things in half measures. And we are not ones to hide behind one finger as many obviously wanted us to. From the outset, we had decided to do everything in the open. We took a decision to sell our candidate to the larger public because The Ooni Stool is not a squeamish institution but a very loud and prestigious one which requires courage and boldness. We were reasonably assured that Prince Adedamola has got all it takes to move Ife in the right direction. His combined pedigree is rare to come by anywhere, anytime. Anyone wanting to be The Ooni need not be a Saint but we reckoned he needed to possess the comportment and sagacity of an Angel. Prince Adedamola Aderemi is one such personality.
In terms of education, he is an accomplished scholar. In our childhood days, he had led the way as an exceptional student who graduated with LLB at the age of 19 and was called to the Nigerian Bar at 20. He was a Law teacher at the then University of Ife, after a stint at the Oyo State Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel. He rose to be Head of Department twice and was affectionately known to his students and everyone alike as “Bros Dammy” because of his gentle mien and readiness to help at all times. He never carried his royalty as grandson of The Ooni Sir Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi on his head. We’ve remained inseparable through thick and thin.
Moving forward, we had mapped out our strategy carefully. In every battle, you must prepare for anything and everything including defeat. We were ready. We knew we had to encounter all sorts, particularly the principalities that held and still hold the jugular of our dear nation. We knew the position of a king is now less traditional and more political than it used to be centuries ago. That much was confirmed to us by practically all the elders we consulted or encountered. Ile-Ife is under the direct command and control of The State of Osun and its Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, a gentleman I admire so much as a gutsy character. The Governor himself reports to his principal in Lagos, former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, our comrade and indefatigable mentor since the days of the June 12crusade. The godfather himself is surrounded by some diehard foot-soldiers who inform him on street-talks and try to influence him to act one way or another.
A veritable stakeholder in Osun State is our highly respected father, Chief Bisi Akande, former Governor of Osun State. We were fortunate that nationally we could count on the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who has been a long standing friend, brother and in-law of Prince Adedamola Aderemi going back to the days when they were both University lecturers. We simply reached out to all.
Yorubaland is also under the avuncular grip of the ubiquitous former President and Nigeria’s biggest brand, General Olusegun Obasanjo. To fulfil all righteousness, we knew we had to tap into his native wisdom. It was not difficult given Prince Adedamola’s maternal families’ relationship with the former President.
It was clear to us that this was a not just a regional but also a national task and we thus reached out to other notable government functionaries and senior politicians. They include, Governors Akintunde Ambode of Lagos State, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, former Governors Rotimi Amaechi and Kayode Fayemi, Princess Adenrele Adeniran-Ogunsanya, Senator Jide Omoworare, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Senator Gbenga Obadara, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Hon. Niyi Afuye, Hon. Emeka Anohu amongst many more prominent politicians and elder statesmen like Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), Chief Olanihun Ajayi and Dr Bode Olajumoke.
We had extensive networks and contacts with practically most of the powerful Yoruba monarchs. We had identified the disunity that ravaged Yorubaland as a scourge and cankerworm that needed to be exterminated. We decided to reach out to our kindred spirits. I will forever remain a great fan of The Awujale of Ijebuland, straight-forward and blunt to a fault, we gained immensely from our interaction with him. He gave us deep insight into what to expect on the thorn-infested path and it was very prophetic. We received prayers from far and near as spiritual fortification on the dangerous mission. The Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, was gracious to receive us at such short notice. We spent quality time with the Olowo Eko, Oba Rilwan Akiolu. Although we did not visit other traditional rulers like, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, who has been a great admirer of Prince Aderemi since their paths crossed significantly in London many moons ago, the Osile of Oke-Ona Oba Adedapo Tejuosho, his Step Father, Oba D V F Olateru-Olagbegi, the Olowo of Owo, who was Prince Adedamola’s teacher and mentor at the Nigerian Law School in 1980-1981 and Oba Adedokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila his great friend and former law student. We knew we could count on their support and prayers.
We did not limit our expedition to Yorubaland. As firm believers in the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria, we stretched our hands of fellowship across the Niger and gained tremendously from the incredible foresight of His Eminence, The Sultan of Sokoto Saa’d Abubakar III, and the boundless energy and enthusiasm of His Highness, The Emir of Kano Lamido Sanusi. Both received us warmly and showed us much affection. They prayed earnestly for us and gave us useful advice to help us cope with success or adversity.
The business community was not left out. We have many good friends and they were quick to express solidarity with us and to tap into our vision and mission. The likes of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Olorogun Moses Taiga, Engineer Lanre Sagaya, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Mr Sam Nwajoku, Mr Dapo Abiodun, Mr Tunde Babalola and Mr Ayo Babalola, some of who are not just friends but also clients, in-laws, classmates and business partners, were quite supportive. In this respect we must single out our wonderful friends, Mr Tunde Ayeni, Mr Jimoh Ibrahim and Mr Femi Otedola for their magnanimity, love and unusual support.
We could not have mounted the national drive that we did without the unstinting support of the print, electornic and social media. Prince Nduka “The Duke” Obaigbena towered above all others in this respect. His support was complete and unalloyed. Ms Ijeoma Nwogwugwu Editor of Thisday, and crew of Thisday on Saturday, Mr Edward Dickson of the Tribune, Ben Memuletiwon of National Mirror, Seye Kehinde of City People, Kola Akanji of Osun State Broadcasting Service, Gbenga Adefaye Editor-in-Chief of Vanguard, Punch, The Sun, Kemi Akinyemi, the Ovation International and Ovation Tv team, etc all keyed into our Project.
You cannot of course hope to sit on the throne of your ancestors without enlisting the support of the traditional and city Chiefs of the Community. We commend the 15 Ife Traditional Chiefs and the Araba of Ife, for the respect and affection they showed to us. It is impossible to single out anyone of them but we must acknowledge our depth of gratitude to Lowa, Obajio, Jaaran, Obaloran and Arode who were all personally known to us before the quest began. We take this opportunity to pray for the sweet repose of the soul of the Obalufe, Oba Omisakin, who stoutly defended the traditional values of Ife and died in the service of the Community. We must salute the efforts of the Ife Legacy group for providing a powerful platform on WhatsApp for all aspirants.
We thank the other Chiefs and elders of Ife, in particular, the Balogun of Ife, Chief Bisi Omidiora (incidentally an uncle-in-law of Prince Adedamola), the Asiwaju, Chief Alex Duduyemi, the Iyalode, who is from the same Akui compound as Prince Aderemi as well as Sooko Waabodu, Princess Ojuolape Orafidiya, Prince Adedamola’s Aunt, and Prof Adesiyan Olawoyin, his uncle.
Our great friends, too numerous to count or mention played their part through prayers, solidarity calls, visits and even materially. Mrs Olabisi Shuaibu, Bola Olagbaju, Mr Raphael Lewu, Mr Folusho Adeagbo, Ms Nike Oshinowo, Ms Bukola Ayoola, Dr & Mrs Phillip Abiola, Mr Femi Osibanjo, Asmau Yartofa, Folakemi Fatogbe, Tunde Akinleye, The Adedayos, Justice ‘Ladiran Akintola, Wole Adelakun, Femi Kehinde, Prof Tale Omole, Jide Lanlehin, Wole Adenle, Gbolaga Ajayi, Prof Jide Owoeye, Mr Paul Onifade, Mr Sam Akpan, Mr Laitan Eyiowuawi, Dr Tony Akintomide all played major roles.
Our renowned lawyer friends, some of who double as respected religious leaders, gave support in a variety of ways. They include Prof Konyin Ajayi, Femi Atoyebi, Idowu Iluyomade,
Akin Olujimi, Rotimi Akeredolu, Dr Wale Olawoyin, Funke Aboyade, Niyi Akintola, Taiwo Taiwo, Dele Oye, Tunde Ajibade amongst a host of others.
Our older friends like Sir Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, Engineer Lanre Sagaya and Prince Arthur Eze were elated by our audacious bid.
We could not have done what we did without the total and unalloyed support of the larger Akui family and the Aderemi family in particular. The family meetings we held were widely attended and the pledges of support were humbling and uplifting at the same time. Equally the Adegbenro family, the Oyediran family, the Awolowo family and the Sigbeku family were solid in their supoort for their son, Prince Adedamola.
Our Team was fantastic. We could not have asked for better. Starting from Uncle Wale Adeeyo and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi to Damola’s brothers and cousins, Yemi, Dayo, Funmi, Debo, Yemi Nla, Sokan, Yanju, and the Ife backbone of Yomi Adenuga and Akin Ofege supported by the entire Ovation crew of TV presenters, photographers and journalists, we had disciplined, well-heeled and efficient organisation to make anybody proud.
An Ooni-elect has emerged, Prince Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II. We sincerely offer our congratulations and wish him, the traditional chiefs and the whole of Ife, well. As Prince Adedamola Aderemi has said, the Ooni institution, Ife and the Yoruba race are greater than any of us and we must always recognise this and do nothing to rubbish our glorious heritage.