In this interview with Femi Makinde, the Ooni explained how he was born, how is birth was a mystery and how is life still remains a mystery. It’s an interview we must all read. It will humble you, it will tell you everything you have really isn't yours if you don't help others. It's a must read. Sit, relax and enjoy!
How was your growing up like?
To the glory of God, I was born into the family of Prince Ropo Ogunwusi and late Mrs. Wuraola Ogunwusi, both from Ife, Osun State. My father is from the royal compound of Agbedegbede while my mother was from Ile-Opa, Soji-opa compound. I was born into a very humble family. I am the fifth child of the family and the third son. I grew up in both Ibadan (Oyo State) and Ife. I had my primary, secondary and tertiary education in Ibadan, but whenever we were on holidays, we travelled to Ife. I have always been sentimentally tied to Ife and as a young man, I have also been passionate about my heritage, my origin. What has actually helped me the most is that my father was a broadcaster and as an inquisitive child, I followed him all over the place. He anchored a programme on radio in the 80s called ‘Ikini lede Ife’ (meaning, ‘greetings in Ife dialect.’) It was a popular programme then. He also anchored another one called ‘Ife Ooye.’ He did it for more than three decades on both television and radio, so all Ife sons and daughters all over the world participated in the programme. By virtue of this, I used to follow my father to Ife.
Was there any prophecy that you would ascend the throne?
It was predicted. The specific time and date of the week was said. It was predicted that I would be born at exactly 1:00pm on a Thursday and up to the fourth child my parents gave birth to, none was given birth to at 1:00pm and on a Thursday. I am the fifth child and to the glory of God, I was given birth to on a Thursday and at exactly 1:00pm.
So many strange things happened after my birth. Immediately I was given birth to, my maternal grandfather left this world because he practically pushed my mother to go and have me delivered when she was not due to do so. He did so on his sick bed. He practically pushed her out to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital here in Ife to deliver the baby she was carrying. I was not due then. Few hours after I was born, my grandfather left this world.
So your grandfather died the same day you were born?
He died few hours after my birth. My mother wasn’t allowed to witness her father’s funeral because the man was buried according to Islamic injunction. Strange things happened at my birth. I wasn’t christened and did not have my naming ceremony until after the 11th day instead of the usual eighth day.
Because my mother left me alone after birth. I wasn’t breastfed. She did not do it intentionally, but due to the fact that she was destabilised by her father’s demise. I was handed over to my aunt and it was God who made me survive, according to my aunt and my late mum. It affected my eating habit even till date because I wasn’t given that proper motherly care immediately after birth. I am thankful to God that I survived it and that is the more reason I was named Enitan, a child of history and mystery, and my second name, Babatunde, because we Yoruba believe in reincarnation. We believe some of our ancestors usually come back after they die through other children born into the family. My paternal grandfather gave me the name, Adeyeye, meaning the potential monarch, whom the crown fits, and since then, he gave everyone a stern warning not to hit me on the head. Anyone who tried to hit my head had my grandfather to contend with. I never knew, but my father took a very special interest in me. I actually look like him, so he usually called me Adeyeye Ooni because I am from a royal family.
Were you close to the late Ooni of Ife?
He was my father. There is a picture on the wall depicting my visit to him when I was a prince and that is my best picture in the world. I used to go to him often to listen to his words of advice and fatherly wisdom and that particular day (whose picture is on the wall) was the day he prayed for me and it was also at that time that he told me the story of how he became a king. He (Oba Sijuwade), two of his children and I and God were the only ones present there on that very day. I will never forget it.
He spoke very deeply, brought out pictures, told me many things I did not know about him and prayed for me. That is why the picture is very important to me.
You lived in Lagos, did you ever travel in a ‘molue’?
I am always a very passionate person and I did that on many occasions. After my service year, I lived in both Ibadan and Lagos because I was a rice and sugar merchant. I love to take up challenges and my growing up shaped my life. I used to help my mother, who was born into a family of business people. My two grandmothers were business people in Ife. My maternal grandmother used to go to the North to buy rice and beans and sold them in Ife. I hawked for my mother because whenever she came back from work, she resumed business and I was very proud of doing that for her. I would hawk the commodity in some communities in Ibadan and I am very proud to have that kind of experience. I used to make shoes too. I have always been enterprising ever since I was young. I made shoes for friends and families with jeans material; I made canvas with jeans material too. I went to learn how to do it at a shoemaking shop. I used my leisure time after school to do those things and I was very good at them.
Did you hawk in a ‘molue’?
No, I did not but I used to board ‘molue.’ Last year, there was a time I boarded the BRT bus in Lagos. The reason is very simple; I am quite passionate about mankind, so I developed a concept to live like the common man at least once every month because I believe we did not come into this world with anything. I would drop everything I have to live like an average man struggling in life. I would visit people under the bridge, ride on a motorcycle, and board a ‘molue’ to wherever I was going in Lagos. It was very stressful but those times were my best moments in life because I got to relate with the real people. I saw their sufferings and felt their plights. When I ascended the throne, I requested the elders to grant me the opportunity to continue the concept, but they did not agree, so I coined a new one that would go in line with the throne, which is stopping my convoy whenever I get to a particular open place with moderate crowd and buy ‘boli’ (roasted plantain) and ‘dundu’ and other basic food items because we don’t have to forget where we are coming from in life. Which position are you that nobody has never been in life? When you serve mankind, you serve God. Our people have disconnected from the less-privileged and the downtrodden. Each time I stop, the people are always happy and my security men are usually afraid and they caution me to get into the car, but I always make them realise that I cannot be harmed by these people. They are just excited and I am always happy to be in their midst. At times, I would not come out of the car, but most times, I do get out to shake people’s hands and I would buy from them what they’re selling and pay them higher than what they have sold. I will be sick if I am not with the common people; it has always been my lifestyle.
What were the other things you did before ascending the throne that you now miss?
I can’t move around freely now, unfortunately. I can’t hang out the way I used to; I cannot eat and drink on the street because of tradition, which forbids an oba from eating outside. But I still play with the less-privileged. I am into real estate, which is labour-intensive, so I am always in the midst of thousands of people because I go to sites once in a while and they hail me. I like the feeling.
Will you still marry more wives according to tradition?
That is not my priority; marrying more wives is not my priority. Honestly, my priority is to better the lot of the downtrodden and the less-privileged and not to keep acquiring wives upon wives.
Recently, you travelled to the United States with some obas and chiefs, why did you travel with such a large entourage?
Truth be told, I went there to display our culture, our rich tradition and our rich heritage. A lot of Africans in the diaspora and African-Americans have been making a lot of enquiries and tracing their origins back to Ife and some have gone to the extent of doing DNA tests to know where they came from because most of them have traced their lineage to majorly West Africa and the largest tribe there are the Yoruba. It will be remembered that at some point, there was no boundary in West Africa until 1884, by Lincoln’s friends or so, that the partitioning started and if you go to as far as other countries in Africa, you will discover that a significant number of their population speak Yoruba fluently. At some point, we lived as one happy family, so Yoruba is one very big tribe. Most of the trans-atlantic slave trade took place in the Yoruba region of West Africa because the northern part was open to jihad and Islamisation, so they didn’t do more of the trans-atlantic slave trade there, while the whole of South Africa was locked up in apartheid. East Africa was difficult for the colonial masters to penetrate. They didn’t penetrate Ethiopia at all and it is the giant of East Africa. I went to the US for a clarion call that those in the diaspora belong to a tribe that has culture, that they belong to a tribe that has tradition.
A lot of people complained about the crowd I went with and they thought the government was supporting us, but no, we only got support from friends and God. We went from the county level to the state level and then to the federal level in the US. We were warmly received by the people and the government of America.
When will this trip start yielding fruits?
We just signed a Memorandum of Understanding on technology and agricultural city that a lot of Nigerians in the diaspora and Africans as well as African-Americans will key into. What I was told to bring is a good agricultural hub and so we will create a city where cash crops will be sown. We are trying to go back to the old days of cocoa, cashew and other cash crops the west was reputed for and we are planting aggressively, not only in Ife, but we are championing it in Ife just to encourage thousands of youths to go back to the farm. So we signed a very good MoU, in which the project is to cost about $1.5bn. It is a consortium to build a technology city and they would partner with Obafemi Awolowo University in terms of technology transfer from the university into the city and there are a lot of people who want to come and do businesses on Public Private Partnership basis that would require the government to come on board and we represent the community and it is yielding results. Another good thing is our culture; tourism is now evoking a different attraction. So many historic places in Ife are generating a lot of traffic from people who come in to check their authenticity.
Concerning the ‘ori olokun’ and other artifacts that were stolen from Ife by the colonialists, can they still be recovered?
Well, we are not going to give up. ‘Ori olokun’ is very strategic to any nation. It is very strategic to the British Government and the British Museum, but peace is our watchword, so we would negotiate over some of them that they can return because we can’t get all of them back, honestly, but our plan is to collaborate with them and bring back the glory of the black race and unite everybody.
You have gone round to visit some monarchs, especially in Yorubaland. With this, can you say Yoruba obas are more united now?
O yes! We are because everybody has their strength and you cannot say you are the leader. I travelled to the US and when I came back, I called other monarchs to give them feedback on what I was able to achieve on my trip so as to honour them and not show off or exhibit supremacy. You just have to work with them so that where they have their strength, you can combine it with yours because no man is an island. We are working together and there is peace.
Are there taboos in Ife?
Of course, we have our dos and don’ts. Let me give you a good example, the sunlight that gives us good energy, aids photosynthesis and supports human life cannot be looked into because it will destroy our sight despite the fact that it aids our living. We do have our dos and don’ts which must be kept well. There are some deities that certain things cannot be done with. There are some deities that don’t like people that are not clean, if you are not morally clean, you cannot go there because they get upset when they notice such and we do warn people not to overstep.
Also, the ‘yeyemolu’ (water) in the palace cannot be taken away from the palace. We warn people not to try it because it has grave consequences.
How many people do you feed in the palace daily, because your predecessor fed about a thousand people daily?
It is ‘Olodumare’ that assists me in feeding them because I have lost count of how many people come in every day, so I don’t want to brag with that. Don’t let us put any number to it. People come in large number every day and God feeds them through me.
Will you advocate the use of Yoruba as an official language in Osun State?
That is what we do here on the throne. We only speak Yoruba; if not because you want me to speak in English, I would have chosen Yoruba. People take English as an official language and a generally accepted one because it is widely accepted in the world.
You knelt to worship God during a thanksgiving after your coronation this attracting criticisms from some quarters, do you have any regret doing this?
I will continue to do it forever and ever. Those who criticised me are ignorant of the supreme power of God Almighty before whom all kings must bow. God is the King of all kings. He appoints kings and dethrones them. If you remember the story of Nebuchadnezzar, who was a powerful king, when he allowed power to get to his head, God turned him into a beast. So, it is God who is the author and the finisher of everything and I will continue to worship him in humility. He is the God of all ‘orisas’ (deities); any deity that does not want to obey God will be crushed to powder, that is the truth. I have no regrets. Remember I am not the first Ooni, I am the 51st, so people have been here before me. It pleased God to put me on the throne and that is why I am here. Why will I not worship the God who made it possible?
How would you react to the criticisms that trailed your visit to Obafemi Martins?
What is wrong in going to visit Obafemi Martins? But the fact is that he came to greet me and he is someone I like and have tremendous respect for. He is a football icon and a human being for that matter. I visit ‘boli’ sellers whenever I like and I don’t think anything is wrong about that. I still stop my convoy to greet street hawkers because I don’t see them as commoners. I buy from them. I share whatever I buy among my crew. I still did it some days ago on my way from Lagos; the women were happy. That is me, that is who I am. Why can’t I greet Obafemi Martins because I became the Ooni of Ife? And has no one ever done that before? If he invites me to his house today, I will go because he is a human being and an icon with all due respect. It is because we don’t celebrate good people in this country and that has always been our problem.
There are many monarchs in Ile-Ife, why is this so?
Truth be told, Ife is the oldest town in the world. It has a structure. It is the land of the spirit; people who are spiritual came into this world before mankind; they came to Ife. We call them ‘Irunmole’ while some call them ‘malaika.’ In English, they mean angels. Some would say they were angels and some would say they were fallen angels that were sent by God and nobody disputes the fact that the spirit controls the physical. They are divine and they brought the structure to Ife. Everybody has their different role. The Obalufe (one of the monarchs) has his role; Obaleshan has a role, just as Obameri, Obalayan and the rest who have spiritual or traditional roles. Every king is there for a purpose. We met it from time immemorial and we don’t want to alter it.
Can you tell me in brief the history of Ife?
There is a dispute about it. Some will say Oduduwa, our progenitor, came from heaven, some would say he came from Mecca. This is not the time to put the story right. Mind you, neither is wrong, but there is a missing link and from time to time, but the whole world will know the truth.
Will you supply the missing link now?
No. Not now. Like I told you, my focus is peace and for everybody to come together. I like to better the lives of the youths and ensure their development.
Do you watch football matches?
Unfortunately, I don’t have time again but I know how to play football. I have been so busy.
What is the name of your first car?
I have used a Volkswagen before. I have used BMW and a Peugeot 406.
Did you buy the Volkswagen yourself?
No. I got it from my late mother, but the first car I bought myself was a BMW. I cannot remember the price I bought it because it was a long time ago.
Which is your favourite among your fleet of cars?
My legs; they move me around. They are natural. Actually, I am not really a car freak, but I like Bentley and Rolls Royce and also Mercedes, but they are not my priority. My priority is to bless mankind and empower the youths.
To what level have you been able to reconcile Ife and Modakeke?
We are making tremendous progress. Everybody in this world is shouting war, but I pray war doesn’t get to anyone’s doorstep because you only know the beginning, but not the end. People have been badly hit as a result of the Ife-Modakeke war that lasted for decades, which produced thousands of widows. It is so sad and pathetic. The point is that we just have to live together. The war I want to fight now is to liberate the youths from poverty, the war on how life will be better for everyone, not the physical war of carrying guns, which is outdated. We are using sub-machine guns to shoot poverty right now. We are now doing a lot of programmes. During my visit to the US, I met with the two groups, the Ife and Modakeke groups that are in the diaspora, and they are coming back home with initiatives. We are rebuilding the ruins. We don’t pray for such a thing again on our land.
Senator Iyiola Omisore used to be close to the palace, but since you ascended the throne, he has not come to pay obeisance to you. What do you think is the reason for this?
I don’t know why we are making it an issue. He may be busy politically. I am sure he is. He is a politician. Of course, he is a true son of Ife; that cannot be disputed and people can have issues in life. No one is free from challenges. We pray if he is not found wanting, God will take him out of there. We can only continue to support him by praying for him. People should not make this a big issue. I am sure he has been busy.