Tuesday, May 6, 2014 12:00 pm
Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, who will mark his 80th birthday on 10 May, fielded questions from journalists on his life, quest for Ijebu State, the military era, Ijebu culture and other issues. LANRE BABALOLA and ABIODUN ONAFUYE were there.
Q: Kabiyesi, one of your desires is to have the Ijebu State created in your lifetime. Are you confident that this would be realised?
I am optimistic that we will achieve it. Don’t forget that Nigeria, during the colonial days, was made up of 24 provinces; Ijebu was one of those 24 provinces. If in those days, Ijebu was seen to be a province, and many of those provinces are now states. (We now have 36 and by the time you put Abuja, we are having 37.) It is wrong to say Ijebu is not viable to be a state. But don’t forget that some of those provinces in those days, some of them have broken into either two or three. In addition to this, Ijebu is a viable state and I am very optimistic that we will achieve it.
We would like to use this opportunity to ask you what really transpired between Lt. Gen. Diya and his boss then, Sani Abacha, as you were among the Oba invited to watch the video and you later had a meeting with Abacha. We’d also want to know the relationship between Bayelsa Governor, Henry Seriake-Dickson and Ijebuland?
Thank you very much. I think the Abacha era is gone. When we talk about our past, we are trying to prepare ourselves for the future so that we don’t get to do the same mistake. Well, what transpired that led to Abacha taking over and the arrest of Diya? No, I won’t go into that and when the Obas were invited to Aso Rock, I was not there on that occasion. What happened was that, it was this Air Force man, Ewang, our governor here by that time, who gave me a message from Abacha, that he wanted me to come to Abuja but I couldn’t go. It was about a week before I could go and when I was going, I went in the company of Oba Dagburewe of Idowa. I took Professor Bayo Adedeji and one other person I can not recollect his name now. So, we were there. That meeting was attended by all the Military Administrators in Nigeria, I was the only Oba on that occasion and of course, the Inspector-General of Police then, Ibrahim Coomasie, was there. [Gen.] Abdulsalami [Abubakar] presided over the meeting and Abacha was not at the meeting.
What happened was that we were told about what happened; it was a lot of embarrassment for me because that day, the impression that was given to me was quite different. So they wanted me to comment and all of that. After I looked at the whole scene and thought for a while, I quoted verses from the Holy Quran: “Ihdinna siratal mustaqeem,” meaning, God should direct us aright. I started by telling them to pray to God to guide them aright and show them the right way to go; that is where I started from. They couldn’t get the answer they wanted from me and I told them that they should think twice about what they were doing and that is how we left the place.
When we left the place, we went straight away to Aso Rock to see Abacha. I met Abacha and we sat down. He started to brief me about what happened; how Diya wanted to go to Babangida without informing him and how he did not allow him to go; how he was the one that gave Diya the permission for him to go and read law at the university, and a lot of good things transpired between them. So, it was a surprise to him that Diya could be part of the coup attempt against him. He then spoke about [Maj-Gen. Abdulkarim] Adisa. He told us how close he was to him, and how on three occasions he invited him, relaxed with him, talked to him, believing he would tell him about what was happening. So, that was the thing.
Then I advised him that he had to think twice. On Diya’s matter, I pleaded with him to tread cautiously. That was how our meeting ended. I think, on that occasion I raised the issue of Ijebu State. He told me that he refused to give us Ijebu State and I asked why.
Abacha then took the opportunity to tell me that it was Diya that was against the creation and the way he opposed it was that he was insisting that the capital of the state should be at Odogbolu, but that he (Abacha) refused and said the capital should be at Ijebu-Ode and that is why he gave it to Ekiti. And I said God’s time is the best.
The second one, about Dickson, I got a message from him, trying to trace his root to the Fidipote royal family; I think in 1854 or thereabouts, when [his] family went to Epe and they met some Ijaw traders that were there then. I think that was the connection and he told us the Yoruba name they were bearing. So, that was about Dickson. He went to see the family at Idewon and they all embraced him. You ,if you have money and you are in a position, you will be identified with and everyone wants to identify with good people and lineage. I think he wanted to identify himself with us in Ijebu here. He takes part in all our developmental activities and according to Yoruba saying, Alade kii k’omo, meaning, the King doesn’t reject any children. This is what I can say on this issue for the time being.
The role of traditional rulers in the country in the past cannot be compared to what is obtainable now. What do you think is amiss and what can be done to fix this?
The civilians have caused many changes in our situation. Starting from the colonial era till the present day, there have been quite a lot changes in the position and role of the traditional rulers. It is a very strong aspect of our life because of our culture. For example, to know how important the traditional rulers are in the society, if you, as a Commissioner for Information go on radio calling everybody to come to Itoro hall in Ijebu-Ode, nobody would go there, but if I announce that everybody should come to Itoro hall, everybody would be there.
That shows the importance of the institution in the society. But the trend and style are changing these days… but then, you must understand that custom prevents conflict between the head and the stomach. Because the politicians control what belongs to the Obas, and that determines your welfare, that determines your future and security and how okay you are. But thank God, I think they are friendly with traditional people because they know that they are the people who fought for them; so that the people will be in harmony with their administration.
The situation has changed a lot. If we want this road to be done, I have to go to the Governor to be begging. They will either do it or not. Even if they promise you, they won’t do it and that is the much we can do about it.
Members of the House are there, not having the interest of the electorate that elected them at heart.
Kabiyesi, you have been a rallying point for many developmental projects in Ijebuland, among which are this palace, the Awujale extension and many others. Why don’t you use this influence to bring together many influential Ijebu sons and daughters to come home and establish industries so as to reclaim our economic prowess?
Ijebu people, we are not farmers, we are commercial people, commercially oriented. And if you look at all the commercial activities in the country, Ijebus have trade in every sector. You talk of the agriculture and every other sector, we are very much there. We have to appreciate our special circumstances. If you come back today and say you want to establish an industry, there are some processes you have to go through. You will be asked to go and bring your tax clearance; tax clearance for company that has not yet been established. If that is not yet done, that is the number one obstacle that will be on your way.
Two, even if you are able to secure land, the government that ought to give you encouragement are not doing so. In fact, they will discourage you by putting all sorts of problems and obstacles in your way. They will even ask you to pay some charges before you do it. I think government should do something on how to support every investor. To give them special incentives to encourage them to set up, and not putting obstacles in their way. This is a big problem we have now in this country.
Can you tell us some of your challenges in life?
I have forgotten many of them but no matter what the situation is, I have had to face the challenges. It is a normal trend of life. The most important thing in my life is just the grace of God, so I give thanks to Allah for His grace and for seeing me through those challenges.
People believe that the Ijebu, including their traditional rulers, are unique. Some tribes do not want to get married to Ijebu ladies because they believe the marriage may not last long…
Our culture is such with protocol that when you want to marry, you will go and get what we call Alarina (matchmaker), who will go to the parents of the girl and ask on your behalf. The next thing is that the parents of the girl are going to make enquiries, to make sure that you are not from a bad family and you are a good person within your family. You don’t do any mess-up there, you behave very well. If they get any bad report, they would not allow you marry their daughter. But now, we are in a very bad generation, therefore, every aspect of our culture is very important because it has a lot to do in ensuring that the relationship lasts longer. Ijebu to ji’su loja, ki s’ara wa. Eyi to ko petesi, ni ti’wa, meaning, Any Ijebu that steals is not part of us but those that build big houses are our own. That is our slogan.
I think, that aspect of our culture is not only limited to Ijebu, you have it all over, but it is you boys that are encouraging these girls to withdraw this culture. Ijebus are prosperous, they are not farmers. They are commercial people and Ijebu are straightforward and honest.
Ijebu Obas are unique and bond together; what is the secret?
In every home, there is division of labour. Between you and your wife, there is division of labour; you don’t cook the soup, do you? Your wives are there to take care of that aspect and as the landlord, you have your role – to provide for the welfare. So, you can see that there is division of labour. So, there is no way at the end of the day, you will not all come together and appraise what you have done in your own domain.
We have common interest and this is the reason why we make progress.
What can you attribute the success of your peaceful reign in Ijebu to and how have you been able to manage many Obas in your domain?
Well, age is one thing and your intelligence is another thing. For example, if you put a man of 10 years as the President of Nigeria, automatically, he becomes my father; that is office. But then, what he does there now depends on how intelligent he is; that will reflect in his performance. But the office will reflect on how he behaves in the community. That they hold him in high esteem, that is the situation. Therefore, if you put a man of 20 years as the governor of Ogun State, whatever he does will reflect on the people, because in ten years of age, he can never do anything. Whatever he does will reflect on the people. You must begin to exhibit mutual respect and understanding, so that there is no problem… An important thing is that you have people around you as advisers, who can influence you. But if you yourself have nothing before they give you advice, you will have problem. But if you have something before they give you advice, you can always wait for whatever applies to them and then decide which one is better.
It is a special privilege for you to be called upon to serve as Kabiyesi. And in that situation, all you need to do is to pray to God. You know, whatever we do has been directed by God, we are not acting on our own; whatever happens is destined by God. God now guides you to be able to manage the administration and one of those things that make you successful in a place is to be there and serve the people honestly and to be very fair in everything you do. That will be one of the things going to help you in all your endeavours.