– Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona-Ogbagba II ‘AWUJALE’
The autobiography of Alaiyeluwa, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona Ogbagha II, is an interesting book and a must read. The two hundred and seventy-four page book is made up of 16 Chapters with lot of pictures and documents that authenticate his story. He was just 25 years of age and just arrived in London, trying to settle down to pursue a course in Accountancy, when the news of the passage of the reigning Awujale, Oba Gbelegbuwa II, got to him. Becoming the Awujale of Ijebuland was never on his agenda, because his father and some of his uncles were still alive then.
“Dramatically, faith entrusted the throne unto him. And for 56 years now, he has been on the throne, thus, becoming one of the longest reigning monarchs in Nigeria.
Now the story: “It was as I was settling down to pursue my course that the sad news came about the demise of the Awujale, Gbelegbuwa II. The news, as I said, meant little to me, even though I knew it was the turn of my ruling house to present the next candidate. My father, as far as I knew then, was an obvious candidate and could therefore assume succession. Even if, for some reasons, he was not chosen, there was still his brother, Pa Adenaiya.
“To everybody’s surprise, however, and without my being consulted at all on the matter, it was my name that my father put forward as the candidate from the Anikinaiya ruling house!
“He did this probably because he himself had not gone to school and felt that his lack of education would be a serious handicap, or perhaps, he was advised by his friends to put my name forward. Anyway, whatever the motive, my father said, he would not be able to cope with the present-day challenges of Obaship and was therefore stepping down in favour of his son, currently studying in London.
“Consequently, on 7 September 1959, the family met and nominated six of us – myself and five other candidates from the Anikinaiya ruling house.
“This decision was of course most unusual and probably unprecedented. By putting forward my name instead of that of one of my half-brothers or uncles, the family was obviously not following tradition or taking age into account as they should have done. Instead, they seemed to have decided to choose someone who, in their opinion, would be best suited for the post and would carry the responsibilities attached to it. In the rapidly changing context of our modern times, they must have felt that choosing an elderly or uneducated person to become the Awujale would not be in the best interest of the Ijebu people. That was how I carried their vote.
“And so, without my knowledge or consent, important events were rapidly unfolding at home behind my back and the battle for succession in the Ijebuland was being enthusiastically fought on my behalf.
“When, however, the news finally reached me in England, I was to be frank, shocked and bemused by it all. Remember, I was only twenty-five and I was still too young to appreciate the full import of it.
“Then one day, I got a letter from my parents informing me that a Mr. S.O. Shonibare then, (later Chief Shonibare), was coming to London and that he would be getting in touch with me. Unknown to me, Mr. Shonibare’s visit had in fact been instigated by the Afobaje, that is, the council of kingmakers, headed by Chief Timothy Adeola Oduntola. His mission to London was therefore, important – to meet with me and assess my suitability for the throne.
“Mr. S.O. Shonibare himself was neither an Afobaje nor even a chief then, but he was a very big shot, a prominent Ijebu son, who was concerned about the ultimate progress of the town and so was interested in whoever the next Awujale would be. He certainly had enough clout to influence the choice of the kingmakers.
“When my name kept coming up and my opponents also kept objecting on the ground that I was too young to occupy such an enviable position, Mr. Shonibare, who had business interests in London, was mandated to come and see me on their behalf and give them a personal appraisal.
“Three months later, after the mandatory mourning period for the late Oba Geleguwa was over, Mr. Shonibare arrived in London and contacted me at my residence at 85, Portnall Road, London, West 9.
“I recalled that Mr. Christopher Atoki lived next door to me at the time, while Lawyer Adesina was four houses away and Mr. Salako, who was fond of and acted more or less like my guardian, also lived in Portnall Road, at No. 125.
“Mr. Shonibare and I met for the first time at late Chief M.S. Sowole’s house at 45A, Kensington Gardens, London. Chief Sowole was the Agent General for the Western Region. I remembered going there in a grey three-piece suit and a tie, as this was my normal mode of dressing in London.
“At our meeting, Mr. Shonibare made sure the conversation was informal. He was nice to me and informed me very frankly that he had come to meet me because my name was being mentioned at home as one of the candidates for the position of the next Awujale. He confessed that he had been asked by the Afobaje to come and assess me to find out if I was really suitable for the position. I thanked him for coming but since I was in the UK and not looking for any position or job, I was completely neutral throughout our conversation.
“Mr. Shonibare was a gentleman, however, and from the first meeting, a warm relationship later blossomed between us. He eventually left for Nigeria to report his findings and the battle at home continued. Although a lot of footwork was going on, on my behalf, all of it honestly meant little to me from that distance.
“You can well imagine my surprise then, when eventually, on 26 October 1959, the Afobaje, the kingmakers met and unanimously decided on me as their final choice. Even then, the significance of the fact that my selection by the Afobaje was unanimous still did not strike me in any way. But all my friends were excited and any time they saw me now, they would start hailing me, shouting, “That’s the Awujale passing by!”
“My second meeting with Mr. Shonibare was markedly different from the first. He congratulated me and arranged for my homeward journey. Because he was an older person and so nice to me, I respected him very much and listened to all the advice he gave me. My friendship with Mr. Shonibare was very fruitful and rewarding, in fact, it gave me the opportunity to drink from his enormous fountain of experience. I have never forgotten two of the things he said to me, and they have affected my life and attitude in office till today.
Firstly, he advised that, as the Awujale, I must know how to relate with the elderly people and, secondly, that the custom of Obas greeting their subjects with the horsetail had become outdated and I should consider discarding it. Instead of that, he said, I should shake hands with people, relate cordially with them. This is why I do not use a horsetail today.
“After conveying the good news, Mr. Shonibare left again for home. After his departure and I was all alone, the implications began to dawn on me that I was going back home, no longer as an ordinary citizen, but as the next Awujale of Ijebuland! Even then, the only thing I could appreciate about the new position as Oba-elect was the deference I would now be accorded. Apart from this, I did not feel any special emotion; no doubt, this is because I was so young and still living far away from the local environment.
“I had to begin my preparation to return to Nigeria. The official confirmation of my selection as the next Awujale of Ijebuland came in December 1959. I began my preparations to come back home. I collected my ticket from Mr. Alistair Stuart of Thompsons Press in the UK. The Thompsons had a business relationship with the Daily Express group of newspapers headed by Mr. Shonibare.
“I travelled back home unaccompanied. Since only a few people knew I was arriving, there was no reception or any ceremony at all. Only Mr. Shonibare, accompanied by Mr. Muri Badmus and Tunde Amuwo, came to meet me and they drove me straight to the former’s estate at Maryland, Lagos. They left me there after arranging to send my meals regularly from Mr. Shonibare’s house at Spencer Street, Yaba.
“They also arranged, in preparation for my presentation and installation, for photographs of me with which to run stories in the popular Sunday Express. As I had always worn suits and English attire, I now needed traditional outfits, especially for the press photos. These were made for me by my parents, collected by Mr. Shonibare and delivered to me by Mr. Timothy Olu Adebanjo, the editor of the Sunday Express and an Ijebu son. All this while, nobody else knew where I was. In fact, probably the only occasion I remembered going out while I was still staying at the estate, was when Chris Ogunbajo’s relation, Olaseni Aiyeola, a friend and a lawyer, came over to take me out one night in Ogunbajo’s wife car. Unfortunately, after he dropped me back at the Estate at the end of our outing, he crashed the car on his way home! That was the end of my outings!
On 4 January 1960, my nomination as the next Awujale of Ijebuland was finally announced officially on Radio and in the Gazette and set the pace for a new set of activities to commence. However, although the news of my selection was now public knowledge, only Mr. Muri Badmus, Mr. Shonibare and Mr. Adebanjo were still allowed access to me. Even my parents did not come to see me.
When I moved to Ijebu-Ode, and while waiting for the coronation, I did not go home because I never ever had a room at my parents’ house. Instead, I stayed with Pa Ignatius Osilaja, the Madasa of Ijebuland, at his house in Oliworo quarters. The man proved to be not only a great host but also a great supporter, financially and emotionally. He put his entire household at my disposal and I came to learn that he had been one of my staunch supporters when the contest for the position of the next Awujale of Ijebuland was still raging in my absence. Yet, this was a man, whom I never knew at all, whom I had in fact never met, until I came back to Nigeria.”