It is a rare feat in present times to live up to 90 years of age and on July 7th, Oba David OlajideOmisore (Omigbade I), the Olu of Awolowo (Ayepe-Olode) town, will officially become a nonagenarian. The celebrated traditional ruler, who is the father of former Deputy Governor of Osun State, Senator Iyiola Omisore, shares life’s lessons he has learnt over nine decades with KUNLE ODEREMI and KOLA MUHAMMED and how the new generation of politicians can learn from pioneer nationalists like Chief ObafemiAwolowo, among other issues.
Kabiyesi, while growing up, did you ever think that you would become a king?
I believe that everything that happens has been written and everyone will live according to fate ascribed to him or her by God. Yes, it is normal that someone like me should have the ambition to become a king, because I am a prince from both my paternal and maternal lineages. However, it is also possible for one to have looked forward to such and not get it. So, I give God the glory for granting the desire and for bringing me to where I am today.
Many people admire the glamour that comes with being an oba, but not many are aware of the enormous burden that comes with such an exalted position. What are some of the challenges attached to the throne and how have you been able to overcome them?
I return all the glory to God because He is the custodian of wisdom and knowledge. The way He gave Solomon the king wisdom is the way He has given kings of these times. Since I got to the throne, I realised that I couldn’t do this alone. I had to call all the people of Ayepe-Olode, Awolowo town, together. The town is made up of various tribes who have come to settle here. With the heterogeneity of the town, I had to call leaders of each of the tribes present to a meeting here in order to foster the spirit of peace and progress. We then came up with each group having a representative. The Ikirun, who are the most populous here, have a representative, same with Iragbiji, Ede, Ilobu, Ilesa and so on. All of them have chiefs who are representing their people and during our meetings, whatever we agree on, they disseminate to their people. So, this manner of organisation has helped us to achieve peace and mutual respect. Thank God for His wisdom in piloting the affairs of this town. All the towns that make up Osun State are not up to the ethnic groups that are in Awolowo town. We have Igbos, Hausas and so on. The Hausas have a Seriki as well.
Kabiyesi, if we compare the constitutional role traditional rulers were given in the first republic with what obtains now, especially with the growing insecurity, do you think traditional institutions should be more responsibilities?
Things have changed. If we have to break down the Yoruba word ‘ijoba’, it means ‘ijoawonoba’, meaning the council of kings That is, government was originally borne out of the council of kings. The politics of government we have nowadays should not be superior to that of kings, because the kings are the leaders of the people. They are the ones who truly see the people for who they are. But, nowadays, the roles of a king have been reduced, although this is not to say that monarchs have been excluded altogether. God himself appointed kings over the people and a king can’t say he would rule without God’s guidance. Anyone who tries such would end up disgraced. Any monarch who prioritises the principles of love, togetherness and selflessness in dealing with the people, there is no way the people won’t love such a king. The duties of a king cannot be quantified, but it is only God that helps one with the burden.
It is true that politicians are the ones who wield the ultimate power of government, but should kings who are already rulers of kingdoms participate in partisan politics? Those who participate in partisan politics have diminished the prestige and dignity of the positions they hold. When politicians get to power, they then humiliate those who didn’t support them. As kings, we are lords over everybody, irrespective of the political party they belong to. So, it is not proper for us as kings to be partisan. It is until kings are politically neutral that we will be accorded the respect and honour we deserve, which will in turn tell on our influence.
And when we talk about the direct influence of kings on the polity, I believe that bulk of this responsibility lies on first class monarchs – the Imperial Majesties. They are the ones who wield such influence. Equally, they can make a pronouncement that no king must be involved in partisan politics. We are royal fathers, hence we should not be partial to our subjects. Supporting a party implies rejecting the other one(s). I have seen a scenario where a king was ordered to take permission from a council chairman before he could leave his palace. Another had his salary reduced to one kobo because of his political leanings.
You have had opportunity to experience and participate in politics across generations. You worked with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and you have seen how things are done in present times. Are there any difference between political governance then and now?
To compare, the politicians of old never took politics as a do-or-die affair and they were the fathers of politics. Nowadays, politics has become very serious. The person who wins automatically becomes the enemy of the one who didn’t. These different approaches to politics and governance underline the difference between politics then and now.Also, unlike those days, I don’t think embezzlement was this pronounced. It is impossible then for one person to sit on billions and trillions of Naira, but thankfully, the president has been proactive in that regard.
At 90 years of age, it will be an understatement to say that you have witnessed a lot. Can you tell us about your growing up, business sojourns, among other experiences?
I thank God that my coming to this world, precisely on July 7, 1931, which will clock 90 years on July 7, 2021, has been blessed and fruitful. I have never had cause to weep over a child and none of them has given me even the slightest headache. I should also appreciate my children for their care. They have made life and my period on the throne very smooth.
The very first school I attended was St Peters school at Remo, Ile-Ife, 1941. I started school very late because I used to follow my father, Lowa Omisore, to the palace. My father didn’t allow me to go to school on time. There was no school I didn’t attend then; I even attended the one Oba Aderemi founded in the palace. My mom died shortly after giving birth to me. It was another person, Mama Yele, who took me home from Wesley Guild Hospital, She was also Omisore’s daughter. From St Peters, I moved to Ife Anglican Central School at Ilare. I left there in 1952 for Oduduwa College. I finished secondary education at Oduduwa College in 1957. The principal then was Reverend S. Adeyefa. From there, I moved to Lagos. The very first work I did was with the General Post Office, Marina, as a clerical assistant. In 1959, a brother of mine, Adebayo Omisore, who was a top executive at the Railway Corporation convinced me to join the organisation. At the Railway Corporation, Ebute Meta, I was transferred to Enugu. I spent one year and four months in Enugu before I proceeded on my annual leave which I decided to spend in Lagos. I returned to Lagos, but by stroke of fate, I didn’t return to the railway Corporation or to Enugu again. It was while I went for shopping that I ran into Tejumade Alakija. She was my cousin; her mother, Olapeju, was Omisore’s daughter. After we had exchanged pleasantries, she asked where I worked and I told her that I just returned from Enugu where I was transferred on leave . She was surprised that I worked far away in the East and told me to see her in Ibadan. I saw her in Ibadan and she took me to Western Region Finance Corporation. I started work the following day. That was how I didn’t return to Enugu. I was paid 159 shillings. The Finance Corporation sponsored me to School of Agriculture, Akure, where I graduated in 1970 and I became assistant credit officer. Agricultural Credit Corporation used to give loans to farmers then. On 29th April, 1980, I retired, after spending 16 years in service. The gratuity I was given was N3,000 plus, which I used to start a farmers’ services organisation. I was the one who started helping farmers to grade their cocoa themselves. I would take them to the commissioners at the commerce and industry to assist the farmers so that produce buying agents won’t continue to cheat them. Soon, farmers began grading their cocoa themselves, curbing any form of cheating. Farmers started receiving their rightful entitlements on their produce and were paid directly unlike what used to be, when the produce agents used to cheat the cocoa farmers. This gave much prestige to the name ‘Omisore’. From Osogbo to Ede, Okinni and Ilobu, we have societies there. I established other businesses, including food canteen which I named Gbajumo. I have hotels and other outfits all over the place to show for my sojourn in business.
Can you shed light on how the town Ayede-Olode was founded, how the name was derived, before it was re-christened Awolowo town?
In 1917, Captain Rose, the British representative then, when the Ife-Ondo road was to be constructed, the contract was awarded by the British colonial masters. If such a project was to be undertaken, it was customary for the Ooni (of Ife) to be consulted. The matter was taken before the Ooni, Ajagun Ademiluyi. he was asked to give them someone who would show them Ife boundary and guide the road construction workers. Ajagun Ademiluyi then nominated one of the chiefs, Lowa Anibijuwon Omisore, to represent him and also guide the British contractors on Ife boundary with the neighbouring towns. Anibijuwon Omisore was promoted as Lowa by the Ooni in 1914. It was during the construction of the Ife-Ondo road that Ajani Anibijuwon Omisore discovered the vast unoccupied forest. He had it in mind that he would ask the Ooni to grant him access and ownership of the land. Once the construction of the road was completed, he sought permission from the Ooni Ajagun and it was granted as a reward for his commitment to duty and the throne in 1917. The place we call Ayepe-Olode or Awolowo town today extends to Aye river in the north and Ahanran in the south. That is the boundary of the town. Immediately, the Ooni granted his request, Lowa Ajani Anibijuwon took possession of the settlement. Some of his children followed him to settle on the land like Baba Aderibigbe, Baba Adesanmi and he gave them portions of land. He also gave out some portions of the land to all of his in-laws, including Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, who became his in-law before ascending the throne. It was Oba Aderemi who married Lapeju, Omisore’s daughter, who gave birth to Tejumade Alakija. When cocoa plantation was introduced to Nigeria in 1922, Omisore was the first person to start it. The part that was given to Oba Aderemi was along Aye river and he renamed the place. The area is known as Aye Oba today. He also gave land to Titus Tipe Oladipo who married Raliatu Omisore. There was no in-law that didn’t get land. He also did same for Adereti, the father of Ooni Sijuwade Olubuse, because Adereti married Anibijuwon’s first daughter, Abigail Areomi Sijuwade. After giving his in-laws land, he gave some portions to Ife indigenes, especially farmers as well as hunters. Because the land is fertile and rich in games, the hunters were making brisk business from travellers on the road by standing on the roadside and displaying the games they killed. Soon the travellers who buy these animals from them, once they realised that there was a regular supply from the hunters, started making arrangements with drivers to stop at the place where the hunters sell ‘bush meat’ so that they could buy from them. Soon after the place became popular as it turned to a stop-over for people who wanted to buy bush animals. They started calling it Garage Olode, meaning the garage of hunters where people could buy bush meat.
Ajani Anibijuwon died in 1941 and Baba Aderibigbe who was a tailor and farmer, oversaw the settlement. It was during the time of Ooni Adesoji Aderemi that Baale-ship started, and Adesanmi Lawani Omisore became the first baale, from 1966-1978. He was also the president of the customary court. After him came Alhaji Saliu Arayemi Omisore (1978-1983). After Saliu came Thomas Afolabi Omisore, who was appointed baale from 1983-1994. After him came Hammed Olanrewaju Omisore (1994-2002). I then became the baale from 2003. In 2004, I was upgraded to Sooko of Awolowo town. As from that time, I was no longer a baale. Where baale earned N5,000 monthly, I was earning N40,000. On September 9, 2009, I became a second class oba, with a crown and staff of office. I was crowned by Ooni Okunade Sijuwade who was here in Awolowo town as well as the governor of Osun State governor to present a staff of office as oba to me. I thank God for the grace to have been judicious as a king.
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