From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
The Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Jimoh Oladunni Oyewumi, Ajagungbade III, today celebrates his 90 years birthday and 42 years on the throne as a monarch. He ascended the throne on October 24, 1973. Born on May 27, 1926 in Ogbomoso to Oba Bello Afolabi Oyewumi Ajagungbade II and Ayaba Seliat Olatundun Oyewumi, the Soun had his elementary education at St. Patrick Primary School, Oke Padre, Ibadan from 1932-1938. In 1938, he attended the Ogbomoso People’s Institute, which was later transformed into Ogbomoso Grammar School.
Unable to complete his formal education due to lack of sponsorship, the young Oladunni cut his business teeth by trading in woven textiles, which took him on trading trips to Ilesa among other locations. He formed a limited liability company in 1967 called J.O. Oyewumi and Co Nigeria Ltd, which specialised in wholesale and retail trading. From a modest beginning, the business expanded to include real estate and hospitality. He established the famous Terminus Hotel and El-Duniya Hotel in Jos.
Through hard work, continuous self-improvement (including enrolment in evening educational schools to improve his education), he was appointed as a distributor for the French-owned trading firm CFAO in 1954. Prince Oyewumi, as he was popularly known, made his inaugural business trip abroad in 1958. The trip took him to Hamburg and Bremen in then West Germany; Paris and Marseille in France and London, United Kingdom. During his stay in Europe, he was able to explore opportunities for expanding his business by meeting businessmen and visiting factories.
In this interview, he talked about his life, as he clocks 90.
Looking back to the past 90 year on earth and 42 years on the throne, how has the journey been so far?
The journey has been very good. I came to the throne in 1973. By the grace of God, I manage the administration of Ogbomoso for over 42 years now. Glory be to God, there has not been any crisis whatsoever in the city. Everybody is happy with me. I enjoy my domain and they are enjoying me as well. Therefore, it is an achievement. There is no regret. At the time I became a king 42 years ago, only aged people were made kings. But the aged people would spend three years or thereabout on the throne and would join their ancestors. But thank God that I was young when I became a king.
It is not a common thing for a person to live up to 90 years and still be as healthy as you are. What is your secret of longevity?
I do pray to Almighty Allah and I believe in God. I don’t have two fathers. It is only Almighty Allah, who keeps me up till today. I have my regular meals. I am contented. I don’t rush to have the whole world. The contentment is there.
People say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. So, how would you appraise the position you have been occupying for the past 42 years?
It is true that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. It is a delicate position and at the same time, it is a good position if you know how to rule your kingdom and do what you are supposed to do. If you are occupying a stool as a king and you promote the culture of your subjects, it will not be a delicate position any longer. Then, it will be an enjoyable and peaceful reign for you.
When you were young, was there any prophecy that you would become the Soun of Ogbomoso?
I have heard it several times when I was young, that I will become king. Many people observed my carriage and attitude and concluded that I would one day ascend the throne of my forefathers as Soun of Ogbomoso. I also had it in mind that I would occupy the stool of my forefathers. Fortunately, God approved of it.
Forty-two years ago when you were installed as Soun of Ogbomosoland, what were the visions you had for the growth and development of your kingdom, and how many of such visions have you accomplished?
I have evolved a lot of visions for Ogbomoso. It started right from the time it was becoming obvious that I would be king. I had the vision that Ogbomoso will be transformed positively. God approved of the things I had in mind then. God made it easy for us to achieve them. One of the things I had in mind for Ogbomoso is educational transformation, western education for our children. Then, the schools we had in Ogbomoso were not enough to accommodate the teeming young people. The schools were just three in number.
When I became Soun, education was my first priority. I pursued how we would have many primary and secondary schools and the Lord crowned my efforts with success. Now, we have many primary and secondary schools. We have more than 150 schools in Ogbomoso today.
There have been agitations that the constitution of Nigeria should specify certain roles traditional rulers should be playing in governance of this country. So, what roles do you expect the constitution to stipulate?
Personally, I can’t imagine new legislation. In the first instance, if you are a king, you are a king over your kingdom, and you must ensure that the kingdom experience continuous progress. The king must carry his people along and they must jointly ensure that socio-economic growth of the Kingdom. I must say that the people in every kingdom must not think government will do everything for them. The people must also play their own part and government will also play its own part.
When I became a king, electricity was epileptic. I ensured that the presence of the then National Electricity Power Company (NEPA) was brought to Ogbomoso with a view to having regular power supply. At the same time, I ensured that law courts were established in Ogbomoso. Prior to that, people in Ogbomoso used to go to courts in Osogbo in the present day Osun State.
In the same vein, I ensured that we have one of the Area Command headquarters of the Oyo State in Ogbomoso. Before then, the authorities of the Nigeria Police used to send policemen on the ranks of Inspectors and Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) to Ogbomoso from Oshogbo. Now, we have Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of the Ogbomoso Area Command. Ogbomoso is big and it trends with civilisation. We cannot be going to a town that is not as developed as Ogbomoso to dictate to us.
In Yorubaland, it is no longer news that supremacy battle among traditional rulers is on the increase. What would you say is causing it and what would you suggest as the way out?
There is no feud among the traditional rulers. But the crisis is usually caused by the politicians. When every king was reigning of his kingdom, we all know how we rule. I would not go to another kingdom and give order. The other kings cannot also come to my kingdom and give order. If we want to work together, we would sit down together and nobody would ask who is superior and who is not. But when politicians came, they always choose a leader for the monarchs, which supposed not to be so. The politicians should not drag monarchs into politics. Kings are to sit on their thrones and rule their kingdoms and fashion out how they will attract development to their kingdoms. I will not go into politics and I will not campaign for any political party. I am okay with whosoever that becomes political leader, irrespective of the party affiliation. I will not go and beg political leader for money.
So, what is your assessment of politics and governance in Nigeria? Would you say the country is making progress or is retrogressing politically?
The country was peaceful when the politicians that took over from the colonial masters were in government. But things started falling apart right from the time contest for political offices began. But things have not changed since then. It is supposed not to be so. Promotion comes from God. Whoever God appoints should be supported. But the positions they occupy are for limited time. In governance, administration comes and goes. But each administration should do what is best for its people. The transition process from one administration to another should be free of rancour. There should not be campaign of calumny.
The major setback came when state creation began in the country. I became a king under Western Region. I have seen it all. No one was fighting another person. But from the time the politicians did state creation, problem started. Before the first set of states were created, we were told the policy would ensure steady growth of communities because government would be closer to the people. After the states were created, things changed. It is the same when and after local governments were created. We used to have Ogbomoso local government and I am the head of traditional rulers council. Later, they said we should divide it into five local governments. This has led to division in the same Ogbomosoland. You would hear someone telling another person that he could not benefit from certain gestures because they are not from the same local government; but it the same Ogbomoso.
Can you tell us about your family background?
My father, Oba Oyewumi Afolabi Ajagungbade II, was a king. I was born in the palace. If you are not a Prince, you cannot become king in this place. My grandfather was the Ajagungbade I. So, in Ogbomosoland, I am the 20th Soun.
Can you tell us your journey to the throne?
I completed my primary education, but I did not complete my secondary education before I ventured into business. Then, I did not have a father. I only had a mother, who raised me. For the business, I relocated from Ogbomoso to Jos, in Plateau State. In Jos, my uncles taught me the principles of business success. That was in the 1940s. I started my own business in 1944. Then, Jos was like Europe, in terms of weather. Then, if you wanted to drive by 8a.m., in Jos, you must put on your headlamp because of fogs. But things are different now in Jos.
Then in Jos, the Whites were the major businessmen such as UAC, CFAO and so on. But I had an advantage in relating with the Whites because I could speak English Language. There was no market in Nigeria then. The Whites would only bring the goods from abroad and gave same to us their clients for distribution all over the country. Business transaction was good then. As we took delivery of the goods, we would have known how much profit we would make. But the White men had preference for those of us that could speak their language.
How did you feel when you were invited 42 years ago to occupy the throne of your forefathers?
When there was vacancy, many princes showed interest. I also showed interest. But God has predestined it that I will be the king. We voted in the palace before my emergence. A total of 100 people voted for all the contestants for the throne, but 96 among them voted for me.
What position are you among your siblings?
Among the children of my father, Oyewumi, the position that I occupied was very low. I had many elder brothers.
What are the memorable moments that you have had in the past 90 years that you have been born and the past 42 years that you have become a king?
I am happy that Ogbomoso has moved forward. It is not the same way I met it. So, there is no memorable thing I can mention, than to say I am happy that Ogbomoso is developing. Many people now live in Ogbomoso and economic activities are thriving. I built a modern palace, which took four years to complete. I packed into the modern palace in 1978.
What would you like to be remembered for?
The legacies are in place already. I don’t have to start mentioning them again on the height I have taken Ogbomoso to. The legacies spanned across the various sectors and they are there for people to see. People will also talk about my good character.
What advice do you have for the government?
My advice for governments is that they should take care of the people. They are in positions of authorities. They should spread the goodies to the people they govern. They should ensure that they put smiles on the faces of their subjects. Those in government should not marginalise any segment of their domains that, probably did not vote for them to get to the office.
Many people believe, there is rancour or misunderstanding between you and Alaafin of Oyo. What’s happening?
There is no rancour between us (he pointed to a framed picture on the wall of the place where he sat with Alaafin on the same couch and both of them were discussing). You can see that we were both laughing there. Everybody is keeping his own domain, without fear or favour.
There have been agitations for the creation of new Oyo State. Where would you prefer should be the capital of the new state among Ogbomoso, Oyo and Oke-Ogun if it comes?
Nobody in Ogbomosoland would say no to creation of new state. Geographical, to say the truth, Ogbomoso should be the capital. It is the second largest to Ibadan. All the infrastructure for Ogbomoso to be the capital of the new state are more than enough. Therefore, if government will divide Oyo State into two, then Ogbomoso should be the capital of the new state.
The Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs had a permanent chairman and a former governor of the state changed the chairmanship to rotational arrangement among Alaafin, Olubadan and Soun…
(Cuts in) There is no permanent chairman again. It is on rotational basis now.
But Alaafin, according to what we gathered in the public, is still the permanent chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs?
Had he ever voiced it out as he used to say it before? Don’t commit him. Did you hear him say: ‘I am the permanent chairman?’ Otherwise, he would commit contempt of court.
What advice do you have for the sons and daughters of Ogbomoso home and abroad in ensuring steady growth and development of the land?
Usually, we all want Ogbomoso to progress. They know very well that progress of Ogbomoso is my motto.
How old were you when your father joined his ancestors?
I was 14 years old.
How many ruling houses do you have for the throne of Soun of Ogbomoso?
We have five ruling houses. All the five ruling houses belong to one tree. The one tree is our forefather, who married five wives. Each of the five wives, according to the workings of God, had one boy. They rule according to seniority.
In the old palace of the Soun of Ogbomoso, there are many artifact and one of them is a special iron chain. Every visitor to the old place would have to cross the chain before getting to the main chambers. What is the significance of the chain?
As in every palace, there is a throne in the old palace and that is where former kings ruled Ogbomoso. The chain is in form of scissors. There is no how you would enter the old palace and you would not cross the chain. If you cross the chain and you have evil intention, as you prostate for the king, you would not be able to stand up again. Not only that, other items of native intelligence are in the palace and we have not lost them to civilisation. Also, there is a tree – Ajagbon, at the back of the old palace. That was the first place our forefathers settled when they came to Ogbomoso.
There is tortoise in your palace named ‘Alagba.’ What is the significance of the animal in the palace?
Alagba is for entertainment. It walks around and we take care of it. Alagba is now 343 years old. I met Alagba in the palace. Tortoises do live long. The tortoise fell sick around 2009 and we took it to Ibadan for treatment. The male tortoise had a very big bump on its neck. The veterinary doctor said Alagba would undergo corrective surgery. But the doctor said the chance of survival of Alagba was 50-50. They asked if they should operate on Alagba and I said: ‘You are the doctor, do whatever you want on the tortoise.’ Then, the doctor could not touch the tortoise and we brought it back to Ogbomoso. It is now in good health.
My father is a disciplinarian –Princess Oworu
Princess Oyefunke Oworu is the second daughter of Soun of Ogbomoso and former Commissioner for Trade and Investment in Oyo State.
What can you say about His royal Majesty on this 90th birthday and 42nd anniversary on the throne?
First of all, I give all the honour and glory to the Almighty because it is God who has taken him this far. Our dad is a wonderful father. He believes in education and that is why he educates all of us to a high standard. He is a disciplinarian and that is why all of us today succeed in wherever we find ourselves. I just want to thank God for his life. He has been a ruler who believes so much in the progress of his people. During his reign, Ogbomoso has seen tremendous progress and development. The socio-economic achievements of Ogbomosoland and indeed Oyo State in general have been tremendous during his reign. All I can wish him is more happy years in good health and may God continue to be with him.
He is a transparent and straightforward person who doesn’t mince words. A lot of us have taken this quality after him. We don’t lie. We are transparent and do things the way it should be done. When we believe in a cause, we run it until we achieve our goals.
Growing up as a child, would you say that your dad was liberal or a very strict father?
I will say that that he is a disciplinarian. He doesn’t spare the rod to spoil a child, especially those of us that are in the first 10 or 11 positions. He was quite hard on us in the first generation. He wanted the best out of us. As age went up with him, he started relaxing with the younger generation. We thank God that his discipline has kept us to where we are today.
What can you say is or are responsible for this longevity and good health at 90?
I must confess to you that our dad is a very kind-hearted person. And he believes solely in God Almighty, and because of that, he has internal peace. If anybody has internal peace with belief in God, you will see that such a person will live well; he will be happy and do things accordingly. He has no grudge; he has no crises within him. When he wants to sleep, he sleeps; when he wants to eat, he eats. Above all, God has blessed him with sound health. That is what I will say has been responsible for long life in him in ages past.
What qualities have you imbibed from him?
Transparency, honesty, and hard work; ability to do things at the right time; ability to put in efforts and strength when you want to do something. He does not believe in laziness but in hard work with which sky is the limit.
Baba is human and not a saint. Can you remember any moment that you ever had reservations for him in terms of behavior towards you or any other person?
I must confess to you, if my dad reprimands any child for any act, he is on the right track. As growing children, we were bound to falter; to make mistakes. And when you falter, he corrects, although sometimes he could be hard on one in order to straighten one and be on the right path. You might feel upset as a child, asking why he had been hard on you, but growing up, we discovered that he meant well for us. He wants us to be responsible children, valuable not only to the family but to the country at large.
… He is a man of the people – Prince Oyewumi
Prince Kunle Oyewumi is a businessman and media aide to former governor of Abia State and publisher of The Sun Newspapers, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu
What is your feeling on this glorious occasion of your father’s 90th birthday celebration and 42nd installation anniversary?
Well, we thank God and glorify the Almighty Allah, who has made it possible for our dad to live up to the age of 90. It is a special grace. It is not our making. We can only pray to God to grant him longer life because 90 is already a long life. We just pray to God to grant him more years ahead.
How would you describe your dad as a growing child then?
Baba, as we fondly call him is a disciplinarian. But for me, I call him my leader and my mentor. He was already a successful businessman before he ascended the throne of his forefathers, and I took after him. I started doing business right from my primary school days. So, I have learnt a lot from him and I am still learning a lot from him. He is humble to a fault and I am humble to a fault. He is hard working and I am hard working. I share common traits with him.
As a chip off the old block and a child among many children, what do you think of yourself in the future?
Well, it is always a prayer of every parent for their children to accomplish more than what they accomplished in life. By the special grace of God, like I said, my father is a very hard workingman; he still instills the spirit of hard work, discipline and dedication in his children. And based on that spirit, we a trying to make a living and carve a niche for ourselves in our careers and other aspects of life.
What do you appreciate most among his achievements as the Soun of Ogbomosoland?
Well, his role in the establishment of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. (LAUTECH) is what I appreciate most. He had a sleepless night when he was in the North, to lobby the former President Ibrahim Babangida to make sure they locate LAUTECH In Ogbomosoland. I could remember the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, who was Kabiyesi’s very close ally before his death, together met with President Babangida in Dodan Barracks to make sure that LAUTECH was located in Ogbomoso. So, one of his landmark achievements in Ogbomoso is the LAUTECH. But I know, his dream is also to have Ogbomoso as the capital of new Oyo State at anytime the Federal Government thinks of creating more states.
What do you love and hate in your father?
I love his humility; I love his boldness, fearlessness, and forthrightness. But I won’t say I hate but he can be too simple and people take advantage of his simplicity. If I were in his shoes, I won’t be that simple. To rule a town like Ogbomoso, you need to display some level of toughness. And to be a leader in Nigeria, you need to be tough. But remember, his humility is strength and that is why you see the palace doors are open to everybody. Even in Oyo State, you don’t enter palaces like this. You don’t need to book appointment to see Kabiyesi. My dad is a man of the masses.