The final burrial rites of the late Obaro of Kabba and Chairman of the Okun Traditional Council will be concluded this weekend.
Oftentimes, depending on how skin-deep the level of the intimacy, there is a certain resistance to belief, or is it simply a tendency toward disbelief, that death has actually struck and taken away a rare gem. A pervasive feeling of the unacceptability of death turns reality into a perpetual dream, and somehow, the hope that the dream would soon clear, remains what it is – a dream! You find that it is true after all, that the inevitability or is it irreversibility of death reigns. Somewhere in between death as certitude or death as a mirage lies my reaction, weeks after the death of our sweet Monarch, humble gentleman, and amiable model, Oba Michael Folorunsho Olobayo.
As to be expected, the sorely hurtful demise of Kabiyesi was received with immense pain and sorrowful grief, just as it was a cause for subtle relief for some. As we must accept in the life of humans, no one commands in his lifetime, total acclaim and unquestioned love. For me, only a few deaths of intimate kinsmen and friends had had the kind of thunderbolt shock and emotional electrification that the death of His Royal Highness, inflicted on me. I went down memory lane to recapture the endearing features of this great man of history. In sporting, MF, as he was known among his peers, was perhaps the fastest man on the track and one of the most skilful footballers that the then northern Nigeria had produced in the sixties and a little beyond. Such was the Duiker speed of this lethal striker that he was compared only to the fastest available carrier Jet. He was simply and adoringly referred to as VC 10 after Boeing VC 10! He was a graceful marvel to behold on the pitch and on the track. Outside of the pitch, he was an instructively affable, disarmingly humble and eloquently simple man with so much charm and charisma– attributes that stood him in good stead in his later professional life as a career civil servant and as a ruler over the people of Oweland.
Oba Michael Olobayo, shared a certain heroic attributes as a model for those of us aspiring to be like him and his generation of academic pathfinders in Kabba. I had, in a Tribute to the veteran journalist and media intellectual, Olatunji Dare recalled those of them in that category of academic models and heroes, which included among a few others, living and dead, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the late business elite and fashion personified, Olajide Maiye, Senator Funsho Obasaju (Oba Gbugbugbu, given his unparalleled robust footballing dexterity), Jerome and John Bello, Jide Senewo, Scatter Obaribirin ( by the way, the last five were dazzlers on the football field in their various schools and at very high levels of the Northern Academicals, the grade next to the national Green Eagles). These men, including the late Oba Olobayo, were our models—the first group of popular young university undergraduates in the middle and late sixties in Kabba, who made reading and getting admission into the university the only marker of fulfilled dreams for all of us in the generation that came immediately after them. Besides academics and athletics, these young men were definers of the social ethos in the little Kabba town then. Some of them walked the sole, single tarred- road of Kabba in the evenings with some of the town belles beyond our innocent reaches in that age ad clime where romance or dalliance was nothing beyond love-letters, pomp songs and occasional open visits. They made us aspire to be like them, whatever it entailed!
In all of these expository, Oba Michael Olobayo got to me, from that distance, with a certain allure of clinical grace—immaculately and stylishly attired, soft-spoken, with a slightly shy mien. After university, he also became well-known as a man of power—as a Protocol Officer to the first Military Governor of Kwara State, David Bamigboye. It was always an opportunity for us as young undergraduates to visit him and enjoy the occasional glimpse of power that came with it and which he personified for us! It was therefore in those days and into the late seventies, a distant admiration. What was clear to me even then was the knowledge that here was a Prince who carried no princely airs around himself and who got to you as a simple, humble and admirably amiable.
Years after, and at very close quarters, especially since he became the Obaro and during which period I became closer to him through a mixture of factors which can only be broached, in part, in a sombre Tribute such as this, I found out, to my eternal bliss, that here was a royal traditional king to whom accessibility was a given, and whose prime concern was how to bring his education and massive administrative and technocratic acumen to bear in bringing the people of Okun, especially the political and educated elite, close to the traditional authorities for the benefit of engendering progress and development among a people whom, individualism, at the personal and sub-groupal levels, had become a legendary article of faith. For a long time, and based on the varying perceptions of the relationship foist on our people by the colonial authorities, central control remained unacceptable. The other groups in Okunland remained almost invariably and implacably skeptical of Kabba as the administrative rallying centre that it was meant to be. If today, the Okun people find it almost natural to come to Kabba and to the Obaro’s Palace for consultation, interaction and robust engagement on ways and means of bringing genuine harmony, unity and progress to the Okun people under the ‘spiritual’ guidance of the traditional institution, there is no doubt that that it was largely through the enlightened, graceful and humble leadership of the Obaro himself, who has given confidence and trust to the educated elite under the leadership of the Okun Development Association.
We found that Oba Michael Olobayo had succeeded in providing a united umbrage for all the traditional rulers of Okun and we could access them through his leadership as we had cause to believe in his objectivity, genuineness and gracefulness. There is a sense in which the Obaro had carved an unwritten place for himself as the undisputed Obaro of Okunland, without diminishing the power and influences of the other highly educated paramount rulers in their own domains. We have now reached a point in Okunland where we could seek for progress and amenities together as a people without caring whether it would be located in Kabba or Egbe or as far to the north as Ike-Bunu. This growing rallying spirit of palpable cohesiveness, oneness and a rapid decline of the history of mutual suspicion, distrust among the various people of the Okun nation, owes a lot of its emergence to the charm, grace, charisma and humble leadership of the late Obaro of Kabba, Oba Michael Olobayo in concert with the other royal fathers who are enlightened and accomplished in their own rights. I have no doubt that the entire Okun nation will find his death a critical deprivation but will be consoled by the fact that we have reached a point of no return in our awareness that our strength lies in our unity rather than in our incoherence and fierce individualism.
On a personal level, the demise of Oba Olobayo leaves a hiatus that I will find difficult to fill. Of late, and indeed, unknown to me that he was sending a signal of the imminence of his departure, he had increased his confidence in me. When I visited him last December, as a usual routine, he had gently asked me if I would edit his Biography which he had almost completed, adding that once I had read it, he would be certain that he could release it to the public. True to his words, by early February, he had sent the manuscript to me. A few days before his home-going, I had been privileged to talk with him on phone, enabled by Olori Maria Olobayo, when he reassured me that he would soon be well but that he entrusted the book to me and that I should do a Preface and find somebody to do the Foreword. In any case, he said through a text, the last contact that I had with him to ‘handle everything about the book for me’. I did not get the message or meaning in this text until I learnt of the cruel blow from the notorious hand of death. How does one overcome this grief? Yetunde, his first daughter, tells me that the Acknowledgment to the book was one of the last tasks that she jointly concluded with her father, the departed Royal Majesty!
Goodnight then, sweet king, beloved Oba, friend and amiable humanist, as you have left us at the foot of the hills, staring into empty space.