Olu Of Ilaro… Born in the flames of struggle
There is a strange sense of competence that comes with struggle. The Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle (Asade Agunloye IV), chairman of Ogun State Council of Obas and Yewa Traditional Council, who recently clocked 50, and four years on the throne of his ancestors (December 4, 2016), has been in these struggles. According to him, as a serving Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), these events tested his faith. During these painful days, his greatest fear was that it would never end. He was afraid that, like a person stuck in an elevator, he would spend the rest of his life between floors neither here nor there.
Recently, Oba Olugbenle decided to tell his story in his palace in Ilaro: His struggle to become a king before God and how Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosu, helped him reclaim the crown that was almost taken away from his lineage. He speaks more with Palace Watch.
How come your ascension to the throne of Ilaro was crisis-free, knowing the nature of your people and considering the infraction of one of the sons of your predecessor, Oba Adekunbi Tella, that almost led to the late of Olu’s dethronement?
I am very familiar with that incident you just referred to, even though, we were very young then. That crisis arose, because one of the sons was alleged to have been involved in a criminal act then. Like I always tell people, we are all humans. For example, if you want to engage somebody to work for you, there is a limit to which you can carry out a check on that person. I mean background check. My children are out there now, I can’t really say this is what they are doing or not doing, so, there is a certain extent you can go with whatsoever checks you might want to do. Yes, it is good to have children that are born again, but at times, you just find yourself in a situation you can’t really help or control. My predecessor’s experience then was such a situation that I just painted. He was helpless and could honestly do nothing about it.
But one fact we must not ignore is, the people that were involved in that ugly situation then were all adults. It was, therefore, not proper for my people to want to punish my predecessor for the sins of his son. There was the need for the king to have been separated from the act or acts of his son, because we all know, once a child is 18 years and above, he takes responsibility for his or her actions. And as such, the child is free to do whatever he or she chooses to do. What I am saying essentially here is that, what informed the peaceful nature of my ascension to the throne was that we learnt from the incidents of the past no matter how ugly they were. If any royal father fails to learn from the mistakes or things that happened in the past, it simply means something is wrong with such an oba. So, the peaceful environment we are enjoying here now is due basically to God Almighty and His Grace. It is God that has been on the throne here, not me. God only used me as a vessel and I am doing my very best to keep my people together. But anything that will try to standards, and this I have done unashamedly. I have long drawn those lines, lines like things I cannot do or we cannot do or places we cannot go because these are things that are capable of embarrassing our people. It is not just about what happened then, presently, there are things they must not find their king doing. Things that once the king is found doing, the generality of the people will not be happy about it. As a king, you are not only a symbol to them, you are also the symbol they see every day.
As an oba, there are certain standards that you must maintain and keep and you must make sure you preserve them. There are lots of moral things that have to do with the king. For example, under no circumstance should a king be found to be fighting in the public? If that happens, such an Oba should expect his subjects to be mad at him or an oba seen drinking in a beer parlour or an oba or a king prostrating to a public officer no matter how highly placed such a person is, just because you want to prove your loyalty to such a person, you go ahead and prostate, it is unacceptable here in our culture. These are simple things but very embarrassing. A king that is worth his salt must not try to do things that will make his people go crazy with his actions. They will tell you as a king, “this thing is not about you, it is about us,” because as a king you are a representative of that tradition or stool.
Based on the experiences of the past especially with regard to Oba Tella, what have you put in place to ensure that your children do not in any way go astray?
The bible’s position is very clear on this question. It says, “teach a child in the way he should go. When he grows up, he will not depart from that way.” I have that foundation, which my own parents have laid down. Today, this is one of my guiding principles. A royal father, who does not have the fear of God will find it very difficult to rule his people. Even when they bring matters before you as a king to settle, if you are not careful and you decided to settle such a matter in a way and manner it should not be, such a case can lead to a big crisis in the community. A matter is brought before you as a king, and you do not know how to balance information very well, you will end up in a mess. For example, everyone wants you as a king to hear what he or she is saying, Chief A will come and tell you something different from Chief B,
Chief C will now come and tell you something quite different from what A and B have already told you. These are three different pieces of information from people that are supposed to guide you. So, I think wisdom do play a principal role in the life of any king. Wisdom is the principal thing; a king must have to function effectively. Anytime I wake up in the morning every day, the first thing, I ask from God is God’s wisdom to go on today, please God just release it afresh unto me, because I cannot function with the wisdom of yesterday in matters of today. What I, therefore, ask from God everyday, is fresh anointing, fresh wisdom to function as a king, because the wisdom of yesterday, may not be able to tackle the problems of today. The above are the checks that I have in my own little way put in place, to ensure that I function effectively among my people. But like I have already said, we are all humans who are not perfect. But thank God for the Holy Spirit, at times, when we are going to places that we are not supposed to go, something will tell me, kabiyesi, do not go there, and I will quickly withdraw, even people with whom I had already agreed to go to such a place will be surprised at my refusal to show up in such a place. That is how the Holy Spirit works. I thank God for the grace of being a good Christian. I might be in a place, and the Holy Spirit will tell me, Kabiyesi, do not talk here. You will hear people saying Kabiyesi is a pastor, he is reserved. Yes, one must know or learn how to balance office with the position one is occupying.
But if one wants to be a pastor, we are trained in a Bible college. For example, one goes through discipleship, ministration classes before becoming a pastor. But the case of a king is quite different. Being a king, you just discovered you find yourself on the throne overnight. So, the greatest teacher to a king is the Holy Spirit, which is God Almighty. He is the one that can teach a king the way he should go because we are His. After God, they say is the king. But God is the king of kings, so, God is the only one that can teach us. No human being can teach a king how to manage his people. The retreat they normally organise for an incoming oba in this part of the world, which we call ipebi is supposed to be a training ground for such an oba. But I discovered during my own (ipebi) training, very little was impacted on me. People just come to tell you as a king, do not do this oh!! This is how to do it oh! I immediately realised that this is not the kind of knowledge about the throne that I was looking forward to. I had to rely on God Almighty to teach and direct me in all that I do on the throne. I can say it boldly anywhere, that there were no serious do’s and don’ts that were impacted on me during my one month in ipebi or when I was being given a staff of office. What one witnessed during those periods, is people coming daily to greet one, while others will be asking kabiyesi how have you been doing? My reply then and up till now is that I tell them, “it is only God that can teach a man the way he should go.”
Ten years ago, when you were 40 years of age, you were then a private citizen, as a matter of fact, an Estate Valuer. But today, you are 50 years and a traditional ruler. What is the significance of your present position as an Oba?
As you said, I was a private person, yes. I am still a private/public person, if you must know. There is a great difference between 10 years ago, when I was 40, and now is just like yesterday. I can recollect virtually all that I did when I was 40 years old. But now that I am 50 years and a traditional ruler to my people by His Grace, it is all a different ball game, especially, about four years ago when I ascended the throne of my ancestors. Ten years ago, what I could do as a pastor and as an estate valuer I can’t do again, because I am now a traditional ruler. The period you referred to, although I had provided leadership as a pastor and a partner of my company, my constituency was not as big as it is today. As a pastor, you have your mandate, especially, in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). When I was still an active pastor, I was so concerned on how to bring men up in the kingdom.
Then, I was very busy with the things of the Lord, planting parishes in Abuja, because that was my passion as an estate surveyor and valuer and I found it very easy to put up a parish, somewhere, especially within the place I live for other men to continue with. But between 40 and 50 years much water has flowed under the bridge. As you are very much aware, I do not have any private life again. That was why I earlier said that I am a private/public person at the same time. There were places I could visit in those days that I no longer visit. Even when I travel out of the country, I am very careful and mindful of what I do and where I go to. The first time I went to the U.S. after my coronation, one of my brothers that came to pick me at the airport on our way home pleaded with me “Kabiyesi, some of my friends are in the club, please allow me to see them.” In my usual manners, I said no problems, at least somebody that has taken his time to come and pick me at the airport I needed also to make him happy. When we got to the club, they said come in I said “no” and sat in the car.
After sometime, I decided to peep and see what they were doing inside the club, what I saw, was something I can’t say here. I saw some of the ladies wearing pants and what have you. I shouted yee! I immediately asked the guy who came to pick me whether he wanted my ancestors to migrate to the U.S. to meet him. ‘Please take me out of this place.”
Why this reaction?
It is not for anything, in particular, but if I had gone into that club, somebody who knew my status as the Olu of Ilaro, might just pick up his phone and snap a picture of mine. Before you say Jack Robinson, the picture will go viral in the social media. How then do I explain to my people back home here what actually happened? So, one has to be wary of where he goes as a king. There are certain things one has to observe as a royal father. There are things a royal father in Yorubaland must not be involved in. Yes, modernity has set in, but there are certain things we must just have to make sure we do to ensure that, traditional rulers they call us, they can still see the elements of tradition we are trying to promote. With regards to my professional practice since I became oba, I will say that, I do specialised consultancy.
Although, I retired at a very young age, I still have a lot to offer in my profession, I still consult. My office is still open in Abuja, Kehinde Olugbenle and Co., some of my partners are still running the firm. But what I do these days is mostly specialised jobs. The issue of selling, buying and management, I have completely cut myself off from such jobs. But when briefs come, I have people that trusted me over the years, who believe in my opinion and advice. They still come to me to say Kabiyesi; I have this type of funds that I want to invest in properties. I still advise them and set my staff on board to look out for something for them and when such properties are located, I go myself to check whether or not such properties meet up with the requirements my client have given to me.
So when I say, I still do specialized consultancy, it is not an open consultancy service. But if you must know, I still practise my profession a lot. Recently, people were amazed when they saw me, at the APACON retreat, for asset management consultants. When they saw me, they all insisted that all the Principal partners of other firms must be at the retreat. As you know, I am still a principal partner of my company. My appearance and participation at that retreat made other principal partners to be encouraged. They were all saying “if a Royal father can be here with us, we must all do all within our powers to participate in the retreat.” That is the spirit. Because there is no end to learning, because if you are given a job, you must have an idea of the template, you must have a vision of the assignment you are given, so that you will not be working at cross purposes with your staff.
Land Use Act
Because of the pittance that is presently paid as compensation for cash crops and tree crops by government and the general impression that land belongs to government as contained in the Land Use Acts, most people are not willing to co-operate with government in matters concerning land. He stressed that if the Federal Government could abrogate the act, and people now realise that they would adequately be paid for the land that belong to them, government will be surprised at the rate people will give up the ownership of their land for government to achieve its aim with regard to lands for cattle ranch and grazing routes.
He said government can no longer pretend not to know about the havoc the herdsmen are committing across the country in the course of their cattle grazing. He said if the government fails to come out with a decisive policy that will help put these people in check, Nigeria as a country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, and if allowed to ignite, it is capable of putting the country in great danger.
As the chairman, Yewa Traditional Council, I have seen quite a lot about the activities of this group of people. The only way to drag the country into a situation that might result in a catastrophic security breach is for governments at all levels to refuse to act now.
For a long while now, these cattle reares deliberately destroy vast hectares of well-cultivated farmlands with their cattle. Farmers have woken up from their homes to find that their well farms had been eaten destroyed by cattle. If matters are allowed to get to that level, most natives might result to self-help which is going to be dangerous. As traditional rulers or the state governments at that point, might no longer be in a position to control the ripple effect, of such a reprisal.
One of the simplest ways to resolve this problem across the country is for the Federal Government to immediately revoke the 1978 Land Use Act promulgated by the then Nigerian Military. He said once this is done, some people will be willing to sale their land for grazing routes, reserves or any other purpose as it will suit them, knowing full well, that they would eventually be adequately compensated for their land and crops.
Presently, the Land Use Act only authorized the appropriate land officer in the ministries to determine or prescribe the amount for economic crops and trees to be paid compensation on, whereas that same law, did not specify the method of arriving at the rates or in computing the prices for such economic crops and trees.
The Land Use Decree (now known as the Land Use Act) was promulgated on March 29th, 1978 following the recommendations of a minority report of a panel appointed by the then Federal Military Government to advice on future land policy. The Military government thereafter, vested all land in each state of the Federation on the governors.
The promulgation of the Land Use Act was as a result of two main factors:
Firstly, the diversity of customary laws on land tenure and difficulty in applying the various customs of the different people of Nigeria to land matters.The second factor is the rampant practice in most Southern Nigeria with regard to fraudulent sales of land, a situation where one land is sold to different people at the same time, giving room to so many litigations.