Being traditional ruler is a completely different experience – Oba Adebayo Okunbena, The Elerunwon of Erunwon
On Saturday, March 3, 2018, the Elerunwon of Erunwon in Ijebu, Ogun State, Oba Adebayo Okunbena will mark his first year on the throne. And in preparation for the event, Erunwon town, a bustling farming and trading community, has not only become the centre of so many activities, it is already wearing a new look. Major roads linking Erunwon to other towns and communities in Ogun State are now being paved and graded. Water, which was once a scarce commodity, is now readily available to the people through self-help projects, as numerous boreholes are being constructed in strategic areas of the town in readiness for the big event. Even the oba’s dilapidated palace is wearing a magnificent look. Some schools, maternity and health centres are also being renovated.
Some prominent sons and daughters of the town, who have been contributing to the town’s development, are to be honoured with various chieftaincy titles on that day by the Elerunwon-in-Council.
Having been monitoring the developments in Erunwon town since Oba Okunbena ascended the throne, Palace Watch had an interview with him.
Kabiyesi, it is almost a year since you ascended your forefathers’ throne. What have been your experiences and challenges?
First, let me give glory to God Almighty, Who has kept me on the throne for almost a year now. On the March 4 2018, it will be exactly a year and a day that I ascended the throne, as I got my certificate on that very day. But I must confess it has not been easy. There have been so many challenges, but we’ve managed to surmount them, with the active cooperation of Erunwon people. This, I am very grateful about. While on this throne, I have come to realise more than ever before that human beings are the most complex and difficult creatures created by God to manage. Although I was aware of these facts, due to my training as a lawyer, but what I have passed through this one year has made almost all my past experiences in life a child’s play. Well, whatsoever the experience or experiences, I am already in it, there is no going back. I must do my utmost best to make this town a better place than I met it. This is my resolve.
Some of the very difficult problems I have managed to fix with the cooperation of my people are: before my ascension to this throne, out of the nine kingmakers in Erunwon town – we call them “Iyamore” – six were dead while three were still alive. To get these very important chieftaincy positions filled was not at all a tea party. But thank the Lord; we have managed, after very hard work, to fill all of them. As we speak, we now have all the nine kingmakers in. We must not fail to thank God for this. And though some of these kingmakers are yet to perform their traditional rites, they have, however, been part of all the meetings we have been having in the town to fashion out ways and means of improving things. We meet every last Sunday of the month. This seems to be working very well for now.
During this one year of my reign, I have divided the town into its original old quarters and in the process, installed heads for these quarters for effective and efficient administration of the town. Some people call them “Mogaji”. During this same period, we have set up a task force made up of people with proven track records and integrity to help monitor security of the town.
Before I ascended the throne, this palace, which is now looking good and well-kept, had no chair, no table, and no furniture of any sort. To my greatest surprise, it was a pit toilet that was being used in this palace. All this is now history. We now have three modern and functional toilets in the palace, which have been given a facelift. Most of the people that came for my installation almost a year ago are now surprised at what we have been able to put in place within such a short period of time. For all this, we are grateful to God, Who enabled us.
Also, I have mandated each of the people we shall be honouring during the anniversary celebration to at least help in making a borehole that will supply water to our people. These are some of the ongoing projects. By the second day of March, four of these boreholes will be commissioned. Before my enthronement, I could not stand the daily hardship my people were going through to get potable water in Erunwon town. It was then I told myself, this shouldn’t be allowed to continue. Some of the primary schools had no water or good facilities one could point at. But presently, we are already working on this. The primary Health Centre in Erunwon town had no water system and other facilities. The ones installed years back had already broken down beyond repairs. All these things we are seriously working on to make life a little bit meaningful for our people. I have sent somebody to note everything that requires repairs in the place. By this time next week, I promise that all the repairs would have been done.
Where precisely is all the money for repairs coming from?
It has not been easy, but we are pushing. We are tasking ourselves. People from this town who are well to do and who now see the enormous progress we are making are beginning to come forward to assist. That is the spirit. They are beginning to appreciate what I have been doing to ensure transparency in the management of the town’s finances. I made sure there are four signatories to the town’s bank account. Without the signature of two out of these four persons, no money can be taken from the account. And without my signature, even if those two signatories sign a cheque, it won’t be cashed. This open-door policy is working. And we are all happy for it. I did this deliberately; because there is no way I can touch the town’s money without the consent of these other people. They also can’t touch the town’s money without my consent. This is the check and balance I have put in place.
We are not doing these things alone. Because of the immense pressure I have continued to put on the local government councils, they have started to provide more boreholes. They started from my own community. They are working and we are encouraging them to do more to make our community habitable.
About two weeks back, after I had liaised with the local government chairman here, he got the Ministry of Agriculture to give us tractors, which we used to grade some of our roads. We just paid a token to fuel the tractors.
What has happened to the flourishing property company you were running in Lagos before ascending the throne?
I must thank God that I left the business in the hands of a very competent lawyer, who has been my partner in the business. He is running the place well, and whenever the need arises for him to seek my opinion on any issue, he does so without any hesitation. He comes here to see me very often and anytime I have the time to spare, I also go to see him.
During your coronation, I remember you saying you were going to do everything within your powers to encourage people to invest in agriculture in Erunwon town. Are people really investing?
I must confess that the situation on ground does not make investment in agriculture in this town viable. The Fulani herdsmen marauding the whole place end up destroying large acres of farmlands almost on a daily basis. We are helpless. The law enforcement agencies in this place say they can’t do anything, until they get directives from above. And because of this, most of our people do not want to go into fulltime agriculture for now. So, we have put things in the area of agriculture on hold until the situation improves. I am encouraging my people to go into fish farming and poultry. At least, the herdsmen and their cattle have not started destroying these. What is the sense in investing heavily in agriculture with loans taken from banks only for cattle to come and destroy your farm?
However, we are still keeping our initial plans to make Erunwon-Ijebu an agricultural hub. We will pick up our plans once the situation improves for the better. We have comparative advantage in the production of rice and cassava. Once we have the enabling environment, we are ready to come out big in these areas of agriculture.
You are supposed to be taking 10 percent of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in your area council. How are you benefiting from this policy?
I must confess say that policy is strange to us here. It is not operating in this area of the country. We only get what accrues to us from the state. We do not get anything from the local government councils. That is the much I know.
What are you doing to ensure quality representation of your people in all the areas of politics?
What else can I do? All I have been telling my people is to go into active politics. If they don’t, they will give room to bad and incompetent people to govern them. But when they are involved, they will be able to make the difference, which will be to the general advantage of our people.
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