Oba Elegushi: Ten years on the throne, I’m coming out with a new style
If one is to make a list of young, colourful monarchs in Nigeria today, for sure, His Royal Majesty, Alaiyeluwa Oba Saheed Ademola Elegushi (Kusenla III) of Ikate-Elegushi Kingdom must be on it. For a man, who at 34, succeeded his late father, Oba Yekini Adeniyi Elegushi (Kusenla II), who died at age 69, the zest and panache you see in the Elegushi Kingdom today shouldn’t come as a surprise; His Majesty has always been a man of class.
Today makes it exactly 10 years since he ascended the Ikate-Elegushi throne. Unfortunately, what would have been a massive 10th-anniversary celebration has now been reduced to just family prayer session, all in compliance with the nationwide lockdown as a result of the CODIV-19 pandemic. Notwithstanding, The Guardian reached out to His Majesty for an interview session, which he gladly approved. Of course, social distancing was strictly adhered to.
The journey to Oba Elegushi’s palace took about 40 minutes with less hassle. Except for a few police checkpoints enforcing the lockdown, it was a smooth ride to the Ikate-Elegushi Kingdom. However, on a good day, that journey would have taken nothing less than an hour 30 minutes; traffic is a ritual on their route.
Unlike the days when the palace was a beehive of activities, things were different that Tuesday afternoon. Except for the security guards and few palace workers on sight, the palace was calm. And to access Oba’s private resident, your temperature must be taken, with hands properly washed and sanitized – no exception to the rule.
Again, a close observer could tell that Oba Elegushi’s palace is like a mini-Nigeria; people of different ethnic groups work here. Mere looking at one of the ladies at the reception area, one could tell she’s from the northern part of the country. And by the time she got on a phone call in her fluent Hausa intonation, her identity became unambiguous.
Though the Oba was busy with a visitor, his personal assistant was on hand to receive the team and eventually led the way into his expansive office. Dressed in a simple white outfit and a cap to match, Oba Elegushi was in his full element. Very friendly and jovial, his humility was infectious. However, looking at a portrait behind him, which shows the Oba in his full regalia, you could tell he’s a very stylish monarch.
“First and foremost, I have to give praise to Allah (SWT) for making it successful for me; I’ve not had any issue or scandal. Here I am, looking much healthy; Allah’s mercy is with me. I just wanted to give praise all the time because so many people are in the mortuary today; it has not been an easy journey. I came to the throne at 34, being a young man then, full of life, I just wanted to enjoy myself. I wasn’t expecting to be king that early,” he said in his opening remarks.
NESTLED in Eti-Osa Local Council of Lagos State, the Ikate-Elegushi Kingdom is a 135 square kilometers landmass, cocooned by the Atlantic Ocean and Lagos lagoon, Eti-Osa and Ikate land. According to history, the roots of Eti-Osa people can be traced to Olofin, who migrated from Ile-Ife and settled in Iddo. In 1601, the Eti-Osa people left the settlement area in Iddo and migrated to Ikate.
Oba Yekini Elegushi was the first crowned King of Ikate Elegushi Kingdom. Prior to this, he was one of the Idejo white cap chiefs, who were landowners. He has first installed a white cap chief on November 1, 1990, then elevated to the class of Obas (Kings) and was crowned on February 4, 1993, as Oba Yekini Adeniyi Elegushi, Kusenla II. His death paved way for HRM Oba Saheed Elegushi (Kusenla 111), who has been on the throne for 10 years now.
“You know, succession and being a king… it’s not by your own power. If God says this is what you are going to be, nothing will stop it. When I was much younger, when my father was still alive, there was this spiritual man that used to say to me, ‘This one is the future king.’ But I didn’t see it coming that early. I actually thought my dad was going to live for at least 90, and then I would take over from him. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 69,” he said, sounding a bit moody.
Coincidentally, Oba Saheed shares the same birthday with his late father; both were born on April 10. In fact, young Saheed was actually planning his father’s 70th birthday when His Majesty joined his ancestors.
“It even got to the point that we both had an argument. He told me that on that day, he would want King Sunny Ade to play, but I insisted it should be Wasiu Ayinde. In fact, I reminded him that when his father died, he brought Sunny Ade, that this time; it’s Wasiu that I wanted. We didn’t know we were planning his burial; he died on November 17, 2009.”
He continued: “I even wanted to start blaming myself that, ‘why must this man go because of me?’ I have a lot of friends that their fathers are still alive and they are doing well. Why must it be that my dad must be dead before my own tenure starts? But who am I to question God. Everything has been planned that one day, he will go and his son will take over. By the grace of God, I’m sure that wherever my father is now, he will be happy that I’m doing more than he even expected,” he said.
Having surmounted all obstacles on his way to the throne, young Saheed anxiously looked forward to the coronation day.
“That night, it was something very hard; I was thinking about how the next day was going to look like. It was a very tough night, I couldn’t sleep much; we started from midnight till the early morning prayers. But that day ended up being one of the days I will never forget in the history of my life. Everything went well, though some people were threatening before then.”
It happened that some individuals objected to Saheed succeeding his father, citing his age as a challenge. However, the majority, who favoured the young Elegushi, reasoned that, due to his exposure, his reign could transform the kingdom.
“You know, the process of becoming Oba is a very tough one because you have some people against you. So, in my case, I have some people that felt why must it be me? Some even said they were going to kill me. I was very close to my father; there’s nothing I didn’t share with him. He used to say to me, ‘If someone sees you and says he saw something about you that would happen, if you have the money, give to the person. If the vision is not true, God will know that you were only protecting your life.’ I have people that pray for me, whether Christian or Muslim. Personally, I call the name of God whenever I pray. What matter is your faith and mind; for you to be truthful to yourself,” he said.
For a young man, who was very active in the social circle, ascending the throne came with new challenges, which he gladly accepted.
“One thing I’ve learnt in life is that you have to create your happiness by yourself. I create happiness around me; that’s what keeps me going and only death can take that away. Definitely, we have some kings that have been dethroned, but you have to be loyal to those that installed you as their king. You don’t joke with someone that has power in his hands; he can destroy everything that you have built-in a space of one year. You have to work with the people in government. As a king, you must have the support of the governor of the state. If the governor is not in your favour, it will be difficult for you to operate. You may have a disagreement with the governor’s programmes or policies, but I can’t criticise the governor publicly; I will rather sit him down inside and tell him, ‘this thing you are doing, it’s not right.’ I will advise him, but not me criticising him in public; that’s not how to be loyal to a friend,” he said.
Indeed, Oba Elegushi’s reign has brought substantial developments in the areas of healthcare enlightenment, modern and effective road networks, well-structured housing scheme and a host of other infrastructural concepts. An enthusiastic promoter of academic excellence, he has done a great deal in positively imparting his commerce and entrepreneurial spirit into the Eti-Osa environs. Most importantly, he brought about change, especially in the area of accountability.
“When my father got there, he tried his best, now that I’m here, I’m still trying my own. When my father died, I was thinking about how I was going to fit into the big shoe he left behind. The people used to tell me that my father’s ATM doesn’t have a pin number, but I’ve told them that my own ATM has a password. It’s not that I have anything against anybody, but you have to convince me because it’s my money that I’m going to spend. You can’t just bring anything that is not substantial and you want me to give you money, no! You have to be able to convince to agree with whatever you are doing,” he declared.
When it comes to style and fashion, Oba Saheed is always on point.
“Even before this throne, I’ve always been a very stylish person. No mater how rich you are, if you are not fashionable, you are not fashionable; money cannot buy you style. Personally, I like to be clean and neat; you just have to dress well and look good. You can see the crown that I used before; it was the late Ooni of Ife that introduced me to it. He told me, ‘I will send the person that made it for me to do one for you because I like you. You are my son, your father was my friend; I will like you to look good.’ Then, everybody started wearing it. Now it’s 10 years, I’m coming out with the new style for people to know that I’m different,” he enthused.
Meanwhile, as a young man, Saheed had always nursed the ambition of joining the army dues to his quest for leadership. However, the Almighty had a different plan.
“I was born into a royal home, but in my head, I saw myself becoming a military man; may be leading a coup and toppling the government. That was what I really wanted, to be a leader. You know, in those days, the easiest way to becoming a leader in Nigeria was through a military coup. That was the setting in Nigeria then and it stocked in my head as a young man. So, being a leader was always part of my plan as a young man, but God did it His way.”
Born April 10, 1976, into the Kusenla ruling house of Ikateland, Oba Saheed attended Methodist Boys High School, Lagos, from 1988 to 1994 and in 1995, he got admission to study Economics at the Lagos State University, Ojo. After a master’s degree in same field and institution, young Saheed, in 2008, proceeded to the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, where he obtained another master’s degree in public administration.
Until his coronation as King Elegushi of Ikateland on April 27, 2010 – the youngest Lagos monarch at the time, he served Lagos State under the Bola Tinubu administration and consequently that of Mr. Babatunde Fashola as Senior Special Assistant in-charge of Special Duties.
While in government, he learnt the rudiments of leadership from the best minds in the business. It is no surprise his majesty has unrivalled grasps on issues of democratic good governance, public policy formulation, organizational leadership and best practices in public administration.
“What keeps me going is my background; the places that I’ve worked in the past. When I was working for Tinubu, I was first of all his Special Assistant, then Personal Assistant in his second term as governor. I was exposed to a lot of people; I handled the day-to-day activities of politicians; I know how to manage people. I learnt something from my father, he said: ‘As a person, you must humble yourself, irrespective of who you are. If you humble yourself, your humility will always fight for you if the enemies plot against you. More so, I believe in destiny; what will be will be.”
From the way His Majesty spoke about Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola, you could tell that he holds his former bosses in high esteem.
To Oba Elegushi, the month of April is very significant. Apart being his birth month, April also harbours his coronation anniversary date.
“I share the same birthday with my late dad; that’s April 10. Normally, I don’t celebrate my birthday those days because my father was always having some celebrations; I used to come with my friends. It’s not by my power that I share the same birthday with my father. That’s why I believe in destiny; I believe in the will of God. You might be planning something, but if God says it won’t be like that, it won’t. So, it’s not by coincidence.”
On his choice of Economics, the Oba explained, “You know going to school is different from being streetwise; that’s what is working for me now. You might have a university degree, but if you don’t have Allah’s wisdom with you, you are nothing. Education is important, but you have to have wisdom. We have a lot of learned people around with all the qualifications, but they don’t have wisdom. So, wisdom is different, education is different. Like we say, ‘when you pass through the university, let the university also pass through you.”
Even his decision to go abroad for a second degree in Public Administration was borne out of his street credibility.
“Because I’m a grassroots person, I had my masters in Nigeria and was working for the government. But then, when you have people that came from abroad, they take them very seriously. Then, I was aspiring to go to the House of Reps; I didn’t want anybody to see any ‘but’ in my aspiration. Someone can just come from London with his or her foreign degree and they will pick him ahead of you. So, I decided to go for a Masters Degree abroad. Well, God must have been looking at me then like, ‘this man, you don’t know what you are doing; what I have for you is more enduring,” he enthused.
As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, Oba Elegushi is leading the campaign in his kingdom.
“Covid-19 is the kind of virus that we’ve read a lot of things about. We’ve called our people and told them that, even in the kind of religion I practice, cleanliness and hygiene is a way of life. If you are a good Muslim, hygiene and cleanliness is your target; it’s just part of your life. Covid-19 is a virus that came from anywhere it came from; it’s not our own disease in this part of the world. We’ve seen a lot of results; people have gone into isolation and after 14 days, they are okay. Most people that have died from it are people that had complications before contracting the virus. But my own is that there’s nothing that happens that Allah did not know.”
However, for His Majesty, the time has come for African leaders to seek a local solution to the cure of the virus, which is ravaging the world.
“My dad used to tell me that during the time of cholera, a lot of people died from it, but they drank water from the stream and nothing happened to them. I always believe that the Most High God created us and I always tell my people that no mater what, they should just pray. No mater how this thing is killing people, it should not come near us and our families; it’s a virus that will come and go. Moreover, we must always stay safe and maintain social distancing; always wash your hands with soap and use hand sanitiser. Again, we are Africans; I don’t know why African leaders have not asked traditionalist to find a cure to this thing. We cannot let all these foreign diseases kill us. We cannot continue to depend on Europeans and Americans to give us cure; our forefathers used to have their own ways of dealing with diseases,” he said.
Happily married and blessed with children, His Majesty is fond of saying, ‘kindness is not kindness if you expect a reward.’ In a way, that has become his watchword.
“I don’t have to go on TV or in newspapers before people see me that I’m doing stuff for people. All my life, even when I was in university, I had people that I catered for. I just believe that it’s not by my power that I’m here today; it’s God that picked me. I can’t say that I’m the favourite person because there are millions of people that God just chose me from. I don’t believe doing good, I have to show the world this is what I’m doing. Even the Bible said ‘Your right hand must not know what your left hand is doing…’ But the world is turning to something else now. Somebody that is giving you something, even if it’s two bags of rice, he will take videos; that’s where the world is going. But I will not be part of it; it has never been a part of me. I believe that anything I do, I’m not doing for a human being; I’m doing it for God Almighty. I’m doing it for when I’m no more,” he said.
On his message to his subject, the Oba said, “I will like to thank them for their support and cooperation; sky is the limit. We are still bringing more development to Elegushi; we are on a fast train. We’ve been doing a lot of things to try and attract a lot of investors; to do joint ventures and develop the family lands, which God has given us. We have a lot of projects ongoing and with the way the economy is going now, things are going to slow down in Nigeria. Notwithstanding, we will get there someday.”
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.