Olofa’s 10 years on the throne… reign of peace, prosperity, stability in Offa
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a lockdown across the country, the ancient Offa Kingdom would have been agog today in celebration of the Oba’s 10th coronation anniversary. And for a man of Kabiyesi’s caliber, the event would have been a gathering of who-is-who from the government, traditional institution and business sector, where he played big.
Besides, the event would have been another opportunity for guests to savour the rich cultural heritage of Offa people, which has received a major boost in the last 10 years of his reign. Kabiyesi’s imprints manifest boldly in infrastructural development, socio-communal harmony and general peace that pervades the town. Unfortunately, there will be no celebration.
However, The Guardian was at the Olofa’s Palace in Offa, where the monarch shared his experiences as a businessman and series of events that led to his ascension to the Offa throne 10 years ago.
From all indications, the Olofa’s Palace is the centre of attraction in Offa community. Strategically located directly opposite the Central Mosque, the palace remains one of the ancient Roman arenas, with the Kabiyesi’s throne taking the center point. However, behind the solid architectural work is a rich history of the Offa traditional institution.
When facing the throne from the main gate, the doors by the right-hand side of the arena are not ordinary; they are tombs of former Olofas, who have ruled the kingdom in the past. Though all the doors are under lock and key, the name of the past monarchs adorned each of the doors, including years of their reign.
On the other side of the arena is a mini photo gallery that chronicles some milestones in the life of the current Olofa since ascending the throne in 2010. Singlehandedly built by the current Kabiyesi, the palace is indeed a massive edifice.
It didn’t take long before Olofa emerged from the inner section of the palace, clutching his mobile phone. Dressed in a white royal outfit, the monarch walked straight into his reception area, where the interview was eventually conducted.
“It has been rough and good, but we thank Allah (SWT) for keeping me alive up till today,” Olofa said, as he adjusted into his chair. “I wouldn’t say it’s a dream come true because I never knew I could become a king. I only know my father used to tell me ‘Omo’ba nie…’ (you are an heir apparent), but I never thought I could ascend the throne,” he declared.
Born on August 10, 1963, into the family of Alhaji Muhammed Gbadamosi Esuwoye and Alhaja Awawu Gbadamosi Esuwoye, both of Obatiwajoye and Asalofa Compounds respectively, young Mufu started his education in the public-owned Mohammed Bankanu Primary School, Sokoto between 1969 and 1976. He proceeded to the renowned Maru Teachers College, Gusau, between 1976 and 1981, where he bagged grade II Teachers Certificate. He then attended Birni-Kebbi Polytechnic between 1982 and 1985 from where he got his National Diploma (ND) in Building Technology.
His sheer passion for higher learning, again, took him to the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Building Technology in 1989. He then proceeded to Katsina State for his National Youth Service, where he served with the Housing Authority.
His industrious nature, commitment to duty, and amiable personality endeared him to the hierarchy of the Federal Housing Authority, who rewarded him with employment in 1991, which he honoured and was posted to Lagos.
The vicissitudes of life in Lagos, coupled with his desire to make a difference, which the FHA salary then could not provide, led Mufutau to willingly tender his resignation letter in 1997 to seek a better and more rewarding greener pasture in the business of buying and selling of rice, sugar, salt and cement. He has been successful in business and rose to be the Chairman of MB Integrated Electrical and Data Services Limited; Zarm Poultry and Feed Mill Industry, Lagos, a poultry business that prides itself as the biggest in Lagos State; and Yammfy Nigeria Limited, a sister poultry farm located at Ilemona, Kwara State.
While Mufutau was busy making money in Lagos and expanding his business empire, the then Olofa of Ofa, Oba Mustafa Olawore Olanipekun Ariwajoye passed on and the search for his replacement began.
“At a point, I got lost in business and I thought maybe when one king goes, another one just emerges automatically from his children; I had forgotten that they would still go outside to look for people. When the time came, they called on me and I shouted, ‘Why are you calling me now?’ You know, I give out to the town a lot, so, I actually thought they were calling me to make my own contribution towards the burial of our late king. It was later I realised they were calling me for other reasons.”
While he remained in Lagos focusing on his business, the pressure kept mounting from home, especially from his father, for him to enter the race for the new Olofa.
“I was like, ‘This Lagos that is very sweet, how do you expect me to come and put down my name to be Olofa?’ I know a lot of people in the town love me, but to me, it didn’t make sense to become the Olofa.”
Three days after the demise of Oba Ariwajoye, he visited Offa to commiserate with the family and the community. As it turned out, all eyes were on him.
“I met everybody in the palace and they were just saying, ‘Oba lola ni, Oba lola ni…’ (Here come the next king). I was in haste to leave to the extent that I was even hitting my legs on the floor; I was very shy. I greeted them and ran to my poultry farm, which is about 5km from Offa city. The then Local Council chairman, Mr Segun, called me that I was to go and put down my name for screening. I asked him, ‘screening for what? Please, don’t tell me that.’ So, the normal greeting I used to greet my father, I just went there and gave them little money and ran back to Lagos; I told them Aliko Dangote called me.”
Even while in Lagos, calls kept coming, urging Mufutau to join the race, which he turned down. Aside not being interested in becoming an Oba, he had his fears.
“I was brought up in the north, so, I didn’t even know that Yoruba I would be speaking to them as an Oba. I wasn’t really conversant with Yoruba culture and tradition at the time. In the north, you know I can just shake people and go; here, I didn’t know how to greet in Yoruba,” he said.
It was at this point that his father stepped in and urged him to return home. And if there’s one man Mufutau would never say not to his wishes, it was his father.
“I was always very afraid of my father because he used to beat me a lot,” he confessed, adding, “But as they were disturbing him in the village, he just called me and said, ‘Mufu, if you said you are not coming to contest for this because you are making money from selling rice and sugar, what if they give it to another person and rice and sugar stops, what will you do?’ But I said, ‘no, it’s not about that, I’m afraid, how will I be feeding you? You know how I use to take care of you…’ But he said to me, ‘from today, don’t feed me again, just come home.”
He continued: “Like I told you, I fear my dad more than my mum; my mum is still alive, but my father died about a year ago. So, I asked him, what do you want now? He just said I should come. But I insisted, ‘you said I should come, but I don’t know anybody, who should I lobby?’ He said, ‘don’t lobby anybody; just put your name and go.”
With his father’s intervention, Mufutau had no option but to return home and submit his name to the kingmakers, though still hoping he wouldn’t be selected.
“I had to come home the third day and went to submit my own name. In that meeting, they were asking all of us what we have done for Offa? I told them, ‘me, I don’t know o unless you want to ask me what more do I want to do for Offa.’ You see, that my family compound, I gave them water, I rebuilt their gate, rebuild their mosque and did the carpets, but I had never been there. But the people I sent, they represented me very well. All other that wanted to contest with me had never spent their one naira for Offa. When I spoke, they all laughed and I asked them, ‘Is that all?’ They said, ‘yes.’ From there, I went to see my father and told him I’ve fulfilled everything, ‘I’m not coming to Offa again o, let nobody ask me for money for anything.’ I was wondering, how do I even talk to them as Oba? But my father said that my great grand father would always tell me what to say. So, I left,” he recalled.
About three to five days later, ‘Dangote, Dangote…’ was on the lips of everybody in the community. In Offa, Mufutau is known as Dangote.
“I called my wife and said, ‘it’s like this people want to choose me o.’ I told her that this thing was becoming real, but I felt there was still a long way; I never knew there was no long way,” he said.
According to tradition, a new Olofa must emerge 21 days after the demise of an Oba. With this rule in place, the emergence of new Olofa became a matter of days.
“I think it was the Local Council chairman that came and reminded the kingmakers. The sub-kingmakers are responsible for all the interviews and screenings before submitting the final list. Then, there’s the Alawe, he’s the final man, who goes to check Ifa before they give the names to the kingmaker. My original plan was to go and meet Alawe and tell him to remove my name from the list and tell my father that I’m not qualified so that I can go back to Lagos.”
He continued: “When I met the Alawe, he asked me, ‘how can I help you?’ I told him that I’m Mufutau Gbadamosi. Meanwhile, that Gbadamosi is actually my uncle, who brought me up; Mohammed is my own father. I told him my name was among those selected to be king. He said, ‘Oh, that’s good, your father was a good man; may he rest in peace. In those days, whenever I boarded his pickup, and I entered the bank, he would wait until I finished to take me home.’ He asked, ‘So, you are his child,’ and I answered in affirmative.”
Alawe handed him an application form to fill, which he did on the spot. He (Alawe) then went down memory lane, saying, “Your great-grandfather was the first to build a house with zink when someone like you gets there, only God knows the kind of miracle you will perform; you are already the king.”
Done with the Alawe, Mufutau returned to Lagos, as the entire community waited for the final decision of the kingmakers.
“I didn’t know any kingmaker, except only one, who used to come to Lagos; I accommodate him any time he comes. As at that time, he was in India on treatment, so, out of the four High Chiefs, the only one I know was in India. I said to myself, ‘that’s their problem; I didn’t want to become a king in the first place.’ But I think with everyone mentioning my name in the town, they had no other choice than pick me; Ifa had no choice because every nook and cranny of Offa, everyone was talking about ‘Dangote Offa.’ You know I was into rice, sugar, cement distribution; I was the number one distributor of those commodities in Nigeria. So, within few days, they’d sent my name to Ilorin for confirmation.”
Some of the contestants, who disagreed with the emergence of the new Olofa petitioned to the State Government and the second round of selection was conducted. Again, Ifa oracle chose Mufutau. The matter landed in court and went up to Supreme Court where the final verdict was given in favour of Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi.
“We did not leave that Friday when the announcement was made; we left on Saturday. We left Lagos around 6:00 a.m and we did not get to Offa till around 5:30 pm and they were to do the ceremony that Saturday by putting leaves on my head because governor Bukola Saraki was to give us staff of office on Sunday. On Saturday, we did that and the governor came to give the staff of office on Sunday, May 9, 2010, and that was the beginning of everything.”
As for his wife, he said, “It was now dawn on her that I’m now a king because all along, she thought it was a joke. I remember she once told me, ‘Are you now going to marry more women now as a king?’ But I said no; I had to give her that comfort that I wasn’t going to do that. We got married in 1993 and my wife knows when I say ‘no,’ it’s ‘no.”
As the Olofa of Offa, managing his business in Lagos became another challenge as he’s saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the Offa Kingdom.
“Initially, I thought it’s something I can manage; I had to shut down the other side because it wasn’t easy. Before ascending the throne, I said I wanted to stop trading when I clock 50 and look for something doing. So, I started my first poultry in Lagos in 2005. I said by the time I retire from being rice and commodity trader, that’s what I will fall back to. Now, I have another poultry farm here in Ilemona and that’s what I rely on since I stopped the rice and cement business.”
In a way, leaving Lagos to serve his community turned out to be a blessing for the Olofa, as the rice business crumbled almost immediately.
“Tell me, I left Lagos in 2010 for this, even after I left, the rice and everything collapsed when? Was it not when Buhari came in 2015? By 2015, there was nothing like imported rice again. Supposing I didn’t heed to my father’s directive, everything would have collapsed by 2015. Supposing I said no to what my father said, I would have only enjoyed the business for five years.”
He continued: “If you go to Iddo now, it’s like a football field; nothing is happening now, I own most of the stores. All the people selling there now were the people I trained. Even this fasting, all of them contributed about 200 bags of rice and sent to me. So, nothing is happening there again. In a day, I used to sell a market of about N1billion. Go there today; their total sale in a day won’t be up to 300 bags of rice in the whole of Iddo. So, supposing I didn’t come home, by 2015, it would have been all over for me.”
Like his father predicted, in administering the Offa community, Olofa is actually guided by his great grandfather.
“It happened miraculously; even all of them are surprised. When I tell them something, they wonder, ‘where did this man come from?’ That’s why up till now, the people of the community love me. Look at what we’ve been doing since I ascended the throne. There’s no day one person or the other in this community said, ‘oh Kabiyesi, why did you do this? This is a mistake.’ So, someone somewhere must have been guiding me. Like the Ijakadi (Wrestling contest), it has been abandoned for more than 100 years in Offa, but I was the one that came and said there must be a yearly festival that we must be doing. Since then, every year, we observed it. There are lots of problems in this town, it’s the same me that is uniting the whole community. Thank God, today, the whole Offa is one,” he enthused.
On the Offa robbery incidence, which was a huge concern for many, Olofa informed that what came as a huge challenge has paved way for the community to find a way of securing its boundaries.
“Offa robbery is one of the major issues for Offa as a community, but there’s something major to me more than that. You see, Offa is the second business town in Kwara after Ilorin; from time immemorial, our people are very hardworking. The professors, doctors and other professionals you are seeing from here, their parents raised money to train them from all these little businesses here. In those days, people used to come from Onitsha and to this Owode Market. You can see, nearly all the banks in Nigeria have their branches here because of the volume of trade. But like every other local council, security is very poor,” he noted.
Recalling the last Offa robbery incident, the monarch said, “I was lying down in one of my flats and just heard the sound of guns; I began to call the navy, the police and co. You know robbers go to where they think they can make money; it was a sad day in Offa. For those that died, I believe that was how God destined for them to die because, there were some people that the armed robbers were even marching on them, but they didn’t die. Yet, the stray bullet went and hit innocent people.”
He continued: “I think God just allowed that to happen so that certain development will happen in Offa. If not for that incidence, we would have not got the Mopol barrack that we are having today; it happened for that reason. When that incident happened, I called on the IG and they gave us permission to build a barrack of our own. We built it with about N700million within six months; it’s now called Mopol 68. We built it without one kobo from the government. Supposing that robbery didn’t happen, we won’t have been able to achieve this. Before then, we used to have about 15 to 20 policemen all over our local council. Today, we are fully secured. We don’t pray for that kind of thing to happen again, but it was an opportunity to secure our community.”
While thanking his subjects for their support over the last 10 years, Olofa pledged to continue doing his best for the community and mankind.
“My people endorsed me because they believe I’m a free giver. On ascending the throne, I just came to the palace and called on one of my brothers and said, ‘let’s demolish this place and give Offa a befitting palace; this is not befitting.’ They thought I was joking, but I demolished everything and rebuilt it in six months. They saw what I did; using over N2billion to build the palace, which is not my property. Because of that, whenever I call on my people to donate towards a project, they respond very well because they see what I’ve been doing. Our market got burnt; we’ve been able to rebuild it. We did the community hall; you can’t find something like that in other communities. Talking about palliatives, it started in Offa; even before the government started, we shared palliatives to our people; we always take the lead in everything. So, for everyone, who wants to succeed, you must lead by example,” he said.