‘Security is the business of all Nigerians’
Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo III, the Alake of Egbaland celebrated his 80th birthday last Thursday. In this interview with AZEEZ OLORUNLOMERU, the octogenarian recalls his childhood. He also speaks on his leadership of one of the great traditional stools in South West Nigeria, recounting some of the developmental strides that have been recorded on his watch. The former army colonel also airs his views on the resurgence of military coups in Africa, among other issues.
From your time in the military to kingship, what is your assessment of life as an octogenarian?
I will tell you that I don’t know where all the years have gone. It was just like I was one day in primary school and then secondary school, then I attended higher school. I went to the University of Ibadan, then I went to the Army for 16 years, went into business for 20 years and I have been Alake for 18 years. When you add the whole thing together, you will get 80 years.
So, my question is: Where have all the years gone? So, I want to count every day as the last and do something because you may not have that opportunity again and that’s what I will tell every one of you. When you leave the house in the morning and you lock the door, don’t think that everyone who locks the door will come back to open that door. So, I always think that one may not be the one to come back and open that door, not because you have done something bad; that is destiny.
At 80, what would you say keeps you fit?
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is an example of someone who, at his age, is still found travelling all over the world, and when he takes a nap for one hour, it feels like he has taken a whole night’s sleep. So, he’s rejuvenated and ready to go on again. Many of you haven’t taken out time to go and see what the general does in his private time.
General Obasanjo (rtd.) plays squash every day, except if he is on a journey. Squash is not for people of his age at all because people fall and die in squash courts all over the world, yet he has modified squash to his taste.
Soldiers have no special injection (that keeps them fit). What they are given is a tetanus toxoid, so that when there is an injury, a soldier will not be infected with tetanus and die. Soldiers are exposed to injuries that will open up their bodies or skin, so they are given something to protect them every year. The only thing that soldiers do that others don’t is that they exercise every morning and evening; that’s all. It is the ability to keep their energy renewed through exercise, so that they don’t look their age and so that they can look strong all the time because they don’t know when they will need to run from one place to another without stopping.
How have you been able to build the enormous goodwill you enjoy as a first-class monarch in Nigeria?
Goodwill is a symbiotic process. You give as much as you get. If you are always fighting people, they will fight you. If you believe in people, they will believe in you. If you encourage people, they too will encourage you. So, if I enjoy goodwill, it’s because I also gave the same thing to others.
Your domain play hosts to some federal institutions like the Federal University of Agriculture, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Aro Abeokuta, as well as Federal
Medical Centre, Idi. Do you think they have lived up to the expectations of your people?
You only mentioned federal institutions. We have many others. We have the Federal Medical Centre, which is as big and well-established as any teaching hospital but it is not a teaching hospital because it does not produce doctors. The federal institutions, particularly the University of Agriculture, have added so much to the development of Egbaland. The Teachers’ College and College of Education are other government institutions. They have all done very well for us and have produced high calibre, top civil servants, top professionals in engineering, agriculture and recently, economics. A government ministry said Economics should not be included in the university’s curriculum, forgetting that if you are a farmer and you don’t know how to turn one kobo into two or three kobo, you will soon pack up as a farmer; you will cease being a farmer.
Almost 200 years ago, it was predicted that when the 10th Alake gets to the throne, Egbaland will change for the better and so, in my first six years, I was wondering what was happening, whether the Ifa had lied but suddenly, somebody came and we had flyovers all over Abeokuta and people don’t have to go to Lagos to stand on a bridge and see vehicles moving below instead of water. We haven’t reached there anyway but we are getting better. I want to thank those who have contributed in various ways to what we now have in Abeokuta. It is like any major capital anywhere in the world, apart from a few things like water and insufficient power supply which by the grace of God will be things of the past.
During your 16th anniversary on the throne, you were excited about the adire industry in Ogun State. Do you still have the same feeling?
For adire, that is our pride in Egbaland and now, we have Chinese adire, which comes in cheaper. Two days ago, the adire traders and the designers besieged my palace in large numbers and I asked them to go back and do their homework. Let them tell us where the Chinese adire came from. Somebody said that a company in Lagos was producing the adire. Others said they were smuggled in from Cotonou and I said we would get the Customs to come and raid all the markets and take all the adire from China and discourage people from buying the cheap and colourful adire if they were smuggled in. If you look at the material they use, there is not much cotton in it, so it makes you uncomfortable when you wear it, though it is very colourful. For the colour, they got that right. So, let us find out where those things are manufactured. If they are manufactured in Nigeria, then they have to employ our people and then, our adire makers will have to go and improve their designs so that they can keep on outshining the Chinese adire. However, if it’s smuggled into Nigeria, then we can ask the law to deal with them appropriately.
What do you think the government can do to improve the security situation in the country?
I am sure nobody is happy about the security situation in Nigeria. It is a major government responsibility. We know the government is working hard on this but security is the business of all of us. So, we must work in tandem with the security agencies if we want to sleep with our two eyes closed. We must report any strange movements and anything that will later turn out to be dangerous to the lives of our people. Nobody brings money into a country where there is insecurity. No investment can ever come here if the investor himself cannot visit his establishment and see what has been done with his money. So, please, let us make it the business of everybody to work with the government and security agencies to make Nigeria a safer place.
The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) did its job and did a successful one during its time. Sometimes, when people hear about OPC, they become scared because they don’t know the source of its power and the power is still in our hands. When I talk to people, I tell them to go check what our fathers used to show their might in those days and to ensure peace in town.
Why is cultism difficult to address in many states in Nigeria and what do you think parents can do to discourage their children from embracing the menace?
This is an area that is very frightening to many parents. We’ve seen cases of teenagers, either committing suicide or killing fellow teenagers and so on because someone put a certain belief in them and they want to experiment on it. So, parents should be more careful. They should check their children’s school bags, check whatever they have not bought for that child but found with the child and be more vigilant, because as it is said, the price of parenthood is eternal vigilance, one cannot stop, and one cannot give up.
It was reported that a boy in Ogun State killed his father for money ritual. How can traditional rulers disabuse the minds of the youth about ritual killing in a bid to become wealthy?
Taking about ritualists, we have talked to many herbalists. We called them to the Oba’s meeting because when they ask someone to go and bring the eyes of a person, the left breast of a woman and all sorts of fetish things, when the long arm of the law catches the person, he will spend the rest of his life in jail. We had to make them realise that criminality cannot take them anywhere and will not make them rich either and they have to respect human lives. So, we are doing our best to ensure that ritualists in our midst are curbed and their activities are curtailed.
With the growing hunger in the country, how do you think the federal and state governments should handle the distribution of palliatives?
The government gave palliatives for the removal of fuel subsidy, so only the government can answer that. I can’t say where they came from.
As a former military officer, what are your thoughts about the recent takeover of government in Gabon and the Republic of Niger by men in uniform?
I want to say that the military has a constitutional role to play. It is written in the constitution of every nation and I will appeal to the military to keep to its constitutional roles because governance is not part of the work of the military. We saw what happened in 1998 in Nigeria before the change of government in 1999. So, let everyone play his or her constitutional roles. If politicians are making mistakes, let them make mistakes; they will correct themselves and Nigeria will be stronger at the end of the day.
Egbaland is noted for its rich history. How connected is it to the present-day South-West region?
The Egba, as you very well know, are a section of the Yoruba who used to live in the Egba forest. The Egba forest extends from where you have Long Bridge today outward to Lagos, up to Awe, which is one mile to Oyo State, which means, it includes the present Ibadan and extends up to the borders of the Republic of Benin and from there, to the borders with Otta. That was in the past. That area has changed tremendously. The Awe people are the people we call Owe in Abeokuta. Fiditi, where people buy fruit on their way to Oyo, used to be an Egba town. The railway station in Moniya and Ojo, near the University of Ibadan, is an Egba town from Gbagura, and Ido, which is near Omi Adio, is the capital of the Ido Local Government Area. Ido is a township in Gbagura. So, we lost those areas because it was impossible for us to maintain peace in such a vast area. We were advised to come towards Olumo (Rock) and that was when the town was founded in 1830. Two of Egba townships had existed here before. We met them here; they received us. They are Ijemo and Itoko. They received us and from there, we fought so many wars because people still tried to remove us but they failed woefully.
We fought with the Ibadan and Ijebu people, and we fought three times with people from the Republic of Benin. You have to remember that some 70 years before 1830, the man, Lisabi (Agbongo), founder of modern Egba, fought a war with the Oyo empire, which extended at that time to Ghana.
The Oyo empire was so vast and so big but it had been eaten by the cankerworms of corruption such that it was easy for other smaller powers to hit it and defeat it in different places. That’s where it started shrinking also. But for that war that Lisabi (Agbongbo Akala) fought, we wouldn’t have been able to live here peacefully. Having fought that war and killed over 300 representatives of the Alaafin in one day, we were able to have peace here. That was 70 years before Abeokuta was founded.
Can you lead us to how the foreign missionaries arrived Abeokuta?
We had been told by the Ifa oracle that some albinos would come and that we should be friends with them because they were going to bring so many good things to Egbaland. So, in 1843, Henry Townsend and Buckling Wood came and were received. We were told by Ifa that they would come and we didn’t have any word for the white people other than ‘albino’. No European had been seen by our people but the only white people they saw were albinos, not knowing that some white people were Caucasians, different from our albinos, and the beginning of great things that happened to Egba people, including the winning of various wars that we fought. We were supported by the missionaries because having made us Christians, if any war had come and overwhelmed us, they would have laboured in vain. So, they had to do something to support us and we remained victorious and remained where they met us. The rest as they say is history and that puts us as number one above the rest in all endeavours in the country. This is one thing that we are fighting hard not to lose. We are not saying that others should not develop to meet us but we are saying that we should keep on moving forward.
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