Obas are prisoners to culture and tradition – Olubaka
The day usually signals the beginning of a New Year, ushered in by the Yam Festival, unlike the conventional calendar year, which starts in January.
All roads in the hilly town led to New Palace Ground, where the people gathered after being summoned by the Olubaka, Oba Yusuf Adebori Ogunleye, to celebrate past year’s successes, contribute to the town’s development and receive blessings for the new year.
The event was unique and colourful, as hundreds of illustrious sons and daughters, home and abroad, graced the annual ceremony, together with their kith and kin, under the chairmanship of Otunba Bolaji Alowonle, who though was absent, sent a representative.
Notable indigenes, including Senator Ajayi Boroffice, representing Ondo North District in the National Assembly, brought invited friends from all walks of life to the event.
They showed their good will by making generous donations, while the Senator committed to building another pavilion in addition to the one he previously donated.
He said: “It will be the best palace in Ondo State. But for modesty, I would have said it would be the best palace in Yoruba land.
Whosoever comes to Ondo State would know he/she has not visited the state without visiting Olubaka’s palace.”
Some of the highlights of the occasion were donations and support from individuals, groups and corporate bodies.
These include, Eagle Aromatic Schnapps, which organised “Ayo-olopon” and “draft” games, with winners rewarded with handsome cash gifts.
The Okarufe Leadership Association (OLA), Abuja branch, feted 30 students selected from all the 15 quarters of the town, with each beneficiary receiving N50, 000 scholarship.
The event was also used to confer chieftaincy titles on some industrious sons and daughters of the community, which is bordered in the north by Ise, Iboropa and Ugbe towns, in the south by Ikun and Oba towns, in the west by Akungba and Supare towns, and in the east by Ipe and Epinmi towns.
There are nine Akoko towns spreading across the four Akoko councils in Ondo North Senatorial District.
To spice the celebration, various age groups and associations entertained the audience, as they paid obeisance to Olubaka and other monarchs, who came from far and near to celebrate with him.
They watched the Ororo Agba and Ode cults, as they displayed traditional rites and duties.
Oba Adeleye, who lauded the indigenes and government for fixing electricity and road problems in the entire Akokoland, also launched a music album by one of the indigenes, Mr. Taye Ejire, titled: “Ire wa.”
He urged all Akoko indigenes at the event to support the young talent, even as Boroffice bought a copy for N50, 000.
The state governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, represented by Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde, yielded to the demands of the Oka people to create short and direct access route to their town through Ayegunle-Iwaro-Oka road and to synergise with Federal Government to fix the Kabba-Isua-Idoani-Ipele-Owo Road for heavy-duty trucks.
The Guardian later had an interview with Olubaka, a former Chairman of Ondo State Council of Obas.
Your Highness, could you please tell us the historical background of Oka Day celebration?
Basically and traditionally, Oka people are farmers. As we are on top of the hill, one might ask: how do we farm on such soil? We are scattered all over the state.
Some of us farm mostly in Ose, Oba in Akoko South-West, part of Edo State, and even in Ondo town, while some are in Ore and Ekiti.
We have 15 quarters in this community, and before I came, people had been observing the Yam Festival.
I thought of what could bring all of us together or to really celebrate, because when we observe Muslim festivals, only Muslims are involved, while Christian festivals affect only the Christians.
The same goes for the traditional religions. But farming cuts across these three religions.
So, we decided to use it as a unifying factor to celebrate our farmers.
After series of meeting, we agreed and decided that the first Saturday of August every year will be set aside as Oka Day and to celebrate the Yam Festival alongside it. We also use the occasion to raise funds for community development.
In fact, this palace is the product of Oka Day, as the proceeds realised from the event was used to start the building in 1999.
The foundation of this palace was laid by the former Imperial Majesty, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II, the late Ooni of Ife and assisted by the then governor of Ondo State, late Chief Adebayo Adefarati.
Then, there were certain beliefs. People didn’t want to come home for one reason or the other.
But I assured them there was nothing to fear. For instance, I went to school here. I attended African Church Grammar School here in 1965.
I went to Lagos to look for job, and after staying there for some time, there was a clarion call from my people to ascend the throne.
So, I left Lagos with all its glamour, beauty, and what have you there to sojourn here.
I kept telling them that this is our place of birth, and we must all come home to develop it.
Since then, majority of them have been coming for one thing or the other, even those in the Diaspora will come together once in a year to celebrate and reunite.
In fact, we say our own calendar year here starts this August.
What have been your experiences so far on the throne?
Firstly, one has to be very close to God and pray for guidance. Secondly, one must be very sincere with his people.
It is a position ordained by God. When you look through the holy books, it is there.
The position of kings is so unique and one has to be very careful.
You discover that you are now a prisoner of tradition and customs.
Before I ascended the throne, I was a Chief Magistrate in Lagos State. I had reached the peak of my career.
When I delivered judgment and I said a person, having considered the evidence, was found guilty, and sentenced to two or five years imprisonment, as the case may be, the man would know that at the end of two years or four years, he would regain his freedom.
But once you become an Oba, you are a prisoner of culture and tradition throughout your life, because there are so many things you do in those days but can no longer do.
I was a member of a country club in Lagos before I came, but I can’t go out to socialise with my friends like I used to.
It is no longer possible. The freedom is not there. You have to be very careful.
You have to watch what you say, the company you keep and where you go, because you are a symbol and total reflection of your community. And whatever can damage your personal image and that of the community, you must refrain from it.
Mostly, what we do is managing crises or alternative dispute resolution. But because of my training, I am aware of what is involved when it comes to dispute resolution.
Again, you have to deal with your people, who see you as a symbol, that anything they come to you for, they are sure of receiving justice and that is where the fear of God comes in, because whatever we do on the throne on this earth, you will give account before the Creator when the time comes.
This is why one has to be very careful.
Did you ever envisage becoming a king while growing up?
Having come from a royal family, I knew one day, if possible, it would come to pass. But one thing I remember, when I was a student in primary school, I was always playing the role of a king in concerts.
But basically, I didn’t know it would come to pass, though once you are from a royal family, it could fall into your lot. I was not thinking seriously of it.
By the time they were calling me to come and ascend, I told them, ‘Look, I have a very bright future in the legal profession.’
At least, one of my colleagues retired as a Chief Judge in the South-South, and there was another colleague, we were called to the Bar at the same time, unfortunately of blessed memory now. He was a judge at the Court of Appeal.
The current Chief Judge of Lagos State served directly under me, when I was a Chief Magistrate.
The immediate past Chief Judge, Hon Justice Atilade, I was her senior in the Judiciary. Though we were colleagues, but I am their senior.
If my own path and destiny is to be where I am, that is something I cannot change.
So, I am happy with the situation and the progress, that one is able to make huge contributions in the interest of the community.
By my own religious belief as a Muslim, I believe that no single leaf can fall from a tree without Almighty God’s knowledge; that that was how God destined it to be.
Is there any conflict with the people’s traditional beliefs?
It is very easy for me. Although I am a Muslim, I give equal opportunities to all the religious bodies.
Last Friday, as part of activities marking Oka Day, we were all in the mosque to worship; the next day, being a Sunday, I was also in the church. And if the traditionalists are coming, they also have their own place.
And though I don’t need to be there, but I will never condemn them. Whatever anyone wants to do, there is room for it.
I won’t discriminate against anyone. I offer everybody equal opportunity. They all have access to me on all issues.
In the hall here, on the last Friday of every month, the Muslims come to recite the Holy Qur’an and on the first Sunday of the month, Christian association converges and I join them for service in the palace.
Indeed, the palace structure is designed to accommodate both the mosque and church.
And any time the traditionalists have their festival, either the egungun or they want to go to their shrine, whatever they ask me to give them as the kabiesi, I give them.
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