You have spent 25 years on the throne. How has the journey been so far?
I thank God that He has made me see this day. I would say that the journey has been rough and good but that is life. I have enjoyed my time as the king because my family members are behind me and I think I have tried my best for my family. I know how Ijora was before I became the king and I know how Ijora is today. I would say that we have recorded a lot of progress but I give God all the glory. When I became the king of Ijora, I met a case which was highly celebrated and it was between our kingdom and Iganmu. I won the case, even at the Supreme Court for Ijora and my family. There are so many developments that have been recorded in this kingdom since I became the king. I do not want to talk much about myself but the kingdom.
What are some of the challenges you faced when you became king?
I had so many challenges. The first challenge I encountered was from my family as there was no good relationship among family members. I had to reunite the whole family. I explained to them that we were one. Ojora is a tree and we, the family members, are all branches so I explained to them that we needed each other to grow instead of destroying the family tree because it would not benefit any member of the family if we destroyed our family tree. I was happy that the whole family agreed with me; now, there is peace in Ijora. During the reign of my predecessor, the palace was closed to visitors. No one could enter the palace as they wished but now, everyone is free to come in and go out as they like.
While you were growing up, did you ever imagine that you would be the king of Ijora someday?
No, I never imagined it. I did not even contest. I was destined to be king and in my opinion, if Yoruba elders adopt the method we use to choose our kings here, there would be peace in the land. I was the personal assistant to the late king, who was my predecessor. When he died, it was the turn of my family to present candidates that would be suitable for the throne. The last time my family got to the throne was about 200 years ago. At the time we had to produce a candidate, our family already had four ruling houses so we could not choose any candidate to ascend the throne. The head of our family at the time was the late Oba Itire; so he advised that the four ruling houses send their candidates. The whole family agreed with him. We went to the palace and since I was the secretary, I was the one that was charged with calling the selected princes’ names to seek divination from the oracle.
The first person I called was my stepbrother and he was the one that I was rooting for because he was my elder brother and at a point in my life, he trained me. When I called his name, the herbalist gave him some cowries to speak to and by the time the herbalist threw the cowries at the oracle, the next thing he asked for was water. I did not understand what the Ifa priest meant by that because I was a devout Muslim and still a devout Muslim. So, I rushed out to get the Ifa priest water and when I handed it over to him, he went outside to pour the water away. When the Ifa priest spoke, he said my stepbrother should not be made the king and if they went against his words, there would be no peace. He also alleged that the man was a thief and that if he should become the king, he would squander all the family’s wealth but most especially, there would be no peace in the community. I was very shocked. There were seven princes after him. The next person we called was Mokalia Onisemo, who was the oldest person among the contestants. As for him, the Ifa priest said that if they should make him the king, he would not spend more than two years on the throne before he would die. The priest said that would make no sense as it would mean that the family waited for 200 years to produce a king only to have one that would sit on the throne for just two years. The Ifa priest went ahead to tell him that if he did not contest to be the king, he would spend more than 30 years on earth. As we speak, the man would be 91 years old in August. He is so agile and active that he still drives himself about.
I had another brother that the Ifa oracle picked, his name is Oyadina. Everyone thought he was the final choice but the man simply said that he did not have interest in the throne. He revealed that he only came to be sure that he had royal blood running through his veins. He said he was a pastor so he was not interested. Then it was the turn of another brother of mine, Alhaji Sikiru Onikolo. The oracle picked him but Oba Itire kicked against his nomination even though they were cousins. The king’s reason was that he would not be able to handle Ijora because he just returned from overseas and was not familiar with the culture, so there would be crisis. The king also felt that he was too stubborn to become the king of Ojora, so they dropped him. The last person that was called was my immediate elder brother. The Ifa priest told him the exact year, month and day he would die even if he decided not to become the king. The truth is that my brother is dead and the Ifa priest’s revelation came to pass. I did not contest simply because I knew what my predecessor went through. Ijora is not an easy place to rule.
Then the Ifa priest looked at me and asked the Oba if I was just a secretary or the member of the family. The Oba told him that I was a member of the family but was not interested in it. At the time, I was already planning to travel out of the country. After much pressure and persuasion, I agreed to try my luck. I felt very reluctant because I knew it was not an easy job and it would take a lot from me. I had experienced a lot as the PA to the late king.
They gave me the cowries; I did not say a word to them but shortly returned them to the Ifa priest. By the time I gave them to him, he stood up as he did for my stepbrother who was labelled a thief and that frightened me. I silently hoped that the priest would not call me a thief. The next thing he did was to salute me and announce, ‘eji ogbe’, which simply means that I was the person confirmed by the oracle without any problem or issue. That was how the journey began.
How did the rest of your family take the news?
My elder brother that was labelled a thief was so sure he would be announced as the next king that he brought so many people with him. His intention was that after the announcement, he would have a grand party. After the selection, he was very disappointed. However, I did not want to feel like a traitor so I advised that all the contestants should leave Itire and head to our family house, so that we could disclose what happened to our kinsmen. I repeated that I did not have interest in the tussle, so the people that the Ifa priest chose could pray for him and give him our mandate. While we were leaving Itire after I was chosen, my stepsisters, who were the biological sisters of my stepbrother whom I was rooting for, cornered me and beat me up. They beat me to the extent that they tore my clothes, just because Ifa chose me. They stripped me naked to the extent that I did not have my pants on. I had to run to Itire police station. It was someone called Buhari Oloto that came with some boys to rescue me at the police station. A policeman took pity on me and gave me the clothes he was meant to wear home when his duty was over. That was what I wore back to Ijora. On my way back, one of the policemen that brought me back asked why the women attacked me and I told him what happened. The policeman advised me that my mandate was from my ancestors and that I should not reject it. I also vowed that for them to have disgraced me in that manner, I would make sure that I ascended the throne. I vowed to fight to the end and from that point; I became fully interested in the race.
By the time I got to Ijora, the news had spread. I was the leader of the youth at the time so immediately I got there, they began to celebrate me. Those family members later took me to court. I won at the High Court so they appealed the case and I won again and they took it to the Supreme Court, and I won again. It was not easy but we thank God.
So when you ascended the throne, what punishment did you mete out to those stepsisters that stripped you naked and beat you up?
I did not do anything to them. I have forgiven them. In fact, I instructed my personal assistant to assign some shops to them in Ijora. I gave them the shops for free. I even give them money.
People believe that being the king; you have to be involved in some fetish traditional practices that come with ascending the throne. As a devout Muslim, how do you cope?
It is a normal thing. I practise all religions, even though, I am a devout Muslim. I even practise Christianity. I have built a church and a mosque in my community. I join the adherents of all the three prominent religions to worship and I believe that is why we have peace in this community. For instance, Muslims have just celebrated Eid Mubarak, if you were observant, you would notice that Christians and even traditional worshippers celebrated with them. We do not segregate in this place. We are one.
What are the things considered as taboo in the land?
In Ijora, you cannot go to a well to draw water at night; anyone who does so will die. A person cannot carry firewood on his head and pass the front of the palace; anyone who flouts the rule will die and that is certain. It still happens till date. You cannot whistle in Ijora, it is forbidden.
What if the person does not know about these rules, will they still die?
If the person does not know about our culture and tradition, he may live but if the person is aware but decides to try it out intentionally, it may affect the person. Also, a masquerader cannot enter Ijora; it is forbidden and if the person tries to force himself in, he will burn immediately. We have what we worship here and it does not allow masqueraders to come into this place.
What are some of the developments you have brought to your community as the king?
Before I became the Ojora, we did not have a commissioner or even judges who are indigenes of the community but I can boast that now we have about four judges from this place and we have about three commissioners. We also have representatives at the Lagos State House of Assembly and the House of Representatives. Schools and hospitals have been built since I ascended the throne. I built four roads with my money while two were built by the local government.
Looking back, what would you say you have missed about your old life?
I really do not miss much because my old friends come to visit me and we play. Sometimes, I go to my club. I believe in keeping and maintaining your old friends instead of making new ones. Old friends would always be quick to let you know when you are going wrong but the new ones would not tell you the truth, mostly because they want to gain something from you.
When your wife learnt that you would become king, how did she react to the news?
To be honest, she was not pleased with it at all because she knew what it entailed to be king of a kingdom like Ijora. I thank God that today we are okay because He is behind us.
What legacy do you want to be remembered for?
It is up to the people to tell my story when I am gone but I am striving to be the best king for my people.