‘Traditional rulers need clear constitutional roles’
The Akarigbo-elect of Remoland,Ogun State, Oba Babatunde Ajayi said one of his major priorities, as traditional ruler is to ensure the progress and protest the interest of his subjects. He also promised to interface between the government and the people for the development of the state. He spoke with journalists . Seye Olumide was there.
At what point in your life did you decide to become a king?
I never envisaged becoming a traditional ruler because I have never used the title, prince but the consciousness came when the immediate past Akarigbo, Oba Michael Adeniyi Sonariwo passed on and it was all over the town that I had been chosen as the next king.
It was being said that the kingmakers chose me two months after the Akarigbo’s demise. That was when I asked somebody, what is synonymous with this throne thing and me? And some said to me “don’t you know that your father was the head of the Torungbuwa ruling house. Somebody showed me a copy of the gazette, which has been structured. That was when I knew our ruling house was next in line. I could recollect that anytime the late Oba Sonariwo sees me, he would say ‘Tunde better go and start getting ready for the throne’, and I would just reply ‘me, what is with me and the throne.’
I started thinking about this throne issue about 12 months ago.
What actually endeared you to the people such that before the selection your name you are already a popular choice?
Honestly, it beats my imagination and that is why I decided to put my heart to the race. When this whole thing started, I already had plans to travel for summer and I took off and unfortunately the news went viral that I ran away, but my mother said no, that wasn’t true.
But it’s humbling. In life, you reap whatever you sow. I have done a lot for my community but not with a mindset that I will be paid back. Perhaps this and the grace of God must have endeared me to the people.
I can also say that I invested a lot in my community such that an old man once said to me “don’t you know that it is Irunmole that brought you to build this in Sagamu?’ But for me it was an investment decision, since Remo could provide a good investment opportunity for the project.
So I think people see in me someone who has given a lot to the community.
There were speculations that during the race, some influential people were supporting a particular candidate. How did you feel during those periods?
All I know in my life is that when you work hard you get results. We worked hard and we knew we would get results. Besides, the people were on our side. So we knew there was no other power that is beyond God and the community. I never for once doubted the fact that we would get results.
What is your view on the declining role of traditional institution and what do you plan to do about it?
If you have asked me this question 12 months ago, honestly I would not have had a view. But in the last couple of days when I see my people, a lot of them, with so much expectations; the burden of expectation is so huge that people think when you get in there, with your power, you will just say ‘let there be road, let there be schools, let there be this, let there be that’. And it is so painful personally that our constitution has not provided a clear-cut role for traditional rulers. I have now seen that traditional rulers need a clear-cut constitutional role. You can imagine if I have a budget, the resources, because I know the expectations of these people I would have known what to do. And, don’t forget, this is a lifetime thing, not something I’d do for four years or eight years, and I owe it to them to do something. So if roles are properly carved out for traditional rulers, I think there will be a meaningful transformation within the society.
Having said that, we are in this business to serve. And I have told people that one thing that we will not be accused of is not trying our best to serve them. We will try, we will demand, we will parley, we will talk to whomever we need to talk to, so that my people will be empowered. We know that we are going to do something.
In 1999 there was a serious crisis in Sagamu between the Yorubas and Hausas, since then there has been absolute peace. How do you intend to sustain that?
We have started the process already. The Emir of Kano was the guest of honour at this year’s Sagamu Day. Unfortunately, he could not attend but sent a representative. Beyond that, the Hausa community are even part of the coronation committee. I’ll tell you a joke of how it happened. When I knew that the Hausa community was coming to see me, I knew that I needed to give them something to take back, and when we finished talking, they said they would love to be appointed as members of the coronation committee; I said ‘no problem’. So as I was handing out my gift, which was kolanut they also brought out their own kolanut.
I can assure you that things are different now. The amazing thing is that if you even go to Sabo, where they are, you will see billboards designed by them for this purpose. It’s just a divine thing and I believe God loves this community.
There is the fear that Yoruba youths are deviating from their traditional culture, do you have any agenda to correct this?
I am not all that into tradition before now therefore I have always been thinking of how to handle it. However, what I experienced since I became king elect amazed me. A lot of our people are still involved in traditional methods; in fact I have had to give assurances to them while meeting with lots of different groups and sects and units. All they just need is arrangement. They are slightly behind in modern things; the tradition, too, needs to move with the modern trend, they need to be organised. Someone asked me if I was going to attend their festivals, and I said ‘why not?’ but they need to plan. If I have my iPad and I have slotted in all the festival days, there is no way I won’t be there. But these things just need to be structured. I have even been told that we have an Ifa School.
As far as Remo is concerned, support for tradition is huge. Even people who have gone to university, professors, have come to me to discuss topics like Ifa. What they need to know is that the present Kabiyesi is really interested. I wont say because I am a Christian I won’t join them. The same way I attend to Christians is the same way I attend to Muslims.
And if we give these traditional people the resources, you will be amazed at the results. I cannot see our culture dying, based on my experiences in the last couple of weeks.
How has your confinement experience been?
I have not really been so much of a boardroom person. I have been an insolvency practitioner, and that is what I do and have passion for. I’m somebody that is always moving up and down and, for the first time in my life, this is the first time I will be confined to a space for a period of more than three days, not to talk of weeks.
Tell us about your educational background and professional journey?
My father used to say the only thing I can do is to read. I went to Remo Secondary School. I was National President for a very long time. I also went to University of Ibadan for my first degree. When I finished, I trained as a Chartered Accountant. And, since I knew I was going to go into insolvency, I thought I needed to go to Law School. So I went to Calabar for my LL.B. I did very well in school; I had the best result and in Law School too. I went to University of Lagos for my LL.M. And I have taken lots of fellowship exams. I was the first INSOL fellow in Nigeria. Now, we now have three fellows in Nigeria.
Would you be committed to Yoruba unity as a traditional ruler?
I think a lot has been said about that and I don’t think I really have anything to add to the idea of unity, cohesion, because once we are divided, we cannot get what we rightly deserve. With all due respect to other tribes in the country, Yoruba are trailblazers, we have achieved a lot in every sector of the economy and we cannot be pushed to the background. One of the institutions that can be a voice for the Yoruba nation is the traditional institution.
When I fully assume power, I will be a voice, because our people will know that we are truthful. What we are bringing is sincerity. Our people don’t want much; so once you are sincere with them, that’s it.
What was your mother’s reaction when you were elected as king?
My mother’s reaction was just like any mother. She initially felt that they wanted to take me away from her but at the end of the day motherly love comes in; she would say her own and immediately she sees where you are going, she will give you all the support and connections that she could deploy into the process.
It is very rare in Remo for a new king to have his mother alive but I thank God she is able to witness this.
Can you summon the courage to say the truth to any governor if the need arise?
Why won’t I? The truth is very important. And I will tell you something about the governor, (Ibikunle Amosun) based on what he has demonstrated to me personally; and I have said this to his face: that he is a good man.
Can you imagine a situation where our governor is interested in a candidate during this last process and the candidate is not our choice, the government had to stand aside and allow the process to take its course.
I do not know why one will be afraid of telling the truth. We do not seek to embarrass the government; there are always channels of communication.
How do you start off?
We have professional experience in the boardroom. We are going to move hi-tech. We already have panels, committees constituted; it’s more like a government taking over. We have a transition committee mapping out different sections, and we have blueprints for different sectors: infrastructure, communication, education, roads; we them all planned out. Unfortunately, we don’t have a budget from government, but we want to have all those areas mapped out and the goals we want to achieve. The beauty is that we have a lifetime to achieve these goals and we will take it one by one.
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