This interview was conducted by Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi and Gbemga Adefaye in 2009 when Oba Okunade Sijuade clocked 80 years.
It is timeless and relevant. This is an extract…..
Tell us about your childhood, we understand you were born in Abeokuta?
Kabiyesi: (Cuts in). No, I was born in Ife.
What was growing up as child like?
Kabiyesi: I was born in Ile Ife, but at an early age, we were moved to Abeokuta to start our education. Both at Mrs. Kuti’s class and Igbein elementary school and later at Abeokuta Grammar School, before some of us moved back to Ife to attend Oduduwa College. Some of us moved down to Lagos into different colleges. I started working with my father, a few years later. Before then, I was invited to join the Nigerian Tribune. I worked there for about three years before I left for the United Kingdom to study Business Management. After a successful course, I joined the Leventis Group in Manchester.
Leventis Group organised two to three years of special training in different countries of the world and also training in advanced management for us. They brought me back to Nigeria in 1959 as one of their managers in charge of Leventis Motors in Ibadan. That’s where I started in Ibadan.
When you went to work at Leventis, how old were you?
Kabiyesi: Maybe 29 or perhaps, 30.Ooni-of-Ife-Oba-Okunade-Sijuwade-1024×576
And you were trained as a manager there?
Kabiyesi: Yes. I came back in 1959, I was transferred to Ibadan as a manager of Leventis and thatâ€™s how I started life.
What about the Nigerian Tribune?
Kabiyesi: I was not a reporter! I was a manager at The Tribune in charge of business and advertisement. I was not an ordinary reporter at The Tribune!! Having worked with my parents, I had gained much experience and so, I was considered qualified to do any job on a managerial status. But going into The Tribune was to know a bit about the world and to be nearer to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his family. That was why I went to The Nigeria Tribune and I spent two to three years there. From there, I proceeded to London.
When you were at Leventis, those who remember you, recall your association with cars.
Kabiyesi: (Cuts in) No, no, I was the first Nigerian Manager in Leventis and I was in charge of Leventis Motors. I was also in charge of Western Nigeria and from there, a lot of promotions came up.
Was that when you met Chief Gabriel Igbinedion?
Kabiyesi: Chief Igbinedion was in the Nigeria Police. He came to see me in Ibadan and on one occasion, I invited him to join Leventis. He (Igbinedion) resigned and came to join Leventis.
We have asked this question because Chief Igbinedion speaks highly of you. He says that most of what he has become today is because of your help. What did you do for him?
Kabiyesi: You want to be fair and straight forward in anything you do in life. He (Igbinedion) was younger than me. I invited him, gave him an offer. He accepted it. He was properly trained. He worked with me. He was transferred to Benin and he made good of everything. He became fabulous, following the footsteps and the training we had given him. He was very straight-forward with us.
But what exactly did you see in Chief Igbinedion?
Kabiyesi: It was hard work. If Igbinedion was not a hardworking man, he would not have established what he has established. It is not easy. If you have a Cambridge degree and a doctorate degree and you are not a hardworking man, you cannot do what Igbinedion has done. It is not easy to be successful in life. Igbinedion is a very hard working man and God is on his side.
Let us return briefly to Chief Awolowo. Tell us about him. What kind of man was he and what was your relationship with him like?
Kabiyesi: Chief Awolowo’s ways were nearer those of Oduduwa. Chief Awolowo was not a common man. If you were looking for a very straight forward man, you found that in Chief Awolowo. He gave everybody an opportunity to express and explain himself. Chief Awolowo was a very decent man. You don’t find two Awolowos at the same time and that is the problem the Yorubas have as at today.
You also had a special relationship with Chief Awolowo, who loved you like his own child. He was said to be biased towards you. What kind of relationship did you have with him?
Kabiyesi: I was a very straight forward with Chief Awolowo and I followed the foot steps of our own revered late father, Sir Adesoji Aderemi, the former Governor of the Western region and Ooni of Ife because Pa Adesoji used to lecture us on Chief Awolowo. It will interest you to know that when I was getting married in 1959, the first couple to get to the Church was Papa and Mama Awolowo. In 1957, I was the one who arranged that the Awolowos be guests of A.G Leventis in Manchester and Paris, during their constitutional conference.
You know, Chief Awolowo was a man. You knew where you stood with him. He was not a double dealer; he was unlike the men we have today. He came at a wrong time.
Sir Aderemi also loved you like Awolowo loved you and was also considered to be biased towards you too! What kind of person was he?
Kabiyesi: Our own traditional father, Sir Adesoji Aderemi was like any child of God that was straight forward and brilliant. The same thing applied to Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
If you are straight forward and brilliant, any father will like any child or daughter, for that matter. If you are straight forward in your dealings, you can be creative. Those who have made names in the world have used their brains to create a thousand and one things. If you use brain for creative purposes, people will respect you. That was what happened in the case of myself, Sir Aderemi and Pa Awolowo.
When did it occur to you that you could one day become the Ooni of Ife? At what point did you think it was possible?
Kabiyesi: Before God and man, I did not think it would be possible and I had ruled it out of my life that I will become the Ooni until Sir Aderemi Adesoji died. I had moved to London because the headquarters of our company was in London. When Sir Aderemi died, there was a telephone call from the late Chief M. A. Omisade who told me what had happened at exactly 6a.m. By 10 in the morning, there was another telephone call that came when I was in my car. I was then taking the late Alake, Oba Oyebade Lipede to the airport because he was my guest in London. He was returning home. We were on our way to the airport and it was my secretary who said that Chief Awolowo had been looking for me and that he had given him the telephone number in the car.alaafin
So, when we got to the airport, I had reserved the VIP lounge for Oba Lipede and just as I was about to sit down, a call came through and one of the hostesses came to me and said, Sir, there’s one Chief on the line who would like to speak to you. It was Chief Awolowo, who called to ask if I had heard what had happened at home. And I said, Yes. He later said, Prince, Ileya (Home beckons) It’s time to return home.
I replied, No sir. I was not going home. He repeated it a second time and I insisted that I was not returning home. By that time, I was already making good money; spending nine months in London and three months in Nigeria. He (Awolowo) said: Prince, you cannot quantify the position of Ooni in terms of money. He said, that if there was a problem in Nigeria, the leadership would call the Ooni and the Sultan; that whatever the two of them decided was what they politicians would do.
I argued that, Baba, you want to put me in trouble! You want me to return to Ife where there is no infrastructure, where all the roads are bad. He (Awolowo) further said that whatever was required of Ile-Ife would be done; everything that you need. Prince, Ife is the natural capital of our race. Ile ya (Home beckons)!!
Chief Awolowo said that?
Kabiyesi: He (Awolowo) said there was no more leadership among the traditional rulers since Oba Adesoji Aderemi passed on and that I had to return home. Awolowo forced me to return otherwise, I didn’t want to come back.
But some people had also said that as a young man with lots of money, you lived like a prince in his own right and played the role of a future Oba! People saw you as an Ooni-in-waiting!!
Kabiyesi : That was on the lighter side for a young man with lots of money and a retinue of friends carrying your bags! (Laughter) There was not much to that!!
As a young Prince, you were also close to other Princes, like Prince Adeyemi before he became the Alaafin of Oyo and Alhaji Ado Bayero?
Kabiyesi:Â (Cuts in) No. I was close to Alhaji Ado Bayero and not Adeyemi the Alaafin. Prince Adeyemi was brought to me by Chief Ashamu to help him ascend the throne. I had never met him before that time, but I was told he was working as a Clerk at the Great Nigeria Insurance company. They brought him (Adeyemi) for me to help because I was the closest friend of the then Governor of the Western region, Governor Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo at that time. I did my best, not really for him (Adeyemi) but for Ashamu, who was a friend that brought a young man for help.
So, it shows clearly that at a point, you were also close to the present Alaafin?
Kabiyesi: No, I was never close to him.
But you knew him?
Kabiyesi: They brought him to me; I met him once and I helped him. I was at his installation because I was invited by the Governor. For ten years, I did not see him until December 16, 1980 when I was appointed as Chairman of the traditional rulers in Oyo State by the late Chief Bola Ige; I met him again. We were never friends because he is junior to me.mko abiola 7
What’s your relationship with him today?
Kabiyesi : With me there is no problem. If he (Alaafin) comes in here today, I will entertain him. I don’t know what he thinks about me, but here, every traditional ruler is welcome.
There have been happy moments for you and sad moments, such as when your first wife died. Tell us about Mama Tokunbo. What kind of woman was she?
Kabiyesi: She was my mother. She was more than a diamond. She was more than a diamond to me. So, whatever adjective you can give your mother is what you can give to Mama Tokunbo. You see, she was not an ordinary woman and by her training as the daughter of a Bishop, she had everything.
You have also had some difficult moments in your life. One of them was when you were suspended by the Buhari/Idiagbon administration along with your brother and friend, the Emir of Kano. What actually happened?
Kabiyesi: It’s an interesting story. The Emir of Kano had been thinking of going to the second holiest Mosque for a very long time. And every year, I go to Israel twice for prayers on Mount Zion. My first visit to Mount Zion was in 1962 and I had been going twice a year to pray.
So, on this occasion, we decided, first of all, to spend two days in Athens and Cyprus with the Leventis family and from there, to Israel. Unfortunately for the Emir of Kano, he spent only 24 hours because he went to the second holiest mosque for prayers and he left me to go to another holy ground, somewhere in Switzerland. I was there for two, may be, three days. When I flew to London, I think it was Alhaji Odunewu (Allah De) who rang me from Lagos that it was on the television that we went to Israel without informing the Federal government.
As God would have it, I was planning to have a big farm and I had a friend, a German, that had a big farm in Germany. But God works in mysterious ways. When I got home in London, I met a letter from the then Colonel Oladayo Popoola, the Governor, asking me to attend a ceremony being organised by the then Colonel Nwachukwu, then the Governor of Imo State, establishing the Council of Traditional rulers and that the Chairman to be appointed in Imo, insisted that he wanted the Ooni of Ife to be there.
So, Nwachukwu got in touch with Popoola and Popoola sent a message to me in London saying: Papa, please honour this invitation. That was why I did not go to Germany. My not going to Germany saved me from further embarrassment, which I will explain to you presently.
So, seeing the Governor’s letter, I jumped into the plane and I came home to attend the ceremony. The late Professor Biobaku, Dr. Otolorin and a few others, joined me here and we went to Imo state. When we came back, the problem started. Just one fine morning at 6.00 a.m., my receptionist told me that Colonel Popoola was at the reception. Anyway, the Governor came and told me what had happened in Ibadan. He asked me how soon I could get to Ibadan because they had given him a certain instruction from Dodon Barracks. I was in Ibadan at 8:30am. I was to see the Governor by 9.00 a.m. and I was leaving my home, the Governor called me and said: Baba, don’t come here, I have an unexpected guest. At 9:30 a.m., he rang me. I went there and they brought the letter of suspension by the Secretary to the Government, who did not even know what had happened earlier in the day.
I read the suspension letter and I told the Governor, this was alien to Yoruba land because nobody can suspend the Ooni. So, I asked the Saarun (traditional aide-de-camp) to sign for the letter and we left.
That was instructive because history would ask whether the Ooni was blind folded to commit an abomination of signing for a suspension letter!
Three days after that incident, somebody from Dodan Barracks came to see me. The Director General from SSS sent a senior staff here to collect my passport from me and I gave them the two passports that I had diplomatic and ordinary. The third day, he came back, and said: Sir, in our record, you have another passport. That was the one I took 40 to 50 years ago! So, I wrote to my financial director in Lagos to look into my files for my other passport and hand it over to the Director General of the SSS, which he did.
So, after four weeks, somebody came in from Dodan Barracks and said: Sir, we are sorry for what we’ve done. Apparently, some people told a big lie against me and the Emir of Kano. It was the Alaafin, who went to Abiola to sell to Abiola that I went to Israel and that I took the Emir of Kano to Israel as a camouflage and that I had earlier gone to Germany to recruit some killers and that I had taken them to the MOSSAD in Israel, to be trained specially and to be brought back to Nigeria to wrestle power from Buhari for Awolowo!! That’s why we were suspended.
Who told the story? Was it MKO Abiola?
Kabiyesi: No, it was someone who came from Dodon Barracks. They sold the dummy to Abiola; Abiola sold it to Babangida and Babangida sold it to Dodan Barracks. How did this come out? They were looking for a German visa in the two passports that I gave them. He told them that I went to Germany to recruit! So, there was no visa in the two passports, but they said Ooni is a clever man. He must have used the ordinary passport. That was why they requested for the ordinary passport. Now, when they got the ordinary passport and they saw that it has not been used for 30 years, they knew the plot was meant to bring the Ooni down. That’s what happened.
What’s your relationship with Buhari now?
Kabiyesi: Cordial. Buhari was here, when he was campaigning, I received him and I even gave him a gift because we leave everything to God.
You mentioned Chief MKO Abiola, what was your relationship with him? Because there are those who say that you did not support the June 12 cause in retaliation to Abiola?
Kabiyesi: You see, it’s a long story. Abiola had been coming to greet me before I became Ooni. I used to give Abiola business to do. Abiola was the closest friend of my late younger brother, Dapo. So Abiola was a younger brother to me. Awolowo was above Abiola. Abiola was one of those who did not allow Awolowo to reach his goal and that is partly why we are suffering today.
That is why Yorubas are suffering today. If Awolowo had made it to being the president of this country, this country would have been great. Abiola had been planning to be president for 20 years.
I believe so much in your ability but I don’t believe in your destroying anybody. Whether I believe in June 12 or not, I donated and gave Abiola money up to four times. In my house in London, Abiola was with me up to three times. I knew Abiola very well and he was very close to me.
After June 12, the traditional rulers visited the Federal government and when they came out, you spoke on their behalf. You said June 12 was gone and that the people, in the context of a possible re-run of the elections, should go out and participate. Can you tell us what happened?
Kabiyesi: There was nothing like that. It was July 26, 1993. There was a meeting in Abuja and my phone rang. We were staying in Nicon Hotel; it was the Awujale who said he was on his way. By 9:30p.m, the door opened and it was the Awujale, followed by Alaafin and the late Oba of Lagos, Adeyinka Oyekan. They sat down. They asked me what was going to happen tomorrow. I said we had been invited by the government, but that we could play a fast one on them! Let’s tell them at the meeting tomorrow that, that as fathers of Abiola, since he (Abiola) had won the elections and if there was no cogent reason why he had not been appointed as the president, the Yoruba will break from the Nigerian union the next day.
The Awujale said: Alaye, you are going to say it because 70 per cent of Yoruba’s problems are on the Ooni! I replied and said, It was the headache of the Federal government and not mine. If I say it and I’m detained, tell them at home!!
The meeting started and the President spoke for a few minutes. The former Sultan, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, spoke and then it was my turn to speak. I said, Mr. President, first and foremost, by way of digression, when we were here in April, I told you exactly that in my temple in Ife, I saw darkness descending on Nigeria and that you should take steps.
I said the next speaker after me on that day, was the Oba of Benin, who affirmed what I said and yet, you did nothing. I said that darkness has now engulfed Nigeria.That was by way of digression. I said, Abiola, who is our own son should have the mandate of the people. He won the elections; you refused to appoint him. If there was no cogent reason, then the Yorubas are no longer interested in the Nigerian union. There were 30 traditional rulers there when I spoke and the whole place was dead in silence.
Everybody on that day spoke in my favour. They didn’t want secession; they didn’t want the country to break-up. So, they were more or less on my side except one traditional ruler from Imo State. He said: Why don’t you allow the government do whatever they think is right?. The Awujale was sitting opposite me. When he took the microphone, he said: Mr. President, you know I always disagree with the Ooni every now and then, but on this occasion, I agree with Ooni a hundred per cent! President Babangida later took the microphone. He said gentlemen, I am the closest to Abiola’s family and what I have done is for friendship’s sake. He brought out a file and said he has paid Abiola over $800 million for jobs done and those not done. The whole place was dead silent.
Yet, I was not satisfied; I raised my hand and then Dasuki spoke in Yoruba to me to let the matter die there. Still, I was not happy. After the meeting, as we stood up, about six Emirs moved close to me and said: Ooni, you are not going today. We will come to your hotel room at 8p.m. At that time, Uche Chukwumerije, who was then the Minister of Information, moved nearer and said: Your Highness, the press is waiting. I followed him out. When the press asked about the outcome of the meeting, I said the president spoke sense, but that we were going back home because we had a mandate from our people. When I got to my hotel, I met my aide who said I had been misquoted. I asked my aide, Why do you bother your head?.
Some three Emirs later came to my hotel room and said: Ooni, we saw you today being very annoyed but the downfall of Abiola has nothing to do with us. Abiola was used by the military and he is having problems with the military. Ooni, give us a Yoruba man that can rule this country and the entire north will not raise any eyebrow. That was how the Yorubas came to rule. I further asked the Emirs if they could reconsider and they said that the north had no hand in Abiola’s downfall but that I should present a Yoruba man to rule the country.
There are two names you’ve mentioned repeatedly, Babangida and Obasanjo. What is your relationship with Babangida today? First because during his last visit to Ile-Ife, on his way out of office, just before Osun State was created, we were assured that Ife would become the state capital at that time and of course, it never happened. What was your relationship with Babangida then, and now?
We did not put our foot down that Ife had to be the state capital. I single handedly got Osun State created. The Orogun Ila phoned me and said they were coming to see me. When they came, they said they have done their best for this state, and that they wanted to hand it over to me and I ask him what do you mean by that.
So, I phoned Babangida that I wanted to come and see him. He said that I should come and I told him at that meeting that I wanted a state.
He said, Kabiyesi, why do you want me to break Yorubaland any further? I said, the money you gave us in Oyo State cannot even develop Ibadan, how much more other towns surrounding Oyo State.
He said, Kabiyesi, that’s a very good point, and he promised to help. But on that occasion, I didn’t tell him that Ife had to be the capital. Few months later, Oba Olashore was launching his book, though he was not an Oba then. Babaginda was the chief guest of honour and I was the chairman, while Abiola was the chief launcher. Twenty traditional rulers went to that launching led by Orogun of Ila, late Oba Ayeni. After the ceremony, I told the president that the tradition rulers from Oyo would like to greet him. As he (Babangida) stretched his hand to the Orogun of Ila, he said, Mr. President, where is our state? He said that the Ooni has spoken to him and he would help at the appropriate time. That’s how we got the state. But Abiola was working with Ataoja, but God’s time is the best. So, I don’t blame Babangida for anything.
What kind of relationship did you have with Obasanjo?
Kabiyesi:You see Yorubas don’t understand Obasanjo. There are no two Obasanjos. If God didn’t want Obasanjo, he would not have been there except you don’t believe in God. He went to war and ended it in the 1970. He was the one who handed over, in 1979. There is something God wanted to tell us, there is nothing God cannot do. God wanted to tell us something but we Yorubas didn’t understand him (God). If God didn’t want Obasanjo, he would not have lasted one day on the seat, but you didn’t understand. If you hate someone, you hate him for life. But God does not work like that.
It’s just like the case of President Yar Adua who is now sick; so many are crying as if he is dead. God creates, God takes. When you offend God, He is going to give you 200 opportunities to repent. That is what we learnt as Ooni during our training. There are Bibles in my temple and if you are a Muslim, there are Muslim books which you can never get to buy. There are ambitious people and there are over-ambitious people. Take for example, a Baale in a big town who wants to be the biggest man and with plenty of money. That’s the problem of the Yorubas! Yorubas are responsible for not allowing Awolowo reach his goal. Some Yorubas told some Emirs that if Awolowo should become President, he won’t allow some things to happen. That is Yoruba for you. Some people were responsible for the disagreement between Awolowo and Akintola. Akintola was not inherently a bad man.
What is the true Oduduwa story as it relates to other parts of the country; for instance, your relationship with the Oba of Benin and the Olu of Warri. Could you please tell us some more about the Oduduwa story?
Kabiyesi: The first Ooni was Oramiyan. He owned the Benin and Oyo dynasty as a warrior prince before he became the Ooni. You are going to be invited here on January 2, 2010 on the launch of a book on Ife which tells us that Ile Ife was created in 405 B.C as one of the first five holy cities created by God on Earth and the first in Africa. There is no Alaafin without Ooni, there is no Oyo without Ife. Orun Oba Ido, here in Ile-Ife was the burial ground for Benin Obas, till 1916. The story the Oba of Benin is telling now is not quite correct, because his late father Oba Akenzua had a more detailed story which he told the world the day we went to open the WATECO Motors branch in Benin.
It is not yet time for me to tell him the real story. It was Apomu that Alaafin Aole attacked in 1793 that led to the fall of Oyo Empire. Our problem is that small historians who are seeking livelihood are trying to re-write history in a dangerous way. So we now have new tales being peddled around.
Down memory lane, there have been some controversies in your private life. For example, when your marriage with your wife was consummated, there was some controversy with the Sodipo family. What was it about?