(A Crest Exclusive)
By Shola Oshunkeye
In a nation in the grip of fear and loathing, in a season when life has lost its sanctity in the twisted minds of career criminals who terminate God’s most precious gift to man with grim regularity, few people would leave their comfort zone and yell at the rooftop: ‘let’s take war to the enemy!’
Oba Dr. Michael Odunayo Ajayi, Arowotawaya II, the Elerinmo of Erinmo in Osun State, is one of the few men who would stop at nothing to protect his people, no matter the odds stacked against him
He said and demonstrated this much during an exclusive interview he granted The Crest in the small hours of Tuesday, August 6, 2019, starting from 3.40a.m.
It was a day when very important people from across the world converged on his domain to commence the fifth anniversary of his coronation as King. For many in his shoes, talking to a nosing journalist on a day like this would be the last thing on their mind. Not His Royal Majesty Oba Michael Ajayi.
“I belong to God and I belong to my people,” he would tell you with the same spirit of grace and generosity of heart that brought him phenomenal success in business and promoted him to the throne of his forefathers. “Their welfare and wellness is my business. No sacrifice is too big to make for my people.”
That set the tone for the interview that lasted one-and-a-half hours. And what other issue to concentrate on if not the pervasive security problems that have made living in Nigeria a huge nightmare.
Tough as the security challenge in the nation is, the Elerinmo of Erinmo said his people are well protected against rampaging killer-herdsmen, kidnappers, armed bandits, among others. They sleep with their two eyes closed, he enthused. But how, in practical terms, is the town protected against the listed criminals and their brothers in arms? You ask. His answer would shock you.
“We are deploying local hunters to comb our forest,” he said. “We are using traditional means of our forefathers to secure our community. Of course, we are liaising with the various security agencies to collaborate for more effective security solutions.”
‘Traditional means like what, sir?’ This reporter sought to push the issue further.
“‘Traditional means’ means traditional ways of our forefathers,” he said seriously. But the matter didn’t end there. The monarch appealed to the federal government to send an executive bill to the National Assembly prescribing the death penalty for kidnappers. Just like Taraba State did on July 2, 2019, when the State House of Assembly amended the state’s Kidnapping and Abduction Prohibition Act 2010 to introduce the death penalty and life imprisonment for violators.
Beyond tackling criminals the ‘traditional ways’, and adopting the death penalty for convicted kidnappers, the royal father urged the federal government to restore the dignity and respect of Nigeria’s traditional institution by empowering traditional rulers to enable them cope with the demands of their palace. The Elerinmo of Erinmo-Ijesa also appealed to the National Assembly to make constitutional provisions that will assign clearly defined roles to the country’s monarchs.
For Oba Michael Ajayi, the road to the throne began on Tuesday, July 3, 2014, when the debonair Founding President of the Forum of Nigerian Professionals in Ghana was anonymously chosen by the Arowotawaya ruling dynasty of Erinmo-Ijesa, and roundly accepted by the kingmakers as the town’s new ruler.
The icing on the cake came on Wednesday, August 6, 2014, when he was crowned the new Elerinmo of Erinmo-Ijesa and then Governor Rauf Aregbesola presented the staff of office to him.
An excellent manager of men, materials and resources, widely travelled Oba Michael Ajayi hit the ground running, harnessing his vast network, locally and internationally, to bring development to the town.
Five years on, the monarch has transformed the hitherto sleepy town into a strategic tourist and business destination in Ijesaland. Little wonder his subjects, both young and old, rolled out the red carpet and clash the cymbals for six days, last week, to celebrate the uncommon achiever.
The Elerinmo spoke on his five years on the throne, his life as an academic, industrialist, international businessman and, now, Oba. Despite obvious challenges, the Erinmo-Ijesa monarch said he can never swap the stool and his present roles for anything else on earth, no matter how alluring.
Below is the full interview. Enjoy it all.
Kaabiyesi (Your Majesty), how do you feel on this occasion of your fifth coronation anniversary, sir?
I am full of praises to God Almighty who put me on the throne of my forefathers and has stood by me ever since. For me, nothing in this world can be greater than representing God Almighty as a King. I am elated and joyful.
Looking back into the past five years, and granting your vast connections-locally and internationally, coupled with your exploits in international business and industry, don’t you feel handicapped by having to be in Erinmo always?
Not at all. As the Bible teaches us, there is time for everything under the sun. There is time to serve yourself and time to devote your entire being to God, your community, and your people. With this great opportunity to serve and lift my people up, I feel great. I feel grateful and happy at this new lifetime challenge. This position will eventually go beyond any business I could ever think about. A Yoruba adage says: Ti a ba wa owo lo, ti a ba pade iyi lona, o ye kapada si ile; nitoripe, ti a ba ri owo oun tan, iyi lao fi ra. Transliterated, it simply means: if you set out to look for money and wealth, and you meet honour and grace on the way, you should go back home. This is because, if you find money and wealth (in your chase), you will use it to buy honour.
Weighing your existence as a well-connected international businessman and industrialist, sir, would you sincerely say that you are better off being King than continuing in business?
I am better off and more fulfilled because I am on the throne of my forefathers. It is the highest position of responsibility which is for a lifetime. It is both spiritual and physical. Also, I believe that being on the throne of my forefathers is perfectly in line with what God predestined for me. Though it is very challenging and keeps me on my toes, God who predestined me for the responsibility has been faithful and gracious unto me. He has stood by me like the rock of Gibraltar.
Kabiyesi, can you do a comparative analysis of your two worlds-as a businessman and as King?
Being a businessman entails managing resources for personal gains, whereas being a King entails rendering service to my people with meagre resources. As a businessman, I belong to myself and do what pleases me. But as a King, I belong to my people and do only what pleases them. You see the big difference? When I was a full businessman, I could use my time the way I wanted, but as King, my people dictate how I move and what I do. I belong to them 100 percent.
So, your people own you totally?
Yes. I belong to God and my people.
What are you missing as King, Kabiyesi?
I sometimes miss my unencumbered freedom. I can’t just do what I like now. Kingship is a position that requires lots of sacrifices and discipline.
What are the challenges you face on the throne, being Oba?
Several. But I thank God for the strength to overcome challenges. These may include relating with people who are not of the same level of education with you and you have to make them understand the reason for certain actions. Change, as you know, is quite difficult to push. Also, one of the biggest challenges one faces as Oba is the lack of resources to maintain the palace and fund developmental projects in the community.
Looking at our country today, vis-a-vis the position and roles assigned to traditional rulers in the scheme of things, would you say you are satisfied at the way those in authority have relegated the traditional institution?
Definitely not. There is no doubt that Nigeria is yet to completely get out of the effects and influences of colonialism. Traditional rulers are the closest to the people and they know how best to solve their problems. Hence, there must be a constitutional role for the traditional rulers.
What are your disappointments?
None, personally; except for the lack of due regard for Obas by the existing constitution.
Exactly my point sir. So, what must government do to restore the dignity, respect and relevance of the traditional institution in the country?
Government must recognise and respect the special roles of traditional rulers and accord us the roles specified clearly in the constitution. Invariably, I am saying that traditional rulers must be the 4th tier of government.
Kabiyesi, please, can you expatiate on that sir?
I am saying that the Nigerian constitution must formally recognize the existence of the traditional institution as an important component of government. I’m saying that the constitution must specify roles for traditional rulers as the 4th-tier of government, just like the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. Certain responsibilities must be left for traditional rulers in view of their strategic position in the country. For instance, our constitution must strengthen the customary courts and give them legal backing to ensure that cases handled are accepted in law. Of course, their scope of coverage needs to be expanded. This will automatically allow for more realistic judgments on issues like land matters, for instance, and lessen the burden on the high courts.
What do you have to say to the security situation in the land?
It is scary shocking and disappointing. I propose the introduction of community-based policing because only with that can we tackle these security issues. You are aware that in a country like the US, each state and county has its own localised police because crime is not same everywhere. The complexion of crime and criminality varies from place to place. That makes community policing expedient now, more than ever before. I believe we will achieve good results if our local hunters and vigilantes are equipped to tackle crime around them.
People have accused traditional rulers of being complicit in the problem of insecurity in that they allegedly do not show sufficient interest in the activities of both their subjects and strangers in their domain.
That cannot be true. No traditional ruler can be comfortable or happy with crime. How is that possible? Traditional rulers are the most affected and concerned because unlike others, traditional rulers have to live with their problems for a lifetime.
What is Kabiyesi doing to keep his domain secure and off the grips of kidnappers, killers and criminals that masquerade as herdsmen?
We are deploying local hunters to comb our forest. We are using traditional means of our forefathers to secure our community. Of course, we are liaising with the various security agencies to collaborate for more effective security solutions.
Traditional means like what sir?
‘Traditional means’ means traditional ways of our forefathers.
A school of thought believes that all these problems-kidnappings, armed robbery, banditry, killings, are by-products of serious diseases that have plagued our nation, e.g. spiralling youth unemployment; shrinking opportunities for Nigerians; corruption; and brazen looting by political office holders.
I agree with them to a large extent. It is a combination of a break- down in social values; the craze for quick wealth; the craze for instant gratification as against delayed gratification; the seeming hopelessness of the economic situation; blatant corruption which appears to be a way of life in Nigeria; and, of course, poor welfare arrangements for citizens and widespread illiteracy among the populace.
What is the way out? How can we restore peace in the land?
The way out is for government to curb corruption, improve the basic lifestyle of the average Nigerian, boost the economy so that industries can begin to operate at full capacity. Attached to that, of course, is the need to solve the power problem in Nigeria. It is shameful for an oil-producing country like Nigeria to still be grappling with basic power supply at this time and age. Our security agencies need overhauling; as well as better training and re-orientation for operatives.
Sir, do you support the calls for the death penalty for kidnappers? If no, why? If yes, why?
If it will dissuade the criminals, why not? The scourge of kidnapping is dangerous and must be curbed by any and every means possible.
Kabiyesi, are you canvassing the Mosaic law of ‘an eye for an eye’? Experts posit that the death sentence does not, and can never deter criminals and criminality.
Why then do they still have death penalty in the developed world and a country like America?
What advice would you give President Buhari on: (1) security and (2) the pace and substance of governance under his watch?
My advice on security has been detailed above in my earlier comments. On the pace of governance, I will say everybody has his own style and pace. It is not how fast but how well. Yorubas say ‘asure tete ko ni koja ile, beeni arigbere ko ni sun lona’. Meaning: a fast walker won’t walk past his house; same way, a slow walker will not sleep on the road. Slow and steady wins the race. As traditional rulers, ours is to pray for our government for God to use them to deliver improved living standards to our people.
Kabiyesi, what do you have to say on President Buhari’s new ministers? Do you think they can take Nigeria to the next level as the president and his party promised?
I wish the president well, and the ministers well too.
Lastly, is it right for traditional rulers to be involved in politics? If no, why? If yes, why?
Never. No traditional ruler should delve into or be involved in politics. We are fathers to all and the best we should offer is prayers for God to give us good, benevolent and considerate administrators.
Sir, what words do you have for Nigerians on this auspicious occasion of your fifth anniversary on the throne?
I pray and wish for a safe Nigeria where people can achieve their best potential in a legal and moral manner. I urge Nigerians not to lose hope in their country because sooner than later, things will become much better. Peace is a precondition for prosperity. They should be their brothers’ keeper.
Thank you very much for your time, sir. And happy anniversary.