A 41-year-old multi-millionaire was on Monday officially installed as the new Ooni of Ife — the most powerful and influential traditional monarch among the Yoruba people of southwest Nigeria.
Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi succeeded Ife’s 50th ooni, Okunade Sijuade, who died in July after a 35-year reign as paramount ruler and spiritual leader.
Tens of thousands celebrated on the streets of the ancient city to which historically all ethnic Yoruba, including those as far away as Togo, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, can trace their origins.
The Yoruba, who predominate in six southwestern Nigerian states, number some 40 million and make up the country’s second-largest ethnic group after the Hausa-Fulani.
Historically, the Ooni or any king in Yorubaland was revered and considered “the sovereign, second in rank to the gods”. His decision was considered final.
The powers of the Yoruba kings and other traditional rulers were reduced under British colonial rule, said Abimbola Adesoji, head historian at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife.
“Now, they (kings) are mostly titular heads. Their relevance depends on how influential they are or how they can use their influence to benefit their subjects,” he told AFP.
Today, though still regarded as custodians of culture and supreme heads of local communities, they are paid public functionaries but not assigned any specific role in the constitution.
– ‘God-given’ role –
Ogunwusi, dressed in white, with a white ceremonial head covering and white-beaded walking stick, was presented with his staff of office to loud applause from the crowd and dignitaries including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“God has actually prepared me for this throne,” he told guests at the ceremony, which was transmitted via large screens outside the coronation venue and live on some television channels.
“I will dedicate the staff of office just given to me to the youth of Ile-Ife, Osun state and the entire country.”
Ogunwusi , a trained accountant, made his fortune mostly from real estate and marketing, including products of commodities magnate Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man.
Ogunwusi is also chairman of Gran Imperio Group, a leading real estate and construction company.
The Vanguard newspaper described Ogunwusi as “an astute entrepreneur driven by turning impossibilities to ‘possibilities'”.
A prince from one of the ruling houses in the Ife kingdom, Ogunwusi is the son of a retired radio and television broadcaster and was selected from more than 20 candidates.
Born on October 17, 1974, he is one of Nigeria’s youngest traditional rulers.
– High expectations –
Because of his wealth and close connection with powerful Nigerians, many locals who turned out for the coronation have high expectations.
“I am so happy that our new king is young, energetic and well-connected with powerful people,” said Tomi Omodunbi.
“He should improve the social infrastructure and provide jobs for the teeming youth population in the town.”
For Joseph Muda Awowole, 58, a radio repairer in Ile-Ife, the new king “should do well for the Ife people, listen to advice and behave maturely in handling matters, despite his age”.
Felix Bunmi Adegoke, a beer seller, said the king was “a good omen for the town.
“We have accepted him as our king. He is young and rich. He should use his vast connection for the benefit of Ile-Ife.”
Afusatu Layade, a 34-year-old pepper trader in Ile-Ife’s largest market, said: “I am happy that this is happening in my lifetime.
“I have a lot of hope in him that he will take Ile-Ife to greater heights.”