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No nation in the world has grown outside its culture— Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ooni of Ife

By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor & Chris Onuoha

Ile-Ife is widely believed to be the cradle of mankind, and the throne of the Ooni, revered para-mount king of the Yoruba and representative of Oduduwa, progenitor of the Yoruba race, has seated mystifyingly powerful kings for centuries. In this exclusive interview with Vanguard’s Arts & Reviews, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ojaja II, imperially reaches into one of the remotest histories of the crown and the kingdom with the skills of a griot, revealing the relics, treasures, and heroic deeds of her revered kings. He also talked passionately about Nigeria’s problems and the intellectual war he is waging. The interview was conducted in his Palace at Ile-Ife. Enjoy this illuminating trip into history.       

Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ooni of Ife

Your highness, the last Ooni from your family, Derin Ologbenla, reigned 124 years ago (1880-1894). How do you feel being selected by God to be the next Ooni of Ife after 124 years?

Well, everything lies in the hand of God, and God understands and knows the beginning from the end. Before any human being was created, God actually knows how that human being will be created, what that human being will be, and what the human being will do to the entire land. The Almighty, the King of Kings said the hairs on our heads are numbered – that He knows each strand of the hairs on our heads. But you, the owner of the head cannot count your hairs. That’s the mystery of our Creator.

So it’s a good development for the family, the Giesi ruling house. It is a welcome development for Ife and the entire Yoruba race that spans across various continents of the world.

So, I have to do my best; I have to do my very best, and I am doing my best.

Kabiyesi, we know that you are a Christian. How do you handle some conflicts that naturally arise between some traditional practices associated with your office and the Christian faith?

There is this saying that “my people perish because of lack of knowledge.” It is One God. It is One King of Kings. It is One Creator. Nothing compares to that Creator. But the route through which you get to the Creator differs. I am a Christian, and I will still stand as a Christian. But as a traditional ruler, I have to embrace all religions. The depth of the stool of the Ooni lies with traditional heritage of God. I cannot shy away from that; it is not possible. But if God gives you the innermost depth of understanding, you can see between the lines, the grey areas, the dotted lines and connect it, and realise that it is the same thing across board – absolutely the same thing. But Christians would want to say I am better than Moslems and Moslems would want to say I am better than Christians. Traditional worshippers would want to say I am better than the others. The oldest religion is Traditional Religion. Christianity and Islam came from it.

Our progenitor, Oduduwa, has a strong link with the world of Islam. The Yoruba people that left Ife during the Third Dynasty of Ife (we have three dynasties) built Mecca – the linage of Nimrod. They migrated to Mecca from here and came back to Ife, the source of mankind.

So in terms of religion, everything is inter-woven. If you have that innermost depth of understanding, you will see the similarities. To the glory of God, traditional belief has to do with nature. Everything we use is nature-based. Who can survive without nature? It’s not possible. What do we use (in traditional religious ceremonies?) – Water, chicken, goat – all nature-based. What do Christians use during Christmas? – Chicken. What do Moslems use during Ileya? – Ram. What do the traditional believers use? – Chicken, Ram – the same thing.

But they will say one is fetish. How? Are they not using the same natural things the other religions use? So if you have that innermost depth of understanding, you will be able to decipher that it is One God; that it is One King of Kings; that it is One Allah; that it is One Lord. The King of Kings is the Lord of Lords. And you have to be Christ-like – behave like Christ and follow the ways of the Lord Almighty – holiness, holiness all the way.

You can be a Christian and not be holy. On the other hand, you can be holy without being a Christian. Jesus Christ was not a Christian. He wasn’t born a Christian. It was when his disciples started preaching about Him and started behaving like Him that they were called Christians first in Antioch. So Jesus Christ was not a Christian, but He was holy. So, it is possible for you not to be a Christian but holy. You can also be a Christian and be holy at the same time.

So, it doesn’t affect my religion. We just had the Aje Festival. Some people may believe it is fetish, but it is not. What did we use? – Salt. Who does not eat salt? It is one of the sweet things in this world. It’s part of your life and existence. Too much of it is bad. But if you don’t eat salt at all, you can’t survive. (We used) sugar, honey, and dove. We all know dove to be a very peaceful bird – clean and peaceful bird. We used white doves.

The dove is even a symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Bible

Exactly! You see what I am saying. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit for many churches. I held unto doves today. And some people would say I am fetish. What else did I use? So, it is a very sensitive discussion but it is one of my callings on the throne for me to let people know that we are all interwoven. It is One God. So gradually, we will get there.

They also call our ancestors idol worshippers; that they are fetish people. I don’t belong to that school of thought. So it is a work in progress. We can’t know it all today. Gradually, we will get there.

Your Highness, permit us to go back in history. We are still fascinated with that Ooni from your family, Derin Ologbenla, who reigned 124 years ago (1880-1894). As a custodian of the people’s history, have you heard story of any spectacular thing about him? Perhaps the traditional seers may have said you are a re-incarnation of Derin Ologbenla, you know?

Absolutely! Derin Ologbenla, one of my forebears, one of my ancestors, my blood – Ologbenla Ayamoparakogi, Osokoetutu, Osokoakoko.

What does that mean? It means he was a very powerful king who ruled Ife remotely. Nobody in the history of this nation ever ruled this nation in a remote manner. He lived in Oke-Igbo for 14 years. Before then, he was the Balogun to one of the Oonis.

I am Ojaja II. Ojaja I was Ooni of Ife for three years before Derin Ologbonla came. So my family ruled 124 years ago, and ruled 127 years ago. One hundred and twenty seven years ago till 124 years ago, Ojaja I (Ojaja Oraigba) ruled and Derin Ologbenla took over. Derin Ologbenla was like a father to Ojaja I. He trained him. And the father of Ojaja I was Ooni Krumbusu. Ooni Krumbusu passed on, then Ojaja I became Ooni of Ife for three years. Then another family member, a blood member, Derin Ologbenla became Ooni of Ife for 14 years. And Derin Ologbenla and Ooni Krumbusu were blood brothers.

So what’s my point? I am a student of history. I am very passionate about history. My name is Enitan – the child that was actually brought forth with a lot of mysteries and histories behind him – that is the meaning of my name. So, I have a lot of similarities with my ancestors, no doubt. Our root is Oke-Igbo. It is part of Ife. I still go there. That time, they were fighting wars. But this time around, we are no longer fighting wars; what we are fighting now are intellectual wars.

My ancestor, Derin Ologbenla used to disappear a lot at the warfront. And he never lost a battle. He was a very powerful king – you have never seen that kind of power in the history of Yorubaland, and the history of the world. He was very powerful, very on point, never lost a single battle in those days.

Ife is known not to capture and conquer territories. Ife has always been a much secured ancestral home. We don’t build Empires. But when push comes to shove, everybody runs back to Ife to come and save the day for them. The king system in Benin started from Ife. The king system in Oyo started from Ife. Those were major Empires in the entire black race – powerful Empires. And in Yoruba land, we’ve had three dynasties: the 1st Dynasty is Ife Odaye. The 2nd is Ife Oyelagbo, and the 3rd is Ife Yoruba, that is Oduduwa.

So, I am in the 3rd Dynasty. I am actually the 51st Ooni of Ife in the 3rd Dynasty. We’ve had three clear dynasties and those dynasties were the end of different worlds. The 3rd Dynasty was when the language changed. And that has been the source of the mix-up, when people say we are superior to this and this people. But no, we are not talking about superiority here. At some point, the world converged at a point: it has been proven scientifically that everybody came out of Africa, and where in Africa? – tropical Africa. Where is the heart of tropical Africa? – Yoruba land.

So I know history to a large extent, as far as the history of Ife kingdom and the history of my direct ancestors are concerned. So for me, it is intellectual war – war  to better the lot of the youths of this country and the entire black race, a war of emancipation, economic emancipation and youth emancipation. And for us to progress in all ramifications, that’s the kind of war I am reincarnated to fight.

Talking about emancipation, Your Royal Majesty, when the people are afflicted with hunger, diseases, or with some other social and economic problems, they run to their king for solution. Nigeria as a country now is afflicted.  What can you do with your influence to deliver the land and the people?

Thank you very much. Our problem is very simple. The sooner we know that, the better for us. We have forgotten our roots, our heritage, our culture, and our tradition. We can’t survive without our heritage and culture. It is not possible. Look at the history of any nation. There is no nation in this world that has grown outside its heritage, tradition and culture – there is no such nation. Go and read the history of the world if you are passionate about history. Which nation has grown outside its heritage and culture and tradition? You can’t grow on borrowed culture. You can’t grow on borrowed heritage;  that is the major problem we have. That is our fundamental problem as a nation. And we are in a country of diversified culture, very diverse. And that should be our strength, but we are not tapping into our strength.

As a result, we are not catering for the youths who are the future of our country. Seventy per cent of the population of Nigeria is youth. What programme does the government have for them? Who is giving them sense of direction? Who is mentoring them, and what is the best way to mentor youths? It’s through cultural heritage and tradition.

People cannot differentiate between culture, tradition, and religion. You can’t mentor people through religion. Religion is dogmatic, it is one-way. It is not diverse. Culture is very diverse. Culture will teach you to prostrate like this, kneel down like this; it will teach you to say good morning, good afternoon, good night. Culture will teach you to wash your clothes in a particular way, clean the house in a particular way. That is the heritage; that is your culture.

But religion is very one-sided. It does not preach that diversity. And that is a mistake. We go to churches and mosques in this country more (than other people) and pray more (than other people).  But we have abandoned our culture, our roots. So the solution to our problem is very simple – we need to go back to the basics – our culture. We need to understand that our strength is our culture, our diversity. We need to use our culture to mentor our youths. The sooner we know this, the better for our country.

We are just sitting on a keg of gunpowder, because Nigerian youths are getting wilder and wilder every day. Seventy per cent of our people are youths, and we are not even talking about birth control. Every weekend you will be getting invitations for weddings, and after wedding, children will come. Nobody is talking about these things. So it is about time we used our culture, heritage and tradition to mould and mentor the up-coming ones.

In the Yoruba traditional political structure, there was the Alafin (political head), Iya Loja, Balogun, etc. It was a neatly arranged political structure, and even economic structure, and everything worked neatly. Are you saying that success will come to us as a country if we return to those traditional political and socio-economic rhythms?

That is exactly what I am saying! Look, the Yoruba, for instance, are the first to smelt steel. We are the first in bronze casting. It has been proven. Even the Greeks and the Romans placed the Yoruba bronze and the Greeks and Romans bronze side by side and they said the Yoruba’s are the best and oldest. This is known all over the world. This is how it was when we used to be together – all the way to Benin.

Bronze casting started from Ife, and we taught everybody all over the world. Benin as an Empire used palm oil to generate electricity – electricity,  which we are now crying that we don’t have. Oyo Empire was known to be the best in terms of governance, political and military might. And Ife was the ancestral heritage; it is like a spiritual hub for the race.

And we lived together and we were the best in the world, not only here. There was nothing like Nigeria then. The colonial masters came and learned all those things from us. They realised we had a structure.

How did we do it? It was by upholding our heritage, culture and tradition. And we were able to grow. Ring roads and roundabouts had been made in Benin many centuries ago. We first did pavement of roads in the 5th and 6th centuries. Paving of roads was started by a female – Luwogbagada! She started pavement of roads, solid roads. And we are still doing pavement of roads till date.

How did they do it in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries? We were even doing it years Before Christ (BC). We had our structures. So where did we get it wrong? It was when we started borrowing other peoples’ cultures, and look at where it has landed us.

Kabiyesi, we learnt you have lent your support to the demand for a restructured Nigeria.

Yes I belong to that school of thought. That’s the way forward.

But in a situation where those in custody of Nigeria’s guns and bombs do not want a restructured Nigeria, what should we do?

Well, I am not a politician. I am a natural ruler; I am a monarch. I can only advise. It’s a very political question. But what is ideal for us is for every region to focus on their comparative advantage. Competition is the best. You thrive in a healthy competition. If one region does better than the other regions, the other regions can come and borrow from that region. It is still Nigeria first. Nobody is saying it shouldn’t be Nigeria. So let us create competitions in different regions.

Again, it worked before.

It worked before! It will work again! There is too much power at the center. Again I say: I am not a politician. I can only advise.

Let’s talk about arts (and culture). The ‘Tutu’ fever is all over the world now, and the source of that painting is this kingdom. How do you feel about it?

It is among the riches from us to the world. It is among our rich heritage now in the hands of the Western world. That masterpiece emanated from this kingdom several decades ago. And it has been scheduled for auction. They should credit us. They should credit the Ademiluyi family. The Ademiluyi family is a very reputable family all over the world; they should carry them along.

Yes, the Princess Tutu painting is buzzing everywhere. I will advise them not to do things in isolation. Let them come to the Palace and ask questions. We still have our links and records. It is a family tree. We have four ruling families and I belong to one. We can easily link it up. As Yoruba people would say: Okun O ki gun gun, ko ma ni’bi ti o ti wa (a rope cannot be so long that it will be endless and you won’t know where it came from).

Would you like the ‘Tutu’ painting to return to your Palace?

Not necessarily. But it will be good if they carry the royal institution along. Let them give us that credit. It is important. We should not, and will not struggle for such credit. We belong to the lineage of kingship – monarchy.  And it’s time for all of us to redefine that and hold unto things that belong to us.

Your Highness, The Ife Grand Resort & Leisure which you are building here in Ile-Ife is a huge investment in the country’s tourism industry. Could you let us in on the things going on in the project?

As you can see, domestic tourism in Nigeria has very huge potentials. Tourism is about movement. You (OSA AMADI and Chris Onuoha) have come to Ife now from Vanguard in Lagos. It is part of tourism. You have moved. You might see something you like in Ife and it will make you decide to stay forever. It happens. Some would just go for a tourism trip and meet their wives or future husbands and they decide to settle down there.

So, domestic tourism in Nigeria is very huge. But if you are not comfortable, you won’t have that feeling to come back. So we need to create the environment, the good ambience required for them to come back. By the time you get there (at the Ife Grand Resort), you will understand what we are trying to do. Ife is the source of mankind – we have our facts. Some might dispute it. But truth is constant. We have a lot of archeological facts, physical material facts, to back it up.

People need to come and check all these things. But they need to be comfortable when they come. So, that’s the reason the Ife Grand Resort came to be, and so far, so good. When you get there, you won’t believe it. It’s Pan-African, very Pan-Nigerian. Everything we use there is indigenous.

Sir, could you talk a bit about the Aje Festival?

The Aje Festival is a festival of wealth and prosperity. What do we celebrate? We celebrate prosperity, and we use peaceful animal and nature to celebrate it. It’s very important. Every human being wants to prosper in life. So we have to pray for the nation. Pray for this town. Pray for the entire Yoruba race. It has never failed us, and it will never fail us. Last year when we had the festival, we prayed and we told the entire media world that within the next seven days, dollar will crash. It happened. It was recorded. We have the same festival every 3rd Monday in the month of February.

Last year when we had it, the rising of dollar against naira was alarming. There was a lot of tension in Nigeria, and we said to everyone: let us go back to our festival of wealth. And we celebrated it big time. And we said; let us pray for this country. We want dollar to come down. We prayed and the next Thursday, it started dropping. Today, dollar is between 350 and 360 naira. That’s the black market. The official rate is about 300 or something like that.

So these things work, very clearly. And some people will say we are fetish. This time around, this year again, we have prayed. The vibes of Nigerian investment hasn’t been very good. A lot of foreign investments, even local investments are not hooked up to the economy. There is so much tension in the land. We have prayed: Let investment flow in this country. Go and write it down again: within the next two or three months in Nigeria, you will see the body language of the world towards Nigerian investment. You will see everything start to boom – markets, proceeds from agriculture, domestic investments; things will change because we want our youths to be empowered.  So it is like a vicious cycle. So I believe it will definitely happen.

Kabiyesi, before we met you today, we had a different notion about you…

What notion did you have about me?

Your Highness, we had expected to meet a king sitting on a very high throne; a king who would not allow anyone to come near him. But your simplicity and your ability to make people relax in your presence are amazing. You have a mysterious way of disarming everyone with your kindness. How did you become like this?

Can anything be greater than God the Almighty? Can anything be greater than the King of Kings? For the mere fact that God puts you in a position, you should not forget your Creator and where you are coming from. It is not by your power or might. So, we should try as much as possible to live a simple life. Put love first. Love people. Care for them. The greatest commandment of God, both in Islam and Christianity, is love. Peace, Love, Peace.

How many people have you made to smile today? It is not money all the time. Have you made some people to smile? Have you made them to laugh? You don’t know the good you have done to people by just making them to laugh. So, I like to live a very simple life. Simplicity is my watchword. As a spiritual leader of the Yoruba race, to the glory of God, I don’t joke with my spirituality. Simplicity is my watchword. Thank you.

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