By Alex Kola Folorunso
Less than two weeks to the installation of the new Olowo of Owo, Gbadegesin Ajibade Ogunoye, preparations are in top gear for the ceremony. Ogunoye, in this interview, gives an insight into his imminent kingship. Excerpts:
How do we describe the Olowo-elect?
First and foremost, I am a prince of Owo and a direct son of Oba Adekola Ogunoye II, who reigned between 1968 and 1993.
I am 53 years old, having been born on July 6, 1966. I attended various schools, from primary school to the university level. I have first and second degrees in law. I obtained my first degree from then Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti and master’s from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko.
I have been called to the bar. I was a civil servant. I joined Ondo State Civil Service in 2001 as an Administrative Officer and rose to become Permanent Secretary on Protocols, Governor’s Office. Prior to that, I taught briefly in a secondary school.
Let’s talk about events that led to your emergence as Olowo–elect?
The process started when the late Oba Olagbade Olateru Olagbegi III joined his ancestors. In line with Owo tradition, a new prince has to emerge as Olowo of Owo- elect. The process started three months after his demise. 15 of us vied for the throne and, through the grace of God, I emerged as Olowo – elect. There is only one ruling house in Owo Kingdom which we call Elewokun Ruling House. However, we have two subsets in the ruling house which are the Atanneyes and the Ogunoyes. The Atanneyes comprise the Olagbegis and Ajikes.
Did you have any conviction during your growing up days that you would one day become an Oba?
I will like to answer this question after my installation.
But your mother in one of the national dailies recently was quoted as saying that your father had once predicted that one of his children would be crowned the Olowo one day and don’t you think that the day has come now?
I will soon elaborate on that.
What are the expectations of your people as you are crowned their king?
Majorly and considering our past experience, it has always not been easy to choose an Oba for the Owo people. The competition is usually tense. But we thank God that this time around, it all went peacefully. In essence, I broke a jinx. For me, the most important thing is to ensure that there is peace in the kingdom and we have started experiencing it. Without peace, there will not be development. Again, you know that youths are the driving force for development. So my focus is to work more in the direction of youth development in Owo Kingdom.
Meanwhile, I desire to promote our culture and tradition. Owo is a unique kingdom known for culture. I will work towards the preservation and promotion of our culture. We have a very popular festival called Igogo which we want to take to global acceptance, we will have a date set aside for tourists to pay a visit to Owo Kingdom. Igogo festival used to be very interesting. I will promote the festival to global acceptance such that we will have a date set aside for tourists to pay a visit to Owo. The festival will be explored towards cultural tourism. People, through the means of the cultural tourism, will be empowered. Hoteliers, food vendors, carpenters, artisans will benefit. I equally want to have a Hall of Fame for those who have positively impacted on the kingdom. All these will be done to restore our values. Yoruba values are being eroded due to a lot of factors. During my reign as Olowo, I will restore Yoruba values in Owo Kingdom.
Do you have plans to reconcile with those who lost while contesting with you. The Ogunoye ruling family, for instance?
Those who contested with me are my brothers. We are together. There are no grievances. We are one big family. They all congratulated me at the venue where the election took place. Some of them have visited me .They have been coming to meet me and we have been discussing. Because we are all from the same Elewokun Ruling House, we have no problem at all.
What roles did the Senior Omo Olowos play in your emergence as Olowo-elect?
We have kingmakers and we have the Senior Omo Olowos. Everyone played his role according to the customs and traditions of Owo Kingdom. Those who were saddled with the responsibilities of selection of an Oba in Owo are the Senior Omo Olowos. They are princes in their own rights and they have been honoured with various chieftaincy titles over time. However, they cannot by themselves contest for the throne. They have chieftaincy titles already. They all supported me and conducted themselves properly in line with family tradition in order to protect the family against any rancor. By their own decision and reasoning, they thought I should be the one to fill the vacant stool of the Olowo. I thank them all for their decision.
As a top civil servant serving in the administration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, some people are of the opinion that the governor would have influenced your candidacy.
That is not true. The only thing that the government of Ondo State did was to ensure that there was maximum peace during the selection process. They did this without any interference. The governor did not interfere at all, in spite of the fact that he is a stakeholder in Owo Kingdom as an illustrious son of the ancient Kingdom. The governor has shown that he is a true leader who wants the best for his kingdom by creating a peaceful and rancor-free environment during the selection process. The events that followed my announcement in the kingdom tell you that I am the popular choice. The mammoth crowd that followed me from the palace to my private home tells you about my popularity. Hardly can you change the minds of the Owo people once they decide on what they want to do. So, I am the people’s choice.
As you join the league of the traditional rulers in Nigeria, how can the menace of insecurity, especially herdsmen attacks in the South-West region and Nigeria, be curbed?
I will hold meetings with my fellow Obas to fashion out a way forward, particularly by advising government on what they should do. Mind you, it is only government that is empowered to curtail violence and ensure peace. That is one of the primary functions of government. They have the instrumentality of crime control. The best any traditional ruler can do is to advise government on such issue. I believe that, over time, God will help us to surmount the problem.
As Oba-elect, how do you combine that with being a father and husband?
Fortunately for me, I stayed with my father as a prince for almost 25 years when he was on the throne. I have learnt the rudiments and culture of our people. I am well equipped to play a fatherly and traditional role. As a public servant, I will surely retire from public service immediately I am crowned. As a family man, I will continue to play my role to my lovely children as their father and also a good husband to my wife.
Your message to natives of Owo Kingdom and Nigerians as you prepare for your installation ceremony?
My message to the world is that we are about to experience a new beginning in Owo Kingdom, a new beginning that is spiced with peace, prosperity and promotion of our cultural heritage. From August 23, 2019 when I will be installed, it will be an expression of our culture and tradition. Whoever is interested in witnessing how an Oba is installed in the area of cultural tourism is invited.