By Femi Kehinde
It is a settled historical fact that Ile-Ife is the cradle of the Yoruba. We may not believe the myth of Ile-Ife as the origin of human race, but we cannot deny the historical roots of Yoruba people as a whole in Ile-Ife. In the life of the ancient city of Ile-Ife, two eminent and distinguished personalities dominated the landscape of the Yoruba nation for an uninterrupted period of 85 years. Titus Martins Adesoji Tadenianwo Aderemi (November 15, 1889 to July 7, 1980) was a quintessential Yoruba monarch. He was the Ooni of Ife in 1930 and was on the throne for an uninterrupted period of 50 years until his death in July 1980. He was a member of the Oshinkola Ruling House of Ife. He succeeded Ooni Ademiluyi Ajagun who died on June 24, 1930. He was the first literate Ooni.
Ooni Okunade Sijuwade, born on January 1, 1930 to the great royal family of the Ogbooru Ruling House, ascended the throne of the Ooni of Ile-Ife on December 6, 1980 and was on the throne of this great royal institution for an uninterrupted period of 35 years until his demise on July 28, 2015. It is an interesting historical coincidence that these two great monarchs were destined for the royal stool of Ile Ife right from birth.
Oba Titus Martins Adesoji Tadenianwo Aderemi was born on November 15, 1889, every inch a king, to the family of Osundeyi Gbadebo and Adekunbi Itiola, his 19th and last wife and a native of Ipetumodu. On the day of Adesoji’s birth, his father, Prince Gbadebo Osundeyi, had just arrived from a war expedition and as a gifted seer, Prince Osundeyi carried the baby into his laps, gazed intently into his face and was happy at what he saw. He instructed Adekunbi to search for red beads, which they presented this special baby, pronouncing him an Ooni, a future Ooni, who is however an ancestor Ooni, who had come back through their family. Prince Osundeyi named this unusual baby Tadeniawo Ayinla Aderemi, who took his first footsteps at seven months and started walking.
As a restless spirit, everything about Aderemi was quick and fast. He started schooling in January 1900 at the St. Phillips School, Iyekere, Ile-Ife. He left school in 1906, became a pupil teacher in 1907 and immediately registered with an overseas Correspondent School, for private tuition, backed up with private lessons from the late Bishop A.B Akinyele, to whom he paid visits at Ibadan.
He joined the Nigerian Railway Corporation in 1909 in the construction section and worked in various other departments as Station Manager at Port-Harcourt, Iwo, Ile-Ogbo, Offa, Ibadan and several other places in the Western Region from 1919-1921, when he resigned from the Railway Corporation, after he had saved up some money, to set up his own business.
Aderemi Came into Instant Success
Adesoji Aderemi came into instant success when he started a motor transport business as well as a trade in produce buying and general merchandise. After a brief tutelage with John Holt of Nigeria, he became an agent for UAC and later a factor for John Holt Ventures, Mc lever and OL Geyser. He traded in three cash crops –cocoa, cotton and palm kernel, which he bought from Iwo, Ede, Ipetumodu, Ile-Ife, Gbongan, Ile-Ogbo and Ibadan. He hoarded these produce while speculating an upturn in prices. He was reported to have made so much money as a result of the upturn in prices that he threw a party for the people of Ile-Ogbo where he was living at the time to show his joy. He started his transport business with a fleet of lorries and buses ferrying people and goods to and from many places around the country including Onitsha and Kafanchan. He became so financially successful that he was nicknamed “Atobatele” (already famed as king) by his contemporaries and the people of Ile-Ife and also “Ooni Ola” (Tomorrow’s King). Adesoji bought his first car in 1920 and by 1930; he had used three cars, which included an open roof car. His fame and popularity was a pain in the neck of the then-reigning monarch, Ooni Ademiluyi Ajagun, that he was charged with impersonation and large flamboyant display of wealth at the Upper Palace Court of the Ooni. He was fined 25 pounds. It is a funny coincidence and instructive that this sum of 25 pounds, which he paid as fine was returned to him by the Ife Local Council on his ascension to the throne in 1930.
As an interesting corollary, Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade II, was born on the 1st of January, 1930 to Prince Adereti Olubuse and grandson of Oba Adelekan Sijuwade Olubuse I, who was the first Ooni ever to travel out of his domain. At the invitation of the Colonial Governor, Ooni Adelekan Olubuse I, visited Lagos in 1903 to give his ruling whether the Oba Elepe of Epe was entitled to wear a beaded crown. That unprecedented journey to Lagos, according to the government gazette, caused a stir in Yoruba land, because as a mark of respect to the Ooni, all Obas and princes momentarily vacated their thrones throughout the period of the Ooni’s sojourn in Lagos. When the Ooni finally arrived in Lagos, transported in his hammock, under a flutter of colourful, giant, royal umbrella, with his retinue of courtiers in tow, he was a sight to behold. And when he finally gave his verdict, presumably through an interpreter, he had his back to the colonial governor since no mortal, not even the representative of the English monarch, could behold his face.
Oba Okunade Inherited Flamboyant Lifestyle From His Grandfather
There is certainly no doubt that Okunade inherited a flamboyant lifestyle from his grandfather, Adelekan Olubuse I. Okunade’s mother was the late Yeye-Olori Ifaseesin Sijuwade. Okunade, from birth, like Adesoji, was also spotted for royalty. From his early days, his name was not complete without the addition of a Prince. He had a regal look that conjures the image of “Ooni Lola” (Future King). Prince Okunade Sijuwade (as he was then called) started his elementary education at Igbehin School, Abeokuta, owned by the C.M.S Mission and later proceeded to Abeokuta Grammar School under the tutelage of the famous Reverend Ransome Kuti between 1944 and 1947. Whilst in Abeokuta Grammar School, his Principal, the Reverend Ransome Kuti wanted to flog the young Sijuwade for some mis-demeanor. As the principal raised his whip, the young prince, dared the famous disciplinarian not to hit a “king”. Anyway, this rebuff did not stop the famous disciplinarian from hitting the “king”. However, the young prince had made his point.
Sijuwade’s father, Prince Adereti Sijuwade, was a wealthy Cocoa Merchant, who had a thriving business in Iju, Alagbado and Abeokuta axis of the present day Ogun State. He relocated his business back to Ile-Ife in 1947 where Okunade completed his secondary education, at the famous Oduduwa College. For a short while in Oduduwa College, he was always mistaken for a school teacher, but deliberately, he did not correct the impression, because he was always impeccably dressed. Okunade Sijuwade will be remembered by many of his classmates as a particularly diligent student and quite mature for his age and also as someone, who had unlike many of his colleagues at school, been familiar with the cosmopolitan life in Lagos at that time-the then center of good life in Nigeria.
After learning at Oduduwa College, he joined his father’s business for about three years and thereafter had a two-year stint at the Tribune Newspapers in Ibadan, in order to be close to the Awolowo family and learn from the life of the great sage. He thereafter proceeded to the Northampton Polytechnic, United Kingdom, from where he joined the Leventis Group in Manchester in 1957. He also had advanced business management programs in the companies in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Scotland, West Germany and Israel and armed with these immense experiences, he returned back to Nigeria to launch a career in business.
His business endeavour in Nigeria was marked by outstanding success and average fortune. Shortly after Prince Sijuwade returned to Nigeria, he was appointed Sales Manager of Leventis Motors with headquarters in Ibadan and by 1960 he had become an Adviser with the Leventis Group. In 1963, the Western Region Government approached the Leventis Group to release the prince for five years to help the organization of some of their companies. His first assignment with the Western Region Government was as Sales Director of National Motors in Lagos and subsequently headed the management of the company.
In 1964, he undertook an extensive tour of the Soviet Union for possibility of acquiring better products for National Motors. The Soviet cars were seen by the Prince as being relatively cheap and durable. As a smart businessman, he saw this as a business opportunity and seized it. He thereafter formed a company along with his three friends- the company- WAATECO, was to later become the sole distributor of Soviet-made vehicles, tractors and engineering equipments in Nigeria with at least 50 Russians and numerous Nigerians on its payroll. This business effort later gave birth to a business empire that was to include at least 50 companies. He thereafter left National Motors to avoid a clash of interest, when his bosom friend, Retired General Robert Adeyinka Adebayo (Colonel), assumed office as the Governor of the Western Region.
Within ten years of extensive business activities locally and internationally, he relocated the headquarters of his business operations to the United Kingdom in 1973. He had become a business octopus. He embarked on two major projects in Ile-Ife that were to showcase him as Atobatele or Ooni Lola. He built a modern housing estate that was to provide housing for Senior Staff of the University of Ife. This was his contribution to the growth and development of the University of Ife and also his home town Ile-Ife. He also within this period, built a first class hotel,-The Motel Royal, for VIP visitors to Ile-Ife. This hotel provided accommodation for important dignitaries that came for his coronation a few years later.
Oba Adesoji Aderemi, upon ascension to the throne in 1930, began immediately his modernist policies for the growth and development of Ife Land and the Yoruba Nation. He founded Oduduwa College in 1933 and in 1935, aided the installation of the Ife Water Works. He brought telephone services to Ile-Ife in 1938 and built a new official residence for the Ooni and in 1944 opened the Seventh Day Adventist Mission Hospital. In 1948, he inaugurated the Egbe-Omo Oduduwa and the same year he visited England and served as a delegate at the African Conference in London. In 1953, he was appointed Minister without Portfolio in the Nigerian House of Representatives and in 1954 was appointed the President of the Western Region House of Chiefs. He climaxed this, by becoming the first African Governor of the Western Region in July 1960, succeeding the former British Colonial Governor, Olola Sir John Rankin. He was the first to hold such a post in the entire British Colonial Africa. He functioned effectively in the office as Ooni and Governor, with vigour, grace, panache, dexterity and humaneness, as a true symbol of the royal stool of Oduduwa. He was in office till December 1962.
Oba Adesoji Aderemi used his position of influence to advocate that the proposed University of Western Region be sited at Ile-Ife in 1962, in recognition of the ancestral status of Ile-Ife as the religious and cultural matrix of the Yoruba. The University started from the current Ibadan North Campus of the present Ibadan Polytechnic and finally moved to Ile-Ife in 1967, which was, to Aderemi, the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream.
He built a magnificent mansion; The Atobatele Lodge, before he ascended the throne of Ooni in 1930. This lodge was later occupied by Barclays Bank. Adesoji, being a man of deep foresight, built the popular Glass House at Iremo Road, Ile-Ife, as his own family compound, which his family of several wives and over 60 children relocated to, upon his passage from the royal stool of the Ooni of Ife in July 1980. Oba Adesoji Aderemi as a progressive and radical traditionalist was described by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as “the very embodiment of royalty and devotion.”
In his funeral speech, titled; “A Rare Breed of Monarch” delivered on July 11, 1980, at an open prayer service for Adesoji Aderemi, Chief Obafemi Awolowo said this of him -‘As an Oba, he was the epitome of a humane and liberal ruler. Wherever he was, he diffused geniality and peace. I never knew him, in our 40 years together to be angry, even once or to speak harsh offensive words to any man”.
Lives of Adesoji, Okunade Destined and Glued Together
The lives of Adesoji and Okunade were destined and glued together for the advancement of the course of the Yoruba for an uninterrupted period of 85 years. The greatest lessons of their lives were that success, without a worthy successor is unsuccessful.
Adesoji and Okunade were proselytizers of the Yoruba tradition, history, cultures, mores and norms. A worthy successor would only enrich the stool of Oduduwa and ensure further perpetuation of its entrenched values. It is a clearer call to the Ife King makers to allow a process that would bring a worthy successor to the throne of Oduduwa.
*Hon. Kehinde, Member, House of Representatives, National Assembly, Abuja (1999-2003) representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State and Principal Partner, Femi Kehinde & Co. (Solicitors) 84, Iwo Road, Ibadan.