- ‘I planned to flee palace to escape cult initiation’
- Sheds light on his ties to Obasanjo
- ‘Dad nearly scuttled my education in Form 3’
- Speaks on why he wanted Obaship institution scrapped
Olubara of Ibara Kingdom, Abeokuta, Oba Jacob Olufemi Omolade, recently, celebrated his 90th birthday. Omolade, who is a devout Christian, in this interview, speaks about his journey in life. He also bares his mind on how he wants to be buried when he joins his ancestors. Excerpts:
You just celebrated your 90th birthday, but you don’t look the age. What is the secret?
I was born on May 20, 1933. I grew up to become what I am today by the grace of the Almighty God.
How do you feel clocking 90?
I thank God for the years spent so far. God has been faithful to me and I am sincerely grateful to Him. Some of my former classmates in school have gone. Out of 60 of us that were admitted that time, only seven of us are alive now, and just about last month, Segun (former President Olusegun Obasanjo) and I went around to see our former classmates. They are very old and they were surprised that Segun and I could undertake that journey because we walked around. We started in the morning and came back at night. I was with Segun at Ibadan, but I came back to Abeokuta, on that day. We even fasted. Talking about food, I only eat twice a day. I eat in the morning and at night. In most cases, I take ‘ogi’ (pap) in the morning and in the pap, there must be ginger, turmeric and garlic. When I take it, I am always happy.
You are now 90 years. Has there been any occasion that you felt that your life was threatened?
There has never been any situation that created such feeling in me, but I want to say that the time I was most unhappy in my life was when I was in high school. I had just been promoted to Class 3 and we were to resume at school, and my father, who was the Carpentering Master in the same school, called me and said, “Femi, sorry, I can’t send you to school again, because there are other children behind you, whom I want to give the same opportunity of going school”. I wept, I cried, I even played tricks then, so that I would go to school, but my tricks were discovered and one of my father’s wives called my father’s attention to it. That day, I changed my school uniform and put my school box which contained my books under the uniform, but one of my stepmothers saw the secret and leaked it to my father. My father was furious at me. I can say that was one of the effects of having too many wives. My mother was unhappy and I was not happy as well.
When my father stopped me from going to school, he asked me to go and learn tailoring. I refused. I said no, and he asked me what I wanted to do and I told him that I wanted to be a driver. He objected and said that tailoring was better than driving. I was not willing to learn tailoring; I didn’t want to do his wish simply because he refused me furthering my education, I believed he couldn’t dictate to me anymore. I then applied for a teaching job and I got the appointment and started teaching. I went for Teacher’s Grade 3 and Grade 2 training respectfully. After that, I started reading on my own. I later sat for GCE Ordinary and Advanced Levels and I passed all my papers very well.
After I passed the examinations, I got admission into university, but there was no money to pay my school fees. I was a teacher then and my wife was also a teacher. I told my wife about the university admission and she encouraged me that I should not allow the opportunity to slip off. We gathered money together and I went to pay the school fees for first term. At that time, the university system was using ‘term’ and not ‘semester’ as it is today. When I got to the university, I didn’t go for HNC/HND because I read on my own for the examination I wrote, since my father had stopped me from going to school. Reading on my own made it easy for me to understand what I was reading. So, in class, I became known for my knowledge. After my first year in the university, I got a scholarship which saw me through.
When you were appointed as the Olubara-designate, how did you receive the news?
Well, let me confess, I didn’t want to be Olubara of Ibara because I saw the suffering of those who were Olubara before me and I felt I won’t come here to suffer the same thing they suffered. I even told my household that whenever the Olori Ebi (head of the family) comes to my house in Lagos and say anything pertaining to the Olubara stool, they should burst into tears that I should not go. Truly, when he came, they did as I had instructed them.
They were crying that I should not go, and after about two weeks, the same people that were saying I should not go started begging me to accept. They even promised that they will give me all necessary support. Three of us were selected for the stool. I was even praying that any of the other two candidates will emerge, but they couldn’t outsmart me because one of them was not a member of the Lafa Royal Family and the second person, though from the Lafa Royal Family, could not tell the story of Lafa, but because of my own level of education, I defeated the two of them. After the screening, there were two visitors from Ibara here who came to my house in Lagos to beg me to accept the offer of becoming the Olubara. Also, my father used to tell me that “Femi, you will be the Olubara when it comes to our turn” but I did not take him serious because I was still ‘nursing the wound’ of what he did to me by stopping me from going to school, but, later, I forgave him and accepted to be Olubara of Ibara Kingdom.
When were you crowned Olubara?
I was coronated the Olubara in 1992 and since then there has been peace in Ibara Kingdom. There is trust. I am not a kind of person that would tell you what you may want to hear, especially whenever you do something wrong. I am happy that we are what we are today.
How did your path cross with your friend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and I were classmates at Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. Obasanjo was a brilliant student. I was not a dullard as well. I always taught my friends in class. I read a lot and made research as well.
What is the relationship between Obas (traditional rulers) and politicians in this modern Nigeria?
To be sincere, when I was installed as the Olubara, I saw that the position of Oba was being mishandled by politicians. You know, Obas were the first rulers before politicians (came) and politicians don’t wish to leave the governance to Obas. So, they began to make laws upon laws. There was a time in our meeting when I suggested that the institution of the Obaship should be banned or dissolved because they are of no relevance now and some of the Obas at the meeting said “how do you want that to be possible?” I said “when an Oba dies, don’t allow another Oba to succeed him, so gradually, we will erase the institution of Obaship rather than telling us to have an institution of Obaship and then a governor will come one day and pronounce an Oba suspended”. If government doesn’t want us (Obas), they should be bold enough to tell us.
My most intimate friend even said “Olubara, it is your crown that will be scrapped”. Some of us are afraid of scrapping the institution and, at the same time, we are not happy with ourselves and that is the reason we are having this problem. Very few of them (fellow Obas) agreed with that it should be scrapped, but some said “no”, that “Olubara is not suggesting something in the best interest of the Obas” and I kept quiet. When I was in Lagos as Permanent Secretary, we were telling Obas, “If you want to go out or leave Lagos, you must take permission from us”. The institution of Obaship has been downgraded to a level that the politicians dictate to traditional rulers.
As a devout Christian, how do you combine religion with the position of a traditional ruler?
I had problems when I was installed as the Olubara. Immediately after my installation, some of the chiefs came to me and said, “Kabiyesi, we are half way done with the rites of Obaship and that the remaining aspect is induction into secret cult”. I said “no, I do not want to do that” because my father was a devoted Christian. I said if I must be initiated into the occult, I was ready to vacate the stool. They kept on pressurizing me, and my wife and I concluded to leave the palace secretly and returned to Lagos, but, unfortunately, one of the chiefs came and noticed the baggage that we had gathered. He asked my wife why we packed the bags and my wife told him that bedbugs were disturbing us and we wanted to fumigate the house, but the chief was smart enough to discover that she was lying. He then went out and called other chiefs and told them what he saw and warned that if care was not taken, the Oba will run away. They came and invited me for a meeting. They asked me why I packed my baggage to leave.
Initially, I did not answer them, and at a time I told them that I could not surrender my God for anything and “if you insist on initiating me into cultism, I will leave you with your beliefs”. The meeting ended in the dead of the night, and they said, “Okay we will leave you to do whatever pleases you, because we have seen signs of goodwill from you to the people of Ibara and we are thinking you will do well to forget about this induction to cultism”. Before they left, they said my predecessor spent only three years on the throne and that I would not last two years. When I heard the statement, I began fasting and prayer.
During the crisis, they had a language among themselves “mafilanu” (we will eat him up), but I was not threatened at all because I know who I serve. I started to be a man of myself and I fought the battle and God was with me. I have a gentleman in my Church, Rev. Maku; in the evening time, he will come to the palace, pray with me and we will break fast together. I thank God that I succeeded.
I have spent 30 years on this throne and I am still going; my life is not in the hands of anybody. God created me and He will withdraw me when the time comes. So, if I want to talk about the crown now, I will pray to Almighty God to give us people who are strong to separate people who are good from bad and highly educated people, not just anybody but someone who has passed through the phoenix of life.
What is your view on the law regulating the appointment, installation and burial of traditional rulers in Ogun State signed by Governor Dapo Abiodun?
It is a good development for traditional institution in the state. In the past, when an Oba died, they would cut his hands, legs and head.
There are strategic locations in the town that these parts would be buried. They will bury one leg at road that enters the town and the other one in the other end and possible the head will be buried in the palace. With the new law, the government is saying ‘no’ to this barbaric way of life. The new law says whenever an Oba dies, he should be buried in accordance to his religious belief. When installing also, an Oba should be installed in accordance to his religious belief. Look at how the late Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was buried. He was brought out and the Imam prayed on the body and was buried. Now, things are changing. I have told my chiefs that anytime I join my ancestors, nobody should touch my body. I even told them that anybody who touches my body when I am gone and wants to play ‘foul game’ on it will follow me. They know that I am serious about it. When I die, I want to be buried in the public cemetery. I have prepared where I will be buried when I die; I have told my wife too, they will take me to the church and pray for me. Whether my prayers are answered or not is not anybody concern because I know that if I do well on this earth, it will be well with me. God will give me what I deserve.
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