Olu of Ilaro: I was a Pastor Before I Received a Higher Call to Serve as an Oba

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He humbly walked into his office, and didn’t immediately give an impression that it was a royal father that had just arrived, until both young and old men and women began to prostrate and stoop down, saying, “Kabiyesi o”. Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle (Asade Agunloye IV) is the Olu of Ilaro, Ogun State. In this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, the 49-year-old monarch relives his experience while jostling for the stool before his election four years ago; his pastoral work with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG); the demand of the office; and how he could no longer enjoy his privacy, among others. Excerpts:

Tell us about yourself…
I was born about 49 years ago; precisely on December 4, 1966 to the family of the late Prince and Princess Adejumo and Adenike Olugbenle, of blessed memory. My father was a member of the Asade Agunloye Ruling House, in Ilaro, while my mother was also a Princess of Okunnubi lineage of the Fidipote Ruling House, in Ijebu Ode. Just like any other child on the street, I started my primary education at Methodist Primary School, Oshodi, Lagos, and we had our house in Shogunle. Just like any other child, then, we trekked from Shogunle very early to school. When I finished my primary education, and because of my father’s love for us, and to have a feel of his home town, Ilaro, he took us there to start our secondary education, as pioneer students of Anglican Grammar School, Ilaro. It was later transformed from Anglican Model School to Grammar School. So, we were the first set of the Anglican Grammar School, and that was in 1978 or thereabout. We were there for three years. But because I and my twin brother, Taiwo, were his only sons, the people were concerned and wondered why he left his two sons in Ilaro with his people. My father was somebody, who didn’t believe any evil could befall his children. He was somebody that trusted people, but the pressure was so much, and it got to a stage, and I remember vividly, that I fell sick and people now capitalised on that sickness to say, “yes, afterall, we told you and all of that.” And as a result, my father had to eventually move us back to Lagos, and we were enrolled at Eko Boys’ High School, which happened to be his Alma mater. I was in Eko Boys’ High School for just a year, before Jakande came in 1980/’81. Then we used to have about three sets- morning session, afternoon session and evening session- because the population was just too much and it could not be contained by the then government. But when Jakande came, he decided to start building on all spaces he could lay his hands upon. So, that was why I was moved to New State High School, Mushin, while Taiwo was retained. We were just picked randomly, and I was not even happy that I was being separated from my twin brother, but my father was somebody who believed it was the will of God. My mother tried to persuade him to see the Principal, who happened to be one of his mates at Eko Boys’ High School. But at the end of the day, I ended up finishing my secondary school at New State High School, Palm Avenue, Mushin, Lagos. That was how I ended up going to three secondary schools within a space of five years. But I think, to some extent, it was divinely motivated because everything that happens to a man in life, God has a hand in it. Today, I have contacts of friends, cutting across all the three schools. While at home here in Ilaro, quite a lot of my mates are here, and we are still in good contact. And I think all my father had done, God might have either laid it in his heart or maybe, God knows where I would be today. Otherwise, I would have been a stranger on the throne. I know Ilaro virtually inside, out, to some extent. With my friends at Eko Boys’ High, anytime I find myself in either America or Britain today, I meet quite a lot of them that are there. They will welcome me; they will appreciate me; and the same thing happens with those of State High School. I don’t have any regret attending the three secondary schools. I think it was a rare privilege to have attended the three secondary schools, and without any regret. When I left State High School, I got admission into Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos, in 1985 to study Estate Management. And in 1990, I graduated with Higher National Diploma (HND), as one of the best students in that department. Later, I went to the University of Ibadan for my Master’s degree, and that was in 1997, and that was after I had qualified professionally as an Estate Surveyor and Valuer. Immediately I finished my service with UBA Property Division, I joined a firm of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, and that was Akinola Ore & Co and I rose through the ranks to become the Managing Partner, and that was in 1998. And I could recollect that I moved to its Abuja office in 1998 immediately I became the Managing Partner to set up an office of the firm. I was the Managing Partner up to the time I was called back home to serve my people.

Which University did you do your Postgraduate Diploma before going for your Master’s degree?
Immediately I graduated in 1990, I did my youth service and I started work. I finished my secondary education in 1983. There was a lapse. I could remember vividly that I worked briefly with Nigerian Railway Corporation as a clerk between 1983 and 1985, before I got admission in 1985 into Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech). So, I was at Yabatech between 1985 and 1990 where I obtained both OND and HND respectively. Immediately after my graduation, I did my youth service with UBA, property division, in Lagos. After that, I started writing my professional examination, and I think, I was qualified professionally in 1996, as a Professional Estate Surveyor and Valuer. As an Associate, I was elevated in 2011 to a Fellow by the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers. All my life, I have been in private practice, and I have never worked, either for a company or public, government or parastatal.  I have been a private person all my life. But while I was working as a private person, I enrolled when I was in Abuja, as a Managing Partner, for a Master’s degree in Property Development and Management, and it took me another two years to obtain a Master’s degree in Housing Development and Management.

Are your parents still alive?
No! Both of them are of blessed memory. They died before I ascended the throne. My dad left 10 years ago, but my mom left about a year, before I ascended the throne.

Where is your twin brother, Taiwo?
My twin brother is alive. He is a paramedic with Chevron Oil in Warri, Delta State. He is also a Zonal Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), while I am also an ordained Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I have a Church I was pastoring in Abuja, before I received a higher call to serve. and I believe where I am also has a little bit of similarities in that. The first one is spiritual, and this one is traditional, but I think there is a thin line between the two offices, because virtually what you do as a Pastor, and when you are talking about Pastor, you are talking about shepherds. Shepherding is all about taking care of the sheep. You, as a Royal Father, are like a shepherd who has a lot of sheep to take care of. The only difference between you and a Pastor is that the Pastor is only concerned about people in the Christendom, while you, as a Royal Father, whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or a pagan, you will have to ensure all is well.

How did the lot fall on you four years ago, because you might not be the only candidate who contested for the stool?
I think, initially, I wasn’t interested. When my predecessor passed on, and at that time, I didn’t know that my Ruling House would be the next in line. My father never shared that information with us, and even if we knew, we were not told. We were not even that expectant. We were not even prepared. Some people were already preparing, and saying it was me and that was ambition. And we never had such an ambition; that the next Ruling House was ours. My father had already gone, and he was somebody who was like a rallying point within the Ruling House. And people found it difficult to fill that gap. I mean, the gap my father left when he died, and when the issue of Obaship came up. Nobody could actually play that role the way my father would have played that role, if he was alive. Though we have the head of the family, but he was just appointed when the issue of Obaship came, because there was nobody to refer to as the head of the family then. But when my father was alive, and he was conversant with the family, he was like a rallying point with all members of the Ruling House, not as if he was the head of the family, but a lot of things lay with him. It was a natural leadership that just fell on him, but unfortunately he died, before the issue of Obaship came up, otherwise, I knew, he would have used his wisdom to manage the issue, and would have managed those four years interregnum. I know he would have been able to put it off. But, notwithstanding, when eventually I had cause to join the race, spiritually, I was elected. As I told you earlier, I and my twin brother, Taiwo, are the only males from my father’s lineage. My father was the only male of his lineage. It is not about interest, as such, it is about responsibility, it is about perseverance, it is about your right. My twin brother and I don’t have any hiding place, except you want the male of your lineage to go into oblivion. Both of us are the only surviving males from that lineage, while we have other males, who are of female lineage. We have other lineages also who are members of the Ruling House. We have two other lineages, one is male and another is female, but there is a convention within the Ruling House that with the two male lineage each time it is the turn of the Ruling House, they should rotate it. And the last male lineage was the one that occupied the office of the Olu of Ilaro, and that one was Olusoji Adeyanju lineage of that Asade Agunloye. But, ordinarily, it was the turn of the Olugbenle lineage, but when you talk about ambition, we just discovered that some people from the Olusoji Adeyanju lineage also showed interest in it, because it was the right of everybody. Every lineage brought candidates, and we all came out, and they said it was their right. My own lineage, which is by convention to produce a candidate, did and what concerns the kingmakers is to vote between both families and support a particular candidate of a lineage. The law is very clear that where there is no male lineage other males from the female lineage can come out, but that has never arisen, I think to the best of my knowledge. That was how other candidates came out. We tried to educate them, and they said it was their right. Festus Keyamo has to be a member of the Ruling House, maternally. His mother is from my Ruling House. His mother is from Yewa, and his father worked here at State Hospital, Ilaro, in those days. I think, like every young man, you find princess, and that’s how he went with Princess, which happens to be Keyamo’s mother today. Keyamo was more or less like a family counsel within that period. He too understands the game. That was how we ended up having about six of us from the Ruling House. Even with the six of us, along the line, another family, who we have never dined together as a family, who we had never had anything to do together as a family, came on the scene, and said they are entitled, and that he is also a member of the Ruling House. And that actually heated up the community. I particularly felt, well, this is not about anybody being crowned, but about sorting their issues out, and it later became a matter in court. The matter was adjudicated upon. The admonition was that this vacancy was affecting the community and it was affecting the entire Yewaland, because that is the office of the Paramount Ruler of Yewaland. And eventually, everybody had to go for the selection process, and as God would have it, I was elected as the Olu of Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland.

When you were asked to ascend the vacant stool, following the demise of your immediate past predecessor, Oba Adekanmbi Tella, how did you feel?
I have said it earlier, it was not a sudden acceptance; it was gradual. I went through a little bit of spiritual guidance. And when the coast was clear, I knew the one behind me and who sustained me through the exercise.  There is always a procedure in the emergence of any Royal Father, and that procedure must be followed to the letter. It is not just for somebody coming from nowhere to say he is interested or that if the family has said ok he is their candidate that the issue of Kingmakers voting wouldn’t arise. It is just for them to consent or say go and bring another person. But when you have seven candidates, and at the end of the day, it was only two of us; myself and one of my uncles were the ones that shared the nine votes of the kingmakers, while the other one, who claimed to be from our lineage had zero vote, and that case is in Appeal Court now. Keyamo said we can’t allow such to happen, and if we allow the status quo to remain and retain them in the Ruling House because we all contested the stool together. What Keyamo is saying is that the court has to vacate those families from the Ruling House so that, in the future, they would not start laying equal claims, as having contested with us. I want Keyamo to handle that, and he has been handling that, because, it is a family issue. You asked how I felt. Initially, I was disturbed when I was being given the staff of office. Well, I remember when I was reading my acceptance speech, it was like the whole world was falling on me. I had my retreat, which we call ‘Ipebi’, in my house, and a little bit of it has to do with this, how to do that. I think April 14 was a day that is memorable in my life. April 14, 2012 was the day I was presented with the staff of office. The issue with this traditional office is that we don’t have training school, and that is the issue. If you are familiar with ‘Ipebi’, you will understand that it is just people coming to greet you and introducing themselves to you. There is no serious thing about it. You learn and develop yourself on the throne. So, there is no training that you go to school of traditional rulers for three or five months or a year, and you either pass or fail. If you find yourself there, then you are on your own. It is now left for you to pray for wisdom, which is a critical thing. Any king that will rule must have wisdom, because everybody wants to have a say, wants to be your paddy, everybody wants to be your man. In the midst of it, you must pray for wisdom. That is just the feel I have. After the coronation, in fact, my wife wept, and said, “So, this is how the thing is”, when everybody had left. People from my twin brother went back to Warri, my sisters went back and everybody returned to his or her home, and I was now left with my wife. I said, God! And she was crying for two or three days. This is how we were left alone in the house, waiting for people to come; like a doctor, sitting down and waiting for patients to come. But, I thank God, because God has been very, very faithful to me. I wanted people to come and ask ‘how do you do it’? Sincerely, one has to look at the enormous task or work that goes with the office. How do I deal with the people? I know my people, and they are very difficult. God has been guiding me through, and I am not the one on the throne, but I am just a vessel on the throne. As long as the man on the throne still counts me worthy as a vessel to use, then there should be nothing to worry about. And that’s the confidence I have. That somebody is on the throne, before I got here, is that a problem? That person, God is using him as a vessel to drive other visions, other plans He has for my people. And, I think, He has been faithful to me up till today; with God’s guidance, and Him being on my side, all will continue to be well with my people in Yewaland.

Was your wife favourably disposed to the idea or in support when you told her initially?
She is a spiritual person. Apart from that, she is also from a royal family. My wife happens to be a daughter of the Omola of Imala, the Yewa people in Abeokuta North Local Government Area. For a very long time, Imala people are Yewa people, whereas they claim to be under Abeokuta North Local Government Area of Ogun State. So, I had thought she is from Abeokuta North Local Government Area, but when the issue of Obaship came, they claimed to be Yewa people. That means Kabiyesi is already married from his people. When I am being interviewed, and they ask me if my wife is an Ibo person, Egba or Yewa, I will say she is from Yewa. She is a full-blooded Yewa person. She is also from a Royal Family. Things will happen unconsciously, and we will accept it, not knowing God has a purpose for it. She is a Yewa Princess, and by the time I married her, I never knew she was. Even her uncle on the throne now had never ascended the throne then. In fact, her father never told me she is from the royal family, until her uncle ascended the throne. I was there during the coronation. That was the feeling my wife had. As I told you, she cried for two or three days, asking if it was a confinement or a prison, and thank God, she is getting used to it, after the initial life. Initially, she was free, but now, she can’t go to the market here. The maids do that for her. We are not free to do whatever we like. Even, I, that freedom is controlled. If I step out of the house, policemen, pilots and other domestic aides will stand up and ask, ‘where are we going’? And I will ask myself, which kind of life is this? If you go out and you feel like shopping, looking at what you want to buy, everybody will be staring at you.