Resplendent in majestic aura, bedecked in dazzling royal regalia, his palatial entourage thins out as he approaches his throne. Effortlessly, he eases into the elevated seat. His hands and face sparkle with luminescent light of diamonds and gold. Blue-blooded, brilliant and benevolent, he exudes bliss and prowess.
From far and wide, prominent and ordinary people prostrate before him, pay homage and seek his wisdom. Grand in posture but not grandiloquent, he is a symbol of the past and the present. His royal dynasty, perhaps, is the earliest and most important in the hierarchy of Yoruba monarchies. Meet the Olugbo of Ugbo Kingdom, Oba Frederick Obateru Akinruntan – the Chairman of the Yoruba Obas Conflict Resolution Committee.
A former oil magnate with tremendous wealth, Oba Akinruntan is considered as the richest African monarch. Forbes Magazine, in 2014, put his net worth at $300 million. Fashionable and well-travelled, the monarch’s taste for luxury is apparent. Fashionable and well-travelled, the monarch’s taste for luxury is apparent and he is not pretentious about that. An avid reader of history books, an author and a custodian of Yoruba folklores, the Ondo State monarch tells Adedayo Adejobi and Funmi Johnson, about the supremacy of his royal dynasty over all other Yoruba royal lineages. In a riveting sense, he talks about his love for fashion, people, traditions and the throne of Ile Ife
In a bid to rule your kingdom, what major challenge did you face?
The major challenge I faced was choosing the right people to rule with. Then I looked inward and saw that I have a lot of knowledgeable people that could work with me to get the job done well. Today, I have commissioners, permanent secretaries, lecturers and all are working with me and helping me to organise the kingdom. I don’t have problem at all. I just delegate and the job is done.
Why informed your saying that you’re the owner of Yoruba nation and that Olugbo is the only recognised Yoruba Oba?
I didn’t challenge anybody; I only said I am the owner of Ile Ife. And if you believe that Yorubas are from Ile Ife then you will understand why I said I am the owner of the Yorubas and not Oduduwa as the history circulated said. There is only distortion of the history by the powers that be. But I don’t mind whatever anybody says. The truth remains unchanged. Oduduwa was not part of the Yoruba. He was not part of us. He migrated to Ile Ife from Mecca. Look at his tribal marks. He had a foreigner’s marks on his cheeks. He had seven children. Out of these seven, one was a female called Owu. Owu is near Ikire.
It is called Orile-Owu. It was a place where slaves were assembled for sale. Some of the Owu people are in Abeokuta and other parts of Yoruba lands. I don’t need to consult any book to narrate this history. I have read about 2,000 authorities on this subject. This history has always been there, but the powers always make efforts to suppress it. I am not ready to hurt or fight anybody over this. But I know the truth is there and nobody can do anything about it. We are the aboriginal inhabitants of Ile-Ife. It was Obamakin Osangangan (my grandfather), son of Oraife, who founded Ile Ife. If you are familiar with Ifa divinity, Ugbo is mentioned in a verse that says, ‘Kutukutu oba Ugbo.’ Osangangan also had many children; I will mention only two.
When Oduduwa arrived, he came to Ile Ero (Palace) at Iremo quarters in Ile Ife and he was accepted because of our hospitality. Being a non-native and coming from a background where might was right, he engaged in struggles. Oduduwa never had a successful reign in Ile Ife. Although he initially defeated Obatala, Obatala later fought back and conquered him. The late Oba of Benin wrote his autobiography which he titled, ‘I Remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant.’ He revealed everything in the book. Oba of Benin said the Olugbo is the only recognised Yoruba Oba.
I am the owner of Yoruba nation. Oba of Benin said Ugbo, very close to Okitipupa, is the owner of the South-West and that explains why we have some similarities with the Benin. Our ancestors had something in common; quote me as an authority. There is a book written by Jacob Eugharera in which he stated that the Benins captured 201 Yoruba towns and villages. Why they respected Ugbo was that when they were advancing, we had an Oba that was given respect equivalent to that of the Pope. The Benin had a belief that Ugbo was very strong. If you want to read the history of the Yoruba, go to Portugal because they first had contact with the Yoruba ahead of other European countries.
Does Ugbo have a community in Ile Ife?
Yes; we have a community in Ile Ife and it is called Ile Ugbo – that was my father’s palace before I left it. I left about seven people there. The community is called Ile Ero at Okeremo. The palace is Ile Ugbo. They are still there till now.
Then why did you leave Ile Ife?
My progenitors left Ile Ife following Osanyin’s directive. Obamakin retreated and settled at Okemafuragan, near Oke-Igbo. Then, they raised 16 hefty men who regularly raided Ile Ife, capturing women and children. The men covered their faces with masks and were believed to have descended from heaven because Ugbo people are called ‘Ugbo atorunwo’ (people who descended from the heavens). The people, on sighting them, would always run away from being captured. At a point, Moremi, a beautiful slave woman captured from Ile Ife, became the wife of Oromakin at Okemafuragan. Oromakin could not resist her beauty. She stood out among other slaves. She was extremely beautiful.
So, Oromakin separated her from others and eventually took her as a wife, oblivious of her real mission. In the end, Moremi succeeded in playing a fast one on him, which helped to demystify the masked men. To the Ilajes, unlike in Ile Ife where she is still being celebrated, Moremi was a traitor. She betrayed us after she had seen the secret behind the masked men that invaded Ile Ife. She leaked the secret and ended the raid. To date, we see her act as an abomination. Ugbo people are forbidden from taking light complexioned ladies as wives. But the seven captured were given special treatment.
They were not hurt. In fact, they begged them to stay because they knew their father could return to destroy Ile Ife. Obamakin returned to Ile Ife to see what was happening to his people but he discovered they were given a VIP treatment. He was shocked. The Ifa oracle later instructed him not to destroy but to relocate to the shores of the Atlantic where the wealth of the Ugbos and generations to come lies. Is it not a blessing now that we are the only oil-producing town in Yoruba land? Till now, those of us who stayed back in Ile Ife are there; they maintain the link with us here. In fact, they attend our functions.
Do you have any intention to go back and take over the throne in Ile Ife?
Well, I have left there but I won’t say I can’t govern Ife from here if I’m allowed. If they allow me govern Ife from here, they will see a lot of improvement.
What is your relationship with other monarchs within Ondo town, and across Yoruba lands?
We have a very cordial relationship. I have no quarrel with anybody. If I am not cordial with them why will some of them even say it to my face that I am the owner of the Yorubas? I was with Oba Adeyemi some years ago and he said Olugbo, your father is the owner of Ife before the arrival of Oduduwa – a newspaper published it (the statement of Oba Adeyemi). I did not just wake up to say this.
A lot of the Obas know this truth as well. I am just out to correct history. If the story is not real, they would have responded. This book has been out since three years ago. Silence means consent. Ego may not allow them to say, ‘Yes, I agree with you.’ But they know it is true and that is why they are silent. I have a good relationship with all the other monarchs.
What are your duties as a monarch?
My primary function is to settle disputes among the people. It could be marital and it could be personal. It could even be political. Peace is the watchword; even statutory matters. My function is to make peace and settle them amicably.
Why did you leave a booming oil and gas business for the throne?
The main reason is because I have the blue blood in me. The blue blood is the royal blood and that is what is running through me. And that is why even if I am the head of the world, as long as I have that blue blood in me, I will leave the world to be on the throne as soon as I am called. I have no regrets at all. Do you know that it was as if I know something was going to happen, before I ascended the throne? I have well-trained workers whom I have trained locally and internationally. They are now there to take care of my business. I now collect salaries too and I am okay with that. What is important in life is to have a strong succession plan.
I am such an organised person right from when I was hustling. I introduced my children to my business from the beginning. I would take them to my filling stations and get them familiar with how work is done. Today, they are better off. My son is the Managing Director (of my organisation) and he is doing well. He knows the business like the back of his palm. He is in charge; I only call when it is time to draw my salary. I ask him to pay my salary and he does. That should be the joy of a parent who appreciates the fact that the future belongs to his children. As I am here, I have nothing to worry about concerning how my companies are run. Again, I believe so much in human development. I employed and trained competent hands who are all in charge of different departments.
How do you relax?
First and foremost, I enjoy good sleep at my leisure hour. I realise that good sleep, more than anything else, has a way of refreshing the body. Again, I have scheduled my time. I have days I see visitors and days that I rest. I don’t see anybody on Mondays. Tuesday to Friday, I am here to see people. I also have days I do my exercises because I still exercise and neither do I drink nor smoke. Also, I do a lot of reading. I read stories and history too; I love reading. And besides, if I am not well read I couldn’t have been able to discover and gather materials for the book I wrote.
As an ardent reader, what five books have you read that influenced you?
‘Sir I Remain Your Obedient Servant’ by Omon’oba of Benin, 2004; ‘The First History of Yoruba’ 1897, by Samuel Johnson; ‘The Growth And Expansion of Christianity in Ile Ife’ 1899, by Rev. Dr. Moses Adetunbi; and ‘The History And Politics of Nigeria’ 2015, by professor Oge.
Though you occupy a throne found on traditions, you seem to have the Bible among your collection?
I am a Christian and I am the head of the church here. I am a member of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church. Nothing is negatively affecting one or the other. I have my white garment and I enjoy singing praises a lot. I can sing for you if want me to.
You are often seen with beautiful crowns. What informs your sense of fashion?
I am very creative when it comes to fashion. All my jewelleries are made abroad. I love diamonds a lot; my wristwatch, my ring, bracelet and my pendant are all diamonds. I am one who does not compromise my taste. I am exposed in the course of my travelling round the world. So, I should have a good and acceptable taste. If this reflects in my comportment and appearance as an Oba, it is complimentary. Talking of the crown, do you know that we have the first ancestral crown in Ugbo land? The crown is not ordinary. Go and read books and confirm or refute what I am saying. Our crown is the oldest in Yoruba land. We had it before Oduduwa arrived.