The new Akarigbo of Remo is loved by many. What will his reign bring? Solomon Elusoji writes
Donning a white apparel, he walked into the room and lit it up with a generous smile, acknowledging every greeting as he made his way to the elevated seat. A short but lively barrage of humorous exchange ensued between him and the visiting journalists, before silence crept in, to make way for the interview. If nothing, Adewale Ajayi, the new Akarigbo of Remo, possesses a potent energy that astounds.
As at last August, about 19 princes were still contesting for the position of Akarigbo. But before the month ran out, Ajayi was announced as the clear winner, after an open ballot was held among the seven kingmakers in Remoland.
“To be honest, it never occurred to me that one day I’ll be Oba,” Ajayi said. “I think the consciousness came when the past Akarigbo passed on and it was all over the town that I had been chosen, that the kingmakers chose me two months after the Akarigbo’s demise. That was when I asked somebody, what is with me and this throne thing?”
Ajayi’s initial befuddlement with the idea of becoming king is not surprising. A chartered accountant and barrister with over 20 years experience as a professional Insolvency Practitioner, Ajayi is a modern man. “I have never been someone who is into tradition before now,” he said. When some of his friends heard he had been selected as Akarigbo, it was a jolt to their imagination.
But, Ajayi, who at the time of his meeting with the journalists was undergoing a seclusion rites, one of many he has to perform before he is officially proclaimed Akarigbo, sees his new role as a way to build something solid with his people. “I think it is about sacrifice,” he said.
This desire to sacrifice the allures of modern life for a more traditional existence is reinforced by Ajayi’s incredible popularity among his people. Before the kingmakers made their choice in August, several groups within the community had already endorsed Ajayi to become the next Akarigbo.
“What Remoland deserve now is Prince Babatunde Ajayi, a seasoned administrator, young and articulate,” the Convener of Remo Youth Progress, a group representing the town’s youth, Niyi Adedokun, said. “He is very much in tune with the reality of the modern age and how to merge it with our culture and traditional heritage. That is what the people of Remoland want.”
Even Ajayi fails to fully comprehend the origins of his popularity.
“Honestly, it beats me,” he said. “And I think that’s why I decided to put my heart to the race. When this whole thing started, I already had plans to travel for summer and I took off. Then it was all over the place that I ran away.
“It’s humbling. In life, you reap whatever you sow. I have just been somebody who has done a lot for our people, but it is not with a mindset that I will be paid back. And when people see what you have done, they believe this person is worthy.
“But beyond that, honestly, I would say I really do not understand it. I have been in seclusion now for almost two to three weeks and the support is huge.”
Ajayi speaks the truth. When THISDAY visited Sagamu, the centre of Remoland, posters congratulating the new Akarigbo was as ubiquitous as air. In front of the Palace, tens of groups could be seen, well dressed, waiting for their turn to see and felicitate with their new ruler. Drums made music and jubilation was a palpable thing, something that could be cupped in a palm and worn, like a necklace. The man, in brief
To understand whether Ajayi is a good choice for Akarigbo, one needs, first, to understand his journey.
When he was a child, his dad used to say the only thing he could do was to read. His love for books led him to the University of Ibadan, after which he trained as a Chartered Accountant. At 26, he was already General Manager of a massive company. He was a star.
He soon moved to Calabar, after his company landed a huge job there. Calabar, then a civil service state, offered very few lively activities and Ajayi founded himself in possession of large swathes of time after work. Rather than fill in the spaces with frivolous activities, he decided to enroll at the University of Calabar, to study Law. The Law degree, he reasoned, would also help him fulfill his dream of becoming an accomplished Insolvency Practitioner. This sort of focused, strategic thinking is a thread that runs through the new Akarigbo’s life.
He is a man, too, that craves excellence. Despite holding a full-time job, he emerged the best student in his LL.B class. When he went to Law School, too, his results were incomparable among his peers. “That’s me,” he said. “When I want to do something I focus on it. And I believe that when you work hard you get results.”
Today, he has handled nothing less than 250 Insolvency and Restructuring assignments, including the liquidation of Nigeria Airways Ltd as the assistant liquidator and the privatisation of the three steel rolling mills in Nigeria as the liquidator through a guided liquidation option. He was also involved in the privatisation of Skypower Aviation Handling Co. Limited (SAHCOL). His other notable clients include, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
In addition to his LL.B, he also has a Master’s degree (LL.M) in Law from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), the chairman of ICAN Faculty on Insolvency and Corporate Re-Engineering and the Vice President of Business Recovery and Insolvency Practitioners of Nigeria (BRIPAN).
Ajayi’s distinguished career is not limited to Nigeria. He is a distinguished fellow of INSOL International, a global federation of insolvency practitioners. He was the first African member. He is also a member of the International Insolvency Institute (III), which is an invitation only membership of the most senior, experienced and respected practitioners, academics, judges and financial industry professionals in the world.
A new dawn for Remo Sagamu, the seat of the Akarigbo of Remo, is a city located in Ogun State, near the Ibu River. Its massive deposit of limestone makes it a key economic hub, attracting industrial investments, especially from cement producers. The city is also a major agriculture hub and, with the federal government’s economic diversification policies taking shape, much will be expected from the area.
Ajayi knows this. “We are here to serve,” he said. “I have told people that one thing that we will not be accused of is not trying. We will try, we will demand, we will parley, we will talk to whoever we need to talk to, so that my people will be empowered.
“When we assume power, we will be a voice, because our people will know that we are truthful. What we are bringing is sincerity. Our people don’t want much; so once you are sincere with them, that’s it. He has already set up a committee to map out the different section of Sagamu’s economy, from infrastructure to communication, to education, to roads; and goals are being set. “The beauty is that we have a lifetime to achieve these goals and we will take it one by one,” he said.
However, Ajayi lamented the unclear roles for traditional leaders in the Nigerian Constitution. “If roles are properly carved out for traditional rulers, I think there will be a meaningful transformation within the society,” he said.
But constitutional role or not, Ajayi is poised to bring about a new dawn to Remo. And the wonder is, everyone is confident he will, even the Hausa community in Sagamu, who have asked to be part of the Transition Committee and have painted all of Sabo, the part of Sagamu where most of the Northerners reside, with images of the new Akarigbo.
Ajayi, of course, is no Jesus; but he has the makings of a messiah, already.