Oba Francis Alao: It’s Time for Women to take up the Reins of Leadership 

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Many will wonder why a first class king of the Yoruba race will canvass for women to take up the reins of leadership, especially when it appears to contradict African culture and tradition. In an encounter with Mary Nnah at the launch of the book, “Queen Moremi Ajasoro” by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, recently in Osun State, the Olugbon of Orile Igbon, Oba Francis Olusola Alao, a first class king in Oyo State, who got installed only a year ago, explains why he feels so. Excerpts:

You were chairman of occasion at the launch of the book, “Queen Moremi Ajasoro”, by Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi recently at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. What are your impressions about the book?

We all know the history of Queen Moremi and what she stood for.  It is no longer news. But what she actually stood for is what the book is propagating and that is what we want people to replicate and reflect in their daily lives in governance, family, organisations, corporate and social lives. Moremi stood for peace, justice, liberty, submission, love and selfless service. She was a woman who made a vow and got the vow fulfilled.  If our leaders have these attributes, we would have a better society that is well organised and well-structured and we can then co-exist peacefully while our nation develops.

The book was dedicated to the wife of the Ogun State governor, Mrs Olufunso Amosun. Does she really possess these attributes?

She is a fantastic woman and these are well deserved attributes for her. She is a very lovely and humble. She is the kind of woman that does things without looking back. She is for justice. These are the attributes that we need to rectify our social and economic lives today.  She took the project of the Queen Moremi Ajasoro as her personal project. And this I will say is a clarion call to women to begin to take the mantle of leaderships and governance in this country. In fact we should have 45 per cent women in governance. Women are more compassionate, for example, if you look at the lifestyle of Mrs. Amosun, you wouldn’t know she is the first lady of a state, she is so free with everybody and so unpretentious.  She believes that it is only God that gives power and it is only God that can take power. If we begin to have people like this in position of authority, definitely this country will go to a higher place.

My personal belief is that we men have failed in our duties. There is no state in the whole federation where you have less than 95 per cent of men in governance and yet by the end of the day, the administration fails. So why don’t we allow more opportunities for women and see if they wouldn’t perform better. Queen Moremi was a woman and she did even better than what a man could do. So we need women like that in power, just like Mrs. Amosun who is a replica of what Queen Moremi stood for.

You just said men have failed, even in governance. That means you subscribe to a female president?

Yes, I do absolutely and would vote for one, if any. This is a message to Nigeria and the world at large, I subscribe to female president. If you look at what is going in Nigeria today, you would know that we are in shamble. Things are not well structured.  We need to restructure things in the country. We need to restructure our political class. Do we even have political class in Nigeria? The political class as far as I am concern is classless. And when you look at the Nigerian economy too, you realise that we do not have an average economy class, it is either you are poor or you are extremely reach.  So when you look at the present situation that we are in this nation, you realise that we need the likes of Mrs. Amosun – women that even when you are in power, you humble and submit yourself to the will of the people while you offer selfless service to the people. That is the kind of women we want in power.

In Nigeria, we still dwell on a male dominated mind-set. Do you think having a female president can work in Nigeria?

Yes it can and that is why we are propagating it. We need to leave behind our primordial lifestyle. We are no longer in the Dark Age. We are in the modern age. Primordial lifestyle has made us to remain backward and when we begin to do away with primordial life and begin to imbibe the modern lifestyle that is when we would easily allow women who can take position of authority to come into power. By nature, women are very compassionate compared to men, and that is why we feel that it is time for women to take hold of leadership in Nigeria. And with this kind of Queen Moremi Ajasoro initiative, if we begin to propagate it to our communities and the world at large, we would get there. Really, I have not seen any political party that has supported a woman for presidency, although we have some states that have women as their deputy governors but that is not enough. If we begin to have between 45-50 per cent of women in government that would be more like it.

As a traditional ruler, are there plans to sensitise the masses on this? 

Yes, of course. As a traditional ruler and a first class king in Oyo State and also the Vice Chairman of Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs, my demand has been  that we should  begin to see things from a different direction. In my domain, I talk to my chiefs regularly that they should give women a chance. We have used many platforms in the past but they never worked, so let’s come up with another model, which is to give our women a chance to rule. Women are honourable in nature; you cannot see women involved in thuggery but you would we men fighting one another even in the national assemble like thugs at a public garage.

Let’s treat women with fairness. We must make sure there is gender equality, so that we can propagate justice and equity, freedom, love, peace and bring Nigeria together and live peacefully. And people should avoid all these hate speeches, which are getting so rampant. The social media has been abused for this purpose. Government also has failed in their own duty to regulate. They must come up with policies that will regulate some of these things.

Again, I have a head that is the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, he is the chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and he has wonderful leadership skills. The last time we spoke, he revealed that he has so many things on his mind. He is trying to transform the traditional leadership system in synergy with the state government. So I think bringing women to the forefront is part of what is in the pipeline and the almighty God will help him. I cannot talk without referring to him because he is the one steering the ship, we are just his followers and we would key into whatever he says is right because he is a leader to be reckoned with.

Culturally, when it comes to selection, women are always side-lined and this has prevented women from making headway even when they are willing. What do you think should be done to give women that voice?

The world is not static. What was applicable in our culture about 20 years ago is not what it is today.  It is a gradual process; the world is changing geographically, scientifically, socially and economically, so definitely, as we are propagating that more women should allowed to come into leadership, gradually people will begin to key into it. If you look at some parts of the world where about 65 to 75 per cent of women are allowed into power, you would find out that there is peace, stability and development in such countries. In Nigeria, we have tried all sorts of systems to come up with good governance but we have failed. So if the men have failed, please let allow the women to come out. Nigerians should support the women. If we have a lot of women in governance the corruption in the country would not be as much as it is now because before a woman takes a naira, she would think twice. It doesn’t women are saints but they are motherly, very caring and compassionate. So let’s give the women a chance. Not that all the men are bad, we have men who are doing very well but again, when you look at the ratio, men’s performances are very poor; by statistics, there is no comparison with what the women can do.

How do you see the ‘not too young to run campaign’?

I’m 120 per cent in support of the not too young to run campaign. We have young men out there who are very vibrant, yet the political class has been recycling the same set of people over and over again in last 30 years. Why not put these old hands aside and let the youths come in. We need a younger set of people and not the old set of people again – people in the age bracket of 30 and early 50s, so that we have people that are sharp mentally and otherwise. Some of these old hands are tired mentally. You see, to be a leader in Nigeria, you must be very creative, innovative and proactive. At the same time, our youth also must be very cultured. We need people who are disciplined and have the fear of God to rule this country.

What is your dream for 2019, as preparations for another major transition in the political arena is in top gear?

I see 2019 election as a revolution between the masses and the elites. The kind of revolution I mean is mental and psychological revolution. And I can see it coming. I pray God to give us the grace to co-exist and unite. The mind set of people are changing, what was applicable 10 years ago in Nigeria political system is not what is applicable today.  It may not even involve political parties again but would involve personalities. The revolution I am talking about will cut across cultural, religious and ethnic barriers. By then, if you are a woman and you come out with integrity and a good track record, people will vote for you irrespective of the political party you belong and that is the kind of politics we want in Nigeria. We are all one Nigeria and if we begin to look at things in that angle, honestly, that is when we can begin to brag that we are moving to an advanced stage in the country. But you see, we need to put aside the sentiment of religion, ethnicity and division and look for someone credible that would drive us to the promise land. That is my dream for Nigeria.

What is it like being a king?

I have been on the throne for just a year now. July 15 made it exactly one year of my being on the throne. I have been a very good businessman prior to being a king and since I came in, I have been trying to build a fantastic palace on about eight hectares of land, which one segment is almost completed now and I have about eight segments to do. Again I have been working with all my community heads to see how we can woo investors because my domain in Ogbomosho has the best cashew producing zone, not just in the whole of Nigeria but in the whole world. So I now look at it that those cashews are wasting with no processing factory available in the domain. And these are things that an turn the community to an economy hub. So I have been interacting with the state governor, Abiola Ajimobi. He is very proactive and he is making some effects to ensure something is done. So I have been working in synergy with both my local and state government in order to turn my place to an economic hub.

What was your upbringing like and did you ever envisage becoming a king while growing up?

In fact it so funny, my father, Emos Okunlola Alao, was a pastor at the Christ Apostolic Church for over 50 years and I was a chorister in the church for about 18 years. And when I was called upon by my family members to come and be a king, that my family was eligible. I said okay. I then called my wife who happens to be a pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God and we prayed about it and God took over the whole thing. So to me, just like a pastor has a calling, kingship is a calling to serve my people. But the calling of a king is a lifetime task to serve his people. And God has been helping me since I came on the throne.