On October 29, Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Osuolale Akiolu I, celebrated 75 years of existence on earth with fond memories of a life replete with challenges and outstanding records of achievements, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi
Last week, Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu I, marked his 75th birthday. This came up five months after the monarch celebrated his 15th anniversary on the throne. Across the federation, eminent Nigerians have been sending messages of goodwill to the Chairman of Lagos Council of Obas and Chiefs, felicitating and wishing him prosperous years.
Notable among them were President Muhammadu Buhari, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu. For Buhari, Akiolu’s unwavering commitment to the peace and unity of Nigeria is matchless and unparalleled. Aside, his courage to speak the truth to people in power, he has distinguished from other royal fathers in the federation.
Beyond goodwill messages across the federation, a look into Akiolu’s life reveals a lot of lessons. First, just about nine years when he was born into Akinsemoyin Royal Family, Akiolu’s mother passed on. Even shortly before her demise, Akiolu claimed he had been living with his mother’s friend in Ibadan for reasons he did not disclose. After a short while, he moved to the residence of his brother, whom he fondly called Baba Ibadan.
That perhaps marked the beginning of a thorny journey for the monarch despite the insignia of royalty upon him. Even though he never shared what he might have suffered on account of his mother’s passage in 1957, the pain of living most of his life without experiencing the care of a mother was harrowing enough to get a young man with a promising future off balance.
But it all turned to be a testimony of lifetime achievements after decades of hard work. For him, life could have been unbearable if not for God’s factor in every phase of his life’s journey. Originally, Akiolu’s plan was to become a legal practitioner, which he believed, would place him at a vantage position to assist the downtrodden and the oppressed in the society.
However, the monarch could not immediately realise the dream of becoming a lawyer. It was not because he could not meet the requirements for law programme. But Akiolu’s contact with some police officers redefined his career focus. So, rather than pursuing a legal career, Akiolu joined the Nigeria Police Force, which he attributed to the influence of a police officer he called ‘Fine Country’.
Beside Fine Country, Akiolu equally explained how some police officers influenced his decision to pursue a career in the security sector, for which according to him, he would ever remain grateful to God. By providence, Akiolu rose to the position of Assistant Inspector-General before he retired from active service.
Until his retirement in 2002, Akiolu served in the Nigeria Police Force for 32 years. But the monarch never allowed the thrill of police job to nudge off his career’s radar. Midway into his police job, Akiolu successfully undertook a law programme at the University of Lagos, Akoka and was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar. For him, this is a dream fulfilled.
He never disputed the image issue that had become associated with the Nigeria Police for decades. Despite this challenge, Akiolu observed that being a policeman “is one of the best jobs one can do in this life. It is an honourable profession. But it requires truthfulness and faithfulness.”
Unlike thousands of police officers, who used their uniforms as weapon of exploitation and harassment, Akiolu shared an entirely different philosophy, which he claimed, had paid off. According to him, all through his service years, he used his position to help people without expecting a reward for whatever help he rendered to the people in need, adding, “It hurts me sometimes that none of my children joined the Force.”
That was the orientation, which helped him rise to the cadre of an Assistant Inspector-General. Even some of his superior officers, according to him, knew him for being forthright and truthful at all times. That paid up especially after he pulled out of the Force. For instance, within two weeks that he ascended the throne, he claimed people contributed N165 million for me.
Specifically, Akiolu retired in 2002, three years to the actual time he was supposed to pull out of the Force. His sudden retirement truncated his vision to become the Inspector-General during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That, perhaps, might be one of the reasons for his public criticism of the former president. Even with this disappointment, God compensated him in another way, when in 2003, he ascended the throne of his ancestors.
Akiolu’s ascendance to the throne was another interesting part of his life, which threw up diverse challenges for the monarch. After the passage of Oba Adeyinka Oyekan, on March 1, 2003, the Kingmakers of the Lagos Traditional Kingdom narrowed down their selection process to Akiolu. On May 23, 2003, the kingmakers announced him the 21st Oba of Lagos after meeting all requirements for the royal stool.
Long before he ascended the throne of his ancestors, Akiolu never at any time hid his interest in the stool. At different public fora, Akiolu had recounted how he pleaded with God to grant his request to become Oba of Lagos. In the circle of colleagues and friends, Akiolu was fondly called Prince.
When the opportunity came up after the demise of Oyekan, Akiolu was lucky to have won the hearts of the owners of Lagos, who eventually put traditional and institutional seal on his selection. Now, he has spent 15 good years on the throne and 75 years on the earth, which Ambode said, was a rare privilege that only God could give.
Akiolu’s ascendance to the throne did not come easy. Among others, Akiolu was fiercely challenged by Prince Tajudeen Olusi and Prince Adekunle Ojora. Even 15 years after coronation, Prince Sammy Adebiyi and Prince Rasheed Modile are still before an Ikeja High Court, seeking an order to declare Akiolu’s appointment and installation null and void. The matter is still before the court, 15 years after coronation. Under the Oba of Lagos State Customary Law, the claimants argued, only two ruling houses can produce traditional rulers: Akinsemoyin and Ologunkutere. Oba Oyekan, who reigned before Akiolu, was from the Ologunkutere Ruling House.
Since Ologunkutere produced Oyekan, Akinsemoyin should ordinarily produce his successor. For the claimants, Akiolu is of the Ologunkutere Royal Family. But contrary to this claim, Akiolu himself had said he was of the Akinsemoyin Royal Family, which the claimants agreed, should produce Oba of Lagos after the passage of Oyekan. Amid these claims and counter-claims, the onus now rest on the court to decide Akiolu’s fate.
On May 23, when the monarch marked his 15th anniversary on the throne, the Lagos State House of Assembly beamed light on the state’s records of growth and development under Akiolu’s reign. The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Wasiu Sanni-Eshinlokun described Akiolu “as a great leader whose kingship had brought fortune to the state.
“Before he was enthroned, the population of Lagos was nine million. Now, it has increased to 22 million. This is part of the blessings enjoyed in Lagos through the fortune of the king. This is commendable. Kabiyesi is a great leader, who will never be forgotten in the history of the state in the context of the economy and other development.”