The Olugbadebo Olukera 11 and Olowu of Owu-Ijebu, Oba Olusegun Adesina recently clocked 80 years old and even at that, he is still waxing stronger. So, while his family, friends and the entire community made plans for a grand party to celebrate him at his hometown, the royal father bared his mind on his life as a king, the challenges of serving his people and many more in this interview with MARY NNAH
Congratulations you on your 80th birthday sir. Can you tell us a bit about your life journey in the last 80 years?
I went to school in Ijebu Ode primary Secondary school where I was born. I did A level at Abeokuta grammar school and did my first degree in Zaria which is now Ahmadu Bello University. We were doing London University Degrees as external students, which I finished in 1963. I worked for the Western State Government as provincial engineer in Ijebu Ode which covered Ijebu and Remo area.
When they created the first water corporation in Nigeria in the old west, I moved from ministry of works to water corporation and worked for the water corporation and was transferred to Abeokuta. I was the area engineer manager and the area covered at that time was the whole of Ogun state now, which includes Yewa, Egba, Ijebu and Remo. We constructed most of the water schemes including elevated tanks and so on and when I was at works earlier, we constructed most of the roads all by direct labour. I felt the civil service would not make me achieve my dreams in life so I left after nine years and set up my own consulting firm with some friends.
We were lucky we had series of jobs as consultants from both the federal and state governments, the universities as well and also from the World Bank, UNICEF and so on.
We did consultancy for them but within Nigeria that covered the whole country, travelling from one city to the other to do the work which includes water supply, irrigation and drainage, road designs and so on for the federal government. At that time, you get jobs based on your competence, you submit proposals and they would assess your proposal and awards contracts and consultancy work to those qualified. When we find other jobs which we think we can’t do all on our own, we collaborate with some foreign consultants in Britain, USA, Canada and we all worked together as a group. That was all after the war, Nigeria was rebuilding.
At a stage we had to work two shifts from 7:30 to 3:30 then from 2:00 to 8:30 in the night. There were 55 engineers and technicians and we were working two shifts as consultants during the post-war period to cope with the work we had. I enjoyed it until I came to the throne.
We were involved when the federal government said they wanted all federal roads about 200,000km of road all over the country to be well taken care of. So they appointed a committee, I was made chairman of the committee representing the chamber of commerce. We also had people from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Road Transport Owners Association, engineering bodies were represented on that committee and we went round all the federal roads in the country, and submitted a report. Part of it was that they should give concession to some people to manage some of the roads. Of course if they were managing, there’d be road taxes which they would pick, I think Lagos-Ibadan was one of them and I think N500 was all they would pay. That would ensure that all the roads would be in good position.
Would you say you are fulfilled at 80?
It’s work in progress. Before I became Oba I was doing so many things. I was president Association of Consulting Engineers for Nigeria between years 1996 to 1998. I was chairman for Nigerian Society of Engineers at the water and sanitation section. Then, I was president of the Ijebu Chamber of Commerce and president of the Ogun State Chambers of Commerce. I was director Eco bank in Cameroon, Liberia and Director International Bank of Republic of Benin at various times. I was non-executive director though, we meet four times a year to coordinate what they’re doing and to make sure that shareholders monies are not shared.
What has your experience been like since you ascended the throne?
I have been king now for 12 years and a couple of months. Like many things in this country today, it’s been quite challenging. Most of our people do farming in the forest reserve. I have over 50 Baales (wards heads) in those forest areas and they have farmers they employ and give them pieces of land. They farm there. They come from various states such as Oyo, Lagos, Ondo and Ekiti state mainly but we have a few from much farther places and they come to farm. When you have such diversities in the farm you find that there would always be one issue or the other which their Baales who is their own representatives, tries to handle and if they can’t handle it, they come to me in the palace here and that is almost a regular thing. You have one or two set of people at least in a day coming like that. So, it has been quite stressful but thank God, God is in control.
What was your reaction like at the time you were called upon to serve your people as an Oba?
Actually, when I was invited to come and be Oba, I was still very busy as an engineer. My consulting firm was having two shifts; I had to coordinate with my partners. I was really very busy as a consultant. For instance I represented the federal government at what they now call climate change at a world conference in Canada. I was asked to go and present a paper in the 1990’s at the conference. I served also as chairman of National Council on Water Resources. I was also active in business world because when Ecobank was set up by Adeyemi Lawson of blessed memory, I was one of the first 23 shareholders of Ecobank. But, at the end of the day I felt that I needed to serve my people, so, coming back home and serving my people is a personal sacrifice.
It has been 12 years since you ascended the throne. What would you say has been your achievement so far?
We’ve tried and it’s on-going. For the farmers, we’re trying to see how we can make them go from the cutlass and hoes to mechanised farming. And we are trying to make sure that you just don’t farm and people come to take the raw materials to process and so on. We are trying to see what we can do to make sure the farmers reap the crops, put at least the first treatment and that means we give support not just to the farmers but to the technicians and industries. It is still work in progress because it is difficult to change people’s attitude in such a short time. We tell them that you must add value to your products to make it better.
What is the most memorable day on the throne?
It is difficult to assess things done when I am on the throne because I started some of the things even as a young engineer. For the town hall and our church, I did the consultancy and partly funded it and I was part of the central mosque too. Each time I have an occasion, I give scholarships to young people and such scholarships takes them from secondary till they finish from the university.
Do you have a count of how many people you’ve given such scholarships to?
I can’t give an exact figure because even as an engineer I’ve been doing that for the community but it can’t be less than between 50 and 100. You must show that you have the capacity and your parents are unable to pay. Those are the conditions and they’ve been doing well. I have been happy doing that. When you add value to people’s lives, it is much better than when you amass money in the bank.
In terms of promoting culture festivals in this part of the world, how effective has it been since you came on?
There have been challenges. I want to promote culture, I have been doing that but I want to promote culture without sacrificing people’s religious beliefs. That is very important to me and in some instances it became a real challenge. I often give them money to go and do whatever they want to do. I have been taking active part in the real culture, the music and the dancing, but not to sacrifice my own religion or asking people to sacrifice their religion. I am not a party to that, it can be challenging occasionally but I insist on it.