OBA OLUFOLARIN OGUNSANWO; FROM THE TAX OFFICE TO THE THRONE

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The delightful tunes from traditional drums amidst pomp and circumstance rent the air. The confluence of culture, class, and colours were in full display. He exudes opulence, affluence, and royalty. In royal splendour, he sits majestically on a sofa. His white royal apparel, his shimmering beads belie his majesty. Intermittently, the crowd chorus, ‘Kabiyesi oh.’ On August 6, His Royal Majesty, Oba Olufolarin Olukayode Ogunsanwo, Telade IV, became the 55th Alara of Ilara Kingdom in Lagos State. Funke Olaode writes about the childhood and career of Oba Ogunsanwo and his ascension to the throne

The air was literarily filled with excitement. It was a mixture of culture, class, and colours. The traditional drummers were in their best elements as delightful tunes oozed out. The voluntary traditional dancers gyrated to the tunes as they staggered in ecstasy. It was a rite of passage in preparatory to the throne of their ancestors. It was a new dawn as somebody of affluence and influence is going to open a new vista in their domain. The joy was unmistakable. History was made that day because the community had just witnessed another installation of a new Oba after 60 years.

The elderly and the young were excited to see a new king installed. The last Oba, His Royal Majesty Oba Akeem Okunola Adesanya ll, who joined his ancestors in October 2018 spent 58 years on the throne. To everyone, the new monarch is a breath of fresh air.
Sitting majestically on a sofa, he exudes opulence, affluence, and royalty. His white royal apparel is matched with his shimmering beads. He looks magnificent and radiates warmth as his subjects intermittently chorused, ‘Kabiyesi oh!’
A man of few words, he would shake his head in admiration of the accolades. Until August 6, His Royal Majesty, Oba Olufolarin Olukayode Ogunsanwo, Telade IV, Alara of Ilara Kingdom in Lagos State was a public servant having worked in Lagos State where he rose through the ranks to become the executive chairman of Lagos Inland Revenue Service.
The mantle of monarchy fell on him when he was called upon to serve his people. Throwing light on his selection as Alara of Ilara, he recalled.

“I was selected by the Kingmakers as the 55th Alara of the Ilara Kingdom after the demise of my predecessor, His Royal Majesty Oba Akeem Okunola Adesanya ll, who joined his ancestors in October 2018 having spent 58 years on the throne. He was the longest-reigning monarch in Lagos State having become an Oba at the age of 16. He passed on at the age of 74. In November 2019, the Kingmakers requested that it is the turn of Telade my Ruling House to produce the next Oba Alara of Ilara Kingdom.
“Having received a notice to jump-start the process from the state government through the Eredo Local Council Development Authority then eight of us were picked as contestants and the list was forwarded to the Kingmakers in Ilara. The rest as they say is history. I was crowned on Thursday, August 6, 2020, and His Excellency, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu presented me with the Staff of Office and Instrument of Appointment on Sunday, August 16, 2020.”

Recounting his journey to the throne, Oba Ogunsanwo says everything is divine.
“Well, it is God that chooses kings. I never knew I was going to be a king. As said earlier, the last Oba reigned for 60 years. It was after Oba’s demise that there was a declaration that there is an Oba to be chosen and an oba has to be selected, elected, and appointed to take charge of the leadership of the community. It has been a wonderful experience going through the traditional rites.

“I see it as another call to service having served Lagos State for 26 years and moved through the ranks to become the Executive Chairman Lagos State Internal Revenue Service. Even my stint in the service was also a call to duty to assist the government to get revenue for the betterment of the citizenry. It is with tax money that most things are done, infrastructure, roads, education, transport, health services and so on. So when the opportunity came and I was called, I prayed about it, I consulted and I said why not, let me go and serve my people. As the Yorubas will say ‘Ile la bo, isi mi Oko’ all that we have been trying to do in the service let us come and try it here and see how we move this community forward.”

From a tax office to the throne, Oba Ogunsanwo believes his ascension was a revolution as he enumerates the potential of Ilara. Speaking on his plans for Ilara Kingdom, he said efforts are being made on various programmes that will drive his community’s economy.
“No one can beat the serenity and peaceful ambience of this kingdom. You must have noticed and observed the potentials that we have in this community. It only takes a visionary leader and someone that has the passion for his people to actually want to be on the right side of history to come and change things and to ensure that the community excels in every aspect. We are blessed here with agriculture, in terms of farming and fishing. We have a lot of viable land, good soil, good weather and then we are surrounded by water all over the place, up to the lagoon then to the ocean. So fishing is part of the natural resources that the Almighty God has given to this community.

“There is a huge potential also for tourism here, and then we have a lot of human capital resources as well. We have capable hands, we have people that are well-read. And if we all join hands together and put our heads together, I want to believe that this community will become a mini London where everybody will want to be and the community will be very proud of. So part of what we intend to do is to partner with the Lagos State government, through ‘The THEMES AGENDA’ of Mr. Governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu. We are going to partner with the state government and we are also going to take some initiatives as well to invite private investors to come and see the kind of things that they can do to improve the economic potentials of the community.”
Another project that is dear to the new traditional ruler is youth empowerment through vocational training.

“The empowerment of youth is also very key. We will also try and see that we assist our children to continue to be educated and not only educating them but also to be self-reliant. Because you can’t wait for the government to do everything for you. So with that we intend to create some vocational institutions where when our children go to school during the day and may be at the weekend they can come back to learn some things. Things like renewable energy, welding and artwork. And we also look at areas where modern technics of producing or providing farm products. For instance, if you have a cassava farm, it is not only to be producing that cassava and be selling but we can have an industry, a kind of cottage industry that can use the cassava to produce garri. We are Ijebus here and all of you know what they call garri Ijebu. These are things that we are known for even our fishing industry also, we want to see how we can micro-manage it in such a way that we can preserve the fish and we can package it in such a way that we can even begin to export to other neighbouring countries and internally within Nigeria. Then we also look at the tourism potentials of this community and then we want people to come in here. These are things we want to do and that is one of the reasons why I accepted to come and lead my people. To come and be with them and then let see how we can move the place forward,” says the monarch.

Oba Ogunsanwo as a modern monarch is also a grassroots man. And if there anything that delights his heart it is his presence amongst his subjects. Did he miss being in the city?
“When you came in here didn’t you see that there is a lot of peace around here away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos? Everything is fresh here, the ambience and everything is just great, and everything is just fresh. So, those are some of the things that people don’t know that they can enjoy here. With all the road networks that the government is doing now, this will be the next place that people can actually come and live. And once the government is able to put the Fourth Mainland Bridge and improve on the multimodal transport facilities: the use of water, land and by road, people can move from one end of the state to another. So many people can actually live here and be working in Lagos and it will decongest Lagos. That is part of the agenda which we want to work with the Lagos state government. And I pray that very soon, maybe when we are celebrating our first, second and third anniversary we will always have things to point at and say God has actually helped us to achieve our goals.”

Oba Ogunsanwo as a traditional ruler is also a strong Christian. How does he strike a balance between the two?
“Whether you are a Christian, Moslem or a traditionalist, the Christian will say in Jesus name and by the grace of God, the Moslems will say Isha Allah, or by the grace of Almighty Allah and the traditionalist will say by the grace of Eledumare. One thing that is common to those three religions is that we all call on the Almighty God. Of course, when you an Oba you are spiritual head. So as a ruler you need to have a lot of wisdom and when you are trying to apply that wisdom correctly, you must also have the fear of Almighty God.”

Born on September 23, 1967, in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Oba Ogunsanwo read Economics from the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and graduated at the age of 21. After his one-year mandatory youth service with Wema Bank Plc, he joined the Lagos State Civil Service in 1991 as an Inspector of Taxes Grade ll. He got to the top by becoming the Executive Chairman of the revenue agency.

Reliving his childhood, he said. “I come from a very humble background. My father (who is still alive) was a retired civil servant and my mother (also alive) was a retired headmistress. In those days, when you talk about a teacher’s child, it depicts a very good background, a good upbringing. They taught us humility and hard work. And there is no shortcut to the top than through hard work and then serve your God diligently. My father is 83 and my mother is 78 and I am the third child of the family but to God be the glory it has been a very good experience and am happy to have been born through these great people.”

Speaking further about his Ibadan root and his love for his community right from his childhood.
“I was born in Ibadan my parents were working in Ibadan then even though my dad was born in this community. I grew up in Ibadan but every year we come home for Salah. So we used to come home for Ileya just like the period that just past, and each time we come home, I remember those days, we will go to the stream to fetch water.
“We go swimming in the river and all those things, so each year I always look forward to it. I am in love with the community, I am very, very proud to come from this community, I love my people and I have always been coming home. I built a country home here and I didn’t know God was preparing me ahead. So like I said everything was divine.”

A committed family man, Oba Ogunsanwo is happily married with children. Away from family life no doubt his newfound status must have robbed him of his privacy. He waved it off.
“I have been my normal self even up till now nothing has changed. A friend sent a congratulatory message to me. We attended primary school at the same time in Ibadan and he started saying things like from my young age, I have always lived and comported myself like a king. That everything about me the aura radiates that of a king and that there is no quality that they are looking for in a king that I don’t have. I have always been a private person, even with the throne you can see that it is a traditional stool. There are certain things I can’t do anymore. That is what the throne demands and I have accepted it.”

Amidst his coronation, Oba Ogunsanwo was awarded from afar with an honorary doctorate of Arts by the European-American University of the Commonwealth of Dominica.
“Sometimes, you don’t know that people are watching your actions or inaction and they give honour to whom it is due at the appropriate time. I will continue to cherish this honour for the rest of my life because it came at a time that I just ascended the throne and will be a constant reminder of my responsibility and pact with my subjects,” he promises.