Akintoba Mendes pays tribute to Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu I, Oba of Lagos, at age 77
The mood in Lagos State and the whole of Nigeria in general calls for a sombre outlook at the moment. Yet, some important dates have a way of being defiantly critical even in the midst of turbulence. Such is today, Thursday October 29 when His Royal Highness, the King of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Aremu Akiolu I, also known as the Eleko of Eko, clocks 77 years of age on earth.
It is a public holiday in Nigeria and an important day in Lagos to continue to reflect on the developments in our dear nation, to appraise steps being taken in bringing sanity and safety back to the people without engaging in blame game and to celebrate an enigma of a King who has had the good fortune of sitting on the throne of his forefathers for 17 glorious years so far.
History is replete with stories of various attacks against the throne and values that we as a people hold dear as far as traditional institution is concerned. From the period of colonial rule to the military era and even under this current democratic dispensation, the throne has had to contend with various challenges, which often tend to either undermine or ridicule the role of the monarchy.
Instances abound across the country.
Even last week’s unfortunate incident where genuine agitation for true change within the polity, for necessary reforms in how citizens are policed and for our youths to have more say in the affairs of the nation got derailed by certain elements who, in wanton destruction of public and private properties, did not spare the sacred thrones – from Ogbomoso in Oyo State, to Idanre in Ondo, Calabar in Cross River State and of course in Lagos.
But the throne that forgives is the one that endures.
And this is why Kabiyesi Akiolu’s revered silence and forgiving mien call for acknowledgement and indeed celebration, particularly on a day like this.
Anyone who has the good fortune of being the traditional, even if ceremonial, sovereign of Lagos, the largest city in Africa and commercial capital of Nigeria will not hold grudge against any of his subjects and visitor-settlers no matter the indiscretion. This of course is a cornerstone philosophy of Oba Akiolu.
Every monarch approaches the organisation of the palace differently, particularly as modernity calls for more adjustments and adaptation. But the essence and sanctity of the throne has always remained traditionally inviolable under Oba Akiolu.
The youths have always been close to his heart and ceaseless interventions.
Not many will forget how over 2,000 graduates, none bearing his name, in the last five years were absorbed on merit into government and private employment through his direct intervention. For those without degrees, hundreds of youths were enrolled into various skills acquisition programmes for free.
Two years ago, several people also benefited from the commercial motorcycle and tricycle empowerment programme he offered to young ones just going into such businesses and those who needed new ones. It was the Kabiyesi that got Zenith Bank, Dangote, Caverton and other corporate giants and individuals to build the health centre on Lagos Island for the benefit of his people, while he also got other banks and companies to pay for the medication in order to keep it free of charge for residents. We must not forget the ambulance on stand-by at the health centre was donated through Kabiyesi’s direct intervention to take patients to Island Maternity and General Hospital on emergencies.
Working with a monarch whose high standard draws the best out of his subject can be undoubtedly demanding. Yet, several staff members and friends of the palace attest to Kabiyesi’s generosity in paying for them to go on religious pilgrimages; in having the tuition of their wards paid and in always sending financial gift whenever he is invited to events.
Also in Oba Akiolu’s domain, head of each royal family receives honorary upkeep monthly support.
As the 21st incumbent Ọba of Lagos, Oba Akiolu is a descendant of the Ologunkutere Ruling House in Isale Eko (downtown Lagos), a haven of Lagos indigenes and he is one who is forever committed to the welfare and development of his people there.
Born on October 29, 1943, Oba Akiolu attended Ansar-Ud-Deen College, Surulere, Lagos between 1961-1965. He went on to study Law at the University of Lagos where he received a Bachelor of Law degree (LL.B). He dedicated 32 years of his life to public service, joining the Nigerian Police Force in 1970 where he served in various capacities until his retirement in 2002 as an Assistant Inspector-General of Police.
He is a fellow of the Nigerian Law School and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management.
After the demise of Ọba Adeyinka Oyekan in March 2003, Lagos kingmakers selected Akiolu as the late monarch’s successor after the necessary rites. With his appointment ratified by the Lagos State Government, he was capped on May 24 and crowned on August 9, 2003.
A Lagos State High Court, in 2019, struck out a 16-year-old suit (challenging Ọba Akiolu’s coronation) filed by the Akinsemoyin Ruling House, arguing that their lineage has been denied access to the throne, as lacking in merit.
It is not for nothing that the Yorubas say every cloud has a silver lining as far as an attack on a palace is concerned. Temporary set-backs do not have a space in Oba Akiolu’s worldview, as a man fiercely committed to his Isale Eko roots and the position of Lagos as an accommodating land of opportunities for visitors.
As he clocks 77 today, here is wishing the people’s monarch many more years on the throne in good health, peace and abundance for all and sundry.
Mendes wrote from Lagos Island