Reigning Oore of Mobaland is Oba (Dr.) James Adedapo Popoola, JP, CON, Odundun I Adimula, a first-class traditional ruler and former Chairman of the Ekiti State Traditional Council of Obas and Chiefs. He is an economist and a Chartered Accountant and worked with the Central Bank of Nigeria for about 20 years, where he rose through the ranks.
While he was approaching the management or executive level at the bank, the people of Mobaland demanded that he be recalled home to assume the position of Oore, a position, he never wanted then. His people were unanimous in their demand for him; it was either him or no other person. It was, therefore, not a surprise that after he was boxed to a corner, he ascended the throne without any opponent. January 20, 2017, made it 17 years since Dr. James Adedapo Popoola became the Oore of Mobaland.
During your 10th year anniversary on the throne, the late Oba Okunade Sijuade said that you are one of the foremost traditional rulers in Yoruba land. How did the late Kabiyesi Sijuade come about this rating?
I remembered the late Kabiyesi saying, when you are talking about one of the topmost traditional rulers in Yoruba land, Oore is one of them. The late Kabiyesi Sijuade was talking with history. History does not recognise population. History does not recognise political influence. In those days, people were very honest, and they documented history. The position of Oore is important to Ile-Ife, this is not disputed and it is also indisputable. Because Oore was formally in Ile-Ife, and was very close to Oduduwa during the periods of Oduduwa, so he was talking, from a sense of history. The late Kabiyesi Sijuade came to my 10th year anniversary; he slept over in the palace here in Ado-Ekiti. That was the level of the traditional relationship between the Ooni and Oore. He was talking from a sense of history.
It was said that only the Oore is the rightful person to announce the passage of any Ooni of Ife. This, he will do, once it is confirmed to you that an Ooni had joined his ancestors. That means it is now your duty to announce the death of the Ooni to the Alafin of Oyo, Oba of Benin and other Obas down the line. How did you come about this historic role, Kabiyesi?
The Oore was formally known and referred to as an Omolokun. The Oore was also in existence during the itinerant periods when people migrated from one place to the other. History has it that Oore came out of the Okunmoba and he was therefore known and referred to as Omolokun. Okunmoba is around the coastal areas of Lagos. So Oore migrated from the Coastal areas somewhere in Lagos and settled in various places before finally coming to Ile-Ife. When Oore was in Ile-Ife, Oduduwa was also in Ile-Ife, and if you are very familiar with the Yoruba history, there came a time Oduduwa became blind, and all efforts to resuscitate his eyesight, proved very difficult. It was the Omolokun, now Oore, who consulted the Ifa Oracle on behalf of Oduduwa, and said that except they bring water from the Ocean to prepare certain things that eyesight would not be restored.
So, Oduduwa called all his children and wanted to know, who will volunteer to go and fetch the water from the Ocean, as history will have it, one of Oduduwa’s youngest children, Ashibogun, volunteered to go and fetch the water. And when he went, it took an unusually long time for him to return. So, everybody, including Oduduwa thought he had died. At this point, when all the other children of Oduduwa realised that their father was getting old; they decided to have their own inheritance and branched out to form their own kingdoms.
During these periods, Oore kept re-assuring Oduduwa, that Ashibogun will return safely. Before Ashibogun’s return to Ife, all the other children of Oduduwa had left the place, whenever these children left Ile-Ife, whenever they get to where they were to settle they will as expected send a message back home, to say “this is where I have settled.”
And Oore was always with Oduduwa. So Oore knew, where every son of Oduduwa settled. And when Ashibogun came back with the water, it was the Oore who did all the rituals that were necessary, and Oduduwa regained his sight. It was at this point, that Oduduwa started to call Oore my benefactor (Oloremi). Oloremi is the full name of Oore. That was the level of closeness between Oore and Oduduwa in the time of old. It was after Oduduwa had regained his sight that Oore decided to leave him, not without Oduduwa extracting a promise from Oore that anytime he Oduduwa needed Oore, Oore must find the time to come to him.
History did not record the number of years Oduduwa lived after he had regained his sight, because Oore was the last person to leave Ile-Ife, they knew where he was. So, when Oduduwa passed on, Oore was the first person they sent for. Telling him that Oduduwa had passed on. Oore had to go back to Ile-Ife; it was this same Oore, who now informed all his children about the passage of their father. That was the situation and that was where the history was established that anytime an Oba in Ile-Ife passed on, it is the Oore that is the right and proper person to know about such death before any other person.
When I made a royal visit to Ile-Ife in the year 2000 and this history was repeated, the then Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade said, “it is not only when an Ooni passed on in Ile-Ife that Oore is informed, that when a new Oba or Ooni is to be installed in Ile-Ife, they must invoke the spirit of top Yoruba Obas and Oore is one of them,” so he said it, and it was on tape and newspapers. It is not a conjecture. That was why he was in a position to say it, that anytime an Ooni is to be installed the spirit of the Oore must be involved.
In 1903, when the then Ooni prepared the list of Yoruba Obas, the 1903 list, which was published, had the Ooni as number one, he had the Olowu of Abeokuta as number two, the same list had Alafin of Oyo as number three, the Oba of Benin as number four, he had Oore as number five on that list. These facts are not just new; they have been there for a very long time. And in those days, we had people of integrity and truth, things were said the way they were, it was neither for self-aggrandizement nor for personal elevation.
Kabiyesi, for example were you notified about the passage of the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, since this was supposed to be the right thing to do. Were you the person that announced the death of the late Ooni?
No. You see over time, the world has become a global village. You know that the news about Oba Sijuade’s death was already in the papers and the social media when the late Ooni died in London. Even during the demise of Ooni Aderemi Adesoji in 1980, Chief Bola Ige was the Governor of Oyo State then, he went to the Oyo State House of Assembly in Ibadan and announced the demise of Ooni Adesoji, the Obas then were very unhappy, and they castigated him, that that was not how the passage of an Ooni is announced. So, if it was not properly done in 1980 you should not expect the proper procedure to be followed this time around.
Is it not proper to begin to put these things in proper perspective since these facts are there according to you, Kabiyesi?
It is very necessary that we begin to do the right thing henceforth. When Oba Okunade Sijuade joined his ancestors, so many papers carried it then, that the proper procedure in announcing his passage was not followed. They made it clear, that it was the Oore that was supposed to announce the death officially. So, that is the situation. It is a known history, whether it is followed or not, it is another thing entirely.
Let me give you a similar example, prior to 1914, when any Oba died in Benin, they must bury such an Oba in Ile-Ife, since the time of Eweka. It was even Oba Sijuade, who said it, in one of the interviews he granted. He said the last one that happened was around 1914 and since that time, it never happened again. The Benin Obas are never brought again to Ile-Ife for burial. Up till now, the Benin people have a grotto in Ile-Ife. Oba Ado Bini where they were usually buried. So people may not now say you must carry the corpse of an Oba of Benin to Ile-Ife to bury. These are the type of things that are fast changing the way and manner things were done in the past.
You will not say that you are unaware of the altercation between the Olugbo of Ugbo and the Ooni of Ife over the stature of Moremi Ajasoro in Ile-Ife. What is your take on this?
I don’t want to be involved in any controversy; Ile-Ife is our inheritance, our source and our home. We are in the era of forging unity among the Yoruba Obas now, the Yoruba Obas before now, have been deeply divided and polarized along ego and political divisions. And the new Ooni of Ife has come in, to contribute his own part in unifying the Yoruba Monarchy. And he has started in the right direction and he is doing it in the right way and he should not be distracted. Unnecessary controversy at this stage would take us back to the days of old, which are not good for the entire Yoruba nation.
As a topflight banker then, who was doing relatively well, what would you say attracted you to assume the position of the Oore of Mobaland in Otun Ekiti?
AS at the time I was called to come and assume the throne of my fathers, I was approaching the management level, if you like call it the Executive level of the CBN. And so I was getting ready to enter into that cadre, which I had already worked very hard, to attain. I was therefore stuck between the decision of continuing with my job and having that personal satisfaction and the decision to come and serve my people as an Oba. My coming to the throne therefore was not by any competition. I did not compete with anybody. I was the unanimous choice after consultation with the necessary Ifa Oracle and the people of my community.
I was driven by the fact that I have always had it at the back of my mind to be of service to my people, I believed that it is an overriding interest than personal satisfaction. If I had wanted personal wealth and money, I would have elected to continue with my work in the CBN. If it is community service and service to humanity, I had to go back home to serve my people. That was how I went back home to serve my people.
Did you consider the overall financial implications of your action?
I have already alluded to that fact, if I was driven by personal satisfaction, I would have turned down the request to come and serve my people as an Oba and continue with my job, but after a very deep thought, I decided to forget about all the attraction and wealth I could make while in the job, and decided to move back home to serve as an Oba. I therefore, offered myself to go back home and help to change the life of my people, this was what propelled me to come back home. As a matter of fact, I knew, that it was going to be very difficult financially but the call to service and my pedigree as a Prince with blue blood, will not allow me shy away from assuming the responsibility of leadership in the community.
Up to the time, I ascended the throne I had been a community man. I have been very close to my people, after having served them in town unions up to the national level. I also knew that my community needed as at then, committed people, who will help to give it a facelift. Give the people some orientation and direction, so that the situation of the people will improve as well as their lives. Yes, the stipend they paid was and is still very bad, as it is not able to sustain any meaningful family activities. But at least, God is feeding us.
I don’t know, Kabiyesi, if you have had the opportunity to read the autobiography of Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona known as the “AWUJALE”. He said in that book that he went into business, because at some point as the Awujale, he could hardly sustain his family and be able to play the role expected of a traditional rule of his status. Are you towing the same line?
I am a traditional ruler who wants to be able to be on his feet. When I say to be on his feet, I mean not subject to the whims and caprices of the government of the day. One needs to be financially independent. And to be financially sustainable, if one is not a contractor, one needs to try to do some businesses but unfortunately, in the economic climate we all find ourselves now, very few businesses are sustainable. Those businesses that survive are those established a long time ago, and they had passed through the teething stages, those are the types of businesses that can be sustained; that can bring in money.
I am in Ekiti State, which is not a very good business environment. Awujale has been on the throne for about fifty-six years now, has over the years been able to put in place enduring economic activities. But I can still say, that as self-sustaining as Awujale is, his people still rally round him and give him a good standing. But in our case here, we are striving in our own little way, even though I am still very young on the throne. So we are still trying to find our feet, believing that, as the nation’s economic situation improves, the little we are able to do, will bring about useful results.
The present structure does not ordinarily allow traditional rulers to play active role in politics. Politicians have a way of using traditional rulers to garner votes, and once they get there, they forget you. How do you cope with politicians?
I agree with you absolutely, politicians are not very good people. They use and dump people. Not only traditional rulers, they use and dump each other. That is their stock in trade. As a traditional ruler, you must first have the interest of your people in mind. When you have the interest of your people at heart, whatever party comes to government, you will be able to find your bearing. Personally, traditional rulers are not supposed to be overtly involved in partisan politics. But they are expected to be involved in state and national developments. As a traditional ruler, when you see something that is not going very well with the generality of the people, if you have the opportunity not necessarily on the pages of newspapers, offer your own little advice, as much as possible, and let them know, where you stand on any issue. I don’t like pretending. That is my personal philosophy in the last 17 years, I will say, that I have got along with the successive governments in Ekiti State.
When I was the Chairman of Ekiti State Council of Obas, between 2005 and 2007, I had the rear privilege of dealings with almost five governors. I came in when Otunba Niyi Adebayo was there, then Fayose came and was impeached, the then Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly said he was then the Governor of the State, he was thereafter removed and a sole administrator was brought in, the sole administrator stayed for six months. And the then National Assembly, decided not to renew his tenure for the remaining 33 days, so they brought in a new speaker, the former speaker who pronounced himself as Governor of the state in the first instance had been impeached, so a new speaker came in. If you add up all these numbers of persons who acted as Governor of Ekiti State, in those turbulent period, you will see that I dealt with almost five people; and then finally Segun Oni came in as elected Ekiti State Governor. Those were the governors who came on board during my two year-tenure as chairman of Ekiti State Council of Obas and I was able to relate with them.
I was not caught in the web of the political machinations during the impeachment saga and all the activities that followed. So, as a traditional ruler, one is expected to know what one is doing and one should be able to have a focus. When you have a focus, politicians have a way of derailing your focus, if you are not very careful. They will promise heaven and earth, and if you are not level-headed, once you begin to misbehave and at the end of the day, they will use you and dump you. At that point, you cannot go forward and you cannot go backward. You will become stranded. But a traditional ruler, who is worth his salt, should be able to relate with government as a matter of policy, so as to deliver the dividend of democracy to our people.