Oba Emmanuel Adejoro Otebolaku is the Owalare of Ilare-Ijesa in Osun State. In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, he speaks on his adventure, tortuous journey from the sleepy community to the Nigerian Army and back home.
Is it true that Ilare-Ijesa is the first Ijesa town in history?
Thank you very much for your effort. You have, by this, shown to me that you are a thorough bred journalist who seems to take interest in investigation.
Let me tell you and emphasise it that your finding is right. Ilare-Ijesha is the first Ijesa community to have settled here before other communities settled at their different locations. History is a rich subject, which I want to urge our government to bring back to our school curriculum. If our students are taught History, they will get some important information they ought to know and understand before they grow to adulthood. And this information will help them in understanding their environment, their people, their culture and other divergent composition of Nigeria, for instance. I am sure you were shocked when you read and found out this truth. Ilare-Ijesa remains in history as the first Ijesa community.
Then why is the town smaller than other Ijesa towns like Ilesa, Ijebu-jesa, to mention but a few?
In the context of the size you are talking about, I am a Christian who believes in the workings of God, the creator of us all. God determines what becomes of his creatures in life. Don’t we all see how young men become governors over their seniors who work for them? Let me say that it is not about size. It is about the peace the town enjoys. I want to tell you sincerely that in Ilare-Ijesa, we enjoy uninterrupted peace as you will confirm when you move round the town. Everybody goes about his and her daily business without disturbing one another. If this is what we have, I thank God because it is not so in other places. Again, the size does not remove the historical position of Ilare-Ijesa among other towns.
I am particularly concerned about the state of infrastructural facilities. Do you share this with me?
I should share it with you because no traditional ruler will want his town to be on the same spot forever, in terms of infrastructural development. I agree with you that we are not getting what we ought to have gotten a long time ago. For instance, Ilare-Ijesa was the headquarters of Obokun North Local Government, which the late Chief Bola Ige administration set up in the Second Republic. But when the military took over in December 31, 1983 coup, the arrangement was later reversed. But I am happy to tell you that after 33 years or so, Ilare-Ijesa is again the headquarters of Obokun East Development Area. We appreciate the gesture by Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for reconsidering my town as the headquarters. It means what we lost in 1984, we have back in 2017. It is symbolic and we are thankful to the government. As a traditional ruler, I can only show this appreciation and also appeal to the government to remember the state of our basic amenities. We are overdue for these things as a town which is always faithful and supportive to the government. It is in our character to always support government policies, even if the policies don’t favour us. We believe that this new council will bring the development we long desire.
I also learnt that your town lives mostly on communal service?
That is the truth of the matter. I am blessed with children who have genuine interest of the town at heart. That is what I said earlier about the peace we enjoy in the town. My children understand what happened and pull resources together to improve the state of the town. I am happy to tell you that one of them is the one building the secretariat of the new development area as his contribution for the smooth take off of the work. Is this not a grace of God? I want you to visit that place and assess the building. It is a modern secretariat which is going to be equipped with the state-of-the-art facilities.
When did you ascend the throne sir?
I was installed on December 25, 1981.
On Christmas day?
Yes. You are surprised because it is a unique day, a special day for Christians. It makes my coming to the throne more historic.
How was it done with the festivities in town?
It was well organized that after the installation, we went straight for thanksgiving.
How did you even emerge?
I emerged the way I should emerge because the process had the hand of God in it. We have three ruling houses from which we rotate the kingship. I come from Ogidan ruling house and 15 aspirants came out to show interest.
What did you think gave you the ticket, if I am permitted to call it so?
There was nothing that gave me the edge over other aspirants than the will of God. I am not saying God does not like others. God loves all of us but He is the one, the only one that determines what we would become in life.
What were you doing before the succession issue came?
I was in the Nigerian Army at the 31 Infantry Brigade in Makurdi. I discharged when the issue of succession came up because there was no way I could combine the two. Apart from the fact that Makurdi is far from Ilare-Ijesa, the issue deserved all the attention.
When and how did you join the army?
I joined in 1968 voluntarily. It was during the civil war. As a young man, I felt I should take part in the war to save Nigeria from disintegration. That was what inspired me and others. My first posting was the Third Marine Commando under the command of Colonel Benjamin Adekunle. The experience in the war is nothing one can forget forever. It was tough but the joy of it was that the purpose was achieved. We brought peace back to the country and we became one again.
Are we one in the true sense of it?
Because you said this is not a political interview, let me restrict myself to the palace and the throne. But I must not forget to tell you that there is nothing like peace. If you had been at the battlefront, you will not wish we go to war again.
I have spoken with some Obas who said they had the prophesy in their childhood. Did you also?
It is true. I can recollect that when I was going to the army, a prophet told me that I would still return to Ilare if I did not die in service. I heard this message but did not take it serious because I was so engrossed in building a good career in the army.
Between 1981 and 1991, that is, your first 10 years on the throne, how can you describe that period?
There was no problem. I had a good relationship with my people. Everything was okay. Wherever you have peace-loving people, you don’t have anything to worry about. That was the grace I have.
Can you say your military experience is beneficial to you on the throne?
The experience helps me greatly. Nigerian Army has one of the best training in the world. If you pass through the training, you will not be the same again. That is why they say once a soldier, always a soldier. It is a lifetime experience, whether you are in service or retired. I thank God I was in the army because the experience made me a better person. So applying those trainings in the palace is easy for me.
Isn’t the palace boring for a former active soldier?
The palace cannot be boring. It is home to everybody. It is hardly free of human traffic on daily basis. Kabiyesi must make himself available to his subjects, listen to them and resolve their issues.
You have council headquarters now, what else do you think government should do for your town?
The road from Ijebu-Ijesa, which connects Iwoye, Esa-Odo down here to Otan-Ile, should be completed. The work stopped just a few kilometers to Ilare. Government should help us, especially now that road is the location of the secretariat.