A Personal Toast to Oba Akiolu at 70, by Olusegun Adeniyi

Posted by News Express | 28 October 2013 | 6,038 times

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In a three paragraph statement entitled “Transition to Glory of His Royal Highness, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan (II) of Lagos,” personally signed by him on 29 February, 2003, then Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu wrote: “After due consultation with the traditional council of Lagos White Cap Chiefs, I, the Governor of Lagos State and the Asiwaju of Lagos, hereby announce that our beloved Oba of Lagos, His Royal Majesty, Oba Adeyinka Oyekan (II) has joined his ancestors.” He added that “the Asiwaju-in-council with the white cap chiefs have met and the traditional Gbedu drum will start beating from 5am tomorrow to formally announce the Oba’s transition in accordance with traditional rites.”

Quite naturally, the death of the Oba of Lagos, who actually ascended the throne before many members of my generation were born, was such big news and I was at that period the editor of the Sunday edition of THISDAY Newspaper. So it was not surprising that early the next morning (a Saturday), I got a call from the chairman, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, who was then in South Africa, directing that a comprehensive story around the late monarch should be my cover for the week and that we should try and speak with as many family members as I possibly could. Even when I felt his prodding was unnecessary, what I didn’t tell him at the time was the way my mind was working. Since I reckoned that the focus of attention for all the Sunday newspapers would be the late Oyekan, the real story really would be about his successor. And that was what I decided to pursue for THISDAY.

By around 9am that day, I placed a call to a prominent official in the Lagos State administration, seeking his help on any information he could possibly give me about who was likely going to be Oyekan’s successor. Surprisingly, the person in question said he could help me but he prefaced his response with a proviso: “look Segun, I can easily tell you the name of the next Oba of Lagos but you will also help me because I want you to meet the person because I am not sure you have met the man before.”

After I had committed myself to the agreement, my source now mentioned the name: Rilwanu Akiolu, whom he described as a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police and legal practitioner. It was not a name I was familiar with but even more of a surprise was the fact that it went against the grains of speculations at the time. Given that the late Oyekan was 92 at the time he died and was in fact in and out of St. Nicholas Hospital in the preceding weeks, there were already speculations that Chief Adekunle Ojora was going to be the next Oba of Lagos. But my source was impeccable and he gave me Akiolu’s number. When I called the man and I introduced myself and my mission, he asked me to tell my contact to call him to confirm that he indeed gave me his number. And I did. After about 10 minutes, the man who would be king called and invited me to his house where I stayed till around 5pm before I went to the office.
Even now, more than ten years after, I still remember every detail of what transpired that day. Having secured a pact with Akiolu that I would not be introduced as a reporter but rather as a young friend, it was easy to just sit and observe what was happening around me. I may yet write the interesting account of that day (maybe when the Kabiyesi is 90, and we are all fortunate to still be alive) but I saw enough to convince me that, all things being equal, Akiolu was indeed going to be the next Oba of Lagos. And I didn’t hesitate to break the story in THISDAY the next day. That of course earned me another early morning call from Mr Obaigbena, who was not too surprised Kunle Ojora, who was well-positioned for the throne, had lost out following his attempt to block the sale of Agip Marketing division to Oando..... Three months down the line, on 26 May 2003, Oba Riliwan Babatunde Osuolale Akiolu I, CFR ascended the throne of his forefathers at a most colourful coronation. The rest, as they say, is now history.

With the Kabiyesi on the throne, our relationship became almost like that of father and son as he would call to invite me over to the palace, even at odd times. Sometimes, I would go to the palace only to discover there was really nothing to discuss and we would just gist. One of the persons I usually meet at the palace in those early days is a certain young man called Fatai who is now the all-powerful Olumegbon of Lagos. But the interactions of those days gave me opportunity to see the Kabiyesi at close quarters so I know that beyond the façade of a tough man is a soft person who cares for the other man, regardless of status. Because Kabiyesi took me almost like a confidante, I was almost caught in the crossfire of his acrimonious relationship with Erelu Abiola Dosunmu who had lost out of the palace game after the death of Oba Oyekan. I even attempted a mediation that did not work between the two personalities with strong convictions. But by 2005 when I became the editor of THISDAY, I no longer had the luxury of time so I lost interest in going to the palace and we hardly met again. By 2007, I moved to Abuja. But the Kabiyesi and I have always kept in touch on phone.

While the Kabiyesi will be 70 on Tuesday, I am aware there is not going to be any elaborate celebration. It would just be a day when those close to him would gather to thank God after the early morning Islamic prayers. Yet when I look back to the last ten years, I believe that Oba Akiolu has done a lot within the powers available to a monarch under the current dispensation, and he deserves some celebration.

For a man who read law while still in the police, Oba Akiolu has always placed premium on education and that perhaps explains why in the course of his first anniversary in 2004, he established the Lagos Royal House Continuing Education Centre at Ita-Ono, not far from the palace. The idea behind the centre (personally funded by him) was based on his realization that most of the “area boys” who populate the Lagos Island are products of lack of education. He therefore felt that by running remedial courses for students within the neighbourhood, many of those who ordinarily would join the growing army of street urchins would have the opportunity to live more productive lives.

With such focus on education, Kabiyesi has instituted several scholarship schemes for indigent Isale-Eko students and I am aware of some of his informal cooperative and vocational training schemes aimed at empowerment of Lagosians, especially women. He also goes out of his way to help many of them secure jobs and that is because he is easily reached. He is not the kind of traditional ruler who erects barriers between him and the people.

He is accessible and approachable. On the political front, I doubt if there is anybody who does not know where Oba Akiolu stands. But even at that, he has been able to play his role as a father to all, regardless of their political persuasions. As he therefore joins the septugenarian club on Tuesday, I wish Oba Akiolu not only the best of the day but also many more years of good health, good fortunes and good works on the throne of his forebears.

•Text & Photo courtesy THISDAY.

Source: News Express

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