The Oluwo of Iwoland, Oba Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, is one royal father who swims in a sea of controversies.
Barely two years on the throne, the youthful monarch, who is also the Vice President of Osun State Council of Obas and Chiefs, has been swimming from one murky water to another, attracting a mish mash of praises and criticisms essentially due to his lifestyle, dress mode and revolutionary views on African heritage.
While some feel his world views are in sync with modernity, he has drawn flaks for the same from others, who believe, they desecrate traditions.
The Oba, is however, unmoved by either sentiment, saying he is convinced in the correctness of what he does.
Saturday Sun came away from an encounter with the monarch recently with the impression of a highly misunderstood philosopher-king in Oba Akanbi, who spent most of his adult life in North America, before coming home to ascend the throne in 20015. In the interview, the royal father is as explosive and even more controversial than ever before.
How do you react to the view that the Oluwo is controversial?
I have to be controversial. Look at me today; people want to use my name to gain and drive traffic on their blog sites. People want to use my name to sell newspapers. If you see somebody whose glory is so high like that; a king that was enthroned just a year plus ago and his popularity is soaring like that, what do think?
It’s like Asiwaju Tinubu, any little thing, you’ll see how many people would talk bad about him. It is the same with Governor Aregbesola. The man is doing a great job down there in Osun State. See the transformation! He is the best governor in Nigeria, works 24 hours, but, is he not controversial? Do you know how many people that would hear of Aregbe today and what they would say is ‘ah! he’s this o! he’s that o!’ or ‘Aregbe has stolen money’ or ‘puts us in debt o!’
Your highness, you stirred controversy sometime ago, as the only Yoruba Oba known to share the wearing of the crown with your wife. People say it’s a desecration of the tradition.
No. You see, there is no way we can know our history, the only history that many people know is studied history, history from when there was pen and paper, history when the white men came, the history that was written down, the history of 19th, 17th centuries. Okay tell me how do you get the real history of the 5th century? Who has ever spoken of it in Yoruba? We lack this unwritten history, because pen and paper, CDs, tapes and camera had not come to us then.
All the history you hear people speak of are the history written for us by the white men and this can be distorted. So, where do you get our authentic history? Do you know how? Spiritual. The same way Moses was chosen and taken back by God to know of the creation of the world!
Do you know that Moses was the one who wrote about how God created humans, Who was there when God was creating? Who was writing anything down? And yet Moses wrote the account down.
Are you saying things in the past were revealed to you?
I’m saying I was sent by God to make things right in what is called kingship and leadership and to show how the past, our history, was. And many times I’ve been taken back to know about how things were in the past when there were no clothes, when we were even putting on skins of animals. This is how we can know our history, only through the spiritual. The spiritual is the only thing that is pure.
So, tell us about wearing the crown with your queen?
My wife and I wanted to honour an event. It’s a great event. And that day when we were about to go, it was revealed to me: “Look at your side!” and I looked at my side and saw my wife. And it was said: “Look at her head; find a crown that you are not wearing and wear on her head the crown.” That was how I gave her the crown. When God reveals something, I can’t refuse, I just have to do it, the same way Abraham was told to take his son, when he was already over 100 years old.
So was that the basis for crowning your wife?
Yes and also when I put the crown, God revealed to me that our progenitor normally crowned his own wife.
Oduduwa. May God bless him. The meaning of Oduduwa is Odu-du-wa, Yoruba) for “he came out black.” He crowned his first wife Yeyemoso who is now referred to as Olokun. Go and look at Ori Olokun, the head of Olokun and see.
You can even take the picture and publish in your newspaper and let people judge what is on her head. If you must know, Professor Adisa Ogunfolakan who also happens to be a prince in Ife and the current Director of Natural Museums and History at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, has confirmed my statement. Archaeologists went and researched what I said and they found an Ooni with the wife donning crowns. Even the crown of the queen was nicer than the king’s own.
Another thing, the staff you see Oba carry is not called staff of office, as people always say. The staff of office is the one royal servants carry somewhere when the king is not present. They would carry it there to represent him it has a crown-like a crown head.
The one I have is the staff of foundation, Obatedo (Yoruba). You see the ones many of the kings are using now, those are modern walking sticks that you see with everybody. Have you seen that with Oduduwa before? The staff of foundation is with a carving of the cockerel on the head.
Every king from Oduduwa should carry a staff of foundation and there must be a symbol, but the only thing is that the Ooni is the only one that should be using the one with the cockerel on top. The one being used now, I don’t know the meaning, but it is okay.
Some people have also expressed misgivings at a picture of you in Western suit, while also donning the royal crest. They say such hybrid mode of dressing bastardizes African culture.
There is no bastardization. When I am ready to go to work out, or jog, yeah, I can wear snickers, instead of wearing Ankara, because nobody does that.
I am a working Oba…A man can never be a king, only God is the King! If you are just a servant in that capacity, can I call myself king in front of the King of the kings? When you see me, I dress traditional all the time, but when I dressed in suit I was making a statement.
When I wear that, it is also telling people not to do ‘follow, follow’, continue indiscriminately with the past life of our forefathers. The issue is to sieve; the one that is good, use the strainer , retain it, and do away with the useless one. Do you know what a strainer is?
Yes, you find a strainer and all the things of the past, you put them in the strainer and you juggle it, when you juggle it, the one that is good, you preserve and the one that is not good let it go. Don’t do follow, follow pattern. Do you know why?
Because not all what the old generation did in the past is desirable today. Look at human rituals, genocide; we are the only race in the whole world that enslaved its own children!
How do you mean, Sir?
Do the Chinese sell their children into slavery, do the white men sell their children as slaves and the Arabs, the Hindus and the black Indians,? What about the native Americans? They never sold their children into slavery and the Spanish never sold theirs.
But out of no love, we sold our children into slavery. The white men didn’t come to our land to put us in ropes at first, the white men were on the sea; we were first selling our children to the Arabs, then the Portuguese found out and what did they do?
They were interested and after the Portuguese, the Spanish, then other white people started enslaving Africans. But because the white people have love in their heart, they couldn’t go ahead and that’s why they abolished slave trade. We are the only country that has medicine (charm) that destroys human life. What does modern medicine do to humans? It cures!
You have surgery, but our own medicine asks for human body parts- eyes, mouth, nose. Now, the persons from whom you will take these body parts to make medicine, are you going to kill them or borrow these from them? That is called cultism! Some people believe that they can become rich through making money ritual, or that there is something to give you money.
That’s why money rituals are so rampant in Africa, especially in Nigeria. They kill albinos, they kill hunchback, now they just started another one- that anybody with bald head has a pot of gold on his head and so now, such people are not safe because they are being hunted.
These are the superstitious killing of Africans, myth, things that don’t exist. If there is actually money rituals or charm for making money the way the thing is rampant in Nigeria, all of us should have been Bill Gate. But it’s a lie, or please tell me someone that has done money ritual and that has built so many buildings and estates?
You sound like a devout Muslim
It is not about religion… it is about spirituality, I was born into an Islamic family, that’s why you can call me a Muslim. I’m vast in the knowledge of the Quran and I’m vast in the Bible, but I’m vast in other spiritual books, the history of religion, the history of all this… it is not about religion, religion is what they call a rule, a regulation.
Does spirituality not contrast with the idea of a socialite Oba often dancing?
I believe my throne is the throne of God on earth, I am not the king, only God is the King and when only God is the King, it means that I am just His servant.
God is using me in that position and when God is using you, you dance for God all the time and you are supposed to be happy that God is using you in this kind of position.
Who am I? You just said I wear suit, tell me which Oba doesn’t use wristwatch today, which Oba doesn’t use cars, which Oba doesn’t travel with airplane. If Oduduwa were to be alive today, would he ride a car, or would he prefer to ride a horse, would Oduduwa just watch, or choose to fly in a plane, if he were to travel overseas for cultural promotion and development of tradition, would he travel in a ship?
Why are we deceiving ourselves? It is not that I wear suit all the time, it is because I am making a statement that we should not just do ‘follow follow,’ a leader must change things, if you cannot change the obsolete lives and ways of your forefathers, you are not advancing, if you cannot make amendment on what your forefathers had done in the past and make them better, then you are stuck in the 5th century, in the past. One must be able to initiate changes that lead to advancement. It’s the responsibility of a leader to do so.
Why did you leave the comfort of your base in Canada to be king, an institution regarded as a relic of tradition and what has been your experience?
Because I wanted to serve my people. It is about service to humanity. The first priority, a king is supposed to serve. When you become a king you try to define your position, you don’t live on the glory you meet. You have to look at what we have been doing. It is it right? If the leader cannot do a reform and challenge the status quo, he is not a leader.
But our heritage also needs to be preserved, I suppose?
Yeah, you preserve the heritage, you also reform it. The part you have to reform are those of the medieval age…killing twins, it took a white woman, Mary Slessor, who came about 100 years ago, to tell us to stop killing twins.
As a prince, did you ever dream of becoming king?
He’s supposed to be your child too.
That is exactly what I am saying. So, have we been wrong in the past or not? I am a father to my people. When people bring any case of dispute to me, I would say I want to see the other party. When they bring rumour to me, I don’t just judged people based on what you have said, let’s call the other person that you want to talk about, and when both sit, we resolve the issue.
I told my people, they should only lease the land in my domain, only for industrialization, they should stop selling land. I don’t sell land. I am the father of the place. I am the Oluwo of Iwoland, which means Iwo is my property. If Iwo is my property why am I going to be selling the land? Just ask yourself, your own property what would make you sell it. God told me not to sell any land.
So what efforts have you made to maximize that land maybe for development of your kingdom?
For industrialization, industries take less land, but employ more people. It is about industrialization. If we all can industrialize Nigeria will be a global economic power. We are only populous, but very small in land mass, Nigeria is not up to the Province of Ontario which is just like one state in Canada. Ontario swallows Nigeria.
Let’s talk about your growing up.
I am working, redefining that throne, redefining that seat, and raising it up, it doesn’t matter, I am a king, as a father, people are criticizing or saying I am controversial, what do you expect from somebody who is a leader? What do you expect them to do to you? They must throw stones at you.
Do you know that fruit that we ate when we were small, that there is nut inside? Igi Fruit, we call it fruit. I don’t even know the name, but when you break the inside you will see the nut. Have you ever seen anybody taking water to it to water? Nobody ever gives it anything, but they throw stones at it. And what did it do for you? It will even drop fruits for you to eat.
That is how a king is, so, I am enjoying everything, as long as they are talking about Iwo, let me be raising Iwo’s image, let everybody wake up in the morning and talk about Iwo, when you talk about Iwo everyday it is good, we are raising it and making it more significant.
Imagine today, if they are just looking for news, what they would do about it is to just turn any little thing they read around. Even this interview that we are doing now, you will see people who will turn what I said around, ‘Oh, Oluwo said we (modern kings) are smarter than our forefathers! But, yes, we are.
They will say it’s an insult to our fathers. But, I ask, who wants his children to be dull or to be worse than him? Even if you are Dangote; you still want your child to be better than you. Dangote comes from the Dantata family. Dantata was rich. Today, Dangote is richer. And Dangote should even pray for his children to be better than him.
Now, how was growing up?
Growing up was like God was preparing me for this position. God made me go through a lot of experiences, prepared and trained my hands for war, I love it when you fight me, when you are my enemy I love it a lot, when I see battle, I always thank God, the greater your battle is, the greater you become, If you don’t have anybody fighting you or at war with you, you are not moving forward, ti’o ba si ogun, it means you are a nobody.
I have been trained to be independent. I have God that trains me to be independent in life and this has been a great asset. I have been fending for myself since when I was young.
You mean you saw yourself through school?
I saw myself through many things, I don’t want to go into that, but I saw myself through a lot by being independent and fighting life.
How did you get interested in the contest for the obaship from your base in North America?
I was born to become an Oba. And when it was time, God told me this was the time, now you have to go, it doesn’t matter, if you have the money, or you don’t, I didn’t become an Oba through money or through connection, I am not connected, I have left Iwo since 1981, so I don’t know anybody here anymore, so it’s not about connection, it is not about anything, it is about the Will of God. This is what God wants.
God is the One who told me, ‘yes it was time. I was keeping you in a secret place, so that nothing bad would happen to you, that is why I let you move…and when it’s time for you to go back, you are going back.’ Even when I was young, you would see people on the street going and saying ‘that’s a crown on your head, it’s glittering.’ So many people said that and maybe that’s why God went and hid me there, so that they didn’t see the crown on my head.
You were allegedly imposed by the government.
I didn’t even see Governor (Rauf) Aregbesola until the day he wanted to sign my papers. I had never seen or talked to him, so how could government have imposed me?
But there is definitely love between you both?
Now that he saw what I stand for and what I am doing. I see what he stands for, that is why I love Aregbesola so much. I love him; I love (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu also, although I have never met Tinubu in my life.
For a traditional ruler of your stature and status that shouldn’t be a problem.
But I don’t wanna go there. I can see him if I want to. I just believe that I will work my way and earn my respect, for him to come and say I want to see Oluwo. I don’t run to politicians, looking for favours. You won’t see me running to Abuja to look for this or that.
So, how are you impacting your community since you ascended the throne?
I have done a lot I feed the people in my community. And we do empower a lot, in the knowledge that I am not the king, only God is the king. The best character of God is to serve. That is why you see me going on the road, even in the heat of the sun to fix the road, the Iwo- Osogbo Road. The road, very good road for the economy of my people, was abandoned for a very long time. I went there and started fixing it. The road is now motorable.
Kabiyesi, according to the customs, the king always has harem of queens. How is it with the royal court of Iwo?
Who told you that our tradition and custom is to have many wives? That was what they did in the past. If you are a working Oba, how do you sleep with five, or a dozen women? I have been working now from morning till night. Sometimes I don’t even get to sleep until 1 am. The wife needs attention. You must know the adage that, ‘ohun ti e o ni je, ema fi run imu.
’ The wife needs attention. You cannot even finish loving one wife, you are having two, three, four five? Are those not part of the things I tell you our forefathers did wrongly.
And must we carry on with them? As king, if all others are doing it, if the children are doing it, me, I am the one to tell you that for love to go round, for people to love each other, have one wife. Then a king has 50 wives.
How does he do it? He sleeps with one today and then it would take another 50 days before it comes to that wife’s turn. He cannot even have sex everyday. If you have 50 wives, you can’t have sex everyday. Are you not throwing them to somebody else?
Is there no room for adultery? Should we be deceiving ourselves, saying that you want more wives because your father and your great grandfather have more wives?
Do you follow the patterns of your great grandfather who never saw a phone? Our great-grandfathers who never saw a plane? There are many things they never saw. These are the things.
By YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE