The Ajero of Ijero Ekiti, Oba Joseph Adewole, tells ABIODUN NEJO about his domain and how as a kid, his father knew he would one day lead his people
How is life as a monarch?
The life of an Oba is one of service to the people with no closing time. One is always here in the palace, attending to people’s needs and settling quarrels and disputes.
You must be enjoying it…
It is not about enjoyment all the time. You have to put in your time, efforts, money and everything you have to cope with the work.
As a kid, did you know you would become a king someday?
I was a prince and I knew one day it would become the turn of my ruling house to produce a candidate for the throne, but there was no way I could be sure it would be me. However, there were signs and prophecies all along. My father believed I would become a king because, according to him, when I was still in the womb, a soothsayer told him I was a reincarnation of his father and that I would return to the throne. My grandfather was the Ajero between 1916 and 1930. My father was born while my grandfather was the king.
There were other indications. For instance, when I was in school, anytime we had a stage play that had a king, the role of the king always came to me.
I had a very special relationship with my father. We were very close because based on the revelation, he always saw me as his father. As far back as when I was in secondary school, if my father’s wives, including my mother, had any problem with him, they usually waited for me to return home. They would tell me the matter because I was about the only person who could really look him in the face and say whatever I wanted to tell him and I would settle the quarrel for them. Somehow, God gave me the wisdom to be able to settle such quarrel. They believed that I was a special child.
Knowing you were destined for the throne, wasn’t it hard for you to concentrate in school?
Going to school was the normal order in my family. I had no choice. Of course, even if I knew I would become the king one day, I had to be reasonable enough to know that having education would be to my benefit. Not having education would be a serious drawback.
What was the working environment like after school?
After I completed my studies at Baptist High School, Igede Ekiti, I got a teaching appointment. I was not actually satisfied with that. I had Grade I in school certificate (examination) and didn’t see myself as cut out for a teaching job. So I started to look for another job. One of our prominent men then in Awo-Ekiti, Chief Owoeye, who was impressed by my school certificate result, helped me to get a better job at the Ministry of Lands and Housing in Ibadan. When they saw my result, they said that I was a good material for training in surveying.
I was sent to the Federal School of Surveying, Oyo, where I realised that even if I would be a surveyor, I needed to have more than a school certificate. With my result, I applied and was admitted into the University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where I studied Mathematics. After completing my National Youth Service Corps programme, I got about five job offers in the areas of teaching, policing, land and housing, and surveying. Eventually, I chose to return to surveying profession. The ministry sent me to get a postgraduate professional diploma at the Federal School of Surveying, Oyo. After I completed the programme, the ministry sent me to the Netherlands for a master’s degree. When I returned from the Netherlands, I took all necessary exams and became a chartered surveyor, a licenced surveyor in Nigeria and a chartered surveyor in the UK.
At what point did you develop interest in the throne?
When my predecessor passed on in October 1990, it became the turn of my ruling house to produce a candidate. My father told me that the elders in the family wanted all of us who were interested to indicate interest. I was weighing my options between taking a United Nations job and ascending the throne. While I was in the Netherlands, I entered for a UN Volunteers Programme, I was back to Nigeria when the results came – UN accepted me. UN posted me to the Caribbean Islands and I was considering it. It was a fantastic package for me, my wife and our four children. But when I told my dad, he said I should choose the throne.
Eventually, they wrote from Switzerland that I should wait for another six months. That gave me the opportunity to listen to my father. My name was put forward for the race and we were 17 in all. Everywhere the family went for consultation before names were presented to the kingmakers, they were told God had chosen me. Eventually I was the only candidate that the family presented to the kingmakers.
How did others react to that?
There was actually another person who contested and could be described as the 18th person, but he was not from our ruling house. He was elderly, rich and well-connected. Our people told him that he was not eligible as his lineage should not produce the king. My family decided to unite and support me to fight the intruder. Even after I was chosen as king, he took me to court. The case got to the Supreme Court where it was finally laid to rest that he was not a member of our family. The legal battle started in 1992 and ended in 2003.
How can post-ascendancy litigation in kingship matters be eliminated in Yorubaland?
As long as we have laws that give people a lot of room to contest, this kind of issue will continue to be there. Here, the throne is open to princes from the main line and you could get so many people showing interest. With that kind of competition, you cannot rule out court cases. But usually, there are roles for the family and the kingmakers. The members of the family know the princes who can really do the job. Of course, they can pray about it and seek help from the oracle and things like that to solve the problem. After that stage, it goes to the kingmakers, who also have their way of choosing candidates.
How significant is Ijero in Yorubaland?
Ajero is a direct son of Oduduwa. Ajero left Ile-Ife like his brothers, with the permission of their father, his blessings and paraphernalia of office to settle down here. When we left Ife, we went to a place near the lagoon. Up till today, we still have some of our people there in Lagos, particularly at Ebute Metta. After that experience, the first place where we settled around here was Atose – between here and Aramoko.
We left that place for Ilukuna. Ilukuna is one of the towns in Ijero Local Government Area. Ajero settled there, but because of its terrain, hills and deep valleys, my forefathers chose to leave the place. They also settled at Ilede, close to this place. It was a very fertile place, but they had problems with worms always infesting their water and food items. So they had to move up here. Actually when Ajero came here, he met some people on the ground, but became their king and paramount ruler. The name, Ijero, is from our tradition, ‘Ajoro eleni meje’, meaning dialogue between seven people.
Who were the seven persons?
When the princes were to leave Ife, there were seven most prominent ones. Ajero was in the middle. That means Ajero had three elder brothers and three younger brothers. Among Ajero’s mother’s children, he was also in the middle. Where they had a meeting before they went to their father is called Ita Ajero. Ita Ajero is still a prominent place in Ile-Ife today.
There is a populay Yoruba saying in which reference is made to Alara, Ajero and Oragun. Why?
Alara, Ajero and Orangun were direct sons of Oduduwa. The three of them were children of the same mother, Iwa. Alara was the eldest, Ajero was second (child) and Orangun was the youngest. The three of them were taught Ifa by Agbonniregun. Ifa was like their school then and the three of them were very proficient in it. That was why whenever any Babalawo wanted to consult (Ifa), they would first give reverence to the three because of the level they were able to attain. If it were now, maybe they would call them emeritus professors. When you mention kings, the three of them were very prominent and are still prominent.
Since your forefathers were siblings, do you still have a good relationship with the others?
We have a good relationship. Aramoko, the domain of Alara is about 15 minutes’ drive from here. Orangun is in Osun State and we are paramount and first-class kings in our domains. We do things together. The last event we had together was the 10th coronation anniversary of the Alara; the three of us wore the same type of dress.
What has being a king deprived you of?
The throne is a position of high responsibility. Naturally, that would take care of many things and take you away from many things. I’m a very gregarious person. Before I became the Ajero, my house was a sort of meeting point as my friends were always around. But that had to stop when I ascended the throne. I had to devote myself to the throne and cut off a lot of those things. However, whenever any of my friends has something to celebrate, I use that opportunity to celebrate with them. Also, I was always engaged in one sporting activity or the other for my school. In football, I was usually the goalkeeper. When I ascended the throne, I could not participate in those things again. But fortunately, I discovered golf and started playing it. Golf is a game for noble people. That takes care of my regular exercises and keeps me in good shape. Through it, I have met quite a number of people.
What are the things you are not allowed to do by virtue of your position?
By tradition, once you become a king, you are not allowed to see your mother if she is still alive. You can see your father because he is a prince in the palace. When I became the Ajero, my father was still coming to see me, but I wasn’t allowed to see my mother. I ascended the throne in December 1991 and my mother passed on in 2005. Initially, it was very difficult for both of us but fortunately before my mother passed on, we had GSM and we could talk and talk on the phone.
In this palace, we are forbidden to see babies, even my own, until the baby is three months old and its natural hair has been shaven. So, when my wives get pregnant, they have to move out of the palace at a certain stage. Women are not allowed to be delivered of babies in this palace.
Why are most Yoruba kings polygamists?
Polygamy is not peculiar to Nigeria or Yoruba kings. There are polygamous people everywhere. But the palace is not usually a place where one woman can take charge and be able to perform effectively. Apart from the normal life of a king, there are other responsibilities for him to do. When you talk about our cultural background, festivals and many things, there are so many responsibilities in the palace for the king’s wives to do.
How are you able to ensure that there is peace since you have any wives?
In palaces, there are usually no quarrels between oloris (queens) no matter their number. When I ascended the throne, I inherited 17 oloris (queens) who were handed over to me. Some of them have been here for quite a long time. The oldest among them had spent 66 years in the palace. She knew everything and everywhere. She taught us so many things and explained certain things to me and my own oloris.
In the palace, there is a standard by which the oloris come in. Before a prince can become an Oba, he must pass through some processes. Those who are coming to be oloris also perform rites and rituals. Once you perform them, you would know that issues bordering on unhealthy competitions or rivalries do not have a place in the palace. That is why, when you come here, you see my wives relating with one another as sisters.
How many are they?
My tradition forbids me to tell you. By the time I mention a certain number, that is already setting a limit. Part of the prayers of my people is that I should continue to increase in everything, including in the number of wives, children I have. That is why it is taboo here to say the number of wives Oba has. You are not allowed to count my wives and children. You can count my houses, cars, or any other possession, but not my wives and children. I don’t want to violate that taboo.
What do you think about having constitutional roles for traditional rulers?
All along, there have been roles set by the constitution for traditional rulers. When we had the parliamentary system of government, there was the House of Chiefs on regional basis. The Western Region had its own House of Chiefs where select Obas had statutory meetings. That was what the colonial masters established and what we had during the parliamentary system of government. It was a military regime that suddenly removed the roles of traditional rulers from the constitution. Since then, we have been telling the government to return those roles. In practice, we are still advisers to government. Every state in Nigeria still has a Council of Chiefs, which we call Council of Obas here. But the issue is that after removing those roles from the constitution, it has not been changed.