The highly revered Owa of Idanre Kingdom has spoken up about his life and the incredible things that have happened to him.
The Owa of Idanre Kingdom, Oba Fredrick Adegunle Aroloye IV
The Owa of Idanre Kingdom, Oba Fredrick Adegunle Aroloye IV, a nonagenarian, in this interview with PETER DADA, speaks about his life before and during his reign as the paramount ruler of the Idanreland, Ondo State
Please tell us about your background.
I was born on March 30, 1927 and I attended St. Paul’s Primary School and Methodist School, both at Idanre. I had my secondary school education at Western Boys High School, Benin and Hussy College, Whahri and later went to England, where I attended Balham and Tooting College of Commerce and Law. When I finished there, I took up an appointment under Survey Country Council as a licencing officer. From there, I was transferred to Greater London Council as a Finance Clerk.
When did you return to Nigeria and why?
I left England in 1969 on my father’s instructions. He said he wanted to see me before he died. I went to England in November, 1958. Initially, I didn’t want to go to England. When my mother died, I was taking my class four examination. They sent a telegram, but my principal didn’t allow me to see the telegram. He kept it from me until after I finished my examination. On the day that we finished our examination, the principal invited me to his house and I was afraid. He asked me to eat and after the meal, he broke the news of my mother’s death to me. That was how I returned home.
How did you sponsor your education in England?
I had a childhood friend called Samuel Agboola Akintan, he told me to travel to England to continue my education. I asked him how I would do that when my father did not have money. My father was receiving 200 pounds per annum at the time. But he (Akintan) said I should leave it to him. He was a Treasury Cash Officer at the time; he was able to convince the council that the salary of Owa (Idanre) was very small and that it should be reviewed. So they increased it to 500 pounds and backdated it to the previous year. That way, we were having a surplus of 300 pounds. I was able to pay for my trip and the tuition. He is a good friend of mine and I will never forget him. Now, he is number three to me. He is my High Chief. Luckily again, I had one friend called Ife Aladenika; he is an Ondo man. We travelled together; he told me that they used to be engaged during Christmas time. We got casual jobs at a post office and we were able to make money. During the Easter period, we went to the post office again and got ourselves jobs. We put the money together with the one that was given to us at home. During a long vacation, which was for 10 weeks, we were also fortunate to get work at a food factory. We were paid nine pounds per week. So when we got back to London, we had enough money to pay for our tuition and so on.
What was it like working as a young black boy in England?
It was splendid. At that time, citizens of member countries of the commonwealth had equal opportunities. For instance, when I was a licencing officer in charge of changing of ownership in England, I had my own office and a clerical officer, who was a white man. One day, a white man came to our office; he wanted to do change of ownership and my clerical officer directed him to me. So when the white man opened the door and saw me, he said I am sorry I’m in a wrong office. He went back to my clerical officer who then brought him to my office. Immediately the white man saw me again, he said he was sorry and that he didn’t know I was the right person he would see. The white man did not believe a black man could occupy that seat. Also while I was working at the London Greater Council, people liked me. After I had returned home, they wrote to me to come back and occupy the position because I was one of the black men that did very well in that office. So I replied that I could not return to the job because I was the king of my town. It is very unfortunate that we don’t enjoy those things again. Things were still fine till 1963 but immediately after we became a republic, we did not enjoy those things again. Even in school fees, there was discrimination.
After returning to Nigeria, you worked with the government as a Treasury Officer and in charge of money; did you have any temptation to steal money as some public servants do nowadays?
There was a time that I was broke. But I thought that if I should prepare a fictitious voucher to bring out money and if they found out, I would destroy my name, so I resisted the temptation. There was a time a man came to my office and started congratulating me. I asked, ‘what for’? He said I had been selected to participate in a football competition. He asked me to bring N25,000 to win N1m. I told him that I did not have such money and he said ‘you are the treasury officer, take from the money in the treasury’. But I said he should let me tell my wife but said I shouldn’t tell anybody. Then I told him to leave my office. He then introduced the same thing to my colleague in Ijebu Ode, the man fell into his trap and was jailed. The man came back in disguise and introduced the thing to me again. I told him I was not interested. I said I was comfortable, and so he left. It is better for a person to protect his integrity.
Idanre is an ancient town, how did it come into being?
We have two sets of history. The aborigines’ belief then was that that they descended from heaven with the help of a chain. The first footmark can still be seen on a rock here today. We call it Abogun footmark because it was Abogun that discovered the footmark later. Another history says that when Oduduwa and Olofin came from Upper Egypt to Ile-Ife, they stayed in Ile-Ife for some time. And because of their intelligence, they changed our administration. They became the head. Oduduwa became the Ooni of Ife and when he died, Olofin took over as the head but Olofin wanted to continue the journey. He didn’t want to end it there. So Olofin asked the first son of Oduduwa, Oranmiyan, to stay behind but he (Oranmiyan) refused because he wanted to follow his uncle. Olofin was Oduduwa’s immediate younger brother. So Oranmiyan followed his uncle. They met the people of Idanre here and took over the leadership as usual. When Olofin was about to die, he assembled his people and told them that after his death, if they wanted him to protect them, they should offer a human being to him as sacrifice every year. The people were perplexed and wondered how they would get the human beings. So he taught them the rite to be performed. When he died, they were performing the rite and his first son, Abogun, became the Oba (monarch). Oramiyan wanted to become the Oba but the people said they wanted Olofin’s son. So Oranmiyan left for Edo and later to Oyo Alaafin. So Abogun was the ruler. The human being that his father demanded as sacrifice from him annually would come by himself with two leaves called Irere. Any stranger seen then during Olofin’s period was used for the sacrifice. And when the adjoining towns saw what was happening to us, they gave us a nickname, Onidan, which meant people that performed ritual to get human beings used for sacrifice for their god. Our former name was Ife-Oke. When our children were being kidnapped, we sought protection and left that area for Utaja. There was a man among us, he was a hunter, and he said he discovered a place on the hilltop that would accommodate our population at that time and get us away from the threat of kidnappers. That was how we moved up there and we were there for 800 years before we started coming down again. In 1894, Governor Carter from the colonial office, came up there to sign a treaty with my grandfather, Arubiefin the First, saying that her Majesty, the Queen of England, would give them protection and that they should not follow any other foreign country. So we were being ruled right from the colonial office in Lagos. He also said Her Majesty would be giving the Oba 50 bags of cowries if we were able to keep the road between Owena and Idanre. In those days, it took them nothing less than two months to go to Lagos and bring the bags of cowries. So when my grandfather died, my father, Aladegbule, who brought Christianity to Idanre in 1895, was supposed to become the next Oba but because he was a Christian, people rejected him. They preferred his younger brother, who was an idol worshipper. But the brother did not live long. He ruled for seven years. After his death, the people asked my father to become the king. So he was enthroned in 1919. In 1926, my father wrote a letter to the Lieutenant Governor in Enugu. Then, Nigeria had been divided into northern and southern protectorates and the southern protectorate was being administered from Enugu. So it was Enugu that my father sent the letter to and it was debated in the legislative council and passed that we were free to move down the hilltop. It was then the Surveyor-General was asked to survey the new town for us. They made two places for us called Ilu-tuntun.
What is your relationship with Alade Idanre, the neighbouring town?
That is what I am saying; we are the same because by that time, as I told you earlier, they were purely idol worshippers and we were Christians and they used to clash. So the district officer advised my father that in order to prevent future crisis, we should manage the space given to us. He said in England, where he came from, the queen could be in London or Scotland and be ruling. So he said when he planned this town, the Owa’s palace should be here and downhill, he would put where Oba’s palace would be there. That is why they are calling this place new town and that place new town. The Postmaster-General wrote to differentiate them. There is a stream that divides Oke Idanre town into two. If the people on this part moved to the other part, they will say they have gone to Ode Idanre and now we are descending, they call this place Odo Ode Idanre. There is a market there which has been there as far back as 15th century. We say we should call that place Alade to differentiate the two towns.
Are you saying it is the British that named them Alade Idanre?
No, they only planned the place, but did not name it and in that legislative council, it was stated that all people moving from Oke Idanre down should owe their allegiance to the Owa of Idanre as their paramount ruler. It is also in the archive.
What about Atosin Idanre?
Atosin is one of our oldest settlements; they were there before we moved down from the hilltop. They have been there for quite a long time. When we were up there, they were there cultivating farms.
To climb the Idanre hill, one has to climb 660 steps. What is the history behind the steps?
The steps are new; they came into being when one man called Akin Deko became the Chairman, Idanre District Council. He brought the idea, he called it Jacob ladder and it was made with cement. Akin Deko created it.
Apart from Christianity and Islam, what other religions are being practised in Idanre?
We have Olofin festival and we also have Orosun festival. Orosun is the goddess of children. We celebrate the festivals annually. We fast on the day we celebrate Orosun; nobody must eat, we go to the shrine and pray and come back home. We also …. a dog as sacrifice to the goddess because she liked dogs when she was alive. We do rotate the giving of sacrifice; if Owa provides a dog this year, the two other kings will provide dogs for sacrifices to be made in the subsequent years. It is the Osolo that represents Owa at the shrine every year.
As Idanre is an ancient town, are there taboos?
In Idanre, we have quite a number of taboos. First, we don’t allow anybody to go near the Oloris (queens). We monitor them and when an Olori is menstruating, she must never see the Owa for seven days until she finishes her period. When an Olori misses her period, she will be under protection and they will be watching her. And when an Olori puts to bed, she must not touch the baby. They will invite Odofin and two other chiefs to check if the child has royal signs and when they see the signs, they will keep it secret. Only the reigning monarch will be told so that in the future when the monarch dies, they will ask how many princes have these signs. If they are more than one, they will consult Ifa oracle to choose the better one but nowadays, we don’t do that again, we only choose from the children of those on the throne, that is, your father must be an Oba. Your father must reign before you can become an Oba.
Is that how you were chosen to succeed your father?
In my own case, my father secretly told me that I was the one he was going to hand over to and I told him no, that I did not want to be an Oba. But I did not tell anybody.
Why did you refuse the offer?
I refused because my father had earlier told me that he did not want male children to leave in the palace because they would be arrogating power to themselves unnecessarily and would be lazy. He had also told me that the Olofin might …. them; that was his belief. So any prince that is up to four years of age would be sent out of the palace. I was the first to be in the palace because I was born when my mother was already in old age and was not expected to have a child again. She had lost hope bearing a child again. So when I was born, I was given proper care. According to my mother, when I was about six months old, I had stomach pain and died. She said she felt bad. She narrated that as I was about to be buried outside the palace, something struck her mind and she told those who wanted to bury me to wait for her. She said she went into the palace and brought one Sayan (traditional woven cloth) to wrap me up. So as she was about to wrap me with the cloth, I suddenly sneezed and woke up. Quickly, she gave me Brrrreee@@@@@@@@st to $u(k. And since that time, I have not fallen ill. For over 80 years, I did not fall ill, even for one day, until few years ago.
What do you think made your father to prefer you as his successor?
I don’t even know. My father wanted me to come home. I was working with London Greater Council and I was very comfortable, but he insisted that I should return home. When I got home, he was very happy. On that day, people followed me to Oke Idanre, where my father was. He could not walk again; he was about 140 years old. I sat beside him. As they were welcoming me, a chief stood up and told my father that he (my father) would be at Oke Idanre while I would be at Odo Ode Idanre (down the hill) ruling. They sang and everybody was happy. So my father said I should come back and see him the following day. When I met him the following day, he Whahned me not to listen to them. He asked me to go and work. He said if I listened to them, the same people would accuse me of making myself king while he (my father) was still alive. I agreed. Luckily, I got a job with the government as a treasury officer.
Were you chosen automatically to succeed your father when he passed on?
Many things happened after the death of my father and during the selection period. For instance, after my father’s death, some politicians approached me, they brought a paper for me to sign so that when I finally became the king, I would be in their party, but I refused. I told them that a king should not be partisan, and that I would be for all. So later they brought one of my brothers to contest the stool with me and according to our own registered declaration, we have only one ruling house and a candidate at a time and members of the ruling house would be all the palace chiefs, all the surviving Oloris, and the direct children of the past Owas. And if anyone was dead, the first child from that line would represent the line at a meeting. So I was selected, there was a bit of politics about it but the government followed the declaration and I was later selected in 1976. After my selection, all the contestants congratulated me and I embraced all of them. We are all brothers of the same family.
After becoming the king, what are the lifestyles you missed?
I missed many things; I missed the company of my friends. And I used to go out to different places but that was not possible again. Another thing I missed was that I could not do many things in public again. I can’t eat in public and I can’t drink in public again. In short, it affected my social life. But there is a prestige to be an Oba. As an Oba, I can say I want to see the governor. But as a civil servant, it may be difficult. The honour is also there. I was the Chairman of Obas (Ondo State) three times. It is a great honour to be an Oba.
What challenges do you face as a ruler of an ancient town?
There are so many challenges. According to William Shakespeare, ‘the love that follows us is sometimes our enemy’. If you are not careful, you will fall into the hands of some people who will be your enemies again. One of the problems has to do with a land matter and it has been on for a long time.
Many traditional rulers are polygamists while some are against it. What do you think about this?
As an Oba, there are many activities and one Olori cannot do the job. For example, when there is a celebration, we will have calabash drums, bells, and other musical instruments in the palace and one Olori cannot do the required job and a woman who is not an Olori is not allowed to do it. There are some things the Oloris do in the palace. All these will force an Oba to have more than one wife. But there are some modern Obas who are against this. I don’t know how they do it, but in Idanre here, it is not possible for an Oba to have only one wife.
What are your major achievements on the throne?
My major achievement is that I am being loved by my people. Also, the Federal Government recognised my contribution to the development of my people, which was why it gave me OFR (Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria). Some universities conferred on me different honorary doctorates because of my performances. When I ascended the throne, we had 619 square miles land mass with more than 500 towns and villages and to be able to administer these areas I introduced Oluship. I divided them into units. Instead of having meetings with 500 baales (traditional rulers), it is the Olus that represent their various units.
Via Saturday Punch