Oba of Lagos – “I was nine when my mother died”

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The Oba of Lagos, His Royal Majesty, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, would mark his 75th birthday. In this interview with TUNDE AJAJA, he spoke about himself and his wishes for Lagos State

What fond memories of your growing up do you still have?

When I was still a young boy, I remember that Lagos was cleaner and people were truthful, unlike what we have now where there is so much dishonesty in the land. At that time, if you forgot your belongings in a taxi, the driver would trace you and the goods would be intact. But now, societal change has eroded some of those values. Back then, of course, the population in Lagos was far below what we have now and people respected the elderly, but nowadays, you see people treat the elderly with disdain, which is very bad. People know me as a no-nonsense person and I can’t tolerate any disrespect from any child because I never tried such with my parents. I will never take advantage of anyone and no matter the age, I say my mind, with the knowledge God has given me. I’m not saying I have a reservoir of knowledge and I’m not saying that I’m always right, but I concede when I’m confronted with superior argument. I’m not a gossip and I’m not a hypocrite.

As a prince, did you grow up in the palace?

I was nine years old when my mother died, but before she died, one Mr. Beyioku, who used to work in Nigerian Tobacco Company, took me to Ibadan. His wife was my mum’s friend, so I lived with them before they took me to my brother, whom they call Baba Ibadan. He’s 93 years old now.

What influenced your decision to join the Nigeria Police?

I had always wanted to be a lawyer as a young boy. Also, back then, we used to see some policemen that looked so admirable. In fact, there was one of them known as Fine Country and he was a very active policeman. If you saw him, you would fall in love with police job, and there were some others like that. So, I told my brother about it. It hurts sometimes that none of my children want to join the police. I must say that being a policeman is one of the best jobs one could do in this life. It’s a honourable profession, but you must be truthful and you must be close to God. As a policeman, whatever is within your power to do to help others, don’t hesitate, and don’t always expect a reward for whatever help you render to people. It will shock you to know that within two weeks, I mean 14 days, after I entered the palace as the king, people contributed N165m for me as a gift. I used the money to buy shares and it has yielded dividends. As a policeman, you will meet people and if you are in it to impact positively on the society, you will certainly make headway. Also, if you are in it to take advantage of people, the reward is also enormous. And that is worse because if you put people in trouble for selfish reasons or because you want to make money, the result will be waiting for you. It has repercussions. So, police job is one of the best jobs. But these days, God should just help them to be wise because all they are after is money. As a policeman, if you want to succeed, you need to have the fear of God. Like I said, I will be so delighted if one of my children decides to join the force, but it seems late already because they have all ventured into different things. However, I will encourage and support any of my grandchildren who want to toe that path. I take deep interest in the well-being of my grandchildren and I don’t hesitate to assist when there is need to. Let me tell you; I believe in hard work and if I observe that any of my children is not working hard, I could bar such a child from entering the palace because I don’t entertain mediocrity. I’m not a mediocre. As I speak to you, right now, six of my grandchildren are in the Diaspora studying and I will soon go and join them to celebrate my birthday. Like I always say, no one has all the knowledge in the world, but I know and appreciate that I enjoy the mercy of God. However, I won’t forget to acknowledge those who anchored me into the police job.

Who were they?

I’m talking about people like the late Alhaji Gafaru Oluwole Tinubu, Bola Tinubu’s elder brother, who was also like a brother to me. Sunday would make it 15 years since he died. I remember the day he sent for me from his hospital bed. He told me certain things and he said I should take good care of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and that nothing must happen to him. I thank God for how far He has helped him. We were all witnesses to the battle Bola Ahmed had with (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo. In his first four years as the President of Nigeria, instead of facing governance, he was busy pursuing Tinubu and coming after Lagos. And that is why Lagos is as strong as it is today. He succeeded in capturing many other states except Lagos. God was with us. All the monarchs and religious leaders stood firm with us. At that time, I even said I would rather lose my life than allow him to capture Lagos. Let me tell you that this coming 2019 election, I will use everything God has endowed me with to appeal to God that Buhari should be elected, because some of those who are throwing their hats into the ring now are not honest people. It will be like a magic, but Buhari will be re-elected. And the very week he’s re-elected, I would announce and encourage him to close the borders so that Obasanjo will not escape.

Looking at the perception some people already had about the police, did your father agree with your choice when you joined the force?

My father had died at that time. He died in 1957 while I joined the police in November 1970. The people I lived with were also supportive. In any case, I had already settled it with my God. Remember that popular saying that anything that has the backing of God is always seamless and anything God does not support is always problematic. I was very happy in the police and there was nothing I put my hands into that didn’t succeed because I always say the truth and I don’t know how to tell lies, and my bosses liked me. I’m talking of people like late (Alhaji Ibrahim) Coomasie, Amodu Seidu, Chief Odu, Alhaji Gambo, Mr. Sunday Adewusi, Alhaji Attah and Ademola Aboyade, who took me like a brother. Apart from being intelligent, he was a successful policeman.

People believe that it’s impossible to be a policeman without taking bribes. Were there times people offered you?

Let me talk about that perception; it depends on individuals, because there is no job under this planet that is impactful that does not attract goodwill. Let me give you an instance. There was a time a friend of mine came to my office and was looking very unsettled. I told him to calm down. He said some people went to pack his goods from his warehouse and that he went to report to the police. He said they were arrested but that to his surprise, they were freed. I told him to follow me to Coomasie. I narrated the story to him and I told him to allow me to handle the case. I tell you that almost all those stolen goods were recovered and those that could not be retrieved were paid for by those people. He was surprised. There was a commissioner of police that was involved in the conspiracy. When I unravelled his involvement, if not that people begged me, I wanted him dismissed and jailed, but Coomasie said I should let the issue pass. That person is still alive and when he reads this interview, he would know himself. I don’t want to mention his name. So, police job is good. People who are impressed with your work would always find one way or the other to reward you. As a level 10 officer, it was a little favour I did for a man that he gave me a loan to build a seven-storeyed building 35 years ago. And after that particular house, I have built many others. When you render help to people, they will pray for you and some would give you gifts. But when two people are guilty of an offence and you arrest eight people unduly, you can’t use the money from such to do anything good. I always tell them that the money you make from oppressing and taking advantage of people cannot be used to buy a thing that would give you joy.

What about politicians who steal people’s money and use the same money to acquire the good things of life while people are left to suffer?

People who enrich themselves through corrupt means would always die with bitterness. It may seem that they are enjoying, but it’s temporary. There are some of them who come to the palace to beg for money. So, it’s temporary. That is why I emphasised that the money you make from oppressing and taking advantage of people cannot be used to buy a thing that would give you joy. People will always reap what they sow.

Which other job would have given you satisfaction if you didn’t join the police?

I would have been a lawyer, because that was even the course that first appealed to me until I fell in love with police job.

How much has your experience in the police helped you since you ascended the throne?

By God’s grace, it has really helped. Police training is a very good training, and that is if you use it to do good.

What are your thoughts about 2019?

Given all the things happening in Nigeria at this time, there is nothing wrong with Buhari’s government, it’s our sins that are too much, and so everyone of us should think of what to do to make the country a better place. It shouldn’t be about self. I said recently that the governors of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo should come together and make good use of the expansive forest that demarcates them. They could carve out a large farmland, build schools, good roads, hospitals, railways and many other things that would make life better for people. God has really blessed us, but we are too covetous. Only one person would want to have $15m. For what? I have a friend whose interest is always in the things that belong to other people. He knows himself and I want you to write it like that. All the things he acquired in Ikoyi and other places, I wonder what he will do with them. There is nobody I can’t confront and I don’t know how to tell lies, unless the kind of lie that I would tell and there would be peace in the land. Maybe that is how God has created me. I’m not a mediocre. And I don’t hide the fact that I like women. If anybody tells you there is a man that does not like women, it’s a lie. It could be because he doesn’t have money or he doesn’t know what is good. A man must like women but he must not be deceitful. I do what pleases me.

Does it mean you could still take a wife if you feel like?

(Laughs) If you give me one I don’t mind. I dey kampe. However, my love for women is not like that of some people. A day is coming that I will say the things I know about some of them. I’m sure that in their lonely times, they would also admit that they are not good people. If it were to be a good society, they should be in prison till now.

But there are people who are close to you that seem to wield so much power in the regions they control. How about that?

The stubbornness of Bola Ahmed Tinubu is one that is based on popular support. It is the task I sent him that he delivers, but he should also be cautious. God should be with him so he would continue to be useful to us. When I talk to him, God will help him to listen, even though I’m not God. On many occasions, he’s right but no one is an island of knowledge. No one knows it all. He has never disobeyed me but everything hidden is clear and open before God.

At your age, are there things you wish you had achieved that you have yet to?

What I ask from God are long life; sound health; that I should not change from being truthful; that Lagos State should continue to move forward so that those who do not have jobs would have and those who can’t feed themselves should find favour. Also, that God should save President (Muhammadu Buhari) so he would live long and that God should let him win the next election.

But traditional rulers are usually neutral and should not take sides, especially in the issues of politics.

(Cuts in…) See, I have said it before that I’m not a hypocrite. I have never visited Buhari to ask for anything. In 2011, he told me he was coming to see me by 1pm but he came by 3pm. When he came, I challenged him for coming late. He said it was due to bad road and I told him that he was to blame for the bad roads in Lagos because he cancelled the Metroline project that should have complemented road transportation in Lagos State. I told him that I couldn’t tell the people of Lagos State to vote for him; I don’t know how to tell lies or deceive people. After he came, it rained heavily and I saw it as a good sign of things to come. You see, all those that are antagonising him, all the monies they have stolen would be retrieved from them. Like I have told you, the moment he wins the election, he should close the border so that Obasanjo won’t escape. Obasanjo should change his ways. An adage says that a deity that we try every possible thing to put in a place of honour that defies all such gestures would expose itself to ridicule at the end of the day. Another adage says that a cat ends up in the well for thinking it can jump from any point to another without caution.

What are your specific wishes for Lagos?

I’m praying to God that the present administration should give Lagos a special status, and it’s not only Lagos, but other cities that deserve it. It’s not an easy task to be the governor of Lagos State, and it’s because Lagos is for the whole world, not only Nigerians or Africans. The Federal Government should give us the special status. And let me add that some elders in this state should mind themselves because there is nobody I cannot confront. They should not meddle in things that do not concern them. Bola Tinubi should be credited for one thing and it is that Eko Atlantic project. If that project was not conceived, half of Victoria Island would have been overtaken by water. However, whatever is due to those who deserve compensation should be given to them. I was offered two large plots of land in that place but I told them I didn’t need it. Everything we acquire in this life would remain here. I don’t need it because I still have some, yet there is nothing we would take to heaven. At this point, I eat right, if there is time to socialise, I do so, and I don’t live my life based on gossips or what people say. I’m not claiming to be the wisest, but I know God has been good to me.

People know you to always say your mind; are there times you regret some of the things you say?

There has never been such a time that I would regret the things I said, because I always ask God to direct me. In fact, what happens most of the time is that I wish I had said more than I said at that previous time.

People were wondering why you didn’t add your voice to the political situation that preceded the governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos few weeks ago. Why did you stay away from such an important issue?

You see, God should have mercy on all of us. There is an adage that a frog says when it comes to issue of having a tail, we should skip the conversation. Before you know who a person truly is, let the person have money and be in position of authority. The issue you raised, I don’t want to talk much about it. It was since the time of (former governor of Lagos, Alhaji Lateef) Jakande that God had been giving us good leaders. Jakande really did his best for Lagos and he performed creditably well, but you would still see some people who still have complaints about him. Bola Tinubu also tried his best. He never gave me no for an answer, on any reasonable issue, and he had been following the instructions of our brother, Alhaji Gafaru Oluwole Tinubu. My brother that I mentioned earlier, who is close to 100 years now, already told me not to talk when I’m angry. There are some elders that do not put themselves in their place and a day is coming when I would say my mind. They meddle in things that do not concern them. And I admit that they fought for the soul of this state but they should not feel pompous about it. They should stay in their place. Let me make this point; if you are close to God, you are kind to people and you are not arrogant or feel too big, you won’t run into trouble. Jide Sanwo-Olu is very close to me. Someone called me one night that he wanted to bring Jide to me but I told the person not to waste his time because Jide is my son and I know he’s a good person. On the other hand, concerning Ambode, if you have charm but you don’t have the antidote or another charm that can counter it, then you don’t have anything. I won’t say more than that. May God help all of us. So, I didn’t talk because they are both my children and it will get better, and I want you to write it down that things would get better. On this issue, there was nothing that happened that wasn’t with the knowledge of God and someone like me.

Does it mean you also support Sanwo-Olu?

You know that popular saying that majority carries the vote. I have called Akinwunmi Ambode to leave it all to God. No evil will befall him and God still has great plans for him. When the breeze blows, we will all see what the chicken is hiding underneath. The truth is that if Bola Ahmed Tinubu is angry, he’s justified. No evil will befall the three of them. They know my stance on the issue and it’s not a secret. Better people should come into politics, because majority of them there are liars and that is the truth. As time goes on, we will continue to de-emphasise the import of money in our election. God will disappoint those who have hidden agenda for this country but are presenting themselves like good people. However, everyone of us has a role to play.

Will there be a time that you won’t contribute to public or political discourse?

I don’t meddle in politics; I’m only after how things would get better. I’m not into politics. My first child showed interest in politics and I told him not to, so it doesn’t seem like he wanted to use his influence as the son of the king to pave way for himself because some people have been there before he came back to Nigeria. I told him not to. It’s only God who knows the end from the beginning. People say it that there is no way one would be a politician without telling lies, and that is one thing I don’t know how to do. I say my mind, regardless of whose ox is gored. There is no titled chief that would say I collect money from them. And those that would still be named chiefs, I would use my money to buy clothes for them and that is why if they do anything that is untoward for the third time I chase them away. I don’t collect money from people but I thank God for helping me up to this level. I can say it anywhere that I didn’t spend the least currency, N1, to become the Oba of Lagos. I owe it to God, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Alhaji Gafaru Oluwole Tinubu, Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, Baba Adinni; Alhaji Fasinro, Alhaji Femi Okunnu and some of my friends, like Alhaji Babalola. But there are some of them I no longer talk to because our idiosyncrasies are different.  And I have advised them but they didn’t listen. I hate hypocrisy and that is what some people do, but we will continue to plead with God to change them and it’s not impossible for them to change. I also keep praying to God to continue to direct me.

How do you relax, knowing that your position influences the kind of places you could go to?

I go for functions and I go out with my children to have fun.

Do you have specific number of years you like to live for?

We can’t determine that for God. It is when God says it’s enough. What I pray for is that He should continue to guide my utterances because I do not have reservoir of knowledge.

There was a controversy over the origin of Lagos as some say it’s not Benin. What is the true position?

The Obaship status in Lagos is of Benin origin. The first Oba of Lagos is a direct descendant of the Oba of Benin. It doesn’t mean that Benin owns Lagos, and no city or community has the kind of wealth and riches in this Iga Idunganran palace in the whole of Africa. The white cap chiefs in the palace of the Oba of Lagos are bigger than some kings in some places. The previous Oba of Benin who passed on once visited us in Lagos and we took a photograph together which is kept safe. Even a slave has a father, he might just be some distance away.

What day would you describe as your happiest day?

It was the day I entered the palace as the king, and the day I entered the Holy Kaaba in Mecca. It was like I had entered paradise. I was part of the delegation of the President and some other key officials. After everything, the issue of the fine imposed on MTN came up. I pleaded with him to reduce the fine and that he should spread the remaining to make the payment flexible and he obliged me. When Buhari is re-elected, I will write him on the things I think he should do and he has enormous respect for me. Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a very peaceful man, was my teacher and when I see him, I call him Evidence of Striking Similarity (laughs). That was what he taught us at the Law School. Ordinarily, if you had called him to be a councillor, he, like Fashola, would have run away, but see what God has done.

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