The Olupo of Oluponna in Osun State, Oba AbdulRaheem Gbamgboye II, shares his experience on the throne with ADEMOLA ADEGBITE
You have spent one year on the throne of your forefathers. How would you describe your experience so far?
It’s been a massive experience. Having been in management before has made life easy for me. But you know it’s easier to manage materials than to manage human beings. Human beings are the most difficult to manage in life but the experience I gathered in management before I came to the throne helped me a lot. being in a community where you are not used to. Although I was born in the area, I didn’t stay long. I started my primary school education in the area but I didn’t complete it before I moved to Ibadan and then to Ile-Ife. I received secondary and tertiary education in Ife. I then started working and from there, I moved abroad. Life abroad is different from here. Things are done differently in the Western world. Now coming here and seeing what life looks like is another experience entirely, but I thank God Almighty for giving me the ability to manage every situation that comes my way day in, and day out.
Can you compare your life as a private citizen and as a traditional ruler?
There are lots of differences. My private life before my ascension to the throne was quite different. Although, I am a man of the people and I was a man of the people while I was on my own, coming to the throne exposed me more to a lot of things. Being on the throne is not just a common thing. You need a lot of attributes to be able to survive on the throne. You will meet many people with different characters and attitudes. It’s now left to you to manage them or the crisis they brought to you and make them happy after the whole thing.
What were you doing abroad before you became a king?
I was a professional nurse before I ascended the throne. I then upgraded myself when I got to London and became a specialist in cardiothoracic nursing which involves lots of cardiac surgery.
What prompted you to leave that profession and join the race to become the Oluponna?
Man shall not live on bread alone. This is my community. With the experience I gathered there, I ascended the throne very close to my retirement age. So, I don’t just want to be useful to myself without being useful to my community. I realised that I had something to offer my community because I had seen it all. All the experiences I have acquired, I think it should be to the benefit of my community, and my experiences in the Western world will also help me to develop my area.
During your selection last year, all the 13 kingmakers unanimously chose you as the new king. What do you think worked for you, considering the crisis mostly experienced in the selection of monarchs in Yorubaland using the emergence of kings in Oyo and Ogbomoso as a case study?
Let me first give thanks to God Almighty for the knowledge and experience God gave them to select me. To be honest with you, I was happy when they took me to the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba AbdulRaheed Akanbi. They all mentioned then that I was unanimously selected without taking a kobo from him. But they are now ready to take whatever I’m ready to offer them. Oluwo said, “Olupo, did you hear what they said? You must take care of them.” So, it’s a history I don’t think anybody can surpass. For the 13 kingmakers to unanimously select you, it’s something that has not been done before. I didn’t do anything. I showed my interest, bought and submitted forms. We (the candidates) were invited for the interview, and on the day of the final selection, all of us came. There were criteria and I was selected.
Those who contested the throne with you did not challenge your emergence. Did you reach out to them?
There is no way there won’t be challenges but it depends on how you react or cooperate with them. Two people fight for one seat but one must emerge; it now depends on your reaction to the other aspirants. I didn’t show any kind of attitude that would make them react in a bad way. I wasn’t showing that I was the most qualified because of my position or business. Naturally, we are brothers because all of us came from the same father. But you know when you start growing up, the family starts getting big, and everyone goes different ways. We came together; they call me and I call them too. We advised one another. My first anniversary is coming. I have called them, and some of them have already reached out to me.
What can you say are your achievements on the throne as the Olupo of Oluponnaland in the past year?
I think liberation and bringing peace and harmony are some of those things I have been able to achieve. Before I ascended the throne, there were ups and downs but as soon as I came in, I tried to unite aggrieved members of the community and mend many fences so that we could live in unity. Again, I tried to bring back my colleagues, sons, and daughters of this area to come home and do things in their fatherland as well as to promote the area.
Those overseas have been of significant help to the community. They have contributed significantly to the development of the area. If you look at the main road, we planned to fix it ourselves. The drainage has already been constructed and we are only waiting for asphalt to be laid on the road. But as it is now, we are seeking the assistance of the government. We have gotten the approval to do it ourselves. We have a society called Oluponna Development Association that has been contributing a lot to the community. It is the main society that every child of this community belongs to and we seek help from them. They look at the bad roads, and (rural) electrification and they ensure that repair work is carried out on any damaged area.
Boreholes are being sunk by me and some other people abroad so that our people can get good water. I have some students whose education I supported even before I got to the throne and I am still doing that. I help some of the sick ones and my focus is to make sure everybody gets good treatment. Security-wise, in my early stage on the throne, we were disturbed by thieves who burgled many houses but now everything is settled through the mediation and collaboration of other community members. I also work hand-in-hand with security agencies in the community.
When you talked about insecurity, you only mentioned thieves. Are you saying that the menace of armed herders which prompted South-West governors to create a security agency, has ended in your community?
Well, I can say categorically now that with the help of Almighty God, I tried to unite the farmers and Fulani together. However, you know there is no way you will not have some iota of bad people. I brought the Fulani and other foreigners living in this area together and had a series of meetings to make sure we fished out the bad ones among them and this worked very well for us. If there is any trouble from any non-natives, we know how to iron it out.
Is there any form of collaboration with the police and other security agencies in the community?
There is a harmonious relationship between us and the security agencies. We work hand-in-hand with security agencies and also involve leaders of the non-natives to make sure everything goes well in the area. We have a plan laid down that allows the palace to act immediately after a complaint is made about any trouble or incident. Such had happened several times and they knew when they came, I wouldn’t just overlook it. I act immediately. I ask security agencies to go there and investigate. This has been working for us.
Given the economic hardship Nigerians are going through, there is no doubt that the country is facing food insecurity. How are you encouraging farmers in your domain to boost agricultural output and promote food sufficiency in the South-West and Nigeria as a whole?
Predominantly, in this area and Nigeria today, the major occupation of the people is farming. The people of my community have been contributing a lot to agriculture. The crops they cultivate here are consumable ones. I can say 90 per cent of the farm products from this area are taken outside for people to eat. They get incentives like fertilisers, and improved seedlings that will yield a good harvest.
Are traditional rulers playing the roles expected of them in this democratic dispensation?
I will say yes because most of the cases I am handling here were brought to me as a traditional ruler. If not for that, it would have been another thing. It’s very rare to see cases that cannot be resolved at the family level and brought to the palace to escalate because I have formed different committees that would deal with different issues, including land issues.
The Oluwo of Iwo has been discouraging kings from getting involved in the sale of land. From your experience in the last year, what are the factors you think are making kings engage in such activity?
We have different beliefs. In my own belief, I don’t think it’s right for a king to sell land. You can lease out the land. If my parents had sold their land, where would I come to stay? Imagine. If they had sold all the lands, as the king, where would my territory stretch to? Our land is our heritage and nobody is supposed to sell land.
Even if land should be sold, it should not be sold in bulk. I prefer you lease out land to people because when you lease, the land still belongs to the community. That is what is done overseas. When you sell out your land, what legacy are you leaving behind for future generations? Since I came on the throne, I can boast that I have never sold a plot of land; I would rather lease it out for development.
Is there any comparison between the selection or election of traditional rulers in the past and nowadays?
In the past, people used to consult the Ifa oracle to select. Today, because nobody has sworn an oath to the Ifa oracle, the selection of a king is based on who you are, what you can contribute to developing your community, what you have done to develop your community, and how many people you have helped in the community which I believe is something of value. Religion preaches good behavior and the kingmakers take this into consideration when selecting their king.
What was the Ifa oracle consulted in the past looking for? Good behavior, good governance, and the ability to do well. In the past, people could twist whatever the Ifa oracle said and bad things would start happening. But in our community here, the way we select here, I give credit to the kingmakers. They told me they wanted their conscience to be clear before and after the selection (of the Oba) and that they didn’t want any bribes. I asked them why they refused to collect something, and they told me people were stretching their hands to them but because they wanted to have a very clear conscience before, during, and after their decision, they didn’t want anything that would affect their sense of judgment. They said if they selected somebody who was not qualified because of money and put such a person on the throne, they would suffer for it tomorrow.
What would you say is your most memorable event since you ascended the throne?
I will say the first day I was installed. As I was coming, I saw queues of people on the road and I asked myself, “What is this?” Then, tears started rolling down my eyes and I gave glory to God. And the only thing that makes me happy is that they listen to what I want. I can say categorically that they never took me to any shrine or given me anything to drink, eat, or soap to bathe. I told them what I wanted initially; I wanted the two religions, Christianity and Islam. Christians would come in the morning to pray and the Muslims in the afternoon till evening to pray every day for the 21 days I spent in the Ipebi. Also, where I stayed was widely open, and people came in to see me.
Are you saying that there is no secret about becoming a king?
Before I returned to Nigeria to become king, people discouraged me saying that I was going to eat the heart of a dead king. I told them that when I got there and said I didn’t want it, the worst thing was to tell me to leave. My predecessor was a Christian. He used to visit me in London. He stayed with me. We ate and prayed together in the morning and evening before we went to bed. When he wanted to go to church, we went together. His door was always open. I am doing the same thing; you can go around my house, and you are free to enter any corner. I don’t have any hidden place or locked up room in this palace.
What do you think the federal and state governments should do to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians?
I will start with the state government. It should support the kings. When it supports kings well, that will discourage them from selling land. All fingers are not equal. I have been on the throne now for a year, and the government has not been giving me salary. Everything I’m using belongs to me. Every penny is from me. The council still owes me money. The executive order of Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State barred me from receiving a salary because my ascension to the throne was between July 17, 2022, and November 2022. If you don’t have any reserve to fall back on, you lay your hands on whatever you see to make money. These are the things the government needs to look into. You know when you are hungry, you eat whatever you see.