Oba Olufemi Olutoye, the Alani of Ido-Ani, retired as a major general in the Nigerian Army in 1977 and became the king of his town in 2014. He tells PETER DADA his experience as a king and a retired military officer in this interview
Tell us about your early days.
I was born in Ido-Ani, which is now in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State. I spent the early part of my days in Benin City, where my father was a headmaster at St. James’ Primary School, Benin. From there, I went to Government College, Ibadan in 1945.
I finished my secondary school education in 1949. I got admission to the University of Ibadan in 1950 and graduated in June 1954. I also went to Cambridge University and finished my programme there in 1955. When I returned to Nigeria, I started teaching at Olu-Iwa College, Ijebu Ode (now Adeola Odutola College) and later, I left teaching to join the Nigerian Army in 1957. I retired from the military in 1977.
Why did you abandon teaching to join the army as you could have pursued another career as a university graduate?
Then, I believed I had reached the top of the teaching profession because teaching at the time was different from what we have now. It was a private school and I believed I had already reached the limit and was not looking forward to anything there again. Secondly, I wanted some kind of adventure. I taught briefly in a public school in England, where there was a Cadet Corps; the young boys there were given uniforms. At the time, I asked myself: why couldn’t we have a school like that in Nigeria? But also, I had reached the limit of teaching career. I was Acting Principal for a year, so I had to leave the teaching profession. That was how I joined the army and reached the position of a major general before I retired in 1977.
Did you ever think you would become the king of your town?
I will say no because of the history of my family. Along my family line, I will say yes, but personally, I didn’t envisage that someday I would become the king.
What is it about the history of your family?
My great grandfather refused to be Oba because he became a Muslim. In those days, there was no Christianity in that part of Nigeria. But it happened when Islamic evangelism from Ilorin and one of the Muslim clerics came to Ido-Ani. The cleric stayed with my great grandfather, called Obasunloye, who was a king then. The system, which operated in Ido-Ani at the time is what is done in Benin now because we came from Benin. The first child takes over when the king dies. My great grandfather then accepted Islam. The first son of Obasuloye was called Ipata Lawal but my people called (him) Ipata Lawani. His real name was Adekogbe. He refused to be the Oba when he was asked to. That was how he relinquished the position to someone else and that was how the derailment started. The king had many children and divided the royal line into three – Obasuloye belonged to one of the three but he was not the eldest son. When he had his first son, he named him ‘Jimoh’, but his Yoruba name was Oluwatomiloye.
Lawani continued his life as a Muslim until his death in 1925 but he was alive to witness the installation of a king in 1921. The king that was installed in 1921 died in 1956. Lawani’s son died in 1933 and could not become the Oba. But his son, who was my father, was born in 1901. So after the reign of the king that died in 1956, my father was invited to become the king because the other two lines had fielded Obas from 1860 but our line had not fielded.
So they called my father, but he refused in 1958. Why did he refuse? He said he was a king in Islam already. He later became a Christian and was posted to Benin to become the headmaster of a school there in 1935. He was also in charge of a church then as a catechist. When he declined to become the Oba, somebody else was put there and he died and others also died. My father died in 1977. In 1979, the Oba of Ido-Ani, who was my cousin, died. So, I was invited to come and become the king, but I refused because I had no money. A younger person from one of the other lines was crowned but unfortunately, he died in 2010. I was invited again and I accepted the invitation.
Did you accept because you felt you had become rich at the time?
No, not really, but I think I was more confident than the first time I was offered the position. I was much older and had retired as a military officer.
Since you ascended the throne, how has it been?
I must confess that I have enjoyed every minute of it. By the grace of God, I would have spent four years on the throne by October this year, and I will say it has been an interesting period for me. It has been a complete departure from what I was used to.
But the process was competitive. What do you think made you emerge as king ahead of other contenders?
I had a lot of opposition, yes; it was a good thing that people contested.
When I was invited initially, there was no opposition at all but two months after I indicated interest, people started showing up. But I thank God that wise counsel prevailed. I told them to call all of us – contestants – together. Up till now, I don’t know some of the people who contested with me. I told them that they should choose: “Would you leave somebody like me? Don’t you know my pedigree?” Man for man, I had more to offer the community than the other people.
So that was why the government supported me and gave me the staff of office on October 9, 2014. Some people went to court but they lost. But I thank God that no life has been lost since we started the process in 2010.
The traditional rites for new kings involve a lot of rituals. How easy did you find them?
I am a born-again Christian and I am proud to say that. Before I became the king, I was embarking on evangelism and preaching to people to become Christians. It is true that monarchy in Yorubaland involves a lot of idolatry but I have discovered that all these are vanity upon vanity. If you know who you serve, you should not be afraid of all these. When I was about to be crowned king, they told me that I must step on human blood before entering the palace. Then I asked the person that told me: ‘Can you allow me to step on your blood or the blood of the goat that you rear? All these things don’t make sense. I asked them to pour water (on the ground) and I would step on it and nothing would happen. And to God be the glory, there was nothing when I entered (the palace).
Traditional rulers tend to marry more than one wife, especially after they ascend the throne. What is your view about the practice?
Those that are doing that are doing so out of ignorance. At times, circumstances make people to do so, maybe if the wife is unable to bear a child. But there is a stage in one’s Christian life that those things become meaningless.
For instance, look at my children, all of them are grown up. Will I start looking for a wife now because I’m a king when my children are grown up? My first child is the head of a big hospital in the United States of America and my other children are also grown up and doing well in their various fields. So for me, that is not acceptable. My religion does not permit me to do that.
Tell us about the history of Ido-Ani town?
Ido-Ani came to being less than a thousand years ago. Some Yoruba from Akokoland at the time migrated to Ido-Ani to settle. History has it that one of the grandchildren of Oduduwa followed Oramiyan to Benin, but Benin was in chaos then. They had an Oba but there was a revolution there and the arrival of Oranmiyan settled the crisis and he was made Oba in Benin. When Oranmiyan became the king in Benin, he married one of the daughters of the previous king, called Ogiso in Benin. The woman gave birth to a male child. Then, it was Yoruba language that they spoke in the palace.
When they told the king that his wife had been delivered of a baby boy while he was playing a game with someone; he was so engrossed in the game that he was saying: Owomika (I have subdued him); that is, subdued the person he was playing the game with. The statement came out at the same time they were giving him the news that he had baby. The messenger thought the Oba was naming the new baby: Owomika, not knowing it was about a game. That was how the boy was named Eweka.
So when the baby grew up, Oranmiyan left Benin and called the place Ile Ibinu (angry land) because people there got angry easily. That is why they called the place Bini. It was coined from – Ile Ibinu. It was after Oranmiyan got back to Ile-Ife that he later moved to Oyo to settle. One of his cousins that followed him to Benin was called Ani. He decided to leave Benin to form his own kingdom. When he got here, he met some people who also spoke Yoruba. When he introduced himself to the people he met here, they started adoring him and made him the king of the place. And they called him Alani of Ido-Ani.
What relationship does Ido-Ani have with Benin today, considering the history?
We have so much history with Benin. The original Ido-Ani was founded along the same line with the old Yoruba. Also, we are a border kingdom. Like I have told you, the first Oba came from Benin towards the end of the 17th century and he was called Ani and he came to Ido. Ido in Yoruba language means where one has founded to reside. He didn’t bother to find a new name for the place, it was just called Ido-Ani, meaning where Ani founded to stay. He came with his brother called Ado. He (Ado) spent six months here before he too went away to search for greener pastures. Some of those who came with Ani from Benin then were able to establish some outposts around here that later formed the six communities of Ido-Ani. We have so much history of wars.
For example, the warlords from Ado-Ekiti, took away some of our people, especially the women. The notion was that our women were very pretty and they were going to be married off to the Ekiti people. That is why you see a great number of Ekiti people saying they are connected to Ido-Ani. We also fought with the Nupe people and so on like that. Much earlier, about 300 years ago, Benin was expanding; it had about three Obas, who were very empire-conscious. The languages of many border towns in Ondo State today, including Ido-Ani, have lots of Benin words.
In Ido-Ani, two enterprising hunters from Sosan (a neighbouring community) had the approval of the Ido-Ani people to settle here with some other people to form a section of Ido-Ani called Iyayu, which is the largest of the six communities that form the expanded Ido-Ani. If Iyayu people speak, most of their words are from Edo language. If an Iyayu man goes to Edo today, within a month, he will be speaking Edo language fluently. So that is our relationship with the Edo people.
How has your experience as a former military man influenced your style of leadership?
Don’t forget that I retired as a major general, so when I became the Oba, I still had that military aura. I would not want to be disobeyed and I was very reluctant to give orders because I remembered that I was no more in the army. I would say, ‘Look at this bloody civilian’. The discipline in the army is still there in me; I’m principled. I have what I do and there are things I don’t do. So that is how I have been managing myself and the town has been very peaceful.
As a retired major general, why don’t you go about with soldiers as escort, are you not entitled to such?
I’m entitled to such but I don’t want to give my people the impression that they are under a military command. Even though occasionally, if I need soldiers for specific reasons, I request for them and I will be given. Also, when I wanted to be installed, I had some military people around me to accord me respect.
What were those things you loved the most while you were in the military?
I enjoyed the discipline; when I gave out orders, I was obeyed. Even if the order is wrong, you have to obey first and complain later. When I joined the army, two of us were university graduates- the late Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and I. He was a graduate of Oxford; I was a graduate of Cambridge. I enjoyed the discipline in the military so much.
What are those things you have missed doing since you became a king?
When I retired, I received small pension until later when it was increased. So in terms of financial emoluments, I’m not better off. I didn’t become the oba immediately I retired from the military; the period in-between, I worked hard. Few days ago, Nigeria celebrated Armed Forces Remembrance Day; I must say that I miss those military parades. Again, as an Oba, you know my freedom is restricted. Though nobody tells me not to move here or there, but if you do so and something (bad) happens, people will ask you: ‘Why did you do that?’ And that is not good for someone, who is an Oba.
In-between your retirement from the military and becoming the Oba, what were you doing?
I was into the business of importation of vehicles from Japan. Even though I had no office, I used to sell everything at the wharf. Also before I became the Oba, I preached to the people to take their Christian lives more seriously.
What unique cultural practices do you have in Ido-Ani?
We have the Egungun Festival that we do. Our children outside come home to participate in it. We also have age group system, whereby everybody joins the age group he belongs. The oldest person is called Odion, which is a Benin word. For instance, next week, we are going to install a new Odion in Iyayu camp.
Do you have taboos in this town?
Yes, we inherited some Yoruba taboos but since I got here, I have been trying to disabuse them of some of those taboos. For instance, you don’t bring babies into the palace; it is an old Benin tradition. As an Oba, you can’t see a child until his head is shaved and I tried to ask why but there is nothing I can do since it is a tradition. There are some things you can’t eat, but if you are a soldier like me, (you will know) we eat anything. Another thing is that as a mother, immediately your daughter starts childbearing, you must stop childbearing, as our own way of family planning.
How do you relax, considering your age?
As an Oba, I don’t do much. If there are no events for me to attend, I stay in my palace here, I eat, I sleep very well, I discuss with my wife.
What do you think about the debate to have constitutional roles for traditional rulers in the country?
My opinion is that the country is losing the experience and expertise of Obas; there should be roles for them to play. In those days, the government was being controlled by the kings, who constituted governments and invited some eminent people to assist them. But now, that role has been hijacked. It is not that we are bothered that much if we are being taken care of, but unfortunately, most Obas are not well paid.
What do you think should be the specific roles for the Obas in the constitution?
In the good old days, we had House of Chiefs and we were carried along before any bill could be passed into law. As an Oba, you were like a chairman of the local government.
If the constitution is to be amended now and roles should be given to the traditional rulers, are you saying Obas should head local governments?
Kings don’t necessarily have to be the heads of local governments, but we should be in the position to advise whoever is there and he should be obliged to follow our advice. Or, we should be ‘ambassadors’ in our respective localities. I think we should be given roles to play in the development of this country.
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