Lagos — Oba Aiyeluwa Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, Ooni of Ife, who clocked 80 years on New Year's Day, is, indeed, a remarkable monarch. Nearly three decades on the throne of Oduduwa, he has succeeded to a large extent in redefining the essence of the ancient seat, dignifying the monarchy, and, in the process, contributed significantly in repositioning his people to face contemporary opportunities and issues.
Even the scope and sheer grandeur of his coronation on December 6, 1980 announced to the world that a new kind of Ooni had birthed. In solidarity and demonstration of friendship, kings from other parts of the country, notably Emir of Kano, Oba of Benin, Amayanabo of Opobo and Olu of Warri graced the occasion. The Queen of England sent her representatives and most diplomatic missions in Nigeria were equally represented.
Also, as a mark of departure from the conservatism that characterized the installation of his predecessors, the National Anthem was played and even the Primate of the African Church of Nigeria prayed at the ceremony. Add all that to the enchanting royal procession and the rich, unique sartorial style of the Ooni himself and it became clear that a fresh phase of the dynasty established by Oduduwa many centuries ago was underway.
No doubt, right at the beginning, the Ooni had a good grasp of the demands of the Kingdom he was about to preside over. It was one of preserving not only the heritage of his people but at the same time making the traditional stool receptive to modernity, in order to enhance its functionality and relevance in a fast changing, globalised world. His maiden speech was emphatic about that: "Nobody anywhere doubts the central importance of Ile-Ife in the history of the West African sub-region.
Ife is the cradle of the Yoruba-speaking people throughout the world; indeed the origin of homo sapiens. The great Oduduwa lived here. We are treading on the grounds upon which he treaded. The dynastic ramifications of Oduduwa descendants both within and outside Yorubaland are very well known.
"Eighty-eight years ago (in 1892), my grandfather, Ooni Olubuse I, ascended this throne and reigned till 1910. He championed the struggle that welded together the warring factions here and re-established Ife unity. Each age, indeed each reign, is confronted with its own peculiar problems which it tackles using the materials and methods of its times . I rededicate my life to the service of Ife, of Oyo State, of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and of all Yoruba-speaking people all over the world. This torch is handed on to me by a hand that I know. I shall hold it high. I shall not let it fall."
So far, so exemplary! The Ooni might not have handled all the tasks that have come his way perfectly but even his critics would agree that his largeness of heart and magnanimity have given people of various backgrounds a sense of belonging. Even the Ife-Modakeke crisis appears to have been frontally checkmated- a feat analysts often ascribe to the Ooni's unique leadership qualities. â-‚â-‚â-‚â-‚
Perhaps, more than any other ruler in Yorubaland, he has done much to forge unity and peace among the people and helped Yorubas in Diaspora to stay in touch with their cultural roots. A generous, accessible, humorous and humble personality, Sijuwade also builds bridges across ethnic, religious and political divides.
Although questions have been raised about the criteria for the numerous chieftaincy titles he doles out to politicians, business persons and professionals from different parts of the federation, many of those close to him believe that his sole motivation is theâ-‚promotion of culture and loveâ-‚in diversity.
A great man of great means, the 50th Ooni of Ife, custodian of the source of Yoruba civilization, came in contact with money, power and prestige early in life. At age 30, he rose to the position of manager in Leventis, perhaps the first Nigerian to so do in one of the nation's few conglomerates at the time. Before then, he had studied at Abeokuta Grammar School, Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife and Northampton College in the United Kingdom.
Oba Sijuwade's true greatness lies in the use of his massive clout and resources to create a better society the best way he can. It is a living lesson to present day Nigerian leaders, many of whom have since surrendered their conscience to vanity, self-aggrandisement and materialism.
Longer may your reign be, Oh Ooni!