The Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi, tells WALE OYEWALE about his recent actions against his estranged wife, among other issues
What is your perception of the traditional institution in Nigeria?
One thing is that when you are given a position, say as the case is, as a traditional ruler, it is a new school and you want to study. Being a royal blood does not confer success on you naturally as a king, you have to be schooled. Kingship or monarchy is our own traditional system of governance. Now, we have embraced the foreign system of government that is not in tandem with our culture and tradition. Traditionally, in the monarchical system, which brought the crown, you have the king who is equal to a state governor. You have the chiefs who are like the commissioners. The Balogun is in charge of war, Obaloja in charge of commerce. So, why change the system? The politicians are not as close to the people as the obas and chiefs.
Are you saying there was no need for the democratic system of government that we imbibed in the first place?
Why did we change a good system that confers value on humanity? We should just have improved on the monarchical system instead of pushing it to the background. We are talking of what the roles of traditional institutions should be. In Iwo, for instance, when I mounted the throne, I found out that things were in shambles. So, I, as the oba, changed the bad and the obsolete ways. There was a lot that was wrong with the system. Some people don’t see kingship as a position where you can serve the people. At a time in our history, the kingship era was an era of impunity and the people suffered. At that time, a king might just kill one of his subjects based on an unsubstantiated allegation. But kingship is about serving the people. This is one thing about service. When you serve the people tenaciously, then you become their master. As a king, if you are not ready to serve the people, don’t mount the throne, otherwise you will ridicule it.
You do antagonise some kings for their conduct?
When you see people cheating in the land, you are the one to intervene. But you see kings today who are still cheating their subjects. Some kings who are supposed to bring succour to their subjects and alleviate their suffering are compounding their problem. In history, some kings conspired and sold their subjects because of gin, mirrors, guns and pieces of dresses brought by the explorers through trade by barter. This was the beginning of slavery. Do you know that the Chinese didn’t sell their children into slavery? We are the only race that sold our children into slavery. Millions of Africans sold into slavery died. Some of the slaves went to school and fought for their own freedom. The white men came with the law and the book. They said the kings were the problems. Those who survived slavery came back and made laws without giving any space for the kingship system. They stripped the kings of their powers. It was the fault of the kings. Many of the past atrocities are showing in the ways some of our kings behave today. We still have kings who are land grabbers. If it was about land grabbing for the development of the land, it would be different. But it is sad that some kings engage in land grabbing to buy tokunbo vehicles, to buy shoes, marry wives and drink. They sell the inheritance of their towns for frivolities. On the other hand, when the democratically elected government experiences paucity of funds, instead of making life miserable for the citizens they would take loans. Kings are supposed to attract investors to the land. As a king, you don’t sell your land for peanuts. You make a deal with the land. What some kings engage in is another slavery but we need to serve the people and not milk them. When we do this, our people will have respect for us and we would gain more relevance.
But what would you say about the politicians?
The politicians too are doing the same now. The same way we (kings) sold our children into slavery, politicians stole all the money and that brought the people to another round of slavery. Some politicians are not serving the people but they are serving their stomachs. Politicians should be warned. The people whose money is being stolen are running away now but they will still come back to reclaim their right. Like me, the system I am running is that of service, not cheating, not selling land to marry more wives.
Some believe obas exhibit splendor by marrying more wives. Do you agree?
Those wives are not working to earn a living. How do you fend for them? A king wants to have many wives and suffer the land by making the people pay for the upkeep of those wives. Politicians too are behaving like the old corrupt kings. However, changes are gradually being brought into the polity. I am not talking about the bad eggs. But President Muhammadu Buhari came and said, ‘I am not stealing,’ just like the current governor in Osun State. The way I am running the kingship system in Iwo today, if a referendum is conducted, the people will vote for a monarchy against the democratic system of government. I am putting the politicians on their heels. They should know that the way things turned around for the kings, the same fate might befall them. They (Britons) did it in Britain by exiting the European Union. If other kings run their communities the same way as I do, I tell you that people would call for a referendum and entrench a monarchy. If a king is not serving the people, let him be removed. A king is a public servant.
Our forefathers muddled culture and religion up. They infused idol worshipping into culture. This should not be. Our culture and tradition are different from religion. The king is a god, the first servant to mankind is God and the kings share name with God. God is neither a Christian nor a Muslim. Jesus was not a Christian, just like Mohammed was not a Muslim because it is their followers that practice the religions after them. The kingship system is an idea of Oduduwa. Oduduwa never knew Sango because Sango came after him. There was no Oyo kingdom during the time of Oduduwa. Oduduwa didn’t worship Ogun and Sango because they were not there before him. African religion is not advanced. Imagine when the whites brought Christianity. They didn’t bring the God that destroyed the Amalekites and their infants. They brought the God of love in the New Testament. Sadly, in Africa, our culture and religion are not upgraded.
You removed shrines from the palace and did not allow idol worshipping. Are you sure that your people don’t see that as a rebellion against their gods?
A king is not subjected to worshipping deities and idols. A king shares a name and ways of service with God Almighty. It is not possible for me to worship idols. Although we can have festivals, they should be improved upon to elevate our tourism potential. You can’t be pouring libation on the shrines and expect people to come and watch. That is why our tourism never grows. Masquerades should be fun. Someone wear beautiful costumes. The Christians have a rallying point just as the Muslims, but for traditional worship, there is confusion because there are many deities. The only point that defines traditional worship is where the Yoruba says we must worship the head and jettison the deities.
But people still worship the deities. Don’t they?
It is wrong. There should not be idol worship in the palace. In the history of Yorubaland, it is in my own palace that the Muslims had their eid prayers. In Iwo, Christians would come for prayers in the palace as well as Muslims. Muslims would not pray at a place that is considered as unclean. But for the first time in the history of Yorubaland, as a result of COVID-19 when the eid praying grounds were closed, Muslims came to pray in the Oluwos palace because there are no deities here (in the palace). When I mounted the throne, I met some deities.
Where are the deities now?
I asked them to remove the deities because there should not be two kings in the palace. I came and defined the palace. I am representing the unseen God. The palace belongs to God, so there should be no deity here. You don’t worship God and mammon. It is neither about Christianity nor Islam. This palace is the palace of the most high God. As a king, you are supposed to take your people out of darkness. Deity worshipping is part of our history, but it should be kept in the museum by now. You can visit the museum to know where you came from. I am to deliver the message, the people will change when they see the need. For the past four years, Iwo has been progressing. I have been criticised because of the new ideology but I am resolute about alleviating the suffering of my people.
Can you list some of your achievements in the past four years as Oluwo?
I am the first king in history that rehabilitated a road in his domain. The Iwo-Osogbo Road is a 44-kilometre road. The road was not fixed for over 13 years. It is a major road. I fixed it with concrete and cement using my resources. When others saw me doing it, they joined me. I empower my people with interest-free loans in the three local government areas in Iwo anytime I have money. I gave them N100,000 loans; I facilitated over N1bn worth of medical equipment from the Nigerian Association of Youths of Canada. I fixed the High Court in Iwo. I facilitated the siting of the National Open University in Iwo. I went to the neighbourhood and gave the people money and food before the COVID-19 pandemic began. We were able to trace and write our history. I built a modern Arch of Triumph and put our logo on it. I facilitated Children’s Day here, against the initial practice where students go to Osogbo. I facilitated the establishment of the Federal College of Education in Iwo and this is just a tip of the iceberg.
It seems you are controversial and grossly misunderstood and you recently had a crisis with one king in your domain. What is the situation now?
Let me ask: Has the traditional system been working? I said the kingship position is for extortion, but it should not be. As I said, you should use the position to serve your people. What is on the ground is not glorifying. We have to change this. For me, I can stand in the desert. Even if I am in the desert, I will make it a fertile land. Ideas rule the world. Now, people start to understand. But some kings don’t want to follow my step, asking why I should be the one to champion it. I am wealthy in ideas not money. I talk more because I want people to learn from me.
Did you punch the king as alleged?
Let me put it on record straightaway. I didn’t punch the man as he alleged that I punched him. It was a conspiracy.
Recently, you passed a comment on Asiwaju BolaTinubu. Can you explain what you said?
Check Yoruba land. There is no person that can fight for us than Bola Tinubu. Let’s support him. Don’t let us treat him like we treated the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He is a clear leader and we should be proud of him. People betrayed Awolowo. There is no voice that is respected as Tinubu’s. Don’t let us wait until he dies. You won’t hear the northerners speak ill of their leaders. Why do we do this to ourselves? We should give him a voice but they are trying to shut him out.
You did pray recently that those accusing you because you divorced your wife should have a wife like her. Why?
Yes, may they have the kind of wife that will be recording the activities of her husband and say since her first day in the palace, she has been recording happenings. I want an olori that will love my people and serve them like I am serving my people and share my ideology as a queen. My queen will wear the crown. A queen that is crowned in the king palace should not be a traitor. Check yourself. Will you record your wife? There was a motive for doing that. But is that love? The wife should not be an undercover wife to the husband. So, I pray that those who criticised me because of her should have a wife like her. I have rejected that one and I have kicked her out of my life. May God give them or their children that kind of wife. Or, if they are kings, may God give them wives like her.