His Royal Highness, Rilwan Babatunde Osuolale Aremu Akiolu I, the Oba of Lagos, recently clocked 70. Born in Isale-Eko in 1943, Akiolu attended Ansar ud Deen Primary School and Secondary School. He also studied Law at the University of Lagos. He joined the Nigeria Police Force as a cadet inspector and rose to the position of Assistant Inspector General of Police before his retirement in March, 2002. He was installed Oba of Lagos in 2003, and this year marks the tenth anniversary of his coronation. When THISDAY visited him at the Iga Idungaran (the palace of Oba of Lagos), for an interview, Oba Akiolu was at the East-end of the Palace receiving traditional homage and prayers from the Eyo cult. Sitting closely beside him in the expansive room were the Aremo, the new Iyaloja of Lagos, the Oloris and some white cap chiefs. Chanting incantations in local dialect, the Eyo cult prayed fervently for long life and prosperity for the Oba and his kingdom. Akiolu specifically requested that prayers should be offered for the country and the new Iyaloja, who was to be installed the next day. Done with all that, he requested that THISDAY accompanies him to the main palace. In quick steps, the Oba made his way from that wing of the palace to the main building which houses the throne on which his ancestors sat to rule over the affairs of Lagos. As he walked, his subjects showered praises on him. Just immediately upon the entrance to the main palace where the throne sits, lies the resting place of Oba Oyekan I, who reigned between 1885 and 1900. And by its side lies the tomb of Oba Dosunmu, who reigned between 1853 and 1885. There were mattresses on the tombs. He stopped, opened a small door, looked at THISDAY team and pointed into a dingy room on which was another tomb, “any new oba must spend three months alone in seclusion in this room. But I have renovated the place now”. If it took renovation for the room to be what it was, one can only imagine how it must have been in the past. He then moved to an open space where the throne is located. “This is the real throne of Lagos. My ancestors sat here”, he said with pride before he now added, “that other side is just the ceremonial throne”. And from that throne, Oba Akiolu fielded questions from Olusegun Adeniyi and Tokunbo Adedoja, on several issues, including his growing up days, career in the Police, his emergence as Oba, how much influence political authority has on traditional institution, the threat of terrorist attack on Lagos, and the scramble for Lagos among contending political parties as 2015 election approaches (Photos by Mubo Peters)
‘A Newspaper Called Me Slave and that Fired My Quest for The Throne’
How does it feel to join the club of Septugenarians?
Well, life belongs to our creator. As the Quran clearly states, it is only God Almighty in His infinite mercies who knows who to go first – the father, the mother or any of their children. That is the prerogative of the Almighty. But for God Almighty sparing my life, I have nothing but praise to offer. I lost my two parents under the age of 11 years, but Alamudullilahi, here I am today. Thanks be to God Almighty. That is all that I will say.
You were a prince and you must have grown up on the Island. How was growing up on the island like?
You see, in those days, there were high sense of discipline, honesty, dedication to duty, love of each other and respect for elders—virtues that are fast fading away now and we still have to go back to them. One example I give to people is that when we were young, when we woke up in the morning, if you were a male, you would prostrate to greet your parents, if you were a female, you would kneel down. But you see the young ones nowadays, their children will say, “hi daddy.” That is not our culture and we have to retrace our steps. The Muslims, in those days would insist that their children must go to Arabic school even before going to elementary schools in the morning. The Christians inculcated the same values in form of Bible lessons and these things helped to shape the characters of the children. It is not so nowadays. Some of the practicing Christians and Muslims of nowadays are doing their religions for commercial purposes and I say that with due respect. But that is the truth.
You lost your parents at a tender age, how did you go to school? Who funded your education?
I was at the mercy of God Almighty. My cousin who took me to Ibadan, Alhaji Rasheed is still very much alive. He is going to be 87 by April and it was my father who took him to Ibadan 72 years ago and he is still in Ibadan. We used to call him Baba Ibadan but he comes home now more often as age is fast catching up with him. He was one of the people who impacted my life in those early days. But there were many others. If you see the tribute I wrote on the late KO Tinubu – that is the father of Wale Tinubu – then you will appreciate the positive influence he had on my life, aside some other people who really asisted me. But I was particularly very close to the late KO Tinubu. In fact, when we were in training at the Police College, one particular British instructor was always on my case. The general impression in those days was that Lagos people were not serious. But I told them that it was not so. Dr. Taslim Olawale Elias, the late Prof. Ajose, and many of them like that, were from this same Lagos island. And they were achievers of the highest order. The story at the time was that anytime we went on parade I was the one giving them headache. One morning, KO went to the office very early in the morning and the British instructor was shouting, “Akiolu don’t spoil my parade!” The commandant was annoyed and said he was going to deal with me.
He ordered the parade commander to halt the parade and bring me out. But unfortunately for the British instructor, I was not on parade that day because I had earlier been granted permission to go to hospital. That prompted KO to say, “so, what this boy is saying is correct. You just want to give a dog a bad name in order to hang him.” The interesting thing is that since that day, even in instances that I did anything that was wrong, the man hadn’t the guts again to go and report me. By the time I passed out from the Police College, KO wanted me to be around so that whenever some of my mates see me, they would also have interest in joining the police. Eventually, I was posted to the then South-Eastern State. On getting there, I was posted to Ogoja again. No light, no water. KO did one thing, he wrote a beautiful letter to the then commissioner of police that, “Sir, as you took care of me in my formative days, please do same to this my cousin.” That explains why I cannot but continue to thank him and I thank God Almighty. The two of them are deceased. Whether we like it or not, we too are going to where they have gone, but we are not in a hurry to go and God will spare our lives for a long time.
Growing up, was there a time you had a feeling that you would be the Oba?
If you have read many things which I have said in the past, you would have come across some of the stories and writings I have made. On March 12 or 13, I cannot remember, I think it should be March 13, 1964. We were playing ball in this compound, one vehicle drove in and one of the title chiefs, the late Ajiroba, a very nice person, came out with some nurses dressed in white and they were bringing out ice blocks from the vehicle. I didn’t know what happened. I assisted them to take it to the balcony where you met me before. On the second day, I just saw in the Daily Service or Daily Express, I am not sure now, “Oba Adele joins his ancestors, slaves were seeing carrying ice blocks”. It was then I knew that the Oba had joined his ancestors a day before. One of my cousins, the late KK Somade, was annoyed. I said me that I am a legitimate claimant to the throne was called a slave. I said no and I prayed to the Almighty that one day I would be a worthy successor to this house. And as I was praying, I was also working towards it. And at the end, on 23rd of May 2003, God Almighty gave me the mantle as the Oba of Lagos.
What made a prince to join the police, knowing full well that the force has its hazards?
My dear son, there is no profession that doesn’t have its hazards. Police job, upon all the criticisms, to me is still one of the best jobs you can do. You will meet people, you will know how to do things in the ideal way if you want to do it like that, and you will be exposed. You will go round the whole country and it is a very good thing. Look at the North, majority of their emirs were in the native authority police before they were integrated into the Nigerian police force around 1966/67. The police is a very good training ground for leadership. Your uniform has to be immaculate, you must know how to march, how to dress; they even teach you eating habits, how to hold cutleries etc. That was how we were trained as cadet officers and they will tell you to do the job as it should be done, but you may decide to do it the other way. You will make many friends if you are not the commercial policeman; that will be very useful to you in future. I used to tell people my own experience. The day Almighty Allah made Lagos people to announce me as the Oba of Lagos, within a period of seven days, they contributed over N164 million for me.
You rose to the position of AIG. The aspiration of every police officer is to become the IG one day. That may have been an aspiration you also nursed dearly. Assuming that you were on the verge of being announced as the IG and then it happened at the same time that there was vacancy on the throne. Would you have had a problem making a choice?
May Almighty Allah be with you. At the time I joined the force as a cadet inspector through the help of God Almighty – and that of some people now still living and may God grant them long life, Prince Tajudeen Oluyole Olusi, Alhaji Femi Okunnu and of course the late Ajiroba and KO Tinubu, the highest post I aimed at in the police was commissioner of police because anything after commissioner of police is political. Not only political, but if you are not close to your God and strongly determined, the powers that be will dictate to you, at times, things which may not be okay with your own conscience, and that I did not want. I never prayed even to be an AIG. But who am I to dictate to God Almighty. Even at the time I got to that post, I was praying for some of my friends that God should make them IG, particularly Sunday Ehindero. And let me tell you today, before God and man, Tafa Balogun, may God grant him long life, is one of the best operational officers the Nigerian Police force has ever produced in terms of efficiency and performance. If he had listened and taken to my advice, what happened to him would not have happened. I advised him on many occasions that politicians don’t quarrel, they only disagree. I used to say ‘don’t let politicians use you.’ They use you only when they need you and they can dump you at anytime. Like I said, they don’t totally quarrel, they only disagree to regroup at the time its benefits them. And you see what happened to him. And I can say it with all honesty, majority of those funds they are accusing him of, it is the very politicians, particularly the governors, who gave him the money to be on their sides during election. That is the truth I am telling you. And with due respect to some retired IGs, I don’t want to mention them, some of them told me in confidence that they were bitter with Tafa Balogun because they insisted that he should disclose all those people. But for reasons best known to him, he didn’t want to do it. With due respect to our former President, he said it on more than two occasions, to my hearing that no person can win the election without the support of the police. President Obasanjo said it and I can say it anywhere.
Talking about elections, you were a senior police officer and the role of the police in any election is very critical and they don’t always play a good role. What do you think is the problem and how do we address it?
Look, man makes the rank, rank does not make the man. You see the Nigeria Police Force, as presently constituted, we have men of integrity and honour and they are the ones who can make Nigeria a better place for us, with some other security services. Let them put down their feet. They should not support anybody. Fair is fair. They should remember when they will die one day to face their creator. And that is the truth. In any case, no politician will give you money and will not disclose it when things do not go well with their plans. They should also bear that in mind.
There is something I do not understand. Why is it that princes want to be king and are ready to sacrifice anything?
Let me tell you. It is inborn in all princes, genuine princes for that matter. There is no prince who will not pray to mount the throne of his fore-fathers. It is inborn. O ma n gun yan bi elegun ni. Because there is honour in royalty except we want to deceive ourselves, provided you keep to how it should be – You love people, take care of people and at the same time you must be a no-nonsense person. Let your yes be yes and let your no be no. Let them know you for what you are. No matter what it will cost you, you must be absolutely honest in what you are doing. And it is rewarding.
Were there moments while you were in the Force that you felt it was risky for you to be there and what would you say was your most challenging moments?
Well, with praises to Almighty Allah. You see, my service in the police force was very challenging. I was DPO for many years in some very sensitive places like the Kiri Dam riot. I was highly commended by former President Shehu Shagari for the role I played there. And I was lucky to work with some good commissioners of police like MD Wali. When Wali came to my station in 1981, I was the DPO of Guyuk, in the then Gongola State. In the course of the visit, one corporal got up during question and answer time. He said he had a complaint against the former DPO, that the officer promised to send him on course and he took N10 and two goats from him and when the list came out, his name was not there. On the parade ground o! Before the CP could make any comment, I just raised objection. I said, “Sir, can I be allowed to do something?” MD Wali looked at me like this and said: “Prince, what is it?” I said, “Major, get that corporal arrested, detain him, charge him for offering bribe to the police, let them try him in orderly room on oath”. And that was the end of the matter as I could not condone such indiscipline. There were many decisions I took in the police which were against what my boss wanted yet at the end, they reasoned with me. Honestly, I always tell people, there are some courageous and good police officers that I have very high regard for – Alhaji Gambo, Ibrahim Coommasie, the late Mr. Aboyade Cole, even Mr. Inyang. Given their training and exposure, these were professional policemen. I had one AIG, Dabo Aliyu.
He is a former governor and he is still alive. Even at meetings, when they said something, I would go the other side and I will give convincing reasons and at the end they would agree with me. Police job, to me, I don’t agree with a number of people that majority of the police are bad. It is not so. It depends on, one, your family background and how you feel it should be done. If you want to dance to the gallery, you will never be a very successful policeman. Police job, up till now, is one of the best jobs. You know up till now, I still call the AIG, I still call the CP. I still suggest ways of doing things to them and they are very happy. The present CP of Lagos State was my AC CID when I was AIG in Abuja. He did not say that this baba you are no more in the police. I still make suggestions to them. Two weeks ago, I called the AIG Zone 2 and I was telling him that he had to evolve a strategy from around 4am to around 6.30am on weekends for stop and search in some areas under DSPs or SPs. All these are security issues which I suggested and they take advice from me. When God brought me to this house, the whole of this area was terrible with area boys or whatever you call them. But before, as God knows what he was preparing me for, when I was DC operations and commissioner of police CID, every week, we were the ones writing intelligence about this people. I interrogated the problem. We were just condemning these people, let us ask them what the problems are. How can we assist them so that we could teach them how to catch fish and not to be giving them fish.
And it worked out well. If you come to this place nobody can molest you again because up till now I gather intelligence about this area and if I tell people that at so so so place, this is what is happening, they will say, Kabiyesi, shebi eti fi ise olopa si le (Your majesty, but you have retired from the police force). But I tell them that a policeman is always a policeman. But you see, the problem of policing of this country is the responsibility of everybody and government has to be serious. If you vote money for police for certain projects, don’t introduce party politics into it. Don’t give them the names of companies they should give the jobs to. Give them free hand and they will perform.
When we came in to the palace, we saw the eyo and they were praying for you. Is it the kind of thing you go through every day and you are a Muslim, how do you reconcile this with your faith?
Well, by virtue of the position God Almighty gave me here, I am the head of Lagos traditional community. But that does not have anything to do with my religious belief. My father, my grandfather were born Muslims and insha Allah, I am going to die a Muslim. Like I tell people, there is nothing like human sacrifice in this palace. It stopped when the British people took over the administration of this palace.
Tell us about some of your community programmes
Onala is part of the inherited traditional palace property and by the grace of God Almighty and with the support of people and well-meaning Nigerians, we will put another hospital for primary healthcare in that area. You see, primary healthcare is very important to the development of Lagos and the country. Yesterday, I heard the President of the Nigerian Medical Association saying that government needed to do something about primary healthcare. And that is why I put the emphasis on providing drugs and other necessary things to the primary health center, which God Almighty used Jim Ovia and Zenith Bank to build for us. There are many other banks that have contributed immensely like First Bank, Sterling Bank and others. You see the project, I prayed to God Almighty that I wanted to accomplish it within 10 years, phase three. But man proposes but God disposes. Even the other one, the Ilupinsi town hall, substantial part of the money is ready and we will soon embark on it. You see, if you are a leader and you think of yourself alone, then you are not a leader. You should think of others and where they go wrong you should deal with them. Let them say anything, that is their own headache but let your conscience be clear to God Almighty that you are not just doing it to lord things over them.
You were quoted not long ago as saying that you would prefer not to be addressed as Kabiyesi, but as Alayeluwa, Olowo Eko. What informed that choice and are you planning to make that official?
Kabiyesi in Yoruba means ka bi e o si (He that cannot be questioned). Can I now say that as Oba of Lagos or an emir in the North, nobody can ask about anything I do? It is only God that cannot be questioned. Alayeluwa means the man in charge of everything. You see that “olowo eko” title was on up to the time of Oba Dosunmu because everything in Lagos, the whole of that Marina you are seeing and Tinubu square, go and check the titles of some of these big properties, it is the name of Oba Dosumu you will see there. Just like the royal family in England, the Oba of Lagos was in charge of everything. And all the markets, even, there was a time the traditional heads in Ojo and other places, were directly under this palace. But changes have come and he who does not move with time, time will move without him.
Lagos is experiencing a facelift but the problem of area boys still persist, though we must admit that it is not as bad as it was a decade ago. Also, there are people that live in Lagos and when they go to other places like Abuja, they run back to Lagos because they feel it is too quiet. Don’t you think that by the time Lagos is completely sanitized, it may lose its soul because this has become part of what makes Lagos Lagos?
It depends on enlightenment and their level of education and training. If you explain to them in clear terms why it should be this and if they are reasonable. There are some people who are reasonable, there are some people who are not reasonable. That is the truth. Some people do not know God no matter what you tell them. That instinct will still be there. But if you are the enlightened type and you have the fear of God and you will know what they are telling you is correct.
You are one of the traditional rulers that are outspoken and we saw that during Obasanjo’s regime when you insisted that Lagos cannot be captured. What gives you this kind of courage to speak out?
Let me tell you, politicians do not believe that something is not possible. And that is why I say it times without number that partisan politics should not be because so so people support me, there should be improvement in their lives. About four days ago, some elders were here, we were doing something and I commended the present head of state when I read that he had written to the National Assembly for the quick approval of the loan requested by the Lagos State Government. It is for developmental projects. And that is one out of many things. I personally too had gone to him to discuss with him.
There is no amount of money you spend on the development of Marina that you cannot get back in geometrical progression. But partisan politics should not be tied to development. It is not good. Obasanjo is one of the most intelligent and hardworking Nigerians but for reasons and what some people were telling him, he has even seen it for himself now. My own prayer is that God should keep all of us in this country to let us know where we are going. And that is why I can tell you confidently that the Oba of Benin personally requested me in a strongly worded letter that I should proceed to go and see the President and make it abundantly clear to him that this country is in dear need of prayers for our continued survival and progress. And I put all my comments on it and I sent it to him and I can see signs of better future for Nigeria if we are sincere about what we are doing. Nigerians do not care about who rules them provided it is good governance. But with all sincerity, the power of the Federal Government should be reduced to the barest minimum. Empower the Local Government and the States if you want every nook and crannies of this country to develop.
That brings us to the attempt by the National Assembly to review the constitution and the proposal for a National dialogue…
(cuts in) If it is based on sincerity and honesty of purpose. You see, about two weeks ago, the head of state said something. He said politicians think about next election but statesmen think of next generation. Those words are pregnant with meaning. Believe me, some leaders have good ideas and they are very good, but some of them are surrounded by incurably bad people who are narrow-minded and think of themselves alone. It should not be like that at all. That is why I can never be a practising politician. Let me tell you this, when I pulled out of the police because of intrigues because elections were coming and they were looking for way to get things done their own way, they wrote very negative things against me and my name. But God has justified me in so many ways since then. One, I should be grateful to God, under one year, God brought me into this house. And two, the very day I got wind of my retirement, I was offered the post of a civil commissioner in Lagos State, which I respectfully refused. Later, pressure was mounted on me to come and be a Senator, I equally refused because up till now, many politicians in this country do not know their left from their right. It is high time we made politics part time or we reduce the powers of political office holders to the barest minimum. And you see Nigerians even abusing them saying this minister is a thief, this one is a thief. Who were the people who made them like that? They are the ones and you begin to criticize them. When Ironsi came, they said he was God-sent, later they were abusing him. The same thing when Gowon came, they said go on with one Nigeria, later they said go away.
There are fears that Lagos may be a battle ground for contending parties because of the huge voting population. As 2015 is fast approaching, are you worried about this?
Wallahi Tallahi, I swear to you in the name of God Almighty and by my ancestors in this house, Lagos people will get the type of government that will move Lagos forward. Because the stage we have reached now, we cannot afford to go back. And the owners of Lagos, the ancestors of Lagos will not leave Lagos. Even though I am a Muslim, but I tell you that there are some inherited traditional practices in this house such that if we say this is where we want Lagos to go, Lagos will go there. I can confidently tell you that nobody can capture Lagos against the wishes of Lagosians. Wallahi Tallahi……. It can never. Quote me anywhere, it is not possible. Let me use this opportunity and through you, anybody who wants to say that he wants to take Lagos, I don’t know any other part o, but God in his mercy will give Lagos the person who would serve the interest of the people. Let me tell you something about Jonathan. I believe that God destined him to be there but it is now up to him to live up to that as he is going to be accountable to his creator one day. That is very important.
Lagos is the center of excellence and the economic and commercial nerve center of the country. Recently, some elements of Boko Haram were rounded up in Ijora and there had been consistent threats of attack based on snippets from security sources. How worried are you about these threats?
May God Almighty grant the late General Azazi eternal rest. He was a very good friend. On more than three occasions, I called him here and I told him in plain language that in this country, we must have a national security policy, which is very necessary, and I suggested to him how we could go about it. I did many courses on anti-money laundering, anti-terrorism and I know the implications. You see this Boko Haram, we are just unfortunate in this country. The real problem started from some of our neighbouring countries in the North, particularly Libya after Gaddafi died. I understand there was a warehouse there with about four million AK47 riffles, some of which found their way into this country. That is why the cooperation of the local people is very necessary to get rid of this thing. And I know our security forces, by the grace of God, will get to the root of this Boko Haram thing because it is not part of our culture and we don’t need it in this country. But nobody can overrun Lagos. God and the ancestors of Lagos do not leave Lagos and we have sensitized majority of the people in Lagos State that their eyes must be opened and their ears must be close to the ground, and that has assisted and will continue to assist us.
You have been on the throne for ten years. How much influence does political authority have on traditional institution?
When you say political authority, you mean the governors, commissioners?
Yes, including the federal level.
You see, even at the federal level and the local executive here, they have lots of respect for traditional rulers provided you are sound and you know what you are doing. You don’t turn yourself to the person they will push here and there. Commend them when they do something that is right and if they want to do something which is not in the best interest of the people, let them know and that if they do not listen and it backfires you can expose them to everybody. We thank Almighty Allah that we have not experienced something like that. The governor and the state executive, both the former and the current governor, they have a lot of respect, particularly for myself and many other obas in this state.
One good example, I will not want to mention any particular person, when I was just nine months old on the throne, there was one particular oba that was going to be removed. I said you cannot do that. They had done the memo, they had done everything. In fact, the admin officer who was even putting pressure that they should remove the man is even from the local government of the particular monarch. But I intervened and pleaded with the Governor. But up till now the Oba is still doing what they said he was doing. I said they should leave him. I won’t say more than that. He knows himself, and I told him frankly that “all these things you are doing, you are retarding the progress of your people and they don’t deserve what is happening to them.” I saw what Segun (Adeniyi) wrote that everybody knows where I am standing politically. It is yes and no. Because that does not mean that I will rubber-stamp anybody, never. And they know me.
In Lagos, we notice that you don’t confer chieftaincy titles as frequently as they do in other palaces. Why are you not giving titles to many people?
That was why I told you that man makes the rank, rank does not make the man. It was the saying of the late KO Tinubu. Chieftaincy titles are not supposed to be given for monetary reasons. An impoverished king is a weak crown. Even Prophet Ibrahim was a King, Prophet Solomon was a king, but they were very rich genuinely. Look, somebody can be rich genuinely without resorting to fraud, And when he wants to give chieftaincy title, he gives it to worthy and deserving people who have contributed to the society and their impacts have been felt. When God brought me to this house ten years ago, if you are the MD of a bank and you say kabiyesi come and do this for us. I will say, are you here with your human resources or personnel manager? How many people are you going to employ for me because I have many of my people looking for job. By the grace of Almighty Allah, within the period of ten years, God has been able to use me to secure employments for more than 600 graduates. But I usually lecture these people with stern warning when they get the jobs. I tell them: If you go there and you steal, you will go to jail. A leader should be able to show good example.
A final question and on a lighter note. Have you reconciled with Erelu Abiola Dosumu?
Segun, did they tell you I am quarreling with her? For your information, before the demise of our late father, God knows and the ancestors of this house know that I was the closest person to Erelu Abiola Dosumu because she holds a very important position in the traditional set up of this palace, and I made it abundantly clear. In fact when Shonekan was head of state and was here in the palace, she called me and said, “Egbon mi, let us take photographs because by the grace of God, in future when you become the Oba of Lagos they will know that we are very close.” Go and ask her. But as human beings, we do have our differences. But I have no problem with her.