The Olubara of Ibaraland in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oba Jacob Omolade, who turned 90 recently, tells his memorable moments having been on the throne for 30 years. What are you most thankful for at 90? I was born on May 20, 1933, and I grew up to become what I am today by the grace of the Almighty. I thank God for the fact that He has been magnanimous in showering His blessings on me and I am sincerely grateful. Many of my classmates are dead. We were checking that in a list that was brought here and out of 60 that were admitted during that time, only seven of us are alive now. Just last month, Segun (former President Olusegun Obasanjo) and I went round to see our classmates. So many of them were very old and they were surprised that Segun and I embarked on such a journey, because we went to almost the whole of the old Western Region. I was to rest with Segun in Ibadan (Oyo State), but I knew that traditional rulers don’t just leave their domains like that, so I returned to Abeokuta.
Were there times you faced life-threatening situations that could have hindered you from attaining this milestone?
I never had an ailment that created that in me, but I want to say that the saddest time I had was when I was at Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. I was promoted to Class 3 and we were to resume in the school when my father, who was the carpentry master, just called me and said, ‘Femi, sorry I can’t send you to school again because there are so many other children after you that will have to be given the same opportunity as you’. That was a nasty day for me. I wept because it was a very nasty situation for me. I even tried to play some tricks that day so that I could go to school, but my trick was discovered and one of my father’s wives called his attention to it. I can say that is the effect of having too many wives in a family. My mother was unhappy and I was unhappy too. After that, my father advised me to learn tailoring skills, but I told him that I preferred to become a driver, but he didn’t agree; he said being a tailor was better.
I did not like the idea because I didn’t want to do what he wanted me to do since he had deprived me of getting further education. So, I applied to be a teacher and I started teaching. I later attended a university. After my first year in the university, I got a scholarship and it was extended when I got to my second year till I graduated from the university.
What are the fond memories you have about your coronation as the Olubara of Ibara?
Well, let me confess to you. I didn’t want to be the Olubara of Ibara because I saw the suffering of those before me and I felt that I couldn’t come in and suffer the same fate. I even told my household to discourage our family head from asking me to become an oba, but the same people who said I should not go, after about two weeks, started appealing to me to reconsider and accept to be the Olubara of Ibara and promised to give me their optimum support, so I accepted the offer. Three of us contested for the throne. I was praying that any one of the other two candidates would become the Olubara of Ibara, but they couldn’t because one of them was not a member of our family; so, he could not have become the Olubara of Ibara, and the other, who is a member of the family, could not even tell the story of Lafa. However, because of my education, I was able to defeat them. Aside from that, two visitors from Ibara village came to appeal to me to accept to become the king because I am from that Lafa family house and my father had been telling me that I would become the Olubara of Ibara.
Did you believe that?
I did not take him seriously because I was still angry with him because of what he did to me when I was young when he stopped me from further schooling. But later, I forgave him and I accepted to be the Olubara of Ibara. At that time, I had retired as a permanent secretary and during that time my colleagues in the ministry gave me jobs to do. So, I used to sneak out before anybody woke up in the morning and go out to do those jobs. I would not return home until the whole area was quiet and the residents were asleep so that nobody would come and pressurise me on any issue. But, later, I had to stay back because the elders of Ibara told me that I would have to accept becoming an oba, because my father said so. I asked how they knew and one of them said my father told him, so I accepted and became the king in 1992 and since that time with the cooperation of my people here, I have recorded a lot of success.
How did you meet Obasanjo?
We were classmates. We attended school together, and he was brilliant, though I’m not a dullard. When I got to the university, I taught my colleagues. When the lecturers didn’t come early, I taught my colleagues any subject they wanted, because I studied far ahead.
How will you assess the role of traditional institutions in the country?
Let me tell you the truth. When I came in, I saw that the position of an oba was being poorly handled by politicians, so I recommended that the traditional institution should be banned. People asked me what I meant and I said the government should just cancel the institution because the monarchs were of no relevance. I said this in the presence of other traditional rulers from Ogun State, we had a council of obas meeting at that time. If an oba can be deposed, why do you want to allow the institution? Let’s scrap it.
Did many of your colleagues and others agree with you?
Some people did and some did not because they felt that it was not in their best interest. So, I kept quiet because when I was in Lagos as a permanent secretary, I used to tell traditional rulers to take permission from the government before leaving the state.
Is it true that you applied to join the police?
My friends and I left the university at the same time and went for an interview to join the police and we were given the job.
Did you serve in the Nigeria Police Force?
No. I did not.
As a Christian, how do you cope with the traditional demands that come with being the Olubara of Ibara?
Immediately after I was coronated, the chiefs called me and said I was halfway done with the rites and that what was remaining was inducting me into a cult, but I said no because my father was a practising Christian and I wanted to follow the path, because the benefits of being a religious person are there, not necessarily as a Christian. Even if you are a Muslim, you will honour your God. We are talking about the same God. Who knows who will get to heaven? We should be thinking about the people. So, when they told me (to join the cult), I refused, and then when the pressure was becoming too much, I wanted to abandon the process. I packed my belongings and I told my wife that we were returning to Lagos, because I can’t serve any other god.
Was your father not a member of the cult?
Those people persuaded my father to be one of them, but he refused. I was even asked to convince my father to join their group.
Were you threatened?
They told me to my face that I wouldn’t live two years on the throne, but I ignored them. I started fasting and praying, and the reverend in my church came to my house in the evening. So, we broke the fast together. We succeeded and they left me alone. I was not threatened by their actions because I know such is life; you either cross the river or you sink in it, and I fought because God was with me, and here I am today.