Igbos Share Ancestral Links With Yorubas, But Many Don’t Know – Ooni of Ife

Ooni Ogunwusi Enitan Adeyeye

Often compared with his predecessor, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, who passed away in 2015, Oba Ogunwusi also addresses the criticism he usually faces over his more liberal social engagements and frolicking with young Nigerian celebrities.

The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, a foremost traditional ruler in Yorubaland, is, no doubt, one of the most talked-about traditional rulers in Nigeria.

In June, he spoke exclusively with PREMIUM TIMES at the Eko Hotel in Lagos on the sidelines of a ceremony announcing the 2024 Africa Fashion Week, billed to be held in London in October. His wife, Aderonke Ogunwusi, is spearheading the event.

The Ooni spoke extensively about his upcoming 50th birthday and the 50 legacy projects he has lined up for unveiling as part of the anniversary, his personality, what he misses as an everyday man before becoming the Ooni in 2015, and what he believes to be the shared ancestries of Yoruba and Igbo – two of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Often compared with his predecessor, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, who passed away in 2015, Oba Ogunwusi also addressed the criticism he usually faces over his more liberal social engagements and frolicking with young Nigerian celebrities.

PT: You are turning 50 in October. Are there any initiatives to mark the milestone in store?

Ooni: I have yet to reach my peak, which is to carve a legacy for myself and impact humanity. So, for me, talking about age, it’s beyond celebration. It’s beyond the usual routine of what is expected from everybody. I want to showcase 50 iconic projects at 50. Those 50 iconic projects are very impactful projects that cut across every sector.

A lot of people need to learn what I do. Since I became the Ooni of Ife in the last nine years, God has used me to set up solid and formidable impactful projects worldwide.

I want to showcase that to the world so that the world can truly see that you can be on a throne and still be impactful. The things that I’ve done have been so impactful that they have cut across so many strata of different races and ethnicities and even religious beliefs. I want to use that to showcase to the world so they will better understand who I am. A lot of people see me in different lights. It’s like a half-full cup and a half-empty cup. But I have been very focused since I ascended the throne.

PT: You appear interested in the indigenous fashion and textile industry?

Ooni: One of the impactful projects that God has used me to do is the revolution in the fashion industry and promoting our homemade goods in the textile industry. My queen, Olori Aderonke, who has been very dynamic and resourceful in everything she does, has been able to anchor that programme very well.

That is the emergence and manufacturing of Adire textile. We have a hub, which we can do a lot with. That hub has showcased a lot of great things that can come out of our country.

We should believe in our country. Our only issue as a nation is patriotism, and we must know that being patriotic will help this nation overcome its downfalls. African Fashion Week, my wife and I started it together—not my idea, our idea—but in terms of support, I can boastfully and humbly say that I have been the only consistent supporter.

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PT: What endeared you to your wife, Olori Aderonke?

Ooni: From day one, I knew I must do something, I mean, projects every year. That has made us stronger as friends and associates and now as husband and wife, I’m very proud of what she does because I like to surround myself with very resourceful people.

She’s one of the best and greatest minds—resourceful and rich—I’ve ever encountered. For African Fashion Week, it’s been a powerful brand that is being put together. The inventor of it is a princess, now a queen, and a mother who is passionate about what she does.

PT: Tell us more about the planned activities for your 50th birthday.

Ooni: I will showcase 50 industries, 50 services, and 50 impactful things that God has used me to pioneer and how they have impacted millions of people in the health, entertainment, manufacturing, and education sectors. Many people don’t know that I have a university called Ojaja University in Ilorin, Kwara State, and that there are many things that God has used me to do to be impactful.

I am putting together one of the best healthcare facilities in Nigeria, the best in the world. There, the medical staff would attend to all emergency cases immediately.

PT: Are you implying that the hospital will offer free medical services?

Ooni: They will first treat you when you get there in an emergency. If we realise that a patient can’t afford the medical bills, the foundation will kick off, or some social responsibility organisations will immediately step in. But we will have proven beyond reasonable doubt that at least health is wealth.

It’s at Lekki Phase 1; you will be blown away when you arrive. You won’t even believe it’s a hospital because it is equipped with the best of everything: the dialysis centre and the obstetrics and gynaecology units are top-notch. Hence, it’s one of the projects I’m going to showcase, and together, I don’t even know how I did it; 50 projects are massive but very special, and that’s the highlight of my 50th term. So, it’s beyond being a king for me. It’s a service and God Almighty will continue to do it.

PT: How would you describe your style?

Ooni: Well, I won’t lie to you; it’s the call of the throne that is making me dress like this. But to me, it indicates purity, spirituality, clarity, cleanliness, and a solid connection to my spirit head, and that’s why I dress like this. But I can now add some panache, some refinements, and wear some designer clothes.

My outfits and regalia are 80 to 90 per cent made in Nigeria. I’m also a cobbler. As a kid, I learned shoemaking and still make and design my shoes. I do everything, including drawing. I draw very well. I choose the material. I choose everything. My outfit is Aso Oke, made in Ilorin, and I know my suppliers. The same manufacturers make all the materials embroidered on it. This is from Aba. These are my beads. We are known in Ife for making coral beads. They are all from my community, and I go as far as Benin, Ekiti, and Ibadan to get all those things done.

PT: Is it true you don’t wear wristwatches?

Ooni: I don’t wear wristwatches because time belongs to God. For me, every second counts. So why should I be looking at it every second? Because everything counts for me, everything about me is time-bound. So why should I be looking at time?

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PT: Is there anything you miss fashion-wise, like jeans?

Ooni: Yes! To keep it simple, I miss it, of course; I miss it so much. But it is what it is for me. Because I uphold the spirituality of Yoruba, I don’t have the privilege that some other kings have to be relaxed with their dressing. I don’t have that ultimate privilege. But I miss it.

PT: Do you feel 50?

Ooni: Well, no, I don’t. I’m very restless. And to me, it’s all about numbers. Usually, on this throne, I’m not supposed to celebrate my birthday. But because of the youthful advocacy thing that I do, I should celebrate the days I am on the throne.

PT: You have been compared to your predecessors and said to be more of a socialite than who an Ooni should be?

Ooni: At some point, I used to bother, but I don’t bother anymore. When I launch the 50 Projects at 50, many people will understand that I don’t have the energy to worry about such things. I like to keep my eyes on the ball — very focused — to get things done. They compared me with my predecessor, who reigned when there was no social media.

But, these days, you will only lose out if you don’t blend tradition and modernity. That’s the major problem. When I was crowned the Ooni, I said I would blend tradition and modernity.

They said I attended Davido’s party, and people were shaking my hands. I just laughed. You know, every news is news—either good or bad. It depends on how you spin it.

This whole thing you are talking about is that they compare me with my predecessor. My predecessor ruled when there was no social media, but he socialised more than me. People like to talk about me a lot. I don’t know what I’ve done to them. They must speak about everything I do. They say a lot about me but know little about me.

Let them continue to talk. Let me continue to build a legacy supporting my dream and aspiration of blending tradition and modernity.

PT: Are there any plans to consistently attract
 people to visit Ife to see the museum and other exciting things?

Ooni: We need better roads. So, we appeal to the government. Thank God they have completed the Ibadan-Lagos Expressway now. How many years did it take them? It took almost 20-something years, but now it’s done. So, Ibadan to Ife Road is another advocacy and campaign we’re making. Once that is done, the journey from Ife to Lagos takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Ibadan to Lagos now takes about 50 minutes to 1 hour, while before, it took about 3 to 5 hours. Thank God the government is doing what is suitable for the citizens.

PT: How can we harness historical knowledge?

Ooni: It has been a very significant concern for me. What is fundamentally wrong with a black man? Not only a Yoruba man, all of us. I tell people and many people don’t understand, that there is a strong link between the Yorubas and the Igbos. Let me use those two races. They are very ancient races. It’s been proven that these two races are the oldest in the world. But when I try to establish the link between Yorubas and the Igbos, a lot of people take it as a controversial thing. But let’s break it down. It’s true. We are the same. In my palace, to date, I still have a house of Igbo (pronounced as Igbo in ‘Igbo people’). Where the Ooni lives is called Ile-Igbo. Igbo, to the Yorubas and Ife, is a new dawn; it’s Igbo. And when you sleep, they say, O digbo’ore, O digbo’ore. ‘Igbo’ means Ile-Igbo. That means you will begin afresh. Well, the Igbos probably might not know. I don’t know. They have their meaning.

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Sometimes, the Igbos say they are from the Jewish side. I wonder. No. The Jews came from you (Igbo). Because you cannot plant kola nuts in Israel, it will not grow. Why are you so particular about Kola nuts? We are the only ones that grow kola nuts, we Yorubas. It does not grow anywhere else. It grows only in Yoruba land. So, where did Igbo get it when they were celebrating it? How? They cannot do without it. They even say the only language kola nut understands is Igbo.

So, where were they getting it from? If there was no linkage with their brothers in Yoruba land. So, we can even use that common connecting factor, the kola nut. Let’s start to research kola nuts. The Western people have tried to take kola nut seeds to plant it. It would grow to a level, it would die. It would grow to a level, it would die. It can never grow anywhere other than Yoruba land and has a spiritual undertone. So, to know our history better, let us pick things about nature that connect us. I just mentioned one.

PT: Tell us more about the kola nut analogy.

Ooni: Let us research kola nuts. Why is it that the Igbos are so particular about it? They fight wars in Igbo land because of kola nut. They will tell you to bring this specific kola nut. Bring this, get that. They fight wars so much. Yes. The only thing that grows in their place is the garden egg. They can grow that one very well. But that kola nut, they should come and tell me where it’s been grown in Igbo land. No, they buy it from Yoruba land.

All their ancestors, how were they taking it from Yoruba land? So, at some point, we were one big happy family. And by our history, we know how it all spread worldwide. We need to teach history. Like you said, what are we doing on this throne? Things like this – advocacy. Could we please connect those infrastructures first? Convenience. Infrastructure is all about convenience. If we don’t have a robust and enabling infrastructure, we will have issues which we are trying to avoid.

Once we have a connecting infrastructure that can enhance things like that, we can get people to come and start a citadel of history, heritage, and culture. We can get a lot of people to do that and support. So, for us, for me, never, I’m not going to keep it within myself. I will continue encouraging platforms like yours to let the world know that many things connect us more than what divides us.


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