Oba Sijuwade’s last interview: Awolowo persuaded me to be Ooni

Two weeks before he died, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse II, revealed how the late statesman and former Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his wife, Chief (Mrs.) H. I. D. Awolowo, persuaded him to ascend the throne of his forebears.
“I would not have been here today,” the late Ooni told Dr Wale Adebanwi who is writing the biography of Chief (Mrs.) H. I. D. Awolowo. “It was Papa (Awolowo) who persuaded me to take up this stool. It was as if he compelled me to take the throne.” The late paramount Yoruba king spoke to the U.S.-based university teacher and author of Yoruba Elites and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria: Obafemi Awolowo and Corporate Agency in the recesses of his expansive palace in Ile-Ife on Friday, July 10, 2015, only a couple of weeks before he joined his ancestors.Ooni-of-Ife333
Dr. Adebanwi disclosed to TheNEWS as the news of the death of the prominent traditional rulers spread around the world that there was nothing that indicated that the Ooni was near his death. “Even though one would expect that an 85 year old could die at any time, on the Friday that I interviewed him in his palace, Kabiyesi was so full of life and he was enthusiastic as I opened the interview by asking him about his relationship with Mama Awolowo, the subject of my visit to the palace. He was resplendent, as usual, and became very animated once I mentioned Mama H. I. D. The first thing he told me was that his relationship with Mama was ‘very great.’ He then added in Yoruba that ‘it is as if she brought me up…. She is like the mother to whom I was born. I can not sufficiently describe the nature of our relationship.”‘
“I was living in London at the time when Papa Awolowo asked me to return home after the late Ooni (Adesoji Aderemi) joined the ancestors,” the University of California-Davis don recalls the Ooni telling him. “I was operating my businesses from London and had branches all over the world. But Awolowo said to me, ‘it’s time to return home and ascend the throne.’ If such an elderly and wise person as Papa, and Mama who joined him in persuading me, asked you to do something, given the love they had shown me, and the fact that they were like my parents, I had to accept.”
Adebanwi further told TheNEWS that in discussing H. I. D. Awolowo who will be 100 years old on November 25 this year, it was ironic that the Ooni said he was eagerly looking forward to the centenary of the old woman. “He told me that he was so happy that God had spared Mama Awolowo’s life for so long after her husband’s death,” Dr Adebanwi said. “I couldn’t imagine that he too would join Awolowo in only a couple of weeks. Now one of the most important guests at the centenary would be missing.”
The late monarch who installed Mrs. Awolowo as the Yeye Oodua many years ago told her biographer that H. I. D. “is just unbeatable,” adding “she is almost 100 and her brain is still intact. She still does everything. She will remind you of what you have forgotten. I have never witnessed this kind of thing before. Papa Awolowo was very lucky to have married Mama.”
Dr Adebanwi, who is a contributing editor to TheNEWS, said that he was struck by the fact that the late Ooni was well prepared for the interview before he got there. He even had a two-page piece he had written in which he described Mrs. Awolowo as “Diamond Head.” He signed the document and handed it to Adebanwi, perhaps his last written piece meant for public consumption.
Asked if he ever imagined that his interview could be the Ooni’s last interview, the university teacher responded, “How in the world!” Adding, “if I had the power of clairvoyance I would have demanded to spend a little more time with the monarch, even though he was very busy that day. After I was done, his long-term media adviser, Egbon Funmilola Olorunisola, told the Ooni about our long association and about the semi-underground newspaper, Omega Weekly, I ran with some colleagues under General Sani Abacha after we left the Tribune. The Ooni listened patiently.” The Ooni, the author said, prayed for him after Olorunnisola’s brief discussion of his career in journalism before he joined the academia.
“I was looking forward to the Ooni’s presence at Mama’s centenary birthday in November, not realising that that would be his last testament about the old woman whom, as he disclosed, has been a mother to him for more than half a century. I imagine that Mama Awolowo would be devastated by his passing. She too expresses so much love and admiration for the late king in our interactions.”, Adebanwi said.
-Curled from The NEWS

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