80-year-old Eleda of Eda Oniyo, in the Ilejemeje Local Government Area of Ekiti State, Oba Julius Awolola, shares his humble beginning and reign as king over the last 30 years
At 80 years of age you look quite agile. What is the secret?
It is God’s mercy; it is God’s doing and I am grateful.
How do you feel reaching 80 years in a country where life expectancy is about 54 years?
I never thought I would live up to 80 years; not at all! I was brought up in a very wretched environment, so I never even thought I would make it to 50. So, how do I feel living up to 80? It’s simply God’s grace.
What kind of family were you born into?
My mother was from Oye Ekiti and my father from Eda, now Eda Oniyo. I barely knew my father; he died in 1947 when I was just about five years old. My mother handed me over to one of his younger brothers to raise me.
Were you sent to school?
Yes. After primary school, I went to Modern School. When I was in Modern Three, which was the final class, money became an issue; I couldn’t pay the £27 tuition; so, I went to Iluomoba to do menial job. In 1963, I came back to Oye Ekiti to complete Modern School and I passed. My uncle wanted to sponsor my education further, but he said he had no money to send me to secondary school. I opted for technical school and he agreed with me. I took the entrance examination into St. Joseph Technical School, Ado Ekiti and I passed. I even paid the first deposit, but unfortunately, my uncle died. So, there was nobody to train me again.
How was life after his death?
I never thought I could become a chief in life, much less an oba (king). When I left Oye Ekiti, my mother said she had an elder sister in Ibadan who wanted me to come over. She told me that the woman came to Eda Oniyo for my christening in 1942. She gave me a name then and she hadn’t seen me ever since. I wondered what I could gain from somebody who only saw me when I was just eight days old, but my mother encouraged me. Since there was no alternative, I asked my mother to give me some time to do menial job so that I could buy clothes to take with me.
I did menial job for two months before I left for Ibadan, not knowing that God had prepared the ground for me before I got there. My aunt and her husband were affluent. She worked in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Social Development; her husband worked in the civil service as well. After two weeks of sitting idly in Ibadan, I went to the Labour Office to search for a job as a houseboy. The woman I met there said she needed to know my people. I told her that I had an aunt. But on learning about my move, my aunt disallowed it. At home, she lampooned me for disgracing her; but her husband told her not to scold me; that what I did showed that I was not lazy.
My childhood ambition or real intention was to become a roadside mechanic, but my aunt and her husband did not approve of it. They had other plans for me but I did not know. There was a small piece of land beside their house; I took permission to farm on it. To discourage me, they said goats would destroy my plants. Undaunted, I set to work, fenced the land and planted vegetables, okro and maize. I was in the farm one day when they sent for me from the ministry. I thought it was for an errand, but an official showed me to an office where I was to work following which my appointment was ratified. It amazed me that a Modern 3 certificate holder could work in the ministry. While on the job, my aunt later enrolled me into an institute to learn typing.
At what point did you join the military?
That was after I had worked in the ministry for about two years. That time, it occurred to me that the job with a monthly salary of £7 might not take me far in life. Along the line, I got information that the Army was recruiting, so I went for it. I was rejected the first day, but I returned the following day and I was recruited. We were told to come the following day for onward journey to the Army depot. I confided in my aunt’s son that I would be leaving for the Army the following morning and that he shouldn’t tell his mum. But at dawn, when I was set to go with my box, he told his mum who then rushed in to stop me. But having made up my mind, I dropped my box, jumped over the fence and went to join the military.
We were taken to Abeokuta for training. My knowledge of typing was an added advantage, which placed me at an advantage. I suffered for about five months in the Army before I started making money to the extent that I built a house at Oye Ekiti in 1969 at the age of 27.
At what point did you become a building contractor?
While in the army, I felt insulted by a friend at a hotel. That friend and a friend of his were in the hotel on my bill; I was a lavish spender. The other man asked my friend what my occupation was and my friend replied by saying, “He is just a soldier.” I got angry with the condescending way he addressed me for being a soldier. It was as if, to him, soldiers were less human. So, I told them I was leaving. I mounted my motorbike and shed tears as I rode home.
When my cousins asked why I returned home early, I told them I was insulted and that I would leave the Army for further studies. They said the best bet was for me to go abroad, so that I would be able to work while schooling. My cousins said they could make arrangements for me and before I knew it, seven days after, we had begun to see results. That was how I left the Army and went to Germany. Somebody told me I wouldn’t be comfortable in Germany, considering my status in Nigeria, but I said I would cope with whatever hardship there was. I recalled that suffering was not alien to me considering my background. I was advised to go to technical college, so I enrolled in a technical school in Germany for a three-year course in building.
On finishing, I returned to Nigeria. I saw an advertisement in Lagos; I walked into the construction company and got employed. When I got home, one of my brothers said my monthly salary would not be enough for me to even take beer, but I took the job all the same. Soon after, I started getting salary increment on a monthly basis. However, I had it on my mind that I would leave after spending two years in the company.
When it was time to leave, my boss made spirited efforts to stop me, but I left, anyway, to establish my own company, Oladipo Building Technique, working as a sub-contractor with big contractors. In less than two years, I had started making money. There was money in construction then. I was controlling about 12 vehicles. Somehow, I got connected to the Lagos State Development and Property Company and I started getting direct contracts and stopped taking sub-contracts. Friends were calling me young millionaire then. Whenever I got any contract, I would ensure due diligence in the execution to ensure there was no problem and as such I was getting jobs steadily.
You’ve been 30 years on the throne. Can you speak about your journey to becoming a monarch?
After my father died in 1947, I didn’t return to Eda Oniyo for a long time. Then the then Eleda died and they said the new king would come from Owa, which is my father’s house. The family searched for my contact and sent an emissary to me in Lagos. The emissary came with a packaged gift called Aroko in Yoruba. The emissary told me my attention was needed at home. They didn’t tell me that the Eleda had joined his ancestors and the purpose of their visit was for me to become the next oba. I told them I would come home and they left. I then went to one of my kinsmen and told him about the message and the package I got from Eda Oniyo. He looked at the package and told me it signified that the family wanted to have an important discussion with me. He said it was a good thing and he would support me.
So, I travelled from Lagos to Eda Oniyo and on arrival I had to ask for my father’s compound and introduce myself because nobody knew me. I asked for where my father was buried and it was shown to me. I gave the family some money and we had a feast. My siblings were also around. During prayers, my elder sister made a curious statement. She said I should pray that an inheritance from my father would not slip out of my hands. I considered that suggestion demeaning. Here was I, a successful professional and a millionaire. What did I need an inheritance from my father for? But my elder sister insisted that I should say the prayer. She then disclosed to me that I had been selected to be the next king. She said our mother had revealed that. I burst into tears. While we were doing that, some egrets started hovering above us; the elders said it was a confirmation that our forebears had endorsed me as the next Eleda. I am a member of Celestial Church of Christ. On return to Lagos, I went to church, and there were persistent revelations that I was a king and that I had been preserved for the throne.
How did you feel leaving your business in the city to relocate to rural Eda Oniyo to assume the throne?
As a CCC member, we believe in prophecies. Everywhere I went, the prophecy was being repeated that I was destined to ascend the throne. I had no choice but to give the throne consideration. I remember one particular woman who told me that nothing could stand between me and the throne and that I should go into farming, assuring me that I would prosper in farming. Three months after I got on the throne, I started farming, planting yam and cassava. Three years later, I started planting teak. It is from the proceeds of teak that I built a storey-building. Up till now, farming has been fetching me money.
Where are the people of Eda from?
History has it that Eda is from Ile-Ife. While on the journey from Ile-Ife, the people they met on the way asked them who they were and in reply they kept saying, “We are Eda Olorun (creatures of God).” That is the origin of the name. Our family, Owa, were the first settlers before others came. That is why all the chieftaincy titles in the town are conferred here.
Why is it that most obas, just like you, have many wives?
I had three wives before I ascended the throne. But basically, if you are a traditional ruler, people don’t really come close to you. They greet you ‘kabiyesi, kabiyesi’ and go to their houses. Obas don’t go around looking for or visiting people. So, the need for company is one of the reasons why kings marry many wives. In my case, when I got to the throne, I promised to marry someone from Eda Oniyo, which I did. I later married another one from Iludun Ekiti before I said enough is enough.
What are some your happiest moments over the last 80 years that you’ve journeyed through life?
That was in 1996, the day Ilejemeje Local Government was created with the announcement of Eda Oniyo as the headquarters.
How did you feel when three months later, the military government moved the headquarters to Iye Ekiti?
It was a moment of gloom, but we were strengthened by the fact that we were on the right path and we had the necessary backing of law. Before the announcement of the local government creation, there was a decree. It was the decree that created Ekiti State that created Ilejemeje Local Government with Eda Oniyo as headquarters. The local government headquarters was here for three months. The month that it was moved away from here, there was another decree, which reiterated Eda Oniyo as the headquarters of Ilejemeje. In 1999, shortly before Chief Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office as President, there was another decree, which designated Eda Oniyo as the headquarters, making three decrees. These were my source of confidence that we would win with the belief that there was no way any court would discountenance the three decrees.
How was the legal battle like, from the lower court to Supreme Court?
It was not easy. We were in court for 23 years. But we thank God that the Supreme Court ordered the headquarters relocated to my domain and it is here now. It was not easy. A lot of my resources went into it. We were moving from one lawyer to the other. There is a particular lawyer, now a senior advocate, who collected N500,000 from us, receipted, to handle our case, but he did not do anything. That was part of our losses. There was another SAN who billed us N25m. I told him that everything in my community, if sold, could not amount to N25m. But in all this, I held onto God with prayers and God gave us victory.
You must be happy now that the state government has implemented the Supreme Court’s verdict that declared Eda Oniyo as the authentic headquarters.
It has been implemented, but I am not really happy because the state government is not forthcoming. The place being used as local government secretariat at Eda Oniyo since relocation in October 2019 was built by Senator Ayo Arise for us as constituency project when he was in the Senate years back. It was built as a health centre. The place is not conducive for the workers. That is where the council uses now. Although work has started on a new secretariat, we will appeal to the state government, if it is possible, to complete the first phase of the project so that the incoming administration will start using it.
What traditional festivals do you have in Eda Oniyo?
What we now focus on is Eda for Christ.
What are those things that you used to do which age no longer allows you?
In the farm, there is no work I can do there anymore; I cannot weed, I cannot plant, I cannot make heaps, I only go to farm to supervise.
Credit: PUNCH Newspapers