Thursday, 1 January 2015


The Oonirisa, Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade

The Ooni Of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Alaiyeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse 11 is 85 today, January 1. A classy celebration is being hosted in his honour by his family, close friends and associates, even as President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledges that his life is worth celebrating.

In a congratulatory letter to the monarch, President Jonathan describes him as one of the nation’s most revered royal fathers and praises his unwavering dedication to the highest ideals in his

distinguished reign as the Ooni of Ife.

 Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade was born on the 1st of January, 1930 to a great royal family in the Ogboru house, Ilare, Ile-Ife. The last Ooni of Ife that the Ogboru ruling house presented (before the incumbent) reigned in Ife for many years as Sijuwade Adelekan Olubuse I. He was the first Ooni to venture out of his domain. At the invitation of the colonial Governor he visited Lagos in 1903 to give his ruling on whether the Oba Elepe of Epe was entitled to wear a crown which was earlier refused by Oba Akarigbo of Remo. Oba Adelekan was the father of the late
The Ooni with late Chief Obafemi Awolowo
“Omo-Oba“ Adereti Sijuwade, the father of Oba Sijuwade Olubuse II- the present Ooni of Ife. His mother was the late Yeyelori, Emilia Ifasesin Sijuwade.

Prince Okunade Sijuwade as he was then called, started his elementary education at Igbein school, Abeokuta, an institution owned by the CMS mission. He lived with his other brother under the care of their father’s good friend Chief G. A. Adedayo and his family. Chief Adebayo was the secretary to the Egba council, under the Asoju Oba. After his elementary school education he proceeded to Abeokuta Grammar school, under the well-known educationist, The Rev. I. O. Ransome Kuti who was the principal of the school.
The Ooni at his coronation

Early in life, Prince Okunade Sijuwade was conscious of his royal birth, and his carriage, even in school, was of one who was destined to wear the crown.

Once, at Abeokuta Grammar school, the Reverend Ransome Kuti wanted to flog the young Sijuwade for some misdemeanour. As the principal raised his whip, the young prince dared the famous disciplinarian to hit a ‘king’.

This did not of course stop Reverend Kuti from meting out what he considered appropriate punishment to the erring young man who was nonetheless satisfied that he has made his point. He left Abeokuta Grammar school after five years and got transferred to Oduduwa college in Ile-Ife to complete his studies under the
The Oonirisa and his best friend, The Otunba Adekunle Ojora
Reverend S. A. Adeyefa. On his first day at school, mistaken for one of the new teachers and in no hurry to correct the impression, young Sijuwade took over the class in which he was supposed to be a student. In spite of his royal posturing and youthful pranks, Prince Sijuwade is remembered by many of his classmates as a particularly diligent student and quite mature for his age . Because of his relative access to money the prince was able to acquire many good things of life, especially clothes. He was a trend setter in school. He was one of the few students in Oduduwa college, who
The Oonirisa flanked by wife, Olori Ladun and the Jonathans
were familiar with the life in Lagos at that time, as today, the centre of good life in Nigeria.

On leaving Oduduwa College, the young prince joined his father’s business for about three years after which the elder Sijuwade, convinced that his son had acquired sufficient on-the-job training, decided he should proceed for a course of study overseas. Before he left however, the young man on his own volition decided he needed to have journalistic training.

He joined The Nigerian Tribune where he spent two years, first as a reporter and later as a sales executive. Thereafter, he proceeded to
The Oonirisa's eldest sons
the United Kingdom in the early fifties to undertake a course of training in Business Management.

His training was essentially in Northampton and with the Leventis Group in Manchester in 1957. He also participated in advanced business management training programmes with companies in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Scotland, West Germany and Israel. Armed with the immense experience he acquired in these places he returned to Nigeria a few years later to lunch a career in business.

Prince Sijuwade’s business career was marked by more than average fortune. Endowed with an agile mind, highly motivated and possessed of an iron-will, courage and prodigious industry, the prince was certainly destined for success. And so he drove himself to limits that would seriously test all but the most dogged. Early in
The Oonirisa in Royal Selfie with children and grandchildren
his career he decided he could do with no more than four hours sleep and that distance would prevent him from accomplishing his goals. Even today, with the enormous demand on his time in several places, some of them several miles apart he maintains a travelling schedule that even the most peripatetic would consider punitive.

Shortly after Prince Sijuwade returned to Nigeria , he was appointed the Sales Manager of Leventis Motors in Western Nigeria with its headquarters in Ibadan. By 1960, with Nigerian Independence, he became an adviser to the Leventis Group.
The Oonirisa with son, Aderemi

In 1963, the government of Western Nigeria , now getting increasingly involved in a lot of industrial activities in the country approached the Leventis Group to release the prince for five years to help in re-organisation of some of their companies. The request was reluctantly granted after month of hard negotiation by the then Chairman of the Leventis Group, Chief A. G. Leventis who considered the young Prince Sijuwade as an asset to their organization. The Leventis Group made the Western Nigeria Government promise to let the prince return to his organization at the end of assignment.

Prince Sijuwade’s first assignment with the government was as Sales Director of National Motor in Lagos. He subsequently headed the management of the company with numerous Nigerian and
The quintessential royal icon
expatriate staff under him .

In 1964 , he undertook an extensive international tour to look into the possibilities of acquiring better products for National Motors. One of the places he visited was the Soviet Union whose cars he believed would sell well in Nigeria, because they were relatively cheap and appeared durable.

When he returned to Nigeria and reported to his employers, they were not as enthusiastic about the business proposal, because the government was not at this time well disposed to trade with the Russians. Rather than feel disappointed Prince Sijuwade, smart businessman that he was, immediately saw a business opportunity and seized it.

He formed a company along with three friends; the company, WAATECO, was to become in a few years the sole distributor of soviet-made vehicles, tractors and engineering equipment in Nigeria with at least fifty Russians on its staff and a dozen branches all over Nigeria.

This small beginning marked the start of trade with the Soviet Union in Nigeria, and for Prince Sijuwade the birth of a business empire that was to include at least fifty companies.

Two years after WAATECO was set up, Prince Sijuwade offered the Soviet Union 40 per cent equity participation in the company. Of course, the Russians did not hesitate since the company was doing well. Business with the Russians was to grow many hundred folds in the next decade and a half.

It is a credit to his acumen in business that while trade with the Russians expanded, his business contacts in the capitalist West continued to grow and develop. He was being seasoned in the tough world of business.

While he was setting up his own company he continued his efforts to help re-organise the government-owned National Motors and by 1965 the company began showing a profit. The political turmoil in the country following the coup of January 1966 and the counter-coup of July the same year brought his good friend (Rtd) Major General Robert Adebayo (then Colonel) to office as Governor of the Western Region.

Sensitive to the possibility of having a disagreement with his fiend over a public issue he decided that it was best to resign his appointment as an employee of the Government of Western Nigeria. He subsequently left the service of the government and went fully into business on his own. With this resolve, he now explored with fresh zeal his many contacts within Nigeria and on the international scene and revitalized business possibilities which time had not allowed him to exploit while working with the government.

Within ten years his activities stretched far and wide, and to keep in touch with the various commercial capitals of the world he moved the headquarters of his operations to the United Kingdom n 1973. Now he was truly where he wanted to be in the business world; the world was, as it were, his oyster.

With his business now firmly established internationally he decided to establish a stronger footing in his home tow, Ile-Ife. He embarked on two major projects in the town which turned out to be a wise decision both from a business angle and as a means of enhancing his image in his community.

A modern housing estate which he built in one of the quieter and newer parts of the town was to provide housing for senior staff of the University of Ife, and help relieve the University’s acute staff housing shortage. It was for prince Sijuwade not only a business investment but a contribution to the development of the University and his home town.

It was the same thinking that inspired his decision to build a first class motel for V.I.P. visitors to Ife, the Motel Royal. This also turned to be a far-sighted decision because at his coronation a few years later, when the town played host to thousands of guests, the accommodation problem was not nearly as chaotic as it might have been.

Urban, relaxed and self confident, Prince Sijuwade had a wealth of experience from which to draw and was at home in boardrooms both in Nigeria and in leading capitals al the world. He had a large international circle of friends, contacts and business associates. It was often dispassionate, well informed and judicious, precisely the qualities required of a traditional ruler in a pluralistic society like ours.

As a businessman, Prince Sijuwade maintained a diverse social, political, ethnic and ideological group of friends in Nigeria and abroad. He genuinely enjoys playing host and is equally at home in small groups as in large gatherings. He enjoys traveling and has visited most countries of the world.

He relaxes by swimming, horse-riding, table-tennis and having intellectual discussions with small groups.

The career of Oba Sijuwade can be divided conveniently into two parts: the first was as a dashing young Prince and the other began in 1980, when he ascended the throne of the “ Holy City of the Yoruba” to borrow Leo Frobenius’ apt description of Ife.

These two segments of one active and productive life are not separate or apart, indeed one fertilized the other. His training and experience as a prince today serve well in the great task of reigning In a society that is being increasingly modernized; at the same time, he maintains the prime position of Arole oduduwa, the Keeper of the seal of Yoruba.

Since he ascended the throne, Oba Sjuwade has been a worthy ambassador-at-large Nigeria and a symbol of pride for the Yoruba.

But the life of great men is not immune from the vagaries of mortal existence. There have been various experiences in the life of Oba Sijuwade that have been trying. Although he has borne them with great courage they have no doubt made an indelible mark in his life.

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