What we need to do to achieve Yoruba unity – Oba Agbaje

Oba Adetoyese Agbaje is the Olu of Ile-Ogbo, Osun State. In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, the traditional ruler speaks on the challenges facing his domain and efforts made at addressing them.

On Ileya day, your festival message to your people included a challenge to them. What gave birth to this?

There is no issue, except that, as a traditional ruler and father of all, I must always use such occasions to remind my people of the need to give peace a chance at all times. There is nothing to gain in doing what can cause bad blood when the town needs peace. My experience and exposure in life has shown me that there cannot be development without peace. This is what I said, and I believe they got the message. There is no doubting the fact that I love my people. In fact, that is why I am back here in town as the Olu of Ile-Ogbo. And when I was coming from my base in Lagos, as a business man who tried his hands in different ventures, I came with a mindset of changing the fortune of the town in such a way that investors would always come to do business here. Of course, we still have a long way to go in the area of achieving this goal. But as I speak, I am very optimistic that we shall get there during my reign. What is most important is that we have set the ball rolling.


You were sighted at the palace of the Oluwo during the prayer held for the recuperating President Muhammadu Buhari. Why did you do this?

Seeing me at the prayer session is more than enough to tell you that I key into that arrangement because the subject is the president of the country. It is not a matter of which political party one belongs, it is a matter of the welfare of our president. It is about leadership. I think this is a new approach to leadership; that is, creating time to pray for the president. We should not wish anybody, including our enemies, dead. That is the instruction by God. So, back to your question, I was very pleased to have joined other traditional rulers and important personalities to pray for the president. And you can see that he is already working.


According to your profile, you had a strong work relationship with the Nigerian media industry as a sales executive. Did you envisage what the media is passing through today, in terms of drop in sales?

I think my sincere answer to your question is that we did not see it. In fact, we thought that with improved literacy level, the number of readers would also increase. And if this happened, then sales would improve and media houses would make more money and grow. But this revolution in technology came to us as a surprise, and that is the truth. We knew technology would always progress but we did not see it affecting the fortune of the newspaper industry.


With your experience, what do you think media houses should do to survive the heat?

Whenever I read any news online, I know it is at a cost on the regular copy. I feel for the companies because they cannot sell hard copies as they used to sell. But as a businessman who must always find a way round any problem that comes up, I will advise the media houses to adjust to the current trend. They should not allow themselves to be pushed out of the business. They should re-strategise and do what others abroad do to make money. I don’t have much knowledge in this area but I know they can also make money with the new development. What is happening is a proof that this world is truly dynamic. But when it happens to you, you don’t fold your arms and cry. You rather rise up and join them to also have your own share. This is what the media should do.


Youths are graduating from higher institutions but getting no jobs. What do you think should be done to reverse this trend?

What you just mentioned is an unfortunate chapter of our nation’s history. As a parent, you cannot be happy to spend so much on your child from primary school through secondary to the university or polytechnic, after which the child is still back at home as unemployed graduate. It is a serious pain. But this development is the reality of our time now. How to handle it should be the parents’ business. I am an advocate of entrepreneurial skills acquisition. Drawing from my experience as one who held NCE certificate but chose to be a newspaper vendor on the streets of Lagos, I think our students should think less on government jobs; It is high time they rose and took their destiny in their hands before it is too late. When a road closes, one must find a way out of the situation. Our schools too should do more of practical courses that would help the students to develop self-belief spirit in themselves, so that government jobs would not be attractive to them.

I rose from newspaper vendor to distributor before I ventured into other areas. I cannot say my success was by my power. The grace of God played an important role in it. But without sounding immodest, I can also say I was focused right from the beginning, not knowing that the country would be what it is today. I felt that my NCE could only get me a job at school, whereas I believed in my entrepreneurial ability. I want our youths to always develop such skills so that they won’t need to wait for too long before they survive.


Is this suggestion of yours enough solution to the problem?

It cannot be enough because there is a bigger role which government, as policy maker, must play. For example, if our youths make efforts but government does not create what is called enabling environment, nothing much will be achieved. Government everywhere should make policies that will make life easy not only for the youth but also to the whole citizens. That is why citizens of developed countries appear to be all rich. They are comfortable because government policies make them so. This is the area I want our government to also look into. If this is done, the crime rate will definitely reduce and the peace we all crave for will naturally be experienced.


Are you saying unemployment is an excuse for youths to go into crime?

It should not be an excuse to embrace criminal activities. But we must be sincere with ourselves that an idle hand is the devil’s ready tool. This is the truth. This is the appropriate adage that captures the phenomenon. There is no way one can sincerely divorce joblessness from crime.


But there is crime in the developed countries where government policies make citizens comfortable?

You are right but you cannot compare the rate with that of ours here. Some people are born criminals. It is in their genes. And when you look at the origin of crime itself from the biblical days of Cain and Abel, you realise that it will be difficult to have a complete crime-free world. But crime rate will always be different from one country to another according to policies each government put in place for its citizens. So, here in Nigeria, our government should make policies that will empower our youths to be better citizens. If this is done, we are laying a strong foundation for a better future because youths of today are leaders of tomorrow.


As a Yoruba royal father who knows better, do you think Yoruba unity is possible?

God has not created what is impossible for him. It is human beings that like to create situations that make things look impossible. There is nowhere I don’t say it loud and clear that Yoruba is a blessed race among major ethnic groups in the whole world. I have travelled to some countries and seen the kind of respect the people out there give to the Yoruba. Our culture is one of the best in the area of respecting institution and heritage. Have you at a time asked yourself the reason our cultural festivals are still being celebrated till date at different towns? There is no need to start mentioning names of the festivals because I know you know them and you have reported them. What this tells us is that if we are serious in packaging them better, the festivals can attract more foreign tourists and earn the nation more foreign exchange. The decline in the price of crude oil may be a blessing in disguise to force us to think and look for other economic potential with which this country is blessed.


Is Yoruba unity possible?

I have said that it is possible but we need to be less egoistic. Pride destroys more than cancer does. Once we have all traced our origin to Ile-Ife, which we all regard as the cradle and the source, we should move a step further to consolidate on that collective belief and see ourselves as children of the same parents. Naturally, there must be areas of disagreement. But we should handle those areas with maturity and love in order not to plant seeds of discord. Apart from the fact that I am a traditional ruler, I am always very proud of my race.


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