Life and times of Okunade Sijuade, Ooni of Ife
Olanrewaju Oyedeji, Ile-Ife
A few years ago, controversy broke out about who was the most prominent traditional ruler in Yorubaland. That debate was not concluded but one position that kept recurring was that of the Ooni of Ife.
Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuade was born on January 1st, 1930 and became the fiftieth traditional ruler of Ife in 1980, taking the traditional ruling name of Olubuse II of Ife. A traditional Yoruba towm located in Osun State, Nigeria, Ife is vastly regarded as the historical cradle of the Yorubas, what some also call ‘the Source.’
Sijuade on his part was crowned Ooni on 6 December 1980 in a ceremony attended by notable dignitaries from across Nigeria, including his brother traditional rulers like the Emir of Kano, the Oba of Benin and the Amanyanabo of Opobo.
He was born in Ile-Ife to the Ogboru ruling house and is a grandson of the Ooni Sijuwade Adelekan Olubuse I. He studied at Abeokuta Grammar School and Oduduwa College in Ile-Ife. He worked for three years in his father’s business for a while before he then proceeded to work for two years with the Nigerian Tribune newspaper that had been founded in 1949 by the venerable Chief Obafemi Awolowo. From this media stint, he next proceeded to Northampton College in the United Kingdom where he studied business management.
His training over, he returmed to Nigeria and by age 30 was a manager with the Leventis Group, a Greek-Nigerian conglomerate. In 1963 he became Sales Director of the state-owned National Motor in Lagos. After spotting a business opportunity during a 1964 visit to the Soviet Union, he formed a company to distribute Soviet-built vehicles and equipment in Nigeria, which became the nucleus of a widespread business empire. He also invested in real estate in his home town of Ile-Ife and up till date Ife residents still thank him for this significant contribution to the development of the ancient city. By the time Sijuade was crowned Ooni in 1980 he had become a man of influence and substance in his own rights.
As Ooni, Sijuade contributed immensely to sustaining peace in the south west. Such was the respect that his people had for him that his contributions to issues was seen as golden. Also his style of leadership drew substantial plaudits though the Ooni was involved in allegations of conflict with the Alaafin of Oyo owing to what people termed a “supremacy battle.” As tough as the controversy went, it is noteworthy that the perceived conflict did not escalate beyond measure. Again, as one of the renowned traditional rulers in the country, many personalities did come out to seek the Ooni’s support from time to time. These included politicians and captains of industry. Former President Jonathan, ex-Governor Peter Odili and several other dignitaries have at one time or the other sought the blessing of the Ooni.
On his relationship with youths, Oba Sijuade has been constantly settling issues that are youth-related. During the fee hike struggle at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, his intervention helped in settling the issues at stake before they escalated beyond measure.
Sijuade is a Christian. In November 2009 he attended the annual general meeting of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria accompanied by 17 other traditional rulers. He declared that he was a full member of the church, and said all the monarchs who accompanied him would now become members. There was however skepticism in some quarters as to this claim. At his birthday celebration, two months later however, the Primate of the Anglican Communion described Sijuade as “a humble monarch, who has the fear of God at heart”.
As a businessman, Prince Sijuwade maintained a diverse social, political, ethnic and ideological group of friends in Nigeria and abroad and his wide connections gained him international applause and recognition.
He genuinely enjoys playing host to people and is equally at home in small groups as in large gatherings. He enjoys traveling and has visited most countries of the world.
His leisure activities are: swimming, horse-riding, table-tennis and having intellectual discussions with small groups.