Oba Mohammed Yusuf, the Onisiwo of Tomaro and Abago, Lagos State, has focused on the unity of his subjects and peaceful co-existence among communities since he ascended the throne in 2016.
In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, he speaks on his experience so far in the palace and his life as a devout Muslim.
As a traditional ruler and custodian of the culture and tradition of your community, how do you balance your faith especially considering your recent lesser hajj?
Before I answer your question, you need to tell me how you got to know about my movement. This is because I live a private life despite being an Oba. How did you know?
In my profession, ethics demand that we protect our source sir
You should also have kept the question to yourself then.
You haven’t answered or clarified the issue sir
There is nothing to clarify about my personal matter as long as it is within my right under the law.
You are known to be a devout Muslim. How do you balance your faith with your traditional functions?
You should remember I was not born a king. Agreed, I was born a prince like every one born to the royal family. I was born a Muslim and brought up to appreciate what Islam stands for. If this is what you call devout Muslim, well, I have no issue with that. But in terms of practicing my religion as a traditional ruler, I can say it anywhere that the throne is not a hindrance. I am a Muslim and I am proud to be one. Also I am the Onisiwo and proud that I am here on the throne. God has been my guide on how I balance my functions as a Muslim and an Oba. So far, I am adapting with the new palace role. In a nutshell, traditional functions do not stop a traditional ruler to practice his faith. In all Yoruba towns, the traditional rulers belong to either Islam or Christianity. Yet they perform their traditional functions as expected of them with the support of their traditional chiefs.
Between 2016 and now, what do you observe has changed in you?
(Smiles) My title has changed to the Onisiwo, a first class traditional ruler in Lagos State of Nigeria. That alone is a remarkable change, especially when everybody prostrates and kneels down before me. At times, I look at the whole thing and say to myself, ‘Is this how things change?’ I want to thank God for putting me here. I must tell you that without Him, I would not have been here because the throne naturally attracts many princes who engage in contest before one will eventually emerge. But my point is that whoever emerges should be supported by other princes to succeed. He should be seen as the project of God who installs and deposes kings.
As a marine navigator who used to spend months offshore, is the palace not boring?
I think it is one of the changes you asked about. It is natural that the change must affect some things such as schedule and movement. But I must say that being in the palace and serving my people is worth its while. It is a call to service, a privileged assignment. Therefore, I am not complaining about the change.
You are not complaining does not mean you do not miss that life, do you miss it?
To say the truth, I will tell you that I am missing the career I spent my youthful years to build. I don’t know any other profession apart from being on the sea. Having said that, there is nothing like serving your people in the position I am occupying today. There is nothing like having people who look up to you for leadership and direction. So, I can say that I am not missing my past life. My past is history since I came to the throne.
Does that mean you have lost touch with the skill?
You are funny. How can one lose touch with what you spent years to learn in formal school and internship? Once you are a marine navigator, you are forever a marine navigator. I am a professional and my track record is there to verify my claim. But I am serving in a higher position now. This position makes it difficult for me to be on the sea the way I used to do. I must have answered your question now.
You recently hosted one of the royal families (Orefunmi Ruling House) in what looked like a peace parley. How significance was the family visit to you?
Firstly, let me make it clear that their visit was to present to me the new head of the family just selected after the demise of the immediate past, a woman. The person is Prince Azeez Aremu Onisiwo. He played a key role in the contemporary history of the town as one of those who signed the Chieftaincy Declaration of the town in 1975. As a matter of fact, he was the only surviving signatory of the declaration. Others have passed away. That made his appointment as the head of the family more important because he has seen it all. Naturally he will command respect of the entire family because of his age and role he has played in the town. The family used the gathering to pledge their continued support to the palace and made peace among themselves. When they notified me that they were coming, I told them to make peace among themselves so that they speak before me in one voice. And that was exactly what they did and I am very happy about the development. Pastor Toyin Michael Onisiwo was said to have played a key role in bringing the family together. I applauded his sense of patriotism. I always say it that nothing compared to unity as unity leads to enduring peace.
Specifically, what did you tell them?
I emphasised on the need to always speak with one voice as I just said. In a town like ours, all we need now is unity because it is unity that can reclaim our right for us. Outsiders have in the past exploited the situation in the town to trespass into the property belonging to the town. With unity now, we are on the right track to reclaim what belongs to us with the help of the government because we are law-abiding citizens of Lagos State. I also told them to always give the new head the support he needs to lead them and they all promised to line behind him.
There is this burning issue on the status of Lagos with a claim that Lagos belongs to the Benins. Can you share with the public your position on it?
The issue should not be turned to a controversy. But in Nigeria here, we enjoy debate a lot. Any issue that comes to the public must be discussed from different angles. And that is one of the areas Nigerians are respected outside. On that subject, there is no argument as I have said. The Edo people did not meet a vacant land. They met some people. Who were the people they met should be the question. Yes, King Ardo from Benin was the first Oba of Lagos. But that does not remove the fact that the people he ruled over are Yoruba. History has it that they met the Aworis who had long inhabited the land living their life. Who are the Aworis? They are Yoruba whose origin is traced to Ile-Ife. Migration in search of better settlement is a major characteristic of Yoruba history. So, the matter is not a subject of debate.
Young men are ascending the throne in Yorubaland including you. What does this development portend for the culture?
The development is a plus to Yoruba culture because the youth will bring their new experience to bear in further projecting the culture and make it more attractive to the non-Yorubas, particularly the foreigners.