Oba Shefiu Olatunji Adewale is the Olu-Epe of Epe Kingdom. In this interview with ADEMOLA OLONILUA, he speaks about his kingdom and life as a king
Most of what is known about Epe is that it is a riverine community and most of its dwellers are into fishing. Can you give a brief history of your kingdom?
Epe, as a town, has two communities; the first dwellers were Ijebu people. We also have the Eko community that joined them when Prince Kosoko left Lagos because of the chieftaincy tussle with his uncle, Akintoye, whom the British supported because of their economic interest. The force was too strong for Prince Kosoko to control and he had to flee to Epe and that was how the second community was formed here. We call it, Eko Epe.
Is that the reason why there are two Epe communities in Lagos?
While you were growing up, did you ever imagine you would become the king of your community?
No, I did not; even when I grew up and I was in the paid employment of the Lagos State Government, I never knew I would be king. All I preoccupied myself with was the development of my town and not to become a chief let alone become a king.
But before you emerged as the king of this community, you were the Otun-Balogun of the town…
That is the system of our chieftaincy. I started with the third highest rank in the land as a chief and that was the Otun-Balogun. From that position, I was promoted to Balogun before I eventually became the king.
Hearing that there are two Epe communities living together in Lagos, one might assume that there might be clashes between both parties…
We have a very cordial and harmonious relationship and there is an understanding between both communities. Also, as the Olu-Epe, I know that my influence is only within my kingdom and the same applies to the Oloja, who rules the other Epe kingdom. We both know our boundaries and due to that, there have been no problems.
Do both Epe communities speak the same language and have the same culture?
We are all Yoruba people so we speak the Yoruba language. As for the culture, we are pure Muslims so our tradition is based on Islam. The other Epe Kingdom also practises Islam but sometimes they do their traditional religion. Everyone in the Eko Epe is a Muslim because that is the religion we brought from Lagos.
But being a Yoruba kingdom, one would have assumed that there would be some core traditions and customs that would still be practised here.
The Eko Epe came into existence through King Kosoko so all the things being done in Lagos are what we practise here.
You retired as a director in the civil service. How would you describe the experience?
I started my career in the employment of Lagos State and I retired as a director of administration in the ministry of education. At a time when there was a change of government, I served as an executive secretary at the ministry of lands. I was also posted to one of its division to serve as the chairman of that division during the military regime when civil servants were posted to various divisions to head them. I did not face any problems and it was a very interesting time. There are usually ups and downs when it comes to administrative duties but I did not have many challenges. I really enjoyed my tenure.
How did you feel when you were informed that you would be the king of your town?
Before I became king, I had been doing a lot for the community. I assisted the previous kings that were in power. Initially, I did not want to be king because my plan was to retire and play around but being a king has constrained me. Eventually, I accepted to become the king but I was not too happy because of the restriction that I would have in doing other things. That restriction gave me a headache. However, since that is what God has destined to happen, I have no say in it.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as king?
First, I would like the government in power to provide the basic amenities of life for my people like water, power, and good roads. We have power supply but it is not regular, also, the water the government supplies us is not evenly distributed. Fortunately, we have boreholes in the community and we will rely on that till the government helps with the waterworks.
But there are some construction works currently going on in your town …
I do not know the ones you have seen but definitely, the governor is from Epe and you can see improvements. If you get to certain areas, you would discover some new infrastructure and it is courtesy of the governor.
What are some of your personal achievements as the king of this community?
My personal achievement can be linked to what the governor has been able to do in this town. Also, I have been able to maintain peace in this community and it is rare to hear that there is trouble brewing anywhere in my kingdom. I encourage everyone to be hard-working.
What are the taboos of this land?
As a Muslim community, we do not believe in the tradition taboos so I would say that there are no taboos in my community. We believe in God and the five pillars of Islam.
But there is a general belief that before a person is crowned king in Yorubaland, he will have to perform some rites. Does that mean that you did not perform such rites before you became the king?
In my community, there is nothing like that. In fact, the king of this community is usually crowned in the central mosque. This is to show that we do not follow the normal traditional Yoruba ways of doing things.
Were you given preferential treatment as a prince while growing up?
No, I was not given any preferential treatment simply because in the case of Eko Epe, every child is a potential king. The crown rotates from ward to ward and we have about six wards. The kingship title rotates round the six wards, so any young boy of the Eko Epe community is a potential king simply because when it gets to his ward, he can be selected to be the next king.
How is the council of chiefs formed?
Chieftaincy also rotates around the wards in Eko Epe but you have to distinguish yourself and prove to the people that you are worthy of representing them in the palace and holding the title. Before you get noticed, there are a lot of community projects the person has to embark upon. In my case, I did community projects, not to become king, but to ensure that the community did not lack anything. On account of that, every Eko Epe person is a potential king. If it happens at your own time, the people would pick you based on the past project you have done for the community. That is the system we adopt here in Eko Epe.
Do you miss going out to attend parties?
There are some events that I attend, especially if the person celebrating is a notable person in the community and I’m invited. If I cannot attend the occasion, I would send someone there but I am not as free as I would have been if I were not a king.
How about your friends; do you still have time to visit them?
That is the problem, I do not have the time but they all understand. On several occasions, they come to pay me a visit or they just simply call me on the telephone and we talk for long hours. I do not have the luxury of time to pay my friends a visit.
You lost your mother when you were in Form two in secondary school. How was life without her?
Initially, I thought that life would end when I lost my mother because she was too dear to me. Luckily enough, everything was okay. My father and my elder brother raised me. My elder brother was a marine engineer so, what a mother would do to complement a father, he did for me. Due to his kind gesture, I did not suffer when I was growing up.
What led to the death of your mother?
All I know is that she died while being delivered of a baby. I was in Form two at the time, so I did not know much of what happened.
We learnt that your father was very strict. Did you always get into trouble with him while you were young?
I always listened to instructions and followed them. I can remember that he only beat me once during his lifetime. The reason was because I punished a child who was younger than I was. My father beat me because he felt the punishment I meted out to the boy was too much and I had no right to punish him like that. My father said that I should have reported the boy to an elderly person instead of punishing him and that was the only time I can remember that my father beat me.
You taught briefly in 1961. Do you miss the classroom?
I do not miss it much because the palace is a bigger classroom where people come every day to discuss different issues. For that reason alone, I do not really miss the classroom. Also, I did not teach for a very long time before I joined the Lagos State Civil Service Commission.
How would you describe your typical day?
I am always attending to people with different domestic issues and I help them settle the matter and that could keep me busy throughout the day. I also attend meetings and government assignments. If I notice that some of my appointments clash, I simply send some of my chiefs to represent me.
Do you have a special diet?
No, I do not have any. That I am this fit is by the grace of God, also, my wife retired as a matron. She has been able to watch my diet and she takes care of everything.
As a Muslim and a king, one would have assumed that you would have more than one wife. Is there any reason why you decided not to have more than one wife?
I have a wife who I am satisfied with so I am okay, but it does not mean that I do not have friends. I am okay with only one wife. With my level of education and experience, I cannot marry more than one wife. If you have two wives, you have two problems, so why would I want to do that? If you are satisfied with one, then you would be okay.
Is it true that you met your wife at a party?
How would you describe yourself as a young boy?
I did what all the male children of that era did at the time. I attended parties.
What is your fondest memory?
I would say that it is when I met my wife. We knew each other but from a distance till we met at a party and we were attracted to each other. I would describe it as the fondest memory I have of my youth.
Did you consider marrying her because she is also from Epe?
I do not discriminate. However, when you have a friend and you see that she possesses all the qualities you want in a wife, you would go ahead and marry her. When I met her, I was mature enough to marry her. I had completed my education before we got married. As a young boy, I was stable financially and I had female friends. When it was time to choose a wife, it was easy for me because I had seen all I wanted in my queen. That was how we dated and eventually got married. Till date, I have no regrets about my decision to marry her.
When your wife learnt that you would become a king, what was her reaction?
We both had the same reaction because I was coming to a new terrain and I did not know what would happen there. However, we knew that with our background we would be able to sort out things as they came our way and that is why we both decided to come into this venture.
How were you able to adjust to the new life as a king?
There was no such problem in that regard because when I was the administrative officer, I would have to do different things. So coming to the palace is like going to the office where you can be faced with challenges.
What were your aspirations as a kid?
I started my career as a teacher and after some months, I moved to the Ministry of Education, Lagos State. I was an education officer before I moved up the ladder and became an inspector of education. Few years down the line, I was promoted as an administrative officer and that role took me to many ministries before I retired.
As a child, I did not have an inkling of what I would become in life; however, as I pursued my education, I began to realise what I wanted to do and that was how I found myself in the Lagos State Civil Service Commission.
But your elder brother was a marine engineer. Was his job not appealing to you?
No, it was not appealing to me, I never considered his job. Being a marine engineer entails being on the sea for weeks and I do not like that. My elder brother was always at Warri or Sapele (in Delta State) on the water for many weeks and I did not want that life so I did not consider toeing that path.
What specific festivals are celebrated in your kingdom?
We have the Kayokayo festival and we also partake in the Eyo festival but because we are Muslims in Epe, it is not as elaborate as it is being celebrated in Lagos. This is a Muslim town, therefore, anything that covers your face is forbidden, according to Islam. We normally open our faces when celebrating ours, unlike the way they dress themselves during the festival in Lagos.
What legacy do you want to be remembered for?
I would want to be remembered as the king that always maintained peace. I would also want to use my power to ensure that government provides us with the basic amenities and not concentrate all its resources in Lagos alone, which is what is currently happening.
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