Ohinoyi of Ebiraland is 93 Years Old and we are happy to share with you somethings you don’t know about one of the finest Kings in Africa. Happy Birthday to The King.
Ohinoyi of Ebiraland (Alhaji (Dr) Ado Ibrahim) revealed extensively about many aspects of his life that many did not know. The nonagenarian recalled how he was dispatched on a diplomatic mission by the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, to stop Nigeria from being expelled from the Commonwealth, his love for traditional music and how he would fly his private jet to Okene from England to listen to them, why his father was removed as the Atta; and his company. He explained why he is not afraid of death.
You marked your 92rd birthday in February last year, how tasking is your new age?
I thank my dad who taught me how to live well. I must commend him for my education in Ondo High School. In Ondo Boys’ High School, I was a student boxer, and I loved the ring. Each time I came home, I put up boxing hairstyle and my father one time asked one of his secretaries, “What is he boxing and where is his box?” And the late G. M Baiye, who was my father’s secretary, said, “No, he fights with his fists and he can wound people with his fists.” My father asked me, “You have to use energy?’’ And I said, yes. He said, “Don’t smoke and don’t drink. Don’t ever do it because you will be weak and people will beat you everywhere.”
This is what I learnt from my father. I have never taken any alcohol and I don’t smoke. I remember Churchill said, “I smoke like chimney and drink like fish,” but I didn’t go through all that. I love exercise, and boxing happens to be one of my games. When I was in England, I played polo very well, and up till today, I still have my equipment for exercise. When I have to work, I do it in line with this poem: Work while you work Play while you play This is the way To be healthy and happy.
One thing at a time And done well Is the best of rules, As many can tell So, work while you work And play while you play.
This is a poem I will never forget and that is my principle: work while you work and play while you play. When I want to work, I work, and when I want to rest, I do. But when I got to 56 years of age, I began to slow down.
Did you actually train as a boxer?
Yes, I did. I actually started it in Kaduna, amongst some youth boxers. In Lagos, I was actually in the ring and I was two times very well beaten, but I also did beat many people.
Like who, sir?
I won’t tell you. Boxing is a very good exercise. That’s why I was very friendly with Mohammed Ali while in California and I had a number of photographs with him. I was not a trained boxer, just an amateur.
How would you describe your father, the former Atta of Ebiraland?
He was a great man; that’s all I can say. He spoke 14 languages. He spoke his native Ebira and English Language very well, with a bit of French. He was an interpreter for the British people when I was a young boy. He spoke Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Igala and Nupe, all very fluently. And a book was written by him. The man had brain; he was a marvellous person.
How many were you in the family?
We were 156, but today, we are
In the past, we had the Ford Foundation. They offered scholarships to poor people in Nigeria. And then, you could study whatever you wanted free of charge. At that time, I was lucky to go to the London School of Economics (LSE); and I did very well.
about 13 men and women alive. But for grandchildren, we should be more than 1,000.
From how many wives?
I don’t know. There were many of them. If one left, she would be substituted by another to maintain the Islamic requirements. There were so many people in the palace then. Whatever you call them, whether they were concubines, I don’t know. I have very many good brothers and they all respect me. There was no discrimination amongst us at all because in our days, you didn’t eat in your mother’s house, you ate in houses of others’ mothers (step mothers). The woman that wold cook for you was different from your biological mother. There was no issue of poisoning another person, not at all. There was cordial relationship in spite of the large number in the family.
You were the only child of your mother. Were you pampered?
I was not pampered because I buried myself amongst my brothers. I saw them as my brothers too. The only time I had quarrels was with one of my late brothers. But we reconciled and I was very happy he knew he made a mistake. Besides that, I was very much at home with all of them.
Could you remember any memorable experience in your school days at Ondo Boys’ High School and Oduduwa College?
Yes, I learnt to do photography to augment my school fees. Apart from that, I speak Ondo dialect very well. I speak Yoruba very well.
How did you fit into the British society when you went there to study?
In the past, we had the Ford Foundation. They offered scholarships to poor people in Nigeria. And then, you could study whatever you wanted free of charge. At that time, I was lucky to go to the London School of Economics (LSE); and I did very well. When I wanted to go to Harvard Business School, I didn’t have the administrative experience because, for you to get there, you must have experience in evaluation of commercial issues. But I went and I came back to settle in Lagos.
I made so many friends and that enlightened me a lot. And I am pleased.
I am going to tell you something very important. Perhaps this would be the first time anybody is going to hear this. It is about me and the Nigerian government at that time. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) through his then minister, Jibril Aminu, asked me to lead some delegates to Southern Australia for the celebration of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. There, I met Lord Flowers, who was the Queen’s uncle and was also the Vice Chancellor of London University. This man was very influential. He spoke to me and invited me to come over to London. It was through him that my wife and I were invited by Her Majesty, the Queen of England. We were invited to visit the Queen because of my performance in the Association of Commonwealth of Universities in Australia and that gave me the green light to know so many influential people in the British government. One important thing I derived from the meeting is about the late Sani Abacha.
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At that time, the British government was not happy with the way things were going in Nigeria under Abacha and had decided to dismiss Nigeria from the Commonwealth. He (Abacha) did all he could to put people together to meet with the British government on the issue, but to no avail. Some people that went to discuss with the British government were turned down because they said they didn’t want to meet with anybody from Nigeria. The then secretarygeneral of the United Nations (UN) was Emeka Anyaoku.
I was called upon to go to Britain on the matter. Before then, I had been living in London. My children and family members were all there. I decided to heed the call. That very night, I took my late brother, Idris and we flew to London. Eventually, I was able to meet with the Queen and we had discussions. I can’t go into the details of the discussions again, but their response was that they would give Abacha a chance. They said they would not expel Nigeria at that conference, adding that since he (Abacha) wanted to contest for the presidency,they would give him a chance, and that if he succeeded, he must right all the wrongs he had done.
“But now, let him release all the prisoners he has held captive before 9pm (of that day). If that is done, we shall tell you what to do,” they said.
When I brought back the report to Abacha, he asked if that was the decision and I said yes. That was exactly what he did. He released so many people from prison. Because of that, they forgot about expelling Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations.
Abacha did not even benefit from it because he died the same year. But at least, my visit made it possible to retain Nigeria in the Commonwealth. I am very proud of it because no Nigerian dared it. But I did that and did not make noise about it over the years. There were many Nigerians who could have done it better than I did, but they did not have the opportunity to meet those I met. Lord Flowers is still alive, but he is very old now.
Did you care to advise Abacha against some of his draconian policies since you were closed to him?
No. Like I said, we were not friends. I didn’t. He told me what the problems were. He gave me some letters. He said since I went to Australia for Commonwealth, did I know anybody who could be of help, and I said I would try. The same day, I left for London, and in two days I got a result. I only came in to intervene in the overall interest of Nigeria as a country. It is something I am very proud of.
My mission was the best ever because Abacha responded immediately there was a result and released people from prisons. But unfortunately, he died. I did my bid and he could have done his own too. But I retain the pride.
How would you describe your experience during your first time in London?
Yes, I was in London promoting my businesses. Apart from being a miner, I was into petroleum. I had NIGUS Petroleum Limited. I had a friend in the US, whose father was into petroleum and we agreed to work together to form NIGUS. My company became the first to go into oil exploration, winning two international concessions. One was OPL 469, the other was OPL 464 . OPL 464 was on drillable structure.
I was eventually able to place my rig with the help of Shell to produce 30,000 barrels per day. It was an indigenous oil company. But Nigeria fought me to the end and stopped it.
Why did the government fight you?
I wouldn’t want to talk much on that because government is still looking into it.
Was anybody interested in it?
They stopped it and shared it amongst themselves.
Who were they?
I won’t tell you that.
Where is government in the case right now?
They are still talking with me to see what can be done.
Have you tried exploring oil on other basins?
No. The government didn’t give out concession and you could not just go into it like that. There must be a bid offered from the government to that effect. And if you can afford to pay, they offer you the concession.
Is NIGUS still in existence?
Yes. We haven’t given up. Our matter is now being dealt with, by the grace of God. There have been many meetings.
Tell us how you transited from a successful businessman to a traditional ruler, getting to the
highest echelon of the traditional institution of your people?
I am a product of the palace. I was born a prince. When I was younger, I didn’t know what it was to be a prince. I just love people. I like to go to meet my people anytime there is music. I speak Ebira very well, so I am not surprised that they love me so well as I love them too. That is the initial thing I am very proud of.
My father didn’t attach importance to us being who we are, and I followed that philosophy. We have had to face lots of challenges because most of my people believe in what they call republicanism. That’s the kind of philosophy that has kept many nations backward. I have been able to break down that philosophy as much as I could. I have emphasized the need that everyone has got to work. The Qur’an said that “on the strength of their brow shall they live.” Go and work and live on your brow.
The children of your father were many, how did you become the Ohinoyi?
I don’t know. Okay, there’s something I can tell you. My father was very friendly with the British government and they built a waterworks here. Waterworks was very important in Nigeria at that time. King George the fifth asked British officials to build waterworks here for our people, but they didn’t like it. They built the road but they didn’t like it. They built schools for our people but they didn’t like it, so they hated my father. He was expelled from Ebiraland and exiled in Dekina area of the state. Even when he was there, he was able to come back to his family and then go back. I remember very well, when he was expelled, and I went to see him, one thing he said to me was, “Go and do your best and give respect to all your brothers. Whoever doesn’t like you, like him. I know the British would not let me come back to Ebiraland, but at the end of it all, I will come back.” I pondered on the statement, “The British won’t let me to come, but at the end I will come back.” Maybe he was a very prophetic man. Maybe from his own insight he thought I would come here as the Atta of Ebira.
You clocked 24 on the throne last year, how would you describe your reign so far?
The only difference I find is that I am not free like the bird. I am tied down. But my movement to my people is very free. They come to me all the time. Even to my bedroom, they can come to meet me if they want. I enjoy that very much. They love me and I love them too.
Atta’s family is very large and you are the head of the family. How do you manage such a complex family?
Once you are the king, you are the head of the family. It started from the way we were brought up. We were never envious of each other. We don’t go to court to say no, you can’t be; I am older, you are younger. When I took over, Dr Atta was alive and a number of others. Some of them are no longer alive. But they didn’t disturb me. There was no competition in the family. When I call them, they come. When they want to see me, they let me know. We have no wrangling over property or whatever. We are all fully educated. That is our joy. We have no time to think of somebody having better cars than you; no envy and jealousy at all. That probably would have been the main problem in chieftaincy affairs. Jealousy and envy are the major problem because that could result in anything.
What are the major achievements you have recorded so far as the Atta of Ebiraland?
Before I ascended the throne, Ajaokuta was part of Ebiraland in my father’s time. But somehow, the late Attah of Igala pleaded with the Sardauna and appointed some people into offices in the area and those offices were never available in Ebiraland. Eventually, part of Ajaokuta land was ceded to the Igala. Who gave them? It was some Ebira politicians who did that to compensate Attah Igala for helping them gain some offices with Sardauna. That was what they did. When I came in, this was what I met and I wasn’t happy. I went round, two to three months and got my papers ready. I went to the Attah Igala and told him, “When you were a school boy, you told me my father was like a father to you. You said he didn’t hurt you,’’ and he said yes. I asked: “Why did you hurt him?” He said, “What have I done?’’ And I asked, “Why did you take Ajaokuta from my father’s land?’’ He didn’t have an answer to it. And I had in my possession, a copy of a letter in that respect.
After that, I went to Audu, who was the then governor and told him I wanted to send a memo to the Council to change the situation. My people and land cannot be usurped by anybody. Is it by conquest or treaty? Audu told me, “If you decide to present your petition and they decide to vote, you know you have only five people in the Council while Igala has 14 people.’’ I told him I preferred it that way and he laughed. He gave instructions that a meeting be held to review my petition.
When I met the Attah, a gentleman, he didn’t know I had a copy of the letter. He asked: “You want us to go and debate on your letter?’’ I said, “Yes, I want us to debate it and know how you got my people to give you the land. There was no war and no treaty, how did you acquire it? And then you appoint “Onu of Ajaokuta” instead of “Ohinoyi of Ajaokuta.” How do you explain that?’’
At the meeting, the old man was sleeping and I said they should wake him up. He looked at me and just surrendered. At the meeting, the Attah ruled that the deed had been done and that Ebira people could go back to their land.
That’s one of my greatest achievements. This is one of the best things I have done for Ebiraland. Another thing I am thankful for is that peace has returned to Ebiraland and I thank my people for that. It makes me happier, and my people are happy too.
One cultural aspect of Ebiraland that has overtime generated problems is the issue of masquerades. How have you been managing this aspect of culture to ensure it doesn’t result in clashes among your people?
Well, culture is part of life but it has diminished. In my father’s time, every year, we had about 42 different cultural celebrations. Nine of them were night masquerades and the rest were singers and various forms of amusements. For those who have bad attitudes, the masquerades will sing songs against them to make them feel ashamed and change.
When my father left and the new regime came in, there was a kind of abuse of the masquerade aspect of our culture. They even started with him. It became possible for anyone to insult you without you being able to do anything. When I came in, what I did was to stop indiscriminate playing of tapes in the streets. If somebody’s tape was insulting your father and you were passing through the streets, you would react. I stopped all that; and I thank God they listened to me.
Occasionally, we hear complaints about music and we would call the person and ask why he did that, and then he will stop. Before then, there were lots of evil being perpetrated through masquerades. But gradually, that has gone down. There are Muslims and Christians amongst them. But I must tell you that the Christians here are very peaceful. It is not because they are less in number, but when it comes to participating in masquerade festivals, you don’t see them. Here, our people worship masquerades as they worship God. They like masquerades a lot. The belief is that masquerades are dead men who have come alive and sing in their wisdom from the grave and go back. I don’t know what the philosophy is elsewhere, but now you see so many masquerades in the streets, so what do you tell me about that. You have masquerades even bigger than Ebiraland.
The only trouble we have is that many of these masquerades go about with long sticks and beat anyone mercilessly. And funny enough, that is what the Ebira people like, that beating.
I don’t know. It is not only in Ebiraland, it happens in other places too. In fact, sometimes, they will go and give themselves to be beaten like the Fulani do sometimes. It is really weird, but I have stopped them. Today, only the main juju (masquerade) can carry stick. Singing and insulting others have diminished.
I must say that Ebira singers are very intelligent. I love them. In those days in England, once it was time for Ekwuechi (night masquerades) festival, I would fly to Nigeria, and the following day I would be back to England. If you listen to them, they
Righteousness exalts a nation, so I want to be remembered for my righteousness. I have not cheated nor harmed anybody. I obey the law, and through my belief in God, I don’t fear death. If you go there, my grave is there. are very intelligent people.
A night masquerade may start performance at 8pm and is supposed to close by 8am but some of them go on till 10am, which is against the law. They do that because they themselves are enjoying it. They sometimes sing over 100 philosophical songs in a single night of performance. And what they are singing are sensible things. If you see the man who sang that song, you begin to wonder how he was able to do that. You see him looking wretched. I didn’t allow that aspect of our culture to perish. As at today, I am trying to write a book on Ebira songs, where I will be explaining some of the philosophies in their songs.
When are you making the book public?
It won’t be long. I am planning to produce about 500 copies of the book. Up till now, I still allow them to sing their philosophical songs, but they must not insult anybody.
When we came here we saw your level of accommodation from your own staffers. Some of your close aides are not even indigenes of this state. Some of them are Yoruba and other tribes; how did you learn to accommodate people to this extent?
That was what I learnt from my father and I can’t throw it away. He made me a Nigerian. The Igbo are here; they even come to my palace time to time.
An Interview With Ohinoyi Of Ebiraland by the Nigerian Tribune in 2020.
We at Ebira Online Media says Happy Birthday to the finest King in Africa. His Royal Majesty Ado Ibrahim, may your days be long.
Long Liv The King?
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