The Osemawe of Ondo, Oba Victor Ademefun Kiladejo, Jilo III, is regarded as the paramount ruler and the 44th monarch of Ondo Kingdom. He ascended the throne exactly a decade ago. With a richly varied journey, the monarch insists that it has been a blend of God’s grace and support of his subjects. Looking back at the past one decade in the palace, the Osemawe smiled with an assurance of a more promising future. In this interview by MONICA TAIWO and TUNDE BUSARI in his palace, Oba Kiladejo speaks about the place of Ondo Kingdom in the South West as well as the traditional title which has been in existence for over five centuries.
Since your installation as the paramount traditional ruler of Ondo Kingdom a decade ago, what will be your assessment of the journey so far?
I will say that it has been an interesting one. Equally, I will also say that it has been a difficult engagement because Ondo Kingdom is a place where the king rules over great people. These are people of dignity and honor and they are highly enlightened. It is like ruling born leaders. My being the Osemawe is like being the king of leaders or potential leaders. It is both difficult and easy to lead them in the sense that you will not have problem in getting people to join you in doing whatever you are doing. But they will also not tolerate it when you are not doing what you are supposed to do.
For many traditional rulers, they say that there were signs that they would be rulers even before they ascended the thrones of their forebears. Were there signs which heralded your eventual promotion to the throne?
Before becoming a king you must be a prince, and any prince has a right to the throne. But as for predictions, there were some predictions but I am the kind of person that hardly believes in predictions. People try to predict your future but I believe you have to work hard and achieve what you want to achieve.
What kind of background did you have?
I was born into a polygamous family; my father had 22 children. I am the first child among the 22 children. We are two football teams, so to say. I graduated from the then University of Ife where I studied Medicine. I also studied at Liverpool. I have my hospital in Lagos. The hospital has been in existence 20 years before I ascended the throne.
Since you became a traditional ruler, don’t you miss your medical practice?
When you are given a position of honour you don’t have to look back. I have the habit of adjusting to the inevitable. Once I became the traditional ruler by the choice and support of my people, the best of it is to enjoy the throne. I may have the choice of looking back at my practicing days but the choice is mine to concentrate on the new assignment. The assignment involves serving my people in another capacity. The long and short part of it is that I am enjoying the throne and I have no regrets. Yes, there could be challenges but each of these challenges is an opportunity for me to learn something. In other words, I take challenges as hidden treasures. When things are too easy I take them as they come but when I have challenges I look for the hidden treasures therein. I start to look out for what life is
It is expected that every great kingdom has a story behind their establishment. What is the story behind the existence of Ondo Kingdom?
According to Ondo tradition as well as the chroniclers of history, the Ondo monarchy started in the year 1510. The history of Ondo is somehow controversial. However, there are two popular versions—the Ife version and Oyo version. We also have the Benin version compiled by Chief Jacob Eghareva, the Benin historian. As for the Benin version, we believe that there are some similarities between the Ondos and the Benins.
But according to the Ife version which is the one most acceptable to Ondo people, a favoured wife of Oduduwa, the progenitor of Yorubas was delivered of a set of twins, a male and a female. However, it was a taboo to have twins in that era. When such a thing happened the twins were murdered. But because it happened to the most favored wife, the king decided to send the mother and babies away and directed his aides and chiefs to follow them. A warrior called Ija was part of the delegates. They left Ile-Ife and first settled at a place called Ijamo. Ijamo was discovered by Ija.
Let me quickly relate the Oyo version. According to the version, a favoured wife of the king of Oyo delivered a set of twins. They were to be murdered with their mother but the king decided to spare them. The important point here is that there is similarity in the two versions. There is a king’s wife. There are twins delivered by the queen. Ijamo settlement also featured in the two versions. The two, essentially, are more or less the same. They stayed in Ijamo for a considerable period of time before they decided to stay in a place called Epe where the twins grew up and the female survived and continued the journey according to the Ifa oracle guide. The oracle said they should go with a yam stick called edo. It told them to settle where the yam stick could not enter the earth. They made some attempts at different locations on their journey until they got to the point where the yam stick could not enter the earth. The place was therefore named Edojudo. Of course, they met some people who surrendered and were assimilated into the culture of the migrants. Edojudo later turned to Ondo. It was that female twin, the uboku that eventually became the first king of this kingdom.
Going by your narration, it implies that a female was the first king of Ondo. But how did you arrive by the traditional title of Osemawe?
As I told you earlier, both versions recognise that a set of twins was born and that was an abomination at that time. When such took place, they exclaimed ‘eshe omo re.’ That is, ‘this is an abomination’. The title, ‘Osemawe’, was from ‘eshe omo re.’ We are talking about what happened in the 16th century. That is why we were able to celebrate our 500th anniversary in 2010, that is six years ago. And we are proud of it because you can hardly see a community that will have a proper documentation of their kingdom for a period of 500 years. Here, everything is well documented. There is no controversy. We are very proud of our history, hence the reason we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Osemawe.
Celebrating five centuries is a huge engagement. Were there landmarks to show as you celebrated Ondo kingdom?
There were so many things. As we started the anniversary, we did so many things. Very importantly let me also tell you that Ondo kingdom in the last five centuries has a history that includes two centuries of slave trade, one century of colonial rule by the British, three decades of military rule, three experiments with civilian democratic rule, a civil war that came to us through Ore and a membership of three political states mainly Western Region, old Ondo State before the creation of Ekiti State and the present Ondo State.
Despite the various challenges thrown up by history, Ondo Kingdom has continued to wax stronger and stronger and the only common denominator is the existence of Osemawe. The people revere the throne and it is the presence of Osemawe that enables us to remain very significant and to walk in the same direction and that direction is the same as the Osemawe. One of the remarkable aspects of it was the colonial introduction of Christianity and western education. That is why one can probably tell you that western education and the secondary school education or the first secondary school in this neighborhood was built by the Ondos through our communal efforts. I am referring to Ondo Boys High School. That was the school I attended and I am very proud of that. That also leads me to tell you that Ondo people are known for communal efforts. We come together to do things. Our General Hospital was built by Ondos through our efforts. Also our medical tourist centre is one of the best places in the south of the savannah, the entire West Africa and some parts of Africa. Wherever you see Ondo people, there is cooperation. This cooperation is possible because we have a common leadership in the Osemawe that we follow as far as Ondo is concerned.
We earlier asked about the 500th anniversary celebration of the Ondo kingdom. How was the celebration?
We started off with eminent personalities. We invited people like Professor Akin Mabogunje and the late Professor Filani. They were the brains behind the Lagos mega city as well as Abuja mega city. We also invited members of the Nigeria Vision 2020. So many people were invited to make the Ondo vision 2015 a reality. As we speak, we have the first University of Medical Science. As a result of that, Ondo is becoming a medical tourist centre. We have modern markets that we can boast of. We have human capital that enables us to operate under the same umbrella of developing Ondo kingdom which is the product of celebrating 500 years of Osemawe. Now apart from the infrastructure, we have the cultural heritage unit; we also maintain a cultural museum. By the end of the year 2015, Ondo became a city, a functional city with all the amenities. We didn’t have a university before now. But today, we have five universities.