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Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuwade, dies at 85

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, reportedly passed on, on Tuesday, at 85 years and seven months. He was born on January 1, 1930.

Unconfirmed sources said the monarch, who was said to have been flown out of the country since last Friday, died in the United Kingdom.

Most top Ife indigenes and Osun State government officials contacted by our correspondent late on Tuesday kept sealed lips but some traditional rulers in the state confirmed that Sijuwade had died.

The spokesperson for the Ooni, Chief Funmilola Olorunnisola, told one of our correspondents that, “I don’t have anything to tell you immediately.”

One Osun traditional ruler, who asked not to be quoted, confided in one of our correspondents on the phone last night that the Ife monarch had died.

He said, “The Ooni is dead. It is true. He died about two hours ago in the UK. His two oloris (wives) – Olori Moni and Olori Odun – were with him in the UK.

“He travelled out for treatment anytime he fell ill but he couldn’t make it this time. It is sad but I believe it is God’s time. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

“Tokunbo, his eldest child, will probably leave for the UK this evening. There is nothing we can do but we take solace in the fact that he lived well. The proper announcement will be done later,”

The traditional ruler’s account was corroborated by another monarch, who explained that the Ooni was indeed flown out of the country five days ago in an air ambulance after he slumped.

A call to the line of the monarch was not answered.

There had been fears over the health of the first class monarch since 2013 when he was taken out of the country for medical attention for over a month.

Oba Sijuwade ascended the throne in December 1980.

Born on January 1, 1930, Sijuwade became the fiftieth ruler of the ancient kingdom of Ife, popularly referred to as the cradle and source of the Yoruba, in 1980.

Though he took the name Alayeluwa Olubuse II upon his installation, he dropped “Alayeluwa” from his name a few years back, saying that only God is fit to be called “Alayeluwa.”

Alayeluwa means omniscience.

A former commissioner and indigene of Ife, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “It is true. I was with him on Wednesday. Last Thursday when we held the political summit in Ife, he supported us and sent an emissary to the summit. He slumped on Thursday and was rushed to Ibadan airport from where he was flown to Lagos in an air ambulance en route to England for treatment. He became stable by Saturday. It is sad that he relapsed and passed on.”

The flamboyant traditional ruler was crowned king on December 6, 1980 in a colourful ceremony attended by prominent traditional rulers the Emir of Kano, Oba of Benin, Amayanabo of Opobo and the Olu of Warri as well as the representatives of the Queen of England.

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It was gathered that the Ife traditional council and the Osun State traditional council would meet on Wednesday.

A competent source disclosed that emissaries from the two councils would visit the Governor of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola, to officially break the news to the governor.

Sijuwade was born to the Ogboru ruling house. The handsome king was a grandson of the Ooni Sijuwade Adelekan Olubuse I. He studied at the Abeokuta Grammar School and Oduduwa College in Ile-Ife.

He worked for three years in his father’s business and later did a two-year stint with the Nigerian Tribune, before attending the Northampton College in the United Kingdom to study Business Management.

At the young age of 30, he became a manager in Leventis, a Greek-Nigerian conglomerate. In 1963, he became the Sales Director of the state-owned National Motors 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. This later became the nucleus of his widespread business empire. He also invested in real estate in his home town of Ile-Ife. By the time Sijuwade was crowned Ooni in 1980 he had become a wealthy man, whose fame and connection was global.

When Sijuwade became the Ooni, he inherited an ongoing dispute over supremacy between the obas of Yorubaland. In 1967 the crisis had been resolved when the late Yoruba sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was chosen as the leader of the Yoruba. In 1976, the Governor of Oyo State, General David Jemibewon, had decreed that the Ooni of Ife would be the permanent chairman of the State Council of Obas and Chiefs. Other Obas led by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, said the position should rotate. The dispute calmed down when Osun State was carved out of Oyo State in August 1991, but still persisted. In January 2009, Sijuwade was quoted as saying that Oba Adeyemi was ruling a dead empire (the Oyo Empire, which collapsed in 1793). Adeyemi responded by citing “absurdities” in Sijuwade’s statements and saying the Ooni “is not in tune with his own history”.

It will be recalled that Oba Adeyemi, the Permanent Chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs, was conspicuously absent from a meeting of Yoruba leaders in April 2010.

In February 2009, Sijuwade helped mediate in a dispute over land ownership between the communities of Ife and Modakeke, resolved in part through the elevation of the Ogunsua of Modakeke as an Oba.

In August 2010 he mediated in the ownership dispute between Oyo and Osun states concerning Ladoke Akintola University, calling a meeting attended by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, governor of Osun State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, governor of Oyo State and the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Education which resulted in an action plan.

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