In this interview, the Oloja of Ibodi Ijesha, Osun State, Oba Omisade Agboluaje flaunts the rich pedigree of Ibodi community, attributing the community’s affinity with monkeys to the long history its people share with this species of animal.
You once complained of the activities of illegal miners in your community, alleging that the Federal Government was giving out licences to miners and their agencies without recourse to the host community. Can you substantiate this?
Yes, you are right. I actually made those claims, based on the information at our disposal. Interestingly, we’ve been able to confirm some of those things. For instance, we sent representatives to the Federal Ministry of Mines, and reports reaching us indicate that some people have acquired the licences on our land without our approval. I have never given approval to any miner and those people were given approval without our knowledge.
Where is the approval from, the state or Federal Government?
We wouldn’t know, but we have been trying to find out. We are using this opportunity to appeal to the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to always find out, or make contact whenever it wants to give approval for any mining company or mining body. It would be so strange for us to see some strangers coming, acquiring our land without our consent. The community may not like it, and may want to resist such. But we are lovers of peace. You can see the atmosphere of peace in the town, and we wouldn’t want to trade that peace for anything in this world. We don’t want any problem; we want to continue to enjoy the peace here. That is why we are appealing to the Federal Government to come to our aid, by helping us find out who is giving approval and who is acquiring approval without our knowledge.
We are planning to get across to the Special Adviser on Mining. He happens to be a friend, and thank God in Osun State, from the governor to the commissioners, they are all my friends. A programme is going on in my town now by UNDP; the state government sent its people to come and train our people on how to make dye and all sorts of craft. That only goes to show the level of friendship. So we are getting across to them.
Besides mineral resources, what others resources do you have in this community?
We are very rich here, in Ibodi. Let me start with tourism. That building you are looking at (pointing to a nearby building) if you go there, you will notice it is in the form of a town hall. That is the first palace in Ijesha land here; it’s over 500 years old. I’ll take you there you will see the structure. It can be turned to a tourist centre. When we were coming from Ile Ife, we migrated from Oloromu quarters, in Ife. If you go to Ife now, Oloromu quarters is by the left side of that rock where we have the NTA. When we were coming from Ife, we came with some animals, like the monkeys. Those animals came with us when we were coming to this town. They migrated with us from Ife and, interestingly, they still live with us here. That is why nobody kills them here, even when the kabiyesi is eating, and they wish to eat, they will come down and we will give them food. Our major occupation here is agriculture. We are blessed with fertile land. We have the best gold, 24 Carat gold, in Ibodi. You can ask any of those illegal miners. That is why we are saying we don’t want people to just steal and rob us of our God-given mineral resources and again pollute our environment.
In what way have these mining activities affected the community?
There are mining holes in many parts of our community. Those miners dig holes here and there and they leave them uncovered. And because of that, everybody lives in fear. We live in fear because majority of our people are farmers. You can just imagine what would happen should any of them slip into any of those holes. Even all our hunters can no longer go out to hunt. Ordinarily you don’t hunt in broad daylight, but the challenge is that it is now dangerous to do that at night because of the holes dug here and there. All the surroundings have been dug and the holes left uncovered.
Any impact of these resources on the community’s economy?
For us here, it is a mixed bag. For instance, though illegal, the mining activities have increased the population of the community. People flock here, just because of the natural resources they see here. This has also impacted positively the commercial activities of the community and the trickle-down effects on the economy are quite appreciable. But, in all these, the community still feels robbed, because all these things are done illegally or done without the consent of the people. We believe if the normal process had been taken, the result and impact on the community should be positively greater than what we are presently seeing.
Are there no health challenges?
Definitely there are. Curiously, they may not be visible now but we are sure that if this continues the health implication of this environmental degradation and pollution, going on in the community, would be grave. That is our fear; that is our concern. We know the health challenges will come, though we don’t know what form or when it will come.
In all these, what exactly do you want from the government?
My appeal to the Federal Government is that it should save us. The Federal Government and the state government should always let the community be in the know if they want to give approval for such activities in the community. They should please carry us along so that the people will know that such activities are being carried out, legally. Then, I will be able to assure my people that such people have the blessings and support of the government. This way, there won’t be any crisis. This would enable the host communities relate very well with the miners and I have no doubt that this relationship would be beneficial to all the parties involved. Besides, it would be good if the government can furnish us with the details of the people or agents mining in our community. We are not against non-indigenes mining here, but we want to know all of them so that there will be better relationship between us. Most of the miners are from the North and we are ready to cooperate with them and we want them to reciprocate the gesture.
I will like to call on the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to impress it on government on the need to further open up the communities and the gold reserves to drive the economy. We can only call on government through Dr. Fayemi to focus on the communities and the activities of the miners. Few years ago, a former Minister Obiageli Ezekwesili, visited Igun and we were excited that government had finally heeded our call but that was all we saw. Nothing happened afterwards. As a stakeholder, I’m also urging government to assist us in the area of infrastructure, especially roads and health facilities. As I speak, most of these areas are cut off entirely from the rest of the country because of bad roads. Also, the surge in population has made the existing health facilities inadequate for the residents.
Did you ever imagine, before now, that you could be made a king?
Let me say being a king never came to me as a surprise. I’m a prince, and you know being a prince makes you a king in waiting. But one should also not forget the God -factor too. You cannot be anything without the approval or the knowledge of God. God makes kings. The only thing I can say is that I thank God he made it possible for me to be here.
What do you think should be the role of traditional leaders in today’s governance?
I will say that to maintain dignity and respect for that traditional institution, traditional rulers should not involve themselves in politics. They should be very neutral. They should be father to every political party and to everybody in government. I don’t cherish the idea of traditional rulers being actively involved in politics. If they do, there would be disrespect, there would be insult. But as an oba, if you want to maintain that self-dignity and respect for yourself, steer clear of politics.