Ooni Adeyeye Babatunde Enitan Akande Ogunwunsi is the 51st Ooni of the third dynasty of Ile Ife. Ooni Adeyeye Ogunwusi ascended the throne of Oduduwa in December 2015. Before his ascension, Ooni Adeyeye was and is a serial businessman with vested interests in mining, construction, hospitality, education, sports, banking, real estate, and cultural development. Ooni Adeyeye Ogunwusi has empowered over 750,000 youth in different vocations and is still empowering them.
He established Adire-Oodua under the management of the elegant Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi Adewusi to train women and youth in the act of tie and dye. Ooni’s passion for education led to the establishment of Ojaja University in Ilorin, Kwara State, and his giving scholarships to over 10,000 students. His love for hospitality led to the establishment of two of the biggest resorts in Nigeria: Inage Resorts in Lagos and Ife Grand Resorts in Ile-Ife.
Ooni Ogunwusi is the permanent chairman of the Osun State Council of Obas, the permanent chairman of the South-West Council of Obas, and the co-chairman of the Nigerian Traditional Council. He is the chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsuka, Enugu State. He was recently honoured by the federal government for his philanthropic gestures to the less privileged with the honorary title ‘Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR). In this interview, the Ooni of Ife speaks about his ascension to the throne, the rich cultural heritage of the Adire Textile, his work in promoting it, and more.
Before you became the Ooni of Ife, what did you do? What was life like for you?
Before I became the Ooni of Ife, I was a serial entrepreneur. I had investments in banking, specifically mortgage banking, and a couple of microfinance banks. I am a huge investor in real estate, tourism, construction, and land dredging, including building one of the largest resorts in Nigeria, known as Inagbe Resort.
To be crowned king, you must be from a ruling house, but many ruling houses exist in one kingdom. `Growing up, did you ever imagine that one day you would be a king? Have you always wanted to be a king, and why?
Kings are born and not made; my life was foretold long before my birth, and my growing up has been very peculiar, particularly my elderly and mature ways of doing things. So, I have been friends with many kings, and I have many others as business partners and associates. When destiny suddenly called, it was easy for me to plug in.
My father, too, Ooni Sijuwade, of blessed memory, was a mentor and father who awarded some of the last projects I did before I ascended the throne. I built a mini-estate for him in Lagos.
These days, the race to the throne has been very competitive, with many ruling families laying claim to the throne simultaneously. What was your experience, or how would you describe your ascension to the throne as Ooni of Ife?
Very divinely, our ruling house (Giesi) emerged in 1930; unfortunately, we lost it as it was given to Osinkola, and also, in 1980, when we were next in line, it was taken from us and given to the Ogbooru family. In 2015, the gazette had already been made, though some thought we would not be able to present capable princes, but we did, and what eluded us about 100 years ago is back to our ruling house, Giesi. This is not without other ruling houses contesting, but we thank God.
I am a direct descendant of Ojaja 1, who ruled between 1877 and 1880 (3 years). That was my great-great-grandfather.
After you were pronounced king, what were the things you could do before that you couldn’t do anymore?
Many things, because Ife is the citadel of culture and tradition, where we have a lot of dos and don’ts. I like taking on new challenges and moving around the world, which involves mobility, and I love driving and horseback riding, which I can’t do anymore. There are also strict cultural rules, which I have to follow very well.
How easy has it been to lead the people of Ife since you ascended the throne in 2015, and what are your roles as King?
It has been good but challenging because a king leads the good, the bad, and the ugly in society, but a king should always do his best for his people and let them see his focus. I personally have made youth development and capacity building the centre of my work on the throne, and I thank God for the journey so far.
What have you been able to achieve so far as Ooni of Ife?
To the glory of God, I have achieved so much in so many ways that there won’t be space to cover it all if I start counting. We achieved a lot in the areas of agriculture, tourism, humanitarian aid, youth development, and emancipation, which I made the centre of my work on the throne.
I am on the board of over 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and we are very impactful in what we do, particularly youth-oriented initiatives and others geared towards making life better for all.
There cannot be achievements without challenges; what are the challenges you have experienced?
The main challenge is our people’s orientation and mindset about the cause and narratives we are working to change. You know that is not easy, but God has been very helpful.
Since you ascended the throne, you have married many wives, which is typical for a king, but recently, you have married at least seven wives in a short period of time. Why, and is there significance behind it?
The institution is so huge that no single woman can successfully handle the throne’s domestic and other core affairs, where we feed over one thousand people in a day. The throne is designed for one king but not one queen. I have struggled against it, but I have to succumb to the requirements of the throne, and that is when I am getting better.
Were these wives chosen for you, or what was the selection process? Also, why weren’t you present at some of the ceremonies? Was there a reason why?
That is the tradition; I am not allowed to attend such a function.
You have been a firm promoter of the Adire textile; what is the relation of this fabric to the Ife Kingdom? Does it signify anything?
Absolutely, tie and dye originated on the throne here in the kingdom of Ife before spreading to all parts of the world. Orunmila came up with the pattern, and Osun, who was nicknamed “Iya Alaro,” came up with the designs and concepts.
We all know the role of Osun, the palace, and her connection with other deities. Adire Oodua is one of our success stories, and we are promoting heritage through textiles and opening it to the world.
We have a huge Adire factory where we train a lot of women, including widows, youth, and students, in the art and business opportunities embedded in this beautiful craft. I am proud to say that Olori Aderonke is doing so well in this regard with numerous innovations, including Africa Fashion Week London, Africa Fashion Week Brazil, and other initiatives structured towards taking Adire Oodua to the global stage and recognition.
You are the chairman of the Oodua Textile Hub, which just launched its Adire mobile boutique. Tell us what this is about and how it benefits the people of Ife and Nigeria as a whole.
The Adire Mobile Boutique is designed to spread the value chain via mobility and get Adire textiles to our people across the country and across the world. I like to describe it as “Adire on Wheels,” and I am confident of its success.
The only challenge we are facing is adulterated foreign products, which we are campaigning against. They are dangerous to our economy, especially the GDP, and they do not help the local experts, so we are saying no to them.
For those who do not know, there are six types of Adire: Adire Oniko, Adire Eleko, Adire Alabela, Adire Alabere, Adire Onimachine, and Adire Printing. Which is your favourite, and why?
Well, the meaning of Adire is to tie and dye to suit human needs and promote our heritage. I do not have a particular favourite; I love all types of Adire.
Since Adire is proudly Nigerian, why would you say it’s important to uphold it?
I am very proud of the Adire textile because it is a huge part of our heritage. Every country has its own national heritage that some call patriotism, which they don’t joke with. Adire is our national asset in Nigeria, and it should be treated as such. I would like to call on the government to support us in the promotion of this national asset in order to take it to the next level, as we have in Ogun State, where the government has designated a day in the week for the wearing of Adire. Even in the north, like Kano, they make and wear Adire textiles.