The story of Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III
FEMI OGUNLANA, in this piece, brings the biography of Alayeluwa Oba (Dr) Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III JP CON CFR, the Soun of Ogbomosoland, in commemoration of his 94th birthday, today, May 27, 2020.
Birth and early struggles
Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III was born on the 27th of May, 1926 in the palace of Ogbomoso, to His Royal Highness Oba Bello Afolabi Oyewumi Ajagungbade II (the Soun of Ogbomoso from 1916 to 1940), and Ayaba Selia Olatundun Adunni Oyewumi of Arowomole compound of Arowomole, Ogbomoso. He was the youngest of his mother’s three male children. His father had many wives and 63 children. Because of his mother’s proclivity to giving birth to male children in a household where other queens had a preponderance of female children, she found herself in the midst of envy and recriminations from the other wives. In fact, Oba Oyewumi’s mother when she was pregnant with the now monarch consulted an Ifa priest to make attempt to change his sex to a female in the womb but this failed, the other ayabas having warned her against giving birth to another male child. Therefore, the mother and child were much travailed. To escape the unabated animosity directed against them, his mother, taking him along left the palace first for her family house at Arowomole and then for Ibadan.
Prince Jimoh Oladunni started his educational career at St. Patrick’s School, Oke-Padre, Ibadan. But the death of his father in 1940 meant that a return to Ogbomoso for the wife to mourn her husband was imperative. At the time, Oladunni was a mere 14 year-old boy. He thus continued his education at the (now defunct) Ogbomoso Peoples Institute headed by Professor Eyo Ita. The school was the precursor of Ogbomoso Grammar School. With his mother, he had relocated to Arowomole compound since the household of the deceased Oba had to leave the palace. Eventually, his dream of schooling was aborted due to financial constraints. There was no help and so, he reluctantly became a farm help, under one of his brothers, Dawodu Laleye, who initially promised to assist his education. His brother was supposed to fund his education but he kept on stalling and so one day, he fled to an Ijesa community to try his hand on gold mining. But there, all he could lay his hand on was cloth weaving. But the spirit of hard work and determination that now marks his adult life manifested from this time and so he was able to save some money from this business. He decided to return to Ogbomoso in 1943 but on the trip back he lost all his savings to money doublers and gamblers at Ede. Thus, he arrived in Ogbomoso penniless. He was not down nonetheless.
He went back to the cloth-weaving business and had a stall at Arowomole market. He used to ride a rickety bicycle to Ilorin to buy cotton for his business but he never minded, he was focused on success. Then, in 1944, a window of opportunity opened for him as a maternal uncle living in Jos, who came to Ogbomoso to get married, took him along while returning to his abode. He arrived in the tin city of Jos on May 17, 1944, where he soon began to assist his elder brother (of the same mother), Prince Moses Oyelowo Oyewumi, a tailor, and who already was living in Jos, to sell clothes. He later convinced his brother to let him practice cloth-weaving, the products of which they sold. The business prospered though at a great exertion because he used to trek long distances to sell the woven clothes at mining sites all around Jos. He served his brother with devotion and was exceedingly honest. Even when Oyelowo went back to Ogbomoso to get married in 1945 and he was stranded back home for six months due to a workers’ strike, Oyelowo returned to see the books well kept and his business intact. A rare thing today!
In 1946 nevertheless, the spirit of self-actualization overwhelmed the young Oladunni and he decided to be independent. This received the blessing of his brother, who gave him an old sewing machine and a sum of two pounds, sixteen shillings to start off. He bought and sewed cloths which he sold. Because he poured his heart into the work and turned out exquisite designs, his business witnessed tremendous spike and he began to flourish. Oladunni, the businessman now really began to unravel.
Career and accomplishments
The then Prince Oyewumi now set his eyes on real success. At just 20, he began the journey to the top. He took his savings of about 50 pounds to start trading in bicycles, specifically, double spring Raleigh, which he sourced from Lagos, and he began to make money. However, life is always full of twists and hurts. He soon fell a victim of fraudsters once again; he trusted someone who assured him he would help buy the products directly from the UAC at very cheaper rates. So, they went together to the company; he handed the money to the man who made to go into an office but bolted away through an exit door unknown to the young prince. He had lost four pounds, fifty shillings. It was a crushing blow but he soon gathered himself and the dream of being educated ever with him, he enrolled for evening classes at St. Paul’s School in Jos. While doing this, he did not lose sight of his goal, and one day, he walked into the GB Olivant to look over the shop and while there, he came across a manager in the company, a certain Mr. Smith, who was a Scot national. They bonded and became friends. Overtime, Mr. Smith offered Prince Oyewumi an attractive business deal, which involved being given goods on credit and making payment after sales, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands. This opened a new vista of prospect for him which he masterfully explored. He continued to have a robust relationship with Mr. Smith and this association helped him a lot to hone his business skills. He continued to grow and would later do business with other conglomerates like PZ, SCOA and CFAO.
His association with Smith was a real blessing to him, he was to Prince Oladunni what some people call “destiny helper” today. Smith introduced him to other expatriates, who also found his honesty and entrepreneurial acumen worthy. He met a Mr. Holford, the manager of the then Barclay’s Bank, through Smith; he opened an account with the bank which began to advance him credit facilities with which he expanded his business.
Meanwhile, on June 8, 1950, he took as wife, Alhaja Igbayilola Oyewumi (nee Laleye) (who died in 2019). From this time, events began to unravel rapidly which turned his life around for the better, ever. In 1954, he was made the sole distributor for CFAO in Jos. He now became a big time business man and travelled to France in 1958 and to some other European countries including Germany, where he was appointed as the distributor of Becks beer in Nigeria. He made some other business deals across Europe which entrenched his international status as a business man. He also consolidated in Nigeria and had become a charming prince dashing across Nigerian cities to forge new business deals. But fate had greater role for him.
Ascension to the throne
His fame soared across Nigeria, becoming widely known as the “The Prince.” His business interests too cut across many sectors. He built the popular Terminus Hotel in Jos and later in Osogbo before that of Ogbomoso. Now, the stool of Soun became an attraction to him, he desired to help his community develop, to leverage on the connections he had built and wide experiences. So, he waited for his time. The opportunity finally came in 1973 sequel to the passage of Oba Salami Ajiboye Itabiyi who died on June 2, 1973. It became the turn of his Gbagun royal family to produce the monarch of Ogbomoso. From the family, several candidates showed interest, he put his hat in the ring too. He got nominated along with one other and when ninety four family members met to consider the final two candidates, it was a forgone conclusion, he had endeared himself to all by his magnetic personality and so, the votes swung in his favour, nicking an overwhelming ninety votes out of ninety-four. He had become the Soun-elect. He was traditionally installed on December 14, 1973 as the 20th Soun of Ogbomoso. Meanwhile, his installation instigated a major crisis. This is because he dared to do what his predecessors did not do – wearing a beaded crown because the stool was considered that of Baale. Yoruba Obas were alarmed, from Ife to Oyo, to Abeokuta, to Orangun-Ila and so on, there were hurried meetings to plan how to forestall “this upstart from committing a sacrilege.” They cried foul that as Soun he was not entitled to wear beaded crown, they conspired with the governor of the then Western State, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi to thwart the move but he was adamant in the true spirit of his Ajagungbade cognomen. His grandfather Gbagunboye Ajamasa Ondugbe became known as Ajagungbade I after his heroics in battles. It was at a battle in Ilesa in 1867, where he led Ogbomoso warriors to, that he reportedly beheaded a sovereign and took his crown! Then, Soun had his reasons, if he was constantly greeted, “K’ade pe lori, ki bata pelese,” but he had no crown to show for it, it amounted to a mockery of his position. He further claimed that his grandfather – Gbagun – fought gallantly to win that crown. His traducers asked him to name the Oba from which Gbagun claimed the crown but he strongly countered: “Name the Oba that lost his crown and I will tell from whom he gained the crown!” They had no answer to this. The ding-dong persisted. The Military Governor also warned him sternly against the act but he was undaunted. He is bold, courageous and his nerves made of steel. That saved the day for him. He dared the whole establishment and came out victorious. He wore the beaded crown both at the installation and coronation ceremonies on December 14, 1973 and January 12, 1974 respectively. The local council had also threatened not to fund the installation ceremony if he insisted on wearing the much vaunted beaded crown, but he called its bluff and funded the ceremony from his purse. Oba Oladunni Oyewumi is an example of the indomitable spirit of the ancient Ogbomoso warlord, which made the difference during the Fulani onslaught against Yorubaland in the1800s. That was the first of his numerous accomplishments for Ogbomoso. An untoward consequence of this plot against him according to him is the loss of the prescribing authority of the Obas to determine who wears beaded crown to government.
The contributions of Oba Oladunni Oyewumi to the growth and development of Ogbomoso cannot be exhausted in volumes of books not to talk of a newsmagazine as this. He had breathed in the city his adventurous spirit and cosmopolitan outlook to make unbelievable impact. He is the monarch that built a semi-town into a metropolis of no mean value. He is the overlord who overnight changed the status of his stool, from Baale to Oba. Many of us, who walk the streets of Ogbomoso today, filled with pleasure about its magnificence, would have been confronted with a bucolic community. This traditional ruler has something in him, his wide connections coupled with his charming personality often stands him in a good stead to attract development. He is the monarch who restored Ogbomoso’s boundaries and thrust it to its greatest apogee. When he assumed the stool, Ogbomoso had only three taxi cabs, only three secondary schools, lopsided electricity, limited telephone facilities, poor infrastructures especially in respect of roads and so on. We are all witnesses to how the narrative had changed today. One may think that any Oba who sits on the throne would have done same, but this is a wrong assumption. He is a man of great assets, in terms of wealth and personality, these are at his beck and call to facilitate developments particularly at the inception of his reign. It was his persona that made Ogbomoso a kingdom today ruled over by a king, had it been someone else, who lacked grains of courage, knowledge and wherewithal, the migration to the status of Oba wouldn’t have occurred in time. In 1976, in fact, his struggles ensured that the Soun became an Oba officially. It is on record that the agitation of Oba Oyewumi facilitated this upgrading, which rubbed off well on Ibadan traditional stool too. He brought immense prestige to the throne of Soun and it was him that made it rank with the highest ranked across the country today.
Also to his eternal glory, he caused the rebuilding of Ogbomoso palace to a befitting one after he ascended to the throne. The old building consisting of a rustic upstairs built of mud was pulled down for the masterpiece that is Ogbomoso palace today. It was officially opened in March 1978. Furthermore, he spearheaded the legal battle over the boundary of Ogbomoso and Oyo. While Alaafin claimed the boundary was at Odo-Oba, Soun insisted it was at Ipeba. It should be noted that this struggle spanned many decades, about 75 years. Oba Oladunni Oyewumi reopened it and it ended in victory for Ogbomoso in 1984 when the city claimed victory at the Supreme Court. In that fashion Ogbomoso won back many of its communities and lands. The siting of a university and two teaching hospitals, good network of roads, a television and two radio stations, a Federal Government College, a Government Technical College, numerous secondary schools (both public and private), several commercial and microfinance banks including a branch of the Bank of Agriculture, dual carriage roads, stadium, police area command and many more are some of the legacies that will forever define his reign. The beautiful thing about all this is that upon mounting the saddle, he approached the right authorities to bring these things. As an instance, he just invited old acquaintances who headed NITEL and the electricity company at Osogbo at the time to significantly improve their services in his domain and pronto these were effected. So is the case with the upgrading of Ogbomoso command to an area command.
Also, many indigenes of the city continue to rise in status in their careers occupying eminent positions that buoy the prestige of the community in the comity of communities. He bagged many awards and recognitions including being conferred with the prestigious national awards of Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), the second being the highest conferred on any traditional ruler. He is the Chancellor of Plateau State University and he is a highly revered traditional ruler. He has his flaws no doubt but the greatness he impacted on Ogbomoso is evident of his own greatness. On a personal level, he is a job creator in Ogbomoso, his interests cover oil and gas, real estate, hospitality etc. Old age has set in, his vitality and agility is reduced, slowing him down significantly but the sharpness and clearness of his mind are still with him and in his head are continuously conjured the bright things he desires for his kingdom. One can conveniently say that in terms of accomplishments for Ogbomoso, only his great ancestors – Soun Ogunlola, Toyeje Akanni Alebiosu and Oluwusi Aremu could rival him. On his 94th birthday, may he be healthy and strong as ever to live many more years, and may his pate persistently be bedecked with the beaded crown he forced for himself and his successors!