My political experience has helped me to avoid scandals – Oba Saheed Elegushi
Oba of Ikate-Elegushi, Oba Saheed Elegushi, who is currently celebrating his ninth coronation anniversary, speaks with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS about his experience as a king
What has been your experience on the throne for the past nine years?
Firstly, I give glory to Allah. When I was told I would be the 21st monarch of the Ikate-Elegushi kingdom, I was scared for my life because I didn’t want to die at a young age.
I had a political ambition then too and I was hoping to become the governor of Lagos someday. I didn’t know that Allah had a bigger plan for me. But working with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu prepared me for this challenge. I learnt a lot working as the special assistant to two former governors of Lagos – Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola.
I was also born and raised in the palace, and that has made things easier for me as well. But beyond all these, I give glory to Allah for His blessings and guidance. No matter how many degrees you have, or how smart you are, you need God in everything you do.
Are you really the youngest Lagos monarch?
No, I am not. I think people just conclude that I am the youngest Lagos ruler because I am popular.
What are your plans for your kingdom?
My late father laid the foundation for everything you see here today. I just ascended the throne and continued his legacy. My father had put structures in place, and I am just following the scheme of things. The same thing applies to Lagos too. Things are peaceful in Lagos today because Asiwaju had laid the foundation.
What are the basic things you’ve done for your people?
If you know me well, I am not a noisemaker. We are in an era where people like to publicise the good they do. If you help someone, anyone doesn’t need to know about it. I have never done anything for someone and made it obvious it came from me. But I am always happy and satisfied whenever I wake up and remember the people I have helped. I don’t need to announce to the world any good deed I do because everything in this world will remain here when the world ends.
However, we give scholarships to children, especially the ones from humble backgrounds. We are also building a new city like Eko Atlantic, known as Imperial City. Many times, we travel to developed countries and we don’t bring things we learnt there to our communities. At times, I wonder if it is a curse that we are from the black race, and if that is why we struggle to do good things for our continent.
God has helped us to start Imperial City and I am sure He will help us to finish it too.
What is the most difficult decision you’ve taken as a king?
As a king, people will bring all sorts of things to you. But I try to seek God’s wisdom in making decisions. At times, I could take decisions I didn’t think about very well. But the truth is that, I didn’t take such decisions – it was the power in me that did.
Are there things being a king have deprived you of doing?
Despite the fact that I have my private life, I don’t go to the public space to misbehave or do whatever I want. Whenever I am out, I stay quiet and try to avoid attention. It surprises me that people still recognise me even when I wear a fez cap or other forms of disguise.
I only have one life and I don’t think anyone has gone to the afterlife to see what they do there. So, I have decided to enjoy my life the best way I can.
How do you choose chiefs in Ikate?
All the people who are chiefs (baales) today, my forefathers put them there to be their eyes. If someone has been in a place for a long time, he would automatically have an influence there.
How has Ikate contributed to the development of Lagos?
The Imperial City we are building is in Lagos. I am trying to create an international business city, which will incorporate the work, live and play theme. It will expand the Ikate kingdom and also extend to Lekki Phase 1. We are making use of the best dredging and architectural companies in the world to accomplish this feat.
By building this city, we are adding value to Lagos and people will remember me for that. I want to leave a legacy for my children like my father left for me. If my father had left a bad legacy, I wouldn’t be able to work smoothly. People always tell me that they think I am an old man because of some of the things I do.
What are those things you learnt in politics that are helping you in your role as a king?
Have you heard any scandal about me? My experience in politics has made me understand how to avoid scandals.
What can be done to make the Yoruba people more united?
You can see that I breathed deeply before responding to this question. There is no unity in Yoruba land and I feel pained whenever I think about it. Even among kings, there is too much enmity. If you look at the history of Yoruba land, certain unpleasant things have happened in the past. Some people are yet to move on from these things, and it is seen in their behaviour.
Elegushi was one of the first people who came to Lagos. They were called the Idejos – they came from Ife. But later, the white men and the Oba of Benin overpowered us and picked the Oba of Lagos to rule us. Since then, we followed them like slaves. But my father, at some point, said the oppression was enough, as they had the right to have a king too.
We have different communities in Lagos and everyone has power over his people. In my own land, as the Elegushi of Ikate, there is no one who can overrule anything I say.
I don’t want to go down memory lane because I will dig out many disturbing things and where we are going is still far. One doesn’t need to instigate unnecessary trouble; I am still relatively young.
How have you coped with your father’s death?
We were very close and we shared the same birth date. I was the only one that could confront him if anything happened. After shouting at me, he would still call me to know if we were on good terms if he didn’t hear from me for some time. I always told him I didn’t check on him because I was busy.
It has not been easy without him. When he was alive, I behaved anyhow I wanted. But now, there is no one I can misbehave to and there is no one they report me to. My father’s death made me become more mature.
Did you doubt your ability to step into your father’s shoes?
I was scared because I felt the shoes were too big for me. Many times, I would withdraw a large amount of money for my dad and he would lavish it in a week. I always felt he was a reckless spender but I can see what he had to face then. As a king, you have to be generous and cheerful to people.
We are aware that you are not the first son of your father. How is your relationship with your brothers?
I am the third son and the sixth child of my father. For me, I believe in destiny. If God has destined you for a position, there is nothing you can do about it. When I was younger and the wise men told my father that I was a future king, it was like a joke to me. As a civil servant, I was aspiring to go to the House of Representatives, and I had even set up my campaign office. I thank God for where I am today because it is only death that can take me away from this position.
How would you describe your relationship with your siblings, especially the older ones?
I enjoy a cordial relationship with all my siblings. They always visit the palace to spend some time with me and they have contributed in different ways to the development of Ikate kingdom.
How supportive is your mother?
I have a close relationship with her and she is very supportive. She plays her role as the king’s mother very well.
How do you find time to relax?
Being a king doesn’t mean I cannot have a private life. Even if I am still working with the government, I would have my private life. When I am working, I am working. But once I want to relax, I find time to do just that.
Don’t you feel dressing too casually is not befitting of a king?
Whenever this question arises, I ask people if I have failed as a king and they always say no. If I am able to fulfil my responsibilities as a king, my dress sense doesn’t matter.
Do you have plans to marry more than one wife?
I am a king and my late dad’s wives are my wives too. Also, in Yoruba land, you don’t count wives for a king. A king can decide to marry as many wives as he wants. Do you know I am the husband of all the widows in my land? Or, do you have a sister you want me to marry?
Do you subscribe to the notion that a king has the right to marry any woman who enters his palace?
I don’t need to use my powers to marry a woman; it is the woman that will force herself on me. Can’t you see the man who is seated? Women will be the ones to show interest in me.
How have you been able to harmonise your Islamic religion with tradition?
One mistake Nigerians make is that we take borrowed religions and forget our traditional religion. We also practise these religions more than the owners. But we should not forget that before we were colonised, we had our own culture and beliefs.
Being a Muslim doesn’t mean I cannot practise my culture and I don’t care if you call me a traditionalist. I don’t think there is anyone who has the right to judge me, except God. On the last day, we will all see who makes it to heaven and who makes it to hell.
Have you always loved cars?
If you are hard working, you should enjoy. I have served; I didn’t just get here without paying my dues. The work of a personal assistant (working with Tinubu and Fashola) is not different from that of a messenger. I guess God decided to reward me with this position and I will enjoy myself.
Elegushi Beach is one of the biggest in Lagos. What are your plans for the beach?
We are blessed with lots of potential in Lagos and tourism is one of them. For the safety of fun seekers at the beach, we have the members of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress, policemen and other law enforcement agencies to provide adequate security.
The truth is that in any place where people take alcohol and drugs, the security must be tight. We have been able to fight the menace of drug abuse and we are still fighting it on the beach. We also work with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency to take drugs out of the beach. We are trying to develop the beach more to make it world-class and things are changing gradually. In the next five years, the face of the beach would have improved drastically.
What is your advice to the sons of Ikate in the diaspora?
We have both good and bad people; so, they should be careful when putting their trust in people. I know a lot of people living overseas who have been defrauded by their friends and relatives. It is unwise to continue sending money home without coming to check what your money is being used for. It is better for you to keep the money in a bank and invest it whenever you are physically available. You cannot trust anyone.
As a patron of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, how can we improve sports in the country?
Our biggest problem is corruption. Until we are able to tackle corruption, things will remain the same. They could budget a sum of money for sports and some people will divert it into their pockets.
Also, the government needs to call on private companies to invest more in sports. In developed climes, sporting activities are funded mostly by private organisations. In the United Kingdom, people are crazy about sports and it has reduced violence in a way too because the youth are engaged.
I feel President Muhammadu Buhari has good plans for Nigeria but we need to be patient with him. Things started getting bad many years ago and it will take time to fix. Magic cannot fix the problems in Nigeria. We seem to have forgotten the amount that was stolen during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
We have to be patient with the government and keep praying for Nigeria. The citizens also have a role to play in making the country a better place for all.
Where did you study?
For my elementary and secondary schools, I went to St Mathias Primary School and Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos. I obtained a Bachelor, and later, a Master in Economics from the Lagos State University.
When I felt the need to study more, I proceeded to the Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, United Kingdom. There, I obtained a Master in Public Administration.
Were you treated specially in school by teachers as a kid?
I was not even a troublesome child. I was very humble and I treated people well.
If you have wealth or power today, you should not allow it to control you because it will sink you. If you see me outside, you will not know I am a king unless you know my identity. I relate with people like an ordinary person.
Where did you grow up?
I was born on April 10, 1976. I grew up in the palace in Ikate (Lekki area of Lagos). I was raised under the care and protection of my wonderful parents. I always watched my father closely.
How was your childhood like?
My childhood was not totally different from that of any other kid. But growing up in the palace exposed me to a lot of things and people. The palace, as we all know, is always busy. Different people were always visiting my father, who is my predecessor.