The announcement by the Ife Traditional Council of the transition to the ancestral realm of His Royal Majesty, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II marked the end of a remarkable reign in Ile-Ife, the home of the progenitor of the Yoruba race, Oduduwa. Born in Ile-Ife on New Year’s Day in 1930 to Prince Adereti and Madam Emilia Ifaseesin Sijuwade, Okunade was to become the 50th Ooni of Ife, the Custodian of the Source of Yoruba culture and heritage, and an accomplished businessman. The foundation for the remarkable life he lived was laid at both Abeokuta Grammar School and Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife where he had his secondary education before joining, first his father’s cocoa produce business, and later the Nigerian Tribune where he worked for two years. He then enrolled to read Business Management at the Northampton College in the United Kingdom. From there his fortune continued to soar as he joined the conglomerate, AG Leventis and became the first Nigerian Manager at Leventis Motors, Ibadan, at the age of 30.
His grandfather, Ooni Adenekan Olubuse I reigned as the 47th Ooni between 1894 and 1910, followed by Ooni Ademiluyi and Ooni Sir Adesoji Aderemi respectively. By the time Okunade Sijuwade ascended the throne in 1980 he had become a successful business mogul, fashion pacesetter and socialite extraordinaire. One of the greatest legacies he left behind was his pan-Nigerian outlook which made him build bridges across ethnic waters. The friendship that existed between him and the late Emir Ado Bayero of Kano and the Obi Ofala Okagbue of Onitsha was legendary. He was the number one ambassador of Yoruba culture, reviving dormant cultural links between Yoruba at home and those in the Diaspora. No wonder he exuded unforced regal charm, charisma, and even imperial opulence. He relished and protected the mystique surrounding his position as ‘Arole Oodua’. Whereas he was a widely travelled man with business interests across the continents, he was in reality a generous traditional man who was desirous of flaunting the richness of his people’s culture and protecting its uniqueness in the maelstrom of Western influence. He was a man of class who changed the face of the traditional institution forever, for he impacted society like a gale.
He was not a perfect man, as the unfortunate Modakeke crisis showed, but his brilliance was also not to be denied, as could be seen from the resort to a negotiated settlement which brought the fratricidal war to an end. Also his equivocation during the June 12 democratic struggle alienated him from some of his people. But on balance it is generally conceded that he added panache to the ancient throne of Ile-Ife with a glamorous style unique to him and second to none. He also contributed immensely to achieving peace in the nation. He will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace. Kabiyesi, sun re o!