Sitting majestically in his royal paraphernalia, the Aholu of Ajara Agamathen kingdom in Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State, Aholu Agano Toniyon 1 cut the image of a colossus when this team visited the palace on Sunday, May 28. On Saturday, May 20, the monarch celebrated his 60th birthday, drawing family, friends and other well-wishers from far and wide to the kingdom. In this interview, the monarch reflects on how it feels to become a sexagenarian, his journey on the throne, and offers invaluable advice to the government on youth employment, among other issues. Enjoy…
About a week ago, you celebrated your 60th birthday. How do you feel to reach such a remarkable age?
I appreciate God because longevity is God’s gift and one must show gratitude. Even a single day is a great thing before God, let alone my reaching 60 years. So, I used the opportunity to thank God. I was born on May 20, 1963. If you look at that date (May 20, 2023), you’ll see it is precisely 60 years. That’s why I invited people to come celebrate with me and join me in thanking God.
Most of the challenges that a community faces have to do with youths. If youths are unemployed, it breeds a lot of social challenges. As a monarch who also has the ears of the government, what do you think can be done to ensure youths are gainfully employed?
First of all, we must start from the family before getting to the government. It is important to note that the government cannot employ everybody, but they have a great role to play. Society has a great role to play, and parents also have a role. A child’s upbringing is crucial. We’ve noticed that a lot is happening to cause many educated children not to have jobs. That is why we encourage them to study courses that will be beneficial to their environment, not necessarily just for white-collar jobs. Many of our children study courses with focus on white-collar jobs. That’s why we are encouraging our children going to higher institutions to study courses that will promote the development of their immediate environment. For example, we’re already encouraging the children to study marine-related courses because a seaport is coming, so that it won’t be a case of the seaport would start and our children won’t be qualified to work there.
Most importantly, government is trying but some factors make it look like they are not doing anything. For example, if you look at our surroundings, if we have government enterprises and private organisations, they will all employ people. That’s how we can get jobs to go round. That’s why we keep encouraging the government to develop resources within our locality so that our children can be gainfully employed. Look at the example of the seaport. If it is built, it will provide jobs for not only children within this vicinity but have positive effects even up to neighbouring states. These are things that the government can done. Let them build roads. This alone can attract some jobs on their own for our children to gain from. No community can develop without amenities like roads, electricity, and security. If we tackle these things from different angles, it will reduce youth unemployment because there will be many jobs available. I remember a time in this country, even though we were young, that you practically had to choose where you wanted to work. You will be getting calls from different angles. You could then choose the one that interests you the most. All these things can be resuscitated, especially with the new president, being an accountant and business developer who is well known. For example, since our electricity wasn’t stable many big companies that we had in this country relocated to Ghana. They went to produce in Ghana and brought their products in trailers to Nigeria. Who are those working there? Isn’t it young, educated people that are employed? Therefore, if electricity is stable, many companies will come and will employ our children.
Nowadays, a lot of things happen that do not make us, the council of kings, and even parents happy. We appeal to our youths to stop keeping bad company and abusing drugs. Those illicit substances they consume have a lot of negative effects on the youth. You’ll notice that abusing drugs is more common within the youth population and it is affecting them. Some don’t even bother about finding employment because the drugs have affected them. We are appealing to them to desist from those things.
One thing I know for sure is that this new government will create job opportunities for our youths. I have that strong belief.
Many people believe that becoming a king comes with radical lifestyle changes. How has that been in your case?
This question will take me back memory lane to when I started ruling this kingdom. God called me to this stool on August 4, 2000. That time, my lifestyle was totally different, just like what you just asked. I developed my vocational training and it had blossomed into a company of its own, generating income for me on a daily basis. I enjoyed myself and hanged out with my friends often. Therefore, when I was first called to lead my people, it was a call I first rejected totally. I told them pointblank that I didn’t want to be a Baale. I even volunteered to sponsor whoever was interested. I decided at the time to relocate to Ghana, but later nature took over. I was a Buddhist and I complained to our religious leader at that time. He told me that I didn’t do well to have rejected the call. He said, ‘If it’s your karma to be a ruler, you can’t escape it. So, go and continue studying and practising Buddhism correctly.’ That was how I lost the battle to relocate to Ghana. My wives, who had already been bought over by the family, also began to complain and cry about the Ghana trip, saying they were not interested in it. The elders called me and that was how I was installed as a Baale then. Even though we already had a king previously, I could not be called a king because the government had not approved our request. Meanwhile, we continued to struggle for the kingship to be restored. We visited different courts in our quest. As we realised that a community could not exist without leadership, we had to start from Baale first. That’s how I was installed as Baale on August 4, 2000.
Really, life changed a little then and we continued with it. We had to shoulder the responsibilities of the challenges we met on ground. I recall that my first programme was to invite some educationalists to speak on the importance of education. The experts were invited to come and talk to the youths. We discovered that most of those that stopped schooling were for trivial reasons. Some parents complained that the children no longer ran errands for them and therefore stopped paying their school fees. Some apprentices ran away from their vocational training centres. We had to do a lot to make sure those children returned to school or vocational training. Many of them are big boys now.
We restructured the royal council in line with modern times because the royal council shouldn’t necessarily be for indigenes alone because we were ruling over different tribes, and we had different CDA (community development associations). I discovered that to be successful, the royal council must evolve from what obtained during olden days when only indigenes were permitted to sit on the council. I was concerned that when we sat in council and judged cases, and majority of people in vast areas did not understand what we were saying or doing, how would we rule them? So, I introduced a new system that all the CDA chairmen should join the royal council. It led to a very big battle and experience that I don’t want to mention on social media. I faced a lot of challengers who said it would never happen and I insisted that it must happen. So, I thought of a way out: let’s move the general royal council meeting to Wednesday and hold the meeting for traditional matters on Saturday. That’s how we won the battle. When I was still Baale then. We corrected a lot of injustices between indigenes and non-indigenes here. There was a time that when a non-indigene violated some certain rules, he must leave the town. I told them, ‘I’m a Buddhist, and we don’t do things like this. What happens if indigenes do the same thing?’ So, I told them that the punishment for violating any rule must be the same for indigenes and non-indigenes. The protest in town was not a joke but at the end we won. That’s why we’ve experienced a lot of peace. That’s the time of my Baaleship and we struggled to restore the kingship, going to tribunals and others. But as God would have it, the tribunal confirmed our history and told the government to restore the kingship. Whatever any individual or government thinks, God’s thoughts are final. We had approached the tribunal seeking one kingship but God blessed us with three. My kingship approval was signed on January 24, 2018. I had spent 18 years as a Baale. That’s the reason I have so much experience about Baale matters and I counsel the Baales under my kingdom that I occupied this your present position for 18 years.
When we became Aholu (king), lifestyle changed again. We realised that the demands of kingship exceeded that of Baale. It consumed a lot of our time that we had to adjust. For like five days now I’ve not had the opportunity to rest. The responsibilities increased greatly. The way a Baale would talk is different from how a king talks. The way a king’s file is treated in government circles is different from the way a Baale’s is treated. So, the lifestyle must be rearranged. There are things that we used to do in public that must be stopped once you become king. You have to respect the crown and the tradition. There are some things we did as Baale then that we couldn’t anymore once we became king because the throne must be respected. The responsibilities of ruling a kingdom are heavier than that of Baale. So, a lot of challenges exist, part of which is why we’re calling on government for the amenities that must be put in place. We are the closest to the people. We’re the ones they see and come to if their children want to go to school, hospital, or if they’ve not eaten all day. My secretary is always being approached. All these things happen but we thank God.
Most importantly about lifestyle changes, I admonish my fellow kings that despite the challenges, there is enjoyment, and honour is there too, so we must not forget something that’s important for all kings: we must not forget that our life is our tenure. We must create time to take care of our health no matter how busy we are because it could stop us from moving or even performing. My advice for traditional rulers or others holding permanent positions is that they must not allow the pressure of the position to make them ignore doctor’s advice or neglect their health because that body is the engine with which they rule. The truth is that as a traditional ruler, there are times you might not sleep for two days. It is God that rules, so we pray He gives us traditional rulers wisdom to go about our duties and take care of our health.