The 70-year-old Royal Ambassador of Oyo Kingdom, Aare Ayandotun Ayanlakin, speaks to PUNCH about his childhood, marital life, waiting for over two decades to have a child, why he didn’t become a polygamist like his father and the Alaafin of Oyo who had many wives before his death.
What are your roles as a royal ambassador to the Oyo kingdom?
I have gained a lot in that position. Knowing the (late) Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, was a great thing for me. I worked hard for him and I portrayed him in a good light to the public.
How long have you been the royal ambassador?
I have been the royal ambassador for about 30 years, since 1992.
What are the duties you dispense as the royal ambassador?
My duty is to propagate the Alaafin in a good light everywhere, talk about the Yoruba people and promote the Yoruba culture.
How do you carry out these duties?
I go to social gatherings and meet people. When they ask me about the Oyo empire, I explain to them all what the Oyo empire is about.
Is it a full-time job and are you paid?
I have other things that I do but I spend most of my time promoting the Alaafin of Oyo. I have registered companies that I do different businesses with.
Having worked with the late Oba Adeyemi for years before he passed away, how will you describe him?
The man remains the best man I have worked with. He was a good man. He liked the Yoruba kingdom; he liked people and he liked me. He hated telling lies. If you told him lies, the Alaafin would hate you completely. He was a good man.
He was a king who put the interest of others ahead. If you told the Alaafin that you were broke or you didn’t have anything, he would sort you out with a lot of money. He paid part of the school fees for my children. When I had my children in America, Alaafin gave me money.
How did you become a royal ambassador to the Oyo kingdom?
As a member of the Island Club, the late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, saw that I promoted the club well and he felt that if I worked with him, I would promote him as well. My grandfather was an Aare Ayan of the Oyo empire. So, Alaafin looked at the records of my grandfather and decided that he would replace my grandfather with me.
What does Aare mean?
Aare means president. It is used to describe a title holder. My title is Aare Oba. I am the royal ambassador.
What is your hierarchy in the royal cabinet of the Oyo kingdom?
The royal ambassador is a very big position. I represent the king everywhere. I go wherever he sends me.
At what point did the Alaafin install you?
He didn’t install me at the beginning of his reign. I was one of the boys who played drums for him when he was installed as the Alaafin. I was still a student at Oroyan Grammar School, Oyo at the time he began his reign.
How old were you then?
I was about 19 or 20 years old or so.
It’s been months since Oba Lamidi Adeyemi passed on but there is no successor. What is the latest in this regard?
Well, for that question, the Oyomesi will decide. I can’t say anything about that. The Oyomesi is the kingmaker and he decides that. I’m too small to get involved with that. Don’t put me into trouble. (Laughs)
Tell us about the type of education you received?
I had my primary school education in Shomolu, Lagos. When I left there, I attended Oroyan Grammar School, Oyo, and after that, I was enrolled at Origbo Community High School, Ipetumodu, in Ife, Osun State. Later, I started the Ewi Exponent.
When I did that, I went about and I luckily met Chief Akinloye who was based in London. I worked briefly with him after which I started taking African records to London to sell. I later waxed a record.
Do you do music too?
Yes. After that, I started sending records to London and I started building myself up. I formed a company, Ayanlakin Farms Ltd. I also formed other companies. While taking records to London to sell, God blessed me and brought me to where I am today. I waxed my first record with Olumo Records Company, then, I moved with Dele Abiodun. From there, God uplifted me. I later went into the import and export business.
What’s the highest level of education you attained?
I have a ‘school cert’ (a secondary school leaving certificate). I don’t have more than that.
What religion do you practise?
Christianity. I am an Anglican. I was born an Anglican.
As the royal ambassador, how do you reconcile the practice of your religion as a Christian and the traditional practice of worshiping the Ifa deity as your position will require?
Look, my great-grandfather was a herbalist, so I know about Ifa very well. I was named Ifabiyi. I also stayed with my father’s younger brother who is an Ifa priest, so I learnt about Ifa from him.
Are there no contradictions between the two beliefs?
There are contradictions but not much.
How are you able to manage both together?
Well, I go to church and when it’s time for Ifa too, I go. I practise both.
How did you meet your wife?
It’s a long story. My mother built a house at Bariga, Ilaje. I was on my way home that very day when I decided to visit a photographer’s place very close to my mother’s house. The photographer’s name was Ade. I stopped by his studio to take a passport photograph, then, I saw a lady.
When I approached her and asked her where she came from, she said she is from Fiditi, which is the same local government area I am from in Oyo State. I introduced myself to her and described our house in Fiditi to her. I described my mother to her and told her I am her second child. She smiled and we got talking. I asked her when she could possibly visit me and she said she would create time to come.
The week after, she visited. At that point, she was living with her sister. She visited on her way to work in the morning. She just stopped by to check on me. One of those days, I told my mother about her and she asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said yes and that was how we started.
What year was that?
That was in 1972. After we got married, we waited for 25 years before we had our first child. After trying for a while and without having a child, we went to the United States of America where we met my younger brother who lives there. Then, my brother took us to a hospital.
When the doctor tested us, he said my sperm was very good and said we should be hopeful that we would have a child. I had tried all I could before we went to America.
Was it an assisted form of fertilisation you did in the United States?
Yes. We had in vitro fertilisation. The doctor was a very good gynaecologist.
What was the waiting experience like for you?
Well, I believed in God that one day, He would give me children. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I stayed with only my wife.
What about your wife, how did she cope?
Well, she tried. Her reaction was the same as mine. I had money at that time and I spent about $250,000 to have a child in America. With the help of God, we succeeded. God helped me. We had a set of twins – a boy and a girl and they are American citizens.
You spent $250,000. Was that the cost of IVF in the US at that time?
That’s an estimate of the overall cost. It included travel expenses and everything I spent at that time.
How old are your twins now?
They are 24 years old.
How has the experience of nurturing your children been after waiting for such a long time to have them?
I take care of my children. I don’t joke with them. You know they were born in America. They are American citizens. They are good children. I don’t joke with them. I have even built a house for them.
How did you feel having to start nurturing your children 25 years after, when most of your contemporaries were done with childbirth and had grown-up children?
Well, I left it to God. It’s God’s work and I left it to Him. There was nothing I could do.
How did your mum receive the news of the birth of your children when they arrived?
She was shocked when she heard that my wife had twins. She was very happy.
You followed the leadership of Alaafin but you didn’t toe his path of polygamy. Why so?
Baba married many wives. If I had wanted to venture into polygamy, I would have done that a long time ago. I could have done that when my wife was looking for children some 25 years ago but I didn’t just want to do it. I didn’t just like it. Though my father had two wives, this was based on a condition. I didn’t want to practise that.
Do you have siblings?
Yes, I have four siblings and they all live in the United States of America. We came from the same mother but not the same father.
Apart from being the royal ambassador, what other things are you known for?
I’m a socialite. I am a member of the Yoruba Tennis Club. I am also a member of the Island Club. I am a member of the Lagos Tennis Club, and the Ikeja Golf Club and I have been a member of these clubs for so many years.
Are you hopeful that the next Alaafin will adopt you as the royal ambassador?
The position of the royal ambassador is for life. It’s until I die. It’s not something that is inherited. Once the Alaafin installs one, the next Alaafin automatically adopts him. So, when the next Alaafin comes, that remains my position.
To what extent would you describe the Alaafin’s influence in Yoruba land?
Alaafin has an influence over anything in Yoruba land. He influences the kings and the governor and he’s the best king we have so far in Yoruba land. Alaafin’s position is the topmost position in Yoruba land. Anybody who becomes Alaafin believes that he is our father.
How does the Alaafin compare to the other first-class kings in Yoruba land?
Well, I don’t want to commit myself to saying anything but what I want to say is that Alaafin is the first in Yoruba land. Nobody is Alaafin’s superior in Yoruba land. No king can say he is superior to the Alaafin in Yoruba land.
What’s your fondest childhood memory?
Hmm, I have a childhood memory I can’t forget. When I was very young, my mother sold stockfish at Shomolu. She was a stockfish dealer. I followed her to the market to sell stockfish. Sometimes, she put some on me to hawk and I did sell them. That’s something I cannot forget.
Do you have regrets so far in life?
I don’t have regrets. I have much experience in life but no regrets. Let’s just leave it that way.
How do you relax?
The way I love to relax is to sit at home and play music, then read newspapers.
What’s your favourite meal?
Amala and gbegiri; that’s Oyo’s delicacy.