AS Dr SONNY KUKU BECOMES OGBENI OJA
By Femi Olugbile
How time flies.
It seems not so many years ago when you joined others in Ijebu Ode to celebrate the appointment of Dr Sonny Folorunsho Kuku as Olor’ogun. By the time you arrived in town, the installation was done, and what remained was merriment. On the bandstand, if memory serves you right, was Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey.
You had met Dr Kuku a few years before then. EKO Hospital, which he started at Surulere with his friends Amaechi Obiora and Alex Eneli, was all the rage in town, and was creating a new paradigm for the possibilities of private medical practice in Nigeria. The general view was that these three young men, who had met at LUTH, were practising cutting edge Medicine in their posh new hospital, on a level previously thought to be the exclusive preserve of government-owned Teaching Hospitals. They were making good money too, from their lifestyles. At a point all the three of them bought the latest iteration of the Mercedes Benz brand, and the sight of the three V-boots parked side by side in front of the hospital added to the pizzazz of the EKO brand. Frontline medical skills and elegant living were a combination that seemed intriguing and even exotic in the Nigeria of the early 1980s. it was like a magnet to patients who wanted the best health for themselves and their families, or who wanted the social status of being seen as patients of EKO, and were prepared to put their money where their mouth was.
At that juncture, just home from foreign parts, your mind was agitated by the idea that Mental Health needed to be taken out of old specialist hospitals hidden away from sight and brought into the mainstream of Medicine. When you raised the possibility of running a clinic at EKO with Dr Kuku, it was like a moon-shot. Nigerians of the time were not accustomed to acknowledging the existence of mental illness among themselves, and nobody would want their hospital’s glossy image tarnished by the stigma associated with ‘psychiatric’ patients, surely.
One evening a few days later, a sleek sports car that could have been a fit ride for a Rock star rolled up outside your house. Out stepped Dr Kuku.
By the time you joined the revellers to celebrate his Olor’ogun title, his image had grown even larger, and EKO was still on an upward streak. Though all the troika were bon vivants, SFK, as he was known to his friends, captured the public imagination the most – young, dashing, effortlessly brilliant, and a philanthropist to boot.
Taking on his family’s hereditary title of Olor’ogun added another dimension to him, that of a man who not only loved tradition but carried a burden of inherited duty to the people of Ijebu Ode.
SFK was a fourth-generation descendant of Balogun Kuku, the rich merchant and redoubtable warrior, who it is said, magically appeared clad in white at the war-front to end hostilities at the Imagbon War in 1892. This was after the maxim and other machine guns of Colonel F.C.Scott, the Inspector-General of the Gold Coast Constabulary, and his British attacking force of 450 men had crossed Yemoji River and wreaked havoc on the Ijebu town of Imagbon and its environs, levelling homes and killing people. The Ijebu, before then, had never been beaten in war, and defeat was a difficult pill to swallow.
Colonel Scott, who had acted under the instruction of Governor Gilbert Thomas Carter of Lagos, a man determined to open up the hinterland of Yorubaland to trade and build a railway from Ebute Meta, was knighted by the British monarch on his return from the Imagbon War. Balogun Kuku, who parlayed with Scott to end ‘Ogun Danasungbo’, and saved Ijebuland from total ruin, was effusively praised by Awujale Tunwashe as Onigbeja Oba Ode Timitimi Awujale.
More recently, the Kuku family were given the hereditary title of Olor’ogun, a title similar to what Ijebu war leaders had held before Balogun Kuku brought in the Ibadan title of Balogun.
That the responsibility to lead war might not just be ceremonial but real was borne home a year or two ago when the Southwest region was in a ferment over incursion of herders, terrorists, kidnappers, and sundry knaves. The Amotekun corps had been raised in some other parts of Yorubaland, and there was talk of organising local defence for the people against invading aliens. At the Ojude Oba ceremony of that year, the horsemanship of the Olor’ogun and his family was particularly fierce and feisty. Their red flags flapped with conviction in the wind. The cracking sound of their ceremonial guns seemed to give warning that they might someday be trained on foreign enemies of the Ijebu, as had the guns of Balogun Kuku in his heyday.
The dashing young physician and Olor’ogun of yore has now matured into a wise and energetic octogenarian. His stature has increased by leaps and bounds, as have his business interests within and outside of Medicine. His commitment to his heritage and his people is total.
The title of Ogbeni Oja is without equal in Ijebu lore. It was conferred, after a long hiatus, by Alaiyeluwa Oba Daniel Robertson Adesanya on Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola, the great industrialist. When, in 1959 Oba Adesanya joined his ancestors, the Ogbeni Oja headed the Regency Council that presided over the affairs of the land until the appointment of the next King, Oba S.K. Adetona, Ogbagba II, the incumbent.
Chief Bayo Kuku, who became the next Ogbeni Oja, had the duty of representing the Awujale at several official functions, before his death.
Those are huge shoes for anyone to step into.
Physician, War Leader, and now supreme King Maker and preeminent leader among all the titled Chiefs in the land. For SFK, History has gone full circle.
This column rises to salute the new Ogbeni Oja of the Ijebu, Olor’ogun Sonny Folorunsho Kuku.