Precisely, when did you leave Nigeria for the USA and why?
I left Nigeria for the US over 30 years ago. I relocated to marry my husband and that is where I raised my family.
You were involved (still involved) in philanthropic and charity works in the US. What really motivated you in these noble works?
I guess it is my caring attitude. I was trained as a Nurse in England and when I got married, I settled in the US and started my agency called PRECIOUS CARING INSTITUTE, which is a Foster caring agency for homeless children and adoption. I did this for over twenty years(20) in tandem with my husband who was a pillar to this charity institute. He built homes for the boys and also for the girls called –Urban house and Backbone house. (Unfortunately, he went to meet the Lord last year-may his soul rest in perfect peace). We became advocates for these children.
Can you lead us into some of these good works you did in the US pertaining to your institute?
We were advocates for foster children. We sat with the Governor, the Mayor; we went to the senate in session with senator James and Davenport; spoke for the homeless children, and made recommendations to the Mayor on their plight. Apart from my own children, I adopted two kids when they were 2& 4 years old. One is now 28 years while the other is 30 years old. Interestingly, these adopted children speak the Yoruba Language fluently while my own child of the same age 2 could not.
Nigeria’s image had been dented in the US and any other European countries. Crimes, drug addiction, etc are some of the offenses they are always accused of. What do you think we can do to correct these negative attitudes of some of these people in the diaspora?
This is correct. Our image had been battered over there. They ascribe anything bad to Nigeria. Even to receive a grant from the government is like passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Once they discover that you are a Nigerian, you may lose the opportunity and it goes to another country such as Ghana, South –Africa, and Kenya to mention a few. We have a collective responsibility. If I do my own part right and you do yours right, things will change for the better. In the past, hoodlums were everywhere but that has changed now but the stigma is still there. The reception we had when I visited Nigeria not long ago with about 12 dignitaries with me was very interesting but an unfortunate incident still happened. We had a punctured tyre on our way to Victoria Island. As we got to the Apongbon area, trying to fix the burst tyre, were attacked by some hoodlums known as ‘horizers’or’ area boys’. However, things are getting better. I have been in Nigeria for some time now and what I see on the ground is quite different from the previous visit I mentioned. I see Nigerians now as hard-working; the young, the middle class, and the old ones work tirelessly to make their living legitimately.
Now to go back to the question what can we do to correct the negative attitude of some of these Nigerians in the diaspora. All hands must be on deck. If you do your beat right and I do my own well, the bad impression they have about Nigeria will be blotted out and they will start to treat us gentlemanly. Everybody must play his role well, to redeem Nigeria’s image abroad. It is a collective responsibility.
Your project is a very big one that a single person may not be able to handle in terms of mobility, finance, and logistics, etc. How are you going to handle this to make the project a reality?
To God be the glory. I’m privileged and honoured to be part of this village- The Oyotunji village, in South Carolina. And also to be invited to the White House on another level. So what we are doing now is a wrapping round thing. We have decided to do this to correct the bad impression about Nigeria. I am also doing this because of our children and the future generation. My children were born in the US but we also teach them the African culture, (Nigeria in particular) and heritage to be able to lift up their heads and be proud of being connected to the most populous country in Africa.
I nationalized myself to become an American citizen in 1993 and to show my passion for Nigeria, I brought about twelve personalities to Nigeria during the political era of late Abiola, a presidential aspirant and acclaimed winner of that election. A similar scenario happened in Haiti at that time during President Clinton’s regime but the aspirant in question was assisted by the US govt under Clinton to install the aspirant to power. My children in the foster home then asked me why it was not possible for the same US govt to assist Abiola. I asked them to ask their President and they wrote to President Clinton who replied their letter saying that the US was passionate to help nations that are into democracy. These children (my adopted kids) were about 5 or 6 years old at that time. I am a Nigerian born, flesh and blood. My father was the“ Baba Oba“ ( king’s father), the Alaperu of Aperu in Ogun State. Wherever you are, home is the first. I was first a Nigerian before I became an American citizen in 1993 and I am proud to be a Nigerian even though I carry an American passport.
How did you discover these Yoruba people in Oyotunji village? Was there any sign of being nostalgic of their origin?
I woke up one evening, tuned on my TV to watch the news when I saw about 30 children washing cars to raise money to obtain tickets for a visit to Africa and I stayed glued to the TV. Eventually, about 10 of these children could make the trip and where they were taken to was the Oyotunji village that I am now promoting.
When I made the trip to the village in 1993, I recollect that Oprah interviewed the people of Oyotunji village and the King was coronated by the present Ooni of Ile- Ife- Oba Okunade Sijuwade. I became a friend to the Oba’s wife- Iya Ori-ite.
After 20 years, I was watching another documentary on this Oyotunji village. The old King did not feature in the program and that arose my curiosity. On inquiry, I was informed that-‘oba ti waja’- literarily means the old King had passed on to his ancestors (dead) and a new one installed. That would show you the depth of these people in Yoruba culture and tradition.
As I was watching, I saw these children in ‘the little Africa’- Oyotunji village. They were educating them about our culture, tradition, and way of life. After 7 days in this village in South Carolina, I was flabbergasted that they were taken to Ghana instead of Nigeria! These are people that speak the Yoruba language fluently and even with Yoruba tribal marks- the replica of Oyo tribal marks, the type is worn by the Alaafin of Oyo-Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III. The king there is called Oloyotunji. This shows how they uphold Nigerian culture. Our heritage is being passed to other nations. I believe that any economic and social benefit that may come from this village should go to Nigeria and not other places. That is to say, ‘your culture is being taken away from you, your tourism potential is denied’. What these people do in Oyotunji village are Yoruba ways of doing things. They wear agbada, iro & buba, sing Yoruba songs and answer to Yoruba names. As we have China towns all around in other countries, I will love the town to be known as a Nigerian town in the future with many benefits.
What were these people’s reactions to you when you first met with them in their village?
I booked an appointment with them and was surprised by the rousing welcome I received. They dressed in Yoruba attire and with Yoruba talking drums & shekere, singing praises of me, and the King welcomed me in the Yoruba Language. They are the descendants of slaves carried to America during the outlawed slave trade in West Africa. They hold on to their culture and traditions. When they saw my work, and the tenacity with which I hold the Yoruba culture and tradition, they gave me the highly esteemed title- Yeye-Oba Oloyotunji.
Then I said to myself,’ if you bestowed on me Yeyeoba title, I must take you all to Africa, our Nigeria, your origin.’ Then, there was a festival coming up and I told them that we must pay a visit to the White House. They were surprised but I said yes, we would pay a visit to the White House. They were not aware that I had a pet project on hand at that time-tagged ‘your brain is your gun’. This is a program for the youth aged 16-24. We taught them good morals/etiquette from their tender age to adulthood when they could stand on their own as responsible citizens. We wanted them to be responsible children who can raise their shoulders high among people of other nations.
To your question-how will I handle this project to fruition? Instead of me to go back alone to the White House on behalf of the Oyotunji’s village, I have come to take some of our dignitaries from Nigeria to go with me to the US to visit President Obama. We shall adorn Obama in Nigeria attire. We need about 12-20 dignitaries from Nigeria. We want to showcase our hospitality, how prosperous and progressive we are, and how friendly we are as a people to negate the bad impression about us, Nigerians in the diaspora and also back home in Nigeria. They need to see us from another perspective. We also want to start an exchange programme for these children whereby we would bring them to Nigeria during the Summer period.
Are other Nationals in the US not involved in Crimes or another misdemeanor? Why is Nigeria always in the bad news all the time?
It’s not only Nigerians that are in the US but the problem with us is that the previous stigma is there and nobody tries to wipe it off. Nigeria doesn’t clean her image. Other countries believe in accountability and corrective action plan to clean their image but Nigeria chases after money to the detriment of her image both locally and internationally. We don’t think seriously about the implication of our actions and what foreigners say or their opinion about us. We are not our brother’s keeper. Our image had been soiled to the extent that a serious warning was posted on walls at the airports-‘’GO TO NIGERIA AT YOUR OWN RISK’’.
Are these people in Oyotunji Village being discriminated against in the US?
They are not discriminated against. What we are planning, God’s willing is to have Oyetunji Village as ‘’Nigeria Town’’ just as they have ‘’China Town’’ or whatever in other places whereby they can go about their businesses, be economically viable, and spiritually sound. This can be supported by the US government in form of grants. This is part of the blueprint we mapped out on this project.
Was there any feeling of missing their origin and is it possible for them to be able to retrace their roots in Nigeria?
It is not impossible for them to trace their roots in Nigeria with the current technological development all over the world. Their language can be swapped and this will reveal their place of origin if necessary. These settlers are more passionate about their origin than what we feel for them. In fact, there is none I have met in the US that is not willing to come to Nigeria. When they ask me, I always tell them that there is always a way. They have a sense of belonging. I always give them the courage that ‘’we would request for grants and the US government will help them.
Are the people at Oyotunji Village well behaved and law-abiding?
They are well-behaved and law-abiding. Their human relation is highly commendable. For example, a particular woman in that village called Iya Ebun, a Mulato was the one taking us around as the tour guide when we went there. People bring their dead relations to Oyotunji Village fromNew York City and other places for burial. When I inquired how long Iya Ebun has been in Oyotunji Village, she said it was 40years as at that time but has never been to Nigeria but understand so much history about Nigeria. She is very light skin. I said to her’’ You too have tribal marks.?’’ She said yes. Initially, the tribal marks did not show well, so she asked them to re-do it for it to show very well. This is to show how passionate they are about the culture and heritage of the Yoruba.
Women are taking their rightful positions all over the world now and Nigeria should not be left behind. Nigeria needs a woman President. If you are called to contest in the future for Presidency, would you oblige or not?
It’s a tall order. But if it’s the will of the Lord, I will surely not hesitate. I am a servant of the Lord. All that I will say is ‘’here I am send me’’ Thanks for your dedication in interviewing me. God bless Nigeria and USA.
Interview conducted by: Idowu Akintunde