In her first interview since the end of her four-year rule as regent of Ayede-Ekiti, Princess Ademide George, tells KUNLE FALAYI about her experiences
What was it like being a regent?
It was hard but also quite an interesting experience. It was hard at the time for me because I was mourning my late husband who died the previous year in 2009. My father went missing while on a journey to Lagos. We later learnt that he had been kidnapped and the vehicle in which he was being taken had an accident.
That must have been a really difficult time.
Yes, it was. I was so afraid when I got the news and had to call my older siblings. I had to travel down to Ayede Ekiti to find out what was really going on. Unfortunately, we did not meet him alive. He was found dead in the hospital. On getting to the palace, we were not allowed in as a result of some rituals being done to find him. We had to go to his personal house in the town. When it was around 12 noon the day we arrived, two chiefs came to break the news about his death. He was rushed to the hospital where he died. It was a terrible moment. We all cried like we had never cried before that day.
But how did they know he was kidnapped?
They were expecting him back after few days but news eventually reached the chiefs that he had been kidnapped. He was travelling along with one of my younger brothers. We heard that immediately he was kidnapped, the vehicle had an accident and his driver died on the spot. I think he was missing for two or three days. We were eventually allowed back in the palace after the burial rituals.
How old was your father when he died and how long did he reign?
My father was over 80 when he died. I remember when we went for his 80th birthday before this happened. He spent sixteen good years on the throne.
But you are not the oldest daughter, how did you become the regent?
I was not the eldest daughter and I never expected that I would become a regent. I was not even close to the eldest at all. There were many female children older than me.
Then how was the decision made that you had to become the regent?
At that point in time, I was the only one available and my elder sisters did not want the responsibility. I was the only woman around then. When I was called to be the regent, as a matter of fact, I was asking them what it meant to be a regent. I told them I did not think I could do it, but they insisted. I had to speak with my older siblings about it and they all told me they could not take it. One of them even told me she was sick. They gave different excuses not to be the regent. I was not prepared for it either. I had to tell the chiefs that I did not know what it was all about and that my children were still in school in Lagos and needed supervision. I just could not move to Ayede and become a regent.
But they insisted?
After all my efforts to decline, I was told I had to be the one and before I knew it, they had put the leaves in on my head. It was all going so fast. Before I knew it, Governor Kayode Fayemi, who was in tenure at the time, had come and before I could say ‘Jack’, the crown was on my head. It dawned on me that it was all real when they all said ‘Kabiyesi ooo’ for the first time. Even the governor prostrated.
Was it hard adjusting to life as a royal?
Initially, it was hard. I did not know all that was involved. I could not wake up at the time I liked; I was always waking up early because the villagers were always coming. I had to sit in court to hear their cases on a daily basis. Any issue the chiefs could not handle had to come to me. I was always talking and talking. It was tiring. I had to sit from morning till night because villagers kept trooping in with numerous issues every day. I could not say I was tired and needed rest; I had to be there daily.
But there must have been some interesting moments.
Oh yes, there were very interesting moments. Whenever I wanted to eat, there was someone to cook whatever I felt like eating. For the first time in my life, I did not have to go to the kitchen. I had the royal treatment. Nobody could raise his or her voice against me or around me. I could visit the governor’s office unannounced. Then it was strange that nobody could stand and talk in my presence. Old people were prostrating and kneeling for me.
Did you find that difficult to accept?
Yes, it was indeed strange and at a point, I had to stop the aged ones from doing it. They would then tell me they were not prostrating or kneeling to me but to the crown. Yet, I still insisted that they stopped despite the protest from the chiefs. I was no longer comfortable with it. But those that were still able and young, I allowed them prostrate.
How long did you spend also as a regent?
I spent four years – 2010 to 2014. I was supposed to spend two years but there were troubles over the stool. It became a tussle in the community about who was going to become the next king. Normally, they were supposed to consult the oracle on who was going to be the next king but I was surprised that it was no longer like that. Also, because my father did not die of natural causes, the process of choosing the next king got more complex. So, there were controversies over who would be the next king and it kept going on and on. Before I knew it, I had spent four years as a regent.
There are stories you had trouble with some of the chiefs. What happened?
I believed that one of the sons of my father was supposed to become the king but I found out that they didn’t really like that idea. They said my father could not be the king and his son would succeed him. They wanted someone else from another royal family. We had to involve the Ayede Progressive Union in the matter. The union eventually resolved it and the stool went to the rightful person. I had to follow their decisions because the community supported the union’s decision. The king emerged from my family.
There is the Yoruba tradition that a regent must not see the new king. Was that applicable to you?
Oh yes. I can never see him again. Even now that I am no longer a regent, I would never be allowed to see him again. That was the most painful part of it all. When the regent is leaving the palace for the last time, she takes the back door while the new king comes in through the front door. You can’t meet him, hug and all of that. All we can do now is talk over the phone. Now, when I call him and he does not answer, I already know what he is going through because I was once in his shoes. As a king, you are always busy with one meeting or another. My siblings too thought I was deliberately avoiding calls when I was regent. Every day was a busy day.
But what happens if you did not know but got to an event he is also attending?
Tradition does not allow me to see him for the rest of our lives. I have been told that if I know he is in a location and I deliberately go there to see him, whatever befalls me is my fault. But if I don’t know that he is there and I see him, nothing will happen. But I will have to leave immediately without looking back. I heard past regents who had deliberately decided to see the king after their regency faced consequences.
Were there other traditions that you were forced to abide with as a regent?
Yes, there were other traditions I was forced to abide with. I could not just hug and greet anybody the way I used to. I could not take a walk on the streets of the community. But I thank God that before the regency tenure took off, Governor Fayemi gave me the opportunity to state many things that I would not like to do as a regent. I told the chiefs that I would not take part in rituals. I never liked it and thank God nobody forced me to take part.
How did the chiefs handle that?
Most of them actually did understand. I told them right from the beginning that I would not take part in rituals. But there was no way I could totally ignore them when they do it, so financially I had to support them. I didn’t go there physically. But in terms of other colourful events such as the new yam festival, I danced round the town with the chiefs. It was beautiful. But if I told them I was not interested in something, they agreed with me.
Any weird experience you could not avoid as a regent?
I would not describe it as weird. For instance, I like to meet people and go to parties but when I became a regent, I could not do all of that. For four years, my life was taken from me. I could not eat in public. There was a day Governor Fayemi called a meeting of traditional rulers. After some hours at the meeting, I became hungry. I was starving and I had to tell the king sitting next to me about my plight. He told me to endure. You would not believe that we were all served food, which was sitting in front of us, but no traditional ruler dared to eat it. The food was right in front of me but I could not touch it. I had to get up under the pretext of going to the convenience to go and take a drink. Taking a leisure stroll was also out of the question. The chiefs followed me around, monitored my every move, so I didn’t violate tradition. It was all strange to me.
Were there some food that you could not eat as a regent?
No, I was allowed to eat whatever I felt like eating.
How were your friends relating with you as a regent?
It was actually funny to them. Before I became a regent, I worked in Lagos as a caterer. When I became a regent, anytime I felt like coming to Lagos, some chiefs would come with me. When I went to my place of work, people there would rush at me to hug me or just greet me and suddenly the chiefs would immediately form a fence around me to stop them. They couldn’t touch me but I had to tell my chiefs that they were my people and I should be able to relate well with my people when we were outside Ekiti. I had to appeal to the chiefs at a point to allow me to touch them at least. We were all happy and we hugged each other. Many of them just looked at me strangely the way I was dressed. My boss knelt down when she saw me and I was sort of embarrassed. I tried to stop her but I guess she did not find it strange since it was the traditional thing to do.
And after your regency, did all that return to normal?
Of course things returned to normal mostly. But I thank God because I never expected that I would ever be in that position. God did a lot of wonderful things in my life. I give glory to the Almighty God because things I could not do before I became a regent, I was able to do them. So after my regency, I returned the crown and everything came back to normal. As a regent, I didn’t let the position get into my head and I was able to adapt back to my normal life. I used to tell my children that the position was just for a while and I thank God for the kind of kids I have. They did not see the palace or my position as a big deal. God can change anybody at any time and after my regency and even up till date, people still address me as a regent because they had got used to it. At least in the history of my community, there is no way my name would not be mentioned.
What was growing up like for you?
It was amazing. There were many of us. I think my father’s children were up to 28. I loved my father because he was a very good man. But when I was younger, we were like dog and cat. I did not know that he was preparing me for the future. He told me he named me Ademide for a reason. He said after him, I was coming. But I did not understand what he meant by that. It was as if he saw the future. When I became the regent, I remembered that statement. I never knew I would ever be in that post because we are many. He had many wives but he took very good care of all of us. He was a very good businessman in Lagos before he became a king. He had a house in Ikeja. He was doing very well before he became a king. He never wanted to be the king then; I remember his mother was the one who begged him not to allow the crown be taken away from our linage. He was not prepared for it but because of the pressure from his mother, he eventually became the king.
Did you ever go to school in Ayede Ekiti?
No, not at all. I didn’t school in Ekiti. In fact, those my sisters who ran away from being regents schooled in Ayede and knew a lot more about the town more than I. All I ever did was visit and come back to Lagos.
Looking back at your regency, would you have done anything differently now?
I do not think there are things I would have done differently. I am really satisfied with the way the Ayede Progressive Union addressed the little crisis I faced at the time.
If your husband were alive during your regency, how do you think he would have been helpful?
I am 100 per cent sure he would not have allowed me to become a regent. He would have asked if I wanted to become a regent or stay with the children because he loved his children so much and he would not want me to leave the children behind.
Do you still visit Ayede Ekiti?
That is a very big question. I was told I must never see the king and I am not sure where the king will be so, it is dangerous. I don’t want to run into him because my people cherish their tradition a lot and I do not think I would want to violate it. Although I have been to Ado-Ekiti, the state capital twice since I left but I had to be discreet because of tradition. I can visit my home town but I must not go to the palace and must do everything to avoid seeing the king.