PRINCE Of Itsekiri nation, Bob Olatilewa Edwards has been in Lagos since the 1940s. The socialite who believes that old age is a thing of the mind turned 80 recently. It would amaze you that he still “grooves”. In spite of the fact that most of his friends including Eleganza boss, Chief Rasaq Okoya are Yoruba, the industrialist affirms Itsekiri blood still run in his veins, likewise his children, and grandchildren. Talking to Effect recently, the octogenarian reminisces Lagos of his childhood days, his Itsekiri lineage, his social life and lots more.
You clocked 80 years recently, so how has life been?
I’m a socialite. There’s no difference between my life at 79 and my life at 80 neither will there be any difference between my life at 80 or 81 years. The only difference is that if I have mental relapse, which means I cannot coordinate well. Then, I would say that something is wrong. So far, God has been good to me. My health is okay. I don’t have a personal doctor, I don’t take drugs. When I suffered stroke, I got a doctor from England, I got some Chinese to help me and they told me there was nothing wrong with me. There was blood that clot somewhere and luckily you are alive. Just manage your body and you re okay. I don’t take medicine, but I take multivitamins. As far as I’m concerned, my life 10 years ago and today is the same. I can’t see any difference.
Do you still socialize?
Every Tuesday, come to Island club, you’ll see me in my true colour. I don’t dance but I chair some groups. They drink and enjoy themselves while I sit down as an elder statesman. I have my group. We have dinner everyday of the year except on Fridays and Sundays. On Friday, the muslims among us go to the mosque to entertain people, otherwise, we’ll eat together. Some of us travel abroad on holiday. if I don’t go, my wife would ask me, wont you go out today because she knows where I go. My children know where I go every night. We eat and drink together. I can’t remember the last time I had dinner in my house. Any day I don’t step out, my wife would ask me, is there any problem outside? Why aren’t you going out today? Our wives are welcome to join us but they often find themselves among men discussing about business, appointments and governors will come there, traditional rulers would join us. One day, my wife came with me and she was dozing on the chair. We don’t deceive ourselves, we tell ourselves the honest truth. Our wives can’t go out to complain to anybody, we have problems and we discuss it among ourselves and solve it. I don’t have extra money but I’m a contented person. I can afford to give my family three square meals a day till I die. In our group, you don’t need to envy the other person. I don’t know the difference between yesterday and today.
Can you tell us what growing up is like?
I am Itshekiri, not Yoruba, but 80% of my friends are Yoruba because I grew up in this city. I arrived in Lagos when I was 5 years old. My father owned schools and many things in Lagos, so I am more Yoruba than being Itshekiri. Of course I am a prince in Itshekiri and I sustain the status and culture of Itshekiri, and the culture of the Yoruba, but I never to lose sight of being Itshekiri. It is the same lesson I give to my children, that whatever they do, they should always remember they are Itshekiri, born in a royal home. My great- grand father was the first son of Olu of Warri, so I am the head of the royal family. When you see any of my children, you would know that I brought them into this world. They would never misbehave or do anything that is wrong, because that was how my father brought me up. My son lives in England. He was born there and has been there for 24 years. My granddaughter lives there too. She is a graduate and she’s going to teach English in China. They are British but I bring them here to learn Itshekiri culture. Itshekiri lives in me and it can never be thrown away, because it is a royal blood; you must keep that blood.
You came to Lagos in 1940 and grew up there, can you reflect on Lagos was then compared to now?
To be a Lagosian is a blessing. Then, you could differentiate between the Ibos, itsekiris, Urhobo and everything. We used to play football matches between Yoruba and ibo and the stadium would be jam packed and when the game ended, we would find a place to relax and drink till daybreak. Lagos was a wonderful place. Lagos was Nigeria but Abuja is not. Do you know how many non-Yoruba-speaking people are in the Lagos State House of Assembly? There’re about eight of them. God created Nigeria and made Lagos a neutral place. I’m the only itsekiri in my group. We don’t even talk about language there. Nobody can dominate you in Lagos. If you do business in Lagos, you won’t have headache. I can tell you that I wasted hundreds of millions of Naira in the North, which I don’t think I can recoup. If you tell the Ibo boys in Ajegunle that they are not Lagosians, they’re ready to go to war with you. The same thing goes for the itsekiri whichever tribe you belong, Lagos is a safe place. You can leave your house at 2am in lagos and everywhere is safe. Even the Hausas that do business here will tell you they are Lagosians.
At what point did Lagos changed?
I was a politician. I contested for the House of Representatives in Surulere in 1979. I remember that Zik came to this house and told me I had to go to Warri as a Prince to contest for Senate seat. You must have heard of Chief Edwin Clark, I was to contest for Senate seat against EK Clark. I was leading in the vote count until the announcement came suddenly that Clark won the election. EK Clark just looked at me and said my brother, they have announced my name o. I shook his hand and congragulated him, it means you are stronger than myself but you knew I was leading. He said yes, the radio announced it. There is nothing you can do. If somebody stronger than you is beating you and you said Noo, you want to die, then you will die. If government said EK Clark won, why would I go to court and fight the physical battle. I just shook his hands and since then, we have been friends till today. Lagos has not changed. The only thing that happened in Lagos is that there are too many people but some of them do not know the ideology.
What has life taught you as a person?
Live the best you can everyday. Don’t think too much about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself. When you get up everyday, give glory to God. If you have money to drink garri, drink the garri and take pleasure in drinking it. Don’t complain that you are drinking garri but someone is eating salad. That is none of your business, Be contented with what you have. I’m a contented human being. The little money I have, I spend on my wife and children. I was 18 years when I started driving my father’s car in Lagos.
On Beckely Street Lagos, at the time, there were few people who owned cars then.
The Edwards were one of the family who owned cars between 1948 and 1952. That was before more people started owning cars in the street. We the children didn’t know the difference. You take your dads car, drive the whole block and nobody would know.
The only time my father knew I drove his car was when I had a minor accident with the
car and ran to my aunty’s house to report myself. She eventually bailed me out.
Why are you called Baba Oba, the Olu of Warri?
The Olu of Warri had 20 children. My great grandfather was the first son of the Olu of Warri.
So you are a prince?
Yes, I am
What gets you upset?
If you want to offend, let my wife use bad words for any of my children. None of my children would think that because their mother was around, they would misbehave to their elderly ones. They know I will behave badly towards them. You must respect your elders and the mothers in the house must accept all my children if you don’t accept them, the gate is opened. Funny enough, I don’t believe that at 80, I’m too old. I can always control my home and I will do that until I die. My father, wherever he is resting today, he’s confident that I took care of my siblings and their children. Nobody knew in this country that I was the only child of my mother or my father but I trained the rest of my brothers and their children. So, I give glory to God. I thank God that he gave me the ability to differentiate between good and evil. When you have a good father, good upbringing is better than gold and silver.
How do you spend your day?
Resting. The greatest medicine you can give in your life is to rest. Find time to relax your body. When you wake up in the morning, and your mind is fresh and you can handle any problem. Don’t use the problem of today to solve tomorrow’s challenges. Watch television, relax in bed. If you are not resting enough, ailment will get to you. After talking to you, I will go to my bedroom and rest till 8pm and go to Ikoyi to meet with my friends.