By Kayode Odunaro
Chief Josiah Abidemi Odunaro, the Osi Ajiroba of Olu Ilaro-Yewa was born on September 7, 1923 to the family of Pa Gabriel Famuyiwa Odunaro and Madam Morenike Julianah Odunaro, originally of Osorun lineage of Ishaga -Orile, at Imala-Yewa in the present-day Abeokuta North Local Government Area. He was the second son in a family of two sons. His only elder brother was Pa Joseph Oluwole Odunaro, aka “Baba Ejire” or “Baba Teacher” a teacher and headmaster while alive, who passed on at the age of 85 years. With their parents among the early converted Christians of the Christ Apostolic Church denomination, it was not surprising that a corollary of that faith in terms of Western Education became their portion and possession in the early part of the 20th Century.
Following his father’s movement from Imala-Yewa to Okitipupa, the young Odunaro attended Methodist Primary School, Okitipupa for his elementary education from 1937 and completed at this level in 1941. He subsequently attended Ibadan Boys High School, Ibadan for his secondary education from 1942 t0 1944. Subsequently, the young man and his parent moved back to Ago-Ishaga in Ilaro to be with his kith and kin that had earlier settled in Ilaro following the Dahomey Invasion of 1862. On the basis of his education up to secondary school level Class III, Odunaro began his working career as a teacher on the prompting of his parent but much against his wish as he wanted to enlist in any of the law enforcement agencies of the then British Colonial Rulers. He taught briefly at Okitipupa but was later engaged as a teacher at CMS School, Ilaro.
It was at this school that he met his lifelong friend, then Prince Adekanbi Tella. The prince was later to become the royal father of Ilaro as His Royal Majesty Oba Adekanbi Tella, the Olu of Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland. For a job he did not want, it was not surprising that he soon left the teaching profession that his elder brother excelled in at the earliest opportunity to apply for training as a Policeman under the British Rule in Nigeria. The success of his application saw his admission to the Nigeria Police College, Ikeja on January 1, 1950. On the successful completion of his 6 months training on July 1, 1950, he began his long career as a law enforcement officer that took him across most towns and communities in Southern Nigeria as well as outside the shores of Nigeria for 28 years, two months and two days until his voluntary retirement as a Sergeant Major on 2nd January, 1978.
Immediately after his training at Ikeja, Chief Odunaro was posted to Port-Harcourt in present day Rivers State where he was to find his first wife Madam Grace Odunaro (nee Stanley). He served a year in Port-Harcourt and was posted to Enugu on July 1, 1951 but recalled back to Port-Harcourt on December 1, 1951. From Port-Harcourt he was posted to the riverine community of Degema on March 18, 1954 where he was until posted again back to Port-Harcourt on July 1,1957. He eventually married and his first son, Dele was born in 1955 in Port-Harcourt as were subsequently his first daughter Olufunmilayo and second son, Olatunji. From Port-Harcourt he was posted to Ibadan, the capital of the Western Region on March 29,1960 shortly before Nigeria’s Independence and served there till the end of July 1962 after his third son and fourth child, Oluwakayode was born in January,1962. From Ibadan, Chief Odunaro was posted to Abeokuta on August 1, 1962. Soon after female twins were added to the family as Taiye and Kehinde were born. Chief Odunaro married a second time to Mrs. Modupe Odunaro and the union produced another set of female twins Taiye and Kehinde, Olusegun, Idowu and Anuoluwapo.
On May 22, 1963, the hardworking and diligent officer was posted on an International Peace Keeping Mission to Congo following the crisis that attended the murder of Patrice Lumumba. He was in Congo for 6 months until December 21, 1963 when he was posted back to Motor Transport Division(MTD) in Abeokuta where he was until August 1, 1965 when he was posted to Ilaro and later back to Abeokuta on March 1, 1967. On September 6, 1967, he was posted to the present Ondo State where he served in various towns like Akure (1-4-68 to 10-1-69); Ore (10-1-69 to1-5-69); Ondo/Okitipupa(1-5-69 to 1-4-71); Ifon(1-4-71 to 13-12-71); Ile-Oluji(13-12-71 to 6-12-72) and Ilawe(6-12-72 to 8-1-73). From Ilawe Chief Odunaro was back on duty in Port- Harcourt on January 17, 1973 for about 5 months when he was again posted back to Ibadan on May 16, 1973. He was there until April 24, 1976 when he was posted to Ilesha. From Ilesha, he was posted to Iponri in Lagos where he served until discharge with ‘exemplary’ record of service on January 2, 1978. In his service years, he was involved in peace keeping and conflict resolution in many places where communities were fighting over land and similar issues including Okrika in present day Rivers State where many lives were lost in communal conflicts. He was equally at Agwu in Enugu State during the Nigeria -Biafra Civil War as a part of restoration of law and order after the fratricidal war.
In his service to the nation and Africa, Chief Odunaro as a Police officer was not found for any misconduct. An avid sportsman, he represented the force in many sporting competitions winning laurels in high jump, pole vault and other athletic games. Chief Odunaro was a linguist of sort being fluent in many local languages of places he served including fluency in Igbo, Kalabari, Okrika, different Yoruba dialects as well as English Language. He was a consumer of news from newspapers that he reads without eyeglasses even in his 90s as well as avid radio listener. A transistor radio is a must companion for him in his sitting room. Baba Olopa was a lover of High Life music often enjoying music from such musicians as late Rex Lawson, Ebenezer Obey, Congo and Ghanaians music. A truly detribalized Nigerian, Chief Odunaro for his services to the Nigerian Police Force was awarded the Service Medals including the “Congo Medal”, the “Independence Medal”, and the “Long Service and Good Conduct Medal”.
After his discharge from the Nigerian Police Force in 1978 at the age of 55, Chief Odunaro was not one to rely on his pension from the force as he was still strong enough for active work. He was engaged as a Staff of Nigerian Brewery in Lagos as well as later as Chief Security Officer at Oyan Dam Project where he was instrumental in foiling attempts to burgle the huge developmental project site.
He finally retired to his house in Ilaro built over many years through sending money to his senior brother late Pa Jeremiah Odunaro at Alaagba Street, Ona Ola Quarters. From henceforth in the late 80s, Chief Odunaro devoted his time to community and religious service. On the basis of his service and closed friendship with the then reigning royal father of Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland, Oba Adekanbi Tella, he was appointed as the Osi Ajiroba of Olu Ilaro and continued to serve the community through assisting the royal father on numerous assignments as a chief of the palace. He was always in the company of the Olu of Ilaro for many state government and other official functions at Abeokuta as a member of the delegation of Olu Ilaro. He was opportune to meet many First Citizens of Ogun State through this avenue as a delegate of the Paramount Ruler of Yewaland. Indeed, in those days of military rule and crisis under General Sani Abacha, he was among the few chiefs of Olu Ilaro that accompanied the Olu of Ilaro to visit General Abacha in Aso Rock Villa, Abuja in relation to the incarceration of some prominent indigenes of Ogun State. He was also appointed a Customary Court Judge in Ilaro where he served for many years in his 80s. He was able to resolve many cases using his wide experience as a Police Officers and his close touch with the traditional mores of his Yewa people.
He served God and the Christ Apostolic Church while in retirement and was one of the surviving oldest members of the church until he was excused from attendance of services and other church programmes on account of his age. He was an active member of the Ibukun Oluwa Group of Christ Apostolic Church, Oke Isegun DCC, Ilaro as well as patrons of many church societies.
Baba Olopa love his people and their traditional ways. Even in his 90s, Chief Odunaro is usually one of the first to arrive at the venue of the annual Oronna Ilaro Festival particularly during the four-year tenure of one of his sons, Chief Kayode Odunaro, the Baaroyin of Imalaland and the Majeobaje of Olu Ilaro designate as Chairman Oronna Ilaro Festival Central Planning Committee, (OIFCPC. He usually arrived the venue gaily dress as a Chief of the Palace of Olu Ilaro, when even organizers were still putting finishing touches to the Grand Finale venue. In recognition of his services to the community, the reigning Olu Ilaro and Paramount Ruler of Yewaland, Oba (Dr) Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle MFR, EVS paid him a royal visit in his humble abode at Alaagba Street a year before his passing on to glory.
A man of many parts is gone to be with the Lord. He lived a decent life and was blessed with relatively good health till the end at the age of 98 years. He will be buried on Saturday December 11, 2021 at Ilaro-Yewa, Ogun State.
Baaroyin Kayode Odunaro
is the Third Son of Osi Ajiroba of Olu Ilaro Yewa/Majeobaje Designate of Olu-Ilaro Yewa.