by Laura Onyeneho
Houston is the home of Nigerian royalty. Dr. Babajide Agunbiade, one of the world’s leading offshore production experts and his wife, entrepreneur Funke Agunbiade were conferred with the title of Atobaase and Yeye Atobaase of Yorubaland in his homeland of Oyo State, Nigeria.
His title Atobaase means “the one who is competent enough to be a king.” He is the director of Houston-based National Oilwell Varco, with more than 20 years of experience in the oil industry. He has led several groundbreaking projects across Africa and the Gulf of Mexico.
As founder/president of Jide Agunbiade Foundation, he led philanthropic efforts that uplifted families across Nigeria providing primary healthcare, access to basic education and community development.
On November 12, 2021, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee shared a proclamation marking the day “Atobasse Dr. Babajide Agunbiade and Yeye Atobasse of Yorubaland Day in Texas’ 18th Congressional District,” recognizing the couple as “strong pillars” in the community.
The Defender spoke with Agunbiade about his ties to Houston and how he became a royal chief in his homeland.
Defender How significant is this title in Yorubaland?
Babajide Agunbiade: The Yoruba people are one of three major tribes in Nigeria. This is where my roots are. I’ve done extensive work in the community through the years, and I believe it was that along with my professional background and history that has led me to this opportunity. My wife and I were conferred with the title…by [King] His Imperial Majesty, [Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi III, Iku Baba Yeye, Alaafin of Oyo.]
This title is significant because it is one of the oldest chieftaincy titles and it has been in existence for over 2,000 years. The title hasn’t been used in 400 years until now. It is one of 14 titles to cover the whole of Yorubaland. I represent as the ambassador of all Yoruba communities worldwide.
Defender: How did someone who lives in Houston earn the title?
Agunbiade: I was born in Yorubaland. I’ve made it a priority to return home every quarter. I and my wife have contributed a lot to the Houston community and in Nigeria as well. We have contributed our efforts to tackle problems such as lack of basic health care and educational resources and water sanitation. This role comes with a lot of responsibility so you would need impeccable character, be very accomplished in whatever your endeavors maybe and have a heart of service. Not to say that those are the complete qualifications but I believe these are the qualities the Alaafin of Oyo saw in me.
Defender: What do the responsibilities of the role entail for you and your wife?
Agunbiade: The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted travel for the most part and I pivot when necessary. Recently [In November] I traveled to Nigeria and visited local areas and shared the ideas that I have for the community. With this role, I will have hundreds of assistants on ground working in different sectors who will help execute my visions as well as report updates to me when I’m not in Nigeria. My family will still be based in Houston. We love this city very much, but that won’t impact the work we will continue to do.
Defender: How does your new title impact the Yoruba community at large in the Houston area?
Agunbiade: This summer, my wife and I had our official coronation in Nigeria and then in November we returned back to Houston to celebrate the coronation among our close friends and family who couldn’t attend due to COVID-19 restrictions. This platform gives me the chance to understand the communities needs and what their expectations are for Yorubaland, using our collective voice and ideas for a better future for our youth and community.
Defender: Nov. 12 was declared Atobaase Dr. Babajide and Yeye Atobaase of Yorubaland Day in Texas’ 18th Congressional District. What does that mean to you?
Agunbiade: We have been a big supporter of Congresswoman [Jackson Lee]. She is a prominent hardworking leader in Congress. We have similarities in both our ideas and aspirations. We will continue to support her endeavors politically and socially in the same way she has invested in our community. This proclamation is just to acknowledge our service in the community and we are truly grateful for this recognition.
Defender: Are there any projects that you’re both working on?
Agunbiade: Currently, there are a few projects in the works. One of them includes providing water systems for locals in Yorubaland for access to clean water. We will provide books and other education supplies for schools that lack library resources. We’ve been in this role for couple of months now, and as time goes by, we will hone in other specific needs in the community and how to create solutions for them. (Defender)