Before the arrival of the colonialists from Britain, the Oyo Empire of the Yorubas was one of the most powerful in all of West Africa. Far older than the British monarchy, the Oyo Empire was headed by the Alaafin (royal title of the Oyo king meaning Owner of the Palace) and stretched as far as Dahomey (now known as the Republic of Benin). In the precolonial era, the Alaafin ruled with almost absolute powers, with the Oyo Mesi council being the only functional check on the vast powers of the Yoruba king. But when the imperialists arrived, everything changed, a new social order was implemented, and with it, came the erosion of the powers vested in the ancient Oyo kings. This piece is about one of the victims of that new sociopolitical order: Oba Alhaji Adeyemi II Adeniran.
THE REIGN OF ALAAFIN ADEYEMI II
Before Alaafin Adeyemi II ascended the throne of his ancestors in 1945, his own father, Oba Adeyemi I Alowolodu, had reigned from 1876 to 1905. Adeyemi II would sit on the royal seat from 1945 until he was unceremoniously dethroned in July 1955. But what really happened?
THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLE
On a Sunday, the 26th of March, 1950, eight people at the Oke Ado, Ibadan residence of Chief Obafemi Awolowo sat for their first meeting. They were there to establish their new party, which they called Action Group. The head was Obafemi Awolowo and he listed what Nigerians in general and the people of Western Nigeria in particular will enjoy if they joined his party as:
- Freedom from British rule
- Freedom from ignorance
- Freedom from disease
- Freedom from want
Awolowo elaborated these Four Freedoms to be:
- The immediate termination of British rule in every phase of the people’s political life.
- The education of all children of school-going age, and the general enlightenment of all illiterate adults, and all illiterate children above school-going age (Adult Education).
- The provision of health and general welfare for all the people.
- The total abolition of want in the society by means of any economic policy which is both expedient and efficient.
As at the time when Awolowo and his allies founded the Action Group (he was the national president of the party), Alaafin Adeyemi II was the undisputed ruler of Oyo. While Awolowo launched his relentless fights against the British imperialists, the Alaafin ruled in his own domain. After Awolowo launched his Action Group party, other prominent individuals too went off and established theirs in other parts of Nigeria, a good example being the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). Before Awolowo started his political party, party politics in Nigeria was limited to Lagos and Calabar only. Awolowo’s party performed very well in the West but because of very stiff opposition from the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and NCNC, he was not able to build a coalition of voters large enough to make him win any federal election.
So how was all this the business of the Alaafin? Well, the Alaafin happened to be a very big fan and supporter of the NCNC, the same party that Awolowo detested with everything. When the Egbe Omo Yoruba Parapo was formed by some of the most prominent sons of the land in 1953, it named the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi II as its patron and quickly formed an alliance with the NCNC. When it was time for the local government elections of 1954, the Alaafin personally campaigned for the NCNC-Egbe Omo Oyo Parapo coalition.
However, please note that it was not always like this. The Alaafin and the Action Group members were cordial friends before they fell apart. In fact, he was very jovial buddies with Action Group leaders like Bode Thomas (deputy leader of the Action Group) whom he bestowed with the title of Balogun in 1950 and Abiodun Akerele both of whom Oba Adeyemi II supported in the 1951 regional elections in their successful bids for the house of assembly. After the elections in 1952, Thomas become the chairman of the Oyo Divisional Native Authority (controlling Oyo town and its hinterland) while Akerele became the chairman of the Oyo Southern District Native Authority. The interesting thing to note here is that both councils were under the direct control of Oba Adeyemi when he became the Alaafin in 1945. The British colonialists came and scattered the arrangement. But exactly how did they become enemies? Well, it did not take long before the Alaafin and his old Action Group allies became sworn enemies. With their men in power, the Action Group started reeling out new policies that directly undermined the powers of the Alaafin.
A good illustration here will be the native court reforms of 1952 by the Bode Thomas-led Oyo Divisional Native Authority, the reforms deleted one of the main sources of money and political influence of the Alaafin by replacing the Iwefa chiefs (the traditional judges) with their own new appointees. That was not all, the very process of the 1950-51 elections meant that the senior chiefs, baales (district heads) and other groups had to jostle for their own share in the new political space. This eroded the political base and power of the Alaafin of Oyo who had been the allpowerful paramount ruler.
The Action Group would make a vicious attempt to sound the death knell on the Alaafin’s position by introducing a government tax program which included a ten shilling capitation tax and a four shilling education rate. There was also a new form of tax collection. For seven years, the collection and assessment of taxes were done by the Alaafin but with this new tax policy by the Action Group, that was not going to ever happen again. A furious Alaafin rapidly withdrew his support from the Action Group and its sister organizations like the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. The angry king would later say:
‘…no sooner had power come into the hands of our highly-sophisticated ambitious African politicians through the introduction and implementation of the new constitution, the reverse began to appear (Action Group domination)…and later, upon closer examination of their policy and method I withdrew my public support.’
The great king was not bluffing. He followed his words with action and in a letter declining the invitation of the Secretary of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Sir Kofo Abayomi (the same person the Alaafin had earlier made the Ona-Isokun of Oyo), to the 1952 General Assembly of the organization in Lagos, Oba Adeyemi reminded him of an incident in which Akerele turned the local people against him and at another event where Thomas addressed a meeting at Atiba Hall without formally inviting him. For Alaafin Adeyemi, that was an insult too great. From that moment on, the Alaafin pressed on and deliberately went against the government policies and gave his full support to the opposition at both the regional and local levels.
A worthy example was in early 1953 when he alongside his Crown Prince (Aremo), actively went against the new tax policies and told the people not to cooperate. In a meeting inside the aafin (palace), the Alaafin was said to have passed a resolution against the government’s education and capitation taxes. A fearless fighter to the core, Oba Adeyemi also sought to neutralize the powers of the government’s native court reforms by establishing his own private courts right inside his palace and within the residences of his trusted chiefs. And his strategy worked. Still an immensely popular figure, the people preferred the swift process of the Alaafin’s courts and before you could spell Alaafin, the state courts became practically useless because no one was going there. Litigants, especially those with marital disputes opted for the courts of their paramount ruler.
A flabbergasted Action Group decided to react and they launched their counterattacks. Supporters of the king were accused of intimidating opponents and in 1950 when the Oyo Native Authority (NA) Council was formed; some of the councilors who disagreed with the Oyo king were reportedly attacked. In another case that grabbed the headlines, Thomas accused the Crown Prince of aggravated assault, the case was so serious that the Aremo was actually convicted later that year but during an appeal, he was subsequently cleared. The haters of the Alaafin blasted him and accused him of abusing power and they decided to ‘do something’. The Oyo Divisional Native Authority reduced his annual salary by 650 pounds, removed the salary of the Crown Prince and other palace courtiers. They also ruled at an emergency meeting that the Alaafin was no longer the king and banished his son, the Aremo (Crown Prince) after accusing him of being a threat to the public order.
The battle line was drawn. Enraged stalwarts of the Action Group saw the Alaafin as a traitor and a major threat to their ambitions but Oba Adeyemi II did not seem to care. By the time Awolowo started expressing his political views, it was apparent that the two powerful figures were set on a catastrophic collision course.
Awolowo was on the same page with the educated minority of Yorubaland (Alaafin Adeyemi II had no Western education) and they held the belief that the fundamental cause of virtually all the problems in the Yoruba communities and their paramount rulers was incredibly vast power (via the indirect rule method) given to these local chiefs, monarchs and traditional rulers by the British colonial government. Awolowo argued that this was not in line with the culture and traditions of the people and suggested a reformed system of administration and constitutional overhaul whereby those who will be in control of political power for the Yorubas and all other ethnicities in Nigeria will be the educated minority of that same ethnic stock like him.
In other words, Awolowo was calling for the monarchs to be stripped of their (already-dwindling) powers while the same powers will be invested in him and his Action Group. Of course the kings and the pro-monarchy figures did not like the proposal of the ‘educated minority’. Awolowo said Nigeria should have nothing but a federal system where each unit or division was based on ethnic affinity. He insisted that the local chiefs and kings (Obas) should not be allowed to dominate the people saying the sole legitimate foundation of government was that of the educated minority and that that was what the people wanted.
The British representative P C Lloyd held the view that the colonial policies sapped the local chiefs of the customary powers to rein in the more powerful paramount rulers (Obas). He said:
‘The chief lost their control over their Obas and in his new autocratic position, the king often failed to consult with the Council of Chiefs. Policies were arranged over their heads, they were merely told of decisions reached by the Obas and his white friends the colonial administrators.’
Awolowo felt the Yoruba Obas were too powerful and their wings had to be clipped and Lloyd shared his view. So that led to the introduction of the House of Chiefs by the Western Regional Government under Awolowo. It was a clear attempt to rein in the Yoruba kings and chiefs and bring them under control of the regional government.
This however brought some new and peculiar problems for the Action Group. Awolowo did not want the local chiefs to dominate and control the party and at the same time he wanted the support of the masses who were still very much loyal to the chiefs. There was no way he could reach out to the people without the support of the chiefs.
So instead of going to the chiefs directly, what Awolowo did was to bring the very institution of chieftaincy itself under the control of the Action Group party. That way, the party will be deal with any errant Oba or chief via the House of Chiefs that was created by the Action Group-dominated regional government. The House of Chiefs was a subordinate member of the Western Regional Parliament established in 1952. The way it was arranged, an Oba or chief could be punished, promoted, offered or rejected membership for the House of Chiefs.
As all these dramas were playing out, kings like the Alaafin were watching and plotting too. It was a really bitter struggle for power, relevance and dominance -and of course, money.
THE CRISIS WORSENS
And that was how the political cold war became worse. But the Alaafin of Oyo’s foe was not only Awolowo. He had also had serious issues with Chief Bode Thomas who was then the Deputy Leader of the Action Group and installed as the Balogun of Oyo in 1950 and later the Chairman of the Oyo Divisional Council under the presidency of the Alaafin.
In 1952, this delicate balance of power was toppled when the Alaafin clashed with Bode Thomas over issues of supremacy in the Oyo Divisional Council. A fight broke out between the two powerful figures and it was so bad that the Action Group-controlled Oyo Divisional Council made a decision to slash the salary of the Alaafin by whopping 650 pounds sterling (about $2,000). It was a big slap on the face of the king, a man with an extraordinarily large family.
THE FINAL NAIL
It was so gloomy that on the 5th of September 1954, members of the Action Group launched full-scale political violence and attacks at the other camp.
The other side (the pro-Alaafin camp) was not going to take the assault lightly and they swiftly organized for a reprisal. The pro-Alaafin Oyo United (Oyo Parapo) quickly arranged themselves and stormed the Oyo People’s Party during their meeting. By the time the dust settled, six people believed to be Action Group loyalists had been brutally killed. The cloud of tension grew thicker. Throughout the spring of 1954, these two parties engaged in bloody squirmishes. Many were injured and property worth thousands of pounds was destroyed.
On the 6th of September, 1954, an emergency committee composed of seven Yoruba kings, including the Alaafin of Oyo and the Ooni of Ife Oba Sir Adesoji Aderemi and the Alake of Egbaland Sir Ladapo Ademola met with fourteen leaders of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa. The venue was the Western House of Assembly in Ibadan. The Oyo spokesmen launched at the Alaafin and accused him of conspiring to work against the regional government and the party in power. After this great revelation was made, Awolowo became livid and he thundered:
‘The Alaafin was to be blamed for the Oyo tragedy and that the government was determined to take action against him. He explained that the government was determined to take action against him. He explained that the government had been patient with the Alaafin only in consideration of the sensibilities of the Obas. But the government’s patience has run out and the Obas have to save the situation by making the appropriate recommendation.’
That was not the end of the drama. After Awolowo made his submission, the Committee of the Yoruba Obas had a private meeting and they came up with a powerful recommendation: the Alaafin must be suspended from office and removed from the Native Authority. They were determined to render him impotent as they further recommended that he be deprived of his salary and banished temporarily from Oyo. And this was exactly what the government did just that they ensured that the Alaafin was finally deposed from the throne of Sango.
Interestingly, Richard D. Lloyd, the senior crown counsel appointed as a sole commissioner by the Governor-General of Nigeria Sir John Macpherson (based on the recommendation of the Western Region Government) to investigate the conflict in Oyo and its district towns blamed the local politicians for the crisis and said they should have been more tolerant of the Alaafin and even recommended his return from exile. Action Group listed all the ‘crimes’ of the Alaafin but Lloyd agreed to just one, the one of the illegal courts, and dismissed others. He said:
‘…it seems to me that a greater degree of tolerance could have been shown by the elected councilors in the various councils, who are mainly young and educated to the older nominated members who are for the most part illiterate. They are accused of being reactionary whereas I feel that they really do not understand the procedure in the working of the new councils….in looking at these events, one must bear in mind that during the last few years a revolution has taken place and is still taking place in the Western Region. The old order has changed. Former customs and habits are being replaced and cast aside by the impact of Western democracy.’
But Awolowo’s government was not interested in all that grammar by Lloyd, they rejected his recommendation and the Minister of Local Government fired an executive order officially deposing and banishing the 84-year-old Alaafin Adeyemi II.
The whole conflict plunged and took a far worse dimension back in time on the 20th of November 1953 when news filtered all over the country that Chief Bode Thomas, the brilliant lawyer, legendary politician, Federal Minister of Transport (for Western Region) and Chairman of the Oyo Division Council died at the painfully young age of 34. It was also the birthday of his second daughter. His demise was the final straw that split the backbone of the camel as far as the Awolowo camp was concerned. You will recollect that there was a lingering crisis between Thomas and the Alaafin of Oyo so with his death, all fingers pointed at the aged Yoruba monarch.
Till the very moment I am writing this, there are those who will swear by the graves of their ancestors that it was the curse Alaafin placed on Thomas that killed him (the fable is that Thomas barked until he died) while some others went to town that it was the poison administered by the agents of the Alaafin or even the Alaafin himself that snuffed life out of the youthful political war horse although a more comprehensive autopsy would have revealed the exact cause and the precise nature of his expiration. At the funeral of Thomas, Awolowo reinforced this rumour when he blasted the Alaafin in the eulogy for Thomas, he said:
‘…let no evil doer imagine that he had an unrestricted field for the execution of his diabolic plans. For Bode may yet prove stronger in death than alive.’
Whatever the circumstances that led to the death of Bode Thomas, the Awolowo-led Action Group was not interested, the put all the blame on the Alaafin and the political tension between Alaafin Adeyemi and the supporters of the late Chief Thomas took a turn for the worse in Oyo Town.
ALAAFIN ADEYEMI II IN EXILE
Once it became official that the great king was to be banished to Lagos, many of his supporters decided to move with him to exile. He still remained a very popular figure even outside the throne. In February 1959, Drum visited the 88-year-old deposed king at his ‘palace’ at No 31, Egerton Lane, the Iron Gate of Lagos. When he was dethroned, St. John the Baptist Laduga, the Bashorun of Oyo took his position. Although he was in exile in Lagos, he was still holding his daily courts. His subjects came daily to prostrate before him.
When Alaafin Adeyemi II was banished from Oyo, he was an old man but his allies quickly moved to his rescue. A wealthy NCNC stalwart who had settled in Lagos 30 years earlier from Dahomey (now Benin Republic) Alhaji N B Soule, offered the monarch and his large entourage a comfortable shelter, as a fellow Muslim and NCNC loyalist.
While in exile, the NCNC never forgot the plight of their royal friend and endlessly fought his cause with petitions to the colonial secretary and with combative words on the floor of the Western House of Assembly. When ex-Alaafin Adeyemi II himself was asked why he was banished into exile, he said firmly:
‘I was sent away by Chief Awolowo’s Action Group government of the Western Region because of my unflinching support for the cause of the NCNC and my undying love for Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as a political leader and as a person. I am not angry with Chief Awolowo. In fact, I am not angry with any one person or group of persons or organization. I am only angry with destiny in that it has chosen to push me out of the security of my palace and stool to face the uncertainties of life at my old age.’
Even the 210 pounds salary for the king from the regional government was cut off. But that did not stop thousands of men and women from visiting the deposed king every morning and evening to pay their respects. He said of his subjects:
‘These people are very kind. Their daily respects to me remind me of my palace at Oyo. And there were many people in that palace during my time. I had over 200 wives and many children and of course, I was receiving a stipend of 210 pounds every month from the regional government. This, together with gifts many of my subjects were making me, was enough to support my household. What you see here, though the best of the worst, is not like home – home is still the best. ’
But how did he cope with his over 200 wives? The ex-Alaafin said he always had about 30 of his wives at a time with him in Lagos, he explained that they came in batches of 30 at a time, spent all the time they could afford with him then return to Oyo then the next batch of 30 will come and take over and then the next in that pattern until the rotation starts again.
After Awolowo and his lieutenants succeeded in removing the old king, he moved quickly to consolidate political power. The government passed three crucial laws in quick succession, the essence of which was to tightly control the local government, native courts and matters relating to land and chieftaincy. These laws were the Customary Court Law of 1957 which stipulated that customary courts were to be under the jurisdiction of the regional Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice. The second law was fired on the 20th of June, 1957 by the House of Assembly and it was called the Chief’s Law which gave the regional authorities the power to appoint, approve, suspend and depose chiefs. Then there was the Communal Land Rights Law of 1958 which dealt a fatal blow on the authority of the obas, chiefs and leaders of aristocratic landowning families over communal land. It invested all the powers in the regional authorities. To manage communal land was now the board of trustees instead of the paramount rulers.
The Action Group was able to control the chiefs but the chiefs went a step ahead to make the relationship even warmer by dishing out honorary chieftaincy titles on the politicians. And that was how Obafemi Awolowo became Chief Obafemi Awolowo in October 1954 following his conferment and accession to the Premiership of the Western Region. But there was another side to this ‘chieftaincy bribery’, while the Action Group stalwarts had a smoother relationship with the chiefs, they were never in total control of the populace in Yorubaland as the chiefs effectively penetrated the power base of the party and maintained their influence over their people. This law was challenged, obas got roles as trustees to manage the land for the government and many of them became pro-Action Group.
Fast forward to the 18th of November 1970, the son of the banished king and rightful heir to the throne of the Oyo Empire, Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi became the Alaafin, he assumed the title Adeyemi III. Supporters of his father who knew the history leapt up with joy with tears running down their faces. Oba Adeyemi III remains the paramount ruler of Oyo Kingdom and like his father, he enjoys tremendous support and popularity but he does not have 200+ wives, he has at least four. However, like his father also, he has had some brushes with the political powers.
On the 3rd of May 2011, Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, the outgoing governor of Oyo State made a chilling announcement that the state government had just passed a new law that introduced rotation of the office of Chairman between Oba Adeyemi III and his two bitter rivals, the Olubadan of Ibadanland and the Soun of Ogbomosho. That meant Oba Adeyemi III was no longer the Permanent Chairman of the Council of Obas and Chiefs in Oyo State.
The governor was furious because he belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while Alaafin Adeyemi III decided to give his support to the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the April 2011 elections which ACN eventually gave the PDP the beating of its life. It was like history repeating itself. Today, Oba Adeyemi III remains solidly pro-APC (the ruling All Progressives Congress) and even managed to get some of his children in government. Will history repeat itself again? Only time will tell.
NB: Although Awolowo and his party were very crucial to the removal and banishment of the Alaafin, I need to also add that there was some other earlier factors that actually laid the foundation for this. When Alaafin Adeyemi II was made the king in 1945, the kingdom itself had lost virtually all the territories it gained in the reign of the immediate Alaafin (Siyanbola Onikepe Oladigbolu (Ladigbolu) I). To make things worse for the new king, Mr. Ward-Price, the British Resident Officer for Oyo Province was absolutely committed to anything that weakened the powers of the Alaafin politically and judicially. He did everything in his power to clip the wings of the ancient king.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
Full Credits: Abiyamo.com