Chief Obafemi Awolowo dethroned the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi Adeniran who married 200 wives in 1955
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the political leader of the old western region of Nigeria was not a friend to the old Alaafin of Oyo, oba Adeymi Adeniran
Oba Adeyemi was playing friendship with the NCNC an opposition party to the Action Group, a party set up by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, following his support for the NCNC, a rival party, Awolowo plotted his dethronement in 1955
Power is no doubt an intoxicating factor in the lives of many men and women alike. This is really the reason many come out on different platforms in different levels of the society to hustle for it. Eventually though not many are able to effectively handle and maneuver through it. That is why it is said that most men can stand in the face of adversity, but the true test of a man is the way he acts when he is given power.
The struggle for supremacy is nothing new to man, and in the history of Nigeria, there has been such tussles, with different parties trying to show their superiority; political leaders, pressure groups and even traditional rulers. One of such tussles was what led to the deposing and unceremonious de-stooling of the Oba Adeyemi Adeniran II.
In the pre-colonial times, the Oyo Empire was headed by the Alaafin in a monarchical system where the only functional check on his usage of powers was Oyomesi council. The coming of the colonialists changed it to a form of indirect rule where the Britons ruled via the instituted system. However, this system was again tampered with after the exit of the colonialists following a clash of powers between the Oba and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Oba Adeyemi II, who succeeded his father Oba Adeyemi I Alowolodu, ascended the stool in 1945 and reigned for about a decade before his abrupt and unexpected dethronement in July 1955. When in 1950, Obafemi Awolowo established the Action Group promising freedom from British rule, disease, ignorance and want for all those who followed him, particularly the westerners.
The Alaafin was one of the few highly placed men of the Yoruba extraction who did not go along with him. The Oba did not, in any way, hide the fact that he was a fan of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and by extension the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC).
This was the beginning of the rift between Awolowo who was the national president of the newly formed party which was thought to project the interest of westerners and the Alaafin who was the undisputed supreme ruler of the Yoruba race. Based on the regional ties, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) dominated the North, the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC) dominated the East, while Action Group (AG) had the West as their home zone.
This means that the Oba’s support for the NCNC, a rival party, gave them an edge over the AG which was supposed to dominate this region; and this resulted in his being unable to gather any coalition of voters large enough to win a federal election. This was of course, something Awolowo would not tolerate, as it was not just an affront to his person, but threatened the base of the AG, his political brain-child.
When the Egbe Omo Yoruba association was formed by some prominent Yoruba sons in 1953, and the Alaafin was named grand patron, this threat became magnified. With his dual position, Oba Adeyemi II personally campaigned for the NCNC during the local government elections in 1954. This was a contradiction to what the Oba had done during the 1951 elections when he was still close buddies with the Action Group allies, where he had supported the Bode Thomas, who was the deputy leader of Action Group, and Abiodun Akerele in their bid for the regional house of assembly.
Sequel to that election, Bode Thomas became the chairman of the Oyo divisional native authority controlling the town of Oyo and the hinterlands, while Abiodun Akerele became the chairman of Oyo southern district native authority, both of which were hitherto controlled by the royal stool.
Furious over the attitude of the Alaafin which was not in any way favouring the regional government, the Awolow-led government started dishing out policies which one might be tempted to refer to as anti-Alaafin. The policies were majorly targeted at undermining the authority of the traditional rulers in general and the Alaafin in particular, and transfer more powers to the regional government.
First of all, the Oyo divisional native authority which was headed by Bode Thomas, cut off a major source of fund by replacing the traditional judges also known as the Iwefa chiefs, with their new and elite appointees. The Baales and senior chiefs, as a result, had to hustle for whatever they wanted to come to them, as the new arrangement did not take them into consideration. This, of course, also meant that the Oba was no longer paramount in any way, except in the minds of his loyalists.
The Action Group further tightened the noose by reforming the tax collection system so that the tax collection and assessment which was until then done by the Alaafin was now handled directly by the government in addition to a ten shilling tax and four shilling education rate. All of these provoked the Alaafin to state that a close examination of the party’s policies had led him to withdraw his earlier support and method.
After this, he declined the invitation of Sir Kofo Abayomi, the secretary of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, making reference to earlier occasions when he had been publicly disregarded by both Bode Thomas whom he had earlier installed as Balogun of Oyo in 1950 and Abiodun Akerele. From there, he gave his full support to the opposition NCNC at all levels.
The Oba immediately put actions to his words, setting up his own private courts within the palace and in the residences of his chiefs, which rendered the governments native court reforms redundant as the people preferred to meet with their Oba to resolve the disputes especially marital issues, rather than visit the courts which they saw as an elite thing. He also passed a resolution against the education and capitation taxes, and told the people not to cooperate with the government.
In a counter attack, the regional government set about intimidating supporters of the Oba. When the Oyo native authority council was formed, the counselors who took the side of the government against the Oba were reportedly attacked, and all fingers especially those of Bode Thomas pointed at the Crown Prince (Aremo) as being responsible for the assault. This same council eventually reduced the annual salary of the Alaafin by 650 pounds, removed the salary of the Aremo and other palace nobles. They did not stop at that but went ahead to de-stool the Oba and banish his son who was tagged as being a threat to public order.
At this point, it was clear that it was not just a minor clash of titans, but a major and cataclysmic head-on collision between the two powerful figures. It also appeared to be a contest between the educated minority elites of the land (represented by Awolowo) and the majority illiterates and devote traditionalists, chiefs and rulers (represented by the Alaafin).
Awolowo kept advocating a reformed system of administration and overhaul of the constitution so that the educated minorities could wield the powers – a system where the traditional rulers would be stripped of their already streamlined powers and same would be shifted to the educated few.
The house of chiefs was thus placed under the regional government, and the institution of chieftaincy was placed under the control of the Action Group party. Their method of dealing with any errant Oba or chief could be by demotion, punishment or the person in question could even be completely declined membership of the house of chiefs.
The already delicate power balance was tipped further when a fight broke out between Bode Thomas and the Alaafin over issues of supremacy in the Action Group controlled Oyo divisional council. This was worsened by the death of Bode Thomas at the prime age of 34, in November 1953, a death which the Oba was accused of having perpetrated through diabolical means.
It was so terrible that when the members of the Action Group launched a violent attack on the opposing camp, they reacted immediately and stormed the party meeting in Oyo, an action which led to the death of about six AG loyalists. Throughout the rest of 1954, there were further clashes and counter clashes resulting in injury of many and destruction of properties worth thousands of pounds.
When in September of the same year, an emergency committee composed of seven Yoruba rulers including the Alaafin, the Ooni of Ife Oba Adesoji Aderemi, and the Alake of Egbaland, as well as fourteen leaders of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was convened, the Alaafin was accused of conspiring to work against the regional government and the party in power.
Awolowo then stated that the government had outrun their patience and could no longer tolerate his insubordination, and after consultation with the other Obas, he was suspended from office and removed from the native authority.
This de-stooling was done despite the position of Sir Richard Lloyd, senior crown counsel to Sir John Macpherson the then Governor-General, that the elected counsellors could have shown more tolerance to the older members of the council who were majorly illiterate and could not easily understand or adapt to the new system. Despite all his grammar and recommendations, they went along with their initial plan, deposing and banishing the 84-year-old Alaafin.
His banishment led the Oba to relocate to Lagos where he was housed by a wealthy NCNC stalwart Alhaji N.B, Soule, a citizen of Benin Republic and fellow Muslim, alongside his large entourage and loyalists who came daily in their thousands to pay their respects.
Even though the deposed Oba was touched by his generosity and tolerance, he acknowledged that there was no place like home, and that his only pain was being subjected to such a treatment at his old age. Even the paltry 210 pounds salary which was left for him was finally stopped. His over 200 wives could not be accommodated with him in Lagos, and so his wives came in batches of 30 to spend times with him, before returning for another batch to take their place.
After taking the Oba out of the way, Awolowo proceeded to pass into law three crucial policies giving him as the regional head tight control over the local government, the customary courts and matters of lands and chieftaincy.
The Action Group thus had the traditional rulers under their firm grip, but the chiefs decided to make the relationship more mutual by dishing out honorary chieftaincy titles to the politicians. This was how Obafemi Awolowo became Chief Obafemi Awolowo. By November 1970, the son of the banished Oba ascended the throne as Adeyemi III Lamidi Olayiwola, to the delight of Oyo indigenes.