In Yorubaland, a traditional ruler (Oba) is unquestionable. He is not primus inter pares (first among equals), he is highly revered and widely referred to as second only to the gods, that’s why they are called ‘alase, Igbakeji Orisa’. But despite this near infallible status, an Oba can be dethroned, deposed or sent on exile. In modern political terminology, an Oba can be impeached, either through political intrigue, power play, rebellion or governmental intervention. In this piece, prominent legal practitioner FEMI KEHINDE chronicles the history of deposition of traditional rulers in Yorubaland…
The gale of exiles, started with Oba Akitoye in Lagos. He ascended the throne as Oba of Lagos in 1841 and tried to ban slave trading. Local merchants, who were prominent slave traders, opposed the move and Oba Akitoye was eventually deposed and sent to exile. Akitoye was eventually succeeded by his brother, Kosoko, as Oba of Lagos. At exile in Great Britain, Akitoye met with British authorities and some anti-slave traders who had banned slave trading in 1807.
British Authorities Helped Akitoye Back to Throne, Deposed Kosoko
The British authorities resolved to assist Akitoye back to the stool as Oba of Lagos in 1851. Oba Kosoko was immediately deposed and sent on exile to Badagry and later Epe, where he also founded kingdoms. This British involvement and meddlesomeness in the affairs of the throne of Lagos, in practical terms, finally established British influence on the throne of Lagos and this authority became absolute when Lagos or ‘Eko’ was later annexed 10 years later in 1861 as a territory of British colony. Shortly after the British annexation of Lagos, their next port of call was Benin kingdom. Benin, before the expedition, was a very prosperous kingdom, noted for its rich resources in palm oil, rubber and ivory and was largely independent of British control.
Oba of Benin Ovonramwen Nogbaisi
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was Oba of Benin in 1888, until the British punitive expedition of 1897, which forced him out of the throne. He was sent on exile to Calabar with his two wives and died in exile in 1914.
The Alake of Egbaland is the paramount ruler of the Egbas, comprising of Egba Alake, Owu Kingdom, Oke Ona and Gbagura. Oba Oladapo Samuel Ademola II, ascended the throne of the Alake of Egbaland in 1920 after the demise of Oba Gbadebo I on the 28th May 1920. Oba Oladapo Samuel Ademola 11 was an educated Oba, with a deep sense of business acumen. His son, Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, became indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1960.
Alake Oba Ademola… Forced into Exile by Women for 2 Years
Oba Oladapo Samuel Ademola II ruled for 42 years, but he was on exile for 2 years, between 1948 and December 1950, as a result of a protest against native authorities, especially against the Alake of Egbaland, by the Women’s Union, led by Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, mother of Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. She was ably supported by Eniola Soyinka, her sister-in law and mother of Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka. This organisation with a membership of over 20,000 women campaigned vigorously against taxes and price control. The Abeokuta Women’s Union was a well-organised and was a disciplined organisation. The Egba women’s refusal to pay abnormal taxes, combined with enormous protests, organised under the guise of picnics and festivals, was a guise to beat the security of the British colonizers who teamed up with the local lackeys to subdue the women. At one protest, the ‘Oro’ stick was brought out- a symbolic artifact of the secretive male cult of the Ogbonis, supposedly imbibed with great powers, and the women were instructed to go home, before evil spirits overcame them. When the women withdrew in fear, late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti grabbed the stick, waved it around, saying the womenfolk now had the power before taking it with her, displaying it prominently in her home. This action gave her a reputation of fearlessness and courage, which led the 20,000 women to follow her to the home of Alake of Egbaland (Alake Ademola). As the women protested outside the King’s Palace, they sang in Yoruba:
Alake, for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.
With this unified action and song, they chased him out of the palace, condemning him to exile on the threat of castration and this resulted in the king’s abdication of the throne. Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a teacher, political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat. She was described by the West African Pilot Newspaper as the ‘Lioness of Lisabi’. She was the first woman to ride a car.
Later in life, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was sadly thrown out, through an upstairs (2nd floor precisely), when a battalion of soldiers invaded Fela Anikulapo’s Kalakuta Republic in 1978. She died as a result of the injury she sustained on 13th April, 1978. She was married to Rev. Israel Oludotun Kuti and she begat four children namely Olikoye- a Professor of Medicine and former Minister of Health, Dolapo, Fela- a musical icon and legend, and Bekolari- a medical doctor and human rights activist as well as many grandchildren among them Brig-Gen. Enitan Ransome Kuti- a recently convicted and reprieved military officer, Frances Kuboye- a dental surgeon and jazz exponent, Yeni, Femi and Seun Kuti- Afrobeat musical exponents. Her coffin was sent to Dodan Barracks in Lagos- General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence, as Head of State, together with a newly -written song- “Coffin for a Head of State- They kill my mama, 78-years- old mama, influential mama, political mama…”
Oba Ademola Was Exiled in Osogbo…Accompanied by Current Alaafin of Oyo
Oba Oladapo Ademola II was sent to exile in Osogbo, where he lived for two years before he was recalled to the throne. It is interesting to note that Oba Oladapo Ademola II was accompanied to exile by the current Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, who was then living with the deposed Oba Ademola II. Oba Lamidi Adeyemi’s father, Adeniran Adeyemi II, who was the Alaafin of Oyo for 10 years (1945 to 1955) had seen in the young Lamidi Olayiwola a future Alaafin and had nurtured him along the path of royalty. He had trained him as an Islamic cleric in Iseyin, he had lived under the tutelage of Pa Olatoregun- an Anglican school teacher and disciplinarian in Oyo, all in an effort for the young Lamidi to learn the rope of traditional kingship, statesmanship and dignifying royalty. Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, in the quest of this preparation for royalty, was at an early age sent to Abeokuta to live with Oba Adedapo Ademola and had some part of his early education in Ake Palace Elementary School, which is why he is today still fluent in Egba dialect.
Oba Lamidi Olayiwola at a later date in his adolescence also lived with a Lagos Aristocrat-his father’s friend- Sir Kofo Abayomi and his wife, Lady Oyinkan Abayomi. He also attended St Gregory’s College, Lagos- a Catholic School.
Perhaps, this early preparation for royalty has no doubt made Oba Adeyemi III, a quintessential monarch, not only with wit but also with class, candour, panache and indeed, a deep sense of wisdom. Among Oba Adeniran’s children, Lamidi Adeyemi was his favourite. He had seen at birth, the lacerations on his left breast and the spots on his leg at the same spot on Lamidi Olayiwola, as telltale signs of future royalty.
Oba Adetoyese Laoye Was Asked to Abdicate the Throne in January 1948
Oba John Adetoyese Laoye was born on the 21st of February, 1899. He was Timi of Ede between 1946 and May 1975. On 23rd of January 1946, the stool of Timi of Ede became vacant as a result of the passage of Timi Oyebamiji Akangbe. The stool was fiercely contested by Prince Memudu Lagunju, who had also previously contested the stool with Timi Sanusi Akangbe in 1933.
Adetoyese and 32 other contestants vied for the vacant stool for about 11 months and he was eventually crowned on the 9th of December 1946. Despite Adetoyese’s victory, his arch-rival-Prince Memudu Lagunju- fiercely fought for the throne through a protracted litigation. Memudu Lagunju won at the lower court and Adetoyese was on the 8th of January 1948 asked to abdicate the throne. He was on exile in Lagos until 1952 when the West African Court of Appeal (WACA) dismissed Memudu Lagunju’s case and recorded its verdict in John Adetoyese Laoye’s favour, in a verdict which was later upheld by the Privy Council in England.
Oba Adeniran Adeyemi…Forced into Exile by AG-led Government
Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II was Alaafin of Oyo between 1945 and 1954 until he was forced into exile by the Action Group-led government of the Western region as a result of the death of the Deputy Leader of the Action Group, Chief Bode Thomas, and also for having sympathy for the rival NCNC of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Chief Bode Thomas (1918-1953) became the Deputy Leader of the Action Group; he later formed Nigeria’s first indigenous law firm called- Thomas, Willams, Kayode and Co. comprising the trio of Bode Thomas, Chief Rotimi Williams and Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode. Bode was a brilliant lawyer but also very haughty and arrogant. He was made the Divisional Council Chairman in 1953 while the Alaafin of Oyo was a mere member. On his first appearance in council after being appointed chairman, all the council members stood up for him in deference to him and to welcome him except Oba Adeyemi II, who for cultural reasons, could not show deference to anyone in public. Bode Thomas rudely shouted at the king for having the temerity and audacity to disrespect him.
“Why are you sitting when I walked in, you don’t know how to show respect?”
At that time, Bode Thomas was 35-years-old and Oba Adeniran was in his 60’s.
The Alaafin felt very insulted and nonplussed; he said “se emi lon gbomo baun?” (Is it me you are barking at like that?).
Oba Adeniran just told him “Ma gbo lo baun” (continue barking). Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II was the father of the incumbent Alaafin, Oba Adeyemi III.
The confrontation happened on November 22nd 1953. Bode Thomas got home and started barking! He barked and barked like a dog all night until he died in the early morning of November 23rd 1953, thus cutting short his promising career. Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II was thereafter deposed and sent on exile in 1954 for sympathizing with the opposition NCNC because he had come in conflict with Bode Thomas who was Deputy Leader of the Action Group, before his untimely death. In fact at a session in the parliament, Sardauna Ahmadu Bello had described Thomas as “arrogant and ungracious”.
Oba Adeyemi II was sent on exile to Ilesha and later relocated to Egerton Street on Lagos Island where he lived and died in 1960. His death truncated the ambition of Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi to proceed to the United Kingdom to study law. He later became an Insurance Executive with the Royal Exchange Assurance, where he worked until he ascended the throne of his forefathers as the Alaafin of Oyo in 1971.
Sir Olateru Olagbegi II, Olowo of Owo, Suspended by Fajuyi Military Junta 1966
Sir Olateru Olagbegi II (Olowo of Owo, August 1910- 1998) was appointed the Olowo, in the ancient city of Owo, in 1941 and ruled for 25 years before he was deposed. His dethronement from power and his sojourn in exile was as a result of the fallout of the Western Regional crisis, which fractionalized the Action Group into Awolowo and Akintola camps in 1962. It was a fallout of the Action Group Conference of February 1962 in Jos. Members of the Akintola group, were virtually expelled from the party. The Action Group, which was launched in Olagbegi’s Palace in 1951, was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. A battle of wits between the two gladiators- Akintola and Awolowo- saw Oba Olateru pitching his tent with Akintola. Another prominent Owo citizen and acolyte of Oba Olateru Olagbegi, Michael Adekunle Ajasin, pitched his tent with the Awolowo group.
Michael Ajasin and Olateru Olagbegi were initial colleagues, friends, soul mates and pathfinders in the growth and development of the ancient city of Owo. Michael Ajasin was born 28th November, 1908. He was a teacher and school headmaster for sometime in Sapele, present day Delta State, before he was admitted to Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone in 1943, where he obtained a Bachelors Degree in History and Economics in 1946. After a successful completion of his university degree, he went to London where he obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education in 1947. Olateru Olagbegi was instrumental to the community scholarship granted Michael Ajasin to pursue his educational feat. On 12thSeptember 1947, Ajasin was appointed Principal of Imade College, founded by his friend, Oba Olateru Olagbegi and was Principal till December 1962, when he left to become founder, Proprietor and Principal of Owo High School from 1963 to 1975.
As Principal of Imade College, Michael Ajasin was still very active and prominent in the community politics of Owo and the Regional and National politics of Western Region and Nigeria respectively. Through the support and encouragement of his friend, the Olowo Olagbegi, he was elected, Member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing Owo Federal Constituency, between August 1954 and 1966, when the military overthrew the civilian government of the First Republic. Olagbegi and Ajasin, as a result of the political feud, became sworn enemies. Olagbegi was a prominent member and leader of Akintola’s NNDP (Demo) and Minister without Portfolio, whilst Ajasin was a Federal Legislator. The military putsch of January 1966 encouraged the Owo Community to organize persistent revolts, riots, against Oba Olateru Olagbegi and this forced the Adekunle Fajuyi government to suspend him from the throne in June 1966. Olateru’s attempt to return to the throne of Olowo on the 8th February 1968 was fiercely resisted by the Owo community. About 60 houses were burnt and 40 houses damaged. The military government of Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo had no choice than to depose Olateru Olagbegi that day and send him on exile to Okitipupa. Less than a month after, Oba Adekola Ogunoye, ably supported by Adekunle Ajasin, emerged the new Olowo of Owo. Olagbegi’s effort in 1977 to reclaim the stool when Ondo State was created out of the old Western State was also fiercely resisted by his protagonists.
The military government of Wing Commander Ita David Ikpeme set up a Commission of Inquiry, known as Ondo Chieftaincy Review Commission, headed by Justice Adeyinka Morgan to undertake review of Chieftaincy Laws of Ondo State. Other members of the commission were-Dr. Femi Anjorin- Department of History, University of Ife, Chief J.O. Akindolire from Ile-Oluji and Bode Kumapayi- Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service of the State. The commission could not conclude its assignment due to the ill health of the chairman- Justice Adeyinka Morgan.
Olowo Adekola Ogunoye, described as a man of supernatural and magical powers, died on 22nd March, 1993 and was buried 1st April, 1993.
Oba Olateru Olagbegi Reappointed in 1993
In 1993, Sir Olateru Olagbegi was reappointed to his title of Olowo of Owo after the death of the reigning monarch by the civilian government of Michael Bamidele Olomilua. Oba Olagbegi was father to over 140 children, of which over 121 are university graduates. He was a business colossus and lover of lawn tennis. Olateru Olagbegi died in October 1998 and the crown passed on to his son, Oba Folagbade Olagbegi III, a lawyer and former Special Adviser to Dr Alex Ekweme, as Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was later Director-General of the Nigerian Law School. The phoenix of factional vendetta between Olateru and Ajasin polarized the Owo community for over 3 decades.
Deji of Akure, Oba Adesina, Deposed in 2010 for Beating His Wife in Public
In recent times, a Deji of Akure was deposed and sent on exile for committing a royal suicide by beating his wife in public. Oba Oluwadare Adepoju Adesina was Deji of Akure until deposed by the Ondo State Government in June 2010 for beating his wife-Olori Bolanle Adepoju Adesina. After pouring an unknown substance on her skin, the deposed Oba ordered his guards to whip her. The kingmakers of Akure subsequently declared Deji Adepoju Adesina unworthy of the throne and his seat was declared vacant by the kingmakers. The unguarded act was viewed as complete desecration of the royal stool of the Deji of Akure.
He was deposed by Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Oba Adesina was subsequently succeeded by Deji Adebiyi Adegboye Adesida-Afunbiowu III. He reigned from 13th August, 2010 until his death on 30th November, 2013. On the 8th July, 2015, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladewusi- Odundun II, formally ascended the throne as the 47thDeji of Akure. He was crowned alongside the Regent to be- his first daughter, Princess Adesina Aladelusi, as it is customary of the Dejis.
The all-time essence of power, whether traditional, constitutional or spiritual, is its transient and ephemeral nature. Like all mortals, an Oba can die and is also equally capable of the follies and foibles of lesser mortals. The lesson: power, a great aphrodisiac, should be used to dignify humanity.