By Dare Babarinsa
Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, the late Alaafin of Oyo, learnt his job of being king in the most difficult way. When he was born on October 15, 1938, his father was a dashing prince, who had witnessed the end of the old order. Adeyemi’s grandfather, Oba Adeyemi the First, was the principal figure among Yoruba princes, who signed the treaty that ended the 16 years Kiriji War. He was the first Alaafin in history to become a subject of a foreign power. By the time Lamidi Olayiwola’s father, the dashing Prince Adeniran Adeyemi became the Alaafin in 1945, the young prince was seven. His mother, Ibironke, was dead. He was soon to learn the meaning of endurance.
The lessons of those early days were to strengthen the young prince for the rest of his life. When Adeyemi succeeded his uncle, Oba Bello Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II, as the Alaafin on November 18, 1970, he had already learnt the delicate game of survival.
During his years in exile with his father, he learnt the game of boxing and made a living as an insurance executive. During his five decades reign, he was to perfect the art of survival and endurance. With courage and sagacity, he played the game of one military or civilian ruler after the other. He survived. He thrived.
When he died on April 22, 2022, everyone knew that an era had ended. He was a man of great impact who made powerful enemies and survived all this troubles.
Like his ancestors, Oba Adeyemi approximated Yoruba interest to be his own. He was king of Oyo, but his interest covered the entire Yorubaland and the Diaspora. He was not a man to run away from trouble or procrastinate when forthrightness would be required. He was the Oba of Oyo, but behaves with appropriate alacrity and not with the reckless diplomacy for which many Oyos were known. It was not surprising that he fell afoul of the General Sani Abacha dictatorship.
In 1998, after a meeting of the Alpha Group in Ibadan, I had joined Chief Bola Ige, our chairman, to pay a late afternoon visit to the Alaafin in his expansive palace. On the Ige team were also two other colleagues, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin and Prince Dokun Abolarin (now our father, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, Osun State). The monarch had survived an earth-shaking experience when he was arrested at Gatwick Airport, London and detained for several hours for allegedly importing substances suspected to be hard drugs. The Alaafin, had been accompanied on that trip, by one of his sons and some of his wives. The plane that took the royal party had stopped over in Yaoundé, Cameroun, before finally landing in London.
It took some time before British intelligence found out the truth. Agents of the Abacha junta had planted those substances in the royal luggage in order to get rid of a determined critic.
Adeyemi learnt the art of brinkmanship from his father, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi and his successor, Oba Ladigbolu II. Adeyemi’s father, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II, came to the throne at a time of dramatic changes in Yorubaland and Nigeria. When he was enthroned in 1945, Nigeria, after being a British colony and protectorate for almost 100 years, was on the threshold of great changes. Under the Indirect Rule system, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II, immediate predecessor, Alaafin Ladigbolu, had wielded enormous influence. The British were ready to play him up as the primus among Yoruba princes and they placed Ogbomosho, Ibadan and other places under him. He was also the highest paid Yoruba oba. The Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Alesinloye, was so angered by Ladigbolu overarching influence that he wrote a letter to the Sultan of Sokoto, saying he was ready to place Ibadan under the Sokoto Caliphate. Then Ladigbolu the First died and Adeyemi ascended the throne to welcome the era of The Trouble.
Within five years of his ascension, politicians appeared on the scene as the successor group to the genial British officials. One of them was Bode Thomas, a Lagos lawyer who traced his roots to Oyo and Adeyemi quickly made him the Balogun, an honourific title. Thomas became chairman of the Oyo Divisional Council in place of the old British Provincial Commissioner. The two men clashed over protocols and precedence and other matters. It was an unnecessary clash that would ultimately damage the young lawyer and the ageing monarch. Bode Thomas died suddenly in 1953 and rumour mills and spinners blamed the Alaafin, claiming he must have cursed him.
In 2011, I asked Chief (Mrs.) H.I.D Awolowo, widow of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the defunct Western Region, about this incident. She confirmed that Bode Thomas died of cerebral malaria. In 1957, Oba Adeyemi was deposed for his opposition to the Awolowo regime and its Free Education Programme. He died in exile in Lagos.
Oba Adeniran Adeyemi’s successor, Oba Ladigbolu, died. Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo was now the military Governor of the West and it was him who installed Lamidi Adeyemi as the Alaafin on November 18, 1970. He had joined the privileged class of first class obas in the then Western State Council of Obas and Chiefs presided over by his father’s friend, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, who had ascended the throne in 1930, eight years before Adeyemi was born. When Aderemi became enfeebled by age, Adeyemi stepped in as the acting chairman of the Council.
He saw it as an historic opportunity. In 1980, Aderemi died.
Meanwhile in 1979, a veteran Awoist and lawyer, Chief Ige, who had served in the cabinet of then Colonel Adebayo when Adeyemi was made the Alaafin, was elected Governor of Oyo State. When Aderemi died, Adeyemi expected that he would be proclaimed the new Chairman of the Oyo State Council of Traditional Rulers. Ige did not. Instead, he proclaimed the new Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, as the new chairman. This galled the Alaafin to no end. Citing historical precedence, the Adeyemi said no Oba should take precedence over the Alaafin because the Oyo Empire was the largest and most powerful political entity ever created by the Yoruba people. So enormous was the Alaafin in the imagination of the Yoruba people that even God was referred to as Alaafin Ode Orun (Alaafin of heaven).
Ige and his government also reached out to history that preceded the rise of Oyo Empire in the 14th Century citing the Arole tradition among Yoruba obas. The Arole tradition is that you cannot be promoted beyond the first occupier of the throne. In the Ife tradition, Oranmiyan, who founded both the Oyo and Benin dynasties, was an Ife prince who returned home after his foreign exploits to become the 4th Ooni. The issue was never fully resolved before Adeyemi passed on last month.
In the winter of his years, it was appropriate that Adeyemi found accommodation with Sijuwade’s successor, the gregarious Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II. Adeyemi was a tireless advocate of Yoruba interest and fearless apostle of true federalism based on justice and equity. He was a true Alaafin, standing up to the cants of politicians and chicanery of power mongers.
Few days before his death, he was responding to a new initiative spearheaded by Oba Abolarin for traditional rulers and other Yoruba elders to intervene in the bristling competitiveness among leading Yoruba political figures to succeed President Buhari. On the day of his death, his emissary had delivered his message to Oba Abolarin in Oke Ila. In truth, Oba Adeyemi died in harness. A true giant has left us.