photo credit : Bolaji Alonge.

Well researched and  well written Yoruba history spanning from the earliest years to the current times touching on possible sources of Yoruba , Oyo Empire, Ile Ife, British rule, Independence and pre and post independence politics. It is long but very well worth the read. It is part of the Yoruba Historical Conversations series held by the DAWN Commision last year at Cocoa House, Ibadan.  This particular lecture took place on 4th November, 2016.

Invitations sent for the lecture


The Yoruba numbers about 40 million people located in Nigeria in the following States: Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kogi, Edo and Delta (not just the Itshekiri of Warri but the Olukumi of Oshimili LGA). They are also in Benin and Togo Republics and their descendants are found in Brazil, other Countries in South America Cuba, Trinidad, Tobago and other Caribbean Islands as well as in Sierra Leone. Their culture has survived in the Yoruba diaspora perhaps because of their late coming into the transatlantic slave trade, following the collapse of the Oyo Empire towards the end of the 18th century, or because of the strength of the Yoruba culture particularly their religion, which is widely practiced in the Caribbean and South America even by people of European descent.

Orisha Obatala festival Trinidad. Photo credit : Maria Nunes

The Yoruba claim Oduduwa/Olofin as their eponymous ancestor. Oduduwa is variously said to have descended from heaven and landed in Ile-Ife. Other variant, more sensible and credible myth of the Oduduwa story says he came from the East, Baghdad or somewhere in Arabia. He is said to have been the son of Lamurudu (Nimrod) who left his homeland following dispute over religious worship and succession to the throne.
These are myths and myth is not the subject of history. What we can deduce from the myth is that a people of advanced civilisation with working knowledge of iron, displaced possibly Stone Age people living in Ile-Ife, seized the throne and dominated the people. From Ile-Ife, sons of Oduduwa fanned out to found new kingdoms or to overthrow existing rulers in Yorubaland, Bini and related peoples like the Aja and Ga of present day Benin and Ghana Republics respectively. This has led to the fact that many rulers in yorubaland claim descent from Oduduwa. The pre-existing rulers became shadowy kings and priests ministering to the new Oduduwa descendants. We know from the study of archaeology, that Meroe in the present day Sudan was the Centre of the diffusion of iron technology to Africa, and perhaps these myths of origin of West African rulers may well be referring to the coming of those who knew how to make iron implements for agriculture and for offense and defense.

LHS :Obalufon copper mask from Ile Ife c.13th century .RHS: Modelled photos by Tosin Ogunsanya


The Bayijjidah legend of the Hausa also possibly refers to the same phenomenon of outsiders serving as change agents in Africa’s ancient history. The myth of Oduduwa as the progenitor of the rulers of yorubaland is however not universally subscribed to by all Yoruba people. Awujale, the paramount ruler of the Ijebu people, claim their people came from Waddai which is in present day Chad but was part of the Kanuri dominated Kanem-Borno Empire. This is not as fanciful as it may appear because there is an extant myth among the Kanuri, who say the Yoruba are their cousins who because of their love of money left for the coast in search of the Golden Fleece. Might this myth be referring to the Ijebu who with the Ijesha share the same facial marks with the Kanuri? We know of a certainty that the dynasty in Benin is descended from Oduduwa through his grandson Oranmiyan.

Oba Sikiru Adetona, Awujale of Ijebu Ode

The story is well known and it suffices to say that the Benin people sent to Ile-Ife for a ruler, after having gotten rid of their Ogiso kings and finding republicanism unworkable. Ife obliged them and sent the youngest of the grand sons of Oduduwa. After a while, Oranmiyan fathered a son Eweka but left Benin disillusioned that his subjects were too difficult to control and returned to Ile-Ife. From Ile-Ife, he proceeded to Oyo to establish a new kingdom. In this way, the great kingdoms of Ife, Bini and Oyo that were to play important roles in the history of West Africa were historically linked. The Bini now claim that in fact Oduduwa was a Bini prince who was expelled from Bini, got lost in the bush and later found his way to Ile-Ife and because of his knowledge of herbal medicine was made King by the Ife people. Oranyan therefore was more or less their grand son who returned home. This interpretation sounds rather convenient. The reason for this new revisionism in Bini is the assertion of independence and non-subservience to a foreign ruler in the past. What is however important up till today is that the cult/court language in the Bini palace is some kind of old Yoruba and the standard greetings in the palace is “How goes Ife (Uhe)”? The mystery surrounding Ife was further complicated by the late Professor Ade Obayemi, a distinguished Professor of Archaeology, when he said the present Ife may not have been the Ife of historical antiquity. He said he had identified seven existing Ifes and that the Ife of antiquity may well be near the rivers Niger and Benue confluence.


Video narrates the coronation ceremony of previous Bini Oba in which it also explains  that Usama Palace in Benin was built by order of Oranmiyan the Ife Prince 
Furthermore and in recent times, the hilly town of Idanre in Ondo state, but which its people call IFEOKE, claims it is the original Ife and that their Oba is acknowledged by the Bini as an elder to Oranmiyan, the founder of their dynasty and they have ancient artifacts to support their claim. Usen which play a prominent role in the coronation of the Obas of Benin share identical dialect with Idanre which further shows that there is a need to examine the role of Idanre (Ireke) in Ife-Benin relation in the past. Professor Alan Ryder in his book Benin and the Europeans, using mostly Portuguese sources claimed that when the Portuguese came to Benin in the 15th century, they were told Benin paid homage to the “Oghene Luhe” North east of Benin. This he felt might be in the same direction suggested by Obayemi. Of course, the Portuguese may not have reported correctly what they were told. Ife Olukotun, located near the area suggested has not yielded any artifacts that could be dated older than those found in Ife that were produced between the ninth and the twelfth centuries. The moat around Ile-Ife, even though most of it has disappeared and the various ancient artifacts found there suggest that the present Ife is the Ife of antiquity. There is much that we do not know and there is room for serious research, because a serious question of the provenance of the founder of ancient Yoruba kingdoms is too important to leave to guess work.


Idanre Hills surround Idanre town which some sources claim was the first Ile Ife . photo credit:wittyemzee

I want to emphasise that the history of dynasties should not be confused with the history of peoples. For example, we all know that the current Hanoverian dynasty in England is from Germany yet this does not mean English people are descended from Germans. Although, I know that the Saxons, a Germanic tribe, had with the angles over run the Celtic people of England in historic times. Oduduwa may be the ancestor of the rulers of Yoruba kingdoms; it does not mean Oduduwa is the ancestor of all Yoruba people. There were people in Ile-Ife and Yorubaland before the coming of Oduduwa. This is why we have chieftaincies like Obalufe, Obatala, which apparently preceded the coming of Oduduwa. Recent disputes in several kingdoms in Akure, Ekiti land and Akoko where there exists two “Kings” in one kingdom, one active, the other passive until recent times, indicate there were autochthonous people in yorubaland before the coming of the Oduduwa party. The struggle between Olukere and Ogoga, Alakure and Deji, Owa Ale and Olukare and to a certain extent Odio and Ewi and the struggle between the Oba of Benin and a chief Ogiamien claiming his ancestors were the rulers of the kingdom before Oranmiyan, are manifestations of the fact that there were not only people but rulers who have now been eclipsed and displaced by much more formidable new comers.


Cross section of Yoruba people


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the government of western Nigeria knew the importance of history in nation building and therefore established the Yoruba historical scheme under the late Professor Saburi Biobaku, who was sometimes Registrar of University of Ibadan, Secretary to the government of western Nigeria, before becoming Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos. Those involved in the Yoruba historical scheme included late Professors JFAde Ajayi, Adeagbo Akinjogbin and others. Much has been done in researching the Yoruba past but more needs to be done. Unfortunately, the governments we have had since the military intervention in Nigeria in 1966 abandoned the study of history. It seems they were determined to build a future on an historical void. Or perhaps, they wanted to have no comparative yardstick against which their regimes could be judged. Thankfully the Buhari administration has in 2016 taken a decision to ensure that history is taught at all levels of education in Nigeria.

Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate

The military regime’s apologia was anchored on the need to build a technological and scientific foundation for the future. They were ignorant of the fact that the most technologically advanced countries like the USA, China, Germany, Japan, Great Britain and France have scrupulously preserved their history through preservation of their past in well-endowed galleries and museums, as well as funding continuous research into the past and compulsory historical education to build confidence in their people. Knowledge of a glorious past can provide a platform or spring board for takeoff for the future. Technological innovation does not depend on the multitude of scientists a country produces, but the effort of a solitary researcher or a group of geniuses, making breakthroughs in inventions or producing knowledge which can be applied to solve problems or to dominate the environment.
It is sad that most Nigerians know very little about their past and young people suffer from cultural disconnect, disorientation and disorder. Those of us who teach young people are worried that our language and culture are dying, and we may in the future have to seek foreign assistance as usual in solving problems that are within our reach. We need to restore the teaching of history and Yoruba language to all primary and secondary schools in all states in the Yoruba area. All schools including private schools must be involved.

Military ruler with emperor ambitions

Ironically, history still plays a big part in Yoruba modern politics. The struggle for pre-eminence among Yoruba Obas in recent times is a variant of how history is alive in yorubaland. The Oyo Yoruba up to the 19th century were the dominant power in yorubaland. In fact the Ekiti, Ijesha, Akoko, Owu, Igbomina, Egba and Ife witnessed a period of Oyo over lordship in their parts of yorubaland. For a long time, this past history of domination was resented and this played a significant role in their political association. This was particularly the case in the rural areas even though urbanisation to a certain extent undermined the hold of history on the people. The fact that the Yoruba people are the most urbanised people on the African continent is not unconnected with the desire to congregate in fortified and easily defensible communities, believing that there is safety in numbers during the incessant wars that lasted a century from about 1793 to 1893.

Olumo Rock, the great Egba refuge

When the British came and following their desire to practice the indirect rule system of colonial administration and control which had been hugely successful in the north, they looked for suzerainty comparable with the Sokoto Caliphate. They felt they found it in Oyo and its ruler and they tried to build a new Oyo Empire. They gave the Alaafin more power than he was traditionally used to. The Alaafin might have had power in the past; this was however limited and constrained by delicate checks and balances. Raising of taxes in the name of the Alaafin in Oke Ogun in 1916 for example, precipitated rebellion which exposed the British lack of knowledge of the intricate and complex politics of yorubaland. For long, the Alaafins of Oyo enjoyed primacy in yorubaland, yet the same British consulted the Ooni when there were disputes about succession to the throne in some parts of yorubaland.

Selling Union Jacks when the Queen of England came to visit in 1956

Throughout the period of British colonial rule in Nigeria, the British dealt with the Obas in yorubaland in terms of their order of importance to the colonial administration. The Alaafin took the preeminent position as traditional head of the Oyo speaking people which included Oyo itself, oke ogun, Ibadan, Ibarapa, Osun division including Oshogbo, Ede, Iwo, Gbongan and larger part of Ife division (origbo towns and villages). Important rulers of Ijebu, Egba, Ijesha/Ekiti which included Akure and Igbomina were prominently recognised. Bini was treated as a separate but related kingdom. Apart from their utility value, there was no attempt to rank them in any hierarchical order which would have brought them into conflict with traditional politics and history, because what was apparent was not necessarily real and the importance of a ruler was not directly related to the size and economy of its kingdom.


For most part of colonial rule, the British ruled largely by force with little or no consultation with the Africans. This was not surprising as it was the nature of imperialism. The majority of the Nigerian people were uneducated. The gentlemen of Lagos who had benefited from colonial education through access to mission schools in Lagos, the most important of which was CMS Grammar School founded in 1859 were few. When Sir Fredrick Lugard came to amalgamate the Northern and Southern protectorates and the colony of Lagos, he derided the Yoruba educated elite in Lagos as “trousered niggers” who sent their laundry every week to Bond Street in London for dry cleaning. The antagonism between him and the educated elite was mutual because they accused him of what they called “rancorous negrophobism” and authoritarianism. The disconnect and chasm between the ruled and the ruler was unbridgeable.

the Yoruba educated elite in Lagos were derided as “trousered niggers” by Lord Lugard

Events outside Nigeria, particularly the First and the Second World Wars, undermined the colonial regime and the so-called superiority of the white man, with the effect that Nigerians starting from the Yoruba of Lagos, began to demand in the beginning participation in government and later home rule. Nationalist awakening dates back in yorubaland to the 1880s when Lagos people organised themselves to protest against water rate. Newspapers and broad sheets had proliferated Lagos agitating against one thing or the other. It was therefore not difficult for the educated elite of Lagos after the First World War to demand for self-determination, as was being applied to the subject nationalities of the dissolved Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.
Various political parties, the most important of which were the NNDP (Nigerian National Democratic Party) and the NYM (Nigerian Youth Movement), straddled the period 1919 and 1944 when the biggest and most vibrant nationalist movement-the NCNC (National Convention of Nigeria and the Cameroons) was formed in 1944 and headed by Herbert Macaulay, the grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther, the Yoruba boy from Oshoogun enslaved and later educated in Freetown and London before becoming the first black African bishop of the Niger CMS mission. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the American educated Igbo man was the secretary of this nascent political organisation. The Ibo state Union was formed the same year and later became a corporate body in the NCNC and began to play significant roles in the party. Obafemi Awolowo, in reaction to this formed the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1947 to rally the Yoruba and to protect their interest. This was in response to the Arthur Richards constitution which divided Nigeria into three regions: namely North with Kaduna as its capital, East with its capital in Enugu and West with Ibadan as its capital.


Obafemi Awolowo and SL Akintola

Obafemi Awolowo founded the Action Group in 1951, which immediately became the ruling party in the west after an indirect election based on limited franchise. He was later to become premier of the region and to run one of the most successful and forward looking governments in tropical Africa, until he resigned in 1959 with the hope of becoming the prime minister of Nigeria after the pre-independence election of 1959. Unfortunately for him this was not to be. His failure was to have ramifications not only for yorubaland but the entire country. The prominent role of the Yoruba in the political life of Nigeria was second to none at least up to 1944, and this was because since 1886, there were Yoruba lawyers and doctors beginning with the Ijesha Sapara Williamses. Thus, it was natural for them to assume the role of leaders until the whole country began to come together into the main stream of politics in the 1950s. But as it is commonly said, politics is first local before it becomes national. This was so in yorubaland.
During the struggle for power in western Nigeria before independence, political affiliation reflected the fault line of the civil wars in yorubaland. The Oyo people mostly followed the lead of Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu into the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons), while non-Oyo people in rural Ekiti, Ijesha, Igbomina and Ife voted with the Action Group. In fact the aggressive boisterousness of Adelabu (penkelemesi), sometimes reminded people of the hurly burly days of Oyo domination of yorubaland. There were however urban areas like Ilesha, Akure, Ondo, Ado-Ekiti and Ikare which largely voted for the NCNC. This may of course be because since 1944, the NCNC had already been planted into the consciousness of the urbanised Yoruba in these towns. The urban areas were also where educational institutions were located and missionary enterprise was at its highest in its impact. Hence, the control and influence of the Obas and traditional institutions were on the wane. This point is important because the Action Group was heavily dependent on the Obas as guardians of the home of Oduduwa. The party itself had sprung out of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa.

Awolowo campaigning for Action Group

Crisis seems to be a second nature in politics. Earlier in the politics of Lagos, the NYM had broken up when in 1941 there was a vacancy in the then legislative council of Nigeria and Earnest Ikoli, an Ijaw wanted to contest and he was backed by most of the important Yoruba leaders in Lagos, including the up and coming Obafemi Awolowo based in Ibadan. Nnamdi Azikiwe and others supported Samuel Akisanya who later became Odemo of Ishara. Azikiwe ironically branded Supporters of Ikoli as tribalists. It was a complicated story in which Awolowo would end up being branded a tribalist for supporting an Ijaw man against an Ijebu man who was seen as a proxy of an Ibo man. This was to be the harbinger of future political divisions in yorubaland.
When the crisis in the Action Group broke out in 1962, it invariably took the form of the Oyo against non-Oyo. This was of course due to the exploitation of history by Chief S. L. Akintola, an Ogbomosho man, who used everything he had to survive a bitter political battle with an Ijebu man. The Ijebu generally attracted hostility to themselves because of their history of blocking for economic reasons the route to the coast against the Ibadan in the 19th century. Thus, all Ijebu people were seen as closet opponents of the Oyo speaking people. In spite of Awolowo having lived most of his life in Ibadan, he was never totally accepted as an Ibadan man. The same tendency was witnessed during the second republic, when the Titans of Ibadan politics like chief Adisa Akinloye and R. A. Akinjide went against the general trend in yorubaland of supporting Awolowo and his UPN. This was the continuation of the antagonism between the Awolowo and Akintola factions of Yoruba politics.
This division seems to have continued until recently. Leading figures of the previous ruling party in Nigeria, the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), in the south west were mostly remnants of the Akintola tradition in Yoruba politics. In the current dispensation of the fourth republic, those who found their political home in the PDP could be traced to the NPC and NPN, while those in the AD/ACN/APC, can be traced largely to the Action Group and the Unity party of Nigeria (UPN). The political division and tendency in yorubaland appears frozen for all times.


Map showing old Oyo location and new site after Afonja era


The Akintola tendency is seen in terms of a replay of Yoruba politics of Afonja’s betrayal of the Alaafin, and his own betrayal by Alimi and his son Abdul Salaam. Association with the Fulani regarded as Yoruba’s traditional enemies is seen as betrayal of Yoruba cause and interest. This is because of the 19th century seizure of Ilorin by Abdul Salaam, the son of Sheikh Alimi the Fulani cleric, who came to Ilorin as an itinerant preacher and was tolerated by Afonja the Are Ona Kakanfo of Oyo. Afonja was betrayed when the Muslim ummah in Ilorin, led by Abdul Salaam raised the flag of revolt against Afonja and Oyo, during which Afonja was killed and Ilorin became independent of Oyo and became an emirate under the Sokoto caliphate. The Ilorin episode has not been completely appreciated by historians. First of all, the coming of Muslims to Ilorin and Oyo itself during the 18th century, introduced Islam into the empire which undermined the imperial religion of Sango, which was a deification of the 15th century Alaafin. Many people in the empire were converted to Islam thus releasing them from loyalty to the Alaafin




Lorenzo Dow Turner papers 1895-1972 Place: Nigeria, Kwara State, Ilorin Place: Africa Place: Nigeria Place: Nigeria, Northern


The Are Ona Kakanfo Afonja himself, may have been a closet Muslim or perhaps he wanted to use the Muslims to bid for the throne himself. He was therefore riding the tiger only to find himself inside it. Some of those who fought with Abdul Salaam were Yoruba generals like Solagberu, who was a Muslim and saw the conflict as a jihad against non-believers. The upshot of the Ilorin episode was that Oyo was destroyed from within by the coming of Islam. Modern Yoruba people, however, see the Ilorin seizure as a humiliation of the Yoruba and any political leader associating with the north was immediately branded another Afonja who allied with foreigners to betray the Alaafin and the Yoruba. This is in spite of the fact that for sixteen years, virtually the whole of non-Oyo speaking Yoruba people were fighting against Oyo/Ibadan imperialism in the 19th century. In that fight, the Ekiti Parapo confederacy of the Ekiti, Ijesha, Igbomina, Akoko, and Ife allied themselves with the Ilorin in their resistance against the Oyo/Ibadan forces which were also fighting Ilorin.

Fulani in West Africa

The sense of pan Yoruba feeling was not there yet and it did not really develop until the late 1940s. This had to be deliberately nurtured by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, through the founding of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1947 which metamorphosed into the Action Group in 1951. Before that time the ethnic horizon of most Yoruba did not go beyond being Ekiti, Ijesha or Ijebu, Owu, Oyo, Igbomina and so on. We can therefore say politics created the pan Yoruba feeling, but ironically, the living history of the Yoruba undermined that pan Yoruba feeling. The result is that until the brief near unanimity of Yoruba support for chief Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1979, Yoruba people have always spoken with several political tongues, thus, reminding one of General Charles de Gaulle’s dismissive description of the French people that if you lock up two of them in a room to form a political party they will come up with three. This is what some have called the curse of politics in yorubaland. But is it really something to be deprecated in a plural society like Nigeria? Will it not be good for Yoruba people and Nigeria as a whole if we encourage the blooming of a million political flowers in our country? If we all sleep facing the same place how will we be able to see other directions? There is nothing wrong with Yoruba people coming up with several ideas, options and directions about who to associate with. What we should plead against is violence arising from political differences.
The sore point of Ilorin’s political and administrative but not cultural separation from Yoruba land need not divide people of the same culture and language. Ilorin province, including the great town of Offa, is however still part of Nigeria and whatever boundary separating it from the rest of yorubaland is mere administrative convenience. It is not as bad as that separating Sabe, Ajase, and Ketu now in the Republic of Benin from the rest of yorubaland. In recent times the people of Yoruba tongue there have found it important to visit and associate with the wider Yoruba world of Ogun State. It is surprising that in spite of French colonial assimilationist policy to obliterate the African culture, the Yorubas in Benin have survived and the institution of Obaship has thrived.

The Alaketou of Ketou, Republic Of Bénin, Oba Alayeluwa Alaro Alade-Ife.

Under the current political dispensation in Nigeria, in which political forces in yorubaland and the north are allied, questions have been asked whether this constitutes a break with the past. What is the difference between the opportunistic politics of Akintola, allying himself with the north to survive and Bola Ahmed Tinubu, allying with Muhammadu Buhari now? They ask. The answer is of course that this alliance was presumably negotiated between apparently equal factions of the political elite. Although, the parochialism if not nepotism, characterising most of President Muhammad Buhari’s appointments gives one concern. The Yoruba should deprecate this tendency and refuse to participate in it, but only demanding what justly belongs to it. Yoruba peoples concept of “Omoluabi” is a belief in fairness and equity. This will not allow them to collude with the Hausas and Fulanis to corner all appointments and resources, without equitable sharing of them with other ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Showing the old regional areas of Nigeria

It is this feeling that makes the Tinubu faction of the APC to be favourably disposed to some form of restructuring of the country and designing a new political, administrative and financial architecture, including fiscal federalism to remove the bogey of domination of one group by the others. The modern political history of the Yoruba, starting appropriately with Awolowo is known for its contribution of the federal idea to political discourse in Nigeria. Implicit in this is that no one group or state should be big enough to dominate or overwhelm all others put together. This is basic to Professor John Wheare’s ‘Principle of Federalism’. The federal principle has now been bought even by some segments of the northern political leadership. The Igbos who were previously deluded about national unity and unitary government, have now bought into the federal idea and the minorities, especially those in the Niger delta, seem to be on board for selfish economic reasons.

Showing the current 36 states

The force of our history in yorubaland compels us to lead the way of restructuring along proper federal lines, because it is good for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is good for yorubaland. Chief Awolowo, while pushing the federal idea during the struggle for independence, said one can be a Yoruba patriot and Nigerian nationalist at the same time. I agree that there should be no conflict between patriotism and nationalism. What shape the restructuring should take, will have to be negotiated. Awolowo wanted all Yorubas including those in Kwara, Kogi and Edo to be in one state. It is a good idea but it is apparently unrealisable. What is possible is not reversion to the old three or four regions but a restructure based on economic viability and not the present states of misery and beggary, where salaries are not paid and all resources are gulped up by administrative excesses and political extravaganza. Perhaps we should go back to Gowon’s twelve state structure with a heavy dose of economic viability, and superimposed on it should be the principle of fiscal federalism where each state would survive on its own economic bootstrap.
The present situation of the Centre, creating states and local governments is not only absurd but an anomaly which contradicts the essence of federalism. In normal federations like Canada, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States, it is the states that create and fund the federal government and not the other way round. When we embraced the federal idea in Nigeria in 1957, the states funded the federal government and this was so until the military took over government and shaped the country in its own military- unitary way of command. Peace has eluded us since then and we must go back to the period of correct relations between the Centre and the periphery in terms of viable state structure. This is the challenge facing Yoruba and Nigerian politics now and in the future. All stake holders, including traditional rulers like our Obas must be engaged in finding a path for the Yoruba in the politics of Nigeria.

Oba Akiolu

I want to conclude this lecture by focusing on the institution of the Oba in Yoruba politics.
I have once described Nigeria as a republic of a thousand kings which sounds contradictory, because monarchies ordinarily should not co-exist with a republic. When faced with this problem, India simply abolished the various kingdoms ruled by powerful Maharajahs, but left them with their considerable wealth. No one can do the same and survive in Nigeria. In the past, politicians have removed powerful rulers like Alaafin Adeyemi 1, by the Awolowo government in western Nigeria in 1954. Sarkin Kano Muhammad Sanusi was in 1962 removed by the Sir Ahmadu Bello government and General Sanni Abacha’s government removed the Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki in 1994. Some of the Obas suffered their salaries being withheld or reduced to pennies during the time of Chief S.L Akintolas government in western Nigeria. It is however unlikely that any Nigerian ruler at the Centre or the state will be strong enough to abolish an institution which the people still support and venerate. In fact, many of the new rulers are eager to bid for the traditional thrones whenever there are vacancies.

Traditional rulers still provide rallying points for the people’s mobilisation especially in the rural areas. They also provide channels of communication between governments and citizens. They are also in some cases religious leaders of their communities. This is more apparent in the Islamic Emirates of the north. But it is no less obvious in yorubaland, where in spite of whatever monotheistic religion an Oba may profess, he still has to carry out religious obligations binding him to the land, the people and the ancestors. In Ife in particular, no single day goes without the Ooni or his priests propitiating the local gods for one thing or the other. In times of danger, people are more likely to look towards the palace than to an elected politician. The Oba’s position is so formidable that politicians know that their support is necessary for electoral success. Obas are regarded as vice-regal to the Almighty. They are not to be argued with or questioned, “Kabio kosi” Or Kabiyesi. They are in the case of Oyo, supposed to have power of life and death (Iku Baba Yeye). This awesomeness of power and influence are most noticeable and glaring in modern Bini, where the Oba is virtually worshiped. Even in an apparently republican Ibadan, the influence of the Olubadan is growing incrementally. The considerable power wielded by Obas in yorubaland must also come with responsibility.


Ooni Ogunwusi

This is going to be the greatest challenge to the institution of Obaship in these days of modernisation. Some of the young Obas coming to the throne must learn to keep intact the mystic and mystery surrounding the institution. They must avoid being seen at every party and social events behaving like ordinary people. Once this becomes the pattern, they will lose all respect and loyalty of the people. This behoves on them to maintain a reasonable distance from the Hoi polloi of the land and stay away from the corrupting influence of money and republican ethics of trade and commerce. Obas, no matter how young are regarded as fathers of the people in yorubaland. This is why older people must bow, prostrate and kneel down before rulers young enough to be their children. Respect is not to the person of the ruler but to the institution. I remember visiting my cousin, the Oba of our town and prostrating for someone who was a friend, cousin and school mate of mine but who in return wanted to hug me, I however told him he could no longer do that. He asked me why? and I promptly told him he carried all the power of our ancestors the moment he went through the process of coronation. He smiled and understood me.

Market woman, Ibadan.

In conclusion, I have pointed out how the history of Yorubaland has affected and is affecting Yoruba politics internally among the people, and externally with the rest of Nigeria, especially the North. It is suggested that the excision of Ilorin from the rest of yorubaland has been a sore point, but that we should let bye gone be bye gone and realistically deal with the issue politically by forging links with the Kwara and Kogi modern political leaders, instead of harking back to the past. We must not allow the burden of history to wear us out and weigh us down and to determine the trajectory of our future politics and political alignment at the Centre. We have also suggested that the ideology of progressivism should help in breaking down north/south dichotomy in Nigeria, as is the case in the current APC party imperfect as it may appear. We are also suggesting that no matter the political differences in Yoruba land we must conduct our politics with tact, civility and decorum characteristic of an ‘Omoluabi’. We have also suggested that for a long time to come, traditional Political leaders, as constituted by the Obas will continue to have a role to play in Yoruba politics and that for the institution to endure, those occupying the traditional thrones must preserve the mystic and the mystery of their posts, lest familiarity breeds contempt. I thank you.

A lecture delivered under the auspices of DAWN at Cocoa House, Ibadan. 4th November, 2016.

1. Akintoye Adebanji,A History of the Yoruba people. Dakar: Amalion Publishing Company, 2010.
2. Samuel Johnson, A History of the Yorubas. Lagos: CMS Bookshop, 1921.
3. Adeagbo Akinjogbin, War and peace in yorubaland 1793-1893. Ibadan: Heinemann press, 1998.
4 Akintoye S. A. Revolution and Power Politics in Yorubaland 1840 to 1893: Ibadan Expansion and the Rise of Ekiti Parapo. London: Longman, 1971.



Similar Articles

Say what you feel

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.