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Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III: On History, his Kingdom, and the Yoruba

By Toyin Falola

This is the interview report with the Alaafin of Oyo, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, on October 24, 2021. For the transcripts, see: Facebook: https://fb.watch/8RtsH8UVn8/ and YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=S-MEj8qr0ls


History is innocent to the extent that the individuals handing them down are not motivated by a level of inducement that can trigger fictional addition to the content of events. History is a candid guide that leads humans to suitable backgrounds where the sources of what humans do are revealed with disinterested views. However, the innocence of history as a source linking people to their past experiences is gravely challenged the moment the individual handing them down is induced by material things, has an ulterior motive, or is compelled to do so under duress. In these highlighted situations, the historian can be so dangerous to follow because not only would they mislead their audience exceedingly, but they would also cash in on the innocence of their listeners who would go on with wrong narratives and wrong impressions, to God-knows-when time. This is why those in the discipline of history value historiography as they do history itself. Historiography is essentially a responsible academic engagement simply because it situates a historical experience within the context of the motivation of the historian. Suppose the historian is found to have a sinister motive for their history rendition; they will produce a revisionist history that may result in difficulty between one individual and the other, one community and the other, one civilization and the other, and one race and the other.

One of the most controversial items of history is the history between the Yoruba and Benin, with overzealous historians across the two sides making frantic efforts to reprogram the past events for their parochial intentions. Beyond these revisionists’ intentions, many people usually challenge the credibility of what historians say or imply by their narratives. Here is a version of the Oyo tradition. The Oyo people are historically believed to have come from Oranmiyan, their progenitor who sojourned from Ile-Ife to conquer the surrounding areas in an attempt to expand areas under their political control. After he left Ile-Ife, he got to Benin, then a fledging civilization, where his incredible warrior capabilities enthralled the locals around to the level that he governed for a while. He would later offer his son to serve as the king because he was not done with his exploratory expedition. His son, with the assistance of locals, built the Benin civilization.   Oranmiyan had also established similar suzerainty in Oyo.


In what would perhaps serve as a compass to our correspondence with the Alaafin of Oyo, who is a direct descendant of Oranmiyan from the beginning to the current time, our first distinguished interviewer, Professor Jide Osuntokun, sought to understand the connection between Oyo and Benin because such enlightenment would expose the audience to otherwise hidden knowledge about the past already shrouded in secrecy. Beyond knowing, though, Professor Osuntokun asked how the Alaafin has used the throne to forge a lasting and Pan-Nigerian relationship with the kings of the civilizations Oyo has historically linked.

It is essential to repeat that the association of the Alaafin’s ancestral fathers with the Benin people is similar to what he had with the Nupe or the Borgu people. Due to this fact of history and as actors in the evolution of civilization, we know how different and competing groups were managed to bring peace, a lasting economic relationship, and a political alliance so that issues that are capable of threatening humanity would be jointly addressed. After all, humans are connected in multiple ways for a variety of reasons. To underpin the argument that the Benin Empire or kingdom had a tremendous historical association with the Yoruba people as their progenitor, Oranmiyan, the current Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, said that the Benin political engagement and palace affairs were run in the Yoruba language until 1922, a time when the colonial imperialists already established themselves in Nigeria. The exposition of this reality gives a general overview of how the relationship was nurtured and honored by the parties involved. In fact, relating with the story or question about how they forge relationships with one another for regional peace and economic growth of the civilizations involved, it cannot be contested that the adoption of Yoruba language in the palace of Benin until 1922 was an indication that they shared ancestral history.

In the intention to establish a strong connection among the kings because they were the representatives of the people and their cultural systems, the colonial government organized a conference in 1937, with the selection of kings in their hierarchical order. Meanwhile, the institution of kingship in the pre-colonial nations was not only culturally regulated, but it was also sacred. There were not as many kings as we now do. This brought a level of sanity to the system, and the honor attached to kingship was great. Kings did not commonly leave their palace, except there was an occasion mandating them to do so against what is obtainable in modern times. For this reason, the kings earned the respect of their people.

A few decades after the departure of the British, many kings were made by the politicians. The Alaafin was asked if there are efforts to address the issue of proliferation of kingship. His Imperial Majesty confirmed his awareness of the issue, but he is also not oblivious to the political situations that brought these kings to power. He conceded that because partisan politics infiltrated the institution of kingship, it upturned the traditions for the interest of self-serving political representatives.

The primary beneficiaries of such a scheme are the individuals who have political influence. They ensure that their political allies are used to acquire power, support, influence, and money to seek an Obaship position. In essence, the very cultural toga or cultural traditions that brought about the evolution of kingship became abused. It radically changed the institution’s prestige and allowed the people who have no interest in traditional leadership to ascend the sacred seat. This would eventually lead to the careless desecration of the Yoruba civilization because the individuals at the echelon of their traditional institutions are ignorant of its tradition and do not know how kingship is operated for the benefit of the people.

A problem that characterized the kingship institution in Yorubaland is that of succession. It has generated much heat and conflict because individuals want to associate themselves with power and the pecks that come with it.  Regulations are put in place to ensure succession. This includes the selection of Oba, for example, because the ascension of kings on a throne requires orderliness, without which the society could degenerate into potential chaos. Post-colonial disorder created challenges, destroying their indigenous systems and principles followed in selecting kings.

In responding to the question as to how this became the practice, despite the various challenges that come in the wake, Oba Adeyemi responded that two families belong to the royal lineage of Atiba in Oyo. These are the Agunloye family and the Adeyemi family. Meanwhile, they still preserve this system of succession. The present occupant of the throne is from the Adeyemi family, and the tranquility and serenity that happens in the palace today can be attributed to this. Thus, they have continued to observe the system of succession because it helps to reinforce the fact of history that shows where they are coming from. This was a consensus that the royal lineage and distinguished dignitaries understood that the expanding world deserves new philosophical structures that would assist the people in managing their activities so that they would not become anarchic and imposing in governance. It is thus evident that the structural adjustment has come with a positive impact, as can be seen in the life of the Oyo people.

It is etched in history that the democratic culture of the Yoruba has survived extraordinary circumstances. In its long history, the political seat of Oyo moved across different neighboring city-states from where the Alaafin conducted the affairs of the dynasty or empire. This creates an impression that the political validity of Oyo headship and the dynasty was not particularly associated with or tied to specific geographical locations, which meant that the Alaafin was considered the leader of the people irrespective of where he led from because the authority was reposed in him. This allowed for a flexible central government as it could be rotated or taken to geographical places without triggering infractions.

Undoubtedly, the survival of a political structure is founded on a robust political understanding that the people built to preserve their legacies, protect their identity, and promote their collective agenda. The Alaafin was asked to explain the reason for this. He was direct with his response. He argued that the practice was built on the understanding that there can only be one palace. Wherever the Alaafin was, that was the political seat from where he was expected to administer the political affairs of the empire. The mutual understanding that his seat of power was important gave it its relevance.

Elements were carried over to the colonial period. Rather than antagonize the system, the British did exceptionally well to preserve it, although with timely modifications meant to encourage the effective management of the colonial system. The system was validated because it showed the British an existing political structure that catered to the differences in interests and aspirations. Oyo had functioned at different times in history as the arrowhead of the Yoruba nation.

Also, the changes that the British encouraged could submerge the indigenous knowledge and civilization of the people, especially when they do not make efforts to integrate themselves with the dictates of the current time. In responding to questions by Professor Nike Akinjobi and Akin Alao, the king talked admirably of the tremendous transformation he ushered in the last fifty years. There have been structural changes and improvements that align with the contemporary world under him. The most important one he mentioned is his commitment to education to consolidate the existing structure that his forebears laid down. When the colonial imperialist introduced Western education, it required the foresighted ones to immediately explore the potential advantages it came with. Of course, education during the old days was non-formal; however, this does not reduce its values and importance to the development of the race. The non-formal status of education developed people’s skill set, which they used to develop themselves and society.

Understandably, the Alaafin of Oyo is aware of the importance of education in modern Nigeria. Thus, he is a powerful agency of that integration. Under his leadership, numerous academic institutions have been established that are making maximum contributions to the advancement of the people. One thing that cannot be undermined in the developmental trajectory of the people is the influence of identity in their engagements, ranging from cultural views, customary regulations, tolerance, their collective understanding of life, among others. This is because the people are forced to come to a social environment where multiculturalism remains the new basis of existence. Still, they are also conditioned to consider views of state powers as the central values around which they could judge theirs.

Oba Adeyemi’s multiculturalism is grounded. He studied in a Catholic school, despite being raised as a Muslim. Therefore, his religious background suggests that the ideas he would be introduced would contradict the ones he was familiar with.   In essence, it is essential to ask if his exposure to Christian values through the Catholic school or his relationship with Islam through his family identity influenced the ways he views people of opposite religions or on his reactions to them. This question is appropriate on many grounds. One is that the king presides on the affairs of the people of different religious orientations and affiliations. Also, he would have to demonstrate a good level of tolerance to all. The king, however, attributed his tolerance and accommodation of alternative perspectives to the robust formative experiences he had as a child and then as an adult.

At the beginning of his life’s journey, the Alaafin attended a Christian school under the royal education establishment of the Alake of Egbaland. It was here they introduced him to the philosophical focus and the epistemic world of Christianity.  He became versatile and grew in wisdom. Subsequently, he continued his education under a Muslim school where he was once again introduced to the tenet of Islam, with which he came to identify. All these experiences introduced him to the world of different cultures and views, and by that arrangement, he was learning about several things. By virtue of his traditional position, too, he would later become vast again in the affairs of his forebears that combine tradition with religion. As a result of all these experiences, the Alaafin has no reason to discriminate against any religious practice. Apart from being introduced to many of them as a child, he also has to govern people with different religious orientations.

Oba Adeyemi III is part of the order of the royal lineage in Oyo that straddles between two ideologically different eras–the primordial lineage and the current modern state. To strike a balance between these two worlds require tact, quality intellection, solid ideological foundations, and the moral authority to execute one’s ideas.  The King successfully displayed all these qualities and experiences of governance.



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