If any man held a position for nearly 52 years and made a habit of turning heads and wowing audiences even as an Octogenarian, you have got give him enormous credit.
What Oba Adeyemi III embodied was a fusion of his personality with the historically chequered stool of the Alaafin of Oyo. A studious voyage into Oyo history will reveal that very few Alaafins ruled without one serious crisis or the other. From the dethroned to the exiled; from the disgraced to the murdered. Oyo even had an interregnum for 80
years. This means Oyo was in such a debilitating disarray, it was an exiled dynasty with no real leadership for 80years. No other kingdom other than extinct ones has that kind of history.
It follows that whoever becomes an Alaafin wears a potentially problematic crown. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
Oba Adeyemi III certainly had a delicately vulnerable youth. He was his father’s favourite. Alaafin Adeniran had seen bodily marks and spots on Prince Lamidi immediately he was born in same areas he, the father, had them. He had the hunch the baby would be future royalty. In a household of about 200 wives and Prince Lamidi’s mother, Ibironke, having passed away when Prince Lamidi was an infant, Alaafin Adeniran had to protect him from harm. He first sent the Prince to live with an Anglican school teacher and disciplinarian in Oyo. Later, he arranged for the young Prince to gain royal tutelage in the household of the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oladapo Ademola, in Abeokuta.
Unfortunately, the Alake started having running battles with market women in his domain chiefly about taxation. The confrontations or protests were led by Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Eniola Soyinka (Wole Soyinka’s mother). They literally chased the Alake away from his palace. He abdicated his throne and was exiled to Oshogbo. Prince Lamidi followed him there and saw the tribulations first hand.
Prince Lamidi later found his way to Lagos where he lived in the household of Sir Kofo Abayomi, an ally of his father. It was while he was in Lagos that his father suffered the same fate as the Alake of Egbaland.
In Oyo, Alaafin Adeniran was facing civil/political battles of his own. There were political unrests in Oyo. Also, Chief Bode Thomas, erudite lawyer and minister, had died mysteriously after an altercation with the monarch. The Action Group leadership pointed accusing fingers at the monarch who was a staunch supporter of the rival NCNC led by Nnamdi Azikiwe.
In the aftermath of political unrests in Oyo Town in 1954 which claimed six lives including Pa Gbadamosi Afojna (father of ex-minister and former Chairman of First Bank, Prince Ajibola Afonja), the regional AG-led government suspended and de-stooled Alaafin Adeniran. Sir Richard Lloyd QC, senior crown counsel to Nigeria’s Governor-General Sir John Macpherson, headed an inquiry into the unrests. The Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations fell short of expressly exonerating the Alaafin but it was of the opinion that elected representatives ought to show more tolerance to older members of the Oyo Divisional Council, including the Alaafin, on account of their difficulty to adapt to a new system. The AG-led government of the Western Region nevertheless deposed the Alaafin and exiled him to Iwo-Oke and later Ilesha.
I bet Prince Lamidi lapped up all the excruciating details of his father’s travails and swore revenge. The deposed Alaafin would later move to No 31, Egerton Lane, Lagos, the home of Alhaji N.B Soule, a wealthy NCNC stalwart who offered all material support to the deposed monarch. Alaafin Adeniran died there in 1960.
In Lagos, Prince Lamidi had taken to boxing, a sport that guarantees physical and mental toughness. He would later work with an insurance company. When his father’s successor, Oba Bello Gbadegesin Ladigbolu, joined ancestors in 1970, it was a tug of war between Lamidi and other contenders to the throne. While Prince Sanda ‘Ladepo Oranlola was seen by many as people’s favourites, Prince Lamidi’s nomination was confirmed by the appointing authorities and he ascended the throne in January 1971. That came with the assistance of certain well-connected indigenes of Oyo, notably Chief E.O. Ashamu.
I would say Oba Adeyemi III’s 51 year reign was marked, in my view, by his adherence to the 48 Laws of Power applicable to anyone with supreme authority. The ones he did not wield are the ones below the status of a first class monarch. He deliberately picked the trajectories of his kindness and also his revenge. He was unforgiving to those he thought disgraced his father. He meticulously timed his reprisals. He drew some of them close before he pounced on them.
I heard and confirmed a story of one of them. He was reported to be one of those who led a chorus of song to mock his exiled father. He died but his son sought a Chieftaincy title in the town during Oba Adeyemi III’s reign. The Alaafin led him on by giving a “commitment” that he would be installed as chief in a pool of contenders. An installation date was picked. There was pomp and merriment on the grounds of Oyo palace. The chief-in-waiting came with his people. The Alaafin came to the forecourt of the palace to meet them. Surely, the installation would happen. So they thought. The Alaafin motioned the vociferous crowd to be quiet. He hinted that before the installation, the crowd would help him to give chorus to a song. The crowd was excited. The drummers were poised. The chief-in-waiting was all smiles. The Alaafin rendered the song strung together to mock his exiled father immediate he was deposed. Many people in the crowd, including the chief-in-waiting, got the hint. They dared not give any chorus. You could hear a pin drop. The Alaafin asked why there was no chorus. Dead silence. The Alaafin stormed back into the inner recess of the palace. There would be no installation. It was a revenge perfectly exacted. Whether or not he should have taken a route like that is left to individual’s interpretation of Karma.
Upon ascending the throne, Oba Adeyemi III primed himself to give truly royal impetuses to the institution of the Alaafin. What he didn’t get in terms of certificated qualifications, he made up for with supremely admirable sense of history served in the most knowledgeable, candid, sometimes controversial and witty manner. He had solid grasp of both Yoruba and English languages. His choice of adjectives and mastery of diction were top notch. If you hated him for any reason but had a chance encounter with him, your hatred of him would dissipate, even if for the moment.
He was indeed a controversial Oba. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes, as an indigene of Oyo, you just wished he did certain things differently. If he was not an Oba or a boxer, a sport he loved till his last breath, I bet he would have been a terrific lawyer. He knew his onions and deployed all his arsenals to fend off any circumstance that would challenge the status of his institution. He fought through the courts certain incursions that came from Ooni Okunade Sijuade in a supremacy battle in the old Oyo State. As the feud reached combustible crescendo, Osun State was created. Both historical stools went their separate ways. The supremacy tussle left the battlefield of government offices and the courts to have
mere academic and bragging rights significance. Oyo owes him and his descendants a debt of gratitude for always standing firm in the affirmation of the supremacy of his throne. He never wavered. He never faltered. He never capitulated. He never failed. He had almost everything HIS WAY.
My study of Oba Adeyemi started within my own family. He was at the early part of his ascension very close to my uncle, Mr Muraina Oyedemi Afonja, of blessed memory. My uncle was well-travelled, urbane, happy-go-lucky and financially sound. He arranged Oba Adeyemi’s first ever travel to the western world. He took the Kabiyesi to London and also arranged to have his first daughter, Princess Akofade, in a school in England. Both would soon have personal differences and they fell apart. To be candid, the Alaafin recorded a very good number of falling apart with allies. I don’t know the causes of the estrangements but collaborating with many of them would have been in the best interests of Oyo Town and the institution of the Alaafin.
I was a constant visitor to the palace. I went there as a child to watch cultural events and also football on a dusty pitch on the west side of the palace. I became friends with his son, Prince Akeem (now a second-term member of the House of Representatives), during the time we attended St Francis Nursery and Primary School together. That friendship continued at Olivet Baptist High School. There was a blackout in Oyo around June/July 1993 and the final of the Under 17 World Cup was to be played between Nigeria and Ghana. I met Akeem in school and asked if I could come to the palace to watch the final. We had no generator in our own house. He obliged by telling me he would meet me at the palace gate by 9am. He was there on time. We walked towards the palace expansive quarters and there was Kabiyesi doing a light workout close to the palace mosque. In absolute awe, I prostrated fully. He greeted me. Akeem introduced me. Remembering framed London pictures of the Kabiyesi and my uncle hung in the later’s sitting room, I quickly told Kabiyesi’s I am a nephew to Mr Muraina Afonja. He beamed and said nice words about him. It was my first personal meeting with the Kabiyesi. I thereafter followed Akeem into the living room of Prince Babatunde Adeyemi, the Alaafin’s first son, where we watched the World Cup final.
I would meet him personally again after I became a lawyer. He had suggested to a surveyor to find a young lawyer who would work with the surveyor in the administration of certain stool land. I was before the Kabiyesi. He offered me a seat. I felt trepidation but he put me at ease. He gave the instructions and I commenced the job. I must’ve made up to #5 million on the job before my foray into politics drew me away from him and the job, partly due to my political naivety, as I felt I was not safe with Alaafin’s affinity with a rival political party. I met him again in 2014. One of his chiefs was in police trouble. He personally mentioned that I should handle the matter. I resolved the case within hours at Iyaganku. The chief insisted I must accompany him to thank the Kabiyesi. I did so reluctantly. Kabiyesi had travelled but we got feelers that he was on his way back to Oyo, so we waited. He came in and he saw me among the hordes of visitors who milled around his car to greet him. “Lawyer, o ya ma bo kin tete da e loun”. I followed him sheepishly into a living room where I narrated the circumstances of the case to him. He asked if I’d been paid. I applied native intelligence and said “Kabiyesi, eyin le ran mi n’ise”. He reached for a leather purse, unzipped it and retrieved a wad of mints which he handed to me.
Despite publicly aligning with the Muslim faith and at one time the Amir-Ul-Hajj for Nigeria, he was the father of all. He attended church programmes when necessary and could copiously quote from the Bible. There was a time some Islamic clerics declared opposition to certain parts of the Egungun festival routine. It was an incendiary moment. War was imminent. The Alaafin stood firm and erred on the side of tradition.
His sense of tradition was patent in the way he preserved much of the palace old architecture. He did not embrace swanky modernity. While the palace is not particularly modern, it’s identity as a palace of grand royalty is unmistakable. He dressed the way a Yoruba monarch should dress. Regaled in beauty, style, panache and comportment, Oba Adeyemi was always a star attraction. His outfits from dog-ear (abeti aja) cap to his shoes left no one in doubt about what true royalty should be. Never outlandish. Just adequately regal. When he was in the mood, he treated onlookers to a sui generis dance move that culminated in the forward thrust of his right leg for a light stomp on the ground. Classy.
He had the carriage, the swagger, the looks, the speech, the show of love, the elicitation of fear, the compassion, the mean streak, the never-say-die attitude, the mischiefs, the magnetic aura, the eye for opportunities, the penchant for spotting talents and the knack for picking the best brains to his fullest advantage. In a place like Oyo where people had history of turning against their king, he needed to be all this. Call him Dr Jekyll and Hyde, you’ll not be far from the truth. How he did all in nearly 52 years, walking where Angels fear to thread, with only few stumbles, is absolutely remarkable. He ended his reign as the longest serving Alaafin in history and one of the longest serving monarch anywhere in the world.
Oba Adeyemi III was a Solomon. I’m not talking about his numerous women but his wisdom. You just couldn’t out-think him. In the unlikely event that you managed to outsmart him, steer clear. He was almost always one step ahead even in the face of shattering controversies.
He navigated the disgrace that could have come from a drug incident in the United Kingdom in the early 90s. He was exonerated by the British authorities. He didn’t own the bag containing the package. A storm hovered over him upon the murder of Amuda Olorunosebi, the last Ashipa of Oyo. A mob stormed his palace and it was torched. He rode that storm. Another serious allegation of murder came when my mentor, Alhaji Rashidi Adebayo Atingisi, was murdered. He made it to the UCH, wrote a statement in his own handwriting naming one of the “palace boys” as the man that shot him but he died about 24 hours after volunteering his written statement. The alleged shooter was arrested and charged to court for murder. There was a trial but the court ruled that Atingisi’s statement is not a dying declaration. The shooting happened at night and there were no corroborative witnesses. The accused was discharged and acquitted. Another major reputational damage averted.
Kabiyesi then fell out with his godson, Hon Kamil Akinlabi. The feud threatened to get dirty when Prince Akeem Adeyemi squared up against the godson in two consecutive elections (a third is impending). There was an air of fear that Hon Kamil, so close to Kabiyesi he could be said to know everything about the monarch, would spill certain beans. It’s either there are no beans to spill or Hon Kamil will keep quiet forever now that the great monarch has passed away.
Politically, the Alaafin was smart. He moved with the tide most times. For
long periods, he avoided Awolowo’s parties. It is a fact that his deposed father’s humiliation was politically-motivated. Up till 2010, it was the belief in political circles that the Alaafin would never be affiliated to any party having links with Awolowo’s political legacy. That changed with Alao Akala’s mismanagement of his relationship with the Alaafin. The monarch had no choice but to pitch tent with the ACN in order to flush out Akala whose second term as governor, if he had gotten it, would have been disastrous for the Alaafin. He fell out with Lam Adesina and Rashidi Ladoja too but he sustained a good relationship with a Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
All the time I knew him, he mastered the art of re-inventing himself. Opinion polls in Oyo were not always stacked in his favour. But he would come up with schemes that kept him afloat. One was amassing a squad of young wives and the style of going to functions with a minimum of three of them in tow.
If there was a lull, he would invent a Chieftaincy title for the high and mighty. Thousands of visitors would storm Oyo. The glitz of the occasions brought more reverence, patronage and cash. One was slated for May 27, 2022. Speaker Gbaja would have shut Oyo down with who is who in Nigeria for a Chieftaincy title. Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and Ayinde Marshall were billed to entertain. It wasn’t to be.
He could have done a lot more to uplift Oyo and a lot of the indigenes. He had the clout and the opportunities. Of course, a good number of indigenes and non-indigenes are beneficiaries of his benevolence. Could we have had more benefits flowing from his clout? Certainly. He was a human being after all. Perfection belongs to God.
His passing will have socio-economic, cultural, political and “soul-searching” ramifications for Oyo and even beyond. We hope it will be for good.
Kabiyesi, we will miss you. Rest in peace.
Oba Adeyemi III lived a life summed up by this song from Frank Sinatra. It is titled “MY WAY”
“And now the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
I saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much, much more
I did it, I did it my way
Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way
For what is a man,
what has he got?
If not himself then he has naught
Not to say the things that he truly feels
And not the words of someone who kneels
Let the record shows I took all the blows and did it my way
Muideen Olagunju, a former member of the Oyo state House of Assembly hails from Oyo town.