Alaafin,Bode Thomas, Tinubu and the Oonirisha

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By Bola Bolawole

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You may have heard the story of the very unfortunate encounter between Alaafin Adeniran Adeyemi 11 (the father of the present Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi 111) and prominent politician and Action Group deputy leader, Chief Bode Thomas.

According to Wikipedia, Chief Bode Thomas (October 1919 – 23 November, 1953) was a Nigerian lawyer, politician, statesman, and traditional aristocrat. Thomas served with distinction as both a colonial minister of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria and as a nobleman and privy counsellor of the historic Oyo clan of Yoruba land at a time when Nigeria was just beginning the journey to its independence in the 1960s. He was Nigeria’s first Minister of Transportation and later of Works.

According to //face2faceafrica.com (with slight modifications): The following is the story “of Bode Thomas, the iconic Nigerian lawyer who died barking like a dog for insulting a king:

“Few in Nigeria’s socio-political history rose swiftly on the ladder of prominence yet died not in the evening of their lives but rather in the noon when there was so much more to be done. This was the case of Olabode Akanbi Thomas, popularly known as Chief Bode Thomas.

“Thomas, born in October 1919, died tragically on November 23, 1953, under curious circumstances, aged just 34. The day was also his daughter’s second birthday, thus, bringing joy and pain to the Bode household.

“A day prior, on November 22, 1953, Bode, who had been made the chairman of the Oyo Divisional Council having taken over from Alaafin Adeniran Adeyemi II, had arrived at a meeting of the council with the Oba (king) in attendance as a member.

“The report holds that all the other councillors, except Oba Adeyemi, who was in his 60s, stood to welcome him. Thomas then impolitely told the king “Why were you sitting when I walked in? Why can’t you show me respect?”

“The Alaafin, felt disrespected and asked Thomas: “Se emi l’o n gbo mo baun? Emi l’o n gbo bi aja mo baun?” meaning “Is it me you are barking at like that? Is it me you are barking like a dog at? Keep barking!”

Various accounts further held that Thomas, upon getting home after the meeting in Oyo, started barking throughout the night at his Yaba, Lagos home. He died the following day (November 23, 1953) despite being rushed to Ijebu-Igbo for (spiritual or native) treatment.

“Thomas, being a chief himself, must have known the time-held Yoruba practice of respecting the elderly and traditional authority as he and Alaafin Aderemi II were Yoruba. However, it appears the two, not seeing eye-to-eye, had to do with power-play regarding tax mobilization, political party support and rights of traditional authority.

“Action Group’s political leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had established the Action Group to wrestle power from the British with Thomas as deputy leader. The Alaafin, one of the few highly-placed men of Yoruba extraction, however, threw his weight behind Nnamdi Azikiwe and the National Council of Nigerians and the Cameroons (NCNC).

“There had been a test of power of sorts with Alaafin on the one hand and Awolowo and Thomas on the other. Thomas was the Balogun of Oyo – the title he received in 1949. He was instrumental in the fight for self-rule against the British, serving as a lawyer, politician, statesman, and traditional aristocrat.

“He was born to Andrew Thomas, a wealthy trader and auctioneer who was originally from Oyo but migrated to Lagos. He studied law in London and was called to the bar in 1942. He subsequently returned to Nigeria to establish the law firm “Thomas, Williams, and Kayode” in 1948, together with Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams and Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode.

“Among his other feats, he became the legal adviser of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1946. He was one of the founding members of the Action Group. Prior to joining the Action Group, he was a successful Lagos lawyer and member of the Nigerian Youth Movement.

“With Thomas’ style, he was regarded as brilliant, logical, astute, thoughtful, forward looking and a workaholic. On the downside, he was viewed as arrogant, hot-tempered, and a bully.

“Thomas married Lucretia Shobola Odunsi, having children Eniola and Dapo together. He was chancellor of the African Church of Nigeria and became a member of the Regional House of Assembly in 1951. The popular ‘Bode Thomas Street’ in Surulere is named after him”

What a sad ending to an otherwise illustrious career!

Oba Adeyemi 11 was deposed and banished into exile in July 1955 at the age of 84 years. His 200 wives (yes, 200 wives!) took turns (30 at a time) to be with him in exile, first at Iwo-Oke, then Ilesha and, finally, at 31, Egerton Lane in Lagos. Alaafin Adeyemi 11 died in exile on 14th February, 1960.

The story is also told of another town in Yoruba land whose Oba was dethroned and sent into exile in 1966. A new Oba was enthroned but the community had become polarised between those for and those against the old as well as the new Oba.

At one of the yearly celebrations of the town when the Kabiyesi would dance round the town, stopping at strategic locations to perform the required traditional rites and thereafter receiving gifts and pledges of loyalty from important citizens along his route, he got to the address of an opponent of his enthronement who chose to ignore him. The man reportedly maintained his sitting position even after Kabiyesi had attracted his attention.

To cut the long story short, Kabiyesi laid a curse on him that a wild animal would devour him within seven days. The imprudent man laughed and mocked Kabiyesi, calling him the king of grasshoppers! What would he, a Very Important Personality, be doing in the bush that would give any wild animal the opportunity to tear him into pieces? He further mocked the king!

Kabiyesi left it at that and went his way. A few days after, this man had an important business to transact in the state capital nearby but somewhere on the way, his stomach rumbled and he ordered his driver to pack by the roadside so he could quickly go inside the bush to ease himself. Lo and behold, a warthog or some other wild animal came from nowhere and mauled him to death!

The elders have a saying: A child stones the “Iroko” tree and intermittently casts a glance in its direction; he forgets that it is not the day someone curses the gods that they fight back! Or are we to say those were the days when Obas were Obas?

Yes, standards may have fallen everywhere – not only in education. These days, many of those pounding our streets with strings of certificates are not employable. Many cannot write flawless application letters or speak simple and correct English. Listen to talk shows on radio and witness the terrible grammar that assails one’s ear drums. Common tenses fly at you on the pages of many of our publications.

Many professors today would, at best, be Lecturer 11 or 1 in those good old days. Proliferation of anything leads to the lowering of standards and qualities. The same ills afflict the places of worship. Someone said in the days of Benson Idahosa or Ayo Babalola, we might have found men and women of God daring and confident enough to dare coronavirus rather than the automatic alacrity with which everyone behaved like the tortoise that draws its head into its shell in time of trouble – only to emerge and do “yanga” after danger is averted!

Have you also not seen what traditional institutions have become? Obas that bleach their skin – Yellow Fever or what did Fela call them? Obas that wear jeans, dance disco, and eat in public! Obas that engage in all manner of demeaning matrimonial squabbles! They fight their subjects over land, over women, over business deals! King of hawks who cannot snatch common chicken!

These days, many Obas get enthroned by politicians and through connections and no more by Ifa. They, therefore, bow to politicians and do the bidding of the powers-that-be. How many Obas can beat their chest and say with confidence that they are rightly on the throne of their fore-fathers? These days, not only does Ifa shout “Alleluia” as Yinka Aiyefele crooned, Ifa also defers to Naira and dollars! Many thrones have gone to the highest bidders and those well connected to the powers-that-be.

That said, we must note that the power of customs and traditions, and the collective wisdom of an entire race, cannot be compared to or subsumed under the power of filthy lucre. Grandma taught me that silent rivers – like the Oonirisa – run deeper than empty barrels that make loud noise.

Ugandan poet, Prof. Okot p’Bitek, warns that the pumpkin in the old homestead must not be uprooted. The earth has eyes! Don’t march on them – whoever you think you are! One person, no matter how strong, cannot be stronger than an entire race.

The Yoruba in their collective wisdom say: “Eni t’o ba so ile nu; o so apo iya ko”. He who throws away his origin hangs on his shoulders bags of sorrow and anguish. In due time, he will reap. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is said to have apologised to the Ooni whom he disrespected publicly. Very well! But it has become too often and too cantankerous of Tinubu. “O ti wa n di igba gbogbo Bola Ahmed Tinubu!”

The same Tinubu who bends double before Muhammadu Buhari sits to greet the Ooni! Someone rightly asked if he will try that with the Sultan of Sokoto. Tinubu’s repeated condescending attitude to – and shabby treatment of – the entire Yoruba race has become insufferable, intolerable, and unbearable.

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