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Achebe, Soyinka, Oba S.K Adetona: Appriasal of the colonial experience (2)

By John Amoda
BOTH Achebe and Soyinka are critical of the pretensions of the post-colonial leaders. Oba S.K Adetona as a participant observer of the process of British colonization addressed the colonial question in class struggle terms, a struggle between pre-colonial rulers and the colonizing power.

The Oba’s criticism of the colonial is a political one, a criticism that reveals the post- colonial as a continuation of the colonial. The post-colonial for Oba Adetona is only a constitutional reform of the colonial. For the Oba Adetona the colonial is more than an episode.

According to the Awujale, it was the creation of a new order of economy, power and authority. In his biography titled AWULAJE he described the colonial experience of the Ijebus. It began with trade and evangelism.

“Then the White man came. They showed great curiosity about our land and wanted a foothold in Ijebu-Ode but we would not let them in. They wanted access to the land as shortcut to reach the hinterland. They wanted access to advance their religion. They wanted access to extend their domination. We rebuffed the first missionaries.

The consuls were rebuffed. Both the missionaries and the consuls were miffed by Ijebu’s intransigence in the protection of our land…

The final blow to attack us came in 1892 when, following a much doctored treaty, slanted totally in favour of the British, the Ijebus still resisted the entry of the consul’s representative and their religious counterparts. The British responded by unleashing their military might on us as a punishment for daring to protect our land and for our isolationist policy. We were no match for their superior firepower.

This was the Magbon expedition. It must be remembered that before the incursion of the Whites into our land, our institutional structure as outlined earlier, had held the community together. This was now violently dismantled. Having conquered the land, the

White man smashed our leadership and their spiritual hold. They took over our government, along with the control of the land and our religious establishment. This conquest whittled down the institutional forces that had long reigned before the advent of the Whites.

In replacement came their colonial government, the cross and much later the crescent. The effects of the Magbon war were devastating on Ijebu-Ode and the Awujale in particular. Soon after the British occupation, most of the subordinate chiefs in the outlying districts began to question, disown and abandon the authority of the Awujale in favour of the colonial administrative officer who took over the administration of the land.

Religious converts particularly, challenged the Awujale’s powers to adjudicate on conflicts… The colonialists initially found favour with the educated elite, and religious converts, favourable to displacement of the Chiefs. Language, religion and education were the connection cord between the elite and the colonialists. It is ironic that many of those favoured elites were the offsprings of those who had been sold away as slaves.

The leadership ladder was turned upside down and the traditional chiefs were now at the mercy of the colonialists and their former slaves.

All the same from the early 1900s to 1960, it was the same educated elite who were in the vanguard of the nationalists’ movement leading to independence. They fought to replace the colonialists, although unfortunately without giving much thought to culture heritage and cultural modification to weld the old and the new. This displacement marks the beginning till today of a nation not at ease with its roots.

The advent of the Whites gave birth to two worlds in one society: that is, an ebbing traditional system and a flagging Western system. It is a muddle that we have not totally resolved such that the politicians took over from the colonialists and the military in similar vein, took over from the politicians, while sidelining the traditional rulers.

This background history was given to me and the unwritten lesson that could be drawn from it was that it was now up to me to raise the status of my forefather’s office that had been in decline to its old prestige, if not higher” (AWUJALE-The Autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K Adetona, Ogbagba II Pp. 50-52).

Above is a narrative of two revolutions, one occasioned by the other. The first is the causal revolution, that of the British Empire building. The second is the consequent revolution in the pre-colonial class relations. The first was effected through military conquest.

The second was occasioned by the overthrow of the pre-colonial state and its governing institution. A new colonial order replaced the old order in Ijebuland. The nature of the colonial order is to be discerned from the nature of the British Empire that transformed the conquered pre-colonial societies into the Nigerian province of the Empire.

Was the British Empire feudal or capitalist? If it was feudal the British would have left the pre-colonial economy and society intact and have been content with reducing the pre-colonial ruling class to vassals. However, the changes instituted by the British in incorporating the Ijebu Kingdom into their Empire were not feudalistic; they were revolutionary and capitalist. Military conquest was used to institute the economic restructure of the pre-colonial.

Oba Adetona’s reading of the colonial is not merely an interpretation but an insurgent account of the British revolutionary overthrow of the Ijebu State and the transformation of its economy and society into a sub-unit of the Nigerian province of the British Capitalist Empire. It is clear that Awujale hope’s of revival of the Ijebu Kingdom is implicitly a rejection of the post-colonial Nigeria that is but the constitutional reform of colonial Nigeria.

Oba S.K Adetona thus clarifies the nature of the British Empire as he describes the smashing of the pre-colonial states and governments. In defining the hope for a renascent office of the Awujale he rejects the Nigeria forged as a province of the British Empire.

The rejection although insurgent, is an attitude of sovereign integrity that is not yet regarded as security threat by the Government of Nigeria. By showing that the colonial order is a new revolutionary order, revolutionary from the perspective of the Awujale, he also shows that British colonization of Ijebuland is not an episode in the Ijebu sovereignty politics, but the overthrow of Ijebu State and government.

The question therefore of how to account for Nigeria’s 50 years of independence must be premised on determining the nature of the post colonial. Awujale has answered the question of the relation of the colonial to the pre-colonial. From the vantage point of the Office of the Awujale, the colonial was a new and alien order instituted through military means. From the vantage point of Oba S.K Adetona the post colonial is an administrative reform of the colonial.

If independence was a constitutional reform of the colonial order the question is what has the past 50 years been used for? What was the political agenda of the Nigerian Independence Leadership and its prospect in the hands of the post Civil War Politicians? What are the implications of their effort to transform a province of an empire into the equivalence of the British State developed through the British Empire? It is in answering this question that the entire scheme of history, neatly parceled into the pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial can be adequately critiqued.


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