By Femi Kehinde
“T his is Nigeria Broadcasting Service – (B’olu badan ba’ku ta ni o joye (who is the next king, if Olubadan passes on) ojogede dudu inun takun (he eats an unripe plantain and suffers stomach discomfort) ko so ni gbese ni bi lo si le keji (there is no debtor here, go to the next house) Eko je Ibadan lowo 130 ( Lagos owes Ibadan 130 thousand pounds)” was the famed signature tune of the Nigeria Broadcasting Service, the precursor of today’s Radio Nigeria. It was the drumming creativity in 1956, of the drummer-King, Oba John Adetoyese Laoye 1, Timi of Ede ( December 1946- May 16, 1975).
Radio had been popularised in Western Nigeria by the government of Obafemi Awolowo in 1955, when he brought rediffusion boxes, for the listening pleasure, of the people of the Western Region. The service helped to bring news, commentaries and general entertainment programmes, for a partly sum of 5 shillings at the end of every month, to every subscriber.
Oba Laoye was an expert who could use the talking drum, to communicate with people. He was a dancer, drummer, musicologist, teacher, poet, storyteller, communicator, pianist, Yoruba cultural icon and trained pharmacist. It is doubtful to talk of the talking drum in African culture, without mentioning the name of Timi Adetoyese Laoye, whose dual status as a king and a drummer, brought him instant fame and applause all over the world.
Oba John Adetoyese Laoye was born on the 21st of February 1899, the great-great grandson of Timi Bamigbaye Ajeniju, who was the second Timi to reign in present Ede. Ede is one of the older towns in Yoruba land and traditionally said to have been founded by Timi Agbale around 1500. Agbale was a hunter and a war lord, sent by the Alaafin of Old Oyo empire to establish a settlement, to protect the Oyo caravan routes to Benin and the coast.
Oba Adetoyese was also a descendant of a family of drummers in Ede, from where he inherited and honed his skill in the art of drumming, through his maternal uncle. He was born to Muslim parents – Oyebisi Omolaoye and Madam Moware Odefunke. Oyebisi was a scion of the Ajeniju royal family and a Togo based prosperous trader.
FROM TOGO WITH LOVE
In Togo, Oyebisi had courted the friendship of Dr Greene, a Christian Baptist Missionary, who later returned with him and his wife to Ede.
At birth, their son was named Yusuf Adetoyese Omolaoye but during his baptism, Adetoyese was christened John. Mainly because Doctor Greene, could not pronounce the name Omolaoye properly, he shortened it to ‘Laoye’ a name which stuck. In 1909, Adetoyese enrolled in All Saints Primary School Oshogbo, and later attended the Baptist Day Primary School, Ogbomosho, from where he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos in 1916. He left school in 1919 and was admitted to the Creek Hospital in Lagos as a dispenser in training and qualified as a chemist and druggist in 1924. He started his career in the Ministry of Health and worked as a Government Pharmacist in many places such as Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Benin City, Warri, Forcados, Akure, Jos and Ibadan between 1924 and 1946.
HIS CORONATION, SACK BY COURT AND FINAL VICTORY
On January 24, 1946, the stool of the Timi of Ede became vacant, as a result of the passage of Timi Sanusi Oyebamiji Akangbe. The stool was fiercely contested, by Prince Memudu Lagunju, who had previously contested the stool with Timi Sanusi Akangbe in 1933. Adetoyese and thirty two other contestants vied for the vacant stool for about 11 months, and he was eventually crowned the Timi on the 9th of December 1946. Despite Adetoyese’s victory, his arch rival, Memudu Lagunju, continued the fight for the crown in the courts. Lagunju won at the Lower Court, and Adetoyese was on the 8th of January 1948, asked to abdicate the throne, but later came back to the throne in 1952, when the West African Court of Appeal (WACA),dismissed Memudu Lagunju’s case and recorded its verdict, in John Adetoyese Laoye’s favour, a verdict, which was later upheld by the Privy Council, England.
EMBRACING EDUCATION AND CHAMPIONING ITS SPREAD
With a settled verdict, Adetoyese came back to the throne as the first literate Timi of Ede and immediately began his modernist policies, for the rapid development of Ede. He encouraged the Catholic, the Baptist and the Seventh Day Adventist, to establish institutions in Ede. St. Kizito Minor Seminary and Baptist Teacher Training College, Ede were among the schools established.
The Baptist Teacher Training College was to be later converted to the Federal Polytechnic Ede, courtesy of President Ibrahim Babangida, who decreed it by presidential fiat during a state visit to Oyo State, in honour of the Ede born Mrs. Ramota Adisa, wife of the then governor of Oyo State- General Abdulkareem Adisa. The Camp Young Seminary was established in 1960 and the Seventh Day Adventist Grammar School, Ede came into being and opened on February 29, 1960, with Pastor E.G Ellstron, as principal, pending the arrival of the substantive Principal, Mr Cross, who also in January 1964, handed over the mantle of leadership to Mr E.O. Dare, who assumed office as the first Nigerian principal. The school produced eminent Nigerians, such as Dr Deji Adeleke, Proprietor of Adeleke University Ede, His Royal Majesty Oba Dokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila, Mudashiru Oyewunmi- a Pharmacist in the United States of America, Barrister Tolu Dare, Professor Kayode Makinde- immediate past Vice Chancellor of Babcock University and Professor Ademola Tayo- present Vice Chancellor of Babcock University.
There were other schools, like Timi Agbale Grammar school, established by Chief Gabriel Ojo Falegan- an indigene of Ado-Ekiti, who named the school after Timi Agbale Olofaina, Baptist Grammar School Ede, Ede Muslim Grammar School and several others.
HONOURS QUEEN ELIZABETH
What may have counted as the most potent educational milestone during Adetoyese’s reign as Timi, was the establishment of the famous Queen’s School, Ede in 1952, in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen of England with founding teachers as – Mrs E. Hobson, K.S Gordon, Ms I.V Hodgson, Princess Tejumade Aderemi (later known as Mrs Tejumade Alakija) and Adetoyese’s Olori – Ebun Laoye, later joined as a music teacher. It is, however, a sad irony, that due to staff shortages and some other problems, the school was relocated to Ibadan in December 1967, as Queen’s School, Apata, Ibadan.
It is also on record, that the Erinle Dam a big and expansive project was conceptualised and completed Oba Laoye’s reign. The project started in 1952 and was completed in 1956. The dam still serves the people of Osun State till date. He became a foundation member, of the Western House of Chiefs in 1952 and was also the president of the Nigerian Arts Council, Western Region from 1955-1964.
FIRST AIR FIELD
In the early years of Adetoyese as Timi, there was a city airport in Ido-Osun-Ede, said to be the first air -field in the West African sub-region, commissioned in 1935, by Sir Bernard Bourdillon, the 5th Governor General of Nigeria, to serve the political objectives of the colonial masters, as well as their interest in commerce, trade, economy and bureaucracy. The aerodrome was said to have airlifted Africans, who were conscripted into the British Army, to fight in the Second World War, between 1939 and 1944. It has recently served as a Nigerian Air Force base. The vestiges of the Ido-Osun-Ede Airport Terminal, control tower, run-way, loading apron, taxi-way, etc, are still visible almost a century after.
Oba Adetoyese as a cultural icon, drummer, dancer, traditionalist, teacher, and musicologist was highly resourceful, versatile, erudite and prolific. In 1950, he wrote the book “Yoruba Drums”, published in the culture and history journal- “Odu”. In this book, he provided images of the drum families, hand drawn, for illustrations and recounted their names, individually and as groups.
DRUMMING FOR THE QUEEN
It is interesting to note, that during the Queen’s visit to Nigeria in 1956, Oba Adetoyese Laoye entertained Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II by demonstrating the richness and elegance of the Yoruba talking drum. In 1962, Timi Laoye travelled to West Germany on a cultural exchange visit during which he opened an exhibition of Yoruba arts including carvings. In the same year, he was also in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), as a participant in the seminar on African culture, where he gave lectures on Yoruba traditional music and was given a loud applause.
THE CULTURAL ICON VISITS BRITAIN, USA
In 1965, Adetoyese Laoye also travelled to Great Britain, to attend the Commonwealth Festival of Arts with his cultural troupe and also delivered a paper on Yoruba music. Adetoyese was not only a drummer-king and dancer; he was a teacher in the art and science of drumming. In the same year, he also travelled to the United States of America on a cultural exchange visit, during which he was commissioned, a Kentucky Colonel, with all the rights and privileges pertaining to it. During this visit, the Western Michigan University, also, conferred on him an Honorary Alumnus of the West Michigan University, Kalamazoo. He had now become Nigeria’s cultural icon and ambassador.
ASSOCIATION WITH ULLI BEIER
Adetoyese, with his dexterity, in exhibiting different acrobatic skills in graceful dances, dedicated to Sango (the god of thunder), became a regular, famous and sought after guest at many functions, including media functions, academic fora locally and internationally. Perhaps, his greatest enhancements, in the academic environment, was his early association with the German Jewish writer and scholar, Professor Ulli Beier, the German Professor of extra-mural studies, at the University of Ibadan, who, he met in 1950. Beier had married the Austrian artist – Susanne Wenger and moved to Nigeria with her in 1950. The Beier’s family later moved to Ede to live with Adetoyese Laoye, before relocating to Ilobu and Oshogbo between 1950 and 1952.
Ulli Beier as a Professor of Arts had a pioneering role in developing literature, drama and poetry in Nigeria. With the active support of Adetoyese Laoye, he co-founded “Mbari Mbayo” Club, with Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, Duro Ladipo, Kola Ogunmola and many others. Ulli Beier was, in fact, a black man in white skin, who propagated Osun festivals, to international acclaim. His wife – Susanne Wenger (whom he later divorced) became a chief proponent and devotee of Osun worship and festival. Susanne Wenger was inspired by her relationship with Timi Adetoyese Laoye and the people of Ede. She later settled in Oshogbo, where she lived and contributed immensely, towards the preservation of Osun-Oshogbo festival, until her death in 2009 at the age of 83.
In recognition of Adetoyese’s contribution to the society, he was awarded Honorary Doctorate of Law in 1972, by the University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), with other recipients like- the late Professor Fela Sowande- a distinguished musicologist, Late Sir Usman Nagogo- the then Emir of Katsina, Late Dr Sir Leopold Sedar Senghor- the then President of Senegal, the Late Professor Oladele Ajose- first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ife and the then Head of State- General Yakubu Gowon.
It is also to his credit that he laid the foundation of a new palace in 1972 which was at a very advanced stage of completion at the time of his death, on the 16th of May 1975. His successor, Timi Tijani Oladokun Oyewusi (Agboran II) completed the project which was formally declared open on the 30th of January, 1978. Oladokun had lived his early life in Ile-Ife, with his maternal Uncle- Shittu Agape, who was Ooni Aderemi’s tailor. He became close to the family of Ooni Aderemi and was treated almost as a member of the family. This early closeness prepared him for royalty. Till date, there is Agbo-Ile-Timi in Ile-Ife.
During Oba Laoye’s reign, Ede and its people prospered. Saka Layonu became the first Ede indigene to become a Minister in 1961, as Minister of Community and Cooperative development. It was during Saka’s period as Minister that he brought Government General Hospital to Ede. The Ladoke Akintola Government, in the Western Region, earmarked 80,000 pounds, for the construction of the hospital. Other political gladiators then were; Idris Adegboyega Oyewale, Chief Sule Akangbe- a Minister of the first republic. Chief Isaac Abiola Adejare and Alimi Oniyere, were members of the House of Representatives in the First Republic. Other distinguished Ede elites, during his time were,- Adetoro Lawal, Ayoola Adeleke,- who later became a Second Republic Senator and father of the First Executive Governor of Osun State- Senator Isiaka Adeleke- and now Senator representing Osun West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Chief Aliu Alape, Barrister Omotosho, Barrister Adejare, S.O.B Babalola-son of Raji Babalola, Adebayo Ayoku of Face to Face Pools, Wahab Ayanfe of Lever brothers, Fatai Lagunju- alias Fatai Rolling Dollars, and Adetoyese’s son- Colonel David Bankole Laoye (retired)- who in 1975, was Acting Governor of Western States, when the incumbent Governor, David Jemibewon, was on vacation.
During Col. Laoye’s short period as acting governor, he approved Plate No. OY-B for Ede. There were also Brigadier Larinde Laoye (retired), Prince Lere Laoye, Prince Dayo Laoye, Alhaji Yisa Yagboyaju, Amusa Lawal, Agboola Ewegbemi, etc.
John Adetoyese Laoye, after a distinguished stewardship of 30 years, to the Ede community and to the Yoruba nation in general, passed away on the 16th of May, 1975 and was buried in his Palace amidst pomp and pageantry on the 1st of June 1975. He was described upon his passage by the then Nigerian Head of State-General Yakubu Gowon as “torch bearer of Nigerian cultural heritage, one of the nation’s greatest patriots of our arts and culture” and Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi- the then Military Governor of Western states, in his eulogy said, “Adetoyese will forever be remembered as a great exponent of our cultural glory and revival”. Alhaji Maitama Sule- the then chairman of National Council of Arts and Culture described Adetoyese Laoye as “the king who made music”.
It is now a clarion call on the current 16th Timi of Ede- Oba Muniru Adesola Lawal Laminisa I and other Ede indigenes and Yorubas in general, to continually celebrate the cause, ideas and ideals, for which Timi Laoye lived his worthy life, for purposes of reawakening Yorubas cultural identity, its folklores, music, dances, traditions, norms and mores.
Hon (Barr) Femi Kehinde
Former Member, House of Representatives
National Assembly Abuja, Representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal
Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003)
& Principal Partner
Femi Kehinde& Co (Solicitors) 84, Iwo Road, Ibadan