•The great Oba with over 140 children whose father had 300 wives five of whom remained virgins at his passing
By Femi Kehinde
OWO IN THE EYES OF HISTORY
Destiny, being a harbinger, has an uncanny hand, in the affairs and conduct of human life. Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, was Olowo of Owo, between (1941-1966) and later (1993-1998). Owo is an ancient city in the present day Ondo state of Nigeria. The town- Owo derives its name from its first ruler named “Ojugbelu” because of his pleasant manner. He was a respectful, amiable and humble monarch. This was how the name of the town “Owo”, which means “respectful” was derived.
In Owo, there are three principal ruling families or houses- Ogunoye, Ajike and Olateru Olagbegi. In recent times, there were six Olowos- Olagbegi Atanneye I (1913-1938), Olowo Ajike Ogunoye (1938-1941), Olateru Olagbegi II (1941-1968), Olowo Adekola Ogunoye II (1968-1992), Olateru Olagbegi II (1993-1998) and the present monarch, Olateru Olagbegi III (1999-date).
OLAGBEGI FALLS VICTIM OF WESTERN CRISIS
Sir Olateru Olagbegi II, (Olowo of Owo), born in 1910, was appointed the Olowo, of the ancient city of Owo, in 1941 and ruled for 25 years, before he was deposed in 1968.
His dethronement from power and exile was as a result of the fall out of the Western Regional crises, which fractionalized the Action Group into the Awolowo and Akintola camps at the Jos Conference of the Action Group Party in 1962.
Members of the Akintola Group were virtually expelled from the party. The Action Group, which was launched in Olagbegi’s Palace in 1951, was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. A battle of wits, between the two gladiators- Akintola and Awolowo, saw Oba Olateru pitching his tent with Akintola. Another prominent Owo citizen and acolyte of Oba Olateru Olagbegi- Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, pitched his tent with the Awolowo group.
OLAGBEGI AND AJASIN
Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Olateru Olagbegi were initially colleagues, friends, soul mates and pathfinders in the growth and development of the city of Owo.
Michael Ajasin was born on the 28th of November, 1908. He was a teacher and a School Headmaster in Sapele, present day Delta State, before he was admitted to Fourah Bay College Sierra Leone, in 1943 where he obtained a Bachelors Degree in History and Economics in 1946.
After a successful completion of his University Degree, he went to London, where he obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Education in 1947.
Olateru Olagbegi was instrumental to the community scholarship granted Ajasin to pursue his educational feats. On the 12th of September 1947, Ajasin was appointed Principal of Imade College Owo, founded by his friend Oba Olateru Olagbegi and was Principal until December 1962, when he left to become Founder, Proprietor, and Principal of Owo High School, from 1963-1975.
As Principal 0f Imade College, Michael Ajasin was still very active and prominent in the Community politics of Owo, the Regional and National Politics of the Western Region and Nigeria respectively. Through the support and encouragement of his friend, the Olowo Olagbegi II, he was elected Member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing Owo Federal Constituency, between August 1954 and 1966, when the Military overthrew the Civilian government in the First Republic.
OLAGBEGI, AJASIN AS SWORN ENEMIES
Olagbegi and Ajasin as a result of the political feud became sworn enemies. Olagbegi was a prominent member and leader of Akintola’s NNDP (Demo) and Minister without portfolio, while Ajasin was a Federal Legislator. The Military putsch of January 1966, encouraged the Owo community to organize persistent revolts, riots and mayhem against Oba Olateru Olagbegi II and this forced the Adekunle Fajuyi government to suspend him from the throne in June 1966.
OLAGBEGI SUSPENDED, FAJUYI KILLED
A month after Oba Olagbegi’s suspension, Fajuyi was killed in a counter coup that also saw to the killing of the then Head of State- General Agunyi Ironsi in Ibadan on the 29th of July, 1966. On the 15th of December 1966, the suspension order on Olagbegi was revoked by the new Governor, Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo, but Olagbegi could not, however, return to his domain due to unfavorable security reports and the new government would not want to be seen as imposing Olagbegi on his people.
On the 14th of February 1968, Oba Olagbegi finally made the move to return to the ancient city but was violently resisted by his arch rivals in Owo. In the early morning of that day, Oba Olagbegi accompanied by some of his friends from Ibadan- Mr. Oduyoye Majekodumi (father of Honourable Babatunde Oduyoye, former deputy whip in the House of Representatives, National Assembly from 1999-2007 and member of the House of Representatives, representing Ibadan North West and South West Federal Constituency of Oyo State) and one Prince Ojo; but instead of allowing Oba Olagbegi’s free movement, Oduyoye, and Prince Ojo were arrested by the Police and Olagbegi was escorted by the Police back to his home in Ibadan.
GOVERNOR ADEBAYO BANISHES OLAGBEGI TO OKITIPUPA
Later in the day, Governor Adebayo announced in a state broadcast, that he was instituting an enquiry into the disturbances in Owo, following Olagbegi’s return. Quite Interestingly, within 24 Hours of the announcement, the governor also announced an order deposing Olagbegi from the throne and banishment to Okitipupa.
One February 16 1968, Olateru Olagbegi was taken to Okitipupa guest house where he stayed for one year and one month. He left Okitipupa on the 18th of March 1969. The government set up an enquiry led by Mr. Bode Kumapayi whose report up till today, has not seen the light of day. The deposition and subsequent banishment of Oba Olagbegi in February 1968 was a turning point, sad tail and dark eclipse in the history of Owo.
ARSON AGAINST OLAGBEGI’S PROPERTY – WHAT HE LOST
As a result of the violence, arson and destruction in Owo, about 99 houses belonging to Olagbegi’s supporters, as well as his personal houses were destroyed with fire.
Olagbegi’s properties that were destroyed were as follows:
Storey Building at 23, Oludasa Street Owo, worth £3000, personal effects destroyed worth £6042.2S, properties of 15 Oloris and other 10 properties worth £5000, properties at Old Maternity Home-King’s Terrace worth £400, Three Storey Building, at Olagbegi Street, Owo- Old Maternity valued at £3000, storey building at Oke Ogun (near Esso)-partly damaged, worth £1000, Storey building at Oke Ogun (near Imade),- partly damaged.
Also destroyed were storey building at Ikare Road, worth £3000, partly damaged. Storey building at St Mary’s College Road-partly burnt, also worth £3000, three Storey Building at Imalefealafia Ibadan, worth £3,500, farm huts at Isho- 12 rooms worth £500, destruction of farms worth £1000, two Land Rovers burnt worth £4000, 15 bicycles burnt worth £405. The total value of properties destroyed was valued at £36, 548.2S
HOW OLAGBEGI MADE HIS MONEY
As Olowo, Olagbegi’s annual salary was £1,116 a year. He, however, did not rely on this income alone, he was a big farmer and the proceeds from his plantations-cocoa, coffee, citrus and palm trees, helped him to educate his children, who were numerous, the welfare of his family and also make financial contributions to the progress of Owo. Olagbegi also, earned rents from his buildings, which he built with the sweat of his toils. He was throughout his life, a lover of table tennis and lawn tennis, which he also passed on to his children.
Sir Olagbegi’s properties and those of his relatives which were damaged, were estimated to be worth more than £100,000.
ADEKOYA OGUNOYE EMERGES NEW OLOWO
Less than a month after Olagbegi’s deposition, Oba Adekola Ogunoye, ably supported, by Chief Adekunle Ajasin emerged the new Olowo of Owo. On the 7th of August, 1968, an instrument, titled Olowo Chieftaincy Declaration was introduced by the Western Region Ministry of Local Government, to give legal backing to the installation of Oba Ogunoye.
Several administrative moves were made by Olagbegi and his supporters to restore him back to the Royal Stool quite unsuccessfully. In 1977, Olagbegi again attempted to return to Owo, but this move was also fiercely resisted by his antagonists when Ondo State was newly created.
Protests by his antagonists, went to the government, warning against the return of the ex-Olowo. Evidently, there were two schools of thought in Owo, namely: – One supporting the return of Sir Olagbegi to the throne and the other irrevocably committed to preventing his return to Owo.
The military government of Wing Commander Ita David Ikpeme, set up a Commission of Inquiry, known as Ondo Chieftaincy Review Commission, headed by Justice Adeyinka Morgan, Former Chief Justice of the Western State, to undertake a review of Chieftaincy Laws of Ondo State.
Other Members of the Commission were Dr. Femi Anjorin- (later Professor) Department of History, University of Ife, Chief J.O Akindolire from Ile-Oluji and Bode Kumapayi-Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service of the State. The Commission began sitting in Owo on the 28th of November 1977. The Commission could not complete its assignment, due to the ill health of the Chairman-Justice Adeyinka Morgan.
Sir Olagbegi came to Owo for the first time in 11 years, to submit his Memorandum. His arch-rival and antagonists also gave evidence before the Commission. Quite interestingly, Olagbegi’s foe, former friend and soul mate, emerged the first Executive Governor of Ondo State on the 1st of October 1979.
AJASIN EMERGES ONDO GOVERNOR
Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin was a very principled, highly disciplined man, who lived a Spartan life. He was an undisputed political leader in Owo and had paid his dues in politics, rising from the lowest rank as a Ward Councillor, District Council Chairman, Deputy Council Chairman, Federal Legislator, and Vice President of the Action Group.
In 1951, he wrote a paper that was to become the Educational Policy of the Action Group advocating free education at all levels. To his singular honour, he was known never to have jostled or fought for any political position, but those offices came to him quite naturally. It can only be imagined what Owo Kingdom would have been, without the Ajasin and Olagbegi crisis?
Olagbegi, as Royal Father was influential, celebrated and dignified. It was their joint influence, (Olagbegi and Ajasin) that made the Action Group to be inaugurated in 1951 at the Olowo’s Palace. On the 6th of September, 1980, Ajasin as Governor of Ondo State, appointed Justice T.A Oluwole, to continue where Morgan in 1977, as Chairman of the Owo Chieftaincy Review Commission, stopped. Oluwole submitted his Report in February 1981, without reinstating Sir Olagbegi as the Olowo.
OLAGBEGI’S COURT BATTLES
On the 5th of February, 1981, Sir Olagbegi filed a suit at the Akure High Court, challenging his deposition Order in 1968. He was represented by Chief Rotimi Williams S.A.N, ably supported by other lawyers, including Olagbegi’s son- Victor Folagbade Olagbegi, now the Olowo.
He averred that the order which first suspended him in 1966 and deposed him in 1968, was unconstitutional and illegal. Olateru Olagbegi II lost this case on the ground that the 1979 Constitution does not have provision to review a Right that was stale and that Olateru ought to have challenged his deposition then and not to have waited for 15 years to seek redress.
The presiding judge who was at that time the Chief Judge of Ondo State, Justice Olakunle Orojo struck out Olagbegi’s application, with a N1000 cost against him.
Prince Folagbade Olagbegi, the lawyer son of Olateru, called to the bar in 1968, appealed the matter before Justice Mamman Nasir, who was the President of the Appellate Court and with other Justices- B.O Kareem, S.J Eteh, J.A. Agbaje and B. Okagbo.
The lead judgment of Justice Mamman Nasir, upheld the judgment of the lower court, that the 1979 Constitution had no retrospective effect to deprive the incumbent Olowo- Oba Joseph Adekola Ogunoye and the government of their right.
The Appeal Court further awarded the cost of N800 against Olateru Olagbegi as appellant, and thus ended for a while the legal battles to secure the return of Olagbegi to the Royal Stool.
However, quite fortuitously and providentially, what Olateru could not achieve through legal battles, he achieved through patience, endurance, perseverance, doggedness, resoluteness, uncommon faith and belief in his eventual return to the throne.
OGUNOYE’S MYSTICISM, DEATH AND OLAGBEGI’S RETURNS TO THE THRONE
Olowo Adekola Ogunoye died in November 1992, after reigning as Olowo for about 25 years, paving the way for Olateru to return to the throne.
Oba Joseph Adekola Ogunoye, was a Monarch, believed to be endowed with mystical, mythical and magical powers. Oba Adekola Ogunoye was a no-nonsense man. If he cursed, same would come to pass. At a time, a man beat up his wife, at Ehin Ogbe and the wife came to report to Olowo, who invited the husband to His Palace. He came in, but stood at the entrance of the Palace and said “yes!?” The Palace chief then told him to kneel down in obeisance to the Olowo, but he refused, claiming that his own Oba has not returned; (apparently referring to the deposed Olagbegi). He then used abusive words against the Olowo. The Monarch, apparently angered by the blatant show of disregard and disrespect to the Royal Stool, cursed him and said he would be killed by a Buffalo.
On the fifth day after this statement, a Buffalo killed him.
The Igogo festival is usually held annually in Owo in September and lasts for about 17 Days. During this festival, the Olowo dresses in Coral Beads Crown and also, plaits his hair like a woman and dances round the city. Olowo Ogunoye was so frightened of the eventual come back of Olateru Olagbegi to the throne and would not, most times, hold the Igogo festival, because of the belief that, perhaps, while dancing round the city, Olagbegi would have taken over the palace. Such was the level of mutual distrust, antagonism, and fear that pervaded the city of the Owo during 25 years of Oba Ogunoye as Olowo.
The Governor of Ondo State, Evangelist Bamidele Olomilua approved Olateru Olagbegi’s return, which he did triumphantly in 1993.
Olateru Olagbegi, reigned again for about 5 years, until he joined his ancestors in 1998, leaving his lawyer son, Victor Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi, to succeed him in 1999. The Olateru Olagbegi family is one of the largest and educated families in Yoruba land. Oba Olateru Olagbegi was reputed to have had over 140 children, and that about 121 are University graduates.
Oba Olateru Olagbegi’s father, Olagbegi I, was also reputed to have had about 300 wives, and that by the time he passed on, five of his wives were virgins. Owo has the largest Palace in Africa, which was also declared a National Monument by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Olowo’s Palace has as many as 100 Courtyards. Each courtyard had a specific function and was dedicated to a particular deity. The largest of the courtyards, was said to have been about twice the size of a football field. The courtyards were beautifully paved with ornamentals and broken pottery. The palace seats on about 9.5 Acres of Land.
Owo’s current reigning monarch- Victor Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi III, born on the 26th of June 1941 was the eldest child and first son of the late Olateru Olagbegi II, whom he succeeded as Olowo of Owo in 1999. A Barrister-at-Law, he was called to bar in 1968 he had four children through his wife Barrister Bisi Olateru Olagbegi (Nee Cole) now late and until her passage, a human rights activist.
Oba Victor Olagbegi had his initial Law practice in the Chambers of F.R.A Williams until 1975, when he joined the Nigerian Law School as a lecturer. He was also between 1981 and 1983, Special Adviser, Legal Matters to the Second Republic Vice-President- Dr. Alex Ekweme and after the collapse of the Second Republic, he went back to the Law School, from where he retired as a reader in 1991.
Olowo Victor Olagbegi III was former Chancellor of the University of Benin, Chancellor, University of Abuja and is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Olowo Titus Olateru Olagbegi II initially reigned for 25 years, left the throne for about 25 years and came back as Olowo for about five years, before he was finally succeeded by his son.
Oba Olagbegi II, despite all the travails and vicissitudes of life, remained throughout his life, a distinguished Monarch. He was elegant, dignified and throughout his chequered reign as Oba, had the carriage, poise, charisma, aura and splendor of Royalty all around him. It is now a duty call for the Owo people, to continually celebrate this unusual Monarch- a cat with nine lives!
- By 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.