BY FEMI KEHINDE
History, being a living subject, grows, dynamically against old prejudices. No wonder, George Santayana rightly said that “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it’s failures.” Owo history and its crisis are certainly replete with conflicts among siblings of the same family, bearing different names.
Thus, when the history is being retold from very shortsighted perspectives, it offends the sensibilities of those who know the authentic format and reading of history.
The attempt by eminent journalist, Dare Babarinsa, to revisit this same Owo history in his piece entitled Three reigns and a new king published by The Guardian newspaper of the 19th September, 2019 is in this category. The piece, certainly, would be odious and distasteful to an emerging Owo that has been freed from the hoopla and the shenanigans of the past. The new Olowo certainly deserves a peaceful reign.
This piece reeks of a tang of unpardonable inaccuracies which deserve a rebuttal of its historical railroad and perhaps, most urgent, is the need to place history in its proper stead, lest those who may make reference to the Babarinsa piece as a reference point, be thrown into a wild goose chase of believing it to be a proper reading of this very important historical intersection in the lives of the people of Owo and Yoruba people in general. This will invariably provoke the need for the Owo people, to discourage violence and promote unity among the seemingly peaceful dynasties.
The history of Owo in its true perspective, perhaps, needs to be revisited. Destiny, being a harbinger, has an uncanny hand, in the affairs and conduct of human life. Oba Olateru- Olagbegi II, was the Olowo of Owo, between 1941 to 1966 and later 1993 – 1998. Owo is an
ancient city in 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 respectful, amiable and a 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, namely 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) and Olowo Olateru-Olagbegi II 1993 to 1998, Oba Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi III, who ascended the throne, and succeeded his father in April 1999, and died on the 16th of April, 2019 at the age of 77. He has now, been succeeded by Oba Ajibade Gbadegesin Ogunoye, son of the late Oba Adekola Ogunoye II, who succeeded Olateru Olagbegi in 1968, and whom Olateru-Olagbegi II succeeded in 1993. Sir Olateru-Olagbegi was twice a monarch.
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 fractionalised 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. Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Olateru-Olagbegi were initial colleagues, cousins, 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.
Oba Olateru-Olagbegi was instrumental to the community scholarship granted Michael 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, II and was Principal till 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 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, whilst Ajasin was a Federal Legislator. The Military putsch of January 1966, encouraged the Owo community to organise persistent revolts, riots and mayhems against Oba Olateru- Olagbegi II, and this forced the Adekunle Fajuyi government to suspend him from the throne in June 1966. 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 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. 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 banished to Okitipupa. On 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 which 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 tale and dark eclipse in the history of Owo.
As a result of the violence, arson and destruction in Owo, about 99 houses belonging to Olagbegi’s supporters, as well as his own 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. 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 were valued at £36,548.2S. Olateru-Olagbegi II, was certainly, not an indigent Oba. The period between 1962 and 1966 were certainly periods of the greatest political dispersals, intrigues, power play, subterfuge, innuendos and deep hatred in the Western
Region and perhaps by extension, in Nigeria. To Obafemi Awolowo, it was a period of- “fierce and howling storms and a four year journey through the dark and dreary tunnel”, and it certainly was. To Samuel Ladoke Akintola, he had said that in whatever circumstance, he was “content to stir the affairs of the Western Region resolutely in the opposite direction”. He said further in his broadcast speech to the people of the Western Region-”I have no apologies to offer in this regard and I am content to be judged by the outcome of events and history.”
In the midst of these contending forces and political fratricidal warfare, Canon Alayande, a strong member of the Action Group and the Principal of Ibadan Grammar School, had on the 19th of February, 1962, written a letter to Chief Awolowo and advised him to be prepared to- “make extreme self sacrifice and self abnegation… you will need to be less inflexible and more condescending”.
The Action Group Party had its 8th Annual Congress at the African Sports Club, Jos, from the 1st of February to the 8th of February, 1962. In his opening remarks at the Congress as the President of the Party, Chief Awolowo acknowledged the existence of real and dangerous contradictions within the Party. At this Congress, due to the subterfuge, Chief S.G Ikoku, was made a Federal Secretary to the party, as against Chief Ayo Rosiji, a founding member of the party, whilst Chief Bola Ige became the Publicity Secretary. It would be recalled that earlier in 1956, Chief S.G Ikoku had contested election to the Eastern Region House of Assembly against his biological father- Chief Alvan Ikoku, who he defeated by 59 votes. At the conference, the young turks- Prof. H.E Ajose, S.G Ikoku, Prof Victor Oyenuga, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, Dr. Onabamiro, Bola Ige, Prof. Sam Aluko etc were very prominent. Earlier, on the 30th of January, 1962, at a meeting of the Federal Executive Council in Jos, Chief Oshuntokun and Honourable Adigun, Ladoke apologists, had stirred the hornets, by looking Chief Awolowo straight in his face by challenging the Leader’s right to co-opt some members into the Executive Council. The leader and his Deputy- Chief Ladoke, were provided accommodation at the Jos Hills Station Hotel by Barrister Morohundiya, a strong member of the party. The Premier, upon his arrival in Jos got in touch immediately with Prince Oladunni Oyewunmi, a very prominent and successful business man in Jos and also a native of Ogbomoso, Ladoke’s home town, (and now, the Soun of Ogbomoso). Prince Oladunni Oyewunmi immediately proceeded to the Jos station Hotel, where Ladoke was accommodated, to receive him. Chief Awolowo and S.L.A were lodged in Presidential suites 18 and 2, at the Hotel. Oladunni felt uncomfortable with this arrangement and decided to move the Premier to a different accommodation within the Hotel premises- a three bedroom apartment. He instantly arranged for a P&T telephone line for the Premier’s Apartment and he also took over responsibility for the Premier’s comfort and hospitality while in Jos.
However, the open salvo of discord was fired when Chief Akintola took permission from the Leader to excuse himself from the congress for about two days. His mission was to go back to Ibadan to receive his brother Premier- Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region, who was to be honoured by the naming of a Male Hostel- Sultan Ahmadu Bello Hall, after him at the University of Ibadan. The leader, Chief Awolowo felt utter disgust and repulsion about this visit. He was actually rattled. It was like adding insult to injury.
The Party did not support the visit and advised S.L.A to postpone the visit, at least, until after the Party congress that was billed to take place at the same time. The Premier felt that protocol and courtesy and the Yoruba traditional hospitality welcomed according visitor, a befitting welcome. To some of Awolowo’s loyalists, Ahmadu Bello’s visit was seen as a ploy to scuttle the conference and perhaps prevent unsavoury decisions that might have to be taken against S.L.A Akintola at the Congress.
In his autobiography, published in 2003- Ajasin- Memoirs and Memories,- Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, explaining his disagreement with the Olowo Olagbegi II had said-
“James Titus Olateru-Olagbegi was until the 27th of January, 1941, an Olori Ebi Omo Olowo (Head of the descendants of Olowo). On that day, he was elected by the king makers of Owo.
And on the 13th of March, 1941, he was installed as the Olowo of Owo. Some ten years later in 1951, he had become the proprietor of Imade College, the establishment of which he spearheaded. In the same year he became not only a member of the Regional House of Chiefs, but also a minister without portfolio in the Western Regional Government.
“At the time he was installed in 1941, the quest of Owo people for a secondary school was already in progress. But Oba Olagbegi added considerable impetus to it which is natural for anybody just placed in a new office.
“In fact, his impatience in getting the school started before it was fully ready to take off could be explained at least in part by his enthusiasm and desire to use the school project to demonstrate to his people that he was really a capable Oba.
“As a matter of fact, I found him a very pleasant person to work with when I took over the college as principal. So, for a long time, we maintained an excellent relationship and worked in unison to advance the progress of our community.
“But as fate would have it or should I say as politics would have it, we later had to part ways on a matter of principle.”
Certainly, their fall-out, was a case of Ija lode, lorin dowe”, as the Yorubas would say.
In the palace, Oba Olagbegi II had tennis and squash courts, soccer/golf field, swimming pool, orchard, botanical garden and a mini zoo – crocodile, varieties of fishes, ostriches and guinea fowls. For educational purpose, students from Owo and neighbouring towns frequently toured these facilities free of charge.
He wanted the best for his people. He ensured that Owo town had water, light, several banks, recreation center, hospital, maternity center, assembly hall, activity halls, museum, training center for women, trade center for youth, several elementary schools, several high schools and two teacher training colleges. Not surprising, Owo people are some of the most educated people in Nigeria.
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, take good care 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.
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 rules, 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 enemies, 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 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 antagonist 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. 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 Party, 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. One begins to wonder, what the 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 Party 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.
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, the ex
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 and then 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 S, J.A Agbaje and B. Okagbo. In the Lead Judgment of Justice Mamman Nasir, he 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, thus ended 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. 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. The Governor of Ondo State, Evangelist Bamidele Olomilua, approved of his 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. 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 in addition, 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, whilst dancing round the city, Olagbegi would have taken over the palace. Such was the level of mutual distrust, antagonisms and fears that pervaded the city of Owo during 25 years of Oba Ogunoye as Olowo. 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. In Yoruba land, monarchs are usually blessed with numerous wives. Polygamy is not a crime or a case of liking women but a cultural function of royalty.
In sweet juxtaposition and parenthesis, Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II, the Alaafin of Oyo was equally deposed as Alaafin by the Western Regional Government around the middle of 1955, following the outcome of the Floyd commission of inquiry.
At the tottering age of 84, Adeniran Adeyemi was told by the regional government, to pack his kit and take a walk from the palace and that was a journey into the unknown, that ended with his demise on the 14th of February, 1960. From Iwo-Oke, to Ilesha and then to Egerton lane in Lagos, the ex Alaafin- Alhaji Adeniran Adeyemi, certainly saw the other side of life after palace. Alhaji N.B Soule, a rich Dahomian, now known as (Republic of Benin), who came to Lagos in 1929, offered Adeniran the needed succour and encouragement at this trying period. He offered him and his entourage bed and lodgings in the name of Allah and in allegiance
to the NCNC. The NCNC as a party whom the Alaafin loved, fought for his reinstatement, with various petitions to the colonial secretary and parliamentary warfare on the floor of the Western House of Assembly. Alaafin Adeniran Adeyemi once rhapsodized- “I was sent away by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group government, because of my unflinching support for the cause of the NCNC … I
am not angry with Chief Awolowo, in fact I am not angry with any one person or group of persons or organisations, I am only angry with destiny, in that it has chosen to push me out of my palace and stool, to face the uncertainties of life at my old age. The £210 from the regional government was cut off.”
In exile in Lagos, at the No. 31 Egerton Lane, thousands of men and women flocked the residence, to pay their respect and obeisance, to the 88 year old ex monarch, and in retrospect and appreciation, he once said “These people are very kind and their daily respect to me reminds me of my palace at Oyo. And there were many people in that palace during my time. I had over 200 wives and many children and of course, I was receiving a stipend of £210 every month from the regional government. This, together with the gifts many of my subjects were making me, was enough to support my household. What you see here, though the best of the worst, is not like homehome is still the best.”
The ex Alaafin, always had about 30 odd wives at a time in Lagos. These 30 from the pool of 200 wives, will come at one time and spend all the time they can afford, with their ex-royal husband and go back to Oyo- making place for another 30, who would come and take over from them, until the number was rounded up and began to rotate again.
Owo’s late 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, called to the Bar in 1968, 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 Ekwueme 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 was a senior Advocate of Nigeria. Among Sir Olagbegi’s children were also Professor Banji Olateru-Olagbegi former Rector of Federal Polytechnic Ilaro and founding Rector of Nasarawa polytechnic, Rtd Justice Adesuyi Olateru-Olagbegi of the Lagos High Court, Olori Akiolu, the wife of the current Lagos, Mornach- Oba Rilwan Aki olu, Princess Nireti Adebayo, Sola Olateru-Olagbegi, Prince Adeniyi Olateru-Olagbegi, Prince Adefolaju Olateru-Olagbegi, among many other successful, distinguished and eminent children of the late Sir Olateru-Olagbegi. Rolake Olagbegi was once Africa’s Lawn Tennis champion, having won the gold medal in 1987 All Africa Games. Wale Olagbegi officiated as umpire in the prestigious Wimbledon.
It is now a duty call for the Owo people, to continually celebrate this unusual Monarch, Olateru-Olagbegi II- a cat with nine lives and to furthermore ensure a peaceful reign of the current Monarch- Olowo Gbadegesin Ogunoye. There is need, to promote a reign, that would be devoid of rancours, bickering, old prejudices and unwarranted animosities.
- Hon Femi Kehinde, legal practitioner and former Member, House of Representatives
National Assembly Abuja, represented Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003).