Alaafin of Oyo Kingdom, Alaiyeluwa Oba (Dr.) Abdul Hameed Olayiwola Adeyemi III
HE ALAAFIN OF OYO KINGDOM, Alaiyeluwa Oba (Dr.) Abdul Hameed Olayiwola Adeyemi III is a monarch with class. He is an enigma by every standard and a chance meeting with him is like an expository adventure through a school of history.
The very urbane monarch, who worked as an insurance officer before heeding the natural call of the gods, through the Oyomesi to ascend the throne of his fore-fathers as the Alaafin of the greatest kingdom in the history of the black race - The Oyo Kingdom - is a man at home with himself at all times, as he exudes confidence in all his dealings.
One enviable highpoint in the life of this great monarch is his deep knowledge and high sense of recounting historic events with facts and figures; and with an accuracy that'll beat the imagination of youthful intellectuals. The Alaafin, at his age still remembers events of over a hundred years old, and still writes his scripts unaided. He is a consummate reader and would pass any day, for a professor of ancient/modern history and archaeology.
He spoke to a team of Focus editorial staff recently in his expansive palace, on a wide range of issues, bordering more on the rich heritage of the famous Oyo kingdom. Welcome on a historic excursion!
Kabiyesi, we would like you to recount the history of the famous Oyo Kingdom for the benefits of your children in the Diaspora
The old Oyo Empire was one of the earliest and probably, the greatest independent race in West Africa, south of the equator. At the height of its existence, the old Oyo Empire dominated all Yoruba kingdoms namely Ife, Ijesha, Egba, Ijebu, Sabe and Owu. The area occupied by the Yoruba Kingdom in south-west Nigeria, is roughly enclosed by latitude 5 and 8 degree North of the equator and Longitude 5 and 21/2 degree East. There are two versions to the origin of the Yoruba race - Migration and Aboriginality. These two theories may not necessarily be contradictory in the sense that our oral tradition was handed down to us by purely non-natives.
But this is a universal phenomenon because if you realise that at one time in history, you have the whites in South Africa; the Eastern and Southern Rhodesia, all living together on the basis of long co-existence. The same experience is also recorded in the case of migration, as there are historical and empirical evidences documented in the famous Lugard lecture series, as well as, in the researches of Saburi Biobaku, (the world acclaimed historian) that the Yoruba race is so large and wide, that it stands today as the greatest and strongest empire ever, in the entire continent of Africa.
The reign of Oranmiyan marked a new phase in Yoruba history as it witnessed the executive transfer of political power from Ile-Ife to Oyo, and thereafter, Oyo become the political headquarter of the Yoruba race, and that is where the Alaafin presides from.
According to historical studies, the Oyo palace is estimated to be sitting on about 640 acres. We still have excavations of the old Oyo Empire, and centuries after, some of the walls of the old Oyo Empire, are still standing in its original form. That is a great testimony of the architectural ingenuity of the Yoruba race.
The old Yoruba Empire distinguished itself in the world; with three very distinctive and unique models. First, it evolved a wonderfully developed constitution, though unwritten. The average Yoruba man is governed by strong convention. Secondly, the Yorubas evolved a military system that allows them to develop weaponry. The Yorubas are the first to smith iron and thus, they built foundries from where they also produced agricultural implements to boost food production. Thirdly, the Yoruba race evolved a very practical method of administration, by adopting the cabinet system of governance. If you are a good student of the evolution of British Constitution, you'd know that the cabinet system came about in Britain only as a matter of temporal expedience; it was not by design. So, as far back as the 16th Century, the old Oyo Empire developed the cabinet system of government. And from the Prime Minister, to the Alaafin, and the various divisional heads, all tiers have their roles and responsibilities clearly spelt out and adhered to with separation of powers, and inputs for checks and balances.
The military command structure is so unique that the Aare Ona Kakanfo as the generalissimo of the military led the Oyo war lords successfully to many battles between the 13th and 16th century that preserved the territorial integrity, of the Yoruba race. And during this time, Oyo extended its territorial limits up to Nupe, Dahomey, Abome, Wema, and other parts of Togo land. And today, these people are offshoots of the great Yoruba Kingdom.
Can we then say that this extension was a sort of expansionist agenda?
I won't say it is. But you see, if you're surrounded by hostile neighbours, you have to be very vigilant. We trained our army first, to ward off all external aggression, as well as protect our territorial integrity so as to have peace and economic prosperity. And for Yorubas who are natural traders to go about their dealings without feeling insecure, wherever they are under the Alaafin's domain, there was need to extend our military might to protect our people, all over.
When Dahomey attacked the smaller state of Wema in 774, the royal heads there ran to Oyo for support and the Alaafin had to raise forces to recapture the town, and that was how Dahomey came under the control of the Alaafin at the time.
It couldn't be expansionist rather; it is as a result of the aggression by other forces threatening the existence of smaller states. If you read your history books very well, you'd discover that the mere mention of "Alaafin" or "Oyo" strikes fear into other adjoining towns. The old Oyo Empire is dreaded and admired for its wide powers and influence.
Because of the strong history culturally, politically, linguistically, and traditionally there are so many things that Oyo gave to the Yoruba nation. The language we speak is the authentic version of Yoruba dialect, the drums, the clothes we wear, the way we build our houses, our ingenious corridor systems, and our underground drainage system which was designed many centuries ago. One can therefore say that civilisation started from the Yoruba race! The Yorubas established a contact with the Portuguese as far back as the 17th century and the Alaafin had maintained an ambassador with the Court of Portugal, ever since.
Kabiyesi, you have said that civilisation started from here. Would it be right then to say that Yorubas were Oyo, and vice versa?
The Oyos were not called Yorubas originally. Other groups that made up the Yoruba race preferred at the time (centuries ago) to be called Egbas, Ijeshas and whatever name they desired. But by the 19th century there was need to forge a common ground and have a standard linguistic form hence, the Oyo dialect was embraced by all Yorubas. So Yorubas are Oyo's by origin.
Many Yoruba youths believe that a town like Ilorin ought to be under Oyo Kingdom. And recently some chiefs were up graded to First Class traditional heads. What is Kabiyesi's view on this?
You see, water will always find its level, and history is very potent, no matter how hard we try to submerge it. It's like blood and water; and you know too that blood is thicker than water. Ilorin has always been a Yoruba town. Afonja was sent there, as the generalissimo of the Yoruba soldiers to protect that flank of the Oyo kingdom from the invasion of the Fulani and the Nupes.
Somehow, he got too ambitious and invited the dissident groups to his camp; cutting himself away from the major ethnic groups. Having realized that he had betrayed them, the Yoruba stock organized a palace coup and overthrew him.
The history of Ilorin is well documented. There's nowhere in Africa that you'll see a Fulani man claiming possession of Ilorin. The language, culture, nomenclature, and even tradition of Ilorin are Yoruba; and Ilorins are Yorubas. There is no dispute about this empirical fact.
How do you run this expansive palace? Do you get funding from government and why has this palace not been developed as to the status of a tourist attraction?
Well, I have written so many memoranda to the government to declare the palace a national monument. First as a major tourist attraction and more for people, from far and wide to see the architectural ingenuity of our people, so that these things are not lost; for the benefit of today's generation and those to come in the future.
When Professor Armstrong (An American) who was the Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, read the memorandum, he came here. I conducted him round the palace, and through the underground buildings which allows the Alaafin to go round the palace without coming under the direct ray of sunlight or rainfall. He marvelled, and subsequently put up a paper to the National Museum but because of the political situation in the country at the time, nothing came out of that process.
Up till now, successive governments have not yet made up their minds on what to do in preserving this rich heritage of the Yoruba race. Whether to make it a national monument or a site for tourists does not seem to be their priority, for now.
As for your other question, the running and upkeep of the palace has been the responsibility of the working class men and women of the divisions that make up the Oyo Kingdom. And the state pays the Alaafin's salaries while the palace is also maintained from the state's purse. The Alaafin have no need to spend his money to run the palace if he so desires.
What is the ascendancy process to the throne of the Alaafin?
There are two main ruling houses recognised by statute to produce the Alaafin. At the demise of one Alaafin, the crown is given to the other ruling house. The first Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Atiba convened a constitutional conference of the Yorubas before he died, to discuss the succession process so that when he dies, the question of who becomes the next Alaafin does not tear the Yoruba race apart. The conference agreed that an Aremo (the crown prince) who normally would die with his father should no longer be made to die with the king. And if he's found worthy and capable by the Oyomesi (the kingmakers) to be appointed the Alaafin, he would be crowned. Otherwise, other aspirants who are eligible and are seen by the Oyomesi to be qualified to carry the heavy responsibilities of the Alaafin would be appointed to the throne.
When Atiba died, Kurunmi the Aare Ona Kakanfo at the time (15th century) reneged on the agreements. But other Yoruba nations disagreed with him, on the basis that the decision of the confab be upheld; this led to the Ijaiye war, which claimed the lives of Kurunmi and all his five children. So the succession to the throne rotates round the two major ruling houses of Ladigbolu and Adeyemi.
What does Kabiyesi think we need do to make the traditional institution more relevant to our nation politically?
The traditional institution has contributed to the political discourse of this nation. Some of us went through travails, especially during the Abacha era, for being very bold and outspoken. Though the office of the Oba does not play partisan politics, we make ourselves relevant in the political reality of the country by offering very constructive advice to our leaders.
We have channels through which we reach the authorities. We use both diplomatic and sometimes person-to-person contact to make our suggestions to them, for the betterment of the nation. It is up to them to accept and act by these advices.
Drawing from the rich reservoir of knowledge and wisdom of our forefathers, I believe we are strategically placed to offer advice to those in political authority to guide them to take good decisions. This is because, yesterday, today and tomorrow are cyclically related. Today is yesterday's future, by tomorrow, today will be the past, so in order for us to be relevant, we look substantially to what happened in the past and draw from it to offer our advice.
We are not in competition with our sons and daughters who hold political power today, but in a democracy, the usefulness of the pragmatic solutions to problems as may be proffered by the traditional institution cannot be over-emphasized. The traditional institution is very relevant in the scheme of things because it is closer to the people at the grassroots, which is where the power of the masses lies. Traditional rulers are revered and held in high esteem thus, they tend to have more grip and control on the populace.
So as traditional fathers of the nation we'd not cease to give concrete advice and suggestions to those in authority for the benefit of our people. It is left for them to listen to us, or act otherwise.
What were you doing before ascending the throne of your forefathers?
I was an insurance officer before becoming the Alaafin of Oyo. The contest to my emerging as the Alaafin actually started in 1968. I was invited along with ten others from my ruling house that contested for the vacant stool. Our candidature passed through the channels that it should go, (through the Babayaji, who is the official head of the princes). He took us to the Oyomesi for screening and we went through series of processes.
There are three parameters with which we were judged. First is eligibility, which is one's nearness to the throne. Secondly, one's popularity was considered and thirdly the ability to be able to carry the huge responsibilities of the office of the Alaafin of Oyo. We were put through rigorous screening and questioning at the end of which I emerged successful.
However, the government at the time refused to endorse my appointment, saying the procedure was not right; but we knew their action was more political, because of the travails of my late father when he was the Alaafin.
The process was started all over again yet, the Oyomesi picked me, and for the second time I was refused endorsement by the government. Same thing happened the third time. Immense pressure was put on the Oyomesi against my choice because the government had vested interest in their own candidate. But the Oyomesi stood its ground! The process was thereafter put in abeyance until after the civil war, when the process was started afresh. The Oyomesi still picked me.
I was chosen by the kingmakers on 18th November 1970 and the government approved and gazetted my appointment in December 1970; and I moved into the palace after completing the necessary rites.
Through the process, one was inducted into the mysteries of the various gods, like the Ifa mysteries, and the Sango mysteries. One was also made to undergo these inductions in order to be the direct representative of these deities on earth. You are taken through these processes so as to know all the chants, the proverbs, and the Oriki of all the past Obas.
You must also be able to know the Ifa, the praise-songs, as well as understand the sound of the drums in Yorubaland like Bata, Apekpe, Gangan, Dudun, Shekere, and Agogo. After mastering these entire features you are then crowned.
I was crowned at an impressive ceremony on the 14th of January 1971.
Kabiyesi used to be a boxer. Do you still train, Sir?
I also run, and I played football as well, but people know me more in boxing. I have awards in all these other sports. I still jog and do a lot of road walk. I do as mush as six (6) kilometres if time permits and whenever I don't have official engagements, on Saturdays or Sundays. I still skip the rope! And hectic as this responsibility is, I try not to have any dull moments in my life. I have good health.
What is Kabiyesi's best food?
I eat Amala, Pounded Yam, Abula and Ogi. Normal food, simple!
Is there any clash between your faith as a Muslim and the demands of your office as the traditional custodian of our cultural heritage?
The Yoruba race is one of the best organised anywhere in the world. We are very liberal in the sense that religion is not allowed to creep into the governance of the Yoruba race. I don't care what your religious faith is in the cabinet of the Alaafin; what matters are your contributions to improving the lot of your community. That is (absolutely) important.
As the father of all, the Alaafin practices his own religion without discriminating against others in their choice of religious inclination. If you go to my office, you'd see a copy of the Bible and the Quran.
I can recite the Quran as much as I can make references to the Bible. I am also at home with the Ifa priests just as I can communicate with Sango deities in their own language.
I am liberal as far as religion is concerned. But I don't joke with my prayers as a Muslim because I cherish the Quran a lot. It may interest you to know that I was brought up in a strict Christian home, in Lagos. I also went to a Catholic school in Lagos. I am a free mixer.
SOME WONDERS FROM THE PALACE
Artwork on the walls of the palace
In the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo Kingdom, there is one character that has stood like a constant star in the day-to-day goings on around the compound. He is a petite looking man of about 3 feet, in height. He is simply known as Baba Morenikeji, and he's reported to be about 130 years old. He told Focus that he's the head of the palace guards. We learnt that he has served three successive Alaafins and is still active in the palace till date.
Pa Morenikeji stands as one of Kabiyesi's most influential aides such that every visitor gets to meet him first by the palace corridors before getting to see the monarch. The man is said to be single and has no child. It is amazing that at his age he is still very agile and smart. He does not use any walking stick as his legs still carry him strongly. He does not use eyeglasses, and his dentition is still in place for a man his age.
Many prefer to describe Pa Morenikeji as an unusual creature but he sees himself as a normal human being. He is one of the wonders in the palace, no doubt.
Tortoise in the garden
There's this ancient fish pond where the Alaafin keeps gold fishes. The pond is as old as the palace and is still in place in the garden.
To many who knew that the monarch used to be a boxer in his youthful days, it would astound one to know that the Kabiyesi still trains and skips the rope. We saw the punching bag he uses for training in the garden courtyard.