The Chronicle Gambia

The Toyin Falola Interviews – A Conversation with Oba Lamidi Adeyemi Iii, Part 1


Toyin Falola

Ikú Bàbá Yèyé

Royal positions in Africa, especially in the pre-colonial time, were not necessarily because the beneficiaries of such exalted hierarchy inherited it by birth. Of course, being born into a royal family places one within the circumference of the possibility of becoming a king, but more important are the virtues and the strength of the individual’s character.  Africans understood what bad leadership could mean for the survival of a people, a household, identity, or even a family. Because of the natural aversion to leadership unvirility or inefficiency, the ascension of an unprogressive individual into the Yoruba kingship stands an odd of zero to ten. This was inevitably so because the position of leadership is reserved not for loafers and myopic individuals who hardly see beyond the boundaries of their nose; instead, it was meant for people who had vision and clarity of purpose, especially when it comes to what they intend to add during their reign. For this reason, the philosophical brilliance of the potential king cannot be undermined in the selection process for various reasons. His emotional intelligence is a necessary precondition too, and his sound and prescient knowledge of economics are fundamental.

While it may appear that the selection of kings in Yorubaland, particularly during the heyday of African pre-colonialism, was partly based on the people’s consultation of Ifa, it should be noted that whoever was indeed selected by the system possessed great qualities expected of progressive leaders, and their reign would have enough positive and desirable impact on the cultural traditions of the people. Ultimately, this would translate to the economic prosperity of their lives, improved financial conditions of the state, more robust moral architecture of the community, and their reign would be marked by incredible success. This tradition has existed from time immemorial among the Yoruba people and continues in places where they have not circumvented the process for some financial advantage. In Oyo, the tradition continues even up to the present postcolonial time. The ascension of Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi in 1970 marked a turning point in the leadership of the ancestral city-state of Oyo that was historically known for different exploits. Oba Adeyemi III has been very diplomatic and circumspect for different reasons. His reign deserves all the accolades it attracts because his outstanding contributions cannot be overemphasized.

To appreciate the significance of his roles and responsibilities, one must first understand what leadership meant to his forebears and what it means now. To his forefathers who single-handedly controlled the economic and political system of an empire, the concept of Western democracy where parallel governance over the subject would be alien, if not vehemently oppressed, for the period of their dominance saw strength as the ability to repel oppositions that threaten the sovereignty of their country and state. Kings felt personally incapable when their kingdom was overrun by invaders who came on the platform of friendship, although with the intention of a parasitic relationship. For this reason, they would expend their energy on challenging such colonial development in their time.

However, change is constant, and as the world evolves, it would be discovered that the sign of strength is not always the ability to crush oppositions and dissidents who express an alternative perspective. Instead, strength is the ability to contain various contradictory positions in the navigation of human physical and political existence, at least in the contemporary understanding. Oba Adeyemi has demonstrated this sense of tranquility and shown that he can live in tandem with the dictates of contemporary time. After all, change is the only constant thing, and he moves with time.

The profile of the current Alaafin of Oyo speaks to this sense of tolerance because there are hardly any instances where he mobilized his subjects to challenge the colonialist establishments that have come to challenge the importance of their suzerainty. This is applaudable, for example, because not only do traditional rulers, especially in the Yorubaland, still wield power to control the affairs of the community over which they preside, they also reserve the right to instigate atrocities that could crumble the social architecture of their sovereignty if they feel threatened. The Alaafin’s position is respectably different for reasons that are not unconnected to the fact of history, which his genealogical power confers on him. For the record, anyone in the Alaafin’s position sits on the throne of numerous authorities who have consolidated their political power and left great legacies in terms of what they accomplished during their reign. We would recall that the historical empire of Oyo attributed to the Yoruba people was created and sustained under the leadership of departed Alaafins, who made aggressive changes that improved the condition of the people.
Photo: Alaafin Palace, Oyo
Source: Pinterest

As it stands, sitting on that stool of power in a time when colonialism has changed the reality of the people can erupt different internal reactions of the king for different reasons. At some point, they may be overtaken by a sudden desire to wrestle the establishment that has forcefully taken away their political power from them, while at some other time, they would be sandwiched between despair and fear. This is the other reason that complicates traditional leadership among nearly all ex-colonies. For this king, however, he has impressively managed the situation greatly and incredibly well. Instead of basking in the euphoria of past glory or withdrawing himself from the world of the present time, Oba Adeyemi has been exceptionally outstanding in his efforts towards the unification of the Yoruba people both at home and in the diaspora to solidify the ancestral relationship that bonded the Yoruba people together. He has demonstrated that even though the political dimensions of the contemporary postcolonial time have changed the structure to favor individuals who, in most cases, have no business with administration or leadership, they still have the mandate to unify their race.

Presently, the Alaafin of Oyo has revolutionized the Yoruba world by standing up to challenge political machinations that seek to impede the progress of the race. He has also refined their political system in such a way that distributive democracy becomes a political order. There are more royal heads in the contemporary time than it was in history, a development that cannot be detached from the manipulations of Western political structures available in modern history, and this has not precluded the Alaafin’s responsibility to ensure that they maintain some decorum in an attempt to promote a common agenda of progress that would catapult the Yoruba people to an enviable position of greatness. Achieving such incredible success has come with series of challenges and castigations from individuals who are either uncomfortable with the existing political structure of the people or those who are jealous of his expansion. This notwithstanding, the king has fulfilled his destiny as he has continued to glow irrespective of the political party in power. He has served important purposes for the people because he accommodates opinions considered necessary for the advancement of the Yoruba, even when people disagree over historical matters.

Oba Adeyemi was born into the Alowolodu Royal House to Oba Raji Adeniran Adeyemi, his father, who ascended the throne in 1945. His great-grandfather, Oba Atiba Atobatele, was the originator of the new Oyo who redefined its political system and set in motion various ideas that transformed the place exponentially. Under the guidance of extended family members, Oba Adeyemi was raised to the satisfaction of the existing cultural traditions because he was educated about several things that have to do with the people’s history. At the time, the western education system was already in place, and it was necessary for potential leaders to be educated so that they could incorporate the ideas and systems that align with the world imperialized by the Western powers into their knowledge. Beyond western education, however, the prospective king was treated to the historical knowledge of the traditional educators who baptized his mind with the memory of events carried out by his forebears from the beginning to the present.

In what would not be understood by non-members of such cultural identity, the education system was aimed at building members of the society in every aspect. So, when one realizes that Alaafin Adeyemi has been exceptionally functional in the political organization of his people and his ancestral suzerainty, such motivation was genetic as much as history has taught us. As laid bare to people in the pre-colonial African time, the knowledge of history served a different but exciting purpose. For one, it gives the individual the clarity of achievement made by his predecessors and allows them to resolve what would be their contributions to what has already been achieved. This was the system by which the people continued to transform themselves to enhance their success and collective progress. When individuals are aware of the immeasurable contributions of their predecessors, they become conscious of what they should do and not do in an attempt to move that record a bit forward for the succeeding generations over whom they would hand the legacy. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Oba Adeyemi’s various efforts to bring about unity and oneness to the Yoruba are an indication that he desires to leave behind a shining and immortal legacy.
Photo: Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III
Source: City People Online

But then, the responsibility placed on him because of the colonial and postcolonial politics has been compelling, as he needed to make remarkable contributions. He has seized the opportunity to expand his leadership significance and establish numerous links for himself as a king in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For example, upon his coronation in 1970, he was involved in several national politics that inevitably demanded his social significance and the need to rise to issues of communal significance. For example, Oba Adeyemi was very active in 1975 when the head of state, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, included him in his entourage to Hajj. The Alaafin was considered a selfless king who did not allow his flair for cultural traditions to overshadow the need for diplomacy, which allowed other religions to thrive under him without unnecessary struggles. He was raised a Muslim, and his love for the religion did not diminish because he ascended his ancestral throne. This attribute promoted his social and political significance in the nation’s politics. The moment he was seen as de-tribalized, he was elected to function in different areas in the country’s politics.

Regardless of his unavoidable involvement in the country’s political engagements imposed on him because of his cultural and identity significance, Oba Adeyemi III remains committed to the course of his ancestral politics that concerns the well-being of the Yoruba people before any other thing. Whenever the welfare of his people is threatened, the king stands firm to defend them and speak fearlessly to the concerned authority with whom lies the political responsibility of Nigerians. In recent times, when different groups are challenging the country’s security apparatus, the king has continued to charge the federal government for the need to come alive to their statutory responsibilities, lending his voice to issues of national impact. He has written to the Nigerian president several times to register his displeasure about how things are done. This is not because he is interested in scoring cheap political points in the country but because he understands that the importance of his leadership in the race is to ensure that disorderliness does not replace orderliness.

Oba Adeyemi is fully aware that on the shoulders of every Yoruba ruler is a burden that they can hardly bear, especially when things go wrong in society. The reason for this is very understandable. In the existing political structures of the people, there is a power hierarchy that puts kings at the zenith of social responsibilities. They are whom people go to immediately anything goes wrong within the community. This is predicated upon a belief that social development and progress have something to do with the leadership in office, and this has nothing to do with the Western political system imposed in colonial and postcolonial times. It is about the spiritual complementarity, or not, of the person in power. It is generally assumed among the Yoruba that once a leader is spiritually unsuitable for the people, there will be a chaos of unknown magnitude and disorderliness of unprecedented exponent. Therefore, to become a representative king is to actively engage the various networks associated with the assurance of stability needed to crystallize projected development as envisaged by the people. Also, the individuals who occupy the seat of power in Oyo and some other primordial city-states like Ile-Ife, Ila, Ede, among others, are considered as the pillars of the Yoruba, and would always stand to oppose predatory pressure from the outside, even if it means sticking their necks out.

The life of Oba Adeyemi III is not one without corresponding ups and downs. In fact, for people of his political and cultural position, as far as nationalist politics is concerned, it is more of the norm than coincidence that they find themselves surrounded by issues that can potentially expose them to controversy. This is necessary because their positions come with a commitment, which, in most cases, require that they take decisions or make choices that would not go well with everyone in the society. Of course, that is the beauty of the plurality of ideas and perspectives. One such occasion happened in the post-election period of 2011, where Oba Adeyemi III was relieved from serving as the Permanent Chairman of the Council of Obas and Chiefs in Oyo State by the then governor of the State, Adebayo Alao-Akala, who alleged that the king had involved himself in partisan politics, as against the moral duty of his leadership role. A king must be neutral in matters of politics, the governor lamented, and in situations where they refuse to live up to this moral standard, they would most likely bear the consequences of their actions. For reasons best known to the Oba, he had engaged in the political process and, therefore, faced the challenges that came with it.

Meanwhile, the king, outside of his political engagement and impact, is lively, lovely and warm. He indulges in things that give happiness and fulfillment to him while he allows himself that opportunity to revitalize his dreams. Like a child graduating to adolescence, he picked interest in boxing as a sport, and he did not allow the myriad of responsibilities that his royal office comes with to overshadow that interest. In equal measure, he pays great attention to issues around his recreational activities while simultaneously attending to political affairs that concern his people. Undoubtedly, the king has a beautiful heart that accommodates plural identities and opinions because he has learned from experience that a society full of diverse people cannot be prevented in a world where migration, transnational exchange of goods and services, cross-border movements, among others, have become inevitable. For this reason, Oba Adeyemi III remains very functional to his traditional roles and the political duties that modern society has brought. This explains why he continues to remain relevant in the political transactions of the country.

Despite all his engagements, the king is a loving father and a great husband to his wives. He inherited a tradition that allowed him to marry as many wives as he wants. He is yet to equal his father’s record! Someone who cannot manage diverse opinions and is emotionally unstable to cater to the numerous challenges of polygamy cannot dare such a marital adventure. Someone who succeeds in managing the affairs of a polygamous family structure is usually respected because he has undergone a series of events that could capsize his financial, social, emotional, and even spiritual journey in life. This is why individuals like Oba Adeyemi III are socially respected for the strides they have made with their lives.

Oba Adeyemi III is a mixture of excellence and competence, an epitome of brilliance and intelligence, a combination of visionary leadership and purposeful technocrat. He has committed himself to the cause of the Yoruba people while simultaneously contributing to the country’s affairs within his capacity. He is brave, and he continues to demonstrate his capacity for instigating revolutionary ideas, which explains why his popularity spans beyond the boundaries of Nigeria. He is respected both at home and away, and the number of diaspora Yoruba hold him in high esteem for the wondrous things he is doing to change the course of the Yoruba people globally for good. There are many kings in Africa, but the truth remains that not many of them have reached the exalted position associated with their traditional positions. And though political power has shifted to Western political representation, this does not negate the significance of traditional rulers. Kings have more power than the country’s political elite because they have easier access to the people.

Photo: Interior view of Alaafin Palace
Source: North of Lagos

Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi III, the reigning Alaafin of Oyo, belongs to a select group of notable Obas who have transformed their societies through ideas and philosophies while also creating an environment conducive to the advancement the people seek.

Please join us for a conversation with the Iku Baba Yeye, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

5:00 PM Nigeria

4:00 PM GMT

11:00 AM Austin CST


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