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Asiwaju: Alake, Olota supremacy battle historical, but not relevant



For the foremost historian, Emeritus Prof Anthony Asiwaju, the supremacy tussle between the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Gbadebo Adedotun and Olota of Ota, Oba Abdulkadir Obalanlege within the current kingship system, is uncalled for, just as he traced the historical relationship of the two Yoruba settlements. Muyiwa Adeyemi (Head South West Bureau Ibadan) reports.

What is the historical relationship between the Egbas and Aworis in Ogun State, Nigeria?
We must begin to answer the question of what the historical relationship is between what you have called the ‘Egbas’ and the ‘Aworis’ in Ogun State, by underscoring the apparent assumption you yourself would appear to have made that there is significant differentiation in either group.

In other words in spite of the seeming homogeneity assumed in each of the two distinct cover names, there are important differentiations. It’s, for example, trite that there are among the Egba in Abeokuta such easily distinguishable units or subgroups as the Egba Alake, Egba Okeona and Egba Gbagura, to say nothing about the Owu, who very rarely feel comfortable to be identified as Egba, each with its own dialect, though of the same Yoruba language, and each organised as a distinct and even rival kingdom or chiefdom.


The Awori is similarly internally differentiated, not only in terms of different slants of the local Yoruba dialect, but also diverse traditional kingdoms, such as Ado Odo, Igbesa and Agbara, whose traditional rulers are key members of Yewa Traditional Council, presided over by the Olu of Ilaro as its Paramount Ruler; and, then, Ota, with its traditional ruler, the Olota, as a member of the Egba Traditional Council, which is presided over by the Alake as Paramount Ruler. 

In Ogun State, the intergroup relationship(s) must be seen in terms of the history of the interactions that have much of their origins in the hostilities generated by the infamous 19th-century wars and warfare that threw the whole of Yorubaland into a huge and sprawling battlefield from about 1793 to 1893, when British hegemons broke a regional piece, only to impose their own imperialism and colonial rule that gave birth to the Nigerian State-Nation as we have it today.

The foregoing suggests that to answer the question about what the historical relationship(s) is/ are between ‘Egbas’ and ‘Aworis’, we need to know what brands or units in each that we are talking about.

In the case of the Awori of Ota, for example, this question of what Egba group is especially important, as we know that the problem is not just one with the Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, but also with the Olowu of the Owu Kingdom in Abeokuta, leading to the conflicting claims between the two ‘Egba’ monarchs, as to who should exercise the authority to appoint baales first and now coronet Obas in villages in and around Ota, which the Olota of Ota claims as falling in the area of his prescribed authority.

How do you see the supremacy tussle between the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Gbadebo Adedotun and Olota of Ota, Oba Abdulkadir Obalanlege within the current kingship system?
Historically, of course! Quite a range of highly reputed historians have researched the relevant issues relating to the political turbulences of the 19th century Yoruba wars, including the impacts on the areas of present-day Ogun Central and Ogun West Senatorial Districts, with special reference to the historic Ota District of the colonial Abeokuta Province, not ‘Egba Province’, as today’s politicians of ‘Ijebu/Remo Agenda forum prejudicially prefer to refer to it. They include not only such world-renowned pioneer African and Africanist historians as Prof Saburi Oladeni Biobaku in his The Egba and Their Neighbours, Oxford University Press at Clarendon, 1957; J.F.Ade. Ajayi and Robert Smith in their separately researched studies, put together and published as Nineteenth century Yoruba Warfare, Cambridge University Press, 1965; and Isaac Adeagbo Akinjogbin in his extremely thoughtful edited volume, War and Peace in Yorubaland, 1793-1893, Heinemann Educational Books, Ibadan, 1998; but also the relatively younger generation such as the highly intellectually enterprising Kola Folayan in his fascinating ‘ The Egbado and Yoruba-Aja Power Politics, 1832-1894’, Ibadan, M.A. Dissertation, 1967 and our own follow-up Western Yorubaland Under European Rule, 1889-1945: A Comparative Analysis of French and British Colonialism, Longman Group, London, 1976.


They all contain accounts of how the new Egba state of Abeokuta, itself at foundation a refugee camp of survivors of war-devastated homesteads in the abandoned historic Egba Forest to the east of the settlement ‘under the rock’, engaged in what they perceived to be ‘preemptive’ wars against their neighbours, notably the ethnically diverse and loosely organised western neighbours, including the Awori of Ota, which was definitely overrun and taken in 1841.

Although Ado Odo, one other Awori community survived the holocaust, it was thanks to the intervention of the Christian missionaries, notably the CMS, that a gruesome thirteen- year Egba siege, 1840 to 1853, was lifted. What remained of Western Yorubaland, the area of present-day Ogun West Senatorial District, was not so lucky, as town after town fell victim of armed invasions of powerful neighbours in multiple directions especially the Egba of Abeokuta to the east and the Fon of Agbome (Abomey in French documentation) to the west. 

While the colonial boundary arrangements (the inter-colonial between Nigeria and Dahomey to the west, and the intra-colonial, especially the so-called Egba- Egbado Divisional Boundary to the east) guaranteed to the lands and communities in-between, is today’s Yewaland, hitherto misnamed Egbado Division, the widely desired and popularly demanded protection against the Egba on the British side of the new inter-sovereignty border, and Dahomeans now completely cut off and absolutely contained on the French side. 

The Awori of Ota and the former Egbado in Ibara, Ilewo, Isaga, and Imalaa were not so fortunate, as they were placed in Egba Division, is east of the Egba-Egbado Boundary, ‘in a chain’, to use the term of a later agitation for the adjustment of the boundary.
Egba people claimed to have conquered Ota and Awori villages during the 1841 war but Ota said they were the one that saved Egbas from Oyo war. What is the true situation?

The answer to your question here has been provided in the extended response to your first question. There was a conquest in 1841, of course. But the more pertinent question is whether the effect of the episode of the 19th-century wars must continue to hold, even in the face of modern constitutional provisions that mandate against all forms of inhumanity and oppression.


In respect of the claim by Ota to have fought to liberate the Egba from Oyo, I must say that in my reading so far, I have not come across the evidence. Lisabi was the legendary Egba liberator, and am not aware that he or anyone in the aaro group he mobilised to achieve the feat early in the second half of the 18th century in the Old Egba Forest was an Awori from Ota.

Olota has described Alake as a junior monarch, claiming that the first Olota, Oba Ikoriku Taribo was coronated in 1621 whereas the first Alake of Egbaland Sagbua Okunkenu was coronated in 1854, how will you describe these claims?
As you know, I have, in a previous interview granted on the subject supremacy tussle among Yoruba Obas, the realm is always out of rational arguments based on verifiable evidence. Take the example of the name of the first Olota and the date, 1621, generously indicated for his coronation! 

Who has the right to install coronets in Awori villages, Alake or Olota?
To answer this question, we would need to cast our minds back to conceptual issues that have been discussed: ‘coronets’ in what ‘Awori villages’? Since this interview is focused on Ota, Olota and Alake, I take it that what is in the reference are Awori villages in Ota District.

In that case, we need to bear in mind that the interests are of more than of the two named monarchs. There is also the Olowu of Owu. It’s quite a bit of mess that the unquestioned attachment to hangovers of our 19th-century history has created among the Awori in the Ota axis of the Yoruba sub-culture area.

How can we reduce, if not stop, the incessant supremacy tussle among Yoruba traditional rulers?
I think the first thing to note is that this tussle is, by far, more noticeable among Yoruba rulers in the core of the culture area in the Southwestern Nigerian geopolitical zone, made up of the six federated states of Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Lagos.

The flare-ups are less among traditional rulers in historically culture areas in Nigeria’s South-South, such as in Edo and Delta State, and even less frequently heard among traditional rulers in the Yoruba extended communities in limitrophe Republics of Benin and Togo.


The immediate past Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Benin, Oba Alao Aladeife, was, for example, startled at the elaborate civic reception accorded him by Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State at the State House in Abeokuta on June 6, 2006, when the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo in a welcome address as host Oba referred to the visiting Yoruba monarch as his ‘junior brother’, citing a usually queriable Ake-biased oral tradition as source of his claim.

Of course, in his response, the Alaketu demonstrated a greater maturity, not only by laying a counter-claim of being ‘ the father’ of the Alake, citing more credible historical sources that Professor Biobaku, revered Ba- Pitan of the Egba, has quoted in the very first chapter of his book, The Egba, and Their Neighbours. 

The visiting monarch also took his time to teach Oba Gbadebo and other Yoruba traditional rulers present, notably members of the Ogun State Council of Obas, a lesson in the more ultimate purpose for Yoruba Obas: the unity, peace, and even development of the culture area, regardless of the colonially negotiated border that tends to permanently separate the people, that in their public utterances, Yoruba Obas as custodians of the people’s culture should be guided and guarded to emphasize what unites rather than what divides.

The Alaketu’s comments summarise the only reasonable advice for stemming the tide of Yoruba royal feuds in Southwestern Nigeria.


The new Alaketu is to be customarily crowned this Saturday, July 27 (yesterday): what’s the significance of the event for Yorubaland?
The importance of this event coming up on Saturday is evident already in the history we just narrated about the immediate past Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Benin. It points to the bigger importance of the Yoruba than in Southwestern Nigeria. There are critical territorial extensions of the homeland in Benin, Togo, and southeastern Ghana, in addition to the well known historical diaspora communities in Latin America, notably Brazil and Cuba, as well as in the West Indies, especially, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.

The Ketu subgroup are particularly famous and culturally influential in Benin and Brazil, especially the State of Bahia and notably the State capital, El Salvador, which the people call Nagotddo, literally settlement of the Back or Snack, the name by which the Yoruba are or widely known in Benin. Ketu is one of the most ancient Yoruba cities, with its historic gates, now preserved as a UNESCO monument.

The Alaketu is one of the seven ‘sons’ of Oduduwa and the kingdom is reputed to be one of the few foundation Yoruba traditional states.

However, in the late 19th century, the area of the kingdom was partitioned by the Anglo-French boundary arrangement that has resulted in today’s Nigeria- Benin border. Ketu has the longest king-list in all of Yorubaland, testifying to the true antiquity of its history: Oba Akanni Adesina, to be formally installed on Saturday, July 27, is the 51st.

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