You are currently viewing The tragic cycle of Yoruba history, by Akin Osuntokun
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“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” –George Santayana

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce –Karl Marx

“The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” –Georg Hegel

The citations above have intermittently found resonance in Yoruba history. The perspective they embodied has been read into such historical landmarks as the Afonja/Alaafin crisis, the Obafemi Awolowo/Ladoke Akintola feud, the Afenifere/Bola Ige schism and now the Bola Tinubu/Yemi Osinbajo broken relationship. The repetitive inference of betrayal as leitmotif is a flawed anecdotal interpretation of reality in almost all instances. The favourite departure point of this historical retrospection is the tragic 19th-century sociopolitical implosion of an inchoate and incipient Yoruba nation. The Are Ona Kakanfo, (commander in chief of the armed forces) Afonja was the ill-starred political Judas who plotted with wily external forces to vanquish the Aláàfin, the political sovereign of the Oyo empire. The consequential fallacy of this narrative lies in the fact that Afonja had militarily prevailed over the Alaafin ever before his path crossed with Alimi (which encounter turned out to be his death warrant and the proximate cause of the appropriation of Ilorin into the Sokoto caliphate).

As I have reiterated on this page, Afonja was a villain quite alright but only as the most prominent of many rebellious warlords who had little consciousness or notion of the Yoruba national unity that we now presume and take for granted. He was notoriously guilty of violating the political order and stability of the empire but little is said on the pertinent mitigation that his agent provocateur role was substantially provoked by a fellow rogue political sovereign, Alaafin Aole. What has been historically interpreted as treachery was an unintended consequence of a self-destructive violation of the political order. He obviously did not anticipate the short-term consequences of his action let alone the ensuing long-term ramifications. Given the nature of military alliances that were contracted by Yoruba warlords in the 19th century, they did not categorically perceive the Fulani as a corporate enemy with the ulterior objective of subverting and incorporating the totality of the Yoruba society into the Sokoto caliphate.

This history resonated one and half centuries later in the Obafemi Awolowo/Ladoke Akintola feud. I had the distinct privilege of being called forth to deliver the first Ladoke Akintola Memorial Lecture twenty years ago. Why me? Following upon the precedence of my dad, Chief Oduola Osuntokun, and my uncle, Professor Akinjide Osuntokun and against the run of popular imagination, I have been unapologetic in publicly and objectively identifying with the memory of the late and last premier of the Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola. My dad was regional minister from 1955 to 1966 straddling the premiership of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola. More significantly, he opted for the Akintola faction in the factional crisis that ensued within the ranks of the Action Group, AG, in 1962. In taking this stand he was led by his conscience and conviction. He was only one of two ministers exonerated and exculpated of any act of corruption or wrongdoing by the Justice Kayode Eso panel (set up by military governor Adekunle Fajuyi in 1966 to probe the Akintola government).

According to Oladesu of The Nation newspaper “Osuntokun served the people of Western Region without enriching himself. He shone as a politician, and he shunned corruption. To the political icon from Okemesi-Ekiti, contentment was great gain. As minister of lands and housing, he was responsible for the creation of the industrial and residential layouts of Ikorodu, Ilupeju and Ikeja. A principled and disciplined man, Osuntokun never allocated a single plot to himself,  family or friends”. The historian junior brother to the minister, Professor Osuntokun wrote the first authoritative biography of Akintola titled S.Ladoke Akintola: His Life and Times. In the foreword to the book, Professor Emmanuel Ayandele pointedly remarked “Akinjide Osuntokun has been more than ordinarily audacious in choosing a terrain upon which angels would fear to tread. For he has selected for analysis a political gladiator of national stature who, at the time of his murder in the coup of January 15, 1966, that toppled the first republic, had been labelled by his political enemies in Yoruba land as a twentieth-century Afonja..That this leader of the opposition in the federal parliament in the last years of British colonial rule and Premier of the “wild wild West” in the first republic has been partially rehabilitated, perhaps vindicated, is clear from this professional X-ray by historian Osuntokun”.


By dint of this heritage and as a student of Nigerian politics I was sufficiently motivated to reexamine all received wisdom on the Awolowo/Akintola crisis and did my level best to arrive at objective and independent conclusions. And I was afforded the platform to do so as a columnist in leading Nigerian newspapers in the past thirty years. All writing, contends Daniel Murray, is autobiographical, that ‘everything we write inevitably bears the imprint of our life experience that is unique to us and distinguishes our work from others’. Hence I have had to rebut the orthodoxy of a generalised Yoruba-wide criminalization and demonisation of Akintola. He was no saint neither was he the devil. Prior to the externalisation of the crisis, he bent over backward to contain the differences he had with Awolowo within the ranks of the AG/Yoruba leadership including prostrating before the AG leader but was rebuffed and ridiculed. There was no party patriarch especially the regional governor, Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, who did not counsel Awolowo that his deputy has done enough to earn his magnanimity. Towards the end of his life he would rue his intransigence against Akintola, wondering what more remorse the premier could have shown to merit his forgiveness. He went on to attribute his rigid stance to the pressure brought to bear on him by the radical young party intellectuals.

Corroboration was provided a decade later by Professor Sam Aluko. “In fact, it was we, who caused the problem between Akintola and Awolowo. There was a group in the university then, led by Prof. Oyenuga. He was chairman of the Committee of Civil Liberty at that time. We had Prof. Odumosu, Prof. Wole Soyinka, some Europeans and myself. We said, as a group, the way things were going, we must have an ideology guiding us. So, we had what we called democratic socialism, which now became the policy of the Action Group. So, Awo said this democratic socialism we must try it, which he did into concrete programmes like agriculture, health, roads, etc”..That was exactly what caused their problem. Akintola had become premier by then, so he said why should Awolowo be organising people to write philosophy for the party. That when Awo was premier, they were writing for him as premier and that since he (Akintola) had assumed the premiership, they should be writing for him. He felt that Awo was out to undermine him, and said no, things could not continue like that”. I have recalled these penitent reflections not to absolve Akintola of blame but to give a balanced historical perspective against the backdrop that he did not survive to tell his story.


Thirty-five years after this episode, in 2001, the title and theme of my lecture were prompted by the eruption of a similar intramural imbroglio within the ranks of the Yoruba/Afenifere leadership. It was the story of the late Chief Ajibola Ige who felt betrayed by his colleagues in the choice of Chief Olu Falae (a newcomer to the Afenifere leadership caucus) over him as the presidential candidate of the caucus. Thus offended, Ige initiated a supremacist struggle against his colleagues in the Afenifere political hierarchy within which he was deputy leader to Senator Abraham Adesanya. As recently recalled by Dare Babarinsa “It is interesting that close to the 20th anniversary of Ige’s death, Chief Bisi Akande, one of Ige’s closest collaborators released his robust autobiography, My Participations, to tell Ige’s side of the story, ‘Akande’s book is the third by Afenifere chieftains to tell their stories and wage war by other means. The first to publish was Chief Ayo Adebanjo whose autobiography, Telling It As It Is, spares no one in his gunsight. He had no kind words to one of the old comrades, Chief Bola Ige, who by 2018 when Adebanjo published his book, had been dead for 17 years”. In my reckoning, after his humiliating loss to Falae, the smart political strategy, from the standpoint of group cohesion and unity, would be for his colleagues to see the need to rally round him and help heal his political wound. Not to see and accept the need for this outreach amounted to insensitivity bordering on hostility but Ige equally overreacted.

After a twenty-two years interlude, we are being treated to a seeming similar manifestation of this historical tendency in the Bola Ahmed Tinubu/ Yemi Osinbajo conflict. Relative to the three historical precedence and as Karl Marx contended- this is history repeating itself as a farce. Yet it has a distinct potential for a contrived region wide political polarisation. Unlike Awolowo and Adesanya, Tinubu lacks the political legitimacy that can evoke and sustain a campaign of demonisation against Osinbajo who personifies the shared Yorùbá value of meritocracy. Both of them are guilty of the opportunism of not accepting the moral imperative of conceding the field to the Igbo. But a greater disqualifier of Tinubu is the willingness to subordinate the delicate religious balance of Nigeria to his presidential aspiration. No personal ambition is worth the religious stress test and dangerous experimentation to which Nigeria will be subjected by a  Muslim /Muslim presidential ticket. With charity towards all and malice to none, I cannot see any clear path, going forward, for either of them.


Sixty-Nine Gbosas to Otunba Mike Adenuga, GCON

In the past ten years, every Christmas without fail I have received this gold imprinted greetings card from our egbon, Otunba Mike Adenuga, the silent whirlwind entrepreneur per excellence. Today is his 69th birthday and it is a platitude to say he has overachieved and fostered a unique personal brand. I seize this opportunity to return his annual compliment. After living an extraordinarily successful life it is difficult to fathom what else he may seek to achieve but whatever it is, may it please God to gratify the desire. Please take time out today to have a blast! – if you can still dig it at 69!

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