Leadership in Ogbomosoland: Past, Present, and Future

Contexualising Local Leadership in Nigeria’s History and DevelopmentOmotoye Olorode
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Abuja, Abuja. F.C.T.

Invited Paper presented on January 15, 2010 at the Ogbomoso Stakeholders’ Forum Lecture in Remembrance of the Assassination of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola on January 15, 1966.


On the face of it, this discussion is about leadership (its nature, structure, efficacy, and may be, its history and dynamics) in the territory conceived variously as Ogbomoso or Ogbomosoland. The conception, meaning and scope of what is called Ogbomosoland, is also a thoroughly loaded matter with contending political and historical notions of power, hegemonic and other interests.

Beyond what the topic suggests, prima facie, the date and the venue of today’s discussion are equally loaded with meaning for Nigeria (even Africa and beyond) and for Ogbomoso and its people. Specifically today, January 15, 2010, is the forty-fourth anniversary of the first military take-over of the governments of the half-a-decade-old Federal Republic of Nigeria (January 15, 1966). In that military putsch, late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the Premier of Western Region at that time was assassinated along with a number of prominent military and civilian figures. The various explanations, rationalisations and consequences of the fore-going events are now history and they are available in a plethora of literature that has become generally accessible.

The foregoing two elements of the contexts of today’s discussion encompass issues concerning events, social movements, economic and political circumstances surrounding the settlement of what is now known (rather loosely) as Ogbomoso or Ogbomosoland. The character of Nigerian communities (including Ogbomoso) following the establishment of formal colonial rule in various parts of Nigeria in the 1800s, the rise of the western educated elite in Nigeria and their ambivalence under colonial rule, popular mass struggles under colonial exploitation (tax riots, movements against forced labour and conscription into the colonial army) and movements against subversion indigenous religious and governance paradigms.

In regards to the two elements identified above, it is important to insist that the question of the developments in Ogbomoso, as in many other communities in Nigeria, are historically linked to the social and related developments in the Nigeria nation. The unfolding developments cannot be understood or judiciously and scientifically appraised outside the general political economy of Nigeria in its transformation from a colonised tertiary (since about 1851 to 1960) to a neo-colonial state and to its continued peripherality in the “globalised” neo-liberal state of the world.

We must also interrogate the intention of the formulation of the topic of today’s discussion—Leadership in Ogbomosoland: Past, present, and future. I am almost certain that what is intended is political leadership in terms of attainment, exercise and consequences of political power. But this circumscription, as we hope to show later, is defficient! Concentrating on the question of leadership also raises the age-old question of the relative significance of the role of individuals (leaders) in social movements and the social base of social and political movements i.e. class action, class movements and the role of individuals in these movements.

Clearly many questions arise from the very simple issue of Leadership in Ogbomosoland that we are called upon to deliberate upon. Some of the questions can be addressed only in outline because of the limited amount of time that is available to us. But we must assert emphatically that the narration and interpretation of historical and contemporary events are bound to be as variegated as social, political, and class commitments. In this regard I must assert, ab initio, that as much as I will present evidence that is as scientific as my limited intellect will permit, my social, political and, especially class commitments will be obvious, I will be neither equivocal nor apologetic about these commitments.

Reflections on Pre-colonial History

The settlement of Ogbomoso reflects fairly well, the pattern of movements of peoples in various parts of what became Nigeria especially the portion of it to the West of River Niger. In this regard, the records of the early movements of the Yoruba and their neighbours, the peoples of Borgu and Nupe from the early parts of the last millennium to about the middle of the seventeenth century showed that while Ogbomoso was being settled by various migrant groups, ancient settlements like Igbon, Iresa, Ikoyi, Obandi were already in place. These movements developed into various other degrees of contacts with new Oyo and Ibadan to the South, Ilorin and the Fulanis in their South-ward movement from the North and the Yoruba groups to the North-east (Ekiti and Ijesa). These movements promoted warrior cultures, intrigues, betrayals acts of valour, acts of commitment etc.

The establishment of colonial rule, of course, disorganised Yoruba social (moral and ideological), political and economic (commercial, scientific, technological) formations considerably.

As we shall see subsequently, the circumstances of the establishment of Ogbomoso and the trajectory of developments (especially political and hegemonic), testify to the zig-zag character of the movement of history in terms of class, group (etc) controls of leaderships and hegemonies. It is important to understand these if we are to profitably employ history for the articulation and defence of the interests of the masses of our people rather than those of hegemonic individuals or classes. We shall address this question later in regard to Nigeria’s history and the current debates within the Yoruba political elite about the evolution of political forces and groupings since January 1966 (Ajasin, 2003) or even since the establishment of colonial rule in Nigeria in the late 19th century (Ayandele, 1974; Oyerinde, 1934; Falola, 2009).

Today in Ogbomoso, traditional leadership is ascriptive and monarchical whether we are considering the Sohun hegemony or the other hegemonies in greater Ogbomoso—Orile Igbon, Ikoyi, Ijeru, Iresa etc. But from generally available historical evidence many leaderships (monarchies) that became ascriptive originated as meritocracies. In the particular case of Ogbomoso, Sohun Ogunola headed what appeared like a Republic or Federation of “civil” interests comprising hunters, farmers etc; that was about 700 years ago. Since then, internal and external events around that territory has turned it into one in which traditional and “modern” forces (and especially colonial and neocolonial) have progressively promoted the Sohun hegemony and relegated the influence of principalities which ante-dated Egbe Alongo.

What all these mean concretely is that particular epochs in history do not drop from heaven. Rather they are always products of the resolution of the influences of contending forces especially the political economies that produce, reproduce and sustain such epochs.

My own political and ideological predilection predisposes me to periodise the time in our part of Nigeria between 1500 and today into roughly four segments: the period around of the formation of Egbe Alongo (i.e. 1600-1800); the period of the Yoruba wars (1800-ca 1895); the epoch of colonial control (ca 1895-1960); the neo-colonial period (1960-date). These are broad periods that may be further segmented. The more important thing is that particular political economies underpin each of these periods. In the Egbe Alongo milieu, settlements were small and far between; communities and production units were autonomous and they were sustained by family (or extended family) solidarity, moralities and ethos. The period of the Yoruba wars and Fulani wars were periods of primitive accumulation, wars of subjugation, pillage, extensive exploitation and development of hegemonies accompanied, quite often by valour, intrigues, tactical or strategic alliances and betrayals etc. (Johnson, 1921; Oyerinde, 1934; Ogunremi & Adediran, 1998; Falola, 2009). The Yoruba wars created various and precarious balances of forces and authorities in the core of Ogbomoso headed by the Sohun lineage and his Chiefs on one hand and the pristine kingdoms (surrounding and coexisting with this core) on the other. Leaders (warriors, diplomats etc.) rose within this core and outside it. All of these were also pulled and controlled with different intensities and complex combinations by central Yoruba authorities at Oyo and Ibadan.

In relation to the foregoing, the origin of some of the current tension and crisis among traditional rulers in Ogbomoso regarding the various movements of the Yoruba peoples before and during the Yoruba wars of the 19th century are important issues to be treated scientifically. In this regard Kehinde Faluyi (1998) observed in relation to the [southward] movements of Yoruba peoples after Old Oyo was sacked:

Such [southward] movement was not without its strain, stresses and problems… in a place where the whole town moved with their Oba to take refuge under another chief… acrimony dominated the early days of their relationships…by tradition a Baale was expected to be under a crowned Oba, but the circumstance which forced a crowned Oba to seek shelter under his junior inevitably made him to succumb to the unexpected. Such indignity was often resisted not only by the crowned Oba but by his subject.

We shall return to the effect of this historical fact later when we address the contemporary leadership problems in Ogbomosoland. Suffice it to say that the relationships were not always about conflict; quite a lot was about cooperative and mutual protection [see Oyerinde’s account of the history of Oloogbo and Onpetu Atoyebi (Oyerinde, 1934; pp.46-53; pp. 63-64))]. Oyerinde (Ibid pp 73) insists: “Awon ilu ati ileto l’o so Ogbomoso di ilu bantabanta. Ilu wonni si tun so Ogbomoso di ilu alagbara”.

It was in the foregoing mix in Yorubaland that the British conquered Yoruba land through the use of superior weapons, religious penetration of missionaries, deceits and treachery. Lagos and Ijebu were conquered in 1851 and 1892 respectively. The colonising British authorities became involved directly in the Yoruba wars in Oyo, Ibadan, Ekiti and Ijesa homelands and concluded various “treaties” that ceded control of Yoruba land to British authorities.

What cannot be disputed in the said imperialist interventions is that there was considerable and popular resistance to British colonial intervention. In the process and post-treaties, the elite was fragmented. The traditional elite (Obas and Chiefs) generally struggled to maintain the remnants of their authorities in their territories and “subject”. The western educated elite (whose number was growing in the middle of the 19th century) and the growing business class were caught between supporting the conquerors and asserting native nationalism thus pitching them against the British authorities on one hand and the traditional institutions on the other (Oyerinde, 1934; Falola, 2009). The story of Ogbomoso’s Egbe Olorunda face-off (1922-1924) with the British tax authorities and the final confrontation with the Senior [British] Resident (Ajele-Agba) on 24th June, 1924, was typical of the relationship between the neo-colonial bourgeoisies, the traditional elite and the colonial authorities (Oyerinde, 1934: pp. 176-184). At a more general level Ayandele (1974) characterised the new educated elite as “deluded hybrids” and “collaborators”. What we shall see presently, then, was that since the educated elite, their business partners and the military wing of the elite took control of state power in 1960, the foregoing general pattern of intra-elite behaviour on one hand and behaviour of the elite (the “leaders”) towards the masses of the Nigerian people on the other, had been maintained in all material particulars. These are the contexts in which leaderships in Ogbomoso in the past and the present have evolved. These are the contexts, which, barring new revolutionary and more creative social movements, the future leaderships will evolve.

The evolution of leaderships in Ogbomoso