Alaafin

Alaafin (Oba) of Oyo Adeyemi Alowolodu I (horseback) with his entourage, circa late 1890s
Alaafin of Oyo Adeyemi Alowolodu I (horseback) with his entourage, 1 January, 1910 Source: National Archives, UK.

Alaafin is the title for the traditional ruler, or Oba of Oyo town, whose authority from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century extended to great parts of the western Yoruba territory of old. For over a hundred years, starting from the early 18th Century, the Alaafins employed their great names and aura in upholding order and peace in both their Yoruba and non-Yoruba domains. Holders of the office maintained ascendancy over Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin, and as far as Popo, and Kumasi in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Mohammedans captured and destroyed Alaafin’s old Oyo town between 1833-35, necessitating the creation of a new capital where modern Oyo stands.

Monarchy as practiced in Oyo rejects a single privileged candidate to the stool of a recently deceased Alaafin. The Aremo who is the oldest prince is by tradition eliminated to forestall absolute supremacy among contenders. The right of the people to select their king from a number of princes, including sons and grandsons of former kings is thereby preserved. The system of governance in pre-colonial south West Nigeria was monarchical, but a very limited one. Laws were made and important decisions were reached only at the conclave of the high inner council of chiefs called Oyomesi in Oyo-Ile. The Alafin seldom operate outside this system. The Alaafin lost his sovereignty in 1895 when in a face off with Captain Bower, Resident Commissioner of Ibadan, his palace was shelled and the town set ablaze. This was consequent of the execution of one Bakare, accused of adultery in the court of the Aseyin of Iseyin who was a vassal to Alaafin.

For his radical opposition of the regional government’s  tax policies and usurping the powers of its legal appendages, the Government of the Western region deposed Oba Adeyemi, the Alaafin in 1956. This decision, sanctioned by the charismatic and educated Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, in his position as head of the government, would be the harbinger of the battle of historical relevance between the two stools of the Alaafin and the Ooni of Ife during the reign of Ooni Sijuade Olubuse and Alaafin Lamidi Adeyemi. Olutayo Adesina, professor of History at the University of Ibadan in response to a press inquiry affirms that the Alaafin’s position as the political and military leader of a large Yoruba and non-Yoruba territory at a time in history, in addition to his direct ascendancy from Oduduwa,  assumed founder of the Yoruba nation, was distinct from the also important position of the Ooni who was a priest, hence, spiritual leader of the entire Yoruba domain. The acrimony between the occupiers of the Alaafin and the Ooni stools abated with the surprise visit to Alaafin Lamidi Adeyemi during his 45th coronation anniversary of the newly installed Ooni, Adeyeye Ogunwusi in January, 2016. The last of such reunion had been in 1937.