Alake's palace
Alake’s palace. Photo: Unravelling Nigeria

Alake title literally means ‘Lord of Ake’, Ake being the principal quarter of the Egba town of Abeokuta that was established in 1830 east of Ogun River and 70 miles north of the coast. The concept of a single king did not exist among the Egba Yoruba sub-group until the ancient title of Alake, the ruler in one of the four sections of Abeokuta, Ake, was revived in 1854. Before the Egba migration to Abeokuta, the Alake had been held as a primus inter pares among other chiefs, and this tradition was continued with the reinstitution of the office for the first time in their new abode with the guidance of an English missionary, Henry Townsend.

Gbadebo I with some members of the Egba Royal Court
Gbadebo I with some members of the Egba Royal Court. Source: National Archives, U.I.

During the reign of the sixth Alake of Egabaland, Gbadebo I, the political structure of Abeokuta had been altered with the introduction of the Egba National Council, which attempted to reconcile the traditional Egba system of political organization with that of the British Crown Colony system. Alake headed this Egba United Government of Abeokuta as an independent entity until 1914 when his territory was finally annexed by the British who governed through ‘indirect rule’. Under this arrangement, the Alake, referred to as ‘Chief of Abeokuta’, wielded enormous powers on behalf of the colonists although British Resident Officers appointed from Lagos usurped these powers after the Adubi uprising in 1918.

The first educated Alake, Ladapo Ademola, hailed internationally as a shining example among other Yoruba Obas, abdicated and went on exile in Osogbo after activities of women protesters in 1948 against him and his tax policy reached extreme levels. The colonial government had introduced the role of administering tax to the office of the Alake, who before then shared power with traditional elites.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer