Sodeke was the founder of Abeokuta; the third Seriki of the Egba people who led them away from their several villages to the new place of relative safety. Sodeke was a king in every respect but in name. His happy reception of the British missionary, Henry Townsend, in 1843, is considered to be foresighted. He had anticipated the visitation few days before in his dream and he was convinced of the British positive influence.

Sodeke, a man from the Egba village of Iporo, became the secretary of the Egba army after the death of Denlu who reigned only briefly. When the nobles of the vanquished tribe decided to vacate their homes for a new land, Sodeke was chosen to lead the people while Lamodi was asked to keep watch in Ibadan. At first, the people camped at Oke-ona but Lamodi at his deathbed advised Sodeke against the place, seeing the porousness of their camp. Soon, the aggressor army of Maye arrived, but was defeated.

Convinced of the need to find a new settlement for the Egba people, Sodeke decided in favor of a place under the stone, where a few Egba families were already taking refuge. He led the people therefore, to Abeokuta in 1830. This exodus have been frequently idealized and made to look like Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, but more likely to be true is the story that the settlers came in several droves and in different directions.

Sodeke did not settle to absolute peace in Abeokuta as the Egba started to antagonize the Ijebu, who gathered their villages against Abeokuta, leading to the Owiwi War of 1832. Initially retreating, Sodeke had conquered with his army. This victory was repeated two years later against the Oyo people of Ibadan and Iperu in Ijemo Remo, which was Sodeke’s last engagement in war. He shared cordial relationship with the king of Dahomey, a reason why he is suspected of being behind, for good reasons, the routing of Egba army whose adventure of 1844 in Ado, he believed, would leave Abeokuta defenseless in the case of an invasion.

Covered in a scarlet velvet cloth and surrounded by his wives and chiefs, Sodeke met the first white man who ever entered Abeokuta, and let him sit on his lap as a mark of honor to the visitor. Sodeke died in January 1845, just before the return of the Egba army from Ado, and just a week before the return of the sojourning Reverend Townsend, who had come this time with the lettered Yoruba man who would greatly affect the history of Nigeria, the Reverend Ajayi Crowther.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer