THE LEGENDARY OLATERU OLAGBEGI was one of the three historical figures, whose destinies were intertwined. The other two were Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Adekunle Ajasin. Ajasin was born 1908, Awolowo 1909 and Olagbegi 1910. One year separated each other. Sir Olateru-Olagbegi II, (Olowo of Owo), born in 1910, was appointed the Olowo of the ancient city of Owo, in 1941 and ruled for 25 years, before he was deposed in 1968.
His dethronement from power and exile was a result of the fallout of the Western Regional crises, which fractionalized the Action Group into the Awolowo and Akintola camps at the Jos Conference of the Action Group Party in 1962. Members of the Akintola Group were virtually expelled from the party. The Action Group, which was launched in Olagbegi’s Palace in 1951, was led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. A battle of wits, between the two gladiators- Akintola and Awolowo, saw Oba Olateru pitching his tent with Akintola.
Another prominent Owo citizen and acolyte of Oba Olateru-Olagbegi, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, pitched his tent with the Awolowo group. Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Olateru-Olagbegi were initial colleagues, cousins, friends, soul mates, and pathfinders in the growth and development of the city of Owo. Michael Ajasin was born on the 28th of November, 1908.
He was a teacher and a School Headmaster in Sapele, present-day Delta State before he was admitted to Fourah Bay College Sierra Leone, in 1943 where he obtained a Bachelors’ Degree in History and Economics in 1946. After a successful completion of his University Degree, he went to London, where he obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Education in 1947.
Owo is an ancient city in the present-day Ondo state of Nigeria. The town- Owo derives its name from its first ruler named “Ojugbelu” because of his pleasant manner. He was a respectful, amiable, and humble monarch. This was how the name of the town “Owo”, which means “respectful” was derived. In Owo, there are three principal ruling families or houses- Ogunoye, Ajike, and Olateru Olagbegi.
In recent times, there were six Olowos- Olagbegi Atanneye I (1913-1938), Olowo Ajike Ogunoye (1938-1941), Olateru Olagbegi II (1941-1968), Olowo Adekola Ogunoye II (1968-1992), Olateru Olagbegi II (1993-1998), Olateru Olagbegi III (1999-2019), and the present monarch Ajibade Gbadegesin Ogunoye (2019 till date).
Olagbegi And Ajasin
Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Olateru Olagbegi were initially colleagues, friends, soul mates, and pathfinders in the growth and development of the city of Owo. Michael Ajasin was born on the 28th of November, 1908. He was a teacher and a School Headmaster in Sapele, present-day Delta State before he was admitted to Fourah Bay College Sierra Leone, in 1943 where he obtained a Bachelors’ Degree in History and Economics in 1946.
After a successful completion of his University Degree, he went to London, where he obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Education in 1947. Olateru Olagbegi was instrumental to the community scholarship granted Ajasin to pursue his educational feats. On the 12th of September 1947, Ajasin was appointed Principal of Imade College Owo, founded by his friend Oba Olateru Olagbegi and was Principal until December 1962, when he left to become Founder, Proprietor, and Principal of Owo High School, from 1963-1975.
It was Oba Olateru Olagbegi’s desire to be part of Govt at all costs that harvested trouble for him. When his Adekunle Ajasin, told Kabiyesi in 1951 of the formation of Action Group (AG), he was enthusiastic. He was young, dashing, had a good appetite for women. He was tall, gangling, athletic, loved sports & was a great tennis player. But Ajasin was the exact opposite of his cousin Kabiyesi Olagbegi. Ajasin was fastidious, a serious monogamist, and an ideologue. But opposites attract. Both were unrelenting Yoruba nationalists and loved Owo with devotion.
As Principal 0f Imade College, Michael Ajasin was still very active and prominent in the Community politics of Owo, the Regional and National Politics of the Western Region, and Nigeria respectively. Through the support and encouragement of his friend, the Olowo Olagbegi II, he was elected Member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing Owo Federal Constituency, between August 1954 and 1966, when the Military overthrew the Civilian government in the First Republic.
Political Crises and Impacts
Olateru-Olagbegi II, was certainly, not an indigent Oba. The period between 1962 and 1966 were certainly periods of the greatest political dispersals, intrigues, power play, subterfuge, innuendos, and deep hatred in the Western
Region and perhaps by extension, in Nigeria. To Obafemi Awolowo, it was a period of- “fierce and howling storms and a four-year journey through the dark and dreary tunnel”, and it certainly was. To Samuel Ladoke Akintola, he had said that in whatever circumstance, he was “content to stir the affairs of the Western Region resolutely in the opposite direction”. He said further in his broadcast speech to the people of the Western Region- “I have no apologies to offer in this regard and I am content to be judged by the outcome of events and history.”
In the midst of these contending forces and political fratricidal warfare, Canon Alayande, a strong member of the Action Group and the Principal of Ibadan Grammar School, had on the 19th of February, 1962, written a letter to Chief Awolowo and advised him to be prepared to- “make extreme self-sacrifice and self-abnegation… you will need to be less inflexible and more condescending”.
The Action Group Party had its 8th Annual Congress at the African Sports Club, Jos, from the 1st of February to the 8th of February, 1962. In his opening remarks at the Congress as the President of the Party, Chief Awolowo acknowledged the existence of real and dangerous contradictions within the Party. At this Congress, due to the subterfuge, Chief S.G Ikoku, was made a Federal Secretary to the party, as against Chief Ayo Rosiji, a founding member of the party, whilst Chief Bola Ige became the Publicity Secretary. It would be recalled that earlier in 1956, Chief S.G Ikoku had contested election to the Eastern Region House of Assembly against his biological father- Chief Alvan Ikoku, who he defeated by 59 votes.
At the conference, the young Turks- Prof. H.E Ajose, S.G Ikoku, Prof Victor Oyenuga, Prof. Akin Mabogunje, Dr Onabamiro, Bola Ige, Prof. Sam Aluko etc were very prominent. Earlier, on the 30th of January, 1962, at a meeting of the Federal Executive Council in Jos, Chief Oshuntokun and Honourable Adigun, Ladoke apologists, had stirred the hornets, by looking Chief Awolowo straight in his face by challenging the Leader’s right to co-opt some members into the Executive Council. The leader and his Deputy- Chief Ladoke, were provided accommodation at the Jos Hills Station Hotel by Barrister Morohundiya, a strong member of the party. The Premier, upon his arrival in Jos, got in touch immediately with Prince Oladunni Oyewunmi, a very prominent and successful businessman in Jos and also a native of Ogbomoso, Ladoke’s hometown, (and later, the Soun of Ogbomoso).
Prince Oladunni Oyewunmi immediately proceeded to the Jos station Hotel, where Ladoke was accommodated, to receive him. Chief Awolowo and S.L.A were lodged in Presidential suites 18 and 2, at the Hotel. Oladunni felt uncomfortable with this arrangement and decided to move the Premier to a different accommodation within the Hotel premises- a three-bedroom apartment. He instantly arranged for a P&T telephone line for the Premier’s Apartment and he also took over responsibility for the Premier’s comfort and hospitality while in Jos.
However, the open salvo of discord was fired when Chief Akintola took permission from the Leader to excuse himself from the congress for about two days. His mission was to go back to Ibadan to receive his brother Premier- Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region, who was to be honoured by the naming of a Male Hostel- Sultan Ahmadu Bello Hall, after him at the University of Ibadan. The leader, Chief Awolowo felt utter disgust and repulsion about this visit. He was actually rattled. It was like adding insult to injury.
The Party did not support the visit and advised S.L.A to postpone the visit, at least, until after the Party congress that was billed to take place at the same time. The Premier felt that protocol and courtesy and the Yoruba traditional hospitality welcomed of according visitor, a befitting welcome. To some of Awolowo’s loyalists, Ahmadu Bello’s visit was seen as a ploy to scuttle the conference and perhaps prevent unsavoury decisions that might have to be taken against Samuel Ladoke Akintola at the Congress.
While Awolowo & Ajasin were going through crises, it was the best of times for Olagbegi. In the crisis that rocked AG, Akintola secured the Premiership and Awolowo was sent to prison. Oba Adesoji Aderemi resigned his Governorship and retreated to his Palace at Ile Ife. He declined to go back to the House Of Chiefs. When Alaafin Ladigbolu was offered headship of the House Of Chiefs, he declined. So Akintola offered it to Oba Olagbegi, who enthusiastically took it.
He also enthusiastically supported Premier Akintola because as he said, he did not want his salary reduced to “penny a year”, as Akintola did to Awo loyalist Odemo Of Ishara Oba Akinsanya. Then the Coup of January 1966 turned the tables! For Olagbegi, the good times were over. Akintola was killed and the First Republic was in the dustbin of history. Olagbegi was in trouble. He sought help from Lt-Col Fajuyi the new military Governor. But his troubles endured. Col Adebayo, Fajuyi’s successor also could not help. Adebayo finally deposed Oba Olagbegi in 1968.
Deposition Of Oba Olateru Olagbegi As Olowo Of Owo
Olagbegi and Ajasin as a result of the political feud became sworn enemies. Olagbegi was a prominent member and leader of Akintola’s NNDP (Demo) and Minister without portfolio, whilst Ajasin was a Federal Legislator. The Military putsch of January 1966, encouraged the Owo community to organize persistent revolts, riots, and mayhems against Oba Olateru-Olagbegi II, and this forced the Adekunle Fajuyi government to suspend him from the throne in June 1966.
A month after Oba Olagbegi’s suspension, Fajuyi was killed in a counter-coup, that also saw to the killing of the then Head of State- General Agunyi Ironsi in Ibadan, on the 29th of July, 1966. On the 15th of December 1966, the suspension order on Olagbegi was revoked by the new Governor, Brigadier Adeyinka Adebayo, but Olagbegi could not however return to his domain due to unfavourable security reports and the new government would not want to be seen as imposing Olagbegi on his people. On the 14th of February 1968, Oba Olagbegi finally made move to return to the ancient city but was violently resisted by his arch-rivals in Owo.
In the early morning of that day, Oba Olagbegi accompanied by some of his friends from Ibadan- Mr. Oduyoye Majekodumi (father of Honourable Babatunde Oduyoye, former deputy whip in the House of Representatives, National Assembly from 1999-2007 and member of the house of representatives, representing Ibadan North West and South West Federal Constituency of Oyo State.) and one Prince Ojo; but instead of allowing Oba Olagbegi’s free movement, Oduyoye, and Prince Ojo were arrested by the Police, and Olagbegi was escorted by the Police back to his home in Ibadan.
Later in the day, Governor Adebayo announced in a state broadcast, that he was instituting an inquiry into the disturbances in Owo, following Olagbegi’s return. Quite interestingly, within 24 hours of the announcement, the governor also announced an order deposing Olagbegi from the throne and banished him to Okitipupa. On February 16, 1968, Olateru-Olagbegi was taken to Okitipupa guest house where he stayed for one year and one month. He left Okitipupa on the 18th of March 1969. The government set up an inquiry led by Mr. Bode Kumapayi which up till today, has not seen the light of day. The deposition and subsequent banishment of Oba Olagbegi in February 1968 was a turning point, sad tale, and dark eclipse in the history of Owo.
How Oba Olateru Olagbegi Lost Properties to Arson
As a result of the violence, arson, and destruction in Owo, about 99 houses belonging to Olagbegi’s supporters, as well as his own personal houses were destroyed by fire.
Olagbegi’s properties that were destroyed were as follows:- Storey Building at 23, Oludasa Street Owo, worth £3000, personal effects destroyed worth £6042.2S, Properties of 15 Oloris, and other 10 Properties worth £5000, properties at Old Maternity Home-King’s Terrace worth £400, Three-Storey Building, at Olagbegi Street, Owo- Old Maternity valued at £3000 Storey Building at Oke Ogun (near Esso)-partly damaged, worth £1000, Storey building at Oke Ogun (near Imade),- partly damaged.
Storey building at Ikare Road, worth £3000, partly damaged. Storey building at St Mary’s College Road-partly burnt, also worth £3000, three Storey Building at Imalefealafia Ibadan, worth £3,500, farm huts at Isho- 12 rooms worth £500, destruction of farms worth £1000, two Land Rovers burnt worth £4000, 15 bicycles burnt worth £405. The total value of properties destroyed were valued at £36,548.2S.
As Olowo, Olagbegi’s annual salary was £1,116 a year. He, however, did not rely on this income alone, he was a big farmer and the proceeds from his plantations-cocoa, coffee, citrus and palm trees, helped him to educate his children, who were numerous, the welfare of his family and also make financial contributions to the progress of Owo. Olagbegi also, earned rents from his buildings, which he built with the sweat of his toils. He was throughout his life, a lover of table tennis and lawn tennis, which he also passed on to his children.
Sir Olagbegi’s properties and those of his relatives which were damaged, were estimated to be worth more than £100,000.
Adekola Ogunoye Emerges New Olowo
Less than a month after Olagbegi’s deposition, Oba Adekola Ogunoye, ably supported, by Chief Adekunle Ajasin emerged as the new Olowo of Owo. On the 7th of August, 1968, an instrument, titled Olowo Chieftaincy Declaration was introduced by the Western Region Ministry of Local Government, to give legal backing to the installation of Oba Ogunoye. Several administrative moves were made by Olagbegi and his supporters to restore him back to the Royal Stool quite unsuccessfully. In 1977, Olagbegi again attempted to return to Owo, but this move was also fiercely resisted by his antagonists when Ondo State was newly created.
Protests by his antagonists, went to the government, warning against the return of the ex-Olowo. Evidently, there were two schools of thought in Owo, namely: – One supporting the return of Sir Olagbegi to the throne and the other irrevocably committed to preventing his return to Owo. The military government of Wing Commander Ita David Ikpeme, set up a Commission of Inquiry, known as Ondo Chieftaincy Review Commission, headed by Justice Adeyinka Morgan, Former Chief Justice of the Western State, to undertake a review of Chieftaincy Laws of Ondo State.
Other Members of the Commission were Dr Femi Anjorin- (later Professor) Department of History, University of Ife, Chief J.O Akindolire from Ile-Oluji and Bode Kumapayi-Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service of the State. The Commission began sitting in Owo on the 28th of November 1977. The Commission could not complete its assignment, due to the ill health of the Chairman-Justice Adeyinka Morgan.
Sir Olagbegi came to Owo for the first time in 11 years, to submit his Memorandum. His arch-rival and antagonists also gave evidence before the Commission. Quite interestingly, Olagbegi’s foe, former friend and soul mate, emerged as the first Executive Governor of Ondo State on the 1st of October 1979.
Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin was a very principled, highly disciplined man, who lived a Spartan life. He was an undisputed political leader in Owo and had paid his dues in politics, rising from the lowest rank as a Ward Councillor, District Council Chairman, Deputy Council Chairman, Federal Legislator, and Vice President of the Action Group.
In 1951, he wrote a paper that was to become the Educational Policy of the Action Group advocating free education at all levels. To his singular honour, he was known never to have jostled or fought for any political position, but those offices came to him quite naturally. It can only be imagined what Owo Kingdom would have been, without the Ajasin and Olagbegi crisis?
Olagbegi, as Royal Father was influential, celebrated and dignified. It was their joint influence, (Olagbegi and Ajasin) that made the Action Group to be inaugurated in 1951 at the Olowo’s Palace. On the 6th of September, 1980, Ajasin as Governor of Ondo State, appointed Justice T.A Oluwole, to continue where Morgan in 1977, as Chairman of the Owo Chieftaincy Review Commission, stopped. Oluwole submitted his Report in February 1981, without reinstating Sir Olagbegi as the Olowo.
Sir Olateru Olagbegi On Exile And Court Battles
During his 25-year exile, Olagbegi was referred to as Sir Olateru Olagbegi because he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1960 for his services to the British Empire. On the 5th of February, 1981, Sir Olagbegi filed a suit at the Akure High Court, challenging his deposition order in 1968. He was represented by Chief Rotimi Williams S.A.N, ably supported by other lawyers, including Olagbegi’s son- Victor Folagbade Olagbegi.
He averred that the order which first suspended him in 1966 and deposed him in 1968, was unconstitutional and illegal. Olateru-Olagbegi II lost this case on the grounds that the 1979 Constitution does not have a provision to review a Right that was stale and that Olateru ought to have challenged his deposition then and not to have waited for 15 years to seek redress.
The Presiding Judge and then Chief Judge of Ondo State, Justice Olakunle Orojo struck out Olagbegi’s application, with a N1000 cost against him. Prince Folagbade Olagbegi, the lawyer son of Olateru, called to the Bar in 1968 and appealed the matter before Justice Mamman Nasir, who was the President of the Appellate Court and with other Justices- B.O Kareem S.J, Eteh S, J.A Agbaje and B. Okagbo. In the Lead Judgment of Justice Mamman Nasir, he upheld the Judgment of the Lower Court, that the 1979 Constitution had no retrospective effect to deprive the incumbent Olowo-Oba Joseph Adekola Ogunoye and the government of their right. The Appeal Court further awarded the cost of N800 against Olateru-Olagbegi as Appellant, thus ending the legal battles to secure the return of Olagbegi to the Royal stool.
Oba Joseph Adekola Ogunoye was a Monarch, believed to be endowed with mystical, mythical, and magical powers. Oba Adekola Ogunoye was a no-nonsense man. If he cursed, the same would come to pass. At a time, a man beat up his wife, at Ehin Ogbe and the wife came to report to Olowo, who invited the husband to His Palace. He came in, but stood at the entrance of the Palace and said yes!? The Palace chief then told him to kneel down in obeisance to the Olowo, but he refused, claiming that his own Oba has not returned; (apparently referring to the deposed Olagbegi). He then used abusive words against the Olowo. The Monarch, apparently angered by the blatant show of disregard and disrespect to the Royal stool, cursed him and said he would be killed by a Buffalo. On the fifth day after this statement, a Buffalo killed him.
The Igogo festival is usually held annually in Owo in September and lasts for about 17 days. During this festival, the Olowo dresses in Coral Beads Crown and in addition, plaits his hair like a woman and dances around the city. Olowo Ogunoye, was so frightened of the eventual comeback of Olateru-Olagbegi to the throne and would not, most times, hold the Igogo festival, because of the belief that, perhaps, whilst dancing around the city, Olagbegi would have taken over the palace. Such was the level of mutual distrust, antagonisms, and fears that pervaded the city of Owo during the 25 years of Oba Ogunoye as Olowo.
OBA OLATERU OLAGBEGI BACK TO THE THRONE AFTER 25 YEARS
Quite fortuitously and providentially, what Olateru could not achieve through legal battles, he achieved through patience, endurance, perseverance, doggedness, resoluteness, uncommon faith, and belief in his eventual return to the throne. Olowo Adekola Ogunoye died in November 1992, after reigning as Olowo for about 25 years, paving the way for Olateru to return to the throne. The Governor of Ondo State, Evangelist Bamidele Olomilua, approved of his return, which he did triumphantly in 1993. Olateru-Olagbegi, reigned again for about 5 years, until he joined his ancestors in 1998, leaving his lawyer son, Victor Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi, to succeed him in 1999.
Owo’s next monarch after Oba Olateru Olagbegi was his son now also late, Oba Victor Folagbade Olateru Olagbegi III, born on the 26th of June 1941 was the eldest child and first son of the late Olateru Olagbegi II, whom he succeeded as Olowo of Owo in 1999. A Barrister-at-Law, he was called to bar in 1968 he had four children through his wife Barrister Bisi Olateru Olagbegi (Nee Cole) now late and until her passage, a human rights activist.
Late Oba Victor Olagbegi had his initial Law practice in the Chambers of F.R.A Williams until 1975 when he joined the Nigerian Law School as a lecturer. He was also between 1981 and 1983, Special Adviser, Legal Matters to the Second Republic Vice-President- Dr. Alex Ekweme, and after the collapse of the Second Republic, he went back to Law School, from where he retired as a reader in 1991.
Olowo Victor Olagbegi III was former Chancellor of the University of Benin, Chancellor of, the University of Abuja, and was also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Olowo Titus Olateru Olagbegi II initially reigned for 25 years, left the throne for about 25 years, and came back as Olowo for about five years, before he was finally succeeded by his son.
The current Olowo Oba Ogunoye was selected as Olowo after garnering 14 votes from the 15 kingmakers on July 12 following the demise of the late Oba Victor Olateru-Olagbegi III on April 18, 2019. The new monarch who is a lawyer and retired Permanent Secretary in the Ondo State Public Service was elected as Olowo after defeating the other 14 contestants for the ancient stool of Owo.
Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, despite all the travails and vicissitudes of life, remained throughout his life, a distinguished Monarch. He was elegant, and dignified and throughout his chequered reign as Oba, had the carriage, poise, charisma, aura and splendour of Royalty all around him. It is now a duty call for the Owo people, to continually celebrate this unusual Monarch- a cat with nine lives!
The Olateru-Olagbegi family is one of the largest and educated families in Yoruba land. Oba Olateru-Olagbegi was reputed to have had over 140 children and about 121 are University graduates. Oba Olateru-Olagbegi’s father, Olagbegi I, was also reputed to have had about 300 wives, and by the time he passed on, five of his wives were virgins. In Yoruba land, monarchs are usually blessed with numerous wives. Polygamy is not a crime or a case of liking women but a cultural function of royalty.
It is now a duty call for the Owo people, to continually celebrate this unusual Monarch, Olateru-Olagbegi II- a cat with The Olowo’s Palace has as many as 100 Courtyards. Each courtyard had a specific function and was dedicated to a particular deity. The largest of the courtyards was said to have been about twice the size of a football field. The courtyards were beautifully paved with ornamentals and broken pottery. The palace seats about 9.5 Acres of Land.
In the palace, Oba Olagbegi II had tennis and squash courts, a soccer/golf field, a swimming pool, an orchard, a botanical garden and a mini zoo – crocodiles, varieties of fishes, ostriches and guinea fowls. For educational purposes, students from Owo and neighbouring towns frequently toured these facilities free of charge.
He wanted the best for his people. He ensured that Owo town had water, light, several banks, a recreation centre, a hospital, a maternity centre, an assembly hall, activity halls, a museum, a training centre for women, a trade centre for youth, several elementary schools, several high schools and two teacher training colleges. Not surprisingly, Owo people are some of the most educated people in Nigeria.
Hon (Barr) Femi Kehinde: Former Member, House of Representatives National Assembly Abuja, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003) & Principal Partner Femi Kehinde & Co (Solicitors) 84, Iwo Road, Ibadan.
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