By Hon Femi Kehinde
Some people demand honour from their fellowmen, and sometimes, by sundry devices, succeed in forcing and enforcing it. Others, who are very rare in their breed and number, command honour: they evoke it, they deserve it; and they do so because of their profound, worthy and abiding contributions to the welfare and happiness of their fellowmen, and the greatness of their fatherland. Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who became the Oni of Ife in 1930, is one of such men.
At that time, 50 years ago, the only reputation Ile-Ife had was that it is the cradle of the Yoruba people. But within 10 years of this rule, Aderemi had transformed Ile-Ife, by Nigerian standards, into a modern town, a virile business centre and a haven for the acquisition of secondary education, which was a very rare facility in those days.
As a natural ruler, Oba Adesoji Aderemi can be described as a “radical traditionalist” and furthermore,
through out his time, his “sole concern at all times was the welfare of his dear people in Ile-Ife and Nigeria.”
This was the beautiful eulogy delivered by Chief Obafemi Awolowo at an open air memorial service for the late Ooni Adesoji Aderemi, at Enuwa Square in Ile-Ife on Saturday, July 11 1980.
This eulogy aptly and succinctly, described the life and times of Ooni Adesoji Aderemi.
It is a settled historical fact, that Ile-Ife is the cradle of the Yorubas. We may not believe the myth of Ile-Ife as the origin of human race, but we cannot deny the historical root of Yoruba people as a whole in Ile-Ife.
Adesoji Aderemi, dominated the landscape of the Yoruba nation, for an uninterrupted period of about 50 years, until his demise on the 3rd of July, 1980.
He was a member of the Oshinkola ruling house of Ife. He succeeded Ooni Ademiluyi Ajagun, who died on the 24th of June 1930. Adesoji was the first literate Ooni.
It is an interesting historical fact, that Adesoji Aderemi was destined for the royal stool of Ooni right from birth.
He was born on the 15th of November 1889, every inch a king, to the family of Osundeyi Gbadebo and Adekunbi Itiola, his 19th and last wife and a native of Ipetumodu. On the day of Adesoji’s birth, his father, Prince Gbadebo Osundeyi had just arrived from a war expedition and as a gifted seer, Prince Osundeyi carried the baby into his laps, gazed intently into his face and was happy at what he saw.
He instructed Adekunbi to search for red beads, which they presented this special baby, pronouncing him an Ooni, a future Ooni, who is however, an ancestor Ooni, who had come back through their family.
Prince Osundeyi named this unusual baby, who took his first steps at seven (7) months and started walking, Tadeniawo Ayinla Adesoji Aderemi.
As a restless spirit, everything about Aderemi was quick and fast. He started schooling in January 1900 at the St. Phillips School, Iyekere, Ile-Ife.
He left school in 1906, became a pupil teacher in 1907, and immediately registered with an overseas correspondence school, for private tuition, backed up with private lessons from the late Bishop A. B Akinyele, to whom he paid visits at Ibadan. He joined the Nigerian Railway corporarion in 1909 in the construction section and worked in various other departments as station Manager at Port-Harcourt, Iwo, Ile-Ogbo, Offa, Ibadan and several other places in the Western Region from 1919 to 1921, when he resigned from the railway corporation having saved some money to set up his own business. Adesoji Aderemi came into instant success when he started a Motor Transport business as well as a trade in produce-buying and general merchandise.
After a brief tutelage with John Holt of Nigeria, he became an agent for UAC and later a Factor for John Holt Ventures, Mc lever and OLGeyser.
He traded in three cash crops; cocoa, cotton and palm kernel, which he brought from Iwo, Ede, Ipetumodu, Gbongan, Ile-Ogbo and Ibadan. He hoarded these produce while speculating an upturn in prices. He was reported to have made so much money as a result of the upturn in prices that he threw a party for the people of Ile-Ogbo, where he was living at the time to show his joy.
He started his transport business with a fleet of lorries, ferrying people and goods to and from many places around the country including Onitsha and Kafanchan.
He became so financially successful that, he was nicknamed “Atobatele” (already famed as king) by his contemporaries and the people of Ile-Ife and also ‘Ooni Ola’ (Tomorrow’s King). Adesoji bought his first car in 1920 and by 1930, he had used three cars which included an open roof car. His fame and popularity was a pain in the neck of the then reigning monarch, Ooni Ademiluyi Ajagun, that he was charged with impersonation and large flamboyant display of wealth at the upper palace court of the Ooni. He was fined 25 pounds. It is a funny coincidence and instructive that this sum of 25 pounds which he paid as fine was returned to him by the Ife Local Council on his ascension to the throne in 1930.
It is important to note that the Rev. Josiah Stanley Adegun Adejumo was Adesoji’s mentor, teacher guardian in primary school. Rev. Adejumo was vicar of the St. Phillips Anglican Church, and also doubled as the Headmaster of the St. Philips Primary School, Iyekere, Ile-Ife.
Rev. Adejumo was to Ile-Ife, an early pathfinder.
As an interesting coronary, Alaayeluwa Okunade Sijuwade II, born on the 1st of January 1930, to Prince Adereti Olubuse and grandson of Oba Adelekan Sijuwade Olobuse I, who was the first Ooni ever to travel out of his domain, succeeded him on the 6th of December,1980.
At the invitation of the colonial governor, Ooni Adelekan Olubuse I, visited Lagos in 1903 to give his ruling, whether the Oba Elepe of Epe was entitled to wear a beaded crown. That unprecedented journey to Lagos, according to the government gazette, caused a stir in Yoruba land. As a mark of respect to the Ooni, all Obas and princes momentarily vacated their thrones throughout the period of the Ooni’s sojourn in Lagos. When the Ooni finally arrived in Lagos, transported in his hammock, under a flutter of colourful, gigantic royal umbrella with his retinue of courtiers in toe, he was a sight to behold. And when he finally gave his verdict, presumably through an interpreter, he had his back to the colonial governor since no mortal, not even the representative of the English monarch could behold his face.
Oba Adesoji Aderemi upon ascension to the throne in 1930 began his modernist policies for the growth and development of Ife land and the Yoruba nation. He founded Oduduwa College on the 22nd of January, 1932 at Ajamapo, Ile-Ife.
On the 19th of December, 1931, Rev. M. S Cole, an Anglican priest, was on his way to Lagos from Ilesha from where he had gone to conduct a feasibility study sponsored by the Ilesha indegenes and elites in Lagos, as to the desirability of a secondary school in Ilesha.
On his way back to Lagos, he stopped over at IleIfe to see his friend – Rev. J. S. A Adejumo.
Rev. Cole was well received By Adejumo, and in the evening of that day, he took him to the Palace of the Ooni for traditional salute and felicitations.
Cole told the Ooni the essence of his visit to Ilesha and his intention to establish a secondary school on Ilesha soil, on the sponsorship of Ilesha indegenes in Lagos.
The Ooni, quite impressed by these proposals rather asked Rev. M. S. Cole to stay in Ile Ife and establish a secondary school for him. On the 22nd of January 1932, the Oduduwa College, under the proprietorship of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi and with M. S Cole as its first principal was established at Ajamapo, Ile Ife.
The first Ile Ife graduate in 1946, who had just returned from Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, with a B.A Degree of Dunelm, and whose mother was Ooni’s classmate in primary school, also became a principal of Oduduwa College in 1946.
The Oduduwa College became the first privately owned college in Nigeria followed by the Aggreh Memorial college established by Dr. Alvan Ikoku in 1934.
In 1935, the Ooni aided the installation of the Ife water works at Mokuro Ile-Ife. Adesoji Aderemi also brought telephone services to Ile-Ife in 1938, when telephone services were hitherto unknown, and built an official residence for the Ooni.
In 1943, the colonial government had acquired a site, and built structures for a proposed military barracks in Ile-Ife.
The men of Ile-Ife resented this move, on the ground that soldiers would begin to acquire their wives. The Ooni took this protest to the colonial officers, who immediately abandoned the moves and left the structure unoccupied. The military Barrack was eventually relocated to Ede.
In 1944, the Seventh day Adventist mission were also desirous of establishing a mission hospital in Ile-Ife and the Ooni allocated these abandoned structures, meant for the soldiers to the Seventh day Adventist mission, and thus in 1944, the Seventh Day Adventist mission hospital in Ile-Ife was established.
I’m 1948, he inaugurated the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and in the same year, he visited England and served as a delegate at the African Conference in London, held at the Lancaster House.
He had earlier in 1947, established a news paper – New times of Nigeria as publisher, and chief Obafemi Awolowo, as the managing editor.
This newspaper was the precursor of the Nigerian Tribune that was established in 1948 with about 12 investors –
Oba Adesoji Aderemi.
R. A Jagun
G. F Ojuntalayo
M. S Sowole
J. O Longe.
A. I Aina
J. F Aina and
A. A Okunsanya Awoyemi
Oba Adesoji Aderemi and HID Awolowo had the largest share holdings of 1000 pounds each, with Obafemi Awolowo, had a share holding of 500 Pounds.
In 1953, Adesoji Aderemi was appointed a Minister without portfolio in the Nigerian House of Representatives.
On June 2, 1953, Ooni Adesoji Aderemi attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and was shortly thereafter conferred with the title of the Knight of the British Empire (KBE.)
In 1953, Anthony Enahoro, a Minister of the Parliament had moved a motion for the independence of Nigeria in 1956.
The Western Region had 4 Federal Ministers-
Ooni Adesoji Aderemi
Chief S. L Akintola
Chief Bode Thomas
Chief Author Prest.
whilst the Eastern region had three ministers-
A. C Nwapa
The North had four federal ministers-
Usman Nagogo, the Emir of Kastina
Alhaji Tafawa Balewa
Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim.
Alhaji Mohammadu Ribadu
The southern Cameron was represented by Dr Endelley.
But before the defiance, doggedness and perseverance of Adesoji Aderemi and Oba Ladapo Ademola, the Alake of Egbaland, the Governor-General, Sir John McPherson, who had resisted the listing of the independent motion on the order paper, caved in.
The motion was subsequently debated and defeated and Adesoji Aderemi had to tender his letter of resignation from the cabinet to Sir John McPherson, the governor general.
His colleagues from the western region followed suit to create a constitutional lock jam. In 1954, Adesoji was appointed the president of the western region by the House of Chiefs.
He climaxed this by becoming the first African Governor of the Western Region in July 1960, succeeding the former British Colonial Governor, Olola Sir John Rankine.
He was the first to hold such a post in the entire British Colonial Africa. He functioned effectively in the office as Ooni and Governor, with vigour, grace, panache, dexterity and humaneness as a true symbol of the royal stool of Oduduwa. He was in office till May 29, 1962. Oba Adesoji Aderemi used his position of influence to advocate that the proposed University of Western Region be sited at Ile-Ife in 1962, in recognition of the ancestral status of Ile-Ife as the religious and cultural matrix of the Yorubas. The University started from the current Ibadan North Campus of the present Ibadan Polytechnic and finally moved to Ile-Ife in 1967, which was to Aderemi, the fulfillment of a long cherished dream. Adesoji Aderemi and the people of Ile-Ife donated about 130, 000 Acres of land for the new University. He built a magnificient mansion; the Atobatele Lodge before he ascended the throne of Ooni in 1930. This lodge was later occupied by Barclays Bank.
Adesoji, being a man of deep foresight, built the Popular Glass House at Iremo Road, Ile-Ife, as his own family compound, which his family of several wives and over sixty children relocated to upon his passage from the royal stool of the Ooni of Ife in July 1980.
Oba Adesoji Aderemi lost his first son-magistrate Adedapo Aderemi on the 16th of October 1963. Obafemi Awolowo had also lost his first son, Segun Awolowo, on the 10th of July, 1963. Prince Adedapo Aderemi had in September 1963 celebrated his father’s 33 year anniversary on the throne, with a big party.
The death of Prince Adedapo Aderemi prompted the Ooni Adesoji Aderemi to write his will. His will was written in 1964 by the legal titan, Chief Rotimi Williams.
Unfortunately, Chief Fedrick Rotimi Alade Williams did not leave a will, despite a slim family of a wife and four children.
The will listed about 11 surviving wives and 64 children, with tremendous assets.
These surviving children who had been trail blazers in various fields of human endeavor are keeping afloat, his fondest memories and legacies.
May the soul of this rare breed of a monarch and quintessential father of the Yoruba nation continually find peaceful repose with the Lord.
Hon Femi Kehinde, legal practitioner and former Member, House of Representatives, National Assembly Abuja, represented Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State between 1999 and 2003.