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Alaafin Adeyemi III (1938 – 2022)
•A great traditionalist and longest reigning Alaafin joins his ancestors
As a traditional ruler, he inherited a powerful and influential office with a grand history. An international conference held in Nigeria, in 2018, focused on his office and highlighted its historical significance. His domain, Oyo, the organisers said, was “the dominant political power in Yoruba land and beyond” in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In those days, they said, the Oyo monarch, known as Alaafin, was “the master of the realm spreading from the Savannah and as far afield as modern Benin and Togo Republics in the West African sub-region.”
They provided further contextual information, saying “Oyo also gave a major identity to Yoruba land. The name Yoruba was initially used for the Oyo speaking people, their empire and dialect until the 19th century when European explorers applied the name widely to other Yoruba sub-groups.”
By the time Alaafin of Oyo Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, popularly known as Iku Baba Yeye, ascended the throne in November 1970, at the age of 32, the old empire was no more. But he represented the continuity of a majestic narrative. He reigned for 51 years before his departure on April 22, at the age of 83. He was the longest reigning Alaafin of Oyo in history.
After his secondary education at St. Gregory’s College, Lagos, he worked for the Royal Exchange Assurance Limited, Lagos. Interestingly, as a prince he was also a boxer. “I am also a good boxer,” he said in an interview. “I have had over 56 bouts and lost two. In my bouts, only 10 people who contested with me lasted the distance. I won the others by knockout but I have never been knocked out.”
He was among the most revered traditional rulers not only in his Southwest base but also in the country as a whole. He served as permanent chair of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs.
Even in a democratic milieu, he attracted a lot of high-profile Nigerian politicians who sought his support and endorsement, particularly in election seasons.
His views on some of the country’s hot political issues reflected his candour and courage. For instance, on the restructuring debate, and the Nigerian presidency, he said: ”If you want to have a country that is forward moving there must be a federal system of government…We have not been fortunate to have the kind of president that we deserve.”
Importantly, in his era, guided by knowledge and wisdom, and a sense of self and office, he preserved and promoted Yoruba culture and tradition in the face of modernising influences.
He received honorary doctorates, and was chancellor of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto State, and the University of Maiduguri, Borno State. He was also a recipient of the Nigerian national honour Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Sensationally, sections of the media, especially social media, seemed to focus excessively on his marital life following his passing. He reportedly had 18 wives, which was culturally defensible for a Yoruba traditional ruler. In 2018, the year he turned 80, three of his wives gave birth to twins.
He explained in an interview: “I did not propose to any of my wives. They desired to be with me because I sent them to school. After their university education, I told them to leave but they refused and insisted on staying with me here in the palace as my wives.”
His burial rites generated some controversy following the involvement of Islamic clerics, which appeared to contradict his image as a symbol of Yoruba traditional religion. But he was ultimately a traditionalist, as his office demanded, despite his background as a Muslim and a student at a Catholic secondary school. ”One must conform to the covenants one made before the shrines of one’s forefathers and defend and uphold and, if possible, die defending the heritage of one’s people,” he said.
He was a worthy occupant of the ancient traditional office of Alaafin who ensured that its majesty was undiminished.