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Obafemi Awolowo and the Making of RemoThe Local Politics of a Nigerian Nationalist$

Insa Nolte

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748638956

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748638956.001.0001

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Remo United, Ikenne Divided

Remo United, Ikenne Divided

Chapter:
(p.153) 6 Remo United, Ikenne Divided
Source:
Obafemi Awolowo and the Making of Remo
Author(s):

Nolte Insa

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9780748638956.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

While discontent based on historical rivalries became an important resource for political mobilisation, this chapter demonstrates that the association of party politics with local rivalries was a productive and innovative dynamic, which ultimately enabled Awolowo to overcome Remo's factionalism. Although this process was centred on Awolowo's agency and leadership, its success depended on popular consent and the community's view of itself.

Keywords:   political mobilisation, party politics, political rivalry, Awolowo, Remo, factionalism, popular consent

Obafemi Awolowo was an ambitious and disciplined man who, like many Remo citizens of his background and generation, valued education highly. Perhaps not surprisingly, he wanted to marry a wife with similar qualities. He especially admired the young women who were, like himself, descendants of the first group of converts to Anglicanism in Ikenne and members of St Saviour’s Church.1 Most of Ikenne’s leading Christians were, through kinship and associational ties, involved in the wider struggles over titles, land and leadership that constituted the town. However, Awolowo had, especially since his father’s death, little connection to the intimate politics of the town, and his insertion into Ikenne’s political struggles would be determined by his romantic ambitions and eventually by the family of his wife, Hannah Idowu Dideolu. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Awolowo relied on his wife Hannah’s kinship ties for his interventions both in succession disputes in Ikenne and in the leading Remo town of Ofin.

Awolowo’s interventions in Ikenne and Ofin point both to his general political resourcefulness as well as his growing appreciation of traditional structures of popular participation. In both cases, and in particular in Ikenne, he drew on political techniques popular in the early nationalist movement, including especially the mobilisation of migrants for participation in local disputes. But in both Ikenne and Ofin, his success in installing the candidate of his choice depended not primarily on direct political mobilisation but on the control of the local administration. As town and divisional councils were now constituted by electoral politics, this process points to an expansion of democratic principles, but it also illustrates the assimilation of political technologies once controlled both by the British and local traditional rulers into nationalist politics. Finally, his reliance on lineage politics and kinship ties in both Ikenne and Ofin illustrates the continuing importance of traditional forms of political legitimacy and mobilisation in contemporary politics. Beyond chieftaincy and ọbaship, forms of participation and legitimacy embedded in everyday life continued to structure local responses to local politics and undergirded the creation of popular consent.

(p.154) A Political Marriage

Like many men of his generation, Obafemi Awolowo looked for a wife from his own community, and specifically the town of Ikenne. Born in 1915, Augusta Omoriola Onafowokan was the first Ikenne girl to attend a secondary school, and after her completion of the CMS Seminary in Lagos, she worked at the Colonial Secretariat as a clerk. Augusta was the daughter of Gabriel Onafowokan, the Native Administration Treasurer of Ijebu Province, and at that time one of Ikenne’s most prominent citizens. Like Awolowo, Onafowokan was a child of early Christian converts and a highly educated patron of St Saviour’s Church, Ikenne. As the holder of one of the most highly paid administrative posts available to locals, he was a respected member of the local elite and a man of political weight. In 1930, before his involvement in the bitter politics surrounding Awùjalè Adesanya, Onafowokan had been offered the throne of Ikenne. However, by that time his administrative career was so successful that he rejected it, pointing out that his income and influence as a ruler — an office interesting enough to promote bitter disputes over the throne in many communities — would be much lower than in his current position.

When Awolowo asked for Augusta’s hand in marriage, her father turned him down. According to Oyesanya (1992: 38), Augusta was already engaged to another man and her father had little choice in the matter. However, Awolowo’s later life suggests that he was deeply hurt by this turn of events, and it is likely that Onafowokan was also swayed by other considerations. Described by his children as a strict disciplinarian (Oyesanya 1992: 49), Onafowokan was a man who brooked no opposition, and Awolowo’s selfassured demeanour and unwillingness to supplicate others may have piqued him. Moreover, Awolowo’s father had died young and left him with few material resources while Onafowokan, like most early converts and their descendants, had used his possession of Western education and literacy to establish himself economically.

Obafemi later courted Hannah Idowu Dideolu Adelana, whose father, Moses Odugbemi Adelana, had also played a significant role in the emerging Anglican community in Ikenne. He was installed as the Bàbá Ìjọ or ‘father of the congregation’ of St Saviour’s Church in 1937. Like Augusta, Hannah belonged to a family that valued education and she had also attended school up to secondary level. It appears as if Hannah’s parents had similar misgivings about the young Obafemi as Augusta’s. In her own autobiography, Hannah remembers that she secretly wrote to him — considered too much of a rascal and troublemaker by her mother — and, after being admonished for her choice, ‘continued the relationship underground’ (Awolowo 2003: 11). However, Hannah was committed to Obafemi and in 1937, shortly before his business collapsed, her parents eventually agreed to a wedding. Theirs was by all accounts a successful marriage, which remained monogamous (p.155) for almost fifty years, from December 1937 until Awolowo’s death in May 1987. In his autobiography, Awolowo described Hannah as an ‘ideal wife’ and a ‘jewel of inestimable value’ (Awolowo 1960: 108–9).

In the early years of their union, Awolowo seems to have closely emulated a contemporary Western model of marriage and insisted that his wife did not work outside the house. However, when he left Nigeria in 1944 to study law in London, he began to appreciate Hannah’s aptitude for business. By that time, Hannah had given birth to three children and was pregnant with their fourth. She and the children stayed in Nigeria, and she supported herself and the children financially throughout the period of his stay abroad by trading in locally made and imported dresses, hats, shoes and bags. On top of this, she also sent money to her husband in the UK. After his return, she continued to trade, and she later became an important distributor for several companies, including Nigerian Breweries and the Nigerian Tobacco Company. She commented on the changing relations of power between the spouses during the period of Awolowo’s absence:

Occasionally, he [Awolowo] used to ask for the source of the money, but since he needed the money which I used to send him from my little business, he had no choice but to keep his calm, because he was in no position to object in far away London.

(Awolowo 2003: 12)

Hannah was not only proud to be able to support her family financially through her trading, she also gained great satisfaction from backing her husband’s political career, recalling that ‘[she] lived [her] life as a wife, mother, business woman and, above all, an adviser and helper and [she] had a sense of fulfilment to the bargain’ (Awolowo 2003: 17). Perhaps her attitude was not surprising, as Hannah was born into Remo and Ikenne politics. Thanks to the fact that descent in Remo was not established along exclusively patrilinear lines, Hannah was not only a member of the powerful Liyangu royal family, which had access to the throne of the Akàrígbò as well as that of a number of other Remo towns, but also belonged to Ikenne’s most prominent royal family, Obara.

Hannah’s membership of the Obara family gave the young Awolowo his first chance to get involved, at the level of Ikenne town politics, in what would become his two vocations: politics and the law. It also pitted Awolowo against Augusta’s father, Gabriel Onafowokan. Between 1933 and 1936, a number of Ikenne citizens cleared land along the Ikenne–Sagamu road to use for farming. This offended members of Hannah Awolowo’s Obara family, who claimed that this stretch of land was their family property and evicted the farmers. However, those who had cleared the land argued that it was communal or town land (itè) and not private property. This meant they would negotiate payment for the land with the ọba and the Òṣùgbó leaders rather than with Obara family. Supported by Onafowokan, the farmers took (p.156) their case to the Alákènnéé Orenowo, who promptly resolved the matter in their favour.2

The Obara family then took the case to the Native Court in neighbouring Ilisan, where they won. Similarly committed, Onafowokan’s group lodged an appeal at the Remo Court of Appeal in Sagamu. In need of a representative both able to deal with the court procedures and willing to publicly oppose Onafowokan, the Obara family turned to the young Obafemi Awolowo in 1938. Awolowo accepted and made a success of his representation when the Court of Appeal again awarded the right of ownership to the land to the Obara family. Undaunted, Onafowokan continued to take the case through the institutions, until in 1940 it was heard by the West African Court of Appeal (WACA). Again, Awolowo successfully represented the case.3 While the WACA did not grant the Obara family the exclusive ownership of the land, it considered them the main caretakers of the land on behalf of the town and ordered Onafowokan’s party to pay sixty guineas to cover their expenses.4

In some ways, the division of labour between Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo in Ikenne and Remo reflected a gendered approach to politics, in which Awolowo himself acted officially in the public sphere while his wife provided access to and mobilised non-public political resources. This division of labour continued to characterise their relationship, and although Hannah Awolowo took on formidable political roles in her husband’s absence, for example during her husband’s imprisonment and after his death, her preferred role was clearly that of providing often indirect support to her husband’s work rather than to establish her own political profile. Her supportive role reflected, for many observers, typical wifely qualities, but it also exemplified a wider political trend. While the contributions of women, from the mobilisation of grassroots groups to the provision of material and other resources, were crucial for the success of political projects, including the nationalist movement, they tended to be underrepresented in political office (Denzer 1994). While the reasons for this development are beyond the scope of this book, it has continued to dominate Nigerian politics over the decades.

At the level of local politics, the importance of Hannah’s family links for Awolowo’s insertion into Ikenne politics also illustrates that, unlike suggested by some observers (Garigue 1954), lineages did not become less important as occupational differentiation and access to individual wealth and power increased. While it is also beyond the scope of this study to investigate the changes of power within Remo lineages during the twentieth century, it is likely that the economic and political opportunities created by decolonisation generated a shift in power both within and between lineages in many communities. At the time of writing, Hannah Awolowo’s power within both the Obara and Liyangu families certainly continues to reflect (p.157) the political successes of her late husband. Rather than declining in the face of other forms of social differentiation, lineages continued to provide a form of social organisation that could provide important links between different occupational and religious groups. As kinship ties were adapted for and integrated into modern politics, they also provided an important basis for political mobilisation and participation.

Filling the Throne of Ikenne, 1949–50

In June 1949, Alákènnéé Adejumo Orenowo of Ikenne died, and Obafemi Awolowo, who had by then just won a seat in the Remo Native Administration Council through his leadership of Máàjéóbàjé politics, entered Ikenne politics again as an opponent of Gabriel Onafowokan. As mentioned above, Onafowokan had been offered the throne of Ikenne in 1930. This offer was tied into Ikenne politics in several ways. At the time, there were three officially recognised ruling families in Ikenne, which included the Orogbe, the Gbasemo and the Obara, to the last of which Hannah Awolowo belonged.5 However, a fourth family, called Moko, also had claims to the throne of Ikenne.6 Not least because of the then widespread popular support in Ikenne for the Moko’s most prominent member Gabriel Onafowokan, the Moko family was at this juncture offered a reinsertion into Ikenne ọbaship.

If Onafowokan had accepted Ikenne’s crown in 1930, he would have had to give up his soaring administrative career in the capital of Ijebu Province for what was then only the baálèship of a much smaller town which, at the time, was of modest political significance.7 Onafowokan pleaded youth as an excuse for not wanting the office yet and argued that the baálè’s stipend was too small to provide for the education of his children. As the Moko family had no other suitable candidate to put forward at the time, Onafowokan then supported the candidature of Adejumo Orenowo from the Orogbe family, which was next in line to present a candidate.8 Onafowokan’s understanding was that the offer of the throne would remain open to him if it became vacant again in his lifetime, and that he would accept the throne in that case. This was also the understanding of important Ikenne leaders, including the new Alákènnéé Orenowo (1931–49). Throughout his reign, the Alákènnéé affirmed the right of the Moko family to participate in the annual meetings of Ikenne’s royal families and to receive a share of royal dues.

Within weeks of Alákènnéé Orenowo’s death in 1949, Onafowokan announced his retirement from the Treasury on the salary of £20 per month. This openly signalled his availability for the throne that had been offered to him nineteen years earlier. However, after the Ikenne–Sagamu road land case, Onafowokan’s candidature had taken on a different meaning within town politics. Now Onafowokan’s ọbaship would not only include the Moko family in the number of recognised royal families of the town, but it would (p.158) also pose a threat to Hannah Awolowo’s Obara family. As the land along the Ikenne–Sagamu road became increasingly valuable, Onafowokan would almost certainly try to undermine the 1940 ruling of the West African Court of Appeal regarding the disputed land if he became Alákènnéé. Directly or indirectly, this would undermine the interests of the Obara family.

Awolowo intervened quickly to prevent Onafowokan from becoming Alákènnéé. With Hannah’s help and the support of the Obara family leaders, he began to champion an alternative candidate even before the traditional mourning period for ọba Orenowo was over. At first, Awolowo backed the candidature of Amos Solarin MBE, a Methodist pastor who had served in the Second World War and who was a brother of the famous educationist and political activist Dr Tai Solarin. However, Solarin withdrew from the contest when he realised how divisive it would be. Awolowo then gave his support to Gilbert Awomuti, a literate Lagos-based tailor. Confident that Awomuti would be able to muster support within the town, Awolowo put Awomuti forward as the new Alákènnéé at the next meeting of the Ikenne Town Council. The majority of the town council members, many of whom had been elected after their engagement in Máàjéóbàjé activities under Awolowo’s leadership, supported his choice.9

By opposing Onafowokan’s candidature in this way, Awolowo frustrated Onafowokan’s personal ambitions. But he went further than that: both Solarin and Awomuti were members of the Gbasemo royal family, whose turn it was to present a ruler only if the claim of the Moko family was ignored.10 Thus Awolowo not only opposed Onafowokan’s personal ambition but also that of his family by contesting the reinsertion of the Moko family into the Alákènnééship. Onafowokan’s supporters were outraged. Apart from those involved in Moko lineage politics, his supporters included many of Ikenne’s senior chiefs and public intellectuals, who had been involved in the inclusion of the Moko family in town politics and who were offended by what they saw as Awolowo’s dangerous destabilisation of the town (Ogunsimbo 1949).

As the dispute between the two candidates and their supporters increased in volatility,11 the colonial administration attempted to settle the case through a public hearing. The hearing was attended by about 2,000 citizens of Ikenne, many of whom were migrants from Lagos and Ibadan mobilised by Awolowo. After the hearing, Resident Butcher found the two opposing factions to be of similar strength. In a further public inquiry, again attended by hundreds of migrants from Lagos and Ibadan in support of Awolowo and Awomuti, no progress was made.12 The official failure to make a decision appeared to Awolowo’s supporters as if the British were punishing him for his involvement in the anti-taxation Máàjéóbàjé movement. There is no indication of this in the files, but Resident Butcher, who oversaw the case at the beginning, was certainly irked by Awolowo’s political tactics and commented disapprovingly:

(p.159) I am led to believe that Mr. Awolowo has constituted himself king-maker!13

As Butcher would find out to his own discomfort, Awolowo would indeed emerge from this dispute as a successful kingmaker. Through a skilfully orchestrated campaign, which included the support of his then ally Akàrígbò Adedoyin, Awolowo was eventually able to turn the stalemate to his advantage. On 5 March 1950, Awolowo forced the hand of the British by encouraging an unsanctioned installation of Awomuti in Ikenne.14 On 7 March, a big editorial on Ikenne appeared in Awolowo’s recently founded newspaper, the Nigerian Tribune. In the article, entitled ‘Justice Versus Spite’, which was soon taken up by other newspapers, the administrative officers involved in the Ikenne chieftaincy dispute were accused of dragging their feet out of sheer malice. At the same time, the Remo Divisional Council, under Awolowo’s leadership, pronounced Awomuti the rightfully installed Alákènnéé.

On 22 April 1950, the new Acting Resident Robinson gave in to the pressure created by the press, the Divisional Council and Awolowo’s urban supporters. Unlike Butcher, who had felt that Awolowo needed at least to court British approval for the installation of his candidate, Robinson was prepared to accept the authority of the local councils. In terms of pre-colonial relations of power these had as little or as much right to intervene in matters of traditional authority as the British, but they were, after all, legitimated by an election. Robinson thus proposed to acknowledge Awomuti as the new Alákènnéé, because:

There is this recommendation by the Remo Council carried by an overwhelming majority. I am satisfied.15

Thus Awomuti was recognised as the new Alákènnéé in 1950 against the wishes of an important section of the town’s population. The consequences of Awolowo’s victory would affect Ikenne politics throughout the 1950s and indeed up to the time of writing. At the same time, Awolowo’s realisation that beyond the administrative sphere, intimate traditional politics such as lineage interests could be used to influence and control traditional politics would soon find wider application.

The Struggle for the Throne of Ofin, 1952

In 1952, Akàrígbò Christopher William Adedoyin died, and Awolowo was determined to extend his political control from the outlying and former rebel towns, which supported the AG, to Ofin where the NCNC dominated. However, Awolowo was faced with a formidable opposition: after Adedoyin’s death, his son Adeleke Adedoyin, a prominent lawyer and friend of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s as well as an NCNC representative in the Western Region House of Assembly for Lagos, contested the throne. Adeleke Adedoyin’s election (p.160) would confirm the NCNC’s dominant role in Ofin, and it would thereby prevent the AG from becoming the dominant party in all of Remo.

To put a stop to Adedoyin’s plans to become Akàrígbò, Awolowo, as in Ikenne, turned to lineage politics. And as in Ikenne, he had an inside understanding of the relevant family interests through his wife’s kinship ties, this time to Remo’s royal Liyangu family. Sharing in the rights to the throne of the Akàrígbò, the Liyangu family had access to the thrones of several mostly Sagamu-based or southern Remo communities. Apart from Ofin, the Liyangu family’s control extended to the thrones of Ado, Epe, Ikenne, Simawa and Sotubo. It was, even before the political ascent of Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo, one of the most powerful families in the area (Olorì Funmilola Adekoya, 4 August 2002). The candidate originally put forward by the Liyangu family was a Dr Solanke, who had spent most of his life in Abeokuta, where he was well established. However, confronted with the possibility of a drawn-out and acrimonious contest, deeply embedded in local politics and rivalries, Dr Solanke withdrew his candidature.

Moses Awolesi, who was put forward by the Koyelu family, lived in Sagamu. As a wealthy local businessman, he had considerable public support. Born in 1892 to the man who would later become — albeit for a very short reign — Akàrígbò Awolesi Erinwole (1915–16), and his wife Osun-funke, Awolesi was baptised in 1904 and attended Wesley School Sagamu and thereafter Wesleyan Boys School in Lagos. In 1917, he joined the Nigerian civil service as a clerk and, having risen to the rank of Assessment Officer, retired in 1947. Upon his return to Sagamu, Awolesi established himself as a versatile businessman and landlord (Onasoga 1989: 15–17). Perhaps influenced by his own close family ties to Makun, again due to the acceptance of both maternal and paternal descent in Remo lineage politics, Awolesi was also one of the very few members of Ofin’s ruling families who had joined the AG. As in Ikenne, lineage politics were adapted for and integrated into party politics. After Solanke’s departure from Sagamu, the Awolowos gave Awolesi their full personal support. With Hannah’s help and mediation, the Liyangu family also supported Awolesi.

Beyond the realm of traditional and lineage politics, another faction had vested interests in the dispute over the Akàrígbòship: the residents of Sabo. Since its foundation, Sabo, and especially its Hausa community, had strongly supported its founder and representative Akàrígbò Adedoyin. After his death, the Hausa Sabo community transferred its political backing to his son Adeleke. As Adeleke entrenched himself in the palace built for his father, young men from Sabo, who acted as security guards, stationed themselves outside the palace and on Ofin’s main Adedoyin Road, which led from the palace to Sagamu’s Methodist School. The Hausa community played an important role in creating public support for Adedoyin. Many individuals donated cattle to Adedoyin’s cause, which were killed to feed (p.161) not only the security guards outside the palace but also other supporters of Adeleke (Ayodele 2004: 348).

Their support for Adeleke Adedoyin seemed to Sabo leaders simply a continuation of their appreciation of their settlement’s founder, a political decision that was consistent both with northern Nigerian cultural values and local understandings of the importance of a community’s foundation. In this sense, it represented an attempt by Sabo to launch itself as a political community within the established discourse of Remo politics. However, at the same time Sabo’s support for Adedoyin ignored the tradition of rotation among the royal families of Ofin, thus radically undermining imagined relations of seniority by suggesting that an offspring community like Sabo could change the political dynamics in its community of origin, Ofin. The shock created by Sabo’s support for Adedoyin was further increased by the fact that many people had not previously realised that Sabo had the ambition to gain a voice in Remo politics. In the past, Sabo had appeared to simply accept the status quo, which happened to be represented by Akàrígbò Adedoyin. Sabo’s sudden active support for his son Adeleke seemed like a complete reversal of its former subservience.

Despite the strong support for Adeleke Adedoyin from Sabo, public opinion was deeply divided between Adedoyin and Awolesi. Like Adedoyin, Awolesi had support from outside the traditional Ofin community, especially from Makun. One reason for this was his party political affiliation with the AG, which was strongly supported by Ofin’s rivals, including Makun. However, Awolesi also had strong personal ties to Makun through his mother’s family, and many Sagamu townspeople therefore felt that Awolesi would be able to overcome the rivalry between the quarters. As large sections of the Sagamu population were mobilised, violent stand-offs between supporters of Adeleke Adedoyin and Moses Awolesi occurred frequently, especially along Adedoyin Road or on the grounds of the Methodist School. As the local officers of the Nigeria Police Force were unable — and, perhaps in some cases, unwilling — to maintain public order in the face of such animosity, the Divisional Council invited police reinforcements to Sagamu in May. More than a dozen policemen were then brought to Sagamu.16

In June, Adeleke Adedoyin mobilised enough allies in Ofin to be installed in a local ceremony, and the West African Pilot published by his old school friend and political ally Nnamdi Azikiwe backed him strongly.17 However, his bid for his father’s throne was eventually unsuccessful. Crucially, Awolowo prevented Adedoyin’s recognition by the Remo Divisional Council. The council had been fully under Akàrígbò Adedoyin’s control during his lifetime, but despite much admiration for Adedoyin, the late ọba was also believed by some to have favoured the infrastructural development of his own community Ofin to the detriment of other towns. For this reason, (p.162) several NCNC councillors joined the AG after his death (Segun Sodiya, 2 March 1998).

Perhaps more importantly, Awolowo was becoming more and more popular throughout Remo, as he had actively courted politicians from Ijebu and Remo to join the Action Group since its inception. Six of sixty inaugural and executive members of his party, the AG, were from Remo Division, and two more came from Ikorodu, which was part of the precolonial Remo area (Sklar 1963: 108–10). As in Ikenne, Awolowo eventually used the Divisional Council to establish the candidate of his choice in Ofin. The new, AG-dominated Council boycotted Adeleke Adedoyin’s candidature and forced him to leave Sagamu for the time being. Instead, Moses Awolesi was duly installed as the Akàrígbò. As in Ikenne, a large section of the population was unhappy with this choice, and the combination of party, lineage and traditional politics, with their wider implications for communal ambitions, led to some clashes. A few months after Awolesi’s installation, a confidential report by Ijebu Acting Resident W. Fowler noted:

At about 1:00 pm yesterday, September 8th, the Action Group Party began a campaign at Shagamu. Speakers were equipped with loud hailers and one in a misguided attempt to win over support from the opponents of the Akarigbo, spoke in tactless and extravagant terms. There was some interference with his vehicle and his attendants were molested.

This led to retaliation by the inhabitants of the Makun Quarter who armed themselves with matchets, dane guns and so on; Adedoyin’s supporters from the Offin [sic] Quarter withstood the retaliation and for about and hour and a half to two hours there was disorder.18

Yet despite the bitterness with which Awolesi’s installation was greeted at first, he was soon able to establish himself in the position of the Akàrígbò, because he was able to draw on the discrepancies between the party political division of Remo and Ofin’s ambition for hegemony within Remo to his personal advantage as well as to the benefit of his title.

The Unification of Remo Behind the Action Group

The installation of Akàrígbò Moses Awolesi in 1952 prepared the ground for the political unification of Remo behind the Action Group, which was further entrenched by the rise of Awolowo and a growing awareness of regional and national politics. Thanks to his affiliation with the Action Group, Akàrígbò Awolesi was able to overcome the initial opposition of many Ofin and southern Remo townspeople to his person. Because Awolesi was widely accepted and supported in the towns over which he claimed seniority, local opposition to the paramount status of Ofin and the Akàríg-bòship declined markedly outside Sagamu. The acceptance of Ofin’s paramount (p.163) status in turn created growing support for Awolesi and the AG in Ofin. In 1953, more than a third of local council seats in Ofin quarter were won by Action Group candidates, and the local council election in 1958 showed a clear AG victory in Ofin. In the 1958 elections, Action Group candidates won 256 of 283 wards in Remo, and dominated all fourteen town councils with at least three-quarters majorities.

The growing support for the AG in Remo was also assisted by the fact that the AG’s prominent local leaders began to play an important role in the politics of the Western Region.19 After the Action Group victory in the 1951 Regional election, Awolowo became the Leader of Government Business and Minister for Local Government in February 1952, while Ọdemọ Samuel Akinsanya joined the Western Region’s House of Chiefs and became a Minister without Portfolio. As Akàrígbò Awolesi’s career trailed Awolowo’s rising national profile throughout the 1950s, he also played a prominent role in AG politics at the regional level and in the House of Chiefs (Adeleke-Adedoyin 1984: 52). In this capacity, these local leaders not only ensured Remo’s presence within the regional political debate, but they were active policy-makers whose mission had strong local support. As AG leaders from Remo helped to spread the educational and enlightenment ideas that had defined Remo since the late nineteenth century at the level of ethno-national and regional politics, they represented local ideas of what constituted good politics.

Also, the prominence of Awolowo and Akàrígbò Awolesi contributed to a greater awareness of Remo’s role in the postcolonial state. Peel has, with reference to late colonial Ilesa, suggested that a group’s ‘special sense of itself grew in reciprocal relationship with those of all its neighbours’ (Peel 1983: 181). Remo’s political identity, too, was increasingly defined within the wider framework of other Yoruba-speaking groups of western Nigeria. Communal ambitions reflecting historical rivalries that often dated back to the nineteenth century found expression in the overall voting patterns within the Western Region. Despite the earlier successes of the Egbé ọmọ Odùduwà among Ibadan’s educated elite, Awolowo’s support among the native Ibadan was low because he continued to be identified with the representation of migrant settler’s rights. Led by the charismatic Adegoke Adelabu, who had entered a political alliance with Awolowo’s old rival Azikiwe, Ibadan voted overwhelmingly NCNC.

However, many of Ibadan’s former subordinates and opponents, including Egba, Ife and Ekiti, as well as the Ondo, Owo and Ikale communities east of Ijebu that had not been part of the Oyo or Ibadan empire, tended to support the AG.20 Similarly, despite the loyalty of several Remo towns to Ibadan in the nineteenth century, anti-Ibadan feelings existed in Ijebu and Remo. Migrants in Ibadan suffered from anti-Ijebu sentiments directed against their prominence in landownership, trade and — thanks to their (p.164) comparatively high levels of education — the administration (Mabogunje 1967: 85–95). As distances and travel times between Ibadan and Remo were low, many migrants chose to vote in their hometowns, and because Remo migrants were often leaders and opinion-makers at home, their influence on local voting patterns was probably considerable. Thus a Remo vote for the AG was very often also a vote against Ibadan.

Despite the many factors driving AG acceptance in Remo, the overwhelmingly successful translation of local AG dominance into political unity under Akàrígbò Awolesi was not based on consent alone. Not all AG support was recruited without pressure. Once the local (town) and divisional governments were dominated by the party, the victimisation, intimidation and even punishment of opponents became possible. Harassment by the local government police and administration took such forms as the meticulous control of tax and rates payments of opponents as well as sanitary inspections. At the same time, precolonial civic practices aimed at creating unity within the community were often revived at the grassroots, and in particular masquerade and associational outings were used to intimidate, mock or even convince local NCNC supporters of the value of the AG (Macaulay Adekoya, 12 November 1996, 13 November 1996, 24 December 1996).

While its control of the local administration enabled the AG to entrench its power in Remo and elsewhere, it also enabled some communities to resist the pressure of political unity. Thus the incorporation of the former Remo town Ikorodu into Lagos enabled local NCNC leaders to re-enact Ikorodu’s historical struggles with Ofin through party political rivalry. Ikorodu, which was widely believed to have been founded by members of royal Ofin lineages, had developed into an important lagoon town during the nineteenth century. It had long resented Ofin’s overlordship, and as part of the community’s struggle for recognition as an independent town, Ikorodu leaders had begun to ask for a crown from Ofin in the 1930s. Their demand continued to be refused by Ofin, and Ikorodu leaders eventually undermined Ofin’s claims to their town by turning to Ijebu-Ode, which duly granted the town an ọbaship in 1947. When Ofin established its hegemony in Remo through AG support, Ikorodu, safe from the pressure of the AG-dominated Remo Divisional Council, united behind the NCNC (Soyemi 1987). Thus the administrative separation of Ikorodu and the other Remo towns helped to create political distance.

The rivalry between Ikorodu and Ofin also mobilised sections of the population in some of the newer settlements in southern Remo, and especially in Ogijo, which was at times claimed both by Ikorodu and Ofin as a farming village. Since the foundation of Sagamu, the communities in Sagamu had continued to control access to most of the land in southern Remo where they had been located before the foundation. As old and new villages and towns in southern Remo expanded to serve the food markets in Lagos and (p.165) elsewhere, many members of these communities paid rent to landlords in Sagamu. The control of Sagamu over these villages was buttressed by the local administration based there, although Ikorodu continued to make claims to sections of the land. When Ikorodu voted NCNC, some groups in the southern Remo villages and towns followed its example. As Ikorodu, being located within a different administrative entity, could not possibly be as successful in enforcing rent payments as Sagamu, this support reflected the real material interests which informed the struggles over local traditions of belonging and their politicisation. In reflection of the fact that a southern Remo vote for the NCNC came to demonstrate both their opposition to Ofin and their support for Ikorodu, the NCNC leader supported in Ogijo and other southern Remo communities was not Adedoyin or another Ofin representative, but Chief T. O. S. Benson, whose political base was in Ikorodu (Soyemi 1987: 38; Adeniji 2002: 42–5).21

However, the overwhelming majority of Remo citizens supported the AG after the installation of Moses Awolesi in 1952.22 The process in which the AG became Remo’s ‘national’ party again points to the fact that while traditional and historical affiliations legitimised party politics, the reverse was also the case. By validating the aspirations of his subjects through his confirmation of the ambitions of those who had voted AG before him, Awolesi became the first modern Akàrígbò to be widely acknowledged as the leader of Remo by Remo citizens outside his home community of Ofin. This acceptance as the Akàrígbò of Remo in turn legitimised Awolesi as the Akàrígbò of Ofin. As the integration of traditional and party politics contributed to a new, united, postcolonial political identity in Remo, it was not a passive process of mutual identification, but a powerful and creative political tool in the creation of consent for new visions of the community.

The process of internal stratification associated with the political unification of Remo also illustrates that the AG successfully furthered the process of centralisation which had defined Remo politics since the nineteenth century. It tied party politics closely to the legitimacy of the traditional rulers. As the Akàrígbò’s seniority among Remo ọbas was no longer based solely on heavily contested historical traditions and British administrative decisions but on widespread acceptance throughout Remo, he became a legitimate representative of the locality.

The very acceptance of the Akàrígbò, however, implied that Remo itself was imagined as a place with a much more hierarchical relationship among its constituent towns.23 It suggested that political opposition to the party of the majority also challenged the new traditional hierarchy and its beneficiaries, perhaps even traditional authority itself. In this sense, traditional authority in Remo — strengthened by the ever-increasing desire of politicians to associate with it — became a locus of moral-political representation in the postcolonial state.

(p.166) As the unity of Remo was confirmed and legitimised by party politics, Adeleke Adedoyin was increasingly perceived not as a man who had contested his father’s throne but as a man who posed a threat to Remo’s new political order. As Awolowo’s political power expanded, this perception did not only hamper Adedoyin’s further political career in the AG, but also that of other members of his family who were suspected of having a similarly destabilising agenda. Thus in 1955 one of Adeleke’s relatives, Haastrup Ademuyiwa Adedoyin, was installed as the crowned head of the Odolowo quarter in the Ijebu town Okun-Owa. However, local opposition against this ruler was repeatedly successful in mobilising government institutions to arrest and fine him (Abiodun 2001: 47–61).

Because of its continued support for Adeleke Adedoyin, the Sabo community suffered a loss of autonomy within Remo. Awolesi’s need to increase Sabo’s structural dependence to undermine Adeleke Adedoyin resonated with popular perceptions of appropriate forms of political participation. The involvement of Sabo in the struggle over the Akàrígbòship had shocked many Remo citizens because of its unexpectedness. However, the unease about Sabo’s involvement in local politics also reflected popular views on authority, which were compounded by ethnic and religious difference. Sabo’s support for Adedoyin was widely understood to challenge the local control of politics and thereby to undermine Remo’s political unity. Moreover, the fact that Sabo itself had neither a traditional ruler nor traditional civic associations seemed to confirm that, if successful, Sabo would also undermine the traditional sphere so closely associated with both the negotiation of individual and group aspirations and party politics. To contain Sabo’s subversive aspirations, Akàrígbò Awolesi ensured its political and spiritual submission. Protecting Awolesi, Ofin and the new Remo, Ofin’s Orò association began to patrol Sabo in 1953 (Ogunjobi 1988: 59).

As Sabo’s place at the lower end of the new Remo hierarchy was confirmed by its subjugation to Orò, the NCNC’s influence in Ofin declined so much that in 1953 even Adeleke Adedoyin joined the AG. By that time, the mutually legitimising politics of Akàrígbò Awolesi and the AG were established. Even if not all aspects of Awolowo’s attempt to redefine Remo politics were foreseen by him, he had played the leading role in the creation of a new Remo community. At the same time, Awolowo’s intervention in Ofin’s chieftaincy politics was supported by the complex interplay of a range of internal and external factors, which involved the everyday perceptions and aspirations of ordinary Remo citizens, and in particular their views on the inherent value of education and local relations with Ibadan. But as developments in Ikenne show, not all attempts by Awolowo to redefine community were successful.

Why Ikenne Has No ọba Today

(p.167) Having won the contest for Ikenne’s throne, Alákènnéé Awomuti decided to undergo the Ìgbọpón ceremony, which precedes the traditional initiation and installation of an ọba, in January 1952. During this ceremony, the ọba is recognised as the head of the town by the Òṣùgbó. He receives a wooden tray with a symbolic share of pork, and from then on he can receive his share of the sacrifices carried out on behalf of the town, which must be brought to him on the same tray. In reflection of the symbolic reversions of authority that frequently characterised town rituals and festivals, during the Ìgbọpón ceremony the ọba is also instructed in the use of the tray in order to perform his duties towards the Òṣùgbó during the local Balùfòn festival. However, many members of the Onafowokan section of the town were determined to prevent Awomuti from undergoing this initiation, and in a violent struggle on the morning of the ceremony, Ona Balogun, one of Onafowokan’s supporters, was stabbed to death.24

When news of Balogun’s death spread, Onafowokan’s supporters protested angrily. ọba Awomuti left the town for the Remo capital Sagamu without having undergone the initiation. Awolowo heard of the crisis and drove to Ikenne from Ibadan that afternoon. As his car entered Ikenne, he was identified and attacked by the crowd that had gathered by Balogun’s house. Although Awolowo was not afraid and wanted to address the crowd, his driver turned the car and left Ikenne. When the alleged killer of Ona Balogun, who had been found guilty of murder in a local court, was acquitted of all charges at the Supreme Court in Lagos, a number of Ikenne citizens suspected that Awolowo had used his influence to sway the judge (Soriyan 1991: 297–8).

Despite the continuing political success of Awomuti’s sponsor Awolowo in regional politics, Ikenne politics remained difficult for Alákènnéé Awomuti because many local chiefs supported Onafowokan and the Moko family. To create some support for himself in this area, Awomuti decided to confer chieftaincy titles on several of Ikenne’s prominent citizens. Among the men and women so honoured were Hannah and Obafemi Awolowo. In order to avoid another provocation of conflict between the two town factions, mediators were sent around town to the main players in the conflict and a reconciliation meeting was held in Ikenne Customary Court on 26 December 1954. At this meeting a rapport of some kind was established between the two groups, and many of Awolowo’s former opponents agreed to keep the peace. In return, it is suggested by members of the Moko family, Awolowo agreed to look into the question of the reinstatement of the Moko as a ruling family (Soriyan 1991: 300). In January 1955, the Awolowos were installed as chiefs during a grand ceremony followed by a special Thanksgiving service in St Saviour’s Church and another generous reception at their house.

While the public opposition to Alákènnéé Awomuti became less violent (p.168) after Awolowo’s installation as a chief, Awolowo’s opposition to the Moko family continued to create local opposition against him and to outrage those who believed he had promised to reconsider the issue. Under Awolowo’s Premiership of the Western Region, the Western Region government requested all local councils (formerly town councils) to submit official declarations in respect of the local traditional titles for approval in 1958. Ikenne local council, chaired by Action Group member Ayo Akinsanya, put forward a declaration that clearly reflected Awolowo’s view of local relations of power. Despite local opposition to this declaration, the document was duly approved in Ibadan on 24 May 1958.25 The declaration made under section 4(2) of the Chiefs’ Law 1957 of the Customary Law regulating the selection to the stool of Alakenne of Ikenne chieftaincy clearly stated that there were only three ruling houses in Ikenne, namely the Obara, the Orogbe and the Gbasemo. No mention was made of the Moko family.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Chiefs’ Law of Ikenne did not facilitate the reunification of Ikenne behind the Obara family. Instead, it drove Awolowo’s opponents into party politics as a way of expressing their opposition to him. In the first half of the 1950s, Onafowokan financed and supported the NCNC as the primary opposition party to Awolowo’s AG in Remo. When the NCNC lost its local significance in the latter half of the 1950s, Onafo-wokan created the Ijebu-Remo Taxpayers’ Association (IRTPA), modelled on the Ibadan Taxpayers’ Association (ITPA) led by the Ibadan politician Adegoke Adelabu, whose rivalry with Awolowo dominated regional politics at the time (Sklar 1963: 261). Its eclectic programme was mainly due to the fact that the IRTPA was an organisation in which all forms of local opposition to the AG and to Awolowo were united. Thus, although the IRTPA claimed to be affiliated, like the ITPA, to the anti-colonial NCNC in 1957, it also opposed self-government for Nigeria. Awolowo, it was feared, would use the powers of the postcolonial state to completely extinguish the ambitions of the Moko family and its allies.

As Awolowo’s opponents in Ikenne feared, the 1950s and 1960s saw his rise in status and power and Ikenne chieftaincy politics were not revisited officially. In 1981 the Ogun State government, created in 1976 out of the Western Region, set up the Alakenne of Ikenne Chieftaincy Review Commission with the aim of re-examining the 1958 chieftaincy declaration. By this time, Gabriel Onafowokan had died, but his children continued to provide leadership for the Moko family. During the commission’s interviews in June 1981, the Moko family was represented by Gabriel’s lawyer sons Taiwo and Kehinde Onafowokan. After an exhaustive fact-finding mission, involving interviews with many of those who had a stake in this conflict, the commission submitted a report and recommendations to the state government. However, neither the Review Commission’s report nor a government White Paper based on the report were published.

(p.169) On 20 August 1984, Alákènnéé Awomuti died, and the town could not be united behind a successor. Beyond Onafowokan’s immediate family, many Ikenne citizens continued to support the reinsertion of the Moko family into the ọbaship of the town. Meanwhile, the Awolowos put their weight behind the Alákènnéé of Ikenne Chieftaincy Declaration, which excluded the Moko family. According to the Declaration, which also prescribed the pattern of rotation among the three recognised ruling houses, it was the turn of Ikenne’s most powerful royal family — Obara — to present the next candidate for the throne. However, by that time, the rift in town politics had affected the Obara family itself, which had divided along lines of political interest.

As an old and powerful royal family, the Obara family could boast a large number of members and thus potential candidates for the ọbaship. After a number of consultations within the family, two prospective candidates for the throne of the Alákènnéé emerged. These candidates drew support from very different quarters. David Efunuga, a retired court clerk, was supported by the Awolowos and a large number of leading Obara family members. In particular, he had the support of the section of the family in control of the long-disputed land along the Ikenne–Sagamu road. Efunuga’s rival Ademolu Odeneye, a retired photographer and trader, had some backing from Obara. However, he drew the majority of his support from the Moko quarter, where he lived. Through maternal relations on his father’s side, Odeneye was also a Moko member.26 Odeneye’s closeness to the Moko family, however, was the very reason why his candidature was bitterly opposed by those who wanted to ensure that the Moko family would not be recognised as a royal family of Ikenne. The implications of his reign would, it was feared by his opponents, include not only the recognition of the Moko family, but also a reduction in the Obara family’s influence and their loss of control over the land along the Ikenne–Sagamu road (ọba M. S. Awolesi, 7 August 2002).

During a meeting held by Ikenne’s ten kingmakers in July 1985, Odeneye was elected as the new ọba with six votes against Efunuga’s four. However, Efunuga’s supporters held that the election had not been in accordance with the 1958 Alákènnéé of Ikenne Chieftaincy Declaration, according to which the Obara family should have voted on the candidates before presenting them to the kingmakers. Determined to prevent Odeneye from ascending the throne, Efunuga took the matter to the High Court of Ogun State. The High Court in Sagamu confirmed Efunuga’s interpretation of the law and declared Odeneye’s nomination null and void.27 Although Obafemi Awolowo died in 1987, the struggle continued. An appeal by Odeneye and his supporters — led by Kehinde Onafowokan SAN28 as learned counsel — was dismissed in 1988, and in December 1990 the Supreme Court of Nigeria confirmed the dismissal.29

(p.170) In 1991, a number of family and town meetings were held in an attempt to resolve the issue out of court, but these came to a standstill when the rumour circulated among Odeneye’s supporters that the head of the Obara family, who was in control of the paraphernalia of Ikenne’s royal office, including the Gbedu drums, had made arrangements to install David Efunuga. This perceived threat to the Moko family was countered by another set of legal actions, including an injunction preventing the local and state government institutions from recognising any installation of an Alákènnéé of Ikenne until the report of the 1981 Chieftaincy Review Commission had been published. At the time of writing, the legal power struggle between the two town factions — including the two factions of the Obara family — had not been resolved.

The interregnum in Ikenne illustrates the failure of both Awolowo and Onafowokan to establish themselves, even if retrospectively, as the owners of Ikenne, which is the literal meaning of the royal title Alákènnéé. It is probably a reflection of Awolowo’s national status that his failure to establish control over Ikenne has not been discussed in the literature on him. As the ownership of Ikenne continues to be contested, those involved have adopted multilayered self-representations. Although associated with the interests of the anti-Moko branch of the Obara, Hannah Awolowo has explicitly stated that she did not want to discuss Ikenne traditional politics because she did not want to encourage ‘troublemakers’. By arguing that she was ‘a mother to everyone in Ikenne’, Hannah Awolowo implied at the same time that she represented the whole community (Hannah Awolowo, 7 August 2002).

The Rise of Idotun

Although at the time of writing Ikenne’s interregnum has lasted for more than twenty years, the town has not been without communal leadership. As illustrated in Chapter 2, power reverts to the representative town association upon the death of the ọba, and Ikenne’s Olíwo, the head of the Òṣùgbó, has been the town’s regent. As the titled chiefs of the Òṣùgbó cannot normally be installed as rulers, the Olíwo’s regency does not represent a threat to the royal family. However, an Olíwo is not able to carry out all the ọba’s obligations. Thus Ikenne’s Olíwo is not in a position to discuss local matters as a peer with the other members of the Remo Traditional Council, who are all ọbas. Neither can he sign the identification certificates necessary to make applications for identity cards or passports. Due to the continuing integration of ọbaship into the postcolonial state, a town without an ọba suffers from lack of access to the local administration. The passionate lament from the resident of a Yoruba town outside Remo illustrates this:

Since the demise of our traditional ruler … things have not been going well with the town politically, socially, and economically as we do not know what is going on in government circles since a regent is (p.171) not entitled to attend government meetings where towns’ problems would be discussed and solutions found to them [sic].

(Daily Sketch, 28 November 1995)

Thanks to Awolowo’s influence such a fate did not befall his hometown Ikenne. Instead, he created consent for a different form of traditional authority by redrawing the boundaries of the community and encouraging the revalidation of royal traditions in the town of Idotun. After the destruction of Idotun before or during the 1836 war,30 most citizens of Idotun moved to Ikenne, where they founded Idotun quarter in its northwest. Although Idotun had a crowned ruler, he had either disappeared or died during the war, and no new ọba was installed for many decades after the resettlement of the community. However, most of Idotun’s senior chiefs and Òṣùgbó officers survived the destruction of their settlement, and the continued existence of Idotun’s Òṣùgbó guaranteed that Idotun retained its distinct character as a town in its own right.

In 1920, Badaru Ogunbawo Otesile, a converted goldsmith who had been baptised as Alfred, was put up by Idotun as an Olúdòtun, and he was installed as the community’s ruler. However, in 1921 a supporter of Otesile, Odupajo Adegba-bi-eru-esin of Idotun, stood in front of the Alákènnéé’s palace and compared the reputation of Idotun, which had a historical crown and was an ìlú aládé, with that of Ikenne in a manner that suggested that the status of the Olúdòtun was higher than that of the Alákènnéé. After this incident, the Olúdòtun was immediately removed from office by Ikenne citizens outraged at this insult to the Alákènnéé.

Within Ikenne, the Idotun quarter has consistently supported Obafemi Awolowo, and the AG chairman in Ikenne’s local council during the 1950s, Ayo Akinsanya, was from Idotun. On 30 September 1958, Sobola Opeaye (1958–76) was installed as the second Olúdòtun of Idotun in Ikenne, albeit at a lower official rank than the Alákènnéé. He was succeeded by S. O. Oresajo (1976–81), a wealthy businessman and leader of the Methodist community of Ikenne. The immediate past Olúdòtun of Idotun, ọba Michael S. Awolesi, ascended the throne on 30 July 1983. Trained as a tailor in Lagos, Michael Awolesi became an itinerant salesman of traditional remedies and later worked for Shell as a sales promotion supervisor. A sociable and popular man, Michael Awolesi garnered widespread support for the ascent of the Idotun community within Ikenne. In November 1985, Olúdòtun Awolesi even installed Idotun chiefs in the Ikenne Town Hall. By doing this he not only physically expanded his activities beyond the Idotun quarter, but also used the annex that had originally been built for spiritual functions involving the Alákènnéé and which overlooked the place where the Alákènnéé’s skulls were kept. Despite this implicit challenge to the Alákènnéé’s authority, Awolesi went ahead, although he has held subsequent installations elsewhere (Soriyan 1991: 46–52).

(p.172) Probably both in reflection of his political connections and his local popularity, Awolesi was granted the right to wear a beaded crown or adé on 23 March 1985, and Idotun was officially recognised as an ìlú aládé, or a town that owns a crown, in this way. Awolesi was made the secretary of the council of Remo ọbas at the local government level, and after the division of Remo local government in 1991, he took on the chairmanship of the traditional council of Ikenne local government. In 1991, Olúdòtun Awolesi’s status was upgraded to that of a Grade 2 ọba, and the ceremony in December of that year, where Awolesi was officially presented with a new staff of office and instrument of appointment, was attended by Hannah Awolowo. As Alákènnéé Gilbert Awomuti had died in 1984, Olúdòtun Awolesi was, for most of his reign until his death in 2003, the only ọba in Ikenne. Awolesi’s successor, Olúdòtun Odunayo Solarin, has never shared the town with another ruler. The Olúdòtun’s leading role in Ikenne affairs has been reflected by his official recognition as a Grade 2 ọba — the same status as that of the past Alákènnéé Gilbert Awomuti.31

Thus, while Ikenne itself had no ọba which represented it as a united community, it has de facto been represented by the ọba of Idotun for over twenty years. In a settlement where most people had ties to both towns, the authority of the Olúdòtun exemplified the political mobilisation of community ties. While the rise of Idotun’s status vis-à-vis Ikenne was bitterly resented by opponents of the Awolowos, it has been projected into the past by the Olúdòtun and his supporters. Thus the late Olúdòtun Awolesi suggested in an interview that the towns of Ikenne and Idotun merged after a long friendship to protect themselves against external enemies, refuting the older narratives of Idotun’s refuge in Ikenne which imply Idotun’s obligation to Ikenne as its host (ọba Michael S. Awolesi, 7 August 2002).

Although Obafemi Awolowo could not establish his version of Ikenne politics as centred on the Obara family, the rise of Idotun within Ikenne illustrates his ability to transform the community’s view of itself, even post-humously. The vacuum which emerged after the death of the Alákènnéé was filled by the Olúdòtun. Thus if Awolowo’s legacy to Ikenne did include the division of the town, it also included a trajectory of success and revival for Idotun, a community that had, despite its past as a crowned town, until the 1950s only constituted a quarter of Ikenne. As Idotun’s status has increased, Ikenne has become a settlement of two towns of almost equal status. The presence of those two towns, both with their own set of civic associations, clearly reflects the settlement’s political division at the level of grassroots political participation.

Popular Consent and the Remaking of Community

As the transformations of Ikenne and Remo illustrate, once party politics were intimately associated with locally rooted institutions, they could (p.173) contribute to the creation of new communal identities. This process, in turn, had implications for electoral results. Taking these insights beyond Remo, the Action Group soon consciously attempted to remake communities through an appropriation of traditional politics throughout the Western Region and, often helped by the Egbé ọmọ Odùduwà, inserted itself into Yoruba politics through local and regional rivalry. The party attempted to coerce dissenting areas such as Ibadan, Ilesa and Oyo, or — outside the Yoruba-speaking areas — Benin, into political support for the AG through the manipulation of traditional authority. However, as the early experiments in Remo and Ikenne suggest, such interventions were only successful where they reflected a community’s view of itself and its outside relations. For example, despite the AG’s massive intervention in Ibadan, and even the suspension of Awolowo’s rival Adegoke Adelabu from the Ibadan District Council, the AG was not able to establish a firm hold on Ibadan politics at that stage.

As party politics became an important force in the making of communities at the local level and beyond, they redefined communities both in terms of their boundaries and by reinterpreting and connecting their internal and external views of themselves. Thus the unification of Remo behind the AG confirmed the stratification of the community’s traditional hierarchy and created widespread popular consent for the paramountcy of the Akàrígbò. Beyond the local, Remo’s vote for the AG represented its support for the person of Obafemi Awolowo in nationalist politics, as well as its ideological closeness to the areas of Ife and Ekiti which voted similarly.32 At the same time, it represented to Remo voters their critique of NCNC-voting Ibadan, and their dismay over the equally NCNC-supporting Sabo. As the community’s boundaries and its relations to its constituent groups and others were redefined and became mutually supportive, Remo was remade politically.

Because local struggles over electoral politics remained intensely particular even when they reflected much wider concerns, they were sometimes seen to reflect tribal or communal cleavages only, as opposed to differences between wider communities of interest defined by occupation, education and social class (Garigue 1954). While it is useful to distinguish between traditional and modern (or party) politics in order to refer to different political dynamics and processes, Awolowo’s transformation of Remo politics illustrates that at the grassroots, everyday meanings associated with these two spheres of politics constantly seeped into one another. Also, such analyses ignore the fact that communal politics frequently aim to transform and modernise other forms of differentiation. Using, but also transcending, the wealth of political traditions that centre on local community in southwest Nigeria, party politics aimed at the creation and control of larger political communities. Although electoral politics were tied to interests and (p.174) viewpoints located in the everyday and traditional, they were also concerned with a reordering of community ties far beyond the local.

Moreover, as the Remo example illustrates, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, divergent political and business interests as well as religious, educational and occupational changes played an important role in the creation and recreation of communities. Disproving the condescension with which Awolowo had thought about the ‘masses’ during the late 1940s, communities were formed, fixed and reformed in response to both local and wider political concerns, and communal cleavages represented, in a very real sense, differences of interest and ideology. In this context, the assumption that loyalty to the community reflected a primordial politics appears both ahistorical and absurd: like all political allegiances, political communalism reflects historically rooted interests. Based on both material and ideological concerns, any enduring transformation of the community needed to be based on popular participation and consent.

Finally, popular support for Awolowo’s intervention in Remo not only legitimised and renewed Remo’s traditional hierarchy, it also inserted Awolowo into Remo’s view of itself and its past. Once Remo’s traditional hierarchy became based on consent, it became natural in local discourse to project similar consent and unity into the past, and to view not only Remo’s factionalism since the break-up of the Remo federation but also its inclusion in the Ijebu kingdom (and later District and Province) as temporary. In this way Remo’s unification in the 1950s created a new precolonial genealogy, in which Remo’s independent existence in the past became, if not a certainty, then at least a strong possibility, which in turn both confirmed and obscured Remo’s long struggle for independence from Ijebu-Ode. As the architect of Remo’s purposeful unity in the present, Awolowo thus also became an originator of its past.

On the basis of local engagements with power and history, Awolowo’s social basis in Remo politics was dramatically extended once it took on this mythical dimension. While Awolowo’s mobilisation of traditional (as well as non-traditional) elites allowed him to establish local political unity under his leadership, it was the popular support for Awolowo and the AG that really entrenched this process. The dramatic political effects of this development during the 1950s and 1960s are explored in the next chapter.

Notes:

(1.) The discrepancy between the reference in the majority of historical and contemporary documents to ‘St Saviour’s Church’ and the sign of ‘Our Saviour’s Church’ at the church in question in Ikenne was not resolved at the time of going to press.

(2.) SLI, file 1730, 26 May 1938.

(3.) SLI, file 2500.

(4.) Disputes over the land in question continued to divide the Ikenne community, and Awolowo had to travel home several times over the following years to settle them. He often mobilised migrants to travel with him (SLI, file 1717).

(5.) Among these families, the Obara had presented the earliest ruler of Ikenne at its present site. It also controlled a number of the paraphernalia associated with the rulership. While the Obara family exercised most power, the other two families resent any suggestion that they are or were at any time or in any form junior to the Obara. For about a century before 1930, the right to the throne of Ikenne had rotated among the three families of the Obara, the Orogbe and the Gbasemo, and with the death of Alákènnèè Emosu from the Obara family it was (p.279) – in theory — the turn of the Orogbe family to present the town’s next ruler.

(6.) The Moko family’s claim to the throne of Ikenne lay in the contention that it represented the descendants of rulers who had dominated the settlement of Ikenne before it moved to its present location several hundred years ago. According to its representatives, the Moko family had not presented a ruler since the move of Ikenne to its present site because the last ruler from the Moko family had broken a taboo by ordering the execution of a suspected criminal without consulting the Òṣùgbó.

(7.) The British only recognised the Alákènnèè as an ọba in 1947.

(8.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), 08 July 1949.

(9.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), 23 June 1949 and 05 August 1949.

(10.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), 17 July 1949 and 18 July 1949.

(11.) Members of the Obara family were the traditional keepers of the royal drums which were beaten during an installation. To threaten an installation against their wishes, Onafowokan’s faction produced their own set of Gbedu drums.

(12.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), 17 August 1949 and 19 September 1949.

(13.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), undated sheet no. 11.

(14.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (II), 05 March 1950.

(15.) NAI, Ijeprof. 1, 3734 (I), 10 April 1950.

(16.) The additional policemen were put up in the Wayfarer Hotel and in Reverend Aina’s Store. See NAI, Ijeprof. 2, C23, 28 June 1952.

(17.) The Nigerian Tribune, 27 June 1952, refers to a pro-Adedoyin article in the West African Pilot on 18 June 1952.

(18.) NAI, Ijeprof. 2, C23, 09 September 1952.

(19.) According to Sklar (1963: 108–10), thirteen of sixty executive and inaugural AG members, i.e. over 20 per cent, were from Ijebu and Remo. Onabanjo (1984: 235), who bases his numbers on the 1963 census, suggests that only 6.1 per cent of the population of the later Western State (i.e. excluding Lagos and several groups of northern Yoruba-speakers) were Ijebu and Remo. However, the results of this census were subject to political interference and are very likely to reflect an anti-Ijebu bias. Nevertheless, Ijebu and Remo probably do not constitute more than 10 per cent of the Yoruba-speaking population, suggesting that this area was represented especially strongly in the AG.

(20.) This overarching pattern was neither simple nor static, and its complex dynamic was constituted by the political expression of historical local, communal and even sub-communal rivalries as well as the emergence of new political identities and alliances as illustrated by the unification of Remo.

(21.) Reflecting the growing influence of the AG in Lagos during the 1950s, T. O. S. Benson lost his Ikorodu seat in 1956 to Alhaji S. O. Gbadamosi.

(22.) As most local rivalries could no longer successfully be expressed through party political competition, they were suppressed and enacted as rivalries within the AG (SLI, file 2500).

(23.) Local struggles over the extent of the Akàrígbò’s power continued to exist throughout Remo. However, they were not usually expressed as party political rivalry, and they tended to be directed against the person rather than the persona of the Akàrígbò (SLI, file 2498, esp. 03 November 1969).

(24.) SLI, file 2500.

(25.) As in Ikenne, chieftaincy declarations created rifts in many communities throughout the Western Region. The 1959 Chiefs Law was designed to prevent any attempt to change the declarations in court.

(26.) SLI, file 2501.

(27.) SLI, file 2291, HCS/47/85.

(28.) Meaning: Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

(29.) SLI, Supreme Court Judgement No. SC 288.1988.

(30.) Several sources from Ikenne and Idotun refer to the 1836 war as the time of Idotun’s destruction (Soriyan 1991: 44–52; Ọba Michael S. Awolesi, 7 August 2002). Therefore my earlier suggestion that Idotun was destroyed in the late eighteenth century (Nolte 1999: 129, 305) is probably wrong.

(31.) Despite its vacancy, the status of the Alákènnéé has been upgraded to that of a Grade 1 Ọba, but it has never been filled in this capacity.

(32.) The Ekiti towns underwent a process of political unification similar to that of Remo, although somewhat more slowly and in a less enduring way. Originally the administrative centre of Ado-Ekiti in the south was an NCNC stronghold, while many other leading Ekiti towns supported the AG (Osuntokun 1990: 63–5).