Wednesday 10 November 2021

THE OLOWO OF OWO: The Legendary Olateru Olagbegi

He was one of 3 historical figures, whose destinies were intertwined. The other 2 were Awolowo & Ajasin. Ajasin was born 1908, Awolowo 1909 & Olagbegi 1910. One year separated each other.

When Prince Olateru Olagbegi was 6yrs old in 1916, he was taken before the famous Oracle in Owo, where it predicted that in 25yrs time he would be Olowo. He would reign for 25yrs & deposed for 25yrs before coming back on the throne.

Now true to the Oracle  (1916), in 1941 after 25yrs, Prince Olateru Olagbeji was crowned Olowo of Owo. He reigned for 25yrs till he suspended 1966 & was finally deposed in 1968 by events of Western region crises 1962-65.

Oba Olagbegi was in exile for 25yrs in Ibadan, a prominent & athletic member, Ibadan Tennis Club. However in 1993 after 25yrs, Ondo Gov Bamidele Olumilua reinstated Olagbeji as Olowo to fulfil the Oracular prediction.

The Olowo occupies a special position amongst Yoruba Princes. He is regarded as a brother of the more famous Oba of Benin. Olateru Olagbegi came into prominence because of the rivalry he had with his great friend and cousin Chief Michael Ajasin. It was Olagbeji as Olowo in 1945, that sent Ajasin to the famous Forabey College Sierra Leone on Owo township Community scholarship. He came back to later be installed first Principal, Imade college Owo in 1949.

But 25yrs after being on the throne in 1966, Oba Olateru was chased away from his palace by angry citizens bent on toppling him. In the past that was unthinkable. In pre-colonial Yorubaland, Obas who lost favors of their people, were usually advised to sleep.

The leading Chief, would present him with a ritual calabash after which the Kabiyesi would be given 7days to take care of his estate and then retire to the royal chamber and have a final sleep. By 1960 Yorubaland was in a different dispensation & the Obas now had the Govt to contend with. Obas were no longer the Government.

It was Olagbegi desire to be part of Govt at all costs that harvested trouble for him. When his cousin Ajasin, the first Principal of Imade College Owo 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 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 it happened, Chief Awolowo after he and his team kept vigil at Ile-Ife in 1951 to light the lamp with 16 eyes, retreated to Owo where they formally proclaimed AG at the Olowo's expansive Palace. Their enthusiastic hosts were Kabiyesi Olagbegi and Ajasin. But within a decade after then, they were sworn enemies.

Ajasin maintained his friendship with Awolowo, but Olagbeji pitched his tent with Ladoke Akintola, the embattled successor of Awolowo as Premier of Western region. During one of the political flares in Owo, Ajasin barely escaped with his life. His car was burnt. He was not just a Principal of Imade college Owo, he was also Member of House of Representative in Lagos. That was the era politics was not a full time job.

While Awolowo & Ajasin were going through crises, it was best of times for Olagbegi. In the crisis that rocked AG, Akintola secured the Premiereship and Awolowo was sent to prison. Oba Adesoji Aderemi resigned his Governorship and retreated to his Palace @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", like Akintola did to Awo loyalist Odemo Of Ishara Oba Akinsanya.

Then the Coup of Jan 1966 turned the tables! For Olagbegi, the good times were over. Akintola was killed & First Republic was in 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 successor also could not help. Adebayo finally deposed Oba Olagbegi in 1968.

During his 25yrs exile, Olagbegi was referred to as Sir Olateru Olagbegi because he was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth II in 1960 for his services to the British Empire.

Then one day in 1993 after the military had deposed the 2nd Republic and Ajasin as Ondo first civilian Gov 1979 -83, Ajasin was in his house when he heard Olateru Olagbegi was in back in his Palace after 25yrs. Gov Bamidele Olumilua of Ondo state, took that decision. The Oracle has spoken indeed.

Long life had presented Olagbegi with the ultimate price. He outlived his succesor Kabiyesi Oba Ogunoye who was used to supplant him in 1968, but died in 1993. He also outlived his nemesis both Ajasin and Awolowo who died in 1987. When Olateru Olagbegi II died in 1998 as Olowo, his son Olateru Olagbeji III, SAN, CFR a senior Advocate, succeeded him.

Oba Olateru Olagbegi left behind 117 children amongst who were 35 lawyers including 10 High Court Judges, 25 medical Doctors, 22 Chartered Accountants, 23 Engineers and 111 University graduates!

Kabiyesi Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, an abiding Nigerian legend indeed !!!

Archives/Collation -R. Onwaeze

From Multiple Historical Sources

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