Today, I begin a three-part series on Okeho in history with excerpts from my new book of the same title. The book is scheduled for public presentation on October 28, 2017 by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu supported by eminent friends and enablers of community and national development.
“Okeho in History was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the relocation of Okeho back to its original site in 1917 and it comes at a very important stage of the development of our loving homeland. Now, the community is experiencing a much-needed unity of purpose even in the era of party politics, a development that must cheer compatriots who have, for many years, canvassed and labored for such a purposeful agenda…..
“In the beginning, Okeho did not exist as one entity. Instead there were eleven villages separated by hills and valleys, each living in solitude and in fear of aggression from greedy land grabbers and heartless enslavers…..
“However, around 1800, more than one hundred years after Ojo Oronna, legendary founder of Okeho, first settled in Omogudu, the new Onjo, Arilesòire, made the historic move of inviting the ten villages around Ijo to amalgamate as one village.
“Onjo Arilesire was motivated by an enlightened self-interest. It was a time of uncertainties for big towns such as Oòyoò Alaafin. The Fulani had constituted themselves as a present danger to the lives and properties of Yoruba people in their towns and villages….They had the advantage of cavalry raids across the grassy vegetation of Oòyoò North. The Dahomey forces were also a threat from the West. It was therefore in the interest of small villages to combine their strength to wade off the attacks. This was the reason for Arilesòire’s invitation to the neighboring villages, which included Isia, Olele, Isemi, Imoba, Gboònjeò, Oke-Ogun, Ogan, Bode, Pamo, Alubo, and Ijo.
“Arilesire had a good strategic reason for his invitation to Ijo’s neighbors. Apart from the combination of forces, the geographical location of Ijo offered a great security advantage and this played a role in his thinking. The heads of the various hamlets and villages must have been persuaded that it was in their security interests as well. For they agreed to move and become wards and quarters in their new location.
“Okeho was inaugurated as a new village and Arilesire was the first head of the new village with the title Onjo of Okeho. In their native wisdom, without any exposure to Western ideas of governance, the leaders of the eleven villages started a confederal arrangement which has since morphed into a solid community of patriots. In Okeho, the many voluntarily became one….
“It is important to note the significance of the effort at merger and of what inspired it. From the early 1500s until the time of the Yoruba civil wars of the 19th century, Oyo was a great exporter of slaves. From the year that Ojo Oronna moved to Omogudu, to around 1750, about 60,000 Africans were captured in slave raids and exported to the New World. Chiefs and aristocrats across the land were enablers of this sordid practice as they supplied captured war prisoners to the slave raiders in exchange for firearms and other goods. It was reported that during this period, King Tegbesu of Dahomey had an income of £250,000 a year from the export of slaves to Britain and other parts of the world. That would make him a multibillionaire of his time.
“Consider the fact that Dahomey was next door to Okeho and you will begin to imagine the horror that our ancestors experienced. There was no moment of peace and they had to constantly watch their back. The physical and emotional trauma was unimaginable.
“Meanwhile, on the other side of the fear of the loss of sons and daughters to the foreign enslavers and their local collaborators was the achievement of progress and development in Britain and the New World. Africans were forced to work under inhuman conditions to develop Britain which launched its Industrial Revolution in 1750….
“The merger of the villages was thus a matter of self-interest for the villagers. However, with that experiment in voluntary merger and preservation of the heritage of each of the constituents, Okeho also taught us a great lesson in the management of diversity. This should not be misconstrued. They did not pull it off easily. They went through trials and tribulations. They were sometimes unsure whether they would survive. But they persisted.
“What should be noted is that the Okeho experiment was doing very well before the colonial invasion. There was no history of internal violence prior to the introduction of a new governance structure that eclipsed the original arrangement and rendered the heads of the confederating units powerless. It was the reaction of the people to this foreign-inspired arrangement that led to violence against Obas and representatives of the colonial government.
“The new arrangement soon forced itself on the community with a mixed result. On the one hand, modern politics of party affiliation replaced primordial affiliation of the original confederating villages as major political parties drew support across neighborhoods and quarters, though certain neighborhoods favored certain political parties. There was thus the prospect of inter-neighborhood cooperation that was lacking at the onset of colonial administration.
“On the other hand, however, the new party system brought with it a ferocious competition that proved more inimical to the unity of purpose that the community needed for its advancement. It also had a more far-reaching consequence for the traditional institutions of the town. For, within neighborhoods, bitter political enmity due to different party loyalties meant that, even at that level, there was not going to be a united front, talk less of the level of the whole community. This was what affected the effectiveness of Egbe Omo Ibile Okeho in the 1st and 2nd Republics.
“Thankfully, those were times of ignorance. Now, the light of knowledge has revealed itself. Now, the community will not go back to the dark days of division during which no one can really claim to have gained a lot for self or for community. Now, we must move on forward with a common purpose. For it is never too late until it is too late. The sun still shines and its powerful rays are still capable of providing the energy needed to dry up our wet clothes.
“And the community has a lot of wet clothes hung outside to dry, one of which is the all-important jacket of education. Education has never been more important and we have never been so lacking in the matter of good educational facilities. While Okeho has a mix of public and private institutions at the primary and secondary level, it does not have much to offer in the matter of higher education. And the quality of the education that our children now receive is a mixed bag.
There is need to revamp the legacy of quality education that the first generation of teachers labored to pass on. Many of those teachers had no more than First School Leaving Certificate. But they were exemplary in their devotion to excellence. Contemporary teachers must borrow a leaf from the example set by those pioneers.
“Indeed, in every aspect of the community hopes and aspirations that I have identified in this volume, there is yet much to accomplish. The leadership of the initiatives and the efforts needed to accomplish the tasks must, again, naturally rest on those privileged to have the needed insight. After all, to whom much is given, much is expected.”
As Okeho anxiously and gratefully looks forward to welcoming Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, H.E. Senator Abiola Ajimobi, H.I.M. Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III and eminent friends on October 28, I respectfully appeal to the generous spirit of everyone to support the community. The goal of the Planning Committee, which has invested time, energy and resources in this cause is to raise funds for the Oyo State College of Health Science and Technology, Okeho Campus, completion of the Onjo’s Palace, and community health projects.
This successful experiment in voluntary amalgamation needs our encouragement.
This is a series written by Professor Segun Gbadegesin, the Asiwaju of Okeholand, published in The Nation newspaper