A review of Professor Segun Gbadegesin’s Okeho in History; published by Harvest Day Publications, Michellvill, Maryland, USA, 2017. 232 pgs
By Jare Ajayi
In the Humanities, the phrase ‘the part is a mirror of the whole’ is a very popular maxim. Okeho, in very many respects mirrors what is going on in Nigeria and in many other countries in Africa. What has just been stated is not a hyperbole but a fact as would be demonstrated very shortly.
As stated in the blurb and preface of the book under review, Okeho in History was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the relocation of Okeho back to its original site in 1917’. Besides educating everyone about the background of the town, the underlining motive of the book is to call the attention of the indigenes to the hopes and developmental challenges of their community. The extent to which it lives up to this intendment would be gleaned from an excursion we are now taking into the landscape of the 232 page publication.
The book is divided into four parts. Part One is appropriately titledIn the Beginning. Part Two contains items that deal with Governance Institutions. In Part Three, issues treated come under the collective title: Religion and Spirituality. Issues pertaining to Education are treated in Part Four while Parts Five and respectively deal with The Economy and Health.Communal Life makes up Part Seven.
The final part which carries the title Conclusion discusses the various ways by which Okeho can be ‘taken to greater heights’. There are ten Appendixes. Contained in these Appendices are Traditional Political Institutions, 2. Compounds in Okeho Quarters 3. Modern Political Institutions 4. Education 5. Health Facilities 6. Major Businesses 7. Religion 8.Major Social Organisations 9. Entertainers and 10. An Anthem.
Special pages are also devoted to Bibiliography, Picture Gallery and Index.
Let me state from the onset that the author of this book, Professor Segun Gbadegesin, although a philosopher by training and vocation, demonstrates a good knowledge of historical ethos. This should not be surprising since no one can be a good philosophy scholar without having a good knowledge of some historical figures and ideas. Beyond the call of duty as a philosophy scholar, the authoris also an individual with veritable interest in historiography/history. An accomplished scholar, Prof Gbadegesin is also exemplary in community service. No wonder, he was bestowed with the title of Asiwaju of Okeholand. He has certainly been living up to the demands of this office as attested to, among others, the publication of this book.
The book appropriately opens with the location of the subject-matter: Okeho. The town is found in the heartland of the Yoruba nation. Research carried out established a notion that has always been in the public domain to wit: Okeho is an amalgamation of eleven villages. The villages voluntarily decided to come together for protection and self-survival; a very smart move indeed.
The villages that came together are Isia, Olele, Isemi, Imoba, Gbonje, Oke-Ogun, Ogan, Bode, Pamo, Alubo and Ijo.
The Baale of Ijo whose domain is more strategically located was the one that invited others at different times. For this reason, it was conceded that he assumed the overall leadership of the new settlement. Two points are important to be made at this juncture. The first is the mindset of the then Onjo – an insight into the temperament of the people of yore. For the fear of possible challenge to his leadership position, someone else might demur in having others come near him – especially equally powerful personalities. It is natural for one to want to be protective of one’s ‘privileged’ position. Thus, it was not impossible that such a fear was entertained by the then head of Ijo, Arilesire. Reading between the lines of this insightful book along with its predecessor,
Itan Ilu Okeho the overall interest of the people, their safety particularly, was uppermost in the minds of not only OnijoArilesire, but heads of the communities that decided to amalgamate with Ijo. This was around 1800.
The second point relates to what I mentioned earlier – how Okehomirrors Nigeria. We are aware that Nigeria is an amalgamation of several nations.But while Okeho was able to forge a town out of several hitherto separate settlements within a short time, the more the years advanced, the more Nigeriais falling apart.As stated in the Preface of the book under review, ‘in the voluntary merger and preservation of the heritage of each of the constituents, Okeho also taught us a great lesson in the management of diversity’ Page xvii.
Considering the fact that in an occasion like this, there would not be enough time to go into long treatise, permit me to just highlight salient issues raised in this book.
As stated on Page 95, the economy of the community was built on communalism in which people co-operated with a view to advancing the interest of the individual and that of the community as a whole.
What kept this system thriving then was the honesty and trust that abounded. On page 101 for instance, it was stated that traders used to go to markets in many towns outside Okeho in those days. “Those who could not go gave their products to the market delegates with the confidence that their interest would be well-represented. This was the precursor to the cooperative movement of later years”. (P101).
A maxim in Yoruba language has it that Bi a kobarieniba la, olakiiya. Another says Owolaa fi peenaowo. The first means that to make it in life, one needs the support of other(s) while the second posits that one has to invest in order to reap some dividends. What these means when taken together is that there is the need to have sources from which people with entrepreneurial skills can tap so as to grow their businesses. In several of his articles in his Weekly Column in The Nation newspaper, the author of the book under review, Prof Segun Gbadeges in,always clamours for the need to implement policies that are pro-people. In Okeho in History, he underscores this same point very much by calling on patriotic and well-off indigenes to pull resources together to assist ambitious but less endowed natives. This is in line with the age-old notion of ‘agbajoowoni a fi n soya’. His advocacy is supported by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who in his recent public speech, asserts that “The long-term economic strength of the nation is dependent on how we deploy idle men, material and machines into productive endeavour.”
What Tinubu says of the Nigerian nation is true of Okeho. The interesting thing is that what is advocated here is not strange to Okeho, our beloved town. Apart from the eesu, aro, owe, etc traditions, Gbadegesin makes it known to us that such a practice has taken place before. On page 103, he recalled that there was an explosion in transport business as a result of credit facilities provided by Alhaji Shittu Oladejo a.k.a. Asao Motors. The challenge is thrown to Egbe Omo Ibile Okeho, Okeho Strategic Development Foundation (OSRADEF) and elites of Okeho is to pull their resources together with a view to lifting the town up. Although eleven communities came together to form Okeho, although there are over 240 Compounds (Agbo-ile), although there are various political, religious, professional and sundry other groups in Okeho, there is the need to have patriotism, love for one another and development of the town at heart. Echoing one of the exhortations of late Onjo, Oba Ereola Adedeji where he reminded everyone that there is only one Okeho, Gbadegesin urges everyone to join hands together in uplifting the town by “investing our intellectual, moral, spiritual and material resources in its development and resources” p. 157.
At the beginning of this short Review, I talked about how Okeho is a microcosmof Nigeria, especially in regard to the plurality of religious faiths, historical background, politically-motivated violence as well as failure to properly exploit available potentials for the good of all. The only major area of difference betweenOkeho and the Nigeria nation was in how the two were respectively amalgamated and how there is no known religious-induced violence in Okeho – thank God! While the coming together ofOkeho was voluntary, the coming together ofNigeria was forced. The Nigeria nation has something to learn in how Okeho elders, more than a century ago, forged unity among disparate communities. Nigeria leaders also have something to learn from how the present Okeho leadership and the elites are trying to overcome their shortcomings and build a new society that will continue to serve the best interest of its people. They are doing this by re-examining their past, learn from their mistakes and enhance their areas of strength. Nigeria should take a cue by listening to the agitators of Restructuring so that components of the country can, just as Okeho Eleven did over one hundred years ago, sit down to discuss the terms of staying together.
Okeho in History teaches a lot of lessons. I will mention just a few. Strength in unity p vi, how power or wealth makes some people to misbehave (bi aye ba ye won tan, iwaibajeni won ma n hu) p71, how treachery or undue rebellion does not pay pp 8, 47, 59.
The personal experiences narrated by the author on pages 111 and 112/113 are quite instructive regarding the immense benefit that we can derive from a proper co-operation between traditional and western ideas. Incantations by a knowledgeable elder literally neutralized the venom of a scorpion that stung the author while at school. The second experience was that of how the western method of healthcare came to the rescue. This was how Pa Bamimeke used a vacuum to bring out the cockroach that sneaked into the writer’s ear, p112.
Before rounding off, it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention areas that would need edification or emendation in the next edition of this historical book. Translation of the Yoruba expressions on pp 24 and 29 is desirable as was done for those on pages 40, 57, 67,130 etc. Also, ‘house fire’ on page 71 in reference to Sango ought to be ‘thunderbolt (ara)’. A person who is not familiar with Oyo State may not realize that the School of Hygiene being referred to on P 90 is the one in Ibadan as only Eleyele was mentioned. ‘Ward off’ should replace ‘wade off’ on page 6. Efforts should also be made to ensure that the missing letters in such words as Isemi, 6, 13, 23 Alase 13, Ayoola 45 to mention a few are inserted. The phrase “There, Olujumo, Olujide, and Adeniyi” p42 is hanging. In the same vein, I hope that the name of notable Okeho professionals like LereShittu will find a place among Journalist/Broadcasters (p179). Luckily, the author promises that the missing ones will be included in subsequent editions.
A few words on the role normally played by Ifa in the choice of a king would be helpful (p42). Readers would be better informed by knowing who the first Onibode is P30.
In his concluding remarks, Gbadegesin states “We need others as they need us to make the world a habitable and better place for all people.” (P157). This message is for Okeho people as it is for the people of Okeogun as well as Nigeria as a whole.
I like to end this Review by echoing His Royal Highness, Oba Rafiu Osuolale Mustapha Adeitan II in his foreword to this book. He commends the book to all sons and daughters of Okeho land because “There is a wealth of information there for everyone to cherish” pxiv. Except that the book is recommended not just to indigenes of Okeholand but to all Nigerians and several others across the world due to the universal messages contained therein.
Thanks for your attention.
Ajayi, a poet, novelist and playwright is a journalist and social worker dedicated to community service among others.