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OBITUARY: Alaafin, the boxer who lost palace touch because of Fela’s mother

His father was a king so was his grandfather. Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III also died a king. He reigned for over five decades – the…

His father was a king so was his grandfather. Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III also died a king. He reigned for over five decades – the longest in the history of the Alaafin throne. Royalty did not just fall on his laps, the deceased monarch earned it. When the history of monarchy is told in Yorubaland, “Iku Baba Yeye” as he was fondly called, would have his pride of place.

A story was once told of how a Yoruba king derisively pummeled his counterparts at a meeting of royals in a South West state. This had earned that monarch the sobriquet, “The Boxing King”, but while this king caught the headlines over such ignominy, the late Alaafin was a good ambassador of boxing.

Oba Lamidi took to boxing while growing up in Lagos. When Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II, the late monarch’s father, was on the throne, he did not allow the young Lamidi to stay with him at the palace to enable him have practical life experience and prepare for future challenges.

The young Oba Lamidi seated in front of his father

He was first made to stay in Iseyin in Oyo where he acquired Quranic education. Instead of allowing him stay back at the palace after his Islamic education, his father sent him to live with the then Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oladapo Ademola. The young Lamidi lived there until the abdication by Oba Ademola. The Egba monarch was forced to quit following agitation against taxation imposed on women. The protest was championed by the revolutionary Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, mother of Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

After Oba Ademola’s exit from the throne, Oba Adeyemi’s father insisted that the young Lamidi must remain with him because as the Yoruba adage goes: Eye ile okin ba onile je, ba onile mu, ko di ojo iku ko yeri (A pigeon doesn’t dine and wine with its host and forsake him in trying times). But Oba Ademola pleaded with his friend to allow the young Lamidi leave so that his education would not suffer.


Alaafin training with Larry Ekundayo, a professional fighter in UK

Oba Lamidi’s father then sent him to Kofoworola Abayomi, a medical doctor in Ikoyi, Lagos, and he was enrolled in nearby Obalende Modern School. Obalende was tough and to survive bullying, the late monarch registered with Broadway Boxing Club, where the owner of the club, Mike Fadipe, coached him.

“The environment where I was brought up, Obadande, was a tough place. It is a place where you have different ethnic groups cohabiting peacefully. Obalende was a centre of sporting activities like Hockey, Football and others. I was a footballer, an outside right player but boxing became my favourite in order to escape being bullied and a whipping boy to others. Also, I realised early that I needed to develop a strong character to weather the storm of this life,”  he recollected in an interview with Tribune.

83-year-old Alaafin training in his palace

Oba Lamidi rose to become a knockout specialist in competitions inside Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos Island. Unlike many boxers, the Alaafin was a two-fisted pugilist. He was gifted with ability to use his two fists effectively to destabilise opponents and make them to kiss the canvas at early rounds of his bouts. In an interview with Oyo Insight, an online platform, Oba Lamidi spoke of his prowess in the ring.

“I have had over 56 bouts and lost two. In my bouts, only 10 (people) who contested with me lasted the distance. I won the others by knockout but I have never been knocked out. Let me tell you a little secret. Inwardly, I am not a very happy person; so, boxing is an interesting outlet for me. When you have a grudge, you don’t feel pain.”


Alaafin with Ayaba Abibat Nihinlola Adeyemi, his first wife, whom he married before he became a king

Obalende Modern School, which he attended was owned by Pa Domingo; father of the renowned musician Adeyomi Domingo. He later attended Tinubu Methodist School overlooking the famed fountain, the first General Bank. Oba Lamidi came second in his Entrance Examination into secondary schools in Lagos Island and was offered places at two great schools: Igbobi College and St. Gregory’s College, Obalende. He chose to attend St. Gregory’s College Obalende, in accordance to his guardian’s wish. Oba Adeyemi III lived in tough areas of Lagos Island. Places like Faji, Olowogbowo and the famed Ojuolomokoto.

His father, though not read, appreciated the value of education through the contact he had with the British Administrative Officers that came to the Old Oyo Empire. Consequently, he lived to fight tooth and nail to see that his son was well read. Oba Adeyemi III left St. Gregory’s College with very good grades and had the choice to study Law, Economics or Public Relations. He chose to study Law because he felt his future in Law was secured. Little did he know that fate had other plans in stock for him. His quest for Law changed when his father was deposed on February 14, 1946, two days to his planned travel abroad. He was offered a job at the Royal Exchange Assurance, Marina, Lagos.


Front cover of defunct Daily Sketch when the Alaafin was crowned in 1970

Oba Lamidi succeeded Alaafin Gbadegesin Ladigbolu II. This happened shortly after the end of the Nigerian civil war, when Colonel Robert Adeyinka Adebayo was the governor. Then, he was working as an insurance clerk.

According to records, the contest to Oba Lamidi’s emergence began in 1968, when he was invited along with 10 others from his ruling house to contest for the vacant stool of the Oyo Empire. As it was the custom of the land, there were three parameters with which they were judged. First was eligibility, second was popularity and third, the stamina for the huge responsibilities of the office of the Alaafin.

Oba Lamidi emerged the first; defeating 10 others after a vigorous screening exercise. However, due to what observer attested to be a political interference, the then government was said to have refused to endorse his appointment, saying the procedure was not right.

So, the process started all over again producing the same result the second and third times. Interestingly, despite the immense pressure upon the Oyomesi ‘against his candidature by the government, the Oyomesi stood its ground. Thus, the process was put in abeyance until after the civil war, when the whole process started all over again. Oba Adeyemi III was elected the winner and was finally chosen by the kingmakers on November 18, 1970 and crowned on the 14th January, 1971.


For many in contemporary times, the late monarch married many wives, the number hovering between 12 and 15, but the figure is infinitesimal when compared to that of his father who reportedly had over 200 wives. The monarch set tongues wagging when he took his last wife on the throne last year. A 22-year-old queen of South East extraction.

He had married two of his wives Alhaja Olori Abibat Adeyemi (Iya Dodo) and Alhaja Olori Rahmat Adedayo Adeyemi (Iya Ilekoto) before his ascension to the throne.

One of the dominant issues about the Alaafin’s death, especially on social media, is the fate of his wives. Trust Nigerians, they widely circulated the pictures of the king and his wives whom he was proud of in his lifetime. Oba Lamidi loved women, young and beautiful ones at that, and he never hid this fact.

“God has given me some type of ability and grace to keep a woman, especially beautiful women. I don’t disclose my conversations or activities with one wife to another. I maintain a strict code of confidentiality. I have learnt that I must positively make an impact on people and make a great first impression. Of course, they (wives) sometimes have disagreements and conflicts of opinion but I have been ‘graced’ by God to know how to ensure that the conflicts don’t escalate,” he had said in one of his numerous interviews.

But surprisingly, he said he never approached a lady. “They come to me. My first wife was a friend to my younger sister of blessed memory. My sister introduced her to me and though she wasn’t educated, she gave me the first lawyer in our family, my son, Tunde. I truthfully do not know the art of chasing women. I don’t go out to chase women. I am very stoic; I seldom laugh. Most times, it is impossible to know what is going on in my mind because you cannot read my emotions on my face and women don’t like that.”


Although he quit professional boxing after he ascended the throne, Oba Lamidi applied the arts of boxing in daily dealings. Boxers are courageous; they are fearless fighters, so was the king. He spoke his mind damning the consequences. As tough as the late General Sani Abacha was, Alaafin did not fear him.

In an interview, he narrated an encounter under the Abacha era. According to him, during a meeting the regime had with traditional rulers, Yoruba Obas were ridiculed.

Late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha

“When they organised the Traditional Rulers’ Forum in Abuja, Yoruba obas were ridiculed. They put all the Emirs on the first row and put Yoruba Obas, including the Ooni on the second row. When I came in, I asked for my seat and they wanted me to go and sit at the back. I just removed one of the tags and sat beside the Sultan of Sokoto.

“Under the Clifford Constitution in 1922, two Obas represented the whole of Nigeria at the Legislative Council, the Sultan of Sokoto and the Alaafin of Oyo. The Alaafin represented the entire south in Lagos. I left the place and went home, wrote a strongly worded letter to General Jeremiah Useni and copied the late General Abacha. Abacha invited me and I told him that government is a continuum. He reasoned with me and corrected that. The Alake and the Awujale never fought their own cause but I fought mine.

“When they asked us for a meeting in Abuja, they asked us to bring our aides for hotel accommodation. The emirs would bring about eight and they put them in suites while they reserved two rooms for me. I just packed to one of the presidential suites. They said but it was not reserved for me, and I said they didn’t have to do that, I did it myself. You see, as the Alaafin, you cannot fear anything.”

Oba Lamidi was later believed to have earned the wrath of Abacha when he and his family members were detained at Gatwick Airport in UK. It was claimed that drugs valued at £1.5 million (US$2.55mn.) were found in their luggage. This created a political storm in Nigeria. The Alaafin, his wife and daughter were released after questioning by British Customs officials. But his son, Prince Lukuman Oladejo Adeyemi, was charged with drug trafficking and appeared at Horsham Magistrates’ Court, Sussex on 25 March, 1998. Four items of hand luggage were said to contain 12.8 kilograms of cocaine and 36 kg of marijuana.


Oba Sijuwade and Oba Lamidi never saw eye to eye

There were many of such controversies involving Oba Lamidi, prominent among them was his row with Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, the 50th Ooni of Ife. Until the death of Ooni Sijuwade in 2015, he and Oba Lamidi engaged in a supremacy battle. Indeed, there was an Oyo Empire presided over by the Alaafin, and Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba, never had a political empire, but the Ooni was nonetheless the spiritual head of the empire. All efforts to resolve the face-off failed, but Babangida created Osun State in 1991 and separated the two, with the Alaafin presiding over Oyo State obas and Ooni over Osun State monarchs.

Once asked to respond to the splitting of Osun and Oyo over supremacy battle, he said politics brought out Ooni. When he received Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, incumbent Ooni of Ife, at his palace one year after the death of Ooni Sijuwade, Oba Lamidi said, “This special visit was done last in March 1937, that was the first time the kings in Yorubaland met in Oyo town and today history was made with the visit of Arole Oodua, Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II and I feel delighted to host you and to reassure you that I will be ready to work with you.

“I had a cordial relationship with Ooni Adesoji Aderemi and I did not want to relent my bound with any Ooni of Ife that assumed the post but everybody has his own little differences.”

Also was his disagreement with the late Otunba Alao-Akala, former governor of Oyo State. At the beginning, the relationship between them was so cordial. Indeed, the governor did not hide his favouritism for the Alaafin as the Permanent Chairman of the Council of Obas and Chiefs, probably knowing the political influence the monarch wields in the state.

Akala sought forgiveness of Alaafin before he died

After he was made the permanent chairman of the council of Obas, he thanked Alao-Akala for doing what his predecessors had the opportunity to, but failed to do. However, things soured towards the tail end of Alao-Akala’s administration. Less than a month to leaving office, Alao-Akala announced that the Alaafin was no longer the permanent Chairman of the Council of Obas and Chiefs, stating that the office would be rotated between the Alaafin and his two rivals, the Olubadan of Ibadanland and the Soun of Ogbomoso.

Many people believed that Alao-Akala took the measure in response to the Oba Lamidi’s support for Chief Abiola Ajimobi, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate who stopped Alao-Akala’s reelection bid.

The Ekiti Monarch who dared Alaafin

Not a few persons were shocked when Oba Ajibade Alabi, Alawe of Ilawe Ekiti, took on Oba Lamidi whom he accused of undue interference in an issue concerning Ekiti monarchs.

Oba Alabi had written a letter to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo, asking him to caution the Alaafin. In its report on the issue, TheCable captioned its story: ‘One of your monarchs meddling in our affair’ — Ekiti oba writes Makinde over alaafin’s letter.

Fayemi probably pleading on behalf of the Ekiti monarch

A whole Alaafin being referred to as “One of your monarchs”. But few days after the letter went viral, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti was seen prostrating before the Alaafin at his palace. Oba Alabi’s letter was in response to a previous one the Alaafin wrote to Fayemi, but not many thought the Ekiti monarch could dare Oba Lamidi.


The late monarch attending the convocation of one of his daughters who graduated top of her class at the University of Lagos

Oba Lamidi died at the age of 83, but 10 years before this incident, there was tension in the palace over his near-death experience, which he shared in the interview with Tribune.

“When I was 73 years old, I had a race from the palace to Durbar and back to the palace. That race marked a turning point in my strenuous physical exercise. I did the race in my usual non-stop pace. I finished up in the palace. But as soon as I left bathroom, I crashed. My heart beat increased alarmingly. I lied down, seeing stars. The heart was beating continuously and dangerously. I was there on the floor and told my wives that my time was up because that was what was on my thought. Quickly Dr Adams came, observed the rate of the heart beat and did some treatment.

“For about five hours, I was in that emergency in the palace. There was tension in every part of the palace. I did not know I could survive it but I thank boxing for having taught me endurance and how to handle such circumstance. After I had stabilised, I travelled to London where I saw my doctor. He told me that if I had fallen down during the race, I would have gone. He then advised me that before I embark on physical exercise, I should check my BP,” he recalled.

One wish he made in his lifetime was to return as a king in his second coming to the world.

Former Governor Abiola Ajimobi; the late Alaafin and Oba Saliu Adetunji, late Olubadan of Ibadan land. The three prominent Oyo sons are all gone.

“My experience on the throne has been very tasking. I have to settle disputes and know all the laws; even the modern laws. If I am to come again to the world, I would definitely like to come back as a king,” he noted.

Enjoy your new abode Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi (October 15, 1938 to April 22, 2022). For our belief knows no second coming on this side of the planet. Awo looooo! Sun Ire, Iku Baba Yeye. Oba Alade.

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