Title: Okeho in History
Author: Segun Gbadegesin
Publisher: Harvest Day Publications, Michellvill, Maryland, USA, 2017
Reviewer: 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 book is divided into four parts. Part One is appropriately titled ‘In 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 Six 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.
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 author is 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.
The second point relates to what I mentioned earlier – how Okeho mirrors 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 Nigeria is 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.
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).
At the beginning of this short Review, I talked about how Okeho is a microcosm of 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 between Okeho 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 of Okeho was voluntary, the coming together of Nigeria 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.
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 Okeholand 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.
Ajayi, a poet, novelist and playwright is a journalist and social worker dedicated to community service among others.
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