Stephen Akintoye calls out Yoruba’s present leaders: “you do not seem to have much in common with Yoruba ancestors”

THOUGHTS FOR TODAY’S YORUBA LEADERS: Ijẹbu-Ode’s Ancient Ẹrẹdo Town Walls & other Issues – Stephen Akintoye


Something I have been reading in the past few days has left me thinking, wondering and worrying. I refer to something in our Yoruba homeland, something that only few of us know anything about – something from the early history of our Yoruba nation, some construction so big that one account describes it as “the biggest historical monument in the world”. I refer to the Eredo, the Ijebu-Ode city wall that is believed by archaeologists to have been constructed between the 10th and 12th centuries AD, or about one-thousand years ago. It is commonly called Eredo Sungbo, because Ijebu-Ode traditions say that it was constructed in the reign of an Ijebu-Ode queen named Sungbo.

Some of the 15th and 16th century Portuguese explorers and traders along the Yoruba coast heard about the Eredo and mentioned it in their writings. In modern times, many historians have mentioned it in their books. But it was little known to the outside world until 1999 when a British archaeologist, Professor Patrick Darling of Bournmouth University, surveyed the site and published his findings. Since then, the Eredo has been attracting worldwide attention.

Built by the people of early Ijebu-Ode around their town with considerable farmland around it, the Eredo is about 100 miles in circumference, and encompasses an amount of land measuring about 25 miles from north to south and 22 miles from east to west.

It is a typical Yoruba town wall consisting of a trench and an embankment made of the earth that was dug from the trench. In some parts of its length, the top of the embankment is as high as 70 feet from the bottom of the trench. The sides of the trench are made remarkably smooth, testifying to the high skills of the diggers.

As a great structure constructed in early human history, the Eredo is now being compared with the Great Pyramid of Egypt. As more and more gets known about it, it is likely to come close to the Great Pyramid as one of the wonders of the African past, and one of the greatest archeological structures in the world – and, by far, the greatest in Black Africa. Professor Darling estimates that the builders of the Eredo shifted about 3.5 million cubic feet of earth while constructing it – about one-million cubic feet more than the earth and rock shifted by the builders of the Great Pyramid.

The Eredo was probably the greatest of the town walls of Yorubaland in history, but it was by no means the only great one. Most of the Yoruba towns had impressive walls. Ile-Ife early built a great town wall which was expanded again and again at different times later in history. Ila Orangun’s wall was very famous for centuries – and the town was called Ila Yara (Ila of the Great Wall) because of it. An Olowo of Owo, Oba Osogboye, expanded the Owo town wall spectacularly in the 18th century and made it one of the most famous town walls in Yorubaland. Ilesa, Owu, Oyo-Ile, Ado-Ekiti, and many other Yoruba towns had great town walls.

So, following upon the above facts and other known facts of Yoruba history, I have serious thoughts and questions – and serious worry. Since slave labour was never a significant factor in Yoruba economy, where did we Yoruba in those distant times get the labour for a gigantic construction like the Eredo? We can only assume that it was citizens’ labour. In that case, the volume of the citizens’ labour force employed must have been very large; the organization for mobilizing such a large labour force too must have been very sophisticated indeed.

Altogether, what we are looking at here is that, as far back as a thousand years ago, Yoruba civilization was already very advanced. Unlike most other peoples of Black Africa, the Yoruba nation already lived in towns large and small, under a detailed and gorgeous monarchical system, with a well ordered economy, and with very sophisticated institutions and norms of community life, community security and privileges, and community duty and responsibility.

The communal spirit of cooperation and mutual giving made it possible for the average Yoruba peasant family to make large farms beyond its capability and to produce goods and wealth beyond its capability. It also made it possible for the average lineage to build the typical Yoruba lineage compound with living quarters for tens of families and with open courtyards for group life and leisure.

Generations of Yoruba people throughout history have generally upheld and exemplified these strengths of their nation. When Western education was brought to Africa by Christian missionaries in the second half of the 19th century, the Yoruba people of that generation were better ready than probably all other Black African nations to accept it and benefit from it. The Yoruba towns and cities, with their rich economic life, orderly system of governance, and system of security and order, became like bases prepared in advance for the churches and schools. By the end of that century, the Yoruba nation already possessed a growing and influential literate elite, a system for writing the Yoruba language, institutions like newspapers, traditions of Western-type research and scholarship, and authors, books, and book publication.
A 50-year period (roughly 1900-1952) followed during which British imperialism more or less prevented the natural flowering of Yoruba cultural and traditional strength in governance, leadership and socio-economic growth. But when the British allowed the modern literate elites of different parts of Nigeria to begin to manage their peoples’ affairs from 1952 on, the then generation of Yoruba leadership of the Western Region, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, immediately sprang forth with the innate strength of the Yoruba nation, and gave the Yoruba in the Western Region the most orderly and most productive indigenous government in all of Africa.

Considering all the above, here then is my worry. The present generation of Yoruba elite – the post-Awolowo generation – does not seem to have much in common with – and does not seem to be descendants of – the earlier generations of the Yoruba people and leaders. When one looks closely at political and community behaviour of today’s generation of Yoruba elite, they do not appear to bear much resemblance with those Yoruba ancestors who mobilized their people to build the ancient Yoruba towns and great town walls and the splendid royal institutions, and who built the lineage compounds and maintained the peculiar grade of order in them, or the Yoruba generation of leaders who seized on Western education to make their nation about the leading nation in Africa, or the generation of Yoruba leaders who, in the 1950s, made the name of the Yoruba nation ring again with excellence and glory in nearly all fields of development and progress.

Members of today’s generation of Yoruba leaders are forever bickering over petty (often personal) considerations, interacting with Nigeria’s partisan politics at immature and superficial levels only, and appear to be incapable of perceiving, understanding, and responding appropriately to the obvious directions of Nigeria’s life and future.

Whenever occasion has demanded that they unite to rally in defence of principles and interests important to their Yoruba nation, they have usually mumbled their petty differences and allowed their nation, and the masses of their people, to suffer at the hands of other peoples of Nigeria. Efforts made again and again to stitch together or to harmonize a Yoruba leadership structure always stumbles and scatters. If a group of today’s Yoruba elite holds a meeting, it is more likely to be for plotting against another group of fellow Yoruba; it is very unlikely to be for considering, and finding remedies for, the wounds being inflicted on the Yoruba nation in Nigeria. All in all, this generation of Yoruba elite is losing, not only the greatness, but even the basic strength, and even the very existence, of the Yoruba nation.

But there is hope. If today’s generation of Yoruba elite choose to continue to never rise to the defence of the Yoruba nation, some future generation will rise up and revive, and rebuild, the Yoruba nation. In saying that, I am taking strength from an email message which a Yoruba youth, an undergraduate student of one of our universities, wrote to me some time ago, after he had read a book on Yoruba history. Among other things he wrote: “We are watching sadly as our parents are failing our nation. My own generation, my friends and I, will not do as our parents are doing now. We know that our Yoruba nation is a great and proud nation. If our parents let the greatness and pride die, we will bring it back to life again”. The kinds of strong Yoruba men and women who, in their respective generations, built the Yoruba towns, town walls, sprawling family compounds, great monarchical systems, and adorable systems of governance, who mightily transformed their Yoruba nation through the agency of Western education, who established free education, built our pipe-bourne water supply systems, and our impressive and durable roads, who gave us Africa’s first television station and who, on the whole, taught to dream and be proud, will show up again. Some of them are already among us – in our schools, universities and unemployment lines.

MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015.  1:38 p.m. [GMT]

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10 Comments on “Stephen Akintoye calls out Yoruba’s present leaders: “you do not seem to have much in common with Yoruba ancestors””

  1. Remi Omodele Says:

    Thanks for posting another useful piece, dear Sister Tola. I shared it widely and enthusiastically, and started crafting a response which quickly began to turn into an encyclopedia. Not appropriate–I think! Then a succinct email arrived from a very young omoluwabi, Dayo Orolu. Knowing that you will enjoy it, I decided to share it with you and your readers:

    “Thank you for sharing this, it is indeed very instructive.

    We have deviated from those exploits that made us a great tribe in the past. Everyone is now chasing transactions just for the pocket. No wonder they quickly go into oblivion shortly after leaving office.

    The story of the city walls also reminds me of the community efforts that gave birth to the General Hospital in Ikere according to the oral reports of my septuagenarian father. It’s this same Gospel that Prof Omodele has been preaching ever since our paths crossed. Hopefully, we can make a visible difference someday soon…”

    Dayo Orolu



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Mr. Orolu,

      Thanks v. much for this.

      I harbor the hope that we are getting back on track with all the goings on because it’s reached a stage that our people have started to say as in that movie, Network that “we are sick and tired … and cannot take it anymore”.

      The following extract is a part of the introductory sections on a Yoruba book I’m working on. I’ve started to share the portion as it is very relevant to the Yoruba’s today situation. I’d like to share it further afield:

      I also dedicate this book to Yoruba ancestors long gone, who bequeathed to their descendants a level of artistic creativity and craftsmanship during ages when materials and technology available to them cannot explain, for example, how the monolith at Ife (Ọ̀pá Ọranyan), the Ifẹ Marbles and others were created. Aṣọ òkè weaving is part of that creativity and craftmanship.

      As their arts continue to dazzle and elevate our people and culture, and put to shame their descendants’ vacuous and sybaritic lifestyles that painfully show that we are not treading in their laudable footsteps nor planting any for those who will follow us, may we be able to, at the very least, preserve for eternity what they left behind.

      My regards, Mr. Orolu. Hope you’ll stop by often.




  2. Fatai Bakare Says:

    Thank you Mr Stephen Akintoye for this piece. With this essay, you portray like one of the Yoruba nation historians. In fact, I have been wondering where we have got it wrong. I grew up in the Awolowo era from the mid fifties. Looking back and comparing with the present, you have described the whole present day Yoruba nation with the following quote. In fact no other description can fit us.

    “Members of today’s generation of Yoruba leaders are forever bickering over petty (often personal) considerations, interacting with Nigeria’s partisan politics at immature and superficial levels only, and appear to be incapable of perceiving, understanding, and responding appropriately to the obvious directions of Nigeria’s life and future”.
    It is unfortunate now that we are fighting for our purses and not collective salvation of the Yoruba nation. During the last census of 1993 or so, I served in Enugu State and I came across an eighteen year old boy who compared Yoruba leadership with Igbo leadership and said, ” you Yorubas are lucky to have a peoples’ leader that constitute you into one entity, but we in Igbo land had a national leader that made us scattered to fend for ourselves”. The statement of this boy kept on ringing in my brain till today when I look at our so called political leaders.

    Well, that letter of the undergraduate to you gives a glimpse of hope but I, however, have a little hope in it. Who will come up as a leader that would not face stiff opposition in Yoruba land because those who are to support him have their own agenda and would work against him in support of the other sections of the country. I am not being tribalistic, I am a Yoruba man before being a Nigerian. “ile laa ti keso rode”. If you are not good at home don’t pretend to be good at outside.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Fatai,

      Thank you very much for this, and it is my hope that those in political leadership positions in Yoruba states will heed the calls from many people of good will rather than the usual mindset that considers most as critics.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Fatai,

      Thanks for this contribution.

      One does hope that the leaders in all the states of Yorubaland will rise to the challenge from well-meaning brothers and sisters in our part of the country so that we can continue along the paths our forbears and political leaders of the past trod rather than look at any and all suggestions as criticisms. If they do well, they would definitely get desired praises by people who are among the easiest to please when the right steps are taken on behalf of us all.

      Agbajọ pọ ọwọ l’a fi nsọ ‘yà just as ẹnikan o ki njẹ awa de . A word is enough for the wise. Never again should any of our states be counted among those owing workers for several months while there’s no sacrifice made by those supposed to be leaders who are rulers of their various states.

      You have my regards, as always,



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Fatai,

      Thanks v much for this contribution. I’m sure that the leaders must rise to the challenge facing them and give us good governance not only for the greater good but for their own legacies.

      They must not see “critics” every time suggestions come up because as a saying in Yoruba goes, “agbajo po owo l’a fi nso ‘ya.

      The greater good must be their goals because that’s what Awo stood and fought for, and all Nigerians, not just us Yoruba, remember his great legacy, and if this crop of leaders want to disprove Professor Akintoye and others who doubt their sincerity and commitment to the Yoruba cause, they must cast aside selfish interests and work towards the legacy they would want to be remembered by.

      By the way, you are v correct in your suggestion: Professor Stephen Akintoye a.k.a. Professor Banji Akintoye is a renowned Historian who was a Senior Lecturer in History way back during Late Professor Oluwasanmi’s vice-chancellorship at Ife in the 1960’s!

      My regards, as always,



      • Fatai Bakare Says:

        I am sorry, Prof., for referring to you as ‘Mr’. I don’t mean to be rude, Sir, and forgive me.


      • emotan77 Says:

        Dear Fatai,

        This is so generous and good-natured of you, as always. Uncle cannot mind as you did not know him. Yeah, he was a full professor for several years before retirement, and as you note in your comments, he IS a Historian, and a well-regarded one all over the world.

        Ku ongbẹ, o!



  3. Tokunbo Ajasin Says:

    This article by Prof Akintoye ordinarily should be an eye opener for the Yoruba, but I think we are too far gone to accept the collectivism concept which was the hallmark of modern Yoruba development. Right now individualism has taken over so much so that we have lost our sense of goodness.

    There is a Yoruba adage which says Bi aguntan ba ba aja rin, yi o jẹ ‘gbẹ. The Yoruba have imbibed a culture that is not theirs by their ‘forced’ association with other nations. We seem to have mastered the art of individualism more than almost everyone else even to the extent of discarding the collective interest.

    Considering the way we have been going (our current disposition and actions), we have certainly forgotten our heritage. Unfortunately, what I see ahead does not make me as optimistic as Professor Akintoye but I hope the hell that I am wrong.

    Have we lost it? Time will tell.



    • emotan77 Says:

      Dear Mr. Ajasin,

      Unfortunately, I cannot but agree with you but as a well-respected Historian, Professor Akintoye cannot but take the stand he’s chosen. His reservation does show, anyway. So, what next?

      You’d remember my lack of optimism despite my natural supposedly incurable optimism about the direction of things in Yorubaland not too long ago when I made what many must have seen as a shocking revelation: that the style of politics in our land – Yoruba-land – had and have reached a stage that I no longer pine for a country of our own the way I used to because ours is not that different from others.

      The case of aguntan to ba ba ‘ja rin, a jẹ igbẹ is very apt though a rather sad turn of events. When one heard stories of how some local governments in some parts of Nigeria used to be run in the past, one would gasp for breath: a local government chairman would visit the LG office once allocations from Abuja were received. These were promptly shared and the LG chairmen would disappear till the next allocations!

      This seems to be fully embraced in most parts of Nigeria without the competition of the past that made states, especially in the West, work to hold bragging rights to being first among equals.

      Enough said.

      My regards,



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