The Powerful Seven Members of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì Who Can Force An Aláàfin To Leave The Throne And Make Him Commit Suicide And This Is How They Do It
Contrary to what some people might think, the Ọ̀yọ́ Empire was not an absolute monarchy. In fact, it was more of a constitutional monarchy with some democratic leanings, albeit the constitution was not written. The Yorubas developed a leadership system with inbuilt checks and balances and that it has endured for thousands of years shows it has worked brilliantly.
One of the most obvious manifestations of the ‘democratic kingship’ of the Aláàfinate is the institution of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì, and it is the subject of this piece. Just as a democracy like that of Nigeria has three arms of government (executive, judiciary and legislative), the Aláàfinate also has three arms which also corresponds with a democracy, the Aláàfin Iku Baba Yeye is the executive branch, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì is the legislative branch and the influential Ògbóni serving as the judiciary.
COMPOSITION OF THE Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì
Layout of the town showing extent of the Old Oyo Empire.
An all-male clique and a non-royal council made up of seven principal councillors of the state, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì form what can be described as the Electoral Council and as mentioned earlier, it is imbued with legislative powers. For this and other reasons, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì has been compared to the United States Congress, which serves to keep a check on the executive wing of the federal government. The only thing here is that the Aláàfinate is far older than American democracy.
Headed by the Bashọrun, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì has the following as its members:
Bashọrun (Iba Ọshọrun)
Agbaakin (Agba Akin)
POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì
Ability to govern efficiently is a feature of civilization and this was supremely demonstrated in the Oyo Empire. The evolution of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì arose to ensure there is a check on the vast powers of the Aláàfin. For someone who is worshipped as a living reincarnation of Sango the Yoruba god of thunder, lightning and energy, an Aláàfin can be incredibly powerful indeed. An Aláàfin is not seen as an ordinary human being but an appointee of the gods and that is why an Aláàfin is always referred to as the Ekeji Orisha meaning ‘Second-in-Command to the Deities’ or ‘Companion of the Gods’.
However, in order to ensure that no rogue king will become so autocratic and dictatorial to the extent of trying to be an absolute monarch, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì has been endowed with an equally-impressive array of spiritual, religious and political powers to act as a counterbalance to the terrifying supernatural powers of the reigning Aláàfin.
Just as the United States Congress can impeach a sitting president of the United States of America, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì can depose, banish, remove a reigning Aláàfin or in some cases, activate the process of death for the obstinate king. This power of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì was vastly used in the 17th and 18th centuries with Aláàfins committing suicide as the only option.
When the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì rejects an Aláàfin who has been too despotic or evil, it is not just seven people who are rejecting him, it is the entire people of Ọ̀yọ́ who are voicing out no vote of confidence in the current occupant of the throne. When that happens, the Aláàfin has no alternative but to vacate not just the throne but this world. The most interesting and exciting thing about these processes is that every single stage is organized and there are plans on even how an Aláàfin should commit suicide, where and when. Every step is meticulously detailed.
The legendary Yoruba movie titled Bashọrun Gaa brilliantly illustrates the invocation of the powers vested in the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì when the state is faced with a tyrant of a king. You can watch the movie below:
The duties of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì are neatly outlined and they are as follows:
1 -VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Because the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì are directly connected to the people (unlike the Aláàfin who is holed up in his royal palace and rarely comes out), they are expected to be the voice of the people in the royal court. Their main duty is to defend and protect the interests of the empire (or the masses) no matter whose ox is gored.
2-ROYAL ADVISERS: By virtue of their closeness with the people and ability to feel the pulse of the masses, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì has the crucial duty and responsibility of advising and providing useful counsel to the Aláàfin (King). The more serious the issue, the more vital is the counsel of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì, usually made up of some of the wisest and experienced people in the empire. In order for you to appreciate how serious this is, a member of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì (called a Mèsì) has to be in the royal court every morning and afternoon to rub minds with the King. In a case where the Mèsì will be unavoidably absent, then he has to send his deputy to the Aláàfin.
Aláàfin Iku Baba Yeye inside the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, August 2016.
3-SELECTION OF A NEW KING: When the time comes to choose a new Aláàfin, it is the duty of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì to swing into action. For the nomination of the new Aláàfin, the final say lies with the Bashọrun (Iba Ọshọrun) who is the head of the royal council. At this stage, the immense powers of the Bashọrun rise to the surface and it is clear to see that he is as almost as powerful as the king himself. Before I forget, let me chip in here that the Bashọrun alone is seen as 50% of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì with the other six members making up the remaining 50%. That explains why Iba Ọshọrun takes half of whatever comes to the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì.
By organizing several religious festivals, the Bashọrun (not the king) is conferred with massive independent religious authority. The all-important Ọrun festival is also the responsibility of the Bashọrun. This festival entails Ifa religious divination and it is to determine if the members of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì are still in full support of the reigning king.
Oba Gbadegesin Oladigbolu II, he reigned between 1956 and 1960 as a British Vassal (a tributary Oba to the British) and as a traditional Yoruba Oba from 1960 to 1970 when he died. His predecessor was Oba Adeyemi II Adeniran who reigned between 1945 and 1955, and his successor is the current royal majesty Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III who ascended the throne of his ancestors in 1970 till present. Credits: Proudly Yoruba.
On rare occasions, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì may have a red card to issue to the king after the Ọrun festival. In such a case, to show disapproval of the reigning king, it is the responsibility of the Bashọrun to confront the Aláàfin and present to him an empty calabash or give him a calabash that contains the egg of a parrot (called Odidẹrẹ in Yoruba).
Almost spherical bird egg (Senegal parrot)
What this signifies is that everyone has rejected the Aláàfin and he must commit suicide. History shows us this was the only legal way to depose an Aláàfin. Once the Ọshọrun does this, he would proclaim:
Awọn Orisha kọ ọ! (The gods have rejected you!)
Ilu Ọ̀yọ́ kọ ọ! (The people have rejected you!)
Aye kọ ọ! (The earth has rejected you!)
The next step is then for the doomed Aláàfin, his eldest son, the Samu, his personal counselor and a member of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì all have to commit suicide together so that a new government can be formed afresh.
As I said earlier, everything is meticulously planned and the entire dethronement and royal suicide is carried out during the Ọrun festival, all under the watchful coordinating eyes of the Bashọrun.
A Survey of Old Oyo Palace Compound
It is interesting at this stage to point out that as powerful as the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì is, it is only one-third of the government and does not enjoy limited influence and authority.
Another way to balance the powers was to ensure that one member of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì must die with the condemned Aláàfin. It is also the King who appoints members of this powerful non-royal council. This way, no arm of government in the empire was going to become too powerful to be reined in. This was not the same with a place like Dahomey where the king was absolute and the only way to remove him was either through assassination or a coup.
However, despite all the checks and balances, there are a few times when the conspiracy of fate and circumstances would make one arm considerably more powerful than the other two.
An illustration of this was the case of the power-grabbing Bashọrun Gaa who exerted so much influence that he saw to the dethronement and deaths of at least three Aláàfins during his long reign as the head of the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì from 1754 to 1774. But the Aláàfinate is an institution that is so resilient that it survived characters such as Bashọrun Gaa and they could not destroy it.
THE Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì TODAY
The Aláàfinate has faced all sorts of internal challenges, power tussles and external attacks over the century but it survived and it is for this reason that today, the Ọ̀yọ́ Mèsì is not only existing, it is also performing its very crucial roles of stabilizing Ọ̀yọ́. Today, it is made up of its usual members:
Bashọrun (Iba Ọshọrun)
Agbaakin (Agba Akin)
Ashipa: If you notice in the photo above, one Mèsì is missing and that is the Ashipa. Well, this is because the former Ashipa in the person of Alhaji Amuda Olorunosebiwas murdered in the early hours of November, 26, 1992 (his family and the Aláàfin have been embroiled in a very bitter).
A line up of the Oyo Mesi during an event.
That fateful day, he had headed straight for his farm when assassins waylaid him and instead of using a gun or a cutlass, they reportedly overpowered him, twisted his neck, poured acid in his mouth and forced the liquid down his throat. The murderers waited a while to make sure he was dead before they vanished.
For almost a year after his murder, the family of the late Ashipa refused to bury him and demanded justice must be done. In fact, he was buried exactly seven years after on the 26th of November, 1999. The Oyo State Police Command finally conducted its investigation, made some arrests and passed their findings to the office of the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
The police eventually arraigned some suspects in court and the case dragged on until the matter reached the Supreme Court via Suit No. SC/88/2000. While the matter was before the apex court, the family of the late Ashipa took advantage of the existing Justice Chukwudifu Oputa-led Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (HRVIC) set up by the federal government and filed a petition before the panel.
The petition No 186 was filed by Alfa Bello Olorunkosebi, Mr. LA Ayankojo, Alhaji Rashidi Salami and the family of the late Ashipa. In the petition, the petitioners also lambasted the then state Attorney-General, Alhaji Yusuf Akande for what they referred to as the ‘undue perversion of justice’ and they accused him of deliberately refusing to charge the prime suspects in the murder.
The panel asked the Oputa Panel to recommend a full investigation of the case, the prosecution of those involved, and to put a stop to threats to the life of Rashidi Salami.
However, the counsel who represented the AG of Oyo State reminded the panel that the case itself was pending before the Supreme Court. The panel initially adjourned hearing the petition and when it resumed hearing in Abuja on the matter on the 10th of July, 2001, something interesting happened.
The Aláàfin of Oyo, through his lawyers, served a writ of summons process from the Federal High Court in Ibadan on the commission, urging the court to restrain the Oputa Panel from hearing the matter.
The lawyers of the king anchored the application on the constitutional provisions and powers vested in the Attorney-General of the State over criminal matters and also the provisions relating to fair hearing. The panel decided to adjourn the matter indefinitely pending the determination of the suit filed by the Aláàfin of Oyo, Iku Baba Yeye.
At the end of the day, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict and the Aláàfin was given a clean bill of health as the apex court declared its pronouncement that Ashipa’s murder could not be linked to the person and office of the Aláàfin. Till this moment, the police has not produced the actual killers of Ashipa Amuda Olorunkosebi. The Nigerian police is yet to find the murderers of a prominent Nigerian chief.
After his death, the Aláàfin nominated a new Ashipa in the person of Alhaji Shittu Ologbojo from the Akinsowon compound.
However, things took a new twist when the Ologbojo took ill all of a sudden on the 24th of December 2001 and gave up the ghost even before he was installed. As for the murdered Alhaji Olorunosebi, his family and the Isale Oyo community have not stopped accusing Aláàfin Adeyemi and some prominent people in Oyo State for killing him.
In April 2015, indigenes of the Isale Oyo community appealed to the Aláàfin to appoint a new Ashipa that they have been suffering indefinitely since the gruesome murder of the former Ashipa. A new Ashipa is yet to be installed.