Morounfolu Adedapo Aderemi was six years old when his father, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, was installed as the Ooni of Ife in September, 1930. His mother, Ileladewa Aderemi, was the daughter of Ooni Adelekan, Olubuse I (1894-1909).
Being the heir of the great Oba Aderemi, upon whose shoulders an equally great dynasty was being placed, meticulous attention was given to the young Adedapo’s tutelage. After his early education at the private royal school in his father’s palace, he proceeded to the Kings College, Lagos.
At the KC, Adedapo began to exhibit tendencies that were totally at variance with his conservative upbringing. In 1944, a group of students at the KC organized anti-establishment demonstrations at a time such activities were prohibited. Leading members of Hexagon, the body that mobilized fellow students for action included the late Adedapo, the late Justice Adenekan Ademola, the late Victor Ologundudu amongst others. Young Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was one of the ‘storm troopers’ that enforced the action.
A government enquiry was set up with the students defended by E James Alexander Taylor, eminent lawyer and master of court room theatrics, famously called the ‘cock of the bar’. The incident resulted in the conscription of Adedapo Aderemi into the army to fight in World War II as punishment.
With the KC experience, the radicalization of the young prince was complete. After his discharge from the army, he proceeded to the UK and attended Lincoln College, Oxford University. He was eventually called to the English Bar in 1951. During his student years in England, he became a very radical activist.
Operating from his father’s residence at Hans Crescent in Belgravia, he was a regular speaker at the Hyde Park. The subject of his protests was of course the evil of colonial rule. At a point, he became a prominent member of the World Communist Students Union, with headquarters in Prague Czechoslovakia.
He attracted the attention of the British Intelligence Community and during a search of his residence, Stalinist materials were discovered in ample supply. A Royalist-Stalinist. It could not have got more confounding. Upon his return to Nigeria in 1952, the prince quickly found his footing in the Action Group for whom he worked tirelessly with friend R.A Fani-Kayode until the 1959 elections.
The story of the intrigues of those elections, which led to the emergence of an independent candidate in Ife, solely funded by Oba Aderemi against the Action Group of which he was a pillar of support, is material for another time.
After the dust of the elections had settled, the leader of the party gave Adedapo an assignment of leadership in the Action Group’s campaign Blitzkrieg of the North. For 100 consecutive days, he was involved in AG’s robust engagements in the north. When the Northern People’s Congress began to intimidate, arrest and detain AG party leaders, the Sardauna of Sokoto persuaded the prince to return home. He insisted on not harassing him. He presented him with a dozen exquisitely made Hausa caps as a gesture of respect for royalty.
Prince Adedapo Aderemi’s worldview was transcendent of partisan politics as he had friends across party lines. His bosom friend, the T.O.S Benson tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to team up with the Federal Government coalition, with the promise of a ministerial appointment.
Fondly and variously called M.A, Obadimeji and Prince Charming by his colleagues, friends and admirers, he was the quintessential aristocrat as well as the ultimate people’s champion.
He was just as comfortable with caviar, blue cheese and goat milk as he was with ‘isa emu’ (fermented palm-wine) and dele ( a native Ife cuisine made of blended beans and okra). What a contradiction. But that was his essence.
He loved his father dearly, and his father loved him with equal measure. Theirs was an unusual relationship of mutual adoration. He was his father’s son, friend, confidant and heir. When on October 15, 1963, he died at the age of 39, in the prime of his life, a monumental tragedy struck a family for which it is yet to recover. It is amazing how people still talk fondly about this man, 55 years after his demise.
–––Adegboyega Aderemi is the first son of Adedapo Aderemi and writes from Ibadan.