The Untold Story Behind Why The Aremo (Crown Prince) of Oyo Empire Must Die With The Aláàfin of Ọyọ Until 1858 When Kabiyesi Iku Baba Yeye Atiba Atobatele Stopped It In Favour Of His Heir Apparent Adelu

In Yorubaland, the supreme position of the Aláàfin of Ọyọ is in no doubt at all. A direct lineal descendant and successor of the founder of the nation, the Aláàfin of Ọyọ is in an exclusive class all by himself. But what happens when such a great monarch joins his ancestors? His son who is the Aremọ (Crown Prince and Heir Apparent) will simply become the next king, right? Hun-hun. Wait. Not so fast. It was not like that in the past.

As a matter of fact, the tradition a few centuries ago in Ọyọ was that once the Aláàfin dies, the Crown Prince must die with him. Are you shocked already? Wait until you know the wisdom behind such spectacular displays of parricide.


Long time ago (let me use the grandma style of narration here…lol), the succession of an Aláàfin was stress-free. The normal thing to be done was that the eldest son naturally succeeded the father. There was no controversy and there was no debate about this. Everyone knew that a day was going to come when the Crown Prince would be crowned king.

Thus, the Heir Apparent was bestowed with great responsibilities and taught all about kingship and all the very crucial duties that come with such an exalted office. In order to emphasize the importance of the Crown Prince, the title of Aremọ was created and he was always with the king. The Aremọ performed significant royal functions and with time, he accumulated so much powers that he was practically reigning with his father, the Great King.

The Aremọ had his own official residence just next to the palace.

Then something happened.


With time, the office of the Aremọ became consolidated and the Aremọ came to exercise so much power and wield influence so great that at first, rivaled those of the king, then later, actually surpassed that of the king. Kpaga! How did such travesty happen?  

  There were some periods when an Aláàfin reigned so long that he became weakened and restricted by old age. The old lion could not roar with terrifying power again and his cub took over. Aremọs took advantage of this vacuum in power and were practically the kings. They had the same powers of life and death over the people of Ọyọ. In fact, the drama and power play reached a climax when some overambitious Aremọs were strongly suspected of being the brains behind the death of the Aláàfin.

Some sons could not simply wait for their fathers to die. They were in a hurry to ascend the throne and assume absolute power. Poisoning or clubbing the old monarch to death – whichever worked. All the Aremọs wanted was raw power. Period. The elders saw this dangerous drift and they decided to act swiftly before everyone got consumed.


As a result of the dangerous power grab that was threatening the integrity of the palace and the cohesion of the empire itself, a new law was codified into the constitution:

As the Aremọ reigns with his father, he must also die with him.

And that was the rule from king to king. Once an Aláàfin died, the time had also ended on earth for the Aremọ. He was to be buried with his father. And that was the way it was done, no one questioned the practice until 1858 when a new king, Aláàfin Atiba (king from 1837 to 1859) was like ewos ewobi, I no dey for this kain thing.

Kindly note that the dramatic failure of the Yoruba army at the Eleduwe War and the final collapse of the Old Oyo Empire forced the government to move the capital from Oyo Ile to Ago-Oja and it was there that Prince Atiba was installed Alaafin. He then renamed Ago-Oja and called it Ago-Doyo, or Oyo, which was then no more than a small village. He founded the New Oyo Empire and introduced the influential Ogboni cult to the new state.

The revolutionary king insisted the arrangement was a load of crap and that his own son, Aremọ Adelu was definitely not going to die with him. Some of the elders were like kpaga! The king was like kilo kpayin lenu. After some to and fro juggling of the whole matter, the Aláàfin was able to convince everyone to drop the bloody idea of murdering Crown Princes and embrace progressive ideals.

  Eventually, the constitution was amended and the Aremọ may now become king (his son actually became the next king and reigned from 1859 to 1875) but on one condition – if he was found worthy. The succession to the throne was then subjected to an election by the members of the royal family.

Of all the Aremọs, the one most qualified in terms of proximity to the throne, age, intelligence, emotional maturity, moral character, charisma and other features is eventually selected to become the new king. If an Aremọ is found unworthy, the kingmakers will reject him and he must be banished from the city and live out the rest of his life privately in the provinces. As at that time, this rule was not compulsory as there was another option left for the rejected Aremọ: he could choose to die with his father.

Oh, before I forget, let me chip this in. When Alaafin Atiba died, all the chiefs agreed his son Adelu could succeed him. All the chiefs except one – Kurunmi. This particular chief insisted that he was protecting the Oyo-Yoruba constitution and that Adelu has no other option but to die with his father. But in real sense, Kurunmi was driven by selfish interests. This was because Alaafin Atiba had ordered incursions into Upper Ogun, a territory that was under the solid political control of Kurunmi.

Alaafin was victorious and extended the tribute-paying territory to the Upper Ogun and made sure towns in this area paid their dues. This meant divided loyalty – some remained with the Alaafin while others were sympathetic to Kurunmi. Also, we should remember that in 1860, the Ijaiye War started and the main war commanders in this conflict were Alaafin Atiba, Kurunmi of Ijaiye and Oluyole of Ibadan. The devastating collapse of the empire compelled Atiba to move the capital to the present Oyo from Oyo Ile.

  Alaafin Oluewu, the father of Atiba had been thoroughly humiliated and killed by the Hausa-Fulani alliance. After Atiba had moved the capital to the present Oyo in 1835, Kurunmi held Ijaiye while Oluyole controlled Ibadan. These local warlords posed a major threat to Alaafin Atiba and Kurunmi was particularly nasty and three remained enemies until Atiba died. Interestingly, in 1862, Oluyole moved against Ijaiye, the territory of Kurunmi and rained total destruction upon the city.

So when Atiba finally gave up the ghost, Kurunmi felt it was the perfect time for him to get his pound of flesh – and what better way to do so that to eradicate the offspring of his old enemy. Eventually, the voice of common sense prevailed and that was how the fatherless Adelu became the monarch. Left to Kurunmi, Adelu would be dead.

In a case where the designated Crown Prince is turned down for one reason or the other, the lot usually falls on some of the other poorer or less known princes who are living their lives as commoners without any ambition for the throne. The kingmakers (Oyo Mesi) reach a decision then send for the startled prince often using tricky measures so the prince is caught unawares. Some of the princes are so scared they bolt out of town while some are simply too stunned to even resist. Whatever the case, the final decision lies with the Oyo Mesi and at the end of the day, Oyo gets a new king.

  This is the method that is in use right now. If not for Alaafin Atiba, Crown Princes would have to die with their fathers. For you to know how bold this move by Alaafin Atiba was, the empire itself was founded around 1300 and he made the move after over 500 years. He singlehandedly changed the order by refusing to be a king with blind faith for harmful and senseless cultural norms.

Today, there is a proper selection process and from the explanation, you will now understand that it is possible for a totally new person to become the new Alaafin instead of the famous Crown Prince. This takes me to one of my favourite points: our culture is good and all that is humane in it must be retained but all that is horrible within it must be deleted.




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  5. Nigeria, Nationalism and Writing History by Toyin Falola and Saheed Aderinto.
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  7. Yoruba Royal Poetry: A Socio-Historical Exposition and Annotated Translation by Akintunde Akinyemi, Eckhard Breitinger, Bayreuth University, 2004.
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  9. MISSIONS IN THE DARK SOIL: Life and Work of Thomas Jefferson Bowen in Africa by Allen Timilehin Olatunde
  10. Ibadan Omo Ajorosun: A New Perspective of Ibadan History and Physical Development by Moshood Adijojola Tomori, Penthouse Publications (Nigeria), 2004.

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