This book is an impressive study of the illustrious political career of one of Africa's most influential nationalists, Chief Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ, a pre-eminent Nigerian statesman whose vision and tireless work defined a modernist Yoruba political project in an emergent Nigerian post-colonial nation state after the decolonization process in the 1940s. Insa Nolte is primarily concerned with the local and foundational aspects of Awolọwọ's career and how they in turn shape Yoruba and Nigerian politics.
Drawing on extensive colonial and missionary archival materials, critical readings of newspaper reports, comprehensive interviews of key political figures, and a judicious intellectual engagement with Africanist scholarship, this comprehensive work is framed in the context of the monumental social and political transformation of Ijẹbu-Rẹmọ, a confederation of Yoruba city states, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With an emphasis on the [End Page 669] complex interactions between state institutions and structures of society, Nolte analyses how Awolọwọ, Rẹmọ's celebrated native son, emerged as a towering figure in Yoruba politics. Although he was a native of a relatively minor Yoruba town, Ikenne–minor even by Ijẹbu-Rẹmọ's standards, and even more so in comparison to major Yoruba ancestral city states such as Ibadan, Lagos, Ọyọ, Ile-Ifẹ, Ijẹbu-Ode, Ileṣa, Abẹokuta, Ondo, Ogbomọṣọ, Oṣogbo, Ado-Ekiti, or Ọwọ–the dominant role of Awolọwọ in local and regional politics is analysed in the context of the formation of the Ijẹbu-Rẹmọ confederation and the reconstruction of local city state structures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with shifting alliances among ritual kings, chiefs, Christian elites, Muslim merchants, proto-nationalists, and leaders of grassroots organizations in the tumultuous history of state formation in Nigeria. Despite this complicated political and social process, Nolte is emphatic that the dynamic relations ensuing among political actors and the constituencies they represented were consistently articulated, channelled–and resisted–by Awolọwọ's dominant vision, strategies, ambition, and superior organizational skills for five decades of Nigeria's political history.
Following a succinct introduction on the historical sociology of the city states that constituted the Ijẹbu-Rẹmọ confederation, chapters 2 and 3 analyse indigenous social and political organizations in a dynamic nineteenth-century context. Chapter 4 deals with the defining impact of Christian missionary influence–notably Methodist and Anglican–on Rẹmọ communities within the context of Ijẹbu and Yoruba political configurations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a dynamic environment in which notions of the past were consistently deployed to shape evolving contemporary conditions, communal identities were transformed by Rẹmọ political elites to challenge the 'traditional hegemony' of the Awujale (oba or ritual king) of Ijẹbu-Ode over the confederation of Rẹmọ city states.
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 engage the social and political currents that contributed to the rise of Awolọwọ to political prominence from the early years of decolonization in the 1950s to his initial fall during the Western Region crisis that ultimately led to the collapse of Nigeria's first republic in 1966. In the context of the politics of regionalism, Chapter 8 analyses Awolọwọ's re-emergence as the pre-eminent Yoruba political leader during the intervening years of military rule and Nigeria's second failed attempt at constitutional democracy in 1979–83. Nolte is correct in her contention that the organizational strategies, accomplishments and alliances that assured Awolọwọ's success in Rẹmọ and the Yoruba region paradoxically undermined his spirited push for the executive presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A final chapter discusses the enduring legacy of Awolọwọ in Rẹmọ and Yoruba politics after his death in 1987. These compelling chapters illuminate the complexities of Rẹmọ's social, political and economic transformation, centred on the remarkable career of its mythical native son within the context of Yoruba collective action in...