Thursday, January 9, 2020 3:29 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Today, Thursday, 9 January, 2019, Amotekun, the South West Security outfit, is being launched by Governors of the region in Ibadan. Among the units that will constitute it are members of the Agbekoya. For those in their 60s, the name would ring a bell, especially the myth of invincibility around them. And for kidnappers, bandits and other desperadoes, the name, Agbekoya should send chills down their desperate spines.
This myth stemmed out of the Agbekoya revolt of 1968-1969 aimed at making government to reduce taxes, though many historians believed there were also political causes.
Before this, there was another revolt of the 1950s when the group first developed more militant tactics during an epidemic on cocoa plantations. Calling themselves the Maiyegun (or ‘Life Abundance’) League, they, according to a historian, resisted attempts by government representatives to destroy affected trees on the premise that farmers could not afford to lose their crops without compensation. “Several violent clashes occurred before the matter was settled in favor of the league. As the local depots became institutions in the economic life of average farmers, the organization and many other peasants continued to complain about other issues they found unjust.”
True. Then came the 1968 revolts, led by Agbękoya leaders of the time: Mustapha Okikirungbo, Tafa Popoola, Adeniyi Eda, Adeagbo Kobiowo, Rafiu Isola and Mudasiru Adeniran.
According to Professor Tunde Adeniran in “The Dynamics of Peasant Revolt: A Conceptual Analysis of the Agbekoya Parapo Uprising in the Western State of Nigeria,” Journal of Black Studies. Jun., 1974: “During the early part of Nigeria’s independence, a systematic approach to solving the general problems of the region was taken by the Action Group, the leading political party in the Western Region. Many roads leading to villages were tarred, credit was extended to cooperative societies, and schools were equipped for better education. However, as the Nigerian political scene became more volatile with the jailing of foremost political leader Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the 1966 coup, and the beginning of the Biafran War, politicians came to view the farmers as pawns to be used for electoral strategies. The local depot officials also began to present themselves as minor vassal lords, demanding bribes and other concessions from farmers before accepting their harvest for sale. The provided amenities began to slide towards deplorable conditions, even though the government continued to demand taxes for their upkeep.”
The Agbekoyas demanded the following:
Till today, old soldiers and policemen dread the Agbekoya men because of certain mystical feats attributed to them. “They commanded cops to start removing their own cloths. Or they ordered that water should start oozing out of the snouts of soldiers’ guns. Or they could set a government structure ablaze by throwing a mystic egg” were some of the claims hinges on them.
Adeniran went further: “Peasants shouted Oke mefa laosan! Oke mefa laosan! (We are only paying 30 shillings!) as they marched through the village after village to persuade the local farmers not to pay any taxes to the military governor of the Western state. Soon, some farmers and their leaders gradually left the villages and marched towards Mapo hall, the seat of the regional government. There, they ransacked the offices of officials, declaring that they would only pay $1.10. Mayhem then descended on the capital city and many villages.
“To curtail further violence, the government employed the use of force and violence to quell the uprising and arrested some of the Agbękoya leaders. However, farmers took to violent reprisals on government structures, and as a result, many officials were killed. The Agbękoya era consumed the Western Nigerian political landscape at the same time that the nation was pursuing civil war against Nigeria’s Eastern Region in the Biafran War. As a method of protest against the military government, the Agbękoya attacked major symbols of state power like court houses and government building, setting free thousands of prisoners alongside their jailed members. However, the release of Chief Obafemi Awolowo helped to quell the riots, as he negotiated directly with the movement’s leaders.”