Few people in Nigeria’s socio-political history have risen quickly to prominence and then died in the middle of the day, when there was still so much to do.
This was the situation with Chief Bode Thomas, also known as Olabode Akanbi Thomas.
Thomas, who was born in October 1919, died tragically on November 23, 1953, at the age of 34, in mysterious circumstances.
The day also happened to be his daughter’s second birthday, bringing both joy and sorrow to the Bode family.
The day before, on November 22, 1953, Bode, who had succeeded Alaafin Adeyemi II as chairman of the Oyo Divisional Council, came at a meeting of the council with the Oba (king) in attendance as a member.
According to the report, all of the other councilors stood to greet him, with the exception of Oba Adeyemi, who is in his 60s. “Why were you sitting when I walked in?” Thomas asked impolitely. “Why can’t you respect me?”
Feeling belittled, the Alaafin asked Thomas, “shey emi on gbo mo baun?” “Is it me you’re barking at like that?” emi ni ongbo bi aja mo baun. Is it me that you’re barking like a dog at? continue to bark.”
Various accounts also claim that after Thomas returned home from the meeting in Oyo, he began barking all night in his Yaba, Lagos residence. Despite being taken to Ijebu-Igbo for further treatment, he died the next day (November 23, 1953).
Because Thomas and Alaafin Aderemi II were Yorubas, he must have known about the Yoruba tradition of honoring the elderly and traditional authority.
However, it appears that their disagreement sprang from a power struggle over tax mobilization, political party support, and traditional authority privileges.
With Thomas as the vice leader, political leader Obafemi Awolowo formed the Action Group to grab control from the British.
The Alaafin, one of the few high-ranking Yorubas, pledged his support behind Nnamdi Azikiwe and the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroonians (NCNC).
With Alaafin on one hand and Awolowo and Thomas on the other, there had been a type of power struggle. The schism resulted in the Oba’s son being exiled, Thomas’ death, and Awolowo’s dethronement of the Alaafin.
Nigeria’s first Minister of Transportation and later Minister of Works was Thomas. He was also a colonial minister of the Nigerian Colony and Protectorate, as well as a nobleman and privy counselor of Yorubaland’s historic Oyo clan.
Balogun of Oyo is a royal name given to a village’s war chief, but it can also refer to someone who cannot be defeated or conquered. In 1949, he was awarded the title of Balogun.
Thomas served as a lawyer, politician, statesman, and conventional aristocrat in the fight for self-rule against the British.
Andrew Thomas, a wealthy businessman, and auctioneer who was born in Oyo but moved to Lagos was his father. He went to London to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1942.
In 1948, he returned to Nigeria with Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams and Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode to form the law practice “Thomas, Williams, and Kayode.”
In 1946, he became Egbe Omo Oduduwa’s legal adviser, among other achievements. He was one of the Action Group’s original members. He was a successful Lagos lawyer and a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement before joining the Action Group.
Thomas was considered bright, rational, astute, insightful, forward-thinking, and a workaholic because of his style. On the negative side, he was regarded as arrogant, irritable, and a bully.
Thomas married Lucretia Shobola Odunsi and they had two children together, Eniola and Dapo. In 1951, he was elected to the Regional House of Assembly as the chancellor of the African Church of Nigeria.
In Surulere, he is commemorated by the popular ‘Bode Thomas Street.’
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