Few people in Nigeria’s sociopolitical history have quickly ascended the ladder of notoriety and passed away in the middle of the day when there was still much work to be done, rather than in the evening when their lives were coming to an end.
Olabode Akanbi Thomas, also known as Chief Bode Thomas, was one man who suffered such a fate.
Thomas, who was born in October 1919, died suddenly on November 23, 1953, at the age of just 34, under curious circumstances.
His daughter celebrated her second birthday that day, bringing both happiness and sorrow to the Bode household.
The Oba (king) was present at a council meeting the day before, on November 22, 1953, when Bode, who had replaced Alaafin Adeyemi II as chairman of the Oyo Divisional Council, arrived.
According to the account, every other councilor rose to greet him except for Oba Adeyemi, a man in his 60s. Then Thomas asked the king impolitely, “why were you sitting when I walked in? Why can’t you show me respect?”
The Alaafin, feeling disrespected, asked Thomas “shey emi on gbo mo baun? emi ni ongbo bi aja mo baun” meaning “is it me you are barking at like that?’ is it me you are barking like a dog at like that? keep barking.”
Several sources also claim that Thomas began barking all night long at his Yaba, Lagos residence following the encounter in Oyo. Despite being taken to Ijebu-Igbo for additional treatment, he passed away the next day (November 23, 1953).
Since Thomas and Alaafin Aderemi II were both Yoruba, he must have been aware of the long-standing Yoruba custom of obeying elders and traditional authorities.
However, it appears that the two’s differing views were caused by a power struggle over tax mobilization, political party support, and conventional authority privileges.
The Action Group was founded by political figurehead Obafemi Awolowo with Thomas serving as deputy leader in an effort to oust the British from power.
One of the few prominent Yoruba men, The Alaafin, supported Nnamdi Azikiwe and the National Council of Nigerians and Cameroonians (NCNC) by lending support.
Alaafin, Awolowo, and Thomas had participated in a form of power test, while Alaafin was on the other side. The conflict resulted in Thomas’ death, the Oba’s son being exiled, and Awolowo deposing the Alaafin.
Thomas served as Nigeria’s first minister of works before becoming minister of transportation. In addition, he held positions as a colonial minister for the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria and a nobleman and privy counselor for Yorubaland’s illustrious Oyo clan.
He was the Balogun of Oyo, a title given to a village’s war chief that can also refer to a person who cannot be subdued or conquered. In 1949, he was given the title of Balogun.
Thomas played a crucial role in the struggle for independence from the British as a lawyer, politician, statesman, and conventional aristocrat.
He was born to Andrew Thomas, a prosperous businessman, and auctioneer who moved to Lagos from Oyo. He completed his legal education in London and was admitted to the bar in 1942.
After that, he went back to Nigeria where, along with Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams and Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, they founded the law practice “Thomas, Williams and Kayode” in 1948.
Among his other accomplishments, he was hired as Egbe Omo Oduduwa’s legal counsel in 1946. He was one of the Action Group’s original founders. He was a successful Lagos attorney and a part of the Nigerian Youth Movement before joining Action Group.
Thomas was seen as bright, rational, astute, attentive, forward-thinking, and a workaholic due to his mannerisms. He was disliked for being conceited, impetuous, and a bully.
Thomas and Lucretia Shobola Odunsi had two children together, Eniola and Dapo. In 1951, he was elected to the Regional House of Assembly and served as chancellor of the African Church of Nigeria.
Bode Thomas Street, a well-known street in Surulere, Lagos, bears his name.