Making Sense of the Past: Ajayi Kọláwọlẹ Ajíṣafẹ and the (re) Making of Modern Abeokuta (Nigeria)
Adrian Montrell Deese
Judith A. Byfield
Thesis DT 3.5 2013 D443
xlvi, 199 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm.
This study examines an understudied figure, and chapter, of pre-colonial African intellectual history. It establishes that Ajayi Kolawole Ajisafe must be viewed as a foundational figure of modern African political philosophy. Ajisafe was a Saro Egba-Yoruba local historian of the city-state of Abeokuta. The Saros were descendants of Yoruba ex-slaves settled at Sierra Leone, and repatriated to Nigeria. This thesis reflects the complexities of late 19th and early 20th century Yoruba thought. It explores the ways that historical processes such as the rise of nationalism, British colonization, and the demise of the African slave trade intersected ideologically in the production of local histories. The primary texts to be analyzed in this study are Ajisafe's History of Abeokuta, and the Laws and Customs of the Yoruba People. This thesis argues that Ajisafe, a proto-nationalist historian of Abeokuta, employed his History and ostensible ethnographic study Laws and Customs to theorize the transformation of Egba-Yoruba state into a modern African state. His conception of the modern Egba state was predicated on Judeo-Christian notions of the ethnic state, but by no means did he limit himself to Christian allusions in invoking the providential immediacy of the Egba state. He maintained that the divine Ifa was the providential facilitator of political and economic modernization. He was very much concerned with the rise of modern commercial relations (capitalism), and sought to reconcile Africa's history of slave trading, the role of slavery as a mechanism of state building, and domestic slavery with a discourse congruent with political modernity; he did this by theorizing Yoruba (African) slavery as a rational social contract. Ajisafe was, finally, concerned with establishing the hegemony of the Egba state. For Ajisafe, the Egba United Government, one of the few nominally independent West African states during the era of the 'Scramble for Africa,' was the apogee of the Egbas' move toward political centralization, bureaucratization, and the legitimation of a modern constitutional monarchy. The power of this state, however, was profoundly shaped by its British dependency; it upheld the notion that the cultural nationalists could maintain an autonomous para-colonial state by appealing to local laws and customs that they codified. Ultimately, this thesis suggests that scholars reappraise pre-colonial/early colonial African historians in order to restore intellectual integrity to their pioneering efforts; they fostered a vocabulary we all live with today.