What Mr Sanders Really Did

Written by Veronica Bellers

Riot, The Business of Ruling

Towards the end of of the period of Colonial Administration in Nigeria, in 1950-51, new systems of local government were brought in. Politicians began to flex their muscles. They looked for opportunities to wrest power from those who traditionally had ruled in cooperation with the Administration, as laid down by Lord Lugard fifty years earlier.

Some of the traditional chiefs responded by moving towards an accommodation with the pooliticians whilst others firmly resisted the changes. One of these was the Alafin of Oyo. Although the powers of his forefathers had diminished by 1950, he was nevertheless one of the most important of the Yoruba Obas and a man of considerable presence, with strongly conservative inclination. He considered these new-fangled politicans to be upstarts and saw no reason to hand over to them any of the administrative responsibilities that devolved to him or to his subordinate chiefs.

At that time Christopher Dodwell was the D.O. in Oyo and the Alafin told him, "The business of ruling is like a rabbit. You have to hold it close, or it escapes you."

The political temperature began to rise when two lawyers, who did not live in Oyo, decided to make the centre of their power base. One of these, known as 'The Bulldozer', lived a hundred and twenty miles away in Lagos, while the other lived some thirty miles away in Ibadan.

These two would arrive in the small, peaceful township and hold meetings in the Atiba Hall, which was situated at one end of the market square. At the other end was the Alafin's palace and in between the two was the police station manned by a dozen unarmed Native Authority Police.

One morning Christopher Dodwell was summoned to the square to find a large and angry crowd of the Alafin's supporters drawn up in front of his palace. At the other end of the square, in front of the Atiba Hall was an equally large and angry crowd intent on forcing political change.

The noise of shouting and drumming at both ends of the street which ran through the market place, was defening. Slowly the two factions began to advance upon each other.

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