Whenever the name – Bode Thomas is mentioned, several thoughts come to mind. To some people, the only thing they could probably think of is a street named after him in Surulere, Lagos; to some people he was one of the big men in those days, to some people he was that man who died in his prime as a result of pride, some people saw the bearer of thename as an arrogant and hot-tempered bully while some people would also love to think of him as one of those people who contributed immensely to Nigeria’s socio-political history. However, there is more to this man of many colours.
Olabode Akanbi Thomas was a Nigerian lawyer, politician, statesman, erudite speaker and a traditional aristocrat, who served as both a colonial minister of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria as well as a nobleman and privy counsellor of the historic Oyo Kingdom in Yorubaland, at a time when Nigeria was still under the British colonial rule before her independence in 1960. He was Nigeria’s first Minister of Transportation and later became the Minister of Works. He was described as a brilliant, logical, astute, thoughtful, forward-looking and a workaholic being.
Born into the family of Andrew Thomas – a wealthy trader and auctioneer, who was originally from Oyo but migrated to Lagos in October 1919, Chief Olabode Akanbi Thomas was a great-grandson of the Alaafin Abiodun of Oyo. He was privileged from childhood. He attended C.M.S. Grammar School, a missionary school founded by Bishop AjayiCrowther in Lagos. After completing his studies, he served as a junior clerk at the Nigerian Railway Corporation but towards the end of the year, he resigned his appointment and went to London to study Law. He was called to the bar in 1942 and returned to Nigeria to establish what became a successful practice in Lagos.
In 1948, he set up a Nigerian Law firm – “Thomas, Williams and Kayode”, together with Chief Frederick Rotimi Williams and Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode (Femi Fani-Kayode’sfather). The law firm was established in Jankara, Lagos.
In 1946, he became the legal adviser of Egbe Omo Oduduwaand was one of the founding members of the Action Group. Prior to joining Action Group, he was a successful lawyer in Lagos as well as a member of the Nigerian Youth Movement, where he made his mark through the debates he promoted on contentious national issues. He is believed to be the first prominent Nigerian member of the political elite during the colonial era, who made a strong case for regional-based political parties, which he believed would be equipped with the necessary knowledge to develop their regions and also form a coalition at the center.
He was also a leading advocate for the bringing of tribal chiefs and kings into the expanding fold of the Action Group. As the Balogun of Oyo – a title he received in 1949, Thomas gave much of his own experience to this policy which later proved to be a potent framework for mass mobilisation.
Thomas married Lucretia Shobola Odunsi and they had children together. Among the children who survived Thomas, two stood out – the late Dapo Bode Thomas, former member of Lagos State House of Assembly and later Political Adviser to former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Mrs EniolaFadayomi, two-time Commissioner in Lagos State.
Thomas died in a controversial circumstance. It was a chain of events that led to his death. According to an account, there was a protracted feud between him and Alaafin Adeyemi II, the father of the late Alaafin Lamidi Adeyemi III. Both AlhajiAdeyemi and Thomas were members of the Oyo Divisional Council. At a time, the monarch was the chairman but the position was later handed to Thomas when the monarch was still a member.
It was said that when Thomas made his first appearance as the chairman of the council on November 22, 1953; all the other councillors, except Oba Adeyemi, stood to welcome him. He then impolitely challenged the monarch for sitting while others stood to welcome him, reminding the monarch of how he respected him while he held the forte as the chairman.
With this, Oba Adeyemi who was in his 60’s at that time, felt disrespected and then asked Thomas – “Shey emi lo n gbo mobaun? emi ni on gbo bi aja mo baun, oya ma gbo lo” which translates to mean – “Is it me you are barking at like that? Is it me you are barking at like a dog? Keep barking”.
After returning from Oyo, Thomas became ill at his home in Yaba, Lagos home. It was said that he was later taken to Ijebu-Igbo for further treatment, but he eventually died onNovember 23, 1953. Thomas who died on his daughter’s second birthday at the age of 34, was said to have barked continuously until he died, without realising his full potential as a leader. He was mourned by his Oyo kinsmen, the political class and the emerging professional class. It was said that if he had been alive in 1959, he would have succeeded Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of the Western Region and the region would have been saved from the rebellion of the late Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yoruba.
Meanwhile, in contrast to this account, Thomas’s personal physician – Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi had revealed in his autobiography – My Lord, What a Morning, that Thomas had fever on his way home from Oyo. He said he administered some anti-malaria drugs as well as some sedative on him the night before his death but was informed few days after, that he had passed.
In the meantime, history has it that Oba Adeyemi II, the then Alaafin was humiliated and deposed in retaliation.
Bode Thomas’ death ultimately brings to fore the adverse effect of pride and anger, while also highlighting the importance of making impact when one can. This is ultimately in line with the words of former American President, Abraham Lincoln which states that, “In the end it is not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years”.
Chief Olabode Akanbi Thomas came, stayed briefly and went back to his maker at the age of 34. At his prime age, he was a frontline lawyer, nationalist politician, former Federal Transport Minister, Balogun of Oyo and he even accomplished what men who lived for a century could not achieve in an entire life time.
His successes in law practice, politics and government were hinged on his sheer resolve to triumph in the face of all odds. Little wonder a street was named after him in Lagos.