Ope-Agbe's distortions of history, by Otunba TOS Benson [RIGHT OF REPLY: The Akintola controversy]

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RIGHT OF REPLY: The Akintola controversy.



Friday, November 14, 2003

Ope-Agbe’s distortions of history, by Otunba TOS Benson

MY reputation as a politician of note in the first republic has been brutally bruised with untruths, and avoidable distortions of history, by Fazil Ope-Agbe in an article in the Vanguard, titled: Akintola Fought For The Yoruba People. The piece ran for two days from August 8. Ope-Agbe’s version of the history of the politics of the first republic was heavily jaundiced. The references made about me assaulted my values, as a politician, with good principles. I write to set the record straight, about the tainted roles, he ascribed to me. My name was mentioned at least eight times in the said article. I cannot therefore, ignore the unwholesome role of20prospective arsonist or anarchist, which he claimed falsely, that I offered to play.

Protracted in-fighting between the AG and the breakaway NNDP of S. L. Akintola led to a break down of law and order, the second time in Western Nigeria. The first time was in 1962 when a state of emergency was declared for six months and Chief M. A. Majekodunnii was appointed the Administrator for Western region. The 1965 state of lawlessness in the region was dubbed: “Operation Wetie”. People and property were doused with gasoline and set on fire. The AG Secretariat in Ibadan, was torched. I had quit the NCNC in a dispute with Okpara when the party failed to nominate me to compete in Federal Elections in December 1964. Ayo Rosiji a leading member of the party was also, a former star of the AG. The big lie is that Ope-Agbe wrote that I proposed that the NNDP should organize its own operation wetie in my Lagos constituency to hit back at the “NCNC” — which was accused, I believe, wrongly, of organizing the Mayhem. In fighting between the members of the AG and NNDP, was responsible for the operation wetie crisis in the West. The NCNC which was the opposition party in the West, only cashed in on the crisis, on the side of the NNDP.

I categorically state that I did not make any proposal to torch AG offices in Lagos, which the author said was rejected — as counter productive – by both Rosiji and Akintola. The only w itnesses=2 0to this bit of Ope – Agbe’s history , which has not hitherto been reproduced in print, are dead. I have never read nor heard of the author’s charge before now. It is a puzzle that it took him about forty years to invent his story, which associated me with thuggery. Its purpose must have been to counter the equally false postulations in glory of Awo by Ganiyu Dawodu in a book, titled:

“Who Won The 1951 Western Nigeria Election – Zik or Awo?’ True Awoists will not find comfort with the writings of Ope-Agbe on SLA and what he did for the Yoruba. For the author clothed SLA as the political angel who dragged the Yoruba — through partnership with the North – into the mainstream of national politics.

Ope Agbe says that Awo was rigid and uncompromising to the extent of putting his own whims and interests above the general interests, and needs of the Yorubas. He saw no good at all in Chief Awolowo’s desires and principles, and believes that Awo’s extreme regionalism crippled his own ambition for national leadership. On the other hand, SLA was the man for outreach to the North and South-East. His article generally was a disservice to be sought after unity of the Yoruba race. The wounds of the Awo- SLA conflict persist in some form. Afenifere and (Igbimo Omo Yoruba) Yoruba Council of Elders, remain two political poles apart. My wish is to see Yoruba fly a united political and cu ltural20flag, within the context of one Nigeria. I bel ieve that the author wrote in bad faith as a surviving agent of satanic politics in Yorubaland.

In 1954, I led the campaign in the Western Region against Action Group and NCNC won the majority. The people appointed ministers from Western Region were Okotie Eboh from the Mid-West, Kola Balogun and Adegoke Adelabu from Yoruba area of Western Region. Although, I was the Chairman and Leader of NCNC Western Working Committee (Lagos — Asaba) but I was not appointed a minister because there was no provision in the constitution to that effect, hence I was appointed Federal Government Chief Whip. When Adelabu was removed as a minister in 1955, he was replaced with J. M. J. from Ibadan constituency. In 1959, none of the three parties; NPC, the NCNC and AG won the overall majority hence the NCNC had an alliance with the NPC to form the Government at the Center. Okotie Eboh was again appointed a minister from the Mid-West while from the Yoruba Area of the West, JMJ and Akinfosile and myself, T. 0. S. Benson from Lagos, were appointed Ministers. The snag in the constitution against the appointment of ministers from Lagos was removed in 1957 London Constitutional Conference.

It amounts to living in a dream world for Ope-Agbe to posit that … Chief T. 0. S. Benson of Ikorodu, Chief Olu Akinfosile of Okitipupa and J.M. Johnson of Ibadan who were in charge of federal portfolios that belonged to the West were not true and legitimate=2 0representatives of that region. It is naively for him to so postulate. The NPC/NCNC alliance of 1954 to 1959 continued to 1964. The author blames Awo whom he wrote “was obsessed” with leading the nation, for not opening up to the stretched hands of the North for partnership in a coalition — which SLA did. Let me state that Awo made attempts at forging an alliance with the North contrary to the position of Ope Agbe. But in his attempt at forging this alliance, the AG played a double political game when the party sent Rosiji to the Sardauna to negotiate NPC/AG alliance and at the same time sent Gbadamosi to Zik for NCNC/AG alliance. The end of the road came for the AG when Sardauna phoned Zik to find out NCNC’s readiness for the alliance following AG’s overtures to the NPC and Zik replied to him that the Action Group was also negotiating with him. At this point the Sardauna was annoyed with the AG’s double deal and dismissed further discussions with the AG hence the NPC/NCNC alliance was sealed. This clarification is for Ope-Agbe to note.

It is not correct, as Ope-Agbe wrote, that “… Chief T. 0. S. Benson the NCNC’s mainstay in Lagos had quit the party in high dungeon over the open support of the Eastern House of Assembly for Boniface Ofokaja’s rebellion; and open defiance of the minister over the appointment of Mr. Segun Smith as News Editor of the NTA.20Ofokaj a’s shattered ambition had nothing to do with m y exit from the party. I was the Third Vice President of the NCNC. My relationship with the President of the party after Zik, and Premier of the Eastern region, Dr. Michael Okpara, was uneasy and full of friction. I should, at this stage, tell the story of the final straw that severed the political bond between Okpara and I. I was in USA with my consort on medical grounds; when Okpara fixed a date of the start of the NCNC Campaign in Western Nigeria. He appointed me to lead the campaign. I replied in a cable, that I could not make it on the prescribed date. We were undergoing a series of medical tests. Okpara concluded that I did not want the party to win in the West and that I was playing games. Another incidence was during our campaign tour when Okpara and I were on our way to Ogbomosho and Okpara expressed his wish to become the Prime Minister in 1964. I told him that it was not possible because we formed UPGA in order to bring Awo from prison and make him the Prime Minister as was the case in Ghana where Nkrumah emerged from prison. Because of this and particularly my objection to his ambition of becoming prime minister in 1964, he led a campaign for the party to substitute me with Maduagwu Moronu, an Oba man from the East, who was one of my constituency secretaries, as candidate for my Yaba Federal seat.

Okpara appointed Ogunsanya, my town’s man to head my nominat ion=2 0committee, but Ogunsanya, not wanting to be seen to be o pposing me appointed Akinyemi Obe whom though I sponsored to become a lawyer, carried out Okpara’s plan. At the close of nominations, two contestants emerged. So, I boycotted the nomination committee and quit the party to contest as independent UPGA and I won the election. In essence, Moronu was not fair to me as his leader. He betrayed me politically by allowing himself to be used by Okpara to achieve his plot to unseat me. I took care of Moronu, I was nice to him and even bought him a car worth 300 pounds at BEWAC. From the foregoing, Ope-Agbe can better understand that he was wrong to accuse me of not allowing Moronu to contest the election.

The case of Boniface Ofokaja and Segun Smith was entirely, another Kettle of fish. What Ope-Agbe has done is to weave it into his text in such a manner, as to confirm his theme that NCNC Yoruba Ministers did little for their Kinsmen. At best they were Satellite of Igbo colleagues. Not so. His general theme is that only SLA genuinely cared and catered for the welfare of Yorubas in the West; while those of Yoruba ministers who “appropriated” the cabinet seats meant for heartland Yorubas, did little for the West. Again, it is not true.

I was accused by the group led by my parliamentary secretary, Chief Mbazulike Amechi and R.B.K. Okafor, of promoting only the interests of the Yorubas in the various arms of my ministry. I denied the charge but made the same accusation a gainst Dr. Okechukwu lkejiani, Chairman of board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Nzegwu, the General Manager and Raymond Njoku the Minister of Transport in charge of the railways. I said specially that they had loaded the Railway hospital and offices in the railway generally with Ibos to the exclusion of Yorubas and other tribes. There was an internal party tribunal on the matter. I was not the loser, when the verdict was pronounced. The matter of Boniface Ofokaja losing the post of NTA News Editor to Segun Smith was one of the matters I disposed of. My Ministry of Information even published a pamphlet on the Matter titled: Is Benson Igbophobist? I still have a copy. Ofokaja was a brilliant news- reader with a sonorous and firm voice that was richly loud. But his rank was that of News Assistant. Smith was already a News Editor in the NBC, which managed the newly established TV station. When the contract of the American GM of the NTA expired, he recommended Ofokaja who was much junior in the organization to the post of News Editor. Other staff in the organization, ranked after Smith, were all Easterners – mainly Igbos — and very senior to Ofokaja. They were Philip Okereke, Edet Charles, Ochi Ogbuaku, Rex Eleazor, Godwin Ironkwe, Charles Emerue, and West Camerounian, Sony Dikpoko, and Yebovi. Late Dr. K. 0. Mbadiwe campaigned for Ofokaja. The premier of the East later gave him a high post in the Eastern Nigeria Broadcasting Serv ic e in Enugu. They made politics out of nothing and it is most=2 0unfortunate that Ope-Agbe is bringing up this matter at this time, but however, I have no choice but to reply to him.

They however, failed to tarnish my image, as a detribalized nationalist. Ope – Agbe obviously concocted the ugly story about Cyprain Ekwensi, Director of Information, and roped me in, in bad light. He claimed that Ekwensi jumped over him for promotion to Higher Information Officer.
Instead of him, Ekwensi had recommended two junior staff Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba. According to him ….. with Chief T. 0. S. Benson, an NCNC as Minister of Information, Ekwensi had been able to throw his weight around to the extent of treating the Permanent Secretary, Mr. F. I. Ajuniogobia, as his subordinate”.

That was plain mischief The inference is that he, a Yorubaman, would not get justice from me a Yoruba minister, because my party was anti-Yoruba. He never complained to me nor his permanent secretary; for my action, about his alleged running battles with his Director (Ekwensi), whom he said suppressed him as an act of vengeance; for his refusal to join him in reporting Mr. Ajuinogobia to me, as Minister, for interfering with publicity. He claimed that Ekwensi “could toy with me” because I was an NCNC. I do not know how possible it is for the Public Service Commission to make promotions without an input by the permanen=2 0t secretary of any particular ministry. Ope -Agbe, as a Yoruba man an d a Grammarian never complained to me, or to his permanent secretary for us to put things right. Being an Akintola man, he was afraid of his own shadow. He had to wait until Rosiji came on board as minister, to raise the issue of his succession. Yet, the Commission, as he admitted, refused to reverse itself In my days as minister, no staff of my ministry would dare to toy with me for political or ethnic reasons. I did not tolerate nonsense. I was not a tribal leader. I have remained detribalized, as every one knows; and I was a senior member of a national party.

I consider the article which I complained of as an irritating piece of worthless propaganda that gave praise only to the Akintola faction, of what used to be the AG; which was torn apart after the Schism that was nurtured at the conference of the party in 1961, which exploded in 1962. All the pieces in Ope-Agbe’s rambling history were designed to show SLA’s NNDP in a federal outlook, while the rump of the AG under Awo and Adegbenro was regionally based, although Awo wanted badly to rule the Federation. In the process of stitching his story together, Ope-Agbe maligned both the living and the dead. I cannot call Dr. K. 0. Mbadiwe to witness because he is dead. He accused Dr. Mbadiwe of plotting to displace Chief Festus Okotie Eboh as minister of Finance. But Professor Ben Nwabueze is alive. He devastated h i m with false projections about the tussle between him and Professor S. B iobaku in the political battles that resulted from attempts to fill the Chair of VC. of the University of Lagos, which was vacated on transfer by Professor Eni Njoku. I must recall that during that struggle, Adams starved Prof Biobaku. Nwabueze and Ekwensi must speak out in their cause, and not allow the taleteller to get away with fiction. Moses lhonde, one of the two men claimed to have superseded Ope-Agbe is alive. He has produced three books on the politics and personalities of the first republic. He should not allow the spin yarns of Ope-Agbe to stand, unchallenged.

Akinloye is entitled to his own version of the statement about the January/February 1952 Carpet crossing affairs at Ibadan. But the fact is that Ibadan NCNC Mabolaje allies contested with the AG and won six seats in Ibadan. Five of them led by Akinloye and Aboderin crossed to the Action Group (AG), but Adelabu remained with the NCNC. In 1954, Adelabu cleared the whole six seats in Ibadan during the election to the Federal House of Representatives thus showing his supremacy over Akinloye and Aboderin in Ibadan.

In 1959, Chief Adisa Adeoye, a lawyer who stepped into Adelabu’s shoes in Ibadan cleared the whole eight seats in Ibadan for the NCNC and he is still alive. I am saying this categorically because I led the campaign for these two elections. Adelabu had died on the 23rd of20Ma rch 1958.

This country does not require spin writers of history. We want works that will advance the cause of healing the political wounds of the Yorubas in the past half a century. The article shows that these wounds are still bleeding. For the sake of decency, I will not like to say that Ope Agbe is a liar, but suffice it to say that he is a composer, fabricator and manufacturer of untrue stories.

Of late spin authors have been active on the pages of the Vanguard. The most prominent is Taiwo Akintola, who is a staff of the BBC. He reopened old political wounds with his article titled: “Awolowo/Akintola: The Tango Between Vision And Compromise”. The article ran in the Vanguard of August 15 and 18. He is obviously an Awo man. He says SLA made grievous mistakes but did not elaborate. He also criticized Chief Okotie-Eboh for the break up of Western Nigeria, to create the Mid-West region. Okotie Eboh’s children have replied to him. I do not think that tit-bits about past politics will help us. Lagos was the center of political gravity before Abuja. So, I would rather urge the University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University to consult together and undertake omnibus works separately about the politics of the first republic. They should share out spheres, which each will deal with. Let us hear three sides of the same story, so that the complete truth will be out. I recently had20to give my own version of events in the West in 1951 in reply to a book b y Ganiyu Dawodu.

The Deputy Political Editor of Vanguard, Bolade Omonijo – thinks that sometimes I exaggerate my importance – Political Notes; Vanguard of September 26. For somebody who was 2nd Vice-President of the NCNC, Chairman of NCNC Western Working Committee, a Councilor in Ikorodu Town Council 1955 to 1958, Councilor and Deputy Mayor of Lagos 1950 to 1953, Leader of the Opposition in Western House of Assembly, Member of the Lagos Executive Development Board – 1951 – 1959, Member of the House of Representatives for Lagos, and Nigeria’s lst Minister of Information, my status at the time, speaks for me. I do not need to exaggerate any thing. This is why I have advocated that more books be written of the era.


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