Akintola fought for the Yoruba people – by Fazil Ope-Agbe

2 Comments » February 5th, 2009 posted by // Categories: Chief Obafemi Awolowo Project


Akintola fought for the Yoruba people



Fazil Ope-Agbe

Culled from VANGUARD
Thursday, August 07, 2003

FOR quite a  long time I have agonized over the wisdom of telling truths which I know a majority of Nigerians do not want to hear.

After reading Oluwole Kehinde’s article on the subject matter (The Guardian, June 3, 2003) I believe it is time to hear from someone who not only was an eye-witness but an insignificant participant in Chief S. L. Akintola’s fight to create a viable, stable and prosperous Nigerian nation.

First and foremost, I must put to rest the fallacy that Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s fight was against Northern domination. An understanding of the situation at Independence would reveal that the urge to dominate was in the minds of the major tribes of Southern Nigeria , the Ibos and the Yorubas.

The clamour for independence started, was nurtured and brought to fruition in the South, comprising the Eastern and Western Regions of Nigeria. In those early years of Nigerian nationalism, the North made it clear that it was not ready for independence, but it was dragged along, screaming and kicking by the relentless tide of Southern Nigeria ‘s political ambition. At that time, all the North wanted was to be left alone within the boundaries where the colonial masters found it. The North had neither interest in nor designs on any territory outside Northern Nigeria .

Unable to check the irresistible pull of the south towards self-determination and eventual independence from colonial rule, the North adopted what it believed was the best strategy to ensure that it was not relegated to serfdom in an independent Nigeria .

A glance at the map of Nigeria during the colonial era shows that Northern Nigeria had a larger land mass than Eastern and Western Nigeria put together. It was also assumed that the North had a larger population, than the Southern regions combined.

At the time of Independence , the attitude of Northern Nigeria, led by Sir Ahmadu Bello was that Nigeria had two components  – the North and the South. Consequently the North believed and pursued a policy whereby everything worth sharing was divided into two, half for the North and half for the South.

Under the Regional arrangement, every Region was expected to be the architect of its fortune. The North summarized the situation with the quote East for Easterners, West for Westerners, North for Northerners and we all meet at the center. The center referred to was Lagos or in other words, at federal level.

Even though the South verbally rejected that notion, events and actions clearly show that the South adopted it in practice. A classic example was the election of 1956 into the Western House of Assembly which was won by the N.C.N.C. as a result of which, Dr. Nnamdi  Azikiwe would have become the leader of Government and eventually first Premier of Western Nigeria. 

The idea of an Ibo man becoming the Premier of Western Nigeria was totally unacceptable to every right thinking Yoruba man; so much so that the Yorubas elected under the platform of the N.C.N.C  decamped en-mass and crossed over to the Action group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. 

Some may call it tribalism but I insist that by voting Dr. Azikiwe into the Western House of Assembly at all, the West had demonstrated an act of liberalism that by far surpassed any action that could happen in Eastern or Northern Nigeria . Common sense dictates that you do not hand over the supervision of your house, your wife, your children and your fortune etc to a friend no matter how much you trust that friend.

That rejection of Dr. Azikiwe’s bid to head the government of Western Nigeria effectively down graded the N.C.N.C from a national to a regional political party. Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of Western Nigeria was the chief beneficiary of that accepted policy to reserve the leadership of each region for its indigenes.

So whatever anybody may shout from the roof tops, the denial of the Western Premiership to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was an endorsement of the North’s West is for Westerners, East for Easterners, North for Northerners and we meet at the center policy by Chief Awolowo’s west.  

At the time of Independence , the North was in the hands of the Northerners, the West was in the hands of the Westerners and the East was in the hands of Easterners.

During the run-up to the 1959 elections, both the N.C.N.C and the Action Group campaigned throughout the country while the N.P.C limited its campaign to the North. The N.C.N.C was however restrained in its campaign in the North while the Action Group particularly Chief Awolowo went at it hammer and tongs leaving no one in doubt of the intention of himself and his party the Action Group to represent the North
at federal level.

No party won enough seats to unilaterally form the Federal Government, so it was absolutely necessary to form a coalition. The N.C.N.C  was mild and diplomatic in its campaign in the North while in contrast, the Action Group campaign, conducted in person by Chief Awolowo was a virulent no-holds-barred affair.

The bad blood generated by the Action Group campaign ruled out any thought or idea of it attempting to forge a coalition with the N.P.C  at federal level. The N.P.C  and the Action Group were in mutual agreement that an alliance or coalition between their two parties was inconceivable.

There were just two viable options; one was for the N.P.C and the N.C.N.C to form a coalition government or for the three dominant parties to form a national government. A third option favoured by Chief Awolowo that the N.C.N.C should form a coalition with the Action Group was seen by every discerning Nigerian as a clear recipe for disaster.

The idea that the major Southern political parties should form a Federal Government to the exclusion of the North which from the onset had been jittery over the idea of independence was simply ludicrous. Before independence the cement holding the North and South together was the colonial government. To now remove the colonial government and replace it with a Federal Government of Southerners in which the North was excluded as (advocated by Chief Awolowo) would have resulted in the disintegration of Nigeria as a country.

Again we must consider the fact that Chief Awolowo contested the election to the Federal House of Representatives against the majority wish of his party, the Action Group.

The party wanted him to go to Lagos only if they were in a position to form the Federal Government in which case an elected member would step down and he would go in by way of bye election.

Chief Awolowo rejected the advice that as a national leader he should not go to Lagos to rub shoulders with the lieutenants of his fellow national leaders, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, unless he was going there as head of government. He rejected that sound advice.

Also during behind the scenes negotiations to form the Federal Government that would usher in Independence , Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa risked the displeasure of Sir Ahmadu Bello by proposing a national government. Chief Awolowo insisted that he could only serve in a government headed either by himself or Dr. Azikiwe. He implied by his stance that the Northerners were inferior and should not be at the helm of affairs even though they won the greatest number of seats in the National Assembly. The problem with Chief Awolowo was that he ignored the fact that our Constitution
provided that we practice democracy and not meritocracy.

With the foregoing analysis it is easy to see why the Yorubas in federal establishments did not see Chief Awolowo in the same way the Yorubas of the Western Region saw him. While he was being hailed as a great benevolent and provident leader in Western Nigeria, the Yorubas in Lagos and in federal establishments all over the country felt abandoned.  

The North, as stated earlier, saw Nigeria as an amalgamation of two component parts, the North and the South. The policy of the N.P.C therefore was to divide everything -federal revenue, ministerial portfolio, appointments into federal institutions etc. into two, one half for the North and one half for the South.

The N.P.C was there to collect the share for the North while the N.C.N.C  was there to collect the share for the South. The Yoruba ministers in the federal cabinet were nominated and held office by the grace of the Ibo-dominated N.C.N.C.

Yoruba public servants were perceived by the Ibos and the Hausas as followers of Awolowo to whom they owed no obligations. It follows therefore that no Northerner or lgbo man in the federal civil service could be treated with levity so as not to incur the displeasure of his kinsmen in the federal cabinet; the Yoruba public servant, in contrast was fair game for all and sundry since he had no protector at federal level.

It became common practice for Yorubas to be denied appointments, to be denied promotion and to be superceded by officers from other tribes who were less qualified or experienced. When Yoruba civil servants cried out, Chief Awolowo’s response was that he would share in their suffering by refusing to collect his remuneration as the Leader of the Opposition in the Federal House.

Before Independence , the federal parliament was Chief S. L. Akintola’s turf where he performed the duties of Leader of Opposition intelligently and effectively with a joviality that earned him the love, respect and admiration of a wide spectrum of Nigerians cutting across regional, tribal and political boundaries.

Chief Awolowo within weeks of his arrival in the Federal House of Representatives created for himself the image of someone with a chip on his shoulder whose mission in the parliament was to do battle with other parties whom he perceived as his irreconcilable enemies. The other parties responded in kind by going out of their way to slap him down, cut him down to size and rub his face in the mud. The fact that the leader of the Yorubas could be so trampled upon gave other tribes the courage to kick the Yorubas around like football.

I must give due credit to the Northern leadership in the Federal Parliament who were not happy with the situation. It is a great pity that the present generation of Northerners bear no resemblance to their predecessors like Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, Alhaji Inuwa Wada, Zanna Bukar Dipcharimma and Alhaji Musa Yar-Adua. They were fine gentlemen; cultured, humble, humane, very co-operative, unassuming and matured.

As Head of Press Section at the federal ministry of information at that time I received such respect, co-operation and consideration for those northern elders, I became swollen headed enough to look on younger Ministers like Maitama Sule and Shehu Shagari as small boys.

On the other hand, we had the Southern Ministers Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, Hon. R.A. Njoku,  Chief Aja Nwachukwu, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Chief T.O.S. Benson, Chief J.M. Johnson and Chief Olu Akinfosile; all of them with the exception of  Hon. Aja  Nwachukwu who took great pains to keep you alive to the fact that they were ministers.

When Chief Akintola left the federal parliament to become Premier of Western Nigeria he went with a reservoir of goodwill from the constructive, effective, and contagious humour with which he had conducted his opposition. Yoruba public servants in the federal service found him easier to complain to, than the unyielding Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

At the behest of the affected Yorubas he took up the matter of their marginalization and victimization with the N.P.C as the senior partner in the federal coalition government. He was told that the Western Nigeria share of the national cake, which should benefit every Yoruba irrespective of where he is, was there for the asking. The Northern view was that the Action Group which was the true representative of the Yorubas, having refused to take its rightful place in the Federal Government, the N.C.N.C had appropriated
the Yoruba share. Chief T.O.S. Benson, Chief Olu Akinfosile and Chief J.M. Johnson in charge of the portfolios that rightfully belonged to Western Nigeria were not true and legitimate representatives of the people of that region.

It was the contention of Chief Akintola and his group of broad-minded leaders of the Action Group that Western Nigeria ‘s share of the national cake should revert to the true representatives of the region. Chief Awolowo vehemently opposed that idea if it meant that he would have to co-operate with the Northerners.

To say that Chief Awolowo refused to take the Yorubas to the mainstream of Nigerian politics on the terms of the North is absolute rubbish. The Igbos were in the mainstream of Nigerian politics; they were not there on the terms of the North, they were there for the benefit of their people. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was not Prime Minister on the terms of the North; he was Prime Minister because his party’s greatest number of members in Parliament and because the N.C.N.C. leadership believed they would rather do business with him that with Chief Awolowo.

The problem with Chief Awolowo is that he was obsessed with leadership. He could not function except as a boss and would refuse to serve in any situation that does not confer on him absolute and unquestionable power and leadership. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was appointed leader of the Action Group because his comrades and colleagues perceived that being named leader meant so much to him. I challenge anybody to declare that Chief Awolowo was head and shoulders above the other founding fathers of the Action Group.

As a leader of the Action group, Awolowo rather than function as primus inter pares, blew himself up as the sole guardian who alone knew what was good for every Yoruba man, woman and child. The mistake of Chief Akintola and other great Yoruba leaders was that they allowed Chief Awolowo to claim for himself as a person all the great programmes and achievements of the party. For the sake of peace and harmony, they allowed Chief Awolowo to present himself as a forest rather than as a tree in the forest.

It is time we woke up to the fact that every achievement, every stride taken by Western Nigeria in the first republic was the handiwork of the Action Group rather than of the man Awolowo. It follows therefore, that every Western Nigerian who had cause to be grateful to Awolowo should equally be grateful to Chief S.L. Akintola and other Yoruba leaders of the Action Group without whose collaboration and input the successes arrogated to Chief Awolowo would not have been possible. Take Chief Ayo Rosiji, for instance. He was recognized within the Action Group as the party’s master planner and strategist, so much so that Chief Awolowo personally nicknamed him the professor.

I wish to emphasise that all that was done for and in Western Nigeria, were not Awolowo’s personal ‘achievements but that of the Action Group as a party.

When the Action Group broke up into the Awolowo faction and the Akintola faction, the N.C.N.C. rallied round Akintola and contributed largely not only to Awolowo’s downfall, but also to his imprisonment. With Chief Awolowo temporarily incapacitated, the N.C.N.C. believed that Western Nigeria would fall into its lap like an over ripe apple. The N.C.N.C. had the wrong but widely accepted notion that Chief Awolowo was the only power to be reckoned with in the West and with his departure, they (the N.C.N.C.) could just march in and take over.

It therefore, came as a great shock to the N.C.N.C. when every notable Yoruba leader rallied to the support of Chief S.L. Akintola. Yoruba political stalwarts like Chief Richard Akinjide, Chief R.Fani-Kayode, Prince Made Lamuye and a host of others saw in Chief Akintola the type of leader the Yorubas needed and decamped from the N.C.N.C. to join him in the NNDP. Even Chief T.O.S. Benson, a national Vice President of the N.C.N.C, after a brief hesitation, also crossed over to accept Chief Akintola’s leadership.

Akintola’s legacy was that he reconciled Yoruba leaders who were considered irreconcilable under Chief Awolowo’s leadership.

When Chief Akintola’s N.N.D.P. took the Yorubas to their rightful place in the  federal government, Chief Ayo Rosiji became Federal Minister of Information, Chief Richard Akinjide became Federal Minister of Education, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye was Minister of Industries, other Ministers I cannot quite remember their portfolios were Prince Made Lamuye and Victor Lajide.

The N.N.D.P. Ministers mentioned above represented a bridge between the federal government and the core Yoruba elements of Western Nigeria as against the Lagos Yorubas whom Chief T.O.S. Benson and Chief J.M. Johnson catered for.

When Chief Richard Akinjide took over the Federal Ministry of Education, he was presented with a list of nominees for award of federal government scholarship. Ninety Eight percent of Southern nominees on that list were Igbos; the Yorubas, the Midwesterners, the Efiks, the Ibibios, the Ijaws, the Kalabaris etc shared the remaining two percent.

Chief Akinjide rejected that list and ordered the compilation of a more balanced list. A majority of the Yorubas and other non-Igbo Southerners who benefitted from federal government scholarship awards that year had Chief S.L. Akintola, the N.N.D.P. and Chief Akinjide to thank for their good fortune.

During that period of Akintola’s N.N.D.P. participation in the federal government, the tenure of Professor Eni Njoku as Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos expired, Professor Saburi Biobaku was appointed to succeed him. The N.C.N.C. raised a deafening yell of tribalism and financed students to raise hell and mayhem in the course of which Professor Biobaku was stabbed in an assassination attempt.

At that time, there was a profusion of eminent scholars and educationists of Southern  Nigerian origin. There were two federal government universities in Ibadan and Lagos .   Professor Kenneth Dike was Vice Chancellor at Ibadan while Eni Njoku held court in Lagos .

An equitable sharing of the national cake would have prevented a situation where these two federal universities were manned by persons of the same tribe, moreso as Professor Saburi Biobaku was as good if not better than the incumbents at Lagos and Ibadan universities.

It was not as if Chief Biobaku’s appointment would have made Eni-Njoku jobless. Professor Biobaku had been released by the Federal Government to go and head a university in East Africa and Chief Eni Njoku was only being redeployed to take up the East African job so as to give meaning to the principle of federal character which is still in our constitution as I write.

It was these acts to give the Yorubas their fair share of federal patronage that made the Ibos block Chief Akinjide’s nomination into Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s cabinet and he had to be presented a second time before he got the approval of the Senate.

After the 1959 elections, when no party won absolute majority, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa wanted a continuation of a national government as was the case before the election. Chief Awolowo would not hear of it. He wanted the Action Group and the N.C.N.C. to team up against the North. He said he was prepared to serve under Dr. Azikiwe but not under any Northerner. Those of us who were not rabid Awoists wondered what transformation had taken place in Dr. Azikiwe’s person since he was chased out of the West by this same Awolowo, who now wanted him to lead the whole country.

The only explanation that made sense to us was that Awolowo did not believe in a Nigeria that did not have him as Prime Minister. It was clear from the mood of the times that if the East and the West had teamed up to form the federal government, the North would have justifiably opted out of the federation. An alliance between the West and the East against the North would be nothing short of the South replacing the British as
colonial masters of the North.

It is inconceivable that Chief Awolowo did not see that implication, so the only conclusion that made sense was that Chief Awolowo would rather dissolve the federation than be part of a country in which he is not the leader. His implication in a coup plot for which he was found guilty and jailed did nothing to disprove the contention that all he cared about was his personal ambition to rule the country or part of it.

At the time when negotiations were going on to form the government that would usher in independence, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe described himself and his party the N.C.N.C. as the beautiful bride being wooed by the other political parties. There would have been no need for anybody to woo or be wooed if Chief Awolowo had not set his mind against a national government.

The N.C.N.C. accepted the suit of the N.P.C. and received as dowry the right to consume Western Nigeria’s share of the national cake even though it did not represent the people of Western Nigeria in the federal parliament. The N.C.N.C. discovered after Awolowo’s political incapacitation that Chief S.L. Akintola was a tougher nut to crack than Chief Awolowo and decided to make the West ungovernable for him.

The assassination attempt on Professor Biobaku was in line with the operation wetie” mayhem going on all over Western Nigeria in which human beings were being doused with petrol and set ablaze. Those dastardly acts were being perpetrated by Yorubas, but the perpetrators, their organizers and co-ordinators were being funded by the government of Eastern Nigeria under Dr. Michael Okpara, according to intelligence reports available to the Western Nigerian government.

I heard and saw these reports available only to the innermost caucus of the N.N.D.P. I did not belong to that inner caucus, but as Press Secretary to Chief Ayo Rosiji, master planner and Chief strategist first of the Action Group and later of the N.N.D.P., I had access to the Sanctus sanctorum of Chief Akintola’s N.N.D.P. and government. Also for the fact that I was only twenty six years old, a civil servant and slightly built I was ignored like a fly on the wall and things were laid bare in my presence just as women would undress in front of a one year old baby boy.

Also in those days of N.C.N.C. financed mayhem in the West, Premier’s Lodge, Ibadan was like a refugee camp overflowing with men, women and children who had fled their homes, towns and villages for dear life. 

 There was no privacy for anybody including the Premier Chief Akintola himself to grab some fresh air, breathing space and a snatch of private conversation, Chief Akintola and Chief Rosiji would get into the back seat of my two door Saab car and I would drive them around the back streets of Ibadan GRA and sometimes park by deserted roadsides while the two leaders discussed affairs of state which I found quite revealing and educative.

One of the issues discussed in my car was a proposal allegedly made by Chief T.O.S. Benson that the N.N.D.P. should organize its own operation wetie in Lagos to hit back at N.C.N.C. interests and personnel in the federal capital. Chief Ayo Rosiji dismissed that course of action saying any disorderly act in Lagos would be counter-productive as it would draw the ire not only of the targeted N.C.N.C. but also of the federal government and every other Nigerian, seeing that Lagos was Nigeria in microcosm.

On that occasion, I was not destined to merely eavesdrop; I was drawn into the conversation. Chief Rosiji said that he had made contact with thePresident of the Ibo Youth League and he would send him to me and together our task would be to destroy that body and use the fragment to carry the fight right back to Chief Michael Okpara in Enugu and the length and breadth of Eastern Nigeria. The prognosis was that if Chief Michael Okpara* s tail was set on fire he would be so busy trying to put out the flames that he would not be able to continue formenting trouble in the West.

I was also given a story to surreptitiously leak to the Press. It concerned the attempt to remove Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh as Federal Minister of Finance and replace him with Chief K.O. Mbadiwe. When the Western Nigeria share of the Federal cabinet was allocated to the N.N.D.P., the number of N.C.N.C. Ministers was reduced from eight to five with Chief Okotie-Eboh as the only non-Tho N.C.N.C. Minister in the cabinet. The
N.C.N.C. had believed that with its representation in the federal cabinet reduced, to place the important Finance Ministry in an Igbo hand was a desideratum; in other words, Chief Festus Okotie Eboh not being an Igbo man was a second class N.C.N.Cer.

The N.C.N.C. requested Sir Abubakar to reshuffle the cabinet so that Chief Okotie-Eboh and Dr Mbadiwe could swap places. An enraged Chief Okotie-Eboh with the solid backing of N.N.D.P. ministers strongly opposed that move. Chief Akintola took it upon himself to go up North and appeal to Sir Ahmadu Bello to prevail on Sir Abubakar to reject the N.C.N.C. request. The refusal of Chief Okotie-Eboh to surrender the Ministry of Finance to Dr K.O. Mbadiwe was a sin so grievious in the opinion of the N.C.N.C. that he was killed alongside Yoruba and Northern leaders in January 1966.

When I called in some officers from my ministry to help spread the story of the N.C.N.C. pertkiy on Chief Okotie-Eboh, one of the officers, Stephen Ojo, confirmed to me that Chief K.O. Mbadiwe had already announced to Pressmen that he was soon to replace Chief Okotie-Eboh as Finance Minister.

The failure of that move caused Chief K.O. Mbadiwe considerable loss of face and did nothing to alleviate his feeling of contempt for Dr. Michael Okpara whom he had described as the  rural Bende bumpkin without the national credentials necessary to lead a great party like the N.C.N.C. Most devastating for the N.C.N.C. was that Chief Okotie-Eboh and Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, the N.C.N.C. s most prominent ministers in the federal capital, gravitated towards the Sardauna as the one person who could make or mar one’s fortune in Nigeria*s political arena.

At the same time, a group of young men came to me in my office. Their leader introduced himself as Emeka Chikwendu, President of the Ibo Youth League and those with him as the members of the League’s executive committee. They said they had come to pledge their support for Chief Akintola and praised the good work he was doing to restore balance to the tottering foundation of Nigeria*s unity. They acknowledged that
the turmoil in Nigeria was caused by the Ibo elders’ attempt to deny the other Southern tribes their place in the sun. They expressed disappointment at Chief Awolowo’s leadership pattern and drew a contrast between Zik’s diplomatic handling of the rebellion of Mbadiwe, Nwapa and company to Awolowo’s fight to finish duel with Chief Akintola.

They put it all in a Press Release and we took it round to the news houses thus flagging off a campaign of the Ibo Youth League (or purported Ibo Youth League) singing praises of Chief S. L. Akintola and heaping calumny on Dr. Michael Okpara and other Ibo leaders. They even talked of going back home to tell the people in the villages how their leaders were making a nuisance of themselves in Lagos and giving their tribe a bad name.

That year 1965 was a year of electrifying political turmoil in the South. Chief T. 0. S. Benson the N.C.N.C.’s mainstay in Lagos had quit the party in high dudgeon 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 Nigerian Television Authority. Chief Okotie-Eboh was annoyed with the N.C.N.C. for trying to make Dr. K.0. Mbadiwe supplant him as Minister of Finance. Dr. K. 0. Mbadiwe sensing that the Sardauna of Sokoto had the power to make and unmake, gravitated towards him (the Sarduana) as evidenced by the Sarduana’s invitation to the East to preside over the inauguration of the Ojike Memorial Foundation. The Action Group felt betrayed that the N.C.N.C. did not concede any seat to its candidates in the East as the Action Group did for the N.C.N.C. in the West under the umbrella of the All Progressive Grand Alliance. The N.P.C. / N.C.N.C. coalition government at the center was being rocked by the census crisis caused by the N.C.N.C.’s claim that the North was not as populous as originally assumed.

It was a period of political jostling and juggling that tasked the assiduity of every top politician in the country and the N.C.N.C. was having the worse of it; then the army struck.

The pattern of killings left nobody in any doubt that the coup was meant to give the Ibo tribe the supremacy over the rest of Nigeria which their politicians had been unable to achieve in the political arena. It was trumpeted that the army stepped in to remove corrupt politicians but nobody has been able to explain how army officers like Brigadier Ademulegun, Brigadier Maimalari, Colonel Shodeinde, Col. Largema, Col. Pam
etc could pass for corrupt politicians. As for the murdered politicians, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief S. L. Akintola and Chief F. S. Okotie-Eboh, I present this article as a challenge to anybody to catalogue sins exclusive to them which could not be found in any Ibo politician, none of whom lost a single hair of their head.

Any doubt as to the intention of the coup was laid to rest when Ibos trooped out on the streets in the North singing war songs jubilating over the death of the Sarduana and praising their sons who committed the murders; that tactless behaviour led to the massacre of hundreds of them in the streets of Kano and other Northern cities.

A few hours after the confirmation of the deaths of the Northern and Western political and military leaders Mr. Cyprian Ekwensi, Director of Information rang and told me Fazil, I’m back; you people don’t understand the caliber of people you are dealing with. He had been sent on compulsory leave and directed to resume as Chief Librarian at the Old Secretariat, Marina.

As Director of Information, he had always claimed precedence over the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. With Chief 1. 0. S. Benson an N.C.N.Cer as Minister of Information, Cyprian Ekwensi had been able to throw his weight around to the extent of treating the Permanent Secretary, Mr. F.I. Ajumogobia as his subordinate. When Chief Ayo Rosiji took over as Minister of Information, Mr. Howson-Wright replaced Mr. Ajumogobia as Permanent Secretary. Before long Ekwensi and Howson-Wright were at each other’s throat in a battle for supremacy.

An issue arose over which Ekwensi as Director of Information requested that I, as Press Secretary to the Minister should complain that Howson-Wright was exceeding his bounds as Permanent Secretary and interfering in publicity matters for which he was not qualified. I spoke to Chief Rosiji and he told me that he was aware of the dog fight between Howson-Wright and Ekwensi and he had absolutely refused to interfere. He said he and Ekwensi were together at the Old Yaba College (now College of Technology ) and as alumni of that college, Ekwensi expected him (Rosiji) to take his side against Howson-Wright. Howson-Wright in Rosiji’s own words claims to be an Egba man like me and expects me to be on his side, but me I am a politician and I don’t want to be embroiled in the fight of civil servants; they should take their palaver to the Public Service Commission and you had better steer clear; they are giants and if you allow yourself to be used by any of them, you*ll only get crushed.

I explained to Ekwensi that the Minister did not want to get involved and he had advised me to steer clear. Ekwensi said that as the Minister*s press Secretary I could not stand clear. He said it was my duty to advise the Minister and I should protest officially in writing against Howson-Wright’ s excesses.

I told him I couldn’t do that; I was still smarting from wounds inflicted on me when I was sent out to do battle with the then Permanent Secretary of External Affairs, Mr. Nwokedi. I wasn’t going to pick fights with any more Permanent Secretaries; with me it was once bitten twice shy.

Ekwensi invited me into his office. He had my confidential file in front of him. He told me I was overdue for promotion and he was on the point of alerting the Public Service Commission to that fact, but first of all I should write that petition against Howson-Wright. I refused and he asked me whether I wanted to be promoted or not. I told him I didn*t care and that I refused to be blackmailed for the sake of promotion. Ekwensi got annoyed. He shouted at me that if I thought that he had no power over me just because I was the Minister*s Press Secretary, I should think again. He said he was in a position to hit me hard. I said I didn*t care and walked out of his office.

A few weeks later, everybody was stunned to read in the Federal Government Gazette that Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba had been appointed Higher Information Officers.  Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba were young graduates fresh from university. They had applied for appointment as Information Officers and had been given provisional appointments pending their interview by the Public Service Commission. I had been acting as Higher Information Officer for two years and was due for automatic promotion without recourse to the Public Service Commission.

Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba had appeared before the Public Service Commission to be interviewed for appointment as Information Officers. Afier the interview, Ekwensi had told the Commissioners that there were two vacancies in the Higher Information Officer cadre and that there were no Information Officers in the Ministry good enough to be elevated to that position. He therefore requested the Commission to appoint Ihonde and Garuba to the higher office.

That was Ekwensi’s revenge for my refusal to write a petition against my Permanent Secretary, Howson-Wright. He got Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba appointed Higher Information Officers so as to deny me the chance of promotion to one of those vacancies. Unfortunately for him however, things had changed. Chief T. 0. S. Benson whom he could toy with because Chief Benson held office by the grace of the N.C.N.C. was no longer there. He had been replaced with Chief S. L. Akintola*s Ayo Rosiji who sent a strongly worded protest to the Public Service Commission over the irregularity and injustice surrounding the appointments of Moses Ihonde and Azeez Garuba.

The Public Service Commission refused to reverse itself on that matter but was displeased at Ekwensi for misleading and using it as an instrument of personal vendetta, hence the order that he proceed on leave and not return as Director of Information but to go to the Old Secretariat as Librarian. I was robbed of my promotion, but I walked tall in the knowledge that notice had been served that the Yorubaman had arrived and could no longer be kicked around like a football; that was Akintola’s legacy.

Like other Nigerians, I regarded every Yoruba person as an Awoist and stayed clear of them until Chief S. L. Akintola and his men came to prove that one could be a good Yoruba man without being an Awoist.

So what was the Awolowo legacy? Chief Awolowo*s policies resulted in a chain reaction that led to the military overthrow of civilian governance in Nigeria, the civil war and the eventual emergence of a latter day Northerner who was arrogant, domineering and greedy. The Hausa leaders whom the military boys butchered in January 1966 were humble, principled, cultured and very pleasant. It is a great pity that they did not live to impart their noble qualities on those who eventually succeeded them.  

At Independence , Nigeria was a tripod comprising the Hausas, the Igbos and the  Yorubas. Chief Awolowo’s refusal to allow the Yorubas take their rightful place at the  center because he was not made Prime Minister amounted to  knocking off one leg of the tripod.  Nature never tolerates a vacuum so the N C N C rushed in to fill the gap created by the  Action Group’s absence in the central government.

Good fences, they say, make good neighbours. if you don’t fence your property your neighbour could encroach on it and it would take a fight to drive him off When Chief Awolowo refused to lead the Yorubas to their rightful place at the centre, the N.C.N.C. moved in to fill the void that he created. When Chief Akintola went in to reclaim what rightfully belonged to his people, it created bad blood which  could not have arisen if Chief Awolowo had not created a vacuum that sucked in the trespassers.

One legacy of Chief Awolowo that I can attest to, is the like  of a man who sacrificed and lost everything because of his steadfast support for Chief Awolowo.

My assignment with Chief Ayo Rosiji brought me in contact with the different players in the politics of Yoruba land among whom was Alhaji S.D. Adegbenro, whom Chief Awolowo chose to replace Chief Akintola as Premier of Western Nigeria. Alhaji Adegbenro put up a good fight but was overwhelmed by a much stronger and superior opponent.

After the civil war, I was passing through Abeokuta and  I decided to drop in on the Alhaji and exchange views on the eventual outcome of things. I received the greatest shock of my life; I can not find adequate words to describe the squalor in which I found Chief Adegbenro, at a time when Chief Awolowo whom he fought and sacrificed so much for, was Federal Minister of Finance and Deputy Head of the Federal Military

In conclusion, I aver that the current situation in which a Yoruba man, has become Head of State with the full backing of his Yoruba kith and kin, is a defeat for Awoism. Awoism is a belief that only Chief Awolowo or his designated and acknowledged apostle can lead the Yorubas into a position of prominence and I challenge anybody to tell me that President Obasanjo was, is or could ever be an Awoist.

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2 Responses to “Akintola fought for the Yoruba people – by Fazil Ope-Agbe”

  1. Dr Ogunjobi says:

    You are a fool Akintola was a traitor a betrayer, we people from ondo opr ekiti state are very loyal people from oggomoso or Ibadan are idiots you never like chief Awolowo. Prof Dr Engr Ogunjobi Europe

  2. Omoibile says:

    Fail Ope Agbe is a tragic figure! An accident of a man! Where did he learn journalism? In the Goebbels School or under the Soviets or the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute? 

    Where to start – the western regional election was not in 1956 but in 1951. That Obasanjo became head of state was a continuation of the Hausa fulani grand design for Nigeria not the Yoruba intent. If Falae had become the President your thesis migh be right.

    Overall you wrote a hotch potch of half truths designed to mislead the gullible but you don’t fool me!

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