WHY WE DEMONIZED CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO: THE CONFESSIONS OF CHIEF SAMUEL ONUNAKA MBAKWE – By Remi Oyeyemi

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Four of us were present at this private meeting at the Green Spring Hotel, Old Ife Road in Ibadan on this fateful day.

Chief Adisa Meredith Augustus Akinloye, a former leader of Ibadan People”s Party with the famous Adegoke Adelabu Penkelemeesi, as his deputy. He was Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was the Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who gave him the acronym. AMA – Always Mentally Alert from his name initials.

There was Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide, former Private Secretary to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and former Attorney General of the Federation under President Shehu Shagari. He was infamous for the Twelve Two-Third Theory of a Human Being that robbed Chief Obafemi Awolowo the Nigerian Presidency in 1979. Awo had said he would have preferred him as Governor of Oyo State in 1979 if he (Akinjide) had been in the UPN instead of NPN.

Chief (Dr.) Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, former Governor of old Imo State and a die hard. Zikist (political follower of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe).

My humble self was the fourth person.

Our discussions on that day was wide, deep, reflective, candid and confidential to a certain extent.

But the part of the discussion that is relevant to the subject at hand stemmed from my curiousity about the Cross Carpeting Tales of Ibo, and by extension, Nnamdi Azikwe’s school of thought, on how Chief Awolowo became the Premier of Western Region.

The Ibo have always accused the Yoruba of tribalism and used the failure of Zik to become Premier of the West as evidence. Having studied the report of that event, I kept wondering why such a heinous propaganda was being spread about the Yoruba.

At the close of polls on 24 September 1951, the Action Group had won 38 (which is more than half) of the 72 seats in contention in the Regional Assembly. There were a total of 80 seats. Lagos had five seats in the West Regional Assembly all won by the NCNC in the election of 20 November 1951, while Benin had three won by Otu Edo candidates in the election of 6 December 1951. The poll had been postponed in Lagos and Benin following security concerns. Of the 68 candidates on the list furnished by the Action Group to the Government PR Department, 38 of the elected AG members were from that list. And they were as follows: Ijebu Remo – Obafemi Awolowo and M.S. Sowole; Ijebu Ode – Rev. SA Banjo and S.O. Awokoya; Oyo – Bode Thomas, Abiodun Akerele, ABP Thomas, TA Amao and SB Eyitayo; Osun – S.L. Akintola, J.O. Adigun, JA Oroge, S.I. Ogunwale, I.A. Adejare, J.A. Ogunmuyiwa and S.O. Ola.

Other elected AG members from the list were: Egba – J.F. Odunjo, Alhaji AT Ahmed, Rev. S.A. Daramola and Prince Adedamola; Egbado (now Yewa) – J.A.O. Odebiyi, D.A. Fafunmi and A. Akin Illo; Ekiti – E.A. Babalola and Rev. J. Ade-Ajayi; Badagry – Chief CD Akran and Rev. G.M. Fisher; Ikeja – SO Gbadamosi and O Akeredolu-Ale; Ife – Rev. SA Adeyefa and SO Olagbaju; Owo – AO Ogedengbe and RA Olusa; Epe – Safi Lawal Edu; Okitipupa – C.A. Tewe; Western Ijaw – M.F. Agidee; Ishan – Anthony Enahoro, and Warri – Arthur Prest.

In addition to the Action Group and the NCNC, there were local/divisional parties such as the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP), led by Chief AMA Akinloye; Ondo Improvement League, and Otu Edo of Benin. At the end of poll, the standing of the parties was as follows: Action Group 38; NCNC/Independents 25; IPP 6 and Ondo Improvement League 2. Otu Edo candidates won the three Benin seats, namely, Chief SO Ighodaro, Chief Humphrey Omo-Osagie and Chief Chike Ekwuyasi. Chief Ighodaro opted for the AG, while the latter two went to the NCNC. And of the six IPP elected members, only Adegoke Adelabu joined the NCNC. The rest of them: AMA Akinloye, Chief DT Akinbiyi (who later became the Olubadan of Ibadan), Chief SO Lanlehin, Moyosore Aboderin and SA Akinyemi, opted for the Action Group. The NCNC National Secretary, the late Chief Kola Balogun had sent declaration forms to the IPP assemblymen asking them to declare for the NCNC but Chief Akinloye returned all the forms uncompleted.

The three AG secretaries who had run as independents – Adegbenro, Osuntokun and Hassan, five IPP members, one Etu Edo, and one Ondo Improvement League, Chief F.O. Awosika; and Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola (Independent, Ijebu Ode) had swollen the number of the AG elected members. All the transactions had taken place before the inauguration of the Regional Assembly on 7 January 1952. These were not known members of the NCNC, nor did the party publish their names on the list of its candidates. For over a half century, the NCNC, the Ibo political party, is yet to provide evidence to back its claim that it had won the West Regional election in 1951.

My question was actually directed to Chief Adisa Akinloye who was one of the major actors of the event because it was 5 members out of 6 of his Ibadan Peoples Party that joined Awolowo’s Action Group to form the overwhelming majority and then Government according to the rules.

He noted that the refusal of Adegoke Adelabu not to follow them into the alliance with Awo and AG was something “personal” to Adelabu. But that the thinking among them (the IPP members), was if a Northerner was the Premier of the North and an Easterner Chief Eyo Ita, was the Premier in the East, why couldn’t they have a Yoruba Premier in the West?

Chief Akinloye informed that NCNC was actually favoured as a choice political party by the IPP but because the party’s leader, Nnamdi Azikwe refused to name a Yoruba member of the party as Premier in the West, insisting it had to be him, they had to abandon him for Chief Awolowo. Then, he quipped, Omo eni kò sè ‘dí bèbèrè ká f’ìlèkè s’ídî omo elòmíràn.

I turned to Chief Mbakwe, and asked “What then is the basis of this narrative that is patently false about Awolowo, AG and Yoruba in general by the Ibo politicians and intelligentsia?”

Chief Mbakwe, was silent for about two minutes, his chin dropped as if to touch his chest, while engaged in rapid rumination as his eyes darted from me to Chief Akinjide, then to Chief Akinloye and back to me.

When he finally spoke, he started by making me promise never to put this in print for as long as he was alive. He explained the political implications of it, and how his Ibo people would feel about him, should I venture to do so. I promised him. And I kept my promise.

He said that it was politics. And that it was a necessary ploy at that point in time. After Zik lost out in the bid to take over the West, they had hatched a plan to remove Chief Eyo Ita, a minority Easterner from Creek Town, from power.

He noted that to weep up sentiments and solidarity among the Ibo, they had to demonize Chief Obafemi Awolowo. concocted a combination of factional and fictional stories against him. “It was all in a bid to gain power and control of the Eastern Region,” he had rued.

All this happened in 1951 spilling into 1952. The last known war in the territory characterized as “Nigeria” as at this point was the Kiriji War (1877 – 1893) and it was an intra – ethnic war fought among the Yoruba.

When I had the opportunity to interview Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, we had touched on the Civil War. I had asked him why he killed Col. Victor Banjo and why he invaded Yoruba land, before he was stopped at Ore. He promised to explain all in his Memoir which he never wrote until he died. I guess I know why.

©Remi Oyeyemi

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