Akintola fought for the Yoruba people

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Akintola fought for the Yoruba people
 

By

 

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 the
President 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
Government.

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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