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AWOLOWO/AKINTOLA: The Tango Between Vision and Compromise




Taiwo Akinola

culled from VANGUARD - August 15, 2003

About six weeks from today, Nigeria would be celebrating her 43rd anniversary as an independent nation. So much for independence, the Nigerian nation remains a nation in the throes of crises as the true essence if leadership continues to elude the nation. There had been opportunities to thrust Nigeria forward in the past, but a mismanagement of those opportunities has left the nation holding the short end of the stick. The controversy about the type of life led by Samuel Ladoke Akintola, in relationship to the crisis which rocked the Action Group, AG, in the First Republic, a crisis which one way or the other led to the eventual fall of that Republic, is given some introspection, by Taiwo Akinola. He had written even before Vanguard published the earlier article on Akintola, which explains why he did not respond to the article by Alhaji Fazil O. Ope-Agbe - which was published last week.

With a richness of research and a seeming attempt at introducing a broader perspective, Akinola takes a look at the Nigerian nation and explains that things are not what they always seem on the surface, just as the journey to Nigeria's underdevelopment was conceived and executed at Whitehall, in Britain. With authorities to quote, Akinola points out that the multiple crises which gripped the Nigerian nation shortly after independence were no more than manifestations of some imperial conspiracy.


In the history of any country in the grip of crises, there comes a time when people look back, with a view to ascertaining when things started going wrong. In the context of Nigerian history, that time was between 1955 and 1959, the period of transition of power from the British colonial overlords to Nigerians. It was a moment when the acts of certain individuals significantly influenced the path Nigeria has taken, which could have been different had they acted otherwise. Here I will try to appraise the role played by the British, the Northern Caliphate as represented by the likes of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, and the Southern power elite namely, Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, Chief Akintola, Chief Enahoro and Festus Okotie-Eboh.

This review is occasioned by the controversy generated by the children of the late Samuel Ladoke Akintola in the print media, which has elicited responses from many Nigerians.

Ambassador Yomi Akintola, a son of the late politician started the controversy with his interview (page 5 of the Guardian, May 15, 2003). I have since read the contributions made by Dr Wunmi Akintude (Nigeriaworld, May 21, 2003, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Vision...), Mr Oluwole Kehinde's response (the Guardian, June 3, 2003, Ladoke Akintola, Any Legacy?) which another son of Akintola, Chief Ladipo Akintola countered (the Guardian, June 11, 2003, Ladoke Akintola's Legacy).

Remi Oyeyemi, also made his own contribution (Nigeriaworld, June 23, 2003, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and History) which drew a sarcastic response from Sunday Ogunronbi, (Nigeriaworld, June 27, 2003, Revisionists: Amnesia and SLA Akintola). A very informative response also came from Omooba Oladele Osinuga (Nigeriaworld, July 2, 2003, Contrasting Perspectives to SLA's Vision).

The trend of the arguments of these sundry contributors falls into two categories. The first is an effort to recount past events. The second is an evaluation of the significance of those historical events. As every historian knows, the latter trend is the more difficult task. Historians are perpetually locked in controversies in interpreting past events to fully comprehend their significance.

Yet, the lessons of history can help us understand our heroes and villains as well as act as a guide for present and future actors of our society. Properly worked, the past is, as all comparative historians from Herodotus on have said, a vast and wonderful laboratory for the study of successes and failures in the long history of man.

As the children of the late politician, it is not unexpected that they are pre-occupied with reinventing the name which their father made controversial in his lifetime. The likes of George Washington and Jesus Christ never had the luxury of blood children to defend them, though one must add that their legacies did not make that necessary.

However, the strategy of doing it with a view to extenuating the contributions of two of the most illustrious sons of Africa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro is a high-risk strategy which could produce the opposite of what is intended. In other words, the attempt to over polish silver to make it gold may in effect make it bronze or blunt its essence all together. It would have been worthwhile for Akintola's wards to acknowledge their father's mistakes instead of attempting to rewrite history. The premise of Ambassador Yomi Akintola rests on the assumption that the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party and therefore the mainstream party for all Nigerians, over the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the South-West Zone vindicates Chief Ladoke Akintola's position on national issues. Chief Akintola was widely believed to have urged the Action Group (AG) leadership in the 1960s to seek to join the federal coalition of which the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was the senior partner.

That thesis assumes that the objectives of the Obasanjo-led PDP in 2003 are the same as those of the NPC, which Ahmadu Bello led in 1960. Mr Oluwole Kehinde responded to this claim to which Chief Ladipo L. Akintola, a son of the late politician, sent a response (see references above). He misses the point and makes some wide claims. But one is not sure whether he was simply out to manipulate historical events or whether he simply lacks the ability to comprehend the significance of major historic events.

Take for example, the wrong assertion by Ladipo that the late Akintola "as a parliamentarian, introducing [introduced] the motion that led to Nigeria's independence [and that this was] incorrectly attributed to Chief Enahoro." The fact of the matter is that when the issue first came up for debate within the AG, Chief Enahoro was the spirit behind the idea; he was the one with the enlightened mind who introduced the idea to the AG. At this time, the late Akintola actually opposed the idea.

When Chief Enahoro succeeded in selling the idea to the AG, he was then mandated to sell the same idea to the nation in 1953. Even at this stage, SL Akintola was one of those who still pressed that Chief Enahoro should withdraw the motion. It was not until 1957 that the late Akintola moved the motion which Ladipo referred to. By then, the mission to pressure the British to concede to Nigerian independence had been achieved.

Let us examine the significance of the two occasions for posterity. Chief Enahoro set off the self-determination current, which was that the British should grant independence to Nigeria in 1953. This is a matter of first importance.

The courage and the vision were not there until that time; two or more people may have talked about it, but it was nothing until this historical moment. As such, until this occasion, it did not matter in the history of Nigeria and in the life of Nigerians.

However, it became important once Chief Enahoro apprehended it as an idea, it was vested with emotion and it became a cause and a spring of action. Akintola came to the foreground in the process of getting the North to accept this idea as a dynamic leap forward of the process begun by Chief Anthony Enahoro in 1953.

The central issue is not whether SL Akintola has legacies or not. Of course, SL Akintola has. The issue is in the nature of the legacies. After all, there is a saying in Yoruba: Oba to je ti'lu baje, oruko re ko ni pare, Oba to tun je ti'lu toro, oruko re ko ni parun (A king who reigns when the town is not peaceful, his name will be remembered, A king who reigns when the town is peaceful, his name too will be remembered). SL Akintola's legacies include some of those enumerated by his son Ladipo, the ones enumerated by Mr Oluwole Kehinde and the ones which I shall enumerate.


To lend credibility to the difference in values and judgments between Chief Awolowo and Chief Enahoro on the one hand and SL Akintola, Dr Azikiwe and Okotie-Eboh on the other at that time in Nigeria's history, it is appropriate to go down memory lane and to put our analysis in its proper historical perspectives.

It will be difficult to comprehend the British colonial policies in Nigeria and indeed in Africa without an understanding of why the British came to Africa along with other imperial powers.

For one, the British did not come to Africa as state builders, but to colonise the people in order to exploit them economically for the benefit of the British Empire.

It was this objective that eventually influenced all its policies in Africa. The British contemplated settlement in Nigeria, but the mosquitoes and the fact that the full potentials of the country's oil deposits had not been fully appreciated at the time saved Nigeria from the ignominy of becoming a South Africa.

At the end of WWll, it was no longer politically or economically viable for the British to rule her empire directly. But the strategy of withdrawal from colonies did not denote a surrender of power, or a lack of interest to continue to colonise, exploit and influence the direction of events in those countries. It was a change of tactics on how to manage the empire more economically. The new tactics required installations of native governments that would be supportive towards making its objectives achievable.

Secondly, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan saw the whole of British foreign policy in terms of the cold war. The need to prevent the Soviet Communist influence in Africa was at the centre of the British policy in Africa. To prevent the communist influence, it was deemed fit to install reactionary regimes prepared to act as British satrap.

The British Authority had initiated a 'Nigerian unity' objective which envisaged that the Southern society, through a combination of jurisdictional pressure, military and political power, would be integrated firmly into the body of the Northern society and political structure under the leadership of the Hausa-Fulani nationality.

This objective, if it was successful, was bound to create a legal and moral problem on whether the North would then become part of Nigeria or Nigeria would only become part of the North.

The likes of Chief Awolowo realised this danger and were determined not to allow the Yoruba and other progressive minded Nigerians be part of the scheme.

But as for Akintola, it was either that he did not have the capacity to realise this danger or that he was ready to sell the Yoruba in order to achieve his power ambitions. To achieve this goal, the British had to ensure that the North controlled the federal government, and to add legitimacy to it, it had to get one of the two main parties, the NCNC or the AG, to partner the North in a 'coalition' government to control the federal government.


The British social engineering project of Nigeria had prepared the ground for Northern control of Nigeria. To occupy any of the Nigerian territories, the British metropolitan power had to resort to the use of condign, compensatory and conditioned powers in different proportions.

However, once occupation was complete, the people were defined in terms of their ability to make the objective of the British government achievable. Influences were apportioned on the bases of these definitions. The British socio-engineering policies, based on the 'concept of national power' manipulated the 'elements of national power to reduce or increase the relative power of the nationalities.'

The British created three regions in Nigeria and allocated 75 percent of the total Nigerian land area to the Northern Region which was also allocated 50 percent of the population without any census. British recruitment policy into the Nigerian military also favoured the North, whose administrative system, by way of indirect rule, was adopted for Nigeria. The British also used the 'Revenue Allocation Formulas' to reduce the potential influence of the economic supremacy of the South. But the British denied education to the North while the South had acquired it by default.

The implication of the British design of Nigeria was the introduction of a serious balance of power struggle into our body politics, in which case it was through 'power politics' rather than civic engagement that the different regions and nationalities got to achieve their objectives. The renaissance Italy experienced, a similar struggle between the Renaissance cities of Venice, Milan, Florence and Naples, together with the papacy.

The struggles in Greece, which led to the Peloponnesian war between the two great coalitions led by Athens and Sparta respectively (431 to 404 B.C.) were in one sense a balance of power struggle for the establishment of the Greek statehood. In much the same way, the war between Austria and Prussia in 1866 was a war for the establishment of the German nation. The same thing could be said of the 17th century power struggle between the three nations, England, Scotland and Wales, in the United Kingdom. Chief Awolowo understood the implication of this game but Akintola did not.


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