With your closeness to the sage, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, what can you say about his wife, Mrs HID Awolowo, who died recently?
The thing that was really outstanding about her was her relationship with her husband. She was a true wife. She was to him a consultant and a friend – a dependable friend — and, of course, a good wife. She was a very astute businesswoman but at the same time she still found time to go about with her husband politicking; even when her husband was in travail from 1962 up till 1964; when there was a coalition of a sort between the National Council of Nigerian Citizens and the Action Group; when a party called United Progressive Alliance was formed. Awolowo was in prison and Michael Opara was the national leader of the NCNC, but then, Mama (HID) did not sit down at home in Ibadan mourning her husband’s incarceration, rather, she was ready and willing to go out to campaign.
There was a particular day when Opara came to Ibadan, in spite of all restrictions that he must not come to Ibadan because, at that time, there was a very strong opposition put up by Chief S. L. Akintola – who also formed his own party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party. Then, there was another party formed by some northern people, the Nigerian National Alliance. There was also the United Progressive Grand Alliance. But Mama, in spite of all the opposition, joined Opara in campaigning when he came to Ibadan. She was to us a great pillar and, of course, a worthy example for many women on what their relationship should be with their husband.
How was her relationship with her husband’s political associates, considering the fact that politicians now worship wives of political leaders and sometimes go on their kneels to address the women?
Are you referring to the present situation of things whereby a commissioner will kneel before a governor’s wife? There was nothing like that at all! Mama was fond of all of us. There was nothing like that; we wouldn’t even do that for Awolowo then, how much less his wife. To kneel before talking to Awolowo’s wife? There was nothing like that. As far as we were concerned – even though we were very young then – everybody would hold his head erect when speaking with the leader of the party or with his wife, of course with a bit of affection and respect to either of them. But to kneel down, there was nothing like that.
When and how did you get involved with the Awolowos?
I gained admission into Wesley College, Ibadan in 1946. At that time, a childhood friend of mine was working at the Cooperative Bank which was headquartered in Ibadan. He was residing in the boys’ quarters of the Awolowos at Oke Ado. Whenever we had free time, I would go to Oke Ado to see my friend and I would greet Awolowo. The relationship started from there on a very low-key note. I finished from Wesley College at the end of 1949 and I was posted to Sagamu in 1950, where I taught. But then, I was the secretary to a number of organisations, one of them was the Wesley Guild.
Politics was about to start, particularly around 1951. By then, Awolowo was already in it. But before then, he was a councillor at the Ijebu-Remo Divisional Council; together with S. T. Oredehin of Ogere, who later became the Organising Secretary of the AG; and Dosunmu of Iperu, who was the Administrative Secretary of the party. Occasionally, the Wesley Guild would organise events and as the secretary, I might be asked to write to Chief Awolowo to come and lecture us. I remember between 1951 and 1952, AG was new on ground and I was asked to write to invite him to come and deliver a lecture. I wrote him and I followed up to make sure that he acceded to our request. Thus, the relationship continued to develop and when the AG came, I enrolled. I joined the party in 1952 and I formed a branch of the party here in Isara.
What was the significant thing about the AG that made youths like you to join the party or was it because Awolowo, a Yoruba, founded it?
Not, at all. One, during the First Republic, the AG was the only political party that was properly formed. Neither the NCNC nor the Northern Peoples’ Congress was so formed. For example, there was a group of very few people doing politics in Lagos but because Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) was fresh from America and a very good speaker – a very beautiful speaker – there was a lot of attraction to him. One day, somebody went to him and said, ‘Excuse me sir, why don’t you let us get more people, particularly ex-students of King’s College, to join us and form a party? And we have some Cameroonians here.’ And he (Zik) said, ‘That is a good idea.’ They invited ex-students of King’s College and some Cameroonians. They had meetings on two occasions and decided to have a name. The name they gave to their organisation was National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons.
At that time, southern Cameroon was part of Nigeria. Although later – about the middle of 1955 — there was an election for Cameroonians from the southern extraction to choose where they wanted to remain — in Nigeria or go back to Cameroon. Some of them stayed here but not many. Nevertheless, they didn’t change the name from NCNC to something else, even when Cameroonians were no longer there (in the party). That was how the NCNC came about.
In the case of the NPC, there was a Hausa/Fulani club – I don’t know how to pronounce the name of the club which was in Hausa. Around 1951 and 1952, with the emergence and prominence of the NCNC and the AG, the northern leaders thought they too should have a political party and they considered turning the name of the club into the Northern Peoples’ Congress. That was how NPC came on board.
What inspired Action Group’s formation?
In the case of the AG, however, Awolowo was watching what was going on in the country way back in 1946, when Governor Arthur Richards was here, and the way they (colonialists) were running the affairs of the country. Then, he felt that a political party would be appropriate. He had just returned from England as a lawyer. He called a meeting of so many people of Western Region. The first time, a very few people came – very few. The second time, they were very few; third time, very few; fourth time, very few. I think the sixth time too, a very few people came. And Awolowo said, ‘well, it is not worth our while calling meetings day after day and people will not be attending. I think we should give it up.’ And then, (late Pa Adekunle) Ajasin said, ‘No, let us make another attempt.’ That would be the seventh meeting. Ajasin said, ‘Let us take it that whoever comes will constitute the meeting.’ And Awolowo agreed. The seventh meeting was held and a sizeable number attended – not as much as was expected but it wasn’t as bad as the previous ones.
The meeting started and Awolowo addressed them on the need to have a political party. He said, ‘Because when you look at Nigeria, I have a vision of what might happen to the country very soon politically.’ He asked, ‘What kind of political party should we form? Should we form a party that will be elite-oriented or we should look towards the masses or the haves?’ We debated these options and came to the conclusion that we should look towards the masses. That was the decision that would become a political party that would cater and look after the welfare and the wellbeing of the masses of the Western Region. It started like that and began to build up till April 1951, when the party had grown up and people were already embracing and joining it. And a decision was taken that we should go to Owo to launch the party formally. We went to Owo – I think on April 14 – and the party was launched.
Then, the leaders took a decision that before launching the party, everything should be under wraps – everything about the would-be political party. If they allowed the information to go out, some people might, by way of criticism, kill it. Hence, we decided to keep it under wraps until when it was launched. The appeal was to the Third Class and the general masses of western Nigeria.
How was the party run?
We had what was called shadow cabinet. This is it: Let us assume you are in government. There are ministers running the government – of health, labour, agriculture, etc. There would be a set of ministers from the political party – a set of people appointed as shadow Ministers of Industries, Works, Health, Education, etc. The meaning and implication of this is that each of the shadow ministers would be working as if he or she was a minister. They would try to know what was going on in their ministries as shadow ministers, so that when the party meeting was to be held and the question arose about the education ministry – the question of teachers, are they adequate or not; the question of school fees or school facilities – it was the shadow minister of education who would answer all the questions. He or she would be as informed as a substantive minister. That was the AG.
Before we formed government, the questions arose; ‘How are we going to run our party? How are we going to make life better for the masses?’ We said since we had shadow ministers, they would advise us on what was going on in each ministry. Then, we would be able to plan ahead before we take over office. The question might arise for the shadow Minister of Education, ‘How many classrooms do you think we would need in Abeokuta Division or in Ijebu, Remo, Isan or Oyo?’ He would give a full answer. If we asked, ‘What would be the cost of the classrooms?’ He would say, ‘It won’t be more than £200 per classroom – built and furnished.’ That is on education. So it was for other ministries too. Then, we asked, ‘How do we prepare our budget?’ We were not in government then. Because the education ‘minister’ had given us the statistics, and other ‘ministers’ of health, works, etc., had given us their statistics, we would use the data to prepare our budget. We were not in government yet; we were only preparing for election.
What is the difference now?
The thing we have at the moment: For example, the National Assembly; the ascendancy of Saraki (as the Senate President) would never happen in the AG. It would never, never happen.
What would have happened, if he were a member of the AG?
It was more or less a coup; something he did to spite his party. He got elected (as Senate President) by using mostly members of the opposition. In the case of the AG, in 1950 or so, we wanted to appoint ministers and the list (of ministerial nominees) was to go to the governor – as it goes to the National Assembly or state House of Assembly now. The governor was an expatriate, before the Ooni (Oba Adesoji Aderemi) became the governor of Western Region after the expatriate left. The party leaders met. There were six or eight slots for ministerial positions and they said, ‘Let us make sure that we appoint at least a minister from each division or from a group of divisions.’ There were certain criteria they would use to choose who the minister should be. They met and chose about eight ministers – I can’t remember the exact number of ministerial slots available then. They gave Remo Division two slots – Awolowo and somebody. But Awolowo said, ‘Remo is a small place; don’t give two slots to Remo. Let Remo have one and other places, which are bigger, should have one or two as the case may be.’ The leaders objected, so they decided to choose somebody who was Awolowo’s friend. His name was M. S. Sowole from Ipara-Remo. The list was compiled and taken to the governor for his assent.
There was a man called Bode Thomas; he went to Ikorodu to meet Pa S. O. Gbadamosi — the father of Rasheed Gbadamosi – and told him that the distribution of the ministerial slots was imbalanced. He asked Gbadamosi, ‘We appointed ministers but who is representing the Lagos Colony among those we suggested in the list already sent to the governor?’ Lagos Colony included Ikorodu, Ikeja, Yaba, Ebute Meta – apart from Lagos. They realised that Lagos Colony had been left out. Both Gbadamosi and ‘SOG’ decided to go to Awolowo. Awolowo said another meeting had to be called. They called another meeting and the issue was thrown open for discussion. They discovered that there was nobody representing Lagos Colony. They said, ‘What shall we do? We have to drop one (the second slot) from Remo.’ Awolowo did not object; he knew he was dealing with enlightened people. Awolowo was only 43 when they were doing all these beautiful things. They were just God-sent, not the rubbish that we are seeing now.
But then, they had already informed M. S. Sowole (Awolowo’s friend) that he was going to be minister. But they agreed that they were going to delete Sowole’s name. Then, they debated who would represent Lagos Colony. They said, ‘Let us choose Akran of Badagry’ Not the present Oba Akran. The challenge was now who would inform Sowole (about the swap). They told Awolowo, ‘You are the leader, it is your responsibility to inform Sowole about the new development.’ Hence, the leader had the most unpleasant task of going to his friend to say, ‘My friend, you are no longer going to be minister.’ He went to Sowole and told him he wasn’t going to be minister anymore; that one of the slots given to Remo had been given to Lagos Colony, which had no slot. And Sowole said, ‘Fine, if that is the decision of the party.’ What the party did after the election was to ensure that Sowole was given a ‘comfortable’ position comparable to a ministerial position.
Today, if somebody told any person who had been told he would be commissioner or minister, and then a message went back to him to say, ‘You are no longer going to be commissioner or minister,’ how would the person take it? He may resign from the party. But Sowole accepted it. Awolowo, again, went ahead to withdraw the list earlier submitted to the governor and submitted the new one. That is to show you the kind of leadership in Awolowo. The governor told Awolowo, ‘Don’t come back again to change the list.’ And Awolowo replied, ‘Your Excellency, I will come back here as many times as the situation demands.’ That was Awolowo for you.
Why were AG members so selfless?
What happened in the short story was simple — party supremacy. You can also call it party discipline. The party said to the person who had been promised a position that, ‘You’re no longer going to be.’ And he said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he never forsook the party; he never went away to another political party or say, ‘I’m going to resign’ or ‘I’m going to take you to court.’ Not, at all. He was disciplined.
I will give you similar examples of party discipline or party supremacy or party loyalty in the AG which, to me, is an ideal of a political party; to be a lesson and example of maintaining sanity in a political party.
The AG now in power (in the Western Region), the NPC and the NCNC were in coalition – the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani; the East and the North. But they sent to the AG to send names of two persons who would be on two boards. The name of a reverend who later became a bishop, T. T. Solaru, was sent to the Board of the Nigerian Airways Corporation; the name of E. E. Esuwa, who was the secretary of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and whose son has a hospital in Surulere, was sent to another corporation. The government of the NPC was behaving irresponsibly and the AG decided to withdraw their members from the boards. The party sent to Esuwa and Solaru to resign and they both resigned immediately. Will politicians today resign? That is party supremacy, party discipline, party principle, and party loyalty.
Let me give you another one: There was a man called Olu Ibukun, an Akure man, who was preparing himself to contest election to the House of Assembly but the party had somebody from that area who was already serving as a member of the House. Awolowo heard about Olu Ibukun’s ambition to contest against our member. Awolowo went to Akure for something and he ran into Olu Ibukun and said, ‘Olu Ibukun, I understand you want to contest a seat in the House of Assembly against so-and-so.’ He said, ‘Yes sir.’ Awolowo said, ‘You’re joking. He has to finish his term, don’t contest against him. You must go and work for him and he must not lose. Don’t try to contest the seat; nothing like that.’ And Olu Ibukun had to obey the decision of the party. He campaigned for that man – I’ve forgotten his name – and our party won. After the party won, they made Olu Ibukun the Chairman of Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation.
With these AG examples you cited, can what Saraki did to the APC be seen as an indictment on the party?
When you say indictment, does it mean the party did not organise itself well? If you want to say that, yes. But at the same time, if you organise yourself well as a party, your members may still defy you.
You formed the AG with a common interest, which was nation building. But where people with different interests come together to form a party, is it not possible for the foundation to be faulty from the onset?
Then, a lot is wrong with the party. I told you; of the mainstream political parties in the First Republic, the AG was the only party that came about properly as a party should be formed. Therefore, scholars refer to the AG as one of the best parties in West Africa because it was a party that was well organised and well run. It is written in a book titled Political Parties authored by Sklar. You must know the genesis and the background of the political parties you have today. Did you know how the Peoples Democratic Party came about? (It was formed by) retired soldiers, retired National Party of Nigeria people and all sorts.
What about the Alliance for Democracy, which had the Awolowo-led Afenifere as its backbone?
After about four years of PDP and AD’s existence, there were people in the AD who felt that, ‘These elders are too powerful. We should rubbish them so that they would not be in a position to decide our fate if we want to run for second term. If we allow them, they may not allow us. So, let us rubbish them.’ These were Bola Tinubu (Lagos), Olusegun Osoba (Ogun), Lam Adesina (Oyo), Bisi Akande (Osun) and Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti).
Whereas, before they got there, it was we who voted for them; who organised their election. We never spent a kobo for the masses of western Nigeria; we didn’t have the money — no bicycles, motorcycles or cars. The only 12-seater bus we had was a gift from somebody, and it was I who asked for the gift to be given, including the insurance for the bus. That was all we had. And we won all the local governments; we won all the general elections up to the Senate. We were so successful that we went to each (state’s) House of Assembly in the old Western Nigeria, causing motions to be passed by members of each House that a National Conference should be held. But they thought, ‘We should rubbish these elderly people; they should go.’ Hence, they took power from us and did what they did. All those who were supporting us, all the young people, deserted us and went to them (the AD governors) because each governor had the wherewithal to give to these boys jobs, (parcels of) land, cars, etc.
Then, they left the party (AD) and formed their own party, the Action Congress. That is, a legion of those who left the AD and those who left the PDP formed the AC. Later, they changed the name of their party to Action Congress of Nigeria, which is now (part of) the All Progressives Congress. You have not heard at any time that Awolowo said his wife should be a member of the House of Assembly, a minister or member of a board. Have you heard that about Awolowo? Have you heard that Awolowo, at any time, made arrangements for any of his children to be part of government? For Oluwole Awolowo, the father first kicked against his political ambition. But when he saw that Oluwole was adamant, he then thought he should give him support because if he failed, people would say Awolowo had failed. They won’t know which Awolowo failed.
Are you saying the departure of the governors from the AD led to the downfall of the party and the breaking of the rank of the Yoruba leaders in Afenifere?
It is one of the reasons because they (the governors) just started to behave somehow. Aja ’o gbo fere olode mo (the dog stopped heeding the call by its owner). Tinubu said he was going to remove the chairman of his party (AD), Ganiyu Dawodu, who is now late. He wanted to remove Dawodu from the chairmanship of the party in Lagos; Dawodu had been with Awolowo since he left secondary school. He only spent about six months in John Holts before he joined the AG. And since then, he had been there (in the party) for well over 40 years. Now you (Tinubu) came, and because the man (Dawodu) was so strong politically in Lagos, Tinubu thought it would pay him to get rid of him. That was the beginning of our troubles. I went to Tinubu on three occasions to beg him not to remove Dawodu. He made up his mind and removed Dawodu.
In Ogun State here, the governor (Ogun) regarded himself and said so on one occasion as the ‘Supreme Court’ of Ogun State. There was a young man who misbehaved to our leader, Abraham Adesanya. Osoba was not around when the man misbehaved. He came back and the story of the man’s misbehaviour was just going round. And Osoba told the man, ‘To go the leader now and explain yourself.’ He did not say, ‘Go to Abraham Adesanya and apologise.’ You see the difference? The man went to Adesanya and the issue was not resolved. The man reported back at a meeting and he (Osoba) said, ‘I knew that would happen. I am the supreme court of this state,’ instead of saying, ‘Boy, go back to Adesanya and apologise to him.’ Is that not different?
What is the state of Afenifere, which was once the voice of the Yoruba nation, today?
They have spoilt it. There was nothing we did not do to settle the dispute. We tried as much as possible to get it resolved but the governors would not cooperate. They insisted they would go and they left to form another group.
Were they part of the Yoruba Council of Elders?
The YCE was another group formed to destroy Afenifere. It was Bola Ige who put up the YCE because he was grudging against us.
Is it the same YCE being headed by Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo (retd.) you are talking about?
Oh, yes! The first chairman (of the YCE) was Pa Emmanuel Alayande, I think.
What has happened to Afenifere?
The current position of Afenifere is that the soul of the Afenifere is still there and it is being carried by Chief Reuben Fasoranti, being the leader. But it is not with a lot of people who spread all over Western Nigeria as before, no. The reason is very simple: It has its origin from the doing of (former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim) Babangida. One of the things Babaginda did while in power was to destroy the middle class. He destroyed the middle class of the Yoruba people, just as he destroyed our industries, particularly the textile industry. If you ever know the number of industries we had before and how many we have now, you will agree with me that it is true. After this he destroyed our middle class and monetised politics. He built offices for political parties which he formed and gave them names, while the government was paying political officer holders. People were becoming poorer and poorer. With the passage of time, the poverty was growing and something that had never happened to the Yoruba race started to happen. Yoruba people started to beg. In the gone days you wouldn’t see any Yoruba man or woman begging along the streets. Not, at all. It won’t happen. But it is now happening. Take your car and go to a function. You will see men and women who will come around you, hailing and begging for money.
They (Babaginda and co) did it so that people became very poor; so that when the government said, ‘I want two persons,’ 10 persons would run there, hoping that money would come from there. That is one of the evil things the military brought upon us. Monetising politics destroyed our civil service. It was the civil service that would not have allowed corruption. If you were in the civil service in those days; if you were entitled to a car and you wanted to buy it, you would apply through your boss and your application would go to the Ministry of Finance. The ministry would organise with the car company for the vehicle you want. There would be only one cheque for that car and it would pass through only one person. It would be a cheque written by the ministry to the company. What you, the applicant for a car, hear is, ‘Go to the company and take your car. Your car is waiting.’ That is all. That was the control in those days. To steal or do rubbish wouldn’t happen. It was perfect discipline. But the soldiers came and destroyed that system.
In our time, if a building or a road were to be constructed, tenders would be invited; contractors would apply. They would send their tender documents to the appropriate ministry. Then, there would be secretary and chairman of the Tenders Board. On the day fixed for the meeting of the board, the contractors and consultants would be there. Each ministry concerned would get in when it was its turn to come in. The tender documents would be opened in the presence of everybody – nothing behind. There was nothing like, ‘you see that road, you are going to save for our man; add so-and-so amount; the difference would be shared between you and I.’ And this will interest you: Do you know who the chairman of the board would be? It was the leader of the opposition. The leader of the opposition would be the chairman of the tender board. That is due process and accountability – everything above board. You can’t get that now. – Culled from Punch.