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A PEEP INTO THE PAST – PRE-INDEPENDENCE POLITICS IN NIGERIA TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF EGBE OMO ODUDUWA

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This piece is being published for two reasons: To encourage youths who fervently wish to participate in nation building and give them a sense of belonging. Furthermore, it is a refreshing expose on politics of the First Republic to educate and invite attention to the role plated by Nigerias early nationalists from the days of Herbert Macaulay. It is also being published at a time that concerns are pronounced about the continued existence of Nigeria as one nation; and the influence of socio-cultural organizations. The piece is culled from: The Path to Play, an autobiography of Chief S.T, Adelegan, Deputy Speaker of the Western Region Legislature from 1960 to 1965. Readers might be able to draw one or more lessons from the compilation.

Those of us who had the opportunity of going to school in our time were very few. By then education was not free, schools were not many, most Nigerians lived from hand to mouth and developmental level was low all over. The economy then was mostly agrarian except for few people who took to trading. Economic activity in those days was dominated and controlled by the whites. Few of us who had access to formal education could not do, but have our eyes on releasing our dear country from the yoke of colonial rule and imperialism. And so, pre-independence politics was majorly centred on struggles to obtain independence and sovereignty. But then, this really started in the South, Lagos being the centre and beehive of political activities. Herbert Macaulay led the only major party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party, which produced constitutional representatives.
Members were drawn from all over the country; but majorly, they were the crops of enlightened Nigerians, who made Lagos their base. In those days, over 90% of Nigerians were illiterates. Not quite long, we heard of a group of people with Dr. Akinola Maja, being one of their leaders under the name Area Party. Most of the members were Lagosians. Akinola Maja later mentored the second Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, popularly addressed as SLA. Ladoke Akintola, who hailed from Ogbomosho was an astute politician and lawyer, who was richly blessed with oratorical skills. Akintola was one of the founding fathers of independent Nigeria. He was also a journalist. Through the influence of Akinola Maja, SL Akintola was appointed the editor of Daily Service Newspaper in 1943, and was also the founder of a newspaper published in Yoruba language; Iroyin Yoruba’
THE FIRST EXPERIENCE
The first experience of people in my part of the country outside Lagos, participating in politics was when Salami Agbaje, Adebisi and other Ibadan indigenes went to Lagos to represent their people. They clamoured for provision of social amenities such as electricity and water. They all lacked Western education and could hardly express themselves in English. In short, it was NNDP, that was dominating the political scene of the country up till the time Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe formed a new party with the name: National Convention for Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). The party was to embrace Nigeria and Cameroon. Majority of the members of NNDP fused with this new party to continue the struggle for liberation. NCNC was so strong and elitist; and the party was helped a great deal in the propagation of its political beliefs by Azikiwes newspaper: The West African Pilot. It was a daily newspaper that competed favourably with the Daily Service. Azikiwe was the Editor of the Pilot newspaper; and had just come back from Ghana where he was an associate of fellow Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah.

No wonder, the West African Pilot sold like hot cake. I was in Ile-Ife in 1948, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Akinola Maja and other prominent Yoruba people came there to launch the socio-cultural group called Egbe Omo Oduduwa. That time I was headmaster of St, Stephens School, Modakeke; and Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Ile-Ife Branch. Expectedly, people of my like would be expected at the launching. It was good Awolowo came at that time. He felt that the Yoruba should not be left out of the struggle for the political sovereignty of the country and so our people needed to come together. As at then, the Igbos had galvanized themselves together courtesy of Nnamdi Azikiwe. Many of them were in the political forefront, especially with the birth of NCNC. The Igbo Trade Union, led by inspiration of Zik had given scholarships to students of Igbo origin.
EGBE OMO ODUDUWA
The coming together of Yoruba people at this time became expedient. However, I was not pleased with the manner and approach given to it, especially the utterances of Dr. Maja who resented those who had no royal blood in their veins. To me, it was as if they were not speaking for poor people and those who did not have noble birth amongst whom I was. Besides, I had developed interest in NCNC because of the personality of Nnamdi Azikiwe. In addition, I felt cosmopolitan than being tribal. Zik was gaining acceptance everywhere. His was beyond tribal inclination as people in the North too had begun to join his party. In Kaduna, for instance, whose population was not Northern dominated, NCNC was gaining rapid acceptance. In those days, the Southerners mainly inhabited Kaduna. We had a concentration of Yoruba and Igbos in major areas of the city. Some of them were rail workers, traders and even civil servants. Kaduna was a railway terminus and rail workers were therefore there in large numbers.
They were highly respected in those days, even more than other government workers. The reason is attributable to the fact that the major means of transport then was rail. Roads then were not good enough to carry loads and besides there were too many products to be transported and which could not be done by vehicles. Trailers were very uncommon. North enjoyed this railway network better than any part of the country because they were geographically favoured. There were no thick forests to clear and mountains to break through before railways were constructed. This was unlike the South. During this time too, the North enjoyed real boost in groundnut production. Those were the days of groundnut pyramids in the North.
As earlier written, Rail workers were mostly Southerners. They were enlightened. It was not surprising therefore that they had sympathy for the NCNC in large numbers. What also helped the party were the activities of the Trade Unions led by Pa Michael Imoudu, himself a Zikist, hence many unionists became NCNC sympathizers. Zik was predominant on political field throughout the length and breadth of the country. The effect of this was that the Igbos were becoming preponderant, almost colonizing the Yoruba, even in Ibadan. They were everywhere reaping the popularity of Zikism and exploiting the gains of nationalism, which was imbued in Nigerians by Azikiwes propaganda. For instance, Dr. Ikejiani, an Igbo, Medical Doctor, based in Ibadan was made Chairman of Nigeria Railway Corporation. The Yoruba then were not bothered as their faces were covered by spirit of Nationalism as a result of which there was nothing like National character in distribution of posts or appointments whatsoever. All what everybody wanted was National independence and self-government. The traditional rulers in the East, Obis then were not really part of the struggle as they were satisfied with the status quo. At that time, the Obas and traditional Rulers were highly favoured as the British colonialists accorded them the right of rulership indirect rule.
EMERGENCE OF THE ACTION GROUP PARTY
Alaafin of Oyo was very strong during this period. The then Alaafin Adeyemi, father of the present Alaafin was an undisguised supporter of NCNC. He could not read the political atmosphere of the country particularly the West, which was going the Action Group way. This was unlike Oba Adesoji Aderemi the then Ooni of Ife, an educated Oba, who was able to read the political climate of the West and quickly embraced the Action Group. The Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which later metamorphosed to Action Group was launched in Ile-Ife in 1948. He never parted with Obafemi Awolowo until death separated them. The membership of Oba Adeyemi in NCNC cost him banishment from the throne in the early 1950s. This could have been averted, if he knew that Action Group was taking absolute power in the West. He also failed to realize the fact that he needed to support his own subject, Chief Bode Thomas who, as Deputy Leader of Action Group was next to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Action Group leader.

The relationship between Alaafin Adeyemi and Bode Thomas could be described as very strained. The death of the latter further caused deep-seated animosity, as the circumstances surrounding his death was full of suspicion. With Alaafin of Oyo being an NCNC sympathiser, it was difficult for Action Group to really penetrate Oyo area. Many Oyo people were in NCNC. The irony of it was that the whites greatly recognized and respected his royal hood. In the North also, the political situation began to gather momentum. The North too had come out with a party through the inspiration of the then Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The name of the party was Northern Peoples’ Congress. They were less agitating. This was due to the fact that they held their Emirs in high esteem more than other tribes did. The system of Indirect Rule used by the British Colonialists really satisfied them as the indirect rule system gave the Obas and Emirs certain rights to rule their people. Religion too was another reason why they took everything softly. The pre-independence North believed in gradual process of self-rule. No wonder, in most of the constitutional conferences held in Lagos and London, the Northerners were less agitating than the West and East. I remember that Ahmadu Bello said the North did not want to be hastened to self-government. Later, at one of the conferences, the North agreed to self-government for Nigeria but did not agree on one date for the three regions. And so, the East and West received their own self-government in 1957, and the North in 1959.

Excerpts from: The Part to Play: An Autobiography of S.T. Adelegan, Deputy-Speaker, Western Region Legislature (1960-1965)

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