One striking occurrence in the society in modern times is the lack of knowledge of the contributions of eminent Nigerians to national development, as well as the evolution of an independent Nigeria. Several decades ago, such subjects as Civics and History were taught, even in elementary schools. Secondary school students of those days had knowledge of occurrences all over the world, as they were informed about developments like going on the moon, and technological advancements. What happens today? The younger ones are largely unaware of historical developments, particularly political activities that could shape their knowledge of how they could be useful citizens in the quest to build a greater Nigeria. In this account, TERRIFIC HEADLINES treats two issue of discriminatory, that was practically nonexistent, even ups until the demise of the Second Republic in 1983.
AWOLOWO’S EGBE OMO ODUDUWA
I had, by 1947 become the Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Ile Ife branch, and I had passed my London Matriculation. So, the Lord has been so nice to me. I had bought my Raleigh Bicycle, which I rode through the streets of Ile-Ife amidst cheers and admiration of the people with the shout L.M., L.M. (London Matriculation). The qualification placed holder at a vantage position to proceed to higher institutions of learning. I was in this enviable position when Chief Obafemi Awolowo came to Ile Ife, to launch the Socio-Cultural group called Egbe Omo Oduduwa, in 1948. He seemed to be appealing to the sensibilities of the Yorubas, as children of the same cultural origin who had so much to gain if they came together. I refused to join them, as I felt so much cosmopolitan. I thought the group would likely end up parochial and localized; and so, I did not show interest. Besides, their approach and particularly the utterances of Chief Maja did not go well with me. 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 who I was.
Thank God for the West in those days. In Ibadan too, the Ijebus won elections as councilors. The Ibadans in those days did not discriminate. I worked without molestation, fear or attack. I enjoyed my normal salaries and allowances. But in recent times, things have changed. Even in 1976, when Ogun and Ondo States were carved out of Western State, people were not forced to go to their own States. In 1991, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida created more States and the old Oyo State now broke into Oyo and Osun States. Since then we have been experiencing unprecedented acts of discrimination even among Yoruba-speaking States. It could be noted also that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was an Ijebu man and the premier of the Region, did not say, because he was an Ijebu man, he would build the Liberty Stadium in Ikenne, or the WNBS/WNTV in Ijebu-Ode, Remo or even in Ikenne. We were all working as one, not minding our real source. Little wonder the progress recorded then was tremendous.
In those days, the Ibadans still had some soft spot for the Osun people, as they were less dominant in the civil service. The situation changed much later when Ijesha people, because of their numerical strength were great taunted by their colleagues in the public service of the old Oyo State. It was only later that Egbe Omo Oduduwa began to gain a sparing acceptance among the Yorubas and in 1950, the socio-cultural group metamorphosed to a political party called Action Group. This time, I had gained admission into the University College, Ibadan and so I had to leave Modakeke, where I was Headmaster of St. Stephens’s School. I soon found myself in this political party called Action Group. The 1950, Iva Valley Mines tragedy, which claimed the lives of 27 workers and the sporadic action of the students Union that greeted the event, gave me a rethink about tribal sentiments.
NNAMDI AZIKIWE’S INFLUENCE & HOW HE PENETRATED THE WESTERN REGION OF NIGERIA
Azikiwe’s newspaper enjoyed widespread circulation and readership throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria then. He came to Ile-Ife to seek support for his own political party, National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). This was the first and only notable party then. The party enjoyed a tremendous spread throughout the nooks and crannies of Nigeria most especially in towns, cities and urban settlements. The coming together of Yoruba people at this time became expedient. Besides, I had developed interest in NCNC because of the personality of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe. 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 many. 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. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in the 1951 Western Region elections, dared the Action Group in its areas of influence. Out of the 80 seats that were contested, the AG won 38, NCNC 24, Independent candidates who aligned with the AG won 15 seats while their colleagues who went with the NCNC were three in number. This brings the Records reveal that, on the whole, total seats won by the AG was 53, with the NCNC 27 winning seats.
NO DISCRIMINATION IN SERVICE
When I was moving in to Ibadan Divisional Council in 1955, I attended the interview with twenty-seven other applicants, most of whom were Ibadan indigenes who were also qualified to take the post of Chief Education Officer. I was considered most suitable for this post because of my additional status as teacher of teachers. In other words, I got the appointment by merit. Some of my mates and co-applicants were later to work under my supervision as travelling teachers. What am I enunciating? If it were these days, there is no way I could be offered that appointment. It was not I alone, the then Chairman of IDC (Ibadan Division Council) Mr. J. M. Johnson, was not a native of Ibadan. He himself was a Lagosian. That shows what obtained in the old Western Region. We saw ourselves as one indivisible entity. That was the reason why the Action Group Party took good control of the whole West.
Rail workers were mostly Southerners. They were enlightened. It was not surprising therefore that they had sympathy for a party known as 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 members. Nnamdi Azikiwe was predominant on the political field throughout the length and breadth of the country. The effect of this was that the Igbos were becoming preponderant, almost colonizing the Yorubas, even in Ibadan. They were everywhere reaping the popularity of Zikism and exploiting the gains of nationalism, which was imbued in Nigerians by Azikiwe’s propaganda. For instance, Dr. Ikejiani, an Igbo, Medical Doctor, based in Ibadan was made Chairman of Nigeria Railway Corporation. The Yorubas then were not bothered as their faces were covered by spirit of nationalism as a result of which there was nothing like national/federal character in distribution of posts or appointments whatsoever. All that everybody wanted were independence and self-government.
Nnamdi Azikiwe led the party (NCNC), that was in the forefront of anti colonial struggles in Nigeria. It was championing the struggle for National Independence. This had started, even, since the Second World War ended in 1945. For instance, in that same year, it organized a nationwide campaign against the Richard’s Constitution. Because of all these activities and its prominence, the party was so popular. By then, every enlightened heart looked for a time Nigeria would regain her independence. Little wonder the crop of elites in the country then was more cosmopolitan in thought than being parochial. Alaafin of Oyo was very strong during this period. The then Alaafin Adeyemi, father of the present Alaafin was an undisguised supporter of NCNC. Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the then Ooni of Ife, an educated royal father, 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. Oba Aderemi never parted with Obafemi Awolowo until death separated them.
Our hard earned democracy would endure, with due consideration of the fact that the success of any system depends largely on the principal actors. The status of people who lead this country, may be, in the Legislature or the Executive would dictate the level of growth and development the country would record. Flash back to the old Western Region reveals the stuff with which the government was made. It is not a matter of blowing one’s trumpet. Western-Region made remarkable progress due to the fact that round pegs were put in right holes. The best came out of the constituencies, all over the West. I have mentioned my friend, Chief Samuel Lana, who won an election under the platform of Northern Peoples Party in the West. He represented a Federal Constituency, within which the Igbo Elerin was located. He rose up there and proved his mettle and was appointed a Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. Not that alone, the excellent spirit in him made him the Federal Representative at the Commonwealth Parliamentary meeting in 1965. All these are attributable to his personality. In the same vein, most of us who represented our constituencies were good materials.
But one thing I noticed was that majority of us had our primary assignments; perhaps as teachers, big entrepreneurs, lawyers and so on. Pa Emmanuel Alayande, my mentor was a school Principal. Canon Josiah Akinyemi, was Principal of St. Andrews College, Oyo, and earlier, Principal Ilesa Grammar School. I was a School Principal, Chief C. O. Komolafe, was a school Principal, my friend Ayo Ajibola was a school proprietor and educationist; another friend, Joseph Oduola Osuntokun, was also a school Principal. We have others like J. A. O. Odebiyi, also a School Principal, Oba C. D. Akran the Oba of Badagry, D. L. Ajayi of Ibokun, Babajide Olowofoyeku was a respected legal practitioner, Babatunji Olowofoyeku was a prominent lawyer, Dr. Lawrence Omole, was a solid businessman and industrialist. The important thing about all those people was thats we did not depend on politics for a living. We had sources of livelihood and because of this, we had our names to protect. We knew that by the time we complete our political assignments, we would still go back to our primary places of work.
I want to say, therefore, is that we should take politics off the hands of people whose motive is simply to make money, instead of serving responsibly and patriotically. Let those who are presently serving in the public service, who have had reasonable experience and have been tested and trusted, participate in politics. Good materials should be fielded by communities if people indeed want development. In other words, politics should be taken as part-time engagement and be acted thus. Although some may argue that the arrangement was only possible in a parliamentary system, it is not the system of government that really matters. It is the participants or actors and how they perceive service to their peoples. Presidential system is not rough but some of the participants are rough. We still have some good elements among them. The military that took over from us in 1966 knew this reality and they continued to be mindful of the fact that we could not be thrown off just like that. They only took over the government, but the bulk of the responsibility of governance rested on the shoulders of politicians. We were still referred to as Leaders of Thoughts. This idea started in 1966 and lasted up to 1984, during which Chief Obafemi Awolowo was made the leader of the Yorubas. Subsequent governments in the old Western State recognized me as one of the Leaders of Thought.
Culled from: The Part To Play: An Autobiography of Chief S.T. Adelegan