How Adegoke Adelabu kept the Action Group government on its toes



Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, with his prominent Abaja merin-merin tribal marks, was the NCNC Leader of the Opposition in the Western House of Assembly in the 50s while Awolowo was leader of Government. He kept the Action Group government on its toes. After the 1954 federal elections, he became Minister of Natural Resources, and Social Services in Lagos. He was a down-to-earth defender of the masses, the down-trodden, the poor and underdogs, the underprivileged people of Ibadan. By conviction and by faith, he was a radical socialist. He was an intellect (see his Africa In Ebullition published in 1952). He shared the homes of the poor in the derelict districts of Oke Oluokun, Oje, Oranyan, Ye-Osa, Isale Jebu and other hard-core parts of Ibadan. He ate their foods, drank their water in the bukas at Mapo, Beere, Ayeye, Orita Merin, etc, thought their thoughts, dreamt their dreams and sincerely shared their hopes. It was his character, not in pretence or hypocrisy.


Adelabu was massively popular and was called many names in the politics of Western Nigeria: “the Lion of the West,” “Penkelemessi” (derived from the Talking Drummer’s reference to “The Action Group: A Peculiar Mess” Headlines of the back page of the Daily Times) etc. He was no doubt a pragmatic leader and political foe of Chief Awolowo and his Action Group. He so dominated the politics of Ibadan, Ilesha, Oyo and Osun Provinces that when he died, age 43, in a ghastly motor accident on the Lagos-Ibadan road on Tuesday, March 25, 1958, “the ordinary man” could not believe it could have been a natural accident. It must be the work of his political enemies, and there was widespread violence and vandalisation of lives and properties of Action Group members in Ibadan. Since his death, the NCNC hold on Ibadan weakened progressively.


With Awolowo, now “out of the way”, as it were, in Lagos as leader of the Opposition, Adelabu’s massive supporters in Ibadan, Oyo and Osun Provinces, who used to vote for the NCNC, crossed over to the Action Group which, to them, now, with Akintola, an Oyo-Yoruba, as Premier, was no longer considered as an instrument of Ijebu domination. Through the tactful regular radio and television political broadcasts of Chief Akintola, in typical Oyo dialect, laced with proverbs, humour and fineness, the Action Group won the Western Regional elections in August 1960 with increased representatives and a comfortable majority in the House of Assembly. Thus, Akintola had his own mandate as Premier and Leader of the Party in Western Nigeria.


Unfortunately, the Action Group lost the federal elections, and the federal government was formed by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in alliance with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). Chief Awolowo had to settle with being the Leader of Opposition in the federal house and went on hoping that one day, the Party would win the federal elections and he would become the Prime Minister. The truth, however, was that Chief Awolowo did not have the personal aptitudes of Chief Akintola to succeed as Leader of the Opposition to win his universal support to the Prime Minister.


Chief Akintola must have heaved a sigh of relief. He no longer had to refer everything to Chief Awolowo who was sulking over his position as Leader of Opposition in Lagos. He continued resenting the Federal Government as an unholy alliance of reactionaries and opportunists who had used government machineries to “rig” the election of December 1959 which denied him (Awolowo) of being the Prime Minister. But Chief Awolowo believed in party supremacy over the government of Western Nigeria and that as Party Leader, he should still exercise a general supervision over all the activities of the Action Group, and that any changes of policy activities and major appointments in Western Nigeria should only be made after he had been consulted. This was unacceptable to Premier Akintola.



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