Remi Oyeyemi's Open Mind

What history told us was that his father detested the Igbo. Chief Ladoke Akintola repeatedly made jokes about them and never hid his disdain for them.
Monday, June 23, 2003

Remi Oyeyemi

"Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence."
-- Bernard Montgomery British Field Marshal

ne has been following the recent controversy on the legacy and the reported "vision" ascribed to Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola in the wake of the recent victory of PDP in the Southwest. One read the article by Dr. Wunmi Akintide on this subject. In spite of what one considered as minor misinterpretations of some actions of yore vis-a-vis the present political climate in regard to the former Premier of Western Region, Chief Akintola, one agreed with Dr. Akintide that there may be the need to try and heal some old wounds. But this should not be at the expense of historical facts. Rather it should be through the forgiveness of the heart.

Not very long after Dr. Akintide's article, Ambassador Yomi Akintola granted an interview published on Page 5 of the Guardian of Thursday, May 15, this year on the PDP victory in the Southwest having vindicated his late father. In the interview, Ambassador Akintola made so many general statements that this writer believed were deliberately made to obfuscate the true legacy of his late father. One Oluwole Kehinde had in an article also published by the Guardian on June 3 taken Ambassador Akintola to task for evasiveness in educating the people about his father's legacy and concluded that the only reason Ambassador Akintola could not be specific was because there was no tangible legacy or credible vision that could be attributed to the late Chief S.L. Akintola.

The challenge made by Mr. Oluwole Kehinde prompted another son of the late Premier, Mr. Ladipo Akintola to respond on June 11, 2003 . He tried obviously very laboriously, to itemize what he regarded as his father's legacy. This writer considered his article very preposterous and a challenge to the memory and facts of history. We, the people were the ones who wore the shoes during the era of Chief S. L. Akintola's leadership in the Western region, and we still remember where and how badly the shoes pinched. But before we deal with some of Ladipo Akintola's misrepresentations, let us try and examine some of the claims of his brother Ambassador Akintola who for example, was reported as follows:

"Describing the victory of the AG over the NCNC in the elections of 1952, 1956, and 1959 as narrow, he (Yomi Akintola) admitted that it was only in the 1961 elections during his father's government that the AG 'beat NCNC hollow."
The impression Ambassador Akintola was trying to convey here was that the AG beat NCNC "hollow" because of the popularity of his father., Chief S.L. Akintola. While there is nothing wrong in trying to have a fond memory of one's father, it is a gratuitous insult to history and the intelligence of the Yoruba people in particular and Nigerians in general for him to sell half truth to the press. He failed to tell the readers that the AG was able to achieve that "feat" because of its achievement under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo before he moved to the center as the Leader of Opposition less than two years earlier in the Federal Parliament. And as at that time the face, the voice and the leader of the AG was Chief Awolowo. Ambassador Akintola did not tell us what his father did in less than two years in office before the said elections to have warranted crediting his late father with the "feat." The fact of the matter is that the people voted for AG for its previous achievements.

The crisis that occurred in 1962 was at this time of 1961 elections still unknown to the public and when it did, and the people were asked to pass their judgement, we all knew where the people placed their confidence, but certainly not in the leadership of Chief Ladoke Akintola. The events that followed the 1964 elections because of the perceived power grabbing propensity of the NNDP with the collaboration of Ahmadu Bello led NPC and the Nnamdi Azikwe's NCNC unapproved by the people had a devastating effect on Nigeria, the consequences of which the country is still trying to extricate itself.

Ambassador Akintola also reportedly said inter alia:

"What he (Ladoke Akintola) wanted was for the Yoruba, in conjunction with the Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Itsekiri, the Ibiobio to join hands and form a united government or have a programme in which everyone will participate in. Happily now the Yoruba have fallen in and they are now going to participate, which is what my late father advocated."

What history told us was that his father detested the Igbo. Chief Ladoke Akintola repeatedly made jokes about them and never hid his disdain for them. Dr. Akintide gave an example of this in his article. This kind of attitude could not have been a reflection of the kind of man that Ambassador Akintola was trying to sell to the rest of us in the above quote. Chief Ladoke Akintola had his "vision" of working with the Ahmadu Bello but on a basis that was not principled and against the philosophical stand of the party that brought him to power.

One of the reasons the Yoruba rejected his NNDP in 1964 was a perceived perfidious role (rightly or wrongly) of Chief Akintola in the persecution of Chief Awolowo in the cooked up treasonable felony trials. The Yoruba summed it up that the 1964 attempt was to impose a government that has no legitimacy on them and that the said kangaroo trials was a treacherous attempt to get Awolowo out of the way politically.

This being the case, the 2003 election results are more in tune with what Awolowo wanted as opposed to what Akintola wanted. For students of history who remember the alliances of the first Republic, the NPC, NNDP and NCNC worked together for the 1964 election while the Awolowo's AG worked with Joseph Tarka's Middlebelt Union, Aminu Kano's Northern Elements Progressive Union and some Southern minority groups in UPGA, his being behind bars not withstanding. The PPA attempt in the second Republic to fight off the notorious NPN is also another example. The 2003 elections did not see the Ahmadu Bello's base of Northwest or Far North voting with the rest of Nigeria to elect Olusegun Obasanjo as Akintola's "vision" would have suggested. Chief Akintola's "vision" was to have Yoruba work with the Far North by all means, even if they have to cringe and regardless of if there is no correlation between their political philosophies. Awolowo's contention which the majority of the AG happened to buy was that on what philosophical basis, should there be an alliance with the ruling NPC at the federal level? Should the AG join the NPC because it controlled the Federal government for the sake of getting political appointments? What would be the purpose of that "joint relationship"? Is it to further prop the philosophy of feudalism or what? Or should it be for a more progressive agenda in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians?

This was why, given the pre-independence credentials of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Awolowo concluded that the philosophical basis of the NCNC was not too far flung from that of the AG and that a progressive cord could still be stricken in the interest of Nigeria rather than working with a party with a diametrically opposed philosophy. Hence, Awolowo offered to work under him (Azikwe) in the interest of Nigeria as the Finance Minister while Zik would lead the government bussiness. Ladipo Akintola in his rebuttal to Oluwole Kehinde quoted from Senator Lai Joseph's book - Nigeria's Elections: The Bitter Truth - to support this position that we all have known before now. The argument of Chief S. L. Akintola, as projected by Senator Lai Joseph is that if Azikwe whose leadership Chief Awolowo was willing to accept, could himself work under the untutored Tafawa Balewa, at the federal level, why not Awolowo himself!

This, more than anything, taxonomise these three politicians (Awolowo, Azikwe and Akintola) in terms of their political character, philosophical principles and ideological commitment in the services of their people and country. It marked the difference between politics for its sake and politics for the progress of the people. It shed light on the difference between politics for personal aggrandizement and politics for the glory of country. Awolowo put a bet in the philosophy and principle that Azikwe enunciated repeatedly for several years leading to Nigeria's independence and lost. Azikwe abandoned the tenets of progressivism that he championed and sold across the land before independence and opted for redundancy of Presidency in a Parliamentary arrangement as opposed to what Awolowo offered him on a platter of gold. This amoebic approach to politics of Azikwe was what Akintola wanted Awolowo to practice and which the latter resisted, based on principle and ideology.

But that Dr. Azikwe, despite his seminal intellectual prowess, did not even recognize his own worth within the Nigeria political milieu was not the fault of Awolowo and neither did it confer any wisdom on Chief S.L. Akintola. That Azikwe could not appreciate a golden opportunity and seize it in the interest of the Igbo and by extension, Nigeria could not be Awolowo's fault, neither did it or does it convey any vision on the part of Chief Akintola (as Ladipo would want us to believe). What is inexplicable is why a distinguished journalist, renown activist, indefatigable freedom fighter, charismatic Pan Africanist (at least up to the time he reduced himself to the barest minimum from "Zik of Africa" to "Zik of Onitsha") gifted orator and an erudite doctorate degree holder in Nnamdi Azikwe would give up leadership to a reluctant, untutored, undistinguished, inane, inept, obviously limited Teacher Training College graduate in Tafawa Balewa. It is one mystery in Nigerian political history that needs to be unraveled.

If the old friends of Akintola in the Northwest voted in the manner they did in 2003, how could this be a vindication of SLA's vision? Samuel Ladoke Akintola's "vision" would become a reality the day the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani of the Northwest or the Far North vote one way, to elect a Nigerian leader. We have not had that yet. What happened in 2003 was a realization of Awolowo's vision of a progressive (?) coalition for the political leadership of Nigeria as he attempted to do in 1964. He had wanted the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Middlebelt and the Southern miorities to unite and liberate Nigeria from the feudalistic tendencies of the Northwest. The election map of 2003, despite its imperfections is a reflection of this view. What remains to be seen is whether the present crop of flag bearers from all the identified groups are as progressive, visionary, principled, dedicated, honest, hardworking and worthy of the "trust" reposed in them the way Awolowo would have wanted it.

Ladipo Akintola's effort to remake the memory of his father in a positive light is a good thing. But to suggest that it was an achievement for his late father not to have cancelled the Free Education programme instituted before his father came to the office is to be less than straight forward and an insult to the rest of us. The fact is that his father did not have the power or the clout to do that. If he had done that, he would not have lasted in office till 1964 elections when he tried to put his imprints on the political landscape of Yorubaland and which was roundly rejected by the Yoruba people. To also attribute the founding of the University of Ife to his late father is disingenuous and misleading. Those who know the history of that revered institution knew how it came about. They also know who laid the first block for its foundation as attested to by the plaque embossed on the wall of the University's administrative building.

It is not also true that the only offence committed by SLA was to openly disagree with Obafemi Awolowo. What about the malicious reduction of the cocoa price that affected farmers across Yorubaland? What about the vindictive reduction of Odemo of Ishara, Oba Samuel Akinsaya's salary to a penny because he would not renounce allegiance to Chief Awolowo? Is Ladipo suggesting that the people of Ishara and its environs liked that? What about the use of the police to harass opponents and others who refused to toe his line? His very popular (or is it notorious) but very sarcastic joke about his not "eating money" as being alleged but "spending it" and asking his wife if she ever "cooked money" for him to eat could not have been for endearment? A serious leader who was interested about his place in history or had genuine concern for the feelings and sensitivities of his people would not have condescended to that level in the name of humour!

Even if we all decide to ignore all the observations above, there is no doubt about the fact that Chief Ladoke Akintola during his heydays lacked the capability to "rally" the Yoruba people about whatever his "vision" was. He failed woefully to inspire trust and confidence. Rather than commanding respect from the people, Chief Akintola induced contempt. Rather than planting love, he instilled fear. Rather than sowing hope, he pushed the people to desperation. In contrast, Chief Awolowo was able to clearly define the "common purpose" and seminally demonstrated an unassailable capacity and iron cast will to rally men, women and children towards its relentless pursuit, excellently. Chief Awolowo's character more than inspired confidence, discipline, integrity, hard work and dignity. To those in despair, he gave hope. To those in want, he met their needs. To those with ability, he gave opportunities. With love, he cured hatred. And with his vision, he shed a glowing light on the path to tread.

It is understandable that brothers Ladipo and Yomi Akintola would want history to show mercy to the memory of their father. They probably have felt burdened by the name bequeathed to them. But it is not their fault that what happened is history today. There is nothing they could do to change the facts of history as related to their father. But they could help the process of forgiveness by not trying to insult our intelligence or indirectly suggesting that we all have collective amnesia.