Remembering Adegoke Adelabu
THE Adegoke Adelabu Family of Oke Oluokun, Kudeti in Ibadan, Oyo State, has constituted a committee to principally, plan, establish and launch the Adegoke Adelabu Foundation on 3rd September, this year – the posthumous centenary birthday of the genuius, politician, journalist, strategist, wit, orator and champion of the Nigerian masses.
I have been honoured to chair the committee whose membership includes a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Chief Bayo Adelabu and his older brother, Mr. Yinka Adelabu – both are grandsons of the late Alhaji (Hon) Adegoke Adelabu alias “Penkele mesi”.
One of Nigeria’s brilliant, charismatic and deitified politicians, Adegoke Adelabu, died in a road accident in Remo area on the old Lagos-Ibadan Road in the defunct Western Region of Nigeria on March 25, 1958, aged 43 years.
As a grandson of Mama Asmawu Odunola Alabi, the late woman leader of the defunct National Council of Nigerian Convention (NCNC) under Adelabu leadership in Ibadan in the 1950s, I lay claim to knowing Adelabu at close quarters. He was a frequent visitor to our home at SW1/131, Ile Ekerin Ajengbe, Born Photo-Isale Osi area of Ibadan. And I was also a young visitor, in company of my late grandmother to Adelabu’s Oke Oluokun home in Ibadan, before and after his death. Some years after Adelabu’s death, my grandmother nominated her deputy, the late Mama Humuani Apampa alias ‘Orababa’ to occupy the woman leader position under NCNC Ibadan’s new leader, Barrister Adeoye Adisa. And the late Mama Apampa was reporting to her.
Who was Adegoke Adelabu? Here is a glimpse of the stormy petrel of Ibadan politics and lion of the West from Alamu Muda-Ayeni’s 2011 book “Adelabu Speaks From The Grave”, a reash of Adelabu’s visionary thoughts in his book “Africa in Ebullition” published in 1952, with the foreword written by his leader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe . Adelabu hailed from double aristocratic lineages.
Born at Oke-Oluokun, Ibadan on September 3, 1915 to middle-class parents, he had an enviable start in life in relation to prevailing conditions of the time.
His father, Sanusi Ashiyanbi Adelabu, was a scion of the famous Oluokun Chieftancy Ruling House of Ibadan, who in turn, were direct maternal descendants of the Alaafin Ruling House of Oyo.
A talented cloth weaver of repute, Ashiyanbi was accustomed to royal treat and was rich enough to possess and keep a stable with many horses for pleasure. His mother Awujoola Ajoke, was also linked by birth to Oba Abass Okunola Aleshinloye who first took the title of Olubadan and like her husband, she too was a successful trader in dyed cloths.
To many people in and outside Nigeria, their image of Adegoke Adelabu is that of a firebrand politician with only political achievements to his credit. Little or nothing is known or said, of his other attainments outside the realm of politics. One such area of unmatched distinction is the academic domain.
Adelabu had his elementary education at the St. David’s CMS Elementary School, Kudeti, Ibadan (1925 – 1929), and the CMS Central School, Mapo, Ibadan (1930). He then attended the Government College, Ibadan (1931 – 1935) before proceeding in 1936 for further studies at the Higher College, Yaba, Lagos which was Nigeria’s only tertiary institution then in existence. He led in the entrance examination into the HC, Yaba and thus won the United African Company’s (UAC) scholarship. UAC, on the recommendation from her London (UK) head office in 1936 appointed Adelabu its first African Manager, without allowing him to complete his course. It should be noted that Adelabu, then a student on internship at UAC, had written a very brilliant and impressive turn around blueprint for the UAC, which the UK head office found irresistible.
Right from the onset of his educational career, Adelabu showed promise of academic excellence and later proved to be a child prodigy in classroom performance. For example, his exceptional brilliance earned him double promotions at each of the three tiers of learning – an uncommon feat that was appreciatively rewarded with enabling scholarships awards. Not only that, he had the unparalleled distinction of maintaining the first position in each class, beating his erstwhile seniors after each double promotion! Once writing on his special academic endowment, Adelabu said:
“I had a brilliant scholastic career, earning accelerated promotions on three occasions in the Elementary, Primary and Secondary Schools respectively: Despite this, I never took second position throughout my school days. Instead, I was always several laps ahead of my runner-up and, not infrequently, saved tutors from tight holes.”
If this educational feat today appears most incredible, concrete personal testimonies abound to support Adelabu’s official school records.
In his condolence remarks at Adelabu’s transition in 1958, the late Professor Saburi Biobaku, historian, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos and a contemporary of Adelabu at Government College, Ibadan testified in part:
“As one who was his contemporary at school, I have known him from his boyhood. At the Government College Ibadan, he was known as Joseph Adegoke Sanusi and was undoubtedly the most brilliant boy who has passed through that school so far…”
Professor Biobaku later elaborated on this in his book titled “When We Were Young”, published in 1992 where he said” “Adelabu was not much good at sports although he subsequently distinguished himself at the long distance events, especially the half-mile and mile races. It was in his studies that he excelled. At the end of his second year he received a double promotion from Class Two to Class Four and he was top of that class from the first term till the end of his time at the College… He was perhaps the brightest boy that Government College Ibadan has ever produced!”
I wrote a tribute on Adelabu titled “What a peculiar miss” which was published in the Vanguard newspaper issue of Tuesday, April 9, 1996 and I wish to refresh my readers minds here with the said tribute.
“Having waited in vain since last Monday (25th March 1996) for either a spoken or written word to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the death of the ‘stormy petrel’ of Ibadan nay the old Western Region politics, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, (he died in a motor accident on March 25, 1958) one is tempted to utter. “What a peculiar miss” with equal amazement as he, Adelabu pooh-poohed the corruption charges against him in 1956, while serving as the first chairman of the defunct Ibadan District Council.
“Adelabu had described the charge of financial misdeed as a peculiar mess”, an expression, his devotees corrupted to “penkelemesi” a sobriquet Adelabu eventually had t o wear till death and even thereafter!
“A great nationalist in the genre of Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro, Habib Raji Abdallah, Mbonu Ojike etc. I grew up to know and meet the gifted-orator, merchandise salesman, First African Manager at (UAC) Cooperative Inspector, journalist, charismatic politician, Council Chairman, Federal Minister and leader of opposition by the grace of being the eldest grandchild of the late Mama Asmawu Odunola Alabi of Ekerin Ajengbe Clan, Ibadan.
“Grandma, “Iya Ile Ekerin” (Mother of Ekerin Clan) as she was popularly known, was the leader of the women wing of the defunct NCNC under Adelabu while Alhaji Humuani Apampa, alias “Orababa”, her protégé from Isale-Osi, Ibadan was the deputy leader.
“The many political meetings and rallies at our home and in the city still remain vivid in one’s memory with the meteor, Adelabu, shinning in the multitude of followers and admirers. This treatise is, however, not aimed at the expansive and awe inspiring political hue of Adelabu. Rather, it is aimed at recapturing some of his visionary thoughts on a wide range of subjects.
Excerpts from his book; “Africa in Ebullition”, published in 1952, with the foreword by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe.
“Education is the foundation of freedom. Ignorance is the basis of slavery. If you would free a people, first and foremost, educate. The illiterate man is only half-a man. He is already slave enough to his unfounded fears, his uncurbed passions, his natural instincts…..
I went a career open to talent. I want opportunities based on merit. I want the son of the Fulani herdsman in Sokoto, the son of the Cocoa plantation labourer in Ibadan, the son of a railway porter in Enugu and the sons of their Highnesses the Emir of Katsina, the Ooni of Ife and the Obi of Onitsha to stand an equal chance of succeeding Dr. Mellanby as the next Principal of Ibadan University College. Such a career is open to talent in America. Such a career is open to talent in England. Such a career is open to talent in Germany. We shall labour without respite until such a career is open to talents in our own Nigeria.
Our raw materials, tin, gold, bauxite, coal, petroleum, lignite, zinc, cocoa, palm oil, palm kernels, cotton, groundnut, rubber, coffee, hides and skins. Shea butter, castor seed, tobacco, cattle, careals, herbs, timber and poultry, point the way to development. The power problem must be solved in a comprehensive way by the electricity generated from the Niger/Benue Valley Authority Project.
Our land, rail, water and air transport systems must be integrated into one efficient whole. Our labour man-power must be given requisite skilled technical training which will enable them to play their new role of the backbone of a new industrial Civilisation. These tasks must be faced squarely and manly.
The crux of the problem of Unity is that sacrifices, great sacrifices, must be made by individuals, by groups, by tribes, by sections, by bodies, by classes and by regions in order to usher in that Unity which will secure for us Freedom and Independence. It is not that we too, do not love our tribe, religion, class and region. But we love Nigeria more. We hereby implore all partisans and regionists to join us in the Great Adventure. The stake is well worth the sacrifice.
“A radical socialist and fanatical nationalist, Adelabu held managerial positions with the United Africa Company Limited (UAC) in its various departments. Such as the First African Manager, UAC Produce (1937-38). Inspector Cooperative Department (1938-44). Manager, UAC Haberdashery, Lagos (1945-46).
“Before his election as a legislator for Ibadan division in 1951, Adelabu had for 5 years been in business and journalism. He later became chairman of Ibadan District Council, Federal Minister and leader of opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly.
Oloye ‘Lekan Alabi, D. Litt (h.c), is the Aare Alaasa Olubadan of Ibadanland and Chairman, Adegoke Adelabu Post-Humous Centenary Birthday Planning Committee