By Femi Fani-Kayode
In an interview with a newspaper on November 30, 2013, Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, a great nationalist, a two-time former Commisioner of Education of the old Western Region, a former Governor of Oyo State, one of our few remaining elderstatesman and a man that played a prominent role in the politics of both the First and Second republics, said the following:
“Chief S.L. Akintola was the supreme leader. Chief Obafemi Awolowo left (the Premiership of the Western Region) of his own volition without advice to contest the federal election. In the federal election he contested but he had no alliances. Stubborn, aggressive, very hardworking, visionary leader that Awolowo was, he never understood real politics at any time. In real politics you have to look at the figures, you have to have allies- there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. You must have some allies. Nigeria is too fragmented for you not to have allies. If you are counting in the presence of someone with nine fingers, you don’t count in the person’s presence and say ‘so you have nine fingers’. We had a brilliant man called S.L. Akintola who understood real politics. Awolowo believed that book knowledge was so important but he (Akintola) knew better. A situation arose- Awolowo wanted to ally with the East and Akintola wanted to align with the North. So there was a crisis”.
These are interesting historical perspectives and insights from a man that was appointed as a Commissioner (or Regional Minister) for a region that comprised of no less than what are seven states of the Federation today (Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Edo and Delta) at the tender age of 27. I am not sure that I entirely agree with Olunloyo’s assertion that Awolowo did not appreciate the importance of building bridges with other ethnic groups and forming alliances given the fact that he and his Action Group did build bridges and form an alliance with the ethnic minorities of both the old Northern and Eastern regions and did in fact champion their cause and fight for their rights. Yet that is neither here nor there. The important thing is that we are witnesses to an important contribution from a major player and participant to the debate about a period in our history that affected the fortunes of our country in a very real and profound manner.
I say this because it could be argued that the bitter fight that took place between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief S.L. Akintola and their respective supporters throughout the early ’60s, the division within the Action Group and its eventual splitting into two separate and distinct parties, the ugly events in the South-west at the time and the unrestrained and brutal violence that was unleashed by both sides against one another led directly to the first coup d’etat of January 15, 1966. This in turn led to the second coup d’etat of July 29, 1966, to the shocking pogroms and mass killings of the Igbo in the North and ultimately to the Nigerian civil war. It is therefore good news when those that participated at the highest level of governance at the time and that are living witnesses to those events, like Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, speak out and share their insights and wealth of knowledge with us. I sincerely hope that he will continue to do this and that other participants and witnesses from both sides of the political divide, like Chief Olaniyun Ajayi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Richard Akinjide, Chief Ayo Fasoranti will also share their views and insights with us as well.
When one considers and reflects on Olunloyo’s words and the entire background of the Awolowo/Akintola feud ultimately one has to make a choice and come to a decision as to who was right and wrong and determine which side was really at fault. Yet many questions still need to be answered before one can take a legitimate and definitive position on this. For example as Mr. Adeniji Mudahir Akinniyi, a young and insightful commentator on facebook, asked ‘’ What was the agreement between Akintola and Awolowo before Awolowo left for the Federal Government poll? Who was the traitor amongst the two? Who is the father of civilization in the South-west? Who is responsible for the socio-political and economic development of the old Western Region? I need answers to these questions before I post my final comment’’.
For the answers to these questions one has to look at the history books even though, as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, ‘’history is more often than not written by the victor and not the vanquished’’. Akinniyi has indeed asked the relevant questions. I know the answers to them but I will not share them here or anywhere else because I will not say or do anything that will resurrect the great division of the past. Suffice it to say that both Awolowo and Akintola were great Yoruba leaders and great men and they were both human beings and were therefore prone to making errors of judgement from time to time. We the Yoruba owe EVERYTHING to them both and it is very unhelpful for our collective cause to attempt to demonise one and idolise the other. Neither of them was a demon or an angel- they both had their faults, strengths and weaknesses. Yet they were both great men.
One of the things that fascinated me about Dr. Olunloyo’s interview and which is historically factual, is what he said about Akintola entering into a political alliance with the North (which was known as the NNA) and Awolowo entering into a political alliance with the East (which was known as UPGA). This was the essential difference in strategy between the two and it represented their respective worldviews. Akintola, who had deep suspicions for the Igbo, felt that the interests of the Yoruba were better protected and served by an alliance with the northern ruling class whilst Awolowo, who had equally deep suspicions for the northern ruling class and the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy, felt that the Yoruba interest was better served and protected by an alliance with the Igbo. The Western Region became the intellectual, spiritual and physical battle ground for the two opposing and conflicting strategies and world views and the rest is history.
My only mild criticism of both of these two great Yoruba leaders is that they and their respective supporters and followers in the old Western Region, including Dr. Omololu Olunloyo himself, did not sufficiently understand or appreciate the importance and benefits of building bridges between themselves and avoiding a major conflict. Instead of making peace, making the necessary concessions and attempting to foster unity in the collective interest of the Yoruba nation BOTH camps went for the jugular and an all out war ensued which did not end until May 1 1967 at the Yoruba “Leaders of Thought” meeting in Ibadan. Even after that tensions and suspicion still existed between the two sides for many decades and, to a certain extent, still remain till today.
The annulment of Chief MKO Abiola’s election of June 12, 1993 by the northern ruling class and ‘’their’’ military dealt a death blow to the Akintola philosophy and strategy of a strong northern and western alliance. However that alliance and trust is being slowly and carefully rebuilt and resurrected today with the recent merger between the ACN, ANPP and CPC and the formation of the APC as a political party. Whether anyone likes to admit it or not the APC essentially represents an alliance between the North, the South- west and the Mid-west. The annulment of Abiola’s June 12 mandate was sad and unfortunate but it had one positive result- it brought the two sides in Yorubaland much closer together in a very meaningful way and from that point on till today they have operated more or less with one accord. This is so even though there is still an uneasy peace between the two camps and their descendants and even though from time to time flashpoints of disagreements are voiced out. My view is that if we are really interested in fostering Yoruba unity and perhaps one day forging and establishing our own nation we must keep that peace at all costs and move forward as one.
Yet given the disposition of Awolowo towards the Igbo as Mr. Jide Olajolu, another young facebook commentator, asked, ‘’is it not ironical that the average Easterner detests the same Awolowo and equates Yoruba nationalism with him?’’
Jide is absolutely right. The greatest irony of all is that, generally speaking, the Igbo detest Awolowo and have done everything that is physically possible to malign and discredit him since 1967. Yet this was the man whose party went into an alliance with them at the most critical point in our history (between 1964 and 1966) and who urged his faction of the Yoruba to work closely with them even though by that time he was in prison. That is what the UPGA alliance represented- an Igbo/Yoruba alliance which was pitted against the Hausa-Fulani North and Akintola’s pro-northern faction in the West. Awolowo suffered immensely in the hands of the North and the other group in the South-west because his party refused to compromise with them and because they took that position. Yet very few Igbo are prepared to admit this even when they know it to be true and most of them don’t even know it because they were never taught it in their schools. The Igbo do not teach their children all these things and instead they tell them that Awolowo was the devil incarnate, a murderer of children, a genocidal maniac and an Igbo-hater who ended up committing suicide out of frustration. These of course were all lies and well orchestrated fabrications that were designed to rubbish the man’s memory and legacy. They demonised Chief Awolowo, their friend and political ally, and on the night of Jan 15 1966, during the course of the Ifeajuna-led Igbo coup, they murdered Chief S.L. Akintola and Sir Ahmadu Bello (the Premiers of the Western and Northern Regions respectively) who were both their political adversaries, who saw through them at an early stage and who had open contempt for them.
Yet only the Igbo can explain why they hated and still hate Awolowo so much. I say this because he was their friend and ally when the crisis in the Western Region took place. I guess that their hatred stems from the role that he and the Yoruba played during the civil war. Yet I believe that Col. Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Igbo rebel leader, made the greatest mistake by attempting to secede at the time that he did (against Awolowo’s advice and better judgement) and, worse still, he attacked the Western Region with his Biafran forces even when many of our people had sympathy for their cause and plight. As a matter of fact the man that led the Biafran forces in the attack against the Midwest and the West was a gallant and courageous Yoruba officer by the name of Col. Victor Banjo who believed strongly in the Igbo cause and who (along with Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, the leader and arrowhead of the Jan 15, 1966 coup) was later executed by Ojukwu.
The truth is that it was Ojukwu that betrayed Awolowo and the Yoruba and not the other way around. I say this because they fired the first shot and tried to overwhelm, capture and enslave us by attacking our territory with their forces. They overwhelmed the people of the Niger Delta and the Midwest very easily but when they got to the gates of the Western Region at a place called Ore they were stopped in their tracks by the Yoruba forces and the famous 3rd Marine Commando which was 98 per cent Yoruba fighting force. That is how they were prevented from entering Yoruba land and they were pushed back, inch by inch, from the Midwest and the Niger Delta area (by the same 3rd Marine Commando) back into the very heart of Igboland from whence they came until they were broken, defeated and forced to surrender. After being attacked the Yoruba had no choice but to fight back and we did so very successfully. Chief Awolowo, General Benjamin Adekunle, General Olusegun Obasanjo, Brigadier Sotomi, Col. Alabi Isama, General Adeyinka Adebayo, General Olutoye, General Ogundipe, General Alani Akinrinade, General Ogunleye and a number of other key Yoruba officers and public servants played a key role in that war and that struggle to protect our people and our territory and I am very proud of their efforts. If not for them we would have been conquered and enslaved and we would all have been speaking Igbo as our first language by now. Finally I believe that Akintola’s position about the Igbo has been vindicated. Both he and Ahmadu Bello were right about them all along and Awolowo obviously did not fully understand them. Today, though he was once their best friend, they hate Awolowo with as much passion as they once hated Akintola and Ahmadu Bello.
‘Achebe’s racist categorisations’
Permit me to make reference to what the late Professor Chinua Achebe had to say about Awolowo and the Yoruba in his last, and most controversial book, entitled, ‘’There Was A Country’’. I will not repeat his words and racist categorisations here but I would urge all those that are interested in it and that can stomach it to go and read those words in the book. I believe that those words reflect the real thinking of most Igbo about the Yoruba even though they tend to make attempts to hide it until they are pushed to the wall and lose their cool. This is proved by the fact that, to date, not one single Igbo leader or commentator of note has condemned the book or disagreed with Achebe’s comments and assessment. As a matter of fact rather than condemn it they have wholeheartedly endorsed and applauded it. The real reasons for the deep hatred that most Igbo have for Awolowo, Akintola and the Yoruba generally can be found in that book. Sadly most of the Igbo youth since the end of the civil war were weaned on such fairytale of genocide and betrayal at the hands of and by the Yoruba. This explains the attitude of many of them and the tendency for them to view even the mildest form of criticism as evidence of ‘’Igbophobia’’ and proof of a deep-seated hatred for the Igbo people. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
The Yoruba have always been very kind, very generous and very accommodating to the Igbo and history attests to this. As a matter of fact, if the truth is to be told, the unbridled political ambition of the Igbo to dominate and control the whole country and their strong dislike for the Yoruba can be traced back to 1945 when key Igbo leaders like Charles Daddy Onyeama (who was a member of the Legislative Council at the time and who, many years later, went on to become one of the most revered and respected judges in the World Court at the Hague) made some openly racist, provocative and incendiary remarks about what he described as the ‘’inevitability’’ of the Igbo to eventually ‘’dominate Nigeria’’.
‘God of the Igbo’
Two years later, in 1947, this was followed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s famous speech about the ‘’god of the Igbo’’ who he believed would eventually give them leadership over Nigeria and Africa. These were the deeply offensive sentiments of those that belonged to the Igbo State Union which was the umbrella organisation of all the Igbo at the time and which spoke for every single Igbo in the country. It was this rabid and violent expression of Igbo nationalism and intention to take control of the levers of power in our country at all costs, even at that early stage, that created all our problems in the south. That is where and when tribalism started in the southern Nigeria and the truth is that the Igbo started it. It cost Azikiwe the Western Regional elections in 1951 after the founding of the Action Group that same year. If not for that we would have had an Igbo man as the first Premier of the Western Region in 1951 and Nigeria’s history would have been very different. For more details on this permit me to refer readers to my essay entitled, ‘’The Bitter Truth About The Igbo’’, which was widely published in various newspapers and which can be found in the essay column of my website- www.femifanikayode.org.
Permit me to conclude this essay by making a final point. I believe that it is important for us to know our history and to have a clear understanding about what went on in our past. This is the only way forward if we do not want to repeat the mistakes of that past. Whether we are pro-Akintola or pro-Awolowo does not really matter and whether we are from the North, South, East or West is neither here nor there. The most important thing is for us to be well acquainted with ALL the relevant facts of history after which we can then make an informed judgement about past events and past leaders. Contributions from informed and experienced leaders like Dr. Olunloyo are therefore most welcome even though some may not share all his views or his interpretation and understanding of past events. My prayer for him and indeed for all those that served our country during that turbulent and troubled era that are still with us is that they continue to live long and prosper and that they continue to share their deep wisdom and vast reservoir of knowledge with us. Given the unfolding events in our country today, God knows that we need it now more than ever.
*Fani-Kayode was a minister of aviation