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“Don’t invite Adebanjo into a fight you might call a truce”

By Yinka Odumakin

THE irrepressible Chief Ayo Adebanjo turns 90 today and all roads lead to his Isanya Ogbo near Ijebu-Ode for a deserved celebration .This superb review of his autobiography Telling It As it Is by my brother and friend, Prof. Wale Adebanwi is a very befitting tribute.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests: Picture in your mind a man you have invited into the ring to help you fight a formidable adversary, an adversary with a fearsome supporting cast of heavyweight boxers on his side. You grow tired of the fight as you seem to have no chance of winning, so you jump out of the ring. And then you return hours later only to find that the man you asked to help you is still in the ring, fighting on, even though more people have abandoned you to join the other side. He has been bruised, yet he is punching backwhile raising his voice to announce that the battle is not over until his side is victorious. Your manager throws in the towel, but our man picks up the towel and flings it out of the ring while announcing to the referee that the battle continues….

Perhaps, this scenario will help you in appreciating the life of the man whose autobiography is being presented today, Chief Ayo Adebanjo: lawyer, politician, political pugilist, party organiser, and a moral beacon. Chief Adebanjo’s preternatural embrace of political conflict and battles and his unflagging boldness in the face of tyranny have made him one of the most formidable and consistent political fighters this country has ever known.

A quick anecdote: a colleague of mine who visited Chief Adebanjo when he and Chief Abraham Adesanya were detained in 1996 by the General Sani Abacha regime at Alagbon on the spurious suspicion of complicity in the assassination of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola returned to tell us of how uncomfortable he was when he was allowed to see Chief Adebanjo in detention. I will quote him verbatim in Yoruba because his words still ring loud in my mind: “Oni wahala ma ni Baba Adebanjo o! Se ni baba yen maa tu n bu Sani Abacha l’oju awon olopa ni Alagbon! [“Chief Adebanjo is a rebellious old man! He was abusing Sani Abacha in the presence of police officers at Alagbon!”] Even in the face of the repurposed perfidy that has become dominant in our political culture, as many seek any platform to power, the fearless old man remains unyielding in his commitment to the building of a better society. He has successfully reworked all the suffering, the imprisonment and detentions, the disappointments and betrayals, into a rugged conviction about the justness of his cause.

Hear him in a recent Punch interview:

“I am 90. What is the big deal in a 90-year-old man dying? But I’m shouting to the top because I want to go on record that you were warned and that is the fight that Chief Awolowo had been fighting before he left. I want to be satisfied that when I meet him, I can report to him that I didn’t yield an inch. That is why I’m talking. Am I going to become president? Do I want to be governor? Have I asked any one of them to give my children jobs? Have I asked for any subsidy from them?”

Do not ask Chief Ayo Adebanjo to join a battle for which you might call a truce at some point. He does not operate on the concept of limited struggle. As this book shows, Chief Adebanjo keeps fighting even when the originally injured has given up the battle. He refuses to surrender. As you will find when you read this book, even at 90, the author still delivers bruising upper cuts to allies and adversaries alike.

Let me quickly say that this is not your conventional book review. As I warned BabaAdebanjo a few weeks ago, I am here not only to review the book. Telling It as It Is: The Autobiography of Ayo Adebanjo, which is being presented today is only a departure point for me to reflect on Baba Ayo Adebanjo’s public, political life and what I consider to be the coremission of his life: the good of the people.

There are many ways in which this book captures this life mission. I suggest that the two most important vectors of this mission, as exemplified in the life of the author, are tenacity and party spirit. The first has defined the organisational basis of his political life,while the other is the foundation on which his public engagement was built and has been sustained. Both have worked together to define an essential political life irrevocably committed to what the author’s late leader, Obafemi Awolowo, described as “the good of the people” – the proposed title of Book Three of the Adventures in Power series, which death denied us the benefit of reading.

Since adolescence, Chief Adebanjo’s life, as this book shows, has exemplified whatMax Weber, in the famous lecture, “Politics as a Vocation,” describes as “the steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes.”

Telling It as It Is, a compelling and frank narrative of life and politics spanning nine decades, seamlessly combines the personal and the political in a very readable, thoughtful, provocative and yet, witty style. This combination is flagged even by the dedication to mother, wife and political leader. The book is divided into 18 chapters, with each dedicated to personal or political life – or a combination or interlacing of both. The Foreword is written by one of the author’s political associates, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, who succinctly describes the book as “a reminder of where we started as Awoists, how we have been shaped and a true assessment of where we are heading” (p. 12). The Foreword was originally the task of Chief Adebanjo’s lifelong friend, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi. Sir Olaniwun’s passage in 2016 shifted the task to their younger fellow-traveller, Chief Adebayo. Let me quickly note in parenthesis, that what I wrote in my tribute to Sir Olaniwun when he died was as true of him as it is true of his friend, Chief Adebanjo. Like his late friend, Chief Adebanjo has an “unquenchable trust in the possibilities of public good, the creation of a good society and an evangelical sense of rectitude.” These qualities are evident in the narratives in this book.

There is a certain joy that politics brings to the author which triumphs over all the disappointments and disabilities of the political system; there is a certain peace that his moral vision invests him with that is undisturbed by the perennial crises and political violence that he has lived through and that surround him. To be able to account for this paradox, we need to read the first three chapters of this book which locate the personal and the political and then unite them in a certain embrace of the world that explains his irrepressible, stern but cheerful nature and the vigour of his ideological convictions.

“This narrative,” writes the author, “is about growing up in a world of struggles, determination, perseverance, persistence and insistence. It is about a life of travails and triumphs; an admixture of failures and successes – a narrative about life told in its raw and undiluted form” (p. 14). Indeed, this book is “undiluted” and I will add, unpretentious.

Born to parents who didn’t have the benefit of western education, Joel Adebanjo Adedairo, a goldsmith and Christian, and Salamatu Odubanke, a trader born to a renowned Muslim family in Ijebu-Ode, the young Samuel Ayodele Adebanjo grew up as the only child of his mother in a polygamous home. Despite their relative poverty and lack of education, his parents were perceptive enough to realise that opportunities for a better life in the 1930s were plentiful in Lagos and thus they moved there when he was six. The cosmopolitan environment in which the young man grew up in Isale Eko (Lagos Island), which was dominated by nationalists, freedom-fighters, newspapers men, and professionals including men like Herbert Macaulay, H.O. Davies, Eric Moore, Adeyemo Alakija, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mbonu Ojike, helped to form a shrewd, sociable, modish and ambitious young man -nick-named “Sportless Banjus.” His education in the first and most prestigious secondary school of the era, C.M.S. Grammar School, prepared him for a life imbued with public spirit. His principal, Canon Kale, described him in his testimonial as “a strong character” (p. 41)

….To be concluded



Re: Lagos lockdown, Nigeria is dying

IT is no longer news that there is a lot of anger in Nigeria, accompanied by sadness and sorrow. The peoples of this country ponder now more than ever before on the essence…the true essence, of the unity of this federation. Nigeria is now an imperial contraption, like in ancient Rome; where the legislative arm is comatose and the emperor contends worship with the ancient gods. In Nigeria, there exists a cult of imperial devotees, and their allegiance is to the emperor first, before the country. These devotees will defend and lie for the emperor, even when the facts are present in black and white. Little wonder there is already a campaign for a second tenure, when the present is nothing short of nightmarish and stacked with millions of demons.

These devotees do not want their master to understand that he is living in a different world, other than the one he is ruling. They fan his ego and push his thoughts to longevity and consolidation, attributes akin to deities. They are the go-between, and they care for nothing but to defend their master and then prove their relevance to anyone that cares to know. Lai Mohammed is one of such. Eventhough the pronunciation of his name adds a little humour to that fact. He had not tasted the power that he has now, when he talked about helicopters during the Jonathan administration. I bet he must feel the need to recant those words. Nowthat he is the oracle of the gods, the chief devotee; he will not want just a helicopter, but a fleet of fighter jets announcing his entrance into Lagos state. Hehas carved a niche for himself, and he too, like his master, has gone imperial.

But the truth is that even, he and all the other devotees that worshipped their master in Lagos did not notice that the people suffered in traffic lockdown. Hitherto, they thought that it was a thing peculiar to the PDP/Jonathan administration. They thought that Nigeria has become so better under the APC, that perhaps the roads have become as wide as the ones in California, that the railroads are now underground and the lagoon is dotted with hundreds of ferries. They felt that the hundreds of people that enter Lagos everyday come in by flights,and that the people will have nothing but joy in their hearts as they welcome the god-emperor and his devotees. They have stayed so steadily under roofs that experience no power failure that they have begun to see hardworking Nigerians as lazy and architects of their own misfortune. They live in Nigeria, but they do not see what is happening in Nigeria.

Yet, as much as these politicians strive to deny the truth and deify incompetence; the sad outcome is written all over Nigeria. When Danjuma released his bomb, the truth was too hard to swallow and they all hid their faces. TY Danjuma openly denounced the god worship that is going on and urged the peoples of Nigeria to think for themselves. It was he, who for once, hit the nail hard on the head, sending splinters of it to pierce the eyes of the on-looking devotees of a nepotism-infested and ethnic-cleansing regime that heeds no warnings. His, was a voice in faraway Taraba, akin to that of John the Baptist. A voice that must have resonated in the minds of thousands of people who trekked to work the day the president visited Lagos. It reminded them that this country is now… to all defend yourself. A voice that simply uttered the sad truth that people often took to prayer, in mosques and churches. The truth that Nigeria is not just in a lockdown, but is also dying.

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