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Olunloyo and the `Wild, Wild West’, by Fani-Kayode

Olunloyo and the `Wild, Wild West’, by 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.

Agreement
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.

June 12
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?’’

APGA
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.

Ojukwu betrayal
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

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About Larigold

Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist. He has a degree in hydrology from the University of Agriculture Abeokuta and a professional diploma in journalism from the American College of Journalism. Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He's @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter

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