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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Adegoke Adelabu “Penkelemesi”: Sixty Years of Passage, By Femi Kehinde

Adegoke was simply nonpareil; he was in fact a genius. Despite all these academic attainments, he also believed that the best of him was yet to come, when he said: “I had everything to rejoice over, but I lamented. I was successful, but I was dissatisfied. Happiness eluded me like the miraculous mirage of the desert.”

Despite being a studious and serious student at the Yaba College and also on the U.A.C scholarship, he quit his studies, according to him: “To prove my mettle.”
He was instantly employed by the U.A.C, as its first African Manager in the produce section and later the singlet factory section of the Haberdashery department. He was in the U.A.C for four years and later joined the civil service for seven years in the cooperative department and eventually, for another five years, he ran his own business as a private entrepreneur. He later sojourned into partisan politics, from where he rose from comparative obscurity, into so strong a lime light that he completely dazzled and baffled his opponents and admirers.
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At the first meeting with Adelabu, one would be easily amazed by his strength, resourcefulness and also how he managed to get the magnetic force with which he captured his followers to the point of fanaticism. His admirers usually called him “portable Ade” and one would also easily wonder, according to him, “how my enemies would enjoy carrying a small keg of explosives?”
There was a common saying in Ibadan then that, “if you do not know Adelabu, then you do not know any man worthy of his name.”
To the native Ibadan man then, Adelabu was the only “Omo Okunrin” or better still “Alagbara” (the strong one). Adelabu, easily dazzled by his own accomplishments said that, “Despite an unparalled record of intellectual achievements in the classroom, considerable success in recreational games and athletic sports, respect from my subordinates, encouragement from my masters, I had everything to rejoice over, but I lamented, I was successful but dissatisfied.”
He had a steady and turbulent rise in politics. He was a councillor, chairman of the Ibadan Divisional Council, member of the Western House of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives on the platform of the NCNC, the western secretary of the NCNC, and later rose steadily from the rank and file of the everyday politician to hold the post of minister of natural resources and social services after the federal election of 1954.
The story goes that during campaigns for election, while others were talking themselves hoarse, Adelabu won over his supporters through inspiring songs to which all and sundry danced along in the streets of his constituency.
Adelabu revelled in the pomp of the worshiped and did not conceal his love for the worship. As a restless and busy politician, he told a journalist during a press interview, “I can only spare you a few minutes”; and when he got down to business, he refused to sit down, and he said, “I talk better when walking about.”
Adegoke Adelabu admitted to egotism. In his book, Africa in Ebullition, he said:
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“I am a deliberate egotist. I do not regret it, I do not apologise. My philosophy is that the world would be much better and happier if we would only dare to be ourselves completely instead of being faded copies of other unknown and misunderstood mythical heroes.”
Adegoke Adelabu was ambitious and introspective. Once, he shouted to an Ibadan crowd, “I am greater than Zik!” Not even as a federal minister did he show any inhibitions. He converted his ministerial quarters, No 15, Alexander Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, to a meeting place of the declassed or talakawas or the common man or the beggars.
Every morning, the drummers and praise singers he took to Lagos from Ibadan, would wake the elitist neighbourhood of Ikoyi up with drumming and singing, eulogising the exploits of the Ibadan great man and grassroots politician. The Europeans or “Oyinbos” in the neighbourhood protested vehemently against this early morning nuisance and also addressed a press conference. Adelabu, in his usual style, made minced meat of this protest, asking them to go back to their country, if they did not like his style and that was the end of the protest.
As minister in the federal government, Adelabu was given an official car, which he took to his constituency in Ibadan and summoned a meeting. After the meeting at his Oke-Oluokun residence, he asked his constituents to ride in the car in a group of four, from the residence to Beere round about, to savour the joy of a ministerial ride. This audacious act hit the newspaper headlines the following day, “Talakawas ride in ministerial car”.
In 1956, Adelabu Adegoke left the federal parliament, and soon after he faced a series of criminal charges, ranging from bribery and corruption to disturbing the peace. From all these, Adelabu emerged unblemished to continue his fight for the downtrodden.
During this trial, his admirers went on the streets of Ibadan singing and eulogising him with the popular song,
“Adelabu ma ko owo wa na!
Igunnu loni Tapa, tapo loni igunnu!”
(i.e. “Adelabu steal our money the more!
Igunni owns Tapa, Tapa owns Igunni!)”
Adelabu’s first voyage into politics was at the meeting of an NCNC mission led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who came to Ibadan to raise funds for the party. Adegoke listened to the missionaries, donated four guineas, but did not join the party as a card carrying member, until about five years later, when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was called again, with other party members, to help solve the Fijabi/Agbaje chieftaincy tangle. Adegoke was one of the citizens who sailed forth to welcome Dr. Azikiwe, but he did not stop there. When Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe got up to make his speech, Adegoke got up to interpret the speech to the Yorubas.
The two prophets had met and there was no parting of ways until death. Before Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe left Ibadan back for Lagos, they had formed the Ibadan Grand Alliance and Adegoke had been appointed as its first secretary. A year later, he became vice president of the Western Committee of the NCNC and a leading NCNC member in the Ibadan People’s Party, which later merged with the NCNC. He did not find things easy. Within his party, were a few elements with dual loyalties – to the NCNC and the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a cultural organisation.
On December 1, 1951, Adegoke Adelabu, who had described himself as, “A strong man and the political voice of the West”, suffered a political master stroke. Five of the elected members: Chief A.M.A Akinloye, Chief D.T Akinbiyi, Chief S. Owoola Lanlehin, Chief Moyosore Aboderin, and Chief S.A Akinyemi, all of the Ibadan People’s Party-NCNC Alliance, attended an Action Group rally. Adegoke commented about this acidly that, “the long awaited proof of treachery has arrived.”
Adegoke resented this disloyalty by opening up a salvo against the partiesd involved in the Southern Nigeria Defender newspaper, with a serialised, devastating and documented attack titled, “A stab on the back”.
The Ibadan desertion blasted his hope of an NCNC majority in the Western House of Assembly. On the 7th of January 1952, only 25 members of the NCNC could be mobilised in the House. Adegoke wrote about this that, “On the Day of Shame – January 7, 1952 – only 25 NCNC members could be mustered in the Assembly. The motley crew of mercenary careerists trooped in with their badge(s) of shareholding in Political Booty Ltd. And among them, pale and guilty, the five deserters from Ibadan! Everyone held their breath at the shamelessness of men born of women and the whole house sat spell-bound.”
But if Adegoke Adelabu had failed to become the leader of the government of Western Nigeria, through his steadfastness to the NCNC, he became the leader of the people of Ibadan. In his speech to his loyal followers, he bade defiance to the Action Group and took an oath to fight it, until his last day on earth. He kept his oath. Then came, in 1954, the local government election to the Ibadan District Council. During the electioneering campaign, Adegoke was everywhere. He was seen taking time off from the political campaign and speech making to drinking Tombo (native wine) with the masses of the people.
Adelabu had become a one man political circus. He knew, to his fingertips, what the people wanted; above all, he had learnt one lesson in mass psychology: that being ridiculous is the only form of notoriety that does not kill a politician. When the results of the council elections were announced, Adelabu and his grand alliances had won all the seats. A few days later, he was made the chairman of the Ibadan District Council.
The year 1955 saw him at the Zenith of his powers. He was appointed a federal minister of social services. But political enemies were at work and an enquiry into the workings of the Ibadan District Council was appointed. The commission found a lot of unsavoury details against him and the council. He reluctantly resigned his post as federal minister, but refused to resign as Council chairman, until the Council was dissolved two months later.
The people of Ibadan were shocked and displeased, but a bigger shock was in store. A few months after the dissolution, Adegoke, together with other councillors, were charged with corruption.
He was acquitted and discharged, only to be rearrested and charged with a number of other offences. Again, he was acquitted and discharged and the whole cacophony of arrests, charges, acquittals and discharges ran into a couple of tens and snowballed into a legend that the victim and hero, Adegoke Adelabu, was a man “they can never get”.
After his trials, Adegoke found himself in political doldrums. The fire of his enemies had pinned him down. A chance for further activity did not occur until 1957. The political leaders of Nigeria had been summoned to London, to review the constitution of the country. Adegoke went with his party’s delegation. After this, nothing substantial was heard of Adegoke Adelabu for many months, except that he had gone to Mecca and returned an Alhaji. It was said that he was biding his time, resting.
Then on March 25, 1958 came another sensational story about the man whose whole life had been like a meteoric flame. The story was that Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was dead! How did he die? Some said he had been shot. Some said he was killed by juju. Many others said he was run over by political enemies.
The fantastic story of his death had gone around Ibadan.
Alhaji Adelabu dead? Impossible! But if he was dead, others would surely have to die with him! Down with his killers! Down with all those who have hands in his death! Kill and burn them. Spare no one. Let no one live after Ade! Over his grave let us March!
That was the shout of the Ibadan masses and it was no idle cry. Ibadan became a besieged and enraged city. To avenge his death, twenty people, possibly including those who did not know him in person, were done to death by the irate crowd. Many houses were set on fire. Much property was lost.
When the law recovered from the shock, it recovered by arresting 564 persons. Of these, 102 stood trial for murder, 25 were acquitted and discharged by the lower court, and seventy seven were sent to face the assizes.
After a volcanic life and a equally volcanic death, with the souls of twenty men keeping him company, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, the colossal egotist, the god and prophet of Ibadan, must still, if there is an afterlife, be stepping it off to a brass band and bugle, to keep his rendezvous with the noble and gallant pack, consisting of all the manic personages who had, with lines of fire, stamped their names on the face of our world.
Adegoke Adelabu was certainly the architect of grassroots politics in Ibadan and with him went a certain glamour from Ibadan politics. He was popularly known as “Penkelemensi”, i.e. peculiar mess, which was his usual refrain when making contributions on the floor of the Western Region House of Assembly.
It is also interesting to note that a number of Ibadan politicians and elites have benefited tremendously from Adegoke Adelabu’s political legacy.
Chief Mojeed Agbaje, Richard Akinjide, Adeoye Adisa and many others, would forever remember him in glowing tributes.
Akinjide, who qualified as a lawyer on March 4, 1956, came back home to join the grassroots politics of Adelabu, who had found Akinjide’s legal prowess amazing, in the celebrated case of slapping a customary court judge, D.T. Akinbiyi (later Olubadan). Akinjide was the younger counsel to Dingle Foot Q.C, the British lawyer hired by Adelabu for his defence. As a payback, Akinjide was elected into the federal parliament at the age of 27, in 1959, with an official emolument of £840 per annual, i.e. £70 a month. He later became a minister in 1965 at the age of 34.
Adelabu’s sudden exist ignited a massive eruption in Ibadan’s political firmament and a lot of distinguished personalities paid glowing tributes to this stormy petrel.
Chief H.O Davies, a frontline Nigerian nationalist painted this epithet, “Adelabu’s life, in my mind, appears to have been something like a meteor, which shines with conspicuous brilliance for a short period and disappears again into the unknown.”
This was further corroborated by his friend and classmate in Government College, Professor Saburi Biobaku, who also commented in his condolence remarks that, “maybe he was one of those rare phenomena who dazzled the world by their brilliancy only to leave behind memories of what might have been.”
Anthony Enahoro, a colleague parliamentarian, also said of Alhaji Adelabu as a man, “Who fought for his successes and he never ceased to rise above his misfortunes.”
His friend and colleague in the federal parliament and also prime minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in his tribute in the Daily Times of March 27, 1958 said that, “Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was an intellectual and his capacity was recognised by his opponents” and that, “if anybody died fighting for a cause, it was Adelabu. His death was not only a loss to NCNC, but to all politicians in the country. I am really sad about his death.”
His friend and leader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, while expressing his regret on the painful exist of Penkelemensi, also said of him that he was, “A man of conviction and did not disguise his feelings on any particular issue” and that he was, “a man of amazing intelligence, ready wit and uncanning understanding of human nature.”
Chief Remi Fani Kayode, the then Action Group Chief Whip in the Federal House of Representatives also said in his eulogy that, “Forget the man’s faults, which of us is faultless? Remember his courage, his dogged will, his ardent belief in the masses, in the common people of our fatherland and the great faith of his own people on him.”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the then Premier of the Western Region, summed up the popular sentiment, when he said, “Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was, in his life time, and ever since he entered politics, a fighter first and last, with all the characteristics of a fighter. He was fearless, formidable, forthright, often caustic and uncompromising. In his death, the NCNC had lost a very able, indomitable and extremely resourceful leader and Nigeria, a most colourful, versatile and undoubted nationalist.”
Penkelemensi lived a highly organised life. At the beginning of 1955 in his diary, he had calculated his expected earnings and expenditure of the new year and wrote:
1. As federal minister – £3,200
2. Various allowances to cover entertainment, ministerial house upkeep – £1,700
3. As chairman of Ibadan Local Council – £1,500
4. Profit from business ventures – £600.
On another paper, he wrote out his expected expenditure for the new year
1. Vehicle maintenance – £900
2. Social obligations – £600
3. Food – £480
4. Drinks – £360
5. Light – £120
6. Tax – £60.
The death of Adegoke Adelabu pained the Ibadan folks so much that when Chief S.L.A Akintola faced similar recriminations and despair, after he was expelled from the Action Group, at the National Conference of the party in Jos in February 1962, he was derided by some party members; he had begged the leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, while the Yoruba traditional rulers and religious leaders, like Bishop Odutola, Bishop Akinyele, Bishop Jadesinmi and a host of others had waded in, but the rift could not be settled.
When they got back from Jos, Akintola’s supporters went on a mass protest, carrying placards and singing derisive political songs:
“Akintola Ose Pa!
Eyin tee pete pero te pa Adelabu,
Akintola Osee pa.”
“Akintola cannot be killed.
Those of you who conspired to kill Adelabu,
Akintola cannot be killed”
This insinuated that Adelabu’s death on March 25, 1958 was not natural.
The story of the passage of Adegoke Adelabu was equally strange and interesting. Unusually, he woke up his household at about 4:30 a.m., had his morning prayers, shaved, bathed and did his other toiletries, before having his usual breakfast of akamu (pap), and summoning his young children for a meeting.
As recalled by his first daughter, Adedoyin Jagun, who was about eight years st the time, her father, Adegoke Adelabu, admonished them early on that morning that,
“Elo mu ara yin se giri
Ori lomo ibi ti ese nre”
“You should all work hard and be up and doing, it is only the head that knows where it is to go with the feet.”
At about 7:00 a.m., he entered a Peugeot 205 car that belonged to his white friend, a Syrian British national, who had come from Lagos to pick him on a business trip.
He called his aides, Adeleke and Ganiyu, and bade them goodbye. Adegoke Adelabu left no single penny in his bank account. The two houses he had in Oke Ado, he had sold and kept the money in the bank until later, when he withdrew the funds gradually, to cater for the poor of Ibadan. He left his Oke-Oluokun residence as his only property. Adelabu also took loans from the bank to buy the Auxmobile car with registration Number, IB-121, which he used as a private car.
After his death, a number of his political aides, supporters and admirers came to the instant aid of his children. The late Aminu Kano helped to train one of Adelabu’s children in secondary school, the late Vincent Ikeotunonye trained Adedoyin – his daughter, K.O Mbadiwu trained Aderemi, and the NCNC Central Committee trained Adekumbi up till the secondary school level, whilst the late Rev. Akin Aduwo also gave a scholarship to one of the children.
The late Chief Bola Ige, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Arisekola Alao and Alaafin of Oyo, Oba (Dr.) Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III and other early admirers of the politics, learning, diction, erudition and brilliance of Penkelemesi, had also at one point or the other, assisted the family.
Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, being so enamoured with the life and times of Adegoke Adelabu, would easily, always, regale his audience, at any given opportunity, with memorised verses of Adegoke Adelabu’s memorable quotable quotes.
The glory of Adegoke Adelabu Penkelemesi, will continue to gather legendary coatings as the years go by and as the story of his greatness passes from one generation to another.

Femi Kehinde is a former member of the House of Representatives, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State between 1999 and 2003.

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