April 28, 2021

Inside story of Awolowo’s political revolution

By Ayo Opadokun

By Ayo Opadokun

By Ayo Opadokun

The Action Group was publicly inaugurated at the historical hall on the hill in Owo, Town in Ondo Province on the 28th of April 1951 and had representatives from 22 out of the 24 Administrative Divisions of the Western Region. AFENIFERE, therefore, could not have been created by anybody recently as was attemptedly claimed in revisionism to fit for the purpose of a private agenda. What is true and factual were that:

After the inauguration of the Action Group in Owo, the leaders returned to Ibadan to campaign and for a public inauguration and presentation. There and then people were asking what was going to be the interpretation of the meaning of Action Group in Yoruba language.

The first meeting of the group was attended by:

1.Mr. S. O. Shonibare

2.Chief Abiodun Akerele
3.Chief S. T. Oredein
4.Mr. Olatunji Dosumu
5.Mr. J. Ola Adigun
6.Mr. Adeyiga Akinsanya
7.Mr. Ayo Akinsanya; out of a possible 60 persons invited.

After the first military insurrection of January 15, 1966, the Military Junta under General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi issued series of decrees that suspended and abrogated the 1960 & the 1963 Republican Federal Constitutions to give itself some semblance of legitimacy.

Let it, therefore, be stated again and for posterity that the negotiated 1960 Independence Constitution which was amended to produce the 1963 Republican Federal Constitution remained the only legitimately produced constitution that was democratically subscribed to by Nigerians.

Nigerians have not been given the democratic rights to produce an Autochthonous Constitution but rather, the Military Junta have severally imposed decrees called “Constitutions” that have unitarised and centralised Nigeria for the undue advantage of a section of Nigeria till date.

Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the new Military Head of State and Commander In-Chief on the 24th of May 1966 issued supplement to Official Gazette Extraordinary No. 51, Vol. 53, 1966 part A in a THE PUBLIC ORDER DECREE 1966 where in section 1 he announced the Dissolution of Political Parties, Tribal Unions and Cultural Organizations.

In schedule, Part 1, Section 1 and 12, the gazette listed the Political Societies or Associations. 84 Political Parties and Organisations that were dissolved. Along with that, the decree also dissolved 26 Tribal and Cultural Associations. The names were contained in the decree that is hereby annexed as Annexure 2 with explanatory remarks.

As soon as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the sage left and resigned from General Gowon’s Government, on July 1, 1971, (General Gowon’s response to Chief Awolowo’s resignation is hereby attached as Annexure 3), he and his closest allies started to brainstorm on the prospect for Nigerian political future ie the Second Republic. The group eventually crystallised into what was known as “The Committee of Friends”.

Part of their resolutions had to do with the name to be adopted for whatever political organization they formed. The Committee was composed of star studied people in several respect, quite a number of old faithful and respectable guards of the Action Group were the initial frontliners.

They were mindful of the Military Decree No. 33, A. 149 of 24th May, 1966 which had dissolved Political Parties Societies and tribal organizations and the transition decree of Muritala/Obasanjo government which prohibited any linkage with the First Republic Political Parties.

Arising from the variously adopted policy options, the group adopted the name UNITY PARTY OF NIGERIA, UPN which was a National Political Party but was equally known as EGBE IMOLE in Yoruba land. So, AG/AFENIFERE became muted.

However, as Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s unending political transition agenda was evolving after the transition to glory of the AVARTAR, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN, the former Governors of the UPN commenced meetings under the Chairmanship of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, CFR, in Owo and was called Owo Group for sometimes before the group became People’s Consultative Forum, PCF.

At the first meeting of the Governors, the meeting decided to invite me to join their next meeting and to be its General Secretary and Spokesman. That was how I served the organization for 15years honourarily.

At a meeting held in Chief Bola Ige’s, Ibadan residence sometimes in 1992 we examined the prospect of adopting a name for our organization.

ALSO READ: How to turn Nigeria to true federalism

A committee was constituted to verify whether or not Afenifere was among the organizations dissolved. The report of the committee was received at a meeting held in the Lagos, Ilupeju residence of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (now late).

ALSO READ: The undying legacy of Oodua

The report findings indicated that Afenifere was not listed in the Military Decree of May 1966. Members were happy to rename the group with its original appellation, AFENIFERE. The Gazette is already attached to this piece for ease of reference as Annexure 2.

After the death of the most brutal dictator, Gen Sani Abacha and the emergence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, GCFR, we eventually reverted to our familiar MOVEMENT name. How did it happen?

There was a Southern Leadership Forum which was holding in Chief Olu Falae’s house many times in 1998. Hitherto, in the absence of Senator Abraham Adesanya who was abroad, Chief Ige who presided at an Afenifere meeting in Ijebu-Igbo read out dates for meetings he had fixed with other political organizations.

And about four of us from Afenifere met with the Umaru Shinkafi Group for about one hour at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja in a business manner like but which revealed that he had met severally with the group and perhaps reached some agreement to which we were not privileged to know until later from outside sources.

Meanwhile, the MOVEMENT had asked me sometimes in September 1998 to attend a meeting with groups which later established the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and was hosted by Prof Jerry Gana. The Movement nominated Chief Bola Ige and Ayo Adebanjo to also attend the second meeting.

When Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu and Dr Sola Saraki were sighted by the duo, who were my own seniors, the duo asked us to withdraw our participation because we should not be found associating with such people. After a lot of exchange of views, with many colleagues, we rejoined the meeting. Chief Bola Ige was appointed to chair the Constitutional Drafting Committee and I was appointed as the Secretary. The meetings were to be held at MUSON CENTRE, Onikan, Lagos.

On the date that we returned to Chief Falae’s house for a continuation of the Southern Leadership Forum meeting, Chief Falae was abroad.

The meeting was dispirited when Chief Bola Ige informed members that we should not attend the Constitution Drafting Committee meeting because, he had it on good authority that the group had made up its mind as to who will be its presidential candidate. I opposed this position by restating that we were in a vantage position to marshal out superior arguments that could enable us win the coveted ticket. But I was alone because Senator Adesanya himself was absent.

Later on, the meeting decided that we should go to Abuja to hold a crucial meeting with the Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi group, a day before the National Convention to agree as to whether or not we could jointly form a political party together. Chief Olu Lulu Briggs (now late) was elected to be our Team Leader. And the meeting was fixed for 7. 0clock pm at NICON HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA.

However, for reasons that should not be discussed here, it happened that Chief Ige had gone ahead to hold a meeting with the Shinkafi group around 7pm, and at about 10pm he came out to invite Chief Adebanjo. When the rest of us waited till 1am, without being invited to attend the scheduled meeting, we all moved to Chief Lulu Briggs suite and we concluded there and then not to have anything to do with whatever may be the resolution from the ongoing meeting with the Shinkafi group from which we were alienated.

Even though we never planned to form a Political Party when we left Lagos, the event recorded here led us to decide to form our own political party. Chief Bola Ige on return to his suite was dispirited when we met him and he returned to Lagos the following morning and played no part in the registration of AD/Afenifere.

Unfortunately, one of those with us in Chief Briggs suite was a plant of the Adedibu collective. We were shocked to find out in the morning when we got to INEC office to find that the name ACTION CONGRESS/ACTION ALLIANCE which were our first choices had been applied for just about an hour earlier by Alhaji Adedibu’s lieutenant.

Therefore, we had to utilize our industry and reach to adopt the name ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY, AD. The process to get a befitting Constitutional Draft, Manifesto, Logo, Emblem, Slogan were arrived at. We amended a draft constitution which I took along just for exigencies and apportioned responsibilities. Mr (now Dr. Jimmy Imo) handled manifesto, Senator Mrs Kofo Akerele Bucknor handled logo and emblem. The duo are alive to confirm the authenticity of this information. And just before the 5pm deadline we were able to submit our application along with the necessary requirement at the INEC National Headquarters Office.

It is critical to state for all to hear this, that it was the names contained in the Register of AFENIFERE in all Yoruba States including Kwara and Kogi that were used to register Alliance for Democracy.

AFENIFERE therefore, was the platform upon which the AD was constructed and upon which the six candidates in Yoruba States contested and won. AD was the National Name, but songs/lyrics were waxed on Afenifere whose leadership had been the FRONTLINERS of the NADECO struggle. So when for reasons best known but certainly not for the group interest some elected and Afenifere Leaders started to insist on separation of AD from Afenifere, they knew they were playing dirty politics.

The younger folks from New Generation and Idile Groups who in 1999 commended our steadfastness and resilience and courage to provide leadership for the Yoruba Nation against the onslaught of violent repression and humiliation by Gen. Sanni Abacha also appealed to us that they were ready to assist Afenifere to consolidate its credible leadership. And after about 3 to 4 months they were permitted to send 5 representatives each to attend Afenifere meetings. This was there maiden encounter and involvement in Afenifere. AD/Afenifere had already installed 6 Governors before they came to join Afenifere.

It is always suicidal to demystify the platform on which you were elected into political office because the myth would have been deflated and could not be available again for your use. The then President Obasanjo who wanted to win power in the South West at all cost in order to be allowed to run for the second term on the PDP platform used a senior member of Afenifere to weaken the organisation by influencing some governors to treat Afenifere’s advice with levity.

Furthermore, the same external influence forced an impostor, named Alhaji Abdulkadir, unknown to most of those who formed the AD, as the Chairman of the party. The rest is history as they say.

However, the performances of most of the six governors of AD/Afenifere were relatively commendable and pace setting as that of their forebares in the Action Group and the UPN of the 1st and 2nd Republics.

For example, each of them continued with the Free Education Programme with some modifications and that enabled many poor people’s children to enroll into public schools. Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State succeeded in expanding the revenue base of Lagos State beyond expectation.

The consequence of that was that he was able to deliver some appreciable infrastructures and services that were relatively novel at that time. Chief Bisi Akande, the Osun State Governor with his very low receipt from the Federation Account delivered impactful services including the construction of an enviable State Secretariat that remain his everlasting legacy and many rural roads without borrowing a dime throughout his tenure.

There was no area of Ogun State that did not experience the development programme of Aremo Segun Osoba as the Governor (helmsman) of Ogun State.

Chief Lam Adesina and Otunba Niyi Adebayo were spectacularly commendable as Governors of Oyo and Ekiti State respectively particularly because they struggled to continue with the free education programme that the Action Group/Afenifere’s Government led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced in 1955.

My dear Commander-in-Chief,
You will recall that in a statement made by me and published in the SUNDAY TIMES of March 30, 1969, I declared, among other things, as follows:
“Even at the federal level, I have no desire whatsoever, and I certainly cannot be tempted or induced to develop one, to head, or participate in an unelected or even an electoral-college elected civil administration in a military or any setting.
At the moment, I am participating in the activities of the military government because I have been invited, and I also think it is right, so to do. I am, therefore, obliged, morally and for the purpose of keeping Nigeria united, to take part, as fully as I can, in any measure designed, in particular, to keep the Ibos as a constituent ethnic unit in the federation of Nigeria, enjoying equal and identical status and benefits with other ethnic units, and in general, to preserve Nigeria as an economic and political entity.”
I should have, in accordance with this declaration, relinquished my present offices soon after the end of the civil war in January last year. But one main matter decided me against such an immediate course of action. As you know, before January 1970, the four-year development and reconstruction plan had been under active preparation, and it had been hoped that it would be launched early in the 1970/71 fiscal year. It was my strong desire to participate in the consideration of this plan. As it turned out, however, the plan was not actually considered until August 1970.
By that time, three other factors had supervened. First, the capital estimates for 1970/71 had been delayed until the launching of the four-year development plan, which did not take place until November last year. At this late stage, I decided that the capital estimates of 1970/71 should be incorporated into those of 1971/72.
Second, by November 1970, the time for the introduction of the 1971/72 budget was only some four months away.
Third, as from September 1970, our foreign exchange position had started to undergo an unusual rapid deterioration. It occurred to me, in all these circumstances:
That it would be untidy for me to leave without completing the budget for 1970/71; That it would be hardly fair to my successor for me to leave at a time when preparations for the 1970/71 budget had actively begun under my direction, and; That it might be interpreted in some circles as an act of bad faith for me to leave at a time when our foreign exchange was in such a bad state, and no sensible formula had been found for arresting its deterioration.
Now with the peace and unity of our great country fully restored and firmly re-established; with the four-year development plan already considered and launched and the capital estimates for 1970/71 completed; with the 1971/72 budget done and a reasonable solution devised for our acute foreign exchange, I feel free to act in accordance with one of my fundamental beliefs, referred to in paragraph 1 above, and publicly declared on March 10, 1969-EIGHTEEN CLEAR MONTHS before the military government’s political programme was announced by you on October 1, 1970.
I would, therefore, like to notify you that, with effect from July 1, 1971, I am no longer willing to continue in the offices of federal commissioner for Finance and vice-president of the Federal Executive Council.
Supplementary to the forgoing, there is another important reason for my present action. After four truly (I hesitate to say exceedingly) exacting (though thoroughly stimulating and educative) years in the Federal Ministry of Finance which, throughout the period, was incessantly beset with fiscal and monetary problems of unprecedented dimensions, and of peculiarly complex and tantalizing nature, I deem it to be in the interest of my continued good health to have a complete change of full-time occupation.
As to my future plan, I have decided to go back to legal practice. I also want to seize the opportunity, which the military government’s six-year political programme provides, to write, if my professional engagement permit, three books which have always been very much on my mind. The research connected with two of these books will take me to selected developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well to ECA and OAU secretariats in Addis Ababa, the offices of some United Nations agencies in New York, and London University.
I would like to state that though, by this resignation, I am leaving your government and literary activities as mentioned above, it does not mean that I am completely relinquishing all public services to our country and people.
On the contrary, it is my resolve to continue, in all circumstances and until my life’s end, to see the best interests of our fatherland, and promote the welfare and happiness of our people, in every way possible.
In this connection, I would like to assure you that I shall always be willing, on a purely AD HOC basis and providing my professional commitments permit, to render, at your request and without any remuneration whatsoever, any particular service which is within my competence to give.
After my appointment in 1967, I submitted to you a STATEMENT OF AFFAIRS (i.e. OF MY ASSETS AND LIABILITIES) as at June 30, 1967. In keeping with the code of conduct to which I subscribed, I am obliged to send you my statement of affairs as at June 30, 1971. It is, however, not possible to send the statement along with this letter. But my accountants are already working on it and as soon as it is finalized up to June 30, 1971, I shall forward it to you.
In closing, I would like, in all sincerity, to say two things:
Firstly, I have tremendously enjoyed working with you; and it is not without considerable reluctance, therefore, that I have to take this step.
Secondly, I will always remember with deep gratitude, your kindness to me in releasing me from prison, and in giving me, within a year of my release, an opportunity to serve our people of Nigeria once again in a ministerial capacity, and at a time when the very existence of our fatherland was in grave peril.
With best wishes to Victoria and your good self, and love to Ibrahim.
Yours very sincerely,
My dear Chief,
I wish to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated June3, 1971, intimating me of your decision to relinquish your appointments as the vice-president of the Federal Executive Council and Federal Commissioner for Finance with effect from July 1, 1971.
For some time, there have been rumours about your leaving the government, but I was sure, however, that if there was such an intention you would have not hesitated to notify me.
Since I know that you must have taken your decision after the most careful consideration, no useful purpose would be served by any attempt to make you change your mind.
It is, therefore, with the greatest regret and reluctance that I have to concede to your request. In accepting your decision, I would like to place on record my personal appreciation of your most valuable contribution to our achievements during the last four years.
You have earned for yourself respect from all of us who have seen you at close quarters, for your patriotism, coupled with a strong well-meaning conviction on issues of national importance.
I respect your maturity, objectivity, and sagacity, all of which you placed at my disposal; above all, for your advice and co-operation at all times.
Your outstanding performance as this government’s Commissioner for Finance during one of the most critical and turbulent periods of our history will always be remembered. You demonstrated, consistently, great courage, forthrightness, leadership, and a spirit of understanding which helped us to get out of our financial disaster.
That we did not succumb to the temptation to devalue our currency during the crisis and were able to win the war entirely out of our own resources and face resolutely the immediate post-war problems of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation was due, in no small measures, to your skill in the management of our finances.
I am aware that your position in this government, particularly as Commissioner for Finance, will be difficult to fill. However, I have a consolation in the fact that during your tenure of office, you laid a sound foundation on which your successors could build and carry on the good work.
I have no doubt that, at this moment, you will have the feeling that you have done your best. I share your feelings, too; and wish to extend my appreciation of the contribution of your dear wife who had to bear more than her share of domestic burdens as a result of your public assignment.
I am glad to note and to accept your offer to hold yourself in readiness for assignment which the Federal Government may consider necessary to give you even when you will no longer be directly associated with public life.
Since there will be occasions soon for me and your colleagues in government to state our assessment of your contribution to the service of this nation in the last four years, I now merely wish to say how sorry I am to lose your services. We will miss your great sense of humour, your debating ability and useful suggestions at all times.
On behalf of myself, your colleagues on the Federal Executive Council, and the people of our great country, I wish you many more years of useful life.
My wife and Ibrahim join me in wishing you every success in your next sphere of life.
Yours most sincerely,
Read full statement here