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Adegoke Adelabu: Return of the Nationalist in the Peculiar Age of Ethnic Irredentism

Title of Book: Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the grave

Author: Alamu Muda-Ayeni

Publisher: Newton House Publications, Ibadan

Year of Publication: 2011

Pages: 110

Price: Not stated

Reviewer: Aderemi Raji-Oyelade

 

In the opening pages of Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the grave (2011), Alamu Muda-Ayeni states inter alia:

If his name sounds strange to many a Nigerian today, it is either because they were yet to be born in his day, or were otherwise too young to be conscious of their political environment; to others, in particular the now elder statesmen and society leaders, the name immediately brings sweet memories of a bygone comrade, a witty, controversial and melodramatic political personality the nation once produced. (14)

I was not born when Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu seized upon the imagination of Ibadan and other cities towns and villages which made up the fledgling and emerging country called Nigeria. But thanks to History, I mean the combination of the recorded and oral histories, especially the history that walked on the rooftops of our fathers’ and mothers’ lips: the story of Adelabu’s genius and political escapades filled our homestead, and we always came away with a vivid remembrance of a fearless, principled and stupendously popular man. Although I was not born when Adelabu “Akande-Iji, Omo Oloye Igbeti” died in questionable circumstance, talk of the man remained a permanent fixture in the family house. I would come to know later from my mother why Adelabu would always be of personal historical significance, in fact an important marker in our life: my older brother was born in the momentous hour of Adelabu’s death on March 20, 1958.

I remember too that for a couple of years an Adegoke Adelabu calendar, with the sobriquet “Lion of the West”, hung in a hallowed corner of father’s sitting room in the southeastern part of the inner city of Ibadan, at Kudeti area, some playing metres away from the Oke-Oluokun residence of the politician who had come to symbolize the irrepressible and independent spirit of the true Ibadan person. In those heady days of Nigeria’s First Republic politics, Adelabu achieved fame as a nationalist who opted to build alliance across his own geopolitical border, thus contributing immensely to the foundation of modern Nigeria. Precocious, fearless and blunt, Adelabu was imbued with the intelligence of the radical and rationalist for him to know that the narrative of nation-building could only be scripted by the union of the peoples and their representatives who make up the nation. Next and comparable to such first-rate and colourful statesmen like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Malam Aminu Kano, Dr. Michael Okpara, Chief Dennis Osadebey and Chief Ladoke Akintola, the life of Alhaji Adelabu was the stuff of real legend.

The book before us today is a peculiar material. It belongs in the rare body of books that write about, comment on and echo the substance of another book; it has the unique character of a measured commentary on another author’s original treatise; being a book on another book, we must call it by its rightful name. Alamu-Ayeni’s Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the graveis a metameric textual creation in honour and deference to the vision of Adegoke Adelabu, that stormy petrel of Ibadan and Nigerian politics, the versatile, erudite and truly honorable nationalist, the self-assured capsule of egotistic energy, and as well, a compulsive achiever in many a field including scholarship, sports, business, journalism, oratory and statesmanship.

The subject of discourse is as much the discourse about the incipience of the Nigerian nation, mainly the idea of freedom, and the struggle with the angels and demons of colonialism and neo-colonialism. A review of Alamu Muda-Ayeni’s book cannot but be an analytic recall, a meta-critical examination of Africa in Ebullition, the Adelabu mantra and vision about freedom, liberty per se, in all its ramifications, freedom from both white imperialism and black oligarchy.

As a labour of love and return, Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the gravecan also be said to belong to the unique order of literary necromancy. Quite rightly signified by the key-title of the book, Muda-Ayeni has achieved an intertextual exhumation of Adelabu from relative amnesia into conscionable presence, from pure lethargy into vital remembrance.

The sociology of Africa in Ebullitionshows that it has been reprinted three times up till date between 1988 and 2008. It was first republished on the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Adelabu in 1988; in 2005, it was repackaged for the Jericho Business Club by Yinka Adelabu and Lekan Olagunju§; and in 2008, it appeared under the imprint of Board Publications Limited. With the publication of Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the grave(2011), Muda-Ayeni has added a new dimension to the sparingly growing archive of commentaries and treatises on the philosophy of the Adelabu enigma. The book reads to me as a shadow of the former, practically including whole chapters of the original treatise of the legendary politician.

Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the grave is a 110-page book divided into three parts, the first (containing two chapters) being the contextual summation of the life and times of Adegoke Adelabu. Both second and third parts of the book are a juggling re-production of selected chapters of Africa in Ebullition.

In the first part of the book, sub-titled “Adegoke Adelabu: His Personal Profile”, the eventful life of the politician, described as “a turbulent character of average size” (p. 13) is portrayed in the context of the unfolding political intrigues of an emerging nation. This original section is a finely woven testament of tributes including citation and reminiscences about Adelabu.

It is in this section that the life achievements of the politician are spelt out, from being the first Nigerian Manager at UAC, the leading light of the Ibadan People's Party (IPP), to being elected as a Member of Parliament on the ticket of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), and subsequently becoming Leader of Opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly, and the First Vice President of the NCNC. The chronicle reaches high point with the publication in 1952 of Africa in Ebullition; he was also acclaimed as the first Chairman of Ibadan District Council (1954) and between 1955 and 1956, Adelabu’s leadership quality transcended the corners of the Western House of Assembly when he served as the Federal Minister of Social Services and Mineral Resources, and in 1957 when he was a member of the Nigerian delegation to the Constitutional Conference in London, preparatory to the independence of the country from British colonial rule. Muda-Ayeni’s balanced ordering of information in “A Broad Citation” buttresses the fact of Adelabu’s insurgent and bulwark spirit with personal testimonies by the man’s associates, friends and rivals. 

Part II of the book contains five chapters which highlight Adelabu’s socio-political agenda. Taken together, it is a plea, exhortation, argumentation, and ultimately a vision of freedom beyond mere survival or existence in the Nigerian space. There is a forthrightness of tone in the vision of the politician and his thoughts on education, agriculture, industrialisation and human rights are worthy of re-reading and close analysis and appropriation by any serious Nigerian student of politics and governance.

I want to assume that it is the compelling totality and meaning of particular chapters of Africa in ebullitionthat persuaded Muda-Ayeni to reproduce Chapter I on “History” (Adelabu, 26-27) as “Chapter Three – Plea to Fellow Politicians” in Towards a stable social order(47-48), whereas Chapter IV – “Education” (46-49), Chapter V – “Agriculture” (50-52) and Chapter VI – “Industrialisation” (53-55) in Africa in ebullitionare directly offered as Chapters Four (49-52), Five (53-56) and Six (57-61) in the new book. In Chapter Seven of Towards a stable social order(62-70) which is a reproduction of Chapter VIII of the 1952 text (“A People’s Constitution” 61-69), the reader gets a glimpse of the deep intellection and analytic prowess of Adelabu, the statesman in the manner in which he “anticipate[d] the Constituent Assembly…which must follow accepted present-day standards and fit into three main categories of Fundamental Principles, Administrative Conveniences and Significant Powers, each made up of four component basic data” (62-63).

Part III of Towards a stable social orderis subtitled “Adegoke Adelabu: His Message to Nigerians, and it is a collation of other chapters culled from Africa in ebullition, but in this case prefaced and critically excerpted with original interpretations by the author. In the opening chapter of this section of the book, Muda-Ayeni connects the insight of Adelabu’s socio-political commentaries of the 1950s with the more recent advertorial critique of Chief A. K. Horsfall (2010) and the convocation lecture of Chief Richard Akinjide (2010) in order to come to the conclusion that “the three fundamental problems of disunity, party formation and lack of service spirit on the part of political practitioners…are specific subjects of intense X-ray and analysis embodied in his [Adelabu’s] 1952 political manifesto” (82). Generally, this section is about the discourse on nationalism, of party system, the ideology of being and the cost of unity and disunity.

Adelabu achieved lasting legendary status in folk consciousness with the queer Yorubanisation of the term “peculiar mess” as “penkelemesi” -  a term which fell off the politician’s parliamentary lips on the floor of the Western House of Assembly and  which stuck as a verbal memento to the linguistic and oratorical wizardry of the man.

Writing in 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of Adelabu’s demise, Reuben Abati signified on how much respect and awe the ruling party of the time, the Action Group, had for the Ibadan politician:

He was a gifted debater, a colourful orator and a diligent prosecutor of causes in which he believed. So influential was he that the Action Group ruling government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was Premier of the Region had to subject every proposal before bringing it forward to the Adelabu test: what will Adelabu think? What will he say? Adelabu was a member of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe's NCNC, and he was not one to suffer the opposition gladly. Within the Yoruba political space, he was clearly Awo's rival, and with his credentials and gifts, a truly worthy political rival indeedª.

 

I also think that the political significance of Adegoke Adelabu was not only as a worthy rival but as a great weaver of the Nigerian national fabric, a great builder and organiser of the larger idea of the national imaginary even ahead of other politicians who only proclaimed the oneness and indivisibility of Nigeria in the march toward independence. A renaissance man, combative, argumentative, wily and energetic, Adelabu was the only memorable one among the few who dared to challenge the massive machinery of Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group early, on ideological grounds. Adelabu it was who stood out and shone against a medley of carpet-crossers, rigorously dogmatic and loyal to the nationalist coalition, the cause of which he had espoused in a number of his journalistic essays. 

If Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (September 3, 1915 – March 20, 1958) were to be alive today, what would he have said of the incipient orgy of brigandage in postcolonial Nigeria, the rough utility of political retrofits, what would Adelabu have thought of the festering loss of faith in real politikfederalism in the country?; if Adegoke Adelabu were to be alive today, how would he have challenged the serious threat to nationalism in the age of increasing ethnic irredentism? I will answer that his words still speak to us, with the double-echo urgency of the proverbial wisdom of a visionary, someone who was prescient and practical enough to imagine what would happen ahead of his time, even when he would not be physically present. Adelabu’s admonition, written in an expositively argumentative manner, has been summarily repackaged with a difference by Alamu Muda-Ayeni. For this, we must commend the author. 

We must thank Muda-Ayeni for providing the contextual atmosphere to some of the significant political actions of Adelabu’s time. In it, what strikes me most is the fecundity of Adelabu’s artistic imagination, his masterful literary style, as well as the cerebral and expository delivery of his convictions. In his time, Adegoke Adelabu was hugely controversial: he was impulsive yet calculating; he was combustible yet compassionate; he was middleclass, even of noble heritage, yet he was one with grassroots consciousness; he was an inveterate optimist, yet he foresaw doom when and where the system failed. In spite of the myth of Adelabu’s combustible nature, in spite of his grandiloquence, and flamboyance, it is noted that the man died “without a bloated bank account or a sprawling real estate – but with his footprints indelibly marked in the sands of time!” (p. 40).

In the epilogue of the book, entitled “Adelabu lives on!” the author draws attention to the project of retrieval, rehabilitation and revival which has been attending the memory of the legendary politician, dating back to 1978 when a council market was named after him, up to the establishment of the annual Adegoke Adelabu Memorial Lecture series by the Ibadan Foundation under the leadership of Chief Lekan Are. In concluding, Alamu Muda-Ayeni expresses what must be a popular thought of the followers and associates of a Nigerian nationalist who gave as much as the talent he was endowed with in the cause of the struggle for freedom and independence:

…the dawn of equity and justice when Adegoke Adelabu, like his other nationalist peers such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Malam Aminu Kano and others of blessed memory, will receive the long-overdue and well-deserved posthumous national recognition and honours befitting a wholly de-tribalised and first-class statesman par excellence. (110)

Beyond naming old or new buildings, and dingy or rusted streets after Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, I think that the project of revival must include the creation of institutions to be endowed and named after the statesman in the core fields of journalism, academia, sports and politics with a view to inspiring worthy and future leaders who can dream greater achievements, and who can dream a better, freer and egalitarian society where principles, not personalities, will matter.

 

Aderemi Raji-Oyelade, PhD

Department of English

University of Ibadan

Ibadan, NG.

July 7, 2011

 

§Honourable Adegoke Adelabu: Penkelemesi: The Nationalist Philosopherby Yinka Adelabu and Lekan Olagunju; Africa in Ebullitionby Adegoke Adelabu; Jericho Business Club; Lagos; 2005

ªReuben Abati, “Adegoke Adelabu: 50 Years After” (23 March, 2008), http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/index.php/content/view/8810/55