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Renascent Africa Rising: The Philosophy and Dream of Adegoke Adelabu (1915-1958)

Title of Book: Africa in Ebullition and Selected Speeches

Author: Hon. Adegoke Adelabu (Penkelemesi)

Publisher: Phenom International Publishers

Year of Publication: 2015

Pages: 166

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 25, 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.

Adelabu’s work, Africa in Ebullition, was published in 1952 in its original form. Close to four decades after its first publication, the book practically suffered a strange silencing as if its contents were neither relevant nor significant for the student of history, politics and sociology in this country. However, in the past two decades, special attention has been directed at the resurrection of the thoughts and philosophy of Hon. Adegoke Adelabu. This laudable interest is appreciably due to the need for political re-education and the efforts of the Adegoke Adelabu Foundation as part of the Ibadan Foundation Project. 

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.In 2011, another of the Adelabu Revivalist publications was presented by Alamu Muda-Ayeni under the title Towards a stable social order: Adelabu speaks from the grave. 

The significance of Africa in Ebullition and Selected Speeches(2015) is in its expansion which includes an introduction to the revised edition by Oloye Lekan Alabi (the Chairman of the Adegoke Adelabu Posthumous Centenary Birthday), speeches, pictures and an index to aid referencing.   

In its fullness, the book contains the dreams and the arguments 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.  Therefore, Africa in Ebullition…is the Adelabu mantra and vision about freedom, liberty per se, in all its ramifications, freedom from both white imperialism and black oligarchy.

In the preface to this book, the author declared: “The yearning for freedom is with me a congenital habit.” That statement sets the tone and summarises the nature of the author’s attitude of hope, courage and zest for freedom. Writing in the intimate mode of the autobiographical first person personal pronoun, he descirbes himself as “a free-lance thinker, an economic adventurer and a political fire-brand… (a) fanatical African ideological irredentist” (xiii). So appropriately, he also describes himself as an artist, declaring that “the artist has nothing worthwhile to offer you beside glimpses of his inner self” (xv). 

A man brilliant as the sun at noon, Adegoke Adelabu matured early. At age 21, he had begun producing argumentative treatises; he would write his first major newspaper article in 1950 in the Southern Nigeria Defender. After his eventful formal education, he was appointed as the first Nigerian Manager at UAC, became the leading light of the Ibadan People's Party (IPP), elected as a Member of Parliament on the ticket of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), and subsequently confirmed as Leader of Opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly, and the First Vice President of the NCNC. Two years after the publication of Africa in Ebullition in 1952; he was elected 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. 

African in Ebullition and Selected Speechesis divided into three main parts, namely “The Road to Self-Determination”, “The Responsibility of Freedom”, and “Selected Speeches of Honourable Adegoke Adelabu”, with appendices including “Messages of Appeal for Mutual Understanding” and “Author’s Autobiography”.

Part I is essentially a collection of seven chapters which bear the mark of Adelabu’s socio-political agenda (pp. 3-36). 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. The opening chapter is a clear representation of the mind of a committed nationalist and inspired orator, one who is imbued with great hope for the emergence of a great nation, He is also adequately visionary to provide the inalienable conditions for the progress and stability of Nigeria. Hear him:

Very early on our strenuous journey to freedom, we must cultivate political dexterity. We must be broad in outlook and flexible in approach. As politicians, we must seek the democratic way of life which results only from a conflict of divergent opinions. As statesmen we must toil for the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians and safeguard the overall interest of our body politic. We must learn balance, sweet compromise and the correct perspective. (4)

Part II is also organised as seven chapters and it is devoted to the discourse of constitutionality, of national unity, party orders and ideologies, as well as his thoughts on mental revolution and the emerging idea of the African renaissance. Of particular reference, Honourable Adelabu is most forceful on the issue of “Nigerian Unity” and the sociological factors which threaten its possibility. He is lucid in identifying three the three groups of national disunity as the tribalist school, the imperialist school, and the isolationist school. He asserts himself unapologetically: 

As a Nationalist, I detest the opponents of Nigerian Unity as the enemies of the people. To me the imperialist is a mighty hypocrite, the tribalists an unabashed fraud and the isolationists a misguided enthusiast…Therefore in my heart of hearts, I sympathise with these three groups. Almost all their viewpoints I can easily understand. There is much in them that even appeals to my lower self. And all of it I am willing to excuse, to forgive and forget. But they should not take me for a crank or a dreamer. Our difference arises from our unidentical systems of relative values. (Chapter 9: 52)

Generally, this section is about the discourse on nationalism, of party system, the ideology of being and the cost of unity and disunity.

Taken together, the dreams, anecdotes, and arguments of Hon. Adegoke Adelabu are too compelling to be discountenanced in this time and age. They must be weighed against the socio-political undercurrents of his period, and they should be important references for this contemporary time. He has been generous enough to lead us into his forage into local and national politics, his encounters and dilemma with treachery, the tensions attendant upon political partisanship in the House of Assembly, as well his inveterate loyalty to the icon of his own political ideology, the Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe. 

The third section of the book (Part III: pp. 83-146) is a representative number of ten speeches of Hon. Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, spanning four years, 1952 to 1956, with topics ranging from education, agriculture, and industrialisation, to local government administration, Native Authority (employment bill), religious tolerance, racial discrimination, victimisation and foreign policy, as well as his contribution to the momentous motion on self-government.

In all these speeches, one tenor runs through: the display of an analytic mind which is expressed in wit and linguistic flamboyance. The incorporation of the speeches affords the contemporary reader to have further insight into the mind and activism of Adegoke Adelabu. 

As a great orator of his time, some of his insightful and memorable words on national matters are worth quoting here in copious parts:

1. While supporting the policy paper on education, he had this to say:

I am cocksure that the Action Group as a Regional Government can only do this in combination with the other people of Nigeria because it is going to entail such sacrifice that we, who meet in this House of Assembly, may not be prepared to make; such as forsaking gorgeous dresses, leaving off riding about in luxurious limousines and condescending to ride ordinary bicycles. Many of us will have to do without all the extravagancies to which we are used. (86) 

2. On agriculture, he advocates an integrative policy that will engender a proactive relationship between farmers and extension workers, a balance between land ownership and new methods of farming, and an opposition to foreign or external control of agro-allied businesses in the Region:

There is one point on agriculture which will make it of interest to all of us in this House, professionals, party workers, journalists and everybody. It is, that farm prosperity in that Region is overall prosperity. If we can find any way of improving the standard of living of the farmers in this Region, everybody will benefit. I will support any special schemes for implementing the agricultural policy laid down. (90)

3. On procedure of employment in which absolute power is vested in the Regional Authority above the Native Authority, Hon. Adelabu is decisively vehement and argumentatively democratic in his submission:

Mr. President, …we are opposing this Bill on principle, not because we are here as the Opposition to oppose everything. If a Bill is a good Bill the other rule of the House can be rest assured that it is going to receive our support… We say that that is a reactionary law because we are submitting the wisdom of a community, the wisdom of many people sitting down and airing their views – you are trying to substitute all these discussions with the decision of just one man – the Lieutenant-Governor. If you say Lieutenant-Governor in Council, it has made it worse, as I show very soon. (105)

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. 

Indeed, he is one of two personalities: a rare intellectual in politics, or a politician gifted with acute intellectual sensibility.

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 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.

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. 

For me, reading Adelabu’s Africa in Ebullition and Selected Speecheshas been both liberating and haunting because it tells me that there was a time that statesmen can engender change in their constituencies by the sheer power of their intellection and argumentation. Most of the issues raised in this book are germane to the continuing discourse of progress and development of the Nigerian nation. More importantly, Hon. Adegoke Adelabu’s speeches come across to us as if they are meant for this age.

Today marks the centenary birthday of this legendary statesman. If Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (September 3, 1915 – March 25, 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.

In a grandiloquent self-critical review of Africa in Ebullition, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu offers us an expansive view of what the book is or what the book should do:

…It is an Ode to Liberty, a Guide to Nationalists, a Handbook of  Freedom, a Grammar of Politics, a Revolutionary Manifesto, our Book of Revelation, an Encyclopedia Nigeriana, the voice of the People, a Challenge to Imperialism, and Indictment of Colonialism, an Abrogation of Gradualism, an Invitation to Youths, a Call to Arms, the Sacrament of Patriotism, a Psychoanalysis of the Nation, a Dissection of our Soul, an Answer to our Detractors, a Reaffirmation of  Faith, a Plea for Unity, an Appeal for Understanding, a Rededication to the Struggle, a Bill of Rights, a Declaration of Independence, an appreciation of Heroism, a Supplication for Sacrifices, an Atonement for Renegation, a Monument to Martyrdom and a Pact with Death. It is Versatility in Excelsis. I recommend it to those who dare.  (xxvii-xxviii)

I will not recommend that this new edition of Africa in Ebullition and Selected Speechesbe read only by the student of history and politics in this country; I will request that this book be sought, read and digested by all the parliamentarians in the 36 states of the Nigerian federation; I will advise all our 109 distinguished Senators and our 360 honourable Members of the House of Representatives covet and read this book, and share as gifts to every library in their constituencies. For archivists, political scientists and linguists, I believe that there is work yet undone for this unique book, for as its author had proposed in 1952, this is one publication that should be made available in at least six other languages including French, Arabic, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Efik.

Aderemi Raji-Oyelade, PhD

Department of English

University of Ibadan

Ibadan, NIGERIA.

September 3, 2015

 

§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