20 September 2007

Nigeria: Ibadan Politics - Akinloye, Last of the Titans, Bows Out

Lagos — IT was William Shakespeare who said: "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances. One man in his life plays many parts..." Indeed, Meredith Adisa Akinloye lived a full life and played many parts for as long as the going lasted.

But, on Tuesday, September 18, his time was up as he breathed his life in the town he had grown to love so much. The poet, John Pepper Clark, had an apt description for the ancient city of Ibadan. History books, written by both indigenous and foreign historians are filled with the legendary acts of the likes of Lagelu, Iba Oluyole and Bashorun Ogunmola, But, that was ancient history. In contemporary times, the only person who could compare in prominence with Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye was Adegoke Adelabu. Both men succeeded in putting Ibadan on the political map of Nigeria. Adegoke Adelabu noisily left the scene in 1958 at 43. Now, Akinloye has left quietly at 91.

Born on August 19, 1916, Adisa Akinloye realised very early that destiny had a responsibility for him in getting Ibadan into prominence among the great political cities and towns of modern Nigeria.

Shortly after he returned from England where he attended the London School of Economics and returned as a lawyer, he founded the first political party in Ibadan, the Ibadan People's Party, IPP, on June 15, 1951. Chief Akinloye, aware that politics is a game of numbers, realised that the city could play a major role in the political evolution of the western region, and indeed Nigeria if the votes could be delivered en bloc.

Following the Constitutional Conference hosted in Ibadan in 1950 to consider a new constitution following the gaps noticed in the Arthur Richards Constitution and the decision taken to widen indigenous participation in governance, Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye gathered together the likes of Moyo Aboderin, S. O. Lanlehin, Daniel Akinbiyi, S. A. Akinyemi and Adegoke Adelabu, among others to define a place for Ibadan indigenes in the evolving political scene of Western region. Although the major political parties of the era were the Action Group, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo which had the region as the major sphere of influence, and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens which was very strong in the cities of the Western region and the whole of the eastern Region. Alongside these giants, Akinloye was determined to locate a space for an Ibadan party. He succeeded.

In the 1951 general election, IPP's six candidates swept the polls in Ibadan and became the beautiful bride besotted by the major parties and titans like Chief Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as no party had the majority needed to form a government. As Chief Akinloye confirmed in an interview to mark his 80th birthday, the overriding consideration in the negotiations with both the AG and NCNC was which party would best satisfy the yearnings of the Yoruba people of the western region. Chief Akinloye conceded that the IPP had greater sympathy for the NCNC and would easily have aligned with it if the party had picked a Yoruba man as its Western leader who would then have emerged the Leader of Government Business.

But, Dr. Azikiwe who had contested and won a seat in Lagos insisted that he would prefer to be made the first Nigerian leader of government in the Western region. That was enough to give Chief Awolowo the leeway needed to make a mark in the negotiation. Chief Akinloye succeeded in getting five of the six IPP members of parliament to align with the AG, while Chief Adegoke Adelabu expressed preference for NCNC.

As soon as Chief Awolowo formed government, it was time for Chief Akinloye to cash his political I.O.U. He was made the regional Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources. That pushed up the political profile of young Akinloye at 35 and, from that point, there was no looking back. In fact, it could be said that, from that point, Akinloye became more of a politician than a lawyer. It was the first phase of his political career.

1962 was a defining moment for all politicians in the Western region. The turbulence on the scene which first split the dominant party and thereafter led to the prosecution (or persecution) of Chief Awolowo, his restriction and eventual sentence marked a turning point.

The support that Chief Akintola got from the centre and such Western political heavyweights as Chiefs Ayo Rosiji, Akerele and E.O. Okunowo gave him the confidence to declare full blown war on the Awo political structure. That was the beginning of the end of the First Republic. Suffice it to say here that Akinloye was one of those who drifted to the United Peoples Party founded by Chief Akintola. The party was later to swallow much of the NCNC in the Western Region as the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP was founded ahead of the 1964 federal and the 1965 Western Parliamentary elections.

The peak of Chief Akinloye's political career was obviously in the Second Republic when he emerged the National Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, which won the 1979 and 1983 elections and went on to form the government. As NPN chairman, Chief Akinloye had cause at different times to cross swords with his former leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was a major critic of the NPN government at the centre. Till his death, Chief Akinloye could not shake off a general feeling in Yoruba land that he was part of an inept government that compounded the woes of the country.

He had to flee Nigeria in 1983 following the military coup of December 31. The 1983 election along with the 1965 Western Parliamentary election are easily some of the worst conducted in the history of the country and Chief Akinloye was a prominent participant in both.

The curtains have been drawn, his work frozen, but no one could forget in a hurry the place occupied by Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye on the Nigerian political space. Whenever the history of politics especially in the Western Region is written, the name Akinloye would appear prominently in the same column with the likes of Chief Ladoke Akintola, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, Babatunde Olowofoyeku, Ayo Rosiji, Moses Majekodunmi, Akinola Maja, S. O. Onabamiro, Victor Omololu Olunloyo and Richard Akinjide, among others.

For Chief Adisa Akinloye, world's struggles came to an end on Tuesday September 18 at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. He is gone, but his deeds are there for this generation and future ones to study and learn from..

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