On March 25, 1958, one of Nigeria’s irrepressible nationalists, politician, orator and mass mobiliser, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, alias ‘Penkelemesi’ died in a car accident in Ogere Remo area on the old Lagos-Ibadan Road, of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria.
The Adegoke Adelabu Foundation, founded on September 3, 2015 (Adelabu’s posthumous 100th birthday) and which I chair, successfully held the 2017 Adegoke Adelabu Annual Memorial Lecture on Saturday, March 25, this year.
The venue was Adelabu’s home, which he named the “Taj Mahal” at Oke Oluokun, Ibadan, Oyo State. And the Guest Speaker at the well-attended lecture was the erudite scholar, lecturer and Islamic leader, Professor (Engineer) Sabitu Olagoke JP. The topic of Professor Olagoke’s well researched lecture was “Roles of Youth in the promotion of communal peace and progress.”
Adegoke Adelabu hailed from a double aristocratic lineage. Born in Oke-Oluokun, Ibadan on September 3, 1915, to middle class parents, he had an enviable start in life relative to prevailing conditions of the time.
His father, Sanusi Ashiyanbi Adelabu, was a scion of the famous Oluokun Chieftaincy Ruling House of Ibadan, whose members in turn, were direct maternal descendants of the Alaafin Ruling House of Oyo. A talented cloth weaver of repute, Ashiyanbi was accustomed to royal treatment and was rich enough to possess and keep a stable with many horses for pleasure.
His mother, Awujoola Ajoke, was also linked by birth to the first king of Ibadan, who used the title Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Abass Okunola Aleshinloye (1930-1946) and like her husband, she too was a successful trader in dyed cloth.
To many people within and outside Nigeria, Adelabu is known as a firebrand politician with only political achievements to his credit. Little or nothing is known, or said, of his other attainments outside the realm of politics. One such area of unmatched distinction is the academic domain.
Adegoke Adelabu had his elementary education at St. David’s CMS Elementary School, Kudeti, Ibadan (1925-1929), and CMS Central School, Mapo, Ibadan (1930). He then attended Government College, Ibadan (1931-1933) before proceeding for further studies (1936) at the Higher College, Yaba, Lagos which was Nigeria’s only tertiary institution then in existence.
Right from the onset of his education career, Adelabu showed promise of academic excellence and later proved to be a child prodigy in classroom performance. For example, his exceptional brilliance earned him double promotions at each of the three tiers of learning; an uncommon feat that was appreciatively rewarded with enabling scholarship awards. Not only that, he had the unparalleled distinction of maintaining the first position in each class, beating his erstwhile seniors after each double promotion!
If this performance feat today appears most incredible, concrete personal testimonies abound to support Adelabu’s official school records. In his condolence remarks at Adelabu’s transition on Match 25, 1958, the late Professor Saburi Biobaku, historian, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos, and a contemporary of Adelabu’s at Government College, Ibadan testified in part; “As one who was his contemporary in school, I have known him from his boyhood. At the Government College, Ibadan, he was known as Joseph Adegoke Sanusi and was undoubtedly the most brilliant boy to have passed through that school so far.”
Twenty-one years ago, I wrote a tribute to Adegoke Adelabu titled, “What a peculiar miss”, which was published in the Vanguard newspaper issue of Tuesday, April 9, 1996, and I wish to refresh my reader’s memories here with the said tribute.
“Having waited in vain since last Monday (March 25, 1996) for either a spoken or written word to commemorate the 38th Anniversary of the death of the ‘Lion of Ibadan Politics’ nay the old Western Region politics, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (he died in a motor accident on March 25, 1958), one is tempted to utter “What a peculiar miss” with equal amazement as he, Adelabu pooh-poohed the corruption charges against him in 1956, while serving as the Chairman of the defunct Ibadan District Council.
“Adelabu had described the charge of financial misdeeds as a “peculiar mess”, an expression, his devotees corrupted to “penkelemeesi” a sobriquet Adelabu eventually had to bear till death and even thereafter.
“A great nationalist in the genre of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro, Habib Raji Abdullah, Mbonu Ojike, etc, I grew up to know and meet the gifted orator, merchandise salesman, first African Manager (UAC), cooperative inspector, journalist, charismatic politician, council chairman, federal minister, and leader of opposition by virtue of my being the eldest grandchild of the late Mama Asma’u Odunola Alabi of Ekerin Ajengbe Clan Ibadan.
“Grandma, “Iya Ile-Ekerin” (Mother of Ekerin Clan) as she was popularly known, was the leader of the women wing of the defunct NCNC under Adelabu in Ibadan, while the late Alhaja Humuani Apampa, alias “Orababa”, her protégé, from Bashorun Apampa, Compound, Isale-Osi, Ibadan, was the deputy leader.
The many political meetings and rallies at our Isale Jebu-Oja’Ba-Isale Osi axis of the city still remain vivid in one’s memory with the multitude of followers and admirers. This treatise is, however, not aimed at the expansive and awe-inspiring political hue of Adelabu. Rather, it is aimed at recapturing some of his visionary thoughts on a wide range of subjects.
Education is the foundation of freedom; ignorance is the basis of slavery. If you would free a people, first and foremost, educate them. The illiterate man is only half a man. He is already slave enough to his unfounded fears, his uncurbed passion, his natural instincts.
I want a career open to talent. I want opportunities based on merit. I want the son of the Fulani herdsman in Sokoto, the son of the cocoa, plantain labourer in Ibadan, the son of a railway porter in Enugu, and the sons of their Highnesses the Emir of Katsina, the Ooni of Ife, and the Obi of Onitsha to stand an equal chance of succeeding Dr. Mellanby as the next Principal of Ibadan University College. Such a career is open to talents in America. Such a career is open to talents in England. Such a career is open to talents in Germany. We shall labour without respite until such a career is open to talents in our own Nigeria.
Our raw materials – tin, gold, bauxite, coal, petroleum, lignite, zinc, cocoa, palm oil, palm kernel, cotton, groundnut, rubber, coffee, hides an skins, shea butter, castor seed, tobacco, cattle, cereals, herbs, timber, and poultry, point the way of development. The power problem must be solved in a comprehensive way with the electricity generated form the Niger/Benue Valley Authority Project.
“Our land, rail, water, and air transport systems must be integrated into one efficient whole. Our labour manpower must be given requisite skilled technical training which will enable them to play their new role as the backbone of a new industrial civilisation. These tasks must be faced squarely and manly.
The crux of the problem of unity is that sacrifices, great sacrifices, must be made by individual, groups, tribes, sections, bodies, classes, and religions, in order to usher in that unity which will secure for us freedom and independence. It is not that we do not love our tribe, religion, class, and region, but we love Nigeria more. We hereby implore all partisans and religionists to join us in the Great Adventure. The stake is well worth the sacrifice.”
A radical socialist and fanatical nationalist, Adelabu held managerial positions with the United Africa Company Limited (UAC) in its various departments, such as the first African Manager, UAC produce (1936-37); Merchandise salesman (1937-38); Inspector, Cooperative Department (1938-44); and Manager, UAC Haberdashery, Lagos (1945-46).
Before his election as a legislator for Ibadan Division in 1951, Adelabu had for five years been in business and journalism. He later became Chairman of Ibadan District Council, Federal Minister of Social and Welfare Development and Leader of Opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly.
On himself, Adelabu wrote: “There is running through my life an insatiable thirst for knowledge, a continuous quest in search of new adventure, an irresistible urge to taste life in all its delicious mixture and intriguing complexities. There is a coherent philosophy at the basis of this attitude to life, which I hope to live to propound and amplify in all its ramifications.”Though death cut short his dreams at just 43, the propagation and ramification of the ideals of geniuses like him don’t die with them.
• Alabi is Agba Akin of Ibadanland