Chief Segun Adegoke, a PDP chieftain in Ondo State, is an astute politician of Awolowo’s political school of thought. In this interview with POLITICS DESK, he spoke about his growing up, what motivated him into politics as well as the roles he played during the formation of UPN in Ondo State in the Second Republic. Excerpts:
What motivated you into politics?
I have always loved politics. First of all, my first love was Law. Even when I was in primary school, I had always loved to be a lawyer. I did not know how lucrative it would be but I was so keen to be a lawyer. Even when I got to secondary school, I still loved to be a lawyer. If we staged a drama, I would play the role of a lawyer, may be because I was articulate and had a gift of oration. I was also rhetorical in my expression of grammar, may be that was the reason. I don’t know, but I always liked to be a lawyer. Even when we were leaving school and these career counselors came, asking us what we wanted to become in future, out of about 15 students, I was the only one that said I wanted to be a lawyer. And I thank God Almighty I was able to fulfill my ambition of becoming a lawyer and a successful lawyer at that.
What then stimulated your interest in politics?
I had the opportunity of following the trend of political events when I was in secondary school in 1960 to 62. I followed the imbroglio between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and S.L Akintola; I took sides. I read all the proceedings during the treasonable felony case. I was so much in love with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I liked his courage; I liked his articulation and I also liked his confidence. Don’t forget that during this period, I was in an upper class, form five. I was already an adult then because if I entered Ondo Boys High School in 1957 at age 16 year, I left around the age of 22. So, I was already a man who could form opinion. Infact, when I left school in 1972, I was one of the younger ones who shook hand, with him at Igbosere High Court when he was standing trial for treasonable felony. I concluded that if I had the background of a lawyer, I could build politics on it. So, I was already interested in politics before I left the shores of Nigeria to study law and the principle I had then was, this Awolowo’s philosophy of life more abundant. I believe a politician should serve the people and so, I just got involved. When I was still in England in 1972, I had the opportunity of meeting Chief Gani Fawehinmi with whom. I happened to be from the same town, Ondo. One day, he told me that Chief Awolowo was in London and that he could take me along to visit him at Churchill Hotel in London if I so wished. When I got there, I could see my idol live and I was excited and I was touched by the simplicity of the man; the way he spoke to me and I got interested more in politics because of that meeting. I didn’t come back to Nigeria until 1975. I had my law school course in 1976 and was called to bar in 1976. I was practicing with Gani Fawehinmi and we had this routine of visiting Chief Awolowo all the time at his Park Lane Avenue in Lagos. Each time we visited him, I was always carried away. I liked by the candor of the man and the stuff he was made of. And so, I said in my mind that, I wanted to be like him.
Before then, I had read his autobiography in London, titled AWO. I read it from cover to cover and I made up my mind that I was going to stand any test of life like what I read from AWO. I said if it would take me to wash dead bodies to achieve my aim in England, I would do so. I said if Awolowo could go through these types of challenges he wrote in his books and still succeeded in life, then I was ready and determined to do same. Because I read how his house was auctioned; how he asked for loan from friends and they didn’t give him. I learnt of his struggle in Nigeria Youth Movement and all kinds of intrigues and atrocity against him. I read many things he went through to achieve his aims. So, he gave me a strong determination, in London which is a tough place to achieve one’s aim, Awolowo had written on how he got through it and made success in life. That encouraged me more. In 70s, when I was having interaction with him, I was already a lawyer.
There was one coincidence that happened in the course of my profession when I was appearing before a Chief Magistrate Court in Ondo and it was address time I addressed the chief magistrate for one and half hours and I stopped. When the court was in recess, an elderly person, not too much older than me approached me and asked for my name. I told him my name and he told me his name was Akinwole Omoboriowo and he asked me how long I had been qualified as a lawyer, because according to him, I so mush impressed him in my submission. I replied I was qualified in 1976. He said that could not be because we were talking of 1978. He said I couldn’t have mustered such knowledge and techniques advocacy the way I did if I was just called to bar two years as at then. He asked me where I practiced which I told him that I had practiced in Gani Fawehinmi Chamber before I decided to be on my own. It was then he informed me that there was a meeting going on and that they would like a person like me to be a member of that meeting because they called that meeting Committee of Friends and that it usually took place at Chief Awolowo’s house. I said Papa knew me very well because we met in England and that I would be happy to attend the meeting. He said he would come to Ondo where he would drop his car and we would drive in my own car to Lagos. And he did.
On getting to Lagos, Chief Awolowo was happy to see me. He said Segun, “so, you are back” and I said yes. That was how I started attending the Committee of Friends’ meeting. The meeting later metaphmosised to UPN and I was active, passionate, dedicated and loyal to the cause of the party. I saw Chief Awolowo as my idol and mentor whom I wanted to be like. I was committed to the Committee of Friends and when we were divided into various states, I was among the state executives of the Ondo State branch of the UPN. I was one of the people at the fore front and that was how I entered into politics. This was in the second republic. I was in secondary school during at the First Republic when Chief Awolowo was being tried. Many people who participated in the first republic were not interested again because of the violence that engulfed the West during the Wild, Wild West political upheaval between Chief Awolowo and Chief Akintola. So, I had to go all out inviting all of them to come out so that we can start UPN together.
Some of these people were as old as my father. They were old enough to be my father; people like Chief Akinwale, Chief Jerome Ojo, Chief Bello Akinwande, Chief Akinmuko, Pa Erastus Oyeneyin and so on. So, we were able to build the UPN in Ondo town and in Ondo Local Government Area then. Then, Ondo, Ekiti were major places where Awolowo had staunch supporters in the Action Group days, never mind what happened between him and Chief Awosika and others.
So, it was not difficult for me at all to bring them out again for UPN. When we formed the UPN in Ondo State, I became its publicity secretary and when Afenifere came again, I was also made the publicity secretary for Afenifere in Ondo State. Later, when the Government was formed, I was made the Commissioner for Homes Affairs and Information. I was also the spokesman for the government and for the party. I was also for a short period, the Commissioner for Lands and Housing. During the imbroglio that happened between Chief Ajasin and Omoboriowo, I was in the front line of the people who believed that democracy must survive and that every body’s vote must count.
What was growing up like?
I would not say I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My growing up was interrupted by the untimely and unfortunate death of my father. My father was 35 when he died and my mother was in her late 20s when this unfortunate incident happened. My father was an educated man; he was an agriculturist. He attended Moor Plantation Institute, set up by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the 50s. He was a trade Unionist and my mother was a seamstress, what we now call fashion designer. After my father’s death, my life looked bleak. I was thinking of for apprenticeship either as a mechanic or tailor. I decided to engage in learning shorthand and typing. Fortunately, my maternal grandfather decided to take up my education. I gained admission into Ondo Boys High School in 1957 and I left in 1962. All this was through the effort of my maternal grandfather, Chief Michael Ojo Fasida. Though my mother was alive, she could not afford to take care of my education because she was poor and she had lost her husband and went to manage herself with her brother who was a Judge, in Lagos. My maternal grandfather, haven seen me as an intelligent, young boy, encouraged me to sit for the entrance examination at Ondo Boy’s High School. That was the only examination I sat for and I was admitted and he financed it throughout. After that, I started fending for myself. My growing up was hard; it won’t have been if my father was still alive. Attending Ondo Boy’s high school was a dream that came true. It made me to be focused and passionate in anything I did later in life. The legacy I inherited there, I still carry it. I worked at the Federal Office of Statistics at Ikoyi Road, Lagos, and then left for ECN later known as NEPA and PHCN. From there, I saved some money from my salary and I left for England to study Law and International Relations. All that on my own. I was in England for ten years where I never failed for once but I worked intermittently to make sure I succeeded. There, I married my wife and had three children. So, it was struggle all along my life.
How do you feel at 75?
First and foremost, I thank God Almighty for making me to reach this age. I never knew that I would get to this age because of the political turbulence of those years when we started active involvement in politics. This combined with my legal practice, it was most troublesome. I can’t believe that I would get to this age because then, politics was so dangerous and full of risk and violence. So, I was thinking that I would not be old as this. But I thank God I am this old and my prayer is to grow older than this in good health. I am praying for long life because not everybody that is healthy last long. Old age is God’s grace and I’m praying to God for that grace for my life to be elongated.