Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D. (18)

EVEN though it would have been far more convenient for her to take her husband’s meals to him at Broad Street Prison in Central Lagos from Bell Avenue Ikoyi twice a day (he ate only lunch and dinner at that point), she was now forced by circumstances to do the rounds from the mainland in Somolu. Her life in this period was defined around preparing his meals and driving back and forth to Broad Street Prison. Yet, she had to take care of four of her children who were in Nigeria. Segun had returned to Nigeria from England, but Tola was still in England. (She returned a few months later). Ayo and Tokunbo were in Ibadan at St. Anne’s School, while Wole lived mostly in Ikenne. Fortunately for the two youngest children who were in Ibadan before the harassment started (all the older three where initially in England when trouble started), their parents had warned them that they might experience some discomfort. Obafemi and Hannah Awolowo did not know what exactly could be expected. But as the crisis of the Action Group took a new turn with Akintola defying the party, they sent for Ayo and Tokunbo at St. Anne’s to prepare them for what might come.

According to the “baby of the family”; TokunboAwolowoDosumu, “Very unusually – it was from out of the blue – Papa sent a car to us (Ayo and her) from school. It wasn’t exit day, it wasn’t even weekend. It was a weekday and we went home and Papa and Mama sat us down and they forewarned us that things might spiral… They tried to explain that this person had done this and as a consequence certain things were likely to follow that might be unpleasant”.

In the light of what the children also suffered as a result of his public career, it was no surprise therefore that, when in 1987, their father published one of the series of his memoirs of the period, The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law, he dedicated it to his four surviving children. He noted in the dedication that “They also bravely weathered the fierce and howling storm from “sixty-two” to “sixty-six” (1962-1966); They suffered mental agony in silence; They provided besides sources of cheer for Papa and Mama; In the four-year-long journey through the dark and dreary tunnel”.

TokunboAwolowoDosumu explains that the conversation that the parents had with them helped the two youngest children to cope with the crisis when eventually the whirlwind came. Says Hannah’s last child, “to this day I thank God and I thank them for doing that because otherwise the events that followed might have been so traumatic – if we hadn’t been warned that such things were coming. So we went back to school the same afternoon…”.

Even though they were in boarding school and therefore had little exposure to what was happening in town, Ayo and Tokunbo would hear rumours about the political crisis from their classmates. “Some of our school mates will say that “they carried your father’s coffin today”, etc. But we were not as surprised anymore. And then it just went on and on and on…..” recalls the lady who was appointed Nigeria’s ambassador to The Netherlands about four decades after the crisis.

Her “father’s coffin” that her school mates mentioned was the mock coffin of Awolowo, a symbol of his political, if not expected physical, death hauled around town by the supporters of her father’s estranged former deputy, Premier Samuel LadokeAkintola, popularly called SLA.

“I WIIL GO WITH THEM,” Hannah volunteered.

It was a demonstration of nerve that her husband thought bordered on recklessness.

They were being hounded. He had experienced the “humiliation and degrading treatment” which included being restricted to Ikenne, Lekki and Ikenne, in that order, and now he was under house arrest in Lagos. He could not trust the power – which he later described as “a wicked and ruthless cabal” – that had treated him enough to follow one of its most zealous agents so late in the night to Ikenne from Lagos. And if he couldn’t, why in the world would he allow his beloved wife to follow him? At any rate, he had never met this Irishman and his Nigerian assistant, before that night. Even though he initially appeared “urbane and cordial”, there was no reason to follow him to Ikenne in the night.

But Hannah was prepared to follow Lynn and the other police officer who had come with him.

John Lynn was in the official residence of the Awolowos in Lagos in the night of September 8, 1962 for the first time to announce that he had a warrant to search his house and compound in Ikenne. This was barely a month before he returned to arrest him.

Hannah and her husband had just finished their dinner, which at that point, they used to have between eight and ten in the night. (He would later change while in jail to eating breakfast between eight and nine in the morning and dinner between five and six in the evening, skipping lunch. His wife embraced the same eating pattern when he informed her while still in jail). It was almost eleven in the night when Lynn announced his journey to Ikenne, insisting that he had to be in Ikenne to search their house. It was obviously a plan to “catch” Awolowo unprepared so as to “discover” the “arms cache” he was “hiding” in Ikenne.

So, Lynn asked the Leader of Opposition if he would like to come with him to Ikenne.

“Me? No! Not at this hour of the night!” Awolowo replied.

It was at this point that Hannah offered to go with Lynn.

“You are doing nothing of the kind”, responded her husband. He then told Lynn that their son, Wole, lived in the house in Ikenne. He would be there to show the policemen round.

Later, he asked his private secretary, BiodunFalade, to follow them, He and Hannah handed over the keys to their private wardrobes in Ikenne to the excited Lynn so he could check those too.

After, they were gone, Hannah was still not happy to let the policemen search their Ikenne home in the absence of both of them. Suppose they planted some unlawful things there, she asked. Her husband assured her that Falade, Wole and the steward in Ikenne would frustrate any such plan.

It turned out that Lynn found nothing incriminating. But then, he returned the next day, September 19, 1962, to the house in Ikenne, this time without prior notice and in the absence of the three men (Falade, Wole and the steward) who were present the previous day. This time, Lynn later claimed in court, he found some “evidence”. He was told, he recalled, that something had been burnt in the compound. This was why he returned without a search warrant, but under the authority of “Emergency Regulations”, whereupon they found “four empty shells…. Buried…deep in the ground”.

Hannah’s fear had proved right. Although, Awolowo’s traducers had made up their minds to send him to jail, it was clear that they would not have been able to make the false claim of finding “empty shells” in Ikenne if Hannah had followed them. She would have stayed back in the house the next day. So, the policemen would not have been able to “plant evidence”, as she had feared. Her intuition was on the mark – again….

However, it would not have mattered in the end if she had been present..