Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D. (21)

BEFORE Akintola was expelled, his ascension to the position of premier had provoked the initial potentials for rupture in the relationship between the two families. This had to do with FadereraAkintola replacing Hannah Awolowo as premier’s wife….

EVEN THOUGH H.I.D’S CAMPAIGNS in Ondo Province, as related above, must have jolted Premier Akintola as the 1964 regional elections approached, he was not comfortable with any suggestions of visiting the Ekiti areas of the Province himself. The Ekiti were die-hard supporters of Awolowo – such that Akintola’s biographer, Osuntokun, himself an Ekiti, states that “Awolowo’s hold on the Ekiti-Yoruba, particularly the intellectuals, remains a mystery”.

The leaders of the AG who survived the attempts at mass incarceration of the leadership of the party and serial arrests and harassments hatched by the ruling parties at the federal and regional levels, the NPC and the NNDP respectively, met in early 1964 and decided that it would be most helpful to the party if Awolowo’s wife led the campaigns across the region. She was already the leader of the women’s wing of the party, called the Action Group Women Section, which organized alongside Mrs. WuraolaEsan and Chief (Mrs.) OluSolaru. She was a focused, strong-willed and dedicated person who knew the dynamics of the politics of the region. She had also weathered the storm alongside her husband. Among the many acts of intimidation which she had taken in her stride was the tear-gassing of her home in Ibadan on May 27, 1963, about eight months after Awolowo began serving his ten-year sentence. It was a test of the legendary patience that her husband said she possess in abundance.

Regarding this incident, the members of the household were preparing to go to bed around eleven thirty in the night when six lorry-load of policemen “besieged” the house,” as reported by Tribune. Earlier that day, the Privy Council in England had ruled that Alhaji D.S. Adegbenro was the properly elected Premier of the region. (Nigeria later amended the constitution to remove the Privy Council as the court of final arbiter; thus nullifying the decision). Therefore, the “invasion” by the policemen was a show of what Chief Fani-Kayode, Akintola’s deputy, called “power!” Tear-gas canisters’ were fired into the house, which broke down glass windows. Some people who were returning from a night-out were caught in the attack, with some sustaining injuries.

The next morning, Hannah’s first son, Segun, a lawyer who was running his father’s chambers and living in the PREMISES, TOLD THE Tribune That when he contacted the police chief in charge of Ibadan, one Obi, the man claimed that the police knew nothing about the incident. Segun added that his attempt to call the police while the attack was on-going as well as get an ambulance to convey those who were injured to the hospital was rebuffed. The constant and consistent reporting of the harassment of the Awolowos and the violence perpetrated against members of the AG and Awolowo’s supporters by the Nigerian Tribune was very critical to the cause of the Awolowo family and the AG. It is difficult to imagine how they could have survival without Tribune’s backing. There, Hannah ensured that the newspaper, which she founded with her husband and others in 1949, continued to publish even in the worst of circumstances.

Before the attack in the night, Premier and his Deputy, Chiefs Akintola and Fani-Kayode, in a long procession had stopped in front of Awolowo’s house in Oke-Ado. This was in May 1963. It was an act of intimidation. Hannah and her children and the man who had been pronounced by the Privy Council as the duly-elected Premier, Adegbenro, were all in the premises when Akintola and Fani-Kayode stopped in front of the compound. Accompanying them were some people believed to be party thugs who sang provocative songs while brandishing guns and daggers. They left after a while, singing around the town: “EgbeOlope, to badi’ja, se e duro?” (“Action Group, if fight breaks out, will you stand firm?”)

Hannah and other party faithfuls answered the poser by the NNDP thugs the next year as the 1964 federal election approached. The late Chief Wumi Adegbonmire (“OmoEkun”), who was later the Secretary to the State Government under Chief Ade Adefarati in Ondo State, recalled that between 1963 and 1966, “mama adequately and creditably presided over the meetings of the Federal and Regional Executive Councils of the Action Group as well as the meetings of the Supreme Council of the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) which comprised of the Action Group, the NCNC, NEPU and UMBC”.

Her life and activities in this period constituted a testimony to the remark, in the epigram above, by the wife of America’s sixth president, Louisa Adams, who said that a lot of “direction and discernment” are required to be the wife of a great man. It also takes a lot of courage to be the wife of a very courageous man as well. Unknown to many people, in the middle of the crisis in 1964-1965, as the Akintola administration used its control of the airwaves to intimidate the opposition, Hannah Awolowo agreed to host a radio studio in her house in Oke-Ado. Premier Michael Okpara of the Eastern Region sent a team of broadcasters from the Eastern Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation to make broadcasts to the people of the West from the home of the Awolowos. This later became very problematic for Akintola and the NNDP as they could no longer announce the results of the elections as it pleased them. They could not imagine that HID could be bold enough to host the broadcasters in her house as they searched all over Ibadan for the transmitters and the broadcast studios. Yet, the Awolowos’ home which hosted the studio was defenceless. When they eventually discovered that the ENBC broadcasters were living at the Awolowos’, they planned to storm the place. Wole Soyinka tipped them off and the broadcasters left before the attackers arrived.

The AG announced on August 13, 1964 that the wife of its jailed leader, Hannah Awolowo, will begin “a political tour of parts of Ondo, Ibadan and Oyo Provinces”. It was her first tour since the incarceration of her husband. Before then, she only accompanied her husband on campaign tours. She was coming to her own and becoming a political leader in her own rights. She was to be accompanied on the campaign tour by some women leaders of the party including Mrs. Femi Pearse, a Lagos Counsellor, Madam AbibatuMogaji (the leader of market women in Lagos), Madam Fini, Madam RafatObisesan, Mrs. S.T. Osoba, Mrs. T.O. Ogunlesi, Mrs. Fasanmi, Mrs. Ajasin, Madam R.O. Esan, Mrs. J. F. Adeyemi and others,

Against the backdrop of the planned tour, some young Awolowo loyalists in Ekiti area of Ondo Province, such as Stephen AdebanjiAkintoye, who was then teaching at Ibadan Grammar School, decided to follow Mrs. Awolowo around the Ekiti area of Ondo Province. Akintoye was supported by his wife, Juliet, who was also teaching at St. Annes’ School, Molete, which was just down the road from the Awolowos’ house.

Mrs. Awolowo’s campaigns in Ekitiland was so successful that Mrs. FadereraAkintola must have thought she also needed to do something to counter her old friend and in support of her husband. She too was the leaders of the Women’s Wing of the NNDP. If Hannah Awolowo could take up the task in support of her husband, a former premier who was in jail, why couldn’t she who was the wife of a premier who was in freedom? Mrs. Akintola’s attempt to compete with Mrs. Awolowo in the campaigns was what provoked the latter to tell the crowd in Iddo-Ekiti that Mrs. Akintola was attempting to perform “a feat that the husband dare not attempt” – that is, coming to Ekitiland to campaign.

By the time Mrs. Akintola arrived in Iddo, even though AG party faithful were still present around the area where the party held its rally, Mrs. Awolowo had left for Igogo-Ekiti. Before she left, the people of Iddo and surrounding villages numbering about 10,000 had rendered songs in “honour of their hero, Chief ObafemiAwolowo”, who, by this time, was serving his jail term in Calabar Prisons.

When Mrs. Akintola and her supporters arrivedIddo, they were greeted with “shouts of Ole,” (“thief, thief”). (Later, Akintola’s initials, S.L.A would be twisted through “tonal conversion” into a pun that sounded “Ese ole” – “feet of a robber”). The police had to intervene and reportedly “smuggled away” the Premier’s wife. Despite this, Mrs. Akintola headed for Igogo-Ekiti where campaign trains of both women again “jammed each other”. Once more, the police came to the rescue.

She did not end there. When FadereraAkintola announced her visit to the Oshun Division, her home division, in late August 1964, “tension” rose to “a fever peak” in the area. There were fears among the local AG leaders that her visit might “spark off another wave of lawlessness”, as Tribune reported. One AG leader in the division alleged that, when Faderera last visited Osogbo, one Revd. Father Nicodemus was killed, he related the “untoward consequences” of Mrs. Akintola’s visit to what happened when she visited Ondo Province which, he said, “caused some unpleasant incidents in the province”. He then requested “full police protection” for AG and NCNC members in the area, adding that “it is pretty certain that NNDP thugs to accompany Mrs. Akintola on the tour would be visiting our houses”.