Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D. (23)

CHIEF Ayo Adebanjo, one of Awolowo’s closest lieutenants, also argues that “there were lots of rumours…. Mama (H.I.D) had been a big trader before politics. She had a lot of distributorships like tobacco and Coca-Cola. Unfortunately, Mrs. Akintola thought it was because her husband was the premier, forgetting that the woman (H.I.D) was doing business before her husband became the premier. So when the crisis came, I think she too applied to Cola Cola, saying that I am now the wife of the premier… But the rumour was ascribing their crisis to that quarrel. It is not so at all. Mama was a distributor in her own right long before Papa became the premier”.

However, Rewane did not succeed in his attempt to make Pepsi the number one choice of the people of the region, because Coke was far more popular. If Awolowo was using his position to protect his wife’s interest in Coke, there was no way Rewane would have tried to discourage the government and others from patronizing Coke. Indeed, as Osuntokun attests, both Akintola and Awolowo were “influenced by their wives”. But, in the end, it was clear how both women mobilized their undeniable influence….

The attitudinal difference mentioned above is critical to understanding the crisis. While Hannah believed that her husband had done all that needed to be done and was on the right path, Faderera believed that her husband was not “tough enough”. She said that Akintola’s fire-spitting – and as it turned out, when the soldiers came, lily-livered – deputy, Chief Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode, was tougher and “would have done a better job” managing the violence in the region,  as Akintola’s biographer reveals. Fani-Kayode, as Soyinka argues, had, by this time, attained “unprecedented level of hubris and contempt”. Such was Faderera’s ferocity and insistence on strong-arm tactics that Akintola could go longer bare his heart to her. He shared his deepest confidence with his daughter, Omodele (who married and was later separated from Soji Odunjo, whose father, J.F. Odunjo, remained with Awolowo). While all the other children were shielded from the crisis, Omodele elected to stand strongly by her father.

However, for Hannah, looking back, what caused the antagonism was “envy”. “She (Faderera) told me,” Hannah discloses, “after her husband became premier that we could no longer do things together. She said I had done better than her. That was how trouble started. It was pure envy”.

Perhaps, it was the dynamics of this “pure envy” that drove the political battle between both women as the campaign for the regional election started in 1964. Everything was at stake. Hannah’s husband was in jail and his only hope of freedom was the victory of UPGA in the regional and later (1965) national elections. Hannah was to be selected as UPGA’s candidate to become the prime minister in the event of the alliance’s victory. After the experience with Akintola, only she could be trusted to take that position. She was expected to grant her husband unconditional amnesty after becoming prime minister and then resign to allow him to become the prime minister after a bye-election which would have elected him into the federal parliament. It was in pursuit of this plan that the AG and the NCNC increased the tempo of their campaigns in the Western and Eastern Regions. The Premier of the Eastern Region and National President of the NCNC even visited Ibadan and was received in the Awolowo’s home by H.I.D.

During his seven-day “meet-the-people” tour of Western Nigeria, which started on June 3, 1964, Okpara paid a courtesy call to the Awolowos’ home to meet both the leader’s wife and the Acting Leader of the AG, Alhaji D.S Adegbenro, who was then living in an apartment in the Awolowos’ compound in Ibadan.

Okpara’s visit and the reception organized by Hannah Awolowo and D.S. Adegbenro were acts of courage in the face of intimidation. The NNDP government, after imposing a “ban” on Okpara’s proposed tour, “threatened war” If Okpara visited the region. NNDP’s spokesman, Richard Akinjide, said that if Okpara “had the guts to come the West,” he would know “whether or not the Yorubas are a decadent tribe as stated in the Ibo National Caucus Memorandum”. In the light of the threats, when Okpara arrived, the AG and its organs described the visit as “epoch-making”, one that cemented “an understanding between the two foremost nationalist parties”.

A huge crowd of party supporters heralded Okpara’s convey to the home of the Awolowos. The Premier of the Eastern Region told the crowd that the AG and NCNC had to come together because “for more than a decade, the imperialists, the reactionaries and the neo-colonialists “had succeeded and driving a knotty wedge between the NCNC  and the Action Group”.  His speech was greeted with thunderous ovation and shouts of “Awo! Awo!! And “Zeek! Zeek!!” “Both the NCNC and the Action Group”, Okpara continued, “have fought on different plans to achieve our national independence, we must now come together to build a prosperous nation where oppression would be unknown”.

“I think we should credit her with a sense of industry, with organizational ability”, argues Chief Tola Adeniyi, former Managing Editor of the Tribune and later Managing Director of the Daily Times Group. “We should not forget the fact that she already built some clout around herself (before the crisis started). So she was just not the wife of a (former) premier, she was also a business colossus and a leader in her own rights. Therefore, (during the crisis) she demonstrated a lot of courage, a lot of political wisdom. This is especially true in her drive to form an alliance with the Eastern Nigeria. Until that time, the East and the West were really at logger-heads. So we must give her the credit for bringing Okpara to Ibadan and for the first time, the major alliance between East and West was forged. It is also remarkable that since then the East and the West have not been able to come together again. So it is a record achievement on the part of Mrs. Awolowo that she brought the East and West together. The association lasted until the coup. If there had been no military intervention, maybe the relationship would have survived till today”.

The jailed leader’s wife continued her tour after Okpara’s visit. She campaigned in the Ijebu division too. At Ijebu-Igbo, she launched the UPGA campaign for the federal elections on October 20, 1964. In their welcome address, the local leaders of UPGA said “(we) realize that the battle ahead is tough but we can assure you that by the grace of Almighty God and the support of our leaders, we shall return the UPGA candidate in Ijebu North East with the opponent losing his deposit”. However, they urged the Federal Government “no check the excessive intimidation by the NNPD Government of Western Region” against their members and supporters. Yet, they asserted that they were sure of a victory “which will obviously lead to the immediate release of our Hero and true Yoruba Leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo”. The same day, in their welcome address to Mrs. Awolowo, the party faithful in Ago-Iwoye stated that “(the) cause of the past Two Dark Years and the great sacrifice made by the members of your family in an attempt to wrench Yorubaland from the greedy clutches of the power-drunk politicians are not unknown to this  community, as such we are here to register our approbation to your line of action as well as the ideals of Democratic socialism”.

Two days later, on October 23, 1964, the members of the Action Group Youth Association in Ejirin, via Ijebu-Ode, also presented an address to Mrs. Awolowo when she visited the town on her campaign tour. They stated that “(much) as it is with heavy heart that we remember our dear leader in person of your amiable husband, beloved by … all level-headed Yoruba and non-Yoruba who are patriotic Nigerians”, they recognized his “untiring efforts in bringing INDEPENDENCE to our country, Nigeria, which is being enjoyed by the entire members of this young country”.

On October 28, Hannah Awolowo was at Ipara and Ogere to campaign. At Ipara, she urged the people “not to lose courage because of the current acts of oppression and victimization”, adding that “truth shall prevail”. At Ogere, the people thanked the AG for fulfilling the election promise of providing electricity for the town and tarring their roads. She was installed the Moyo-Olugbani of Ogere by the Olugbani of Ogere, Oba Lagusen, III. She concluded her campaign tour of Ijebu at Ogere and proceeded to the Egbado Division.

But shortly after she finished campaigning in Ipara, two NNDP vans loaded with armed thugs attacked the rally. Mrs. Awolowo’s entourage was just leaving the site of the rally when they arrived. They were obviously late. But people were still milling round the campaign site. The thugs came with cudgels, empty bottles and iron rods. Fortunately for the supporters of the AG, policemen were attracted to the scene. Yet, the thugs attacked the policemen who overpowered them and arrested ten of the assailants who were subsequently detained at the Sagamu Police Station.

(To be continued)