Wale Adebanwi on Mama H.I.D. (24)

HANNAH  Awolowo’s campaigns around western Nigeria and the “clash” of the supporters of the AG  and the NNDP when Faderera Akintola showed up in Iddo-Ekiti and Igogo-Ekiti on August 20, 1964, convinced the ruling party in the region that Obafemi Awolowo was not the only “dangerous” person that needed to be put in check. His wife too was becoming a political dynamite in her own right as she toured the region raising new hope among AG supporters and mobilizing the electorate to sack the unpopular government of Ladoke Akintola.

With the injustice meted out to Awolowo and the his leading associates who were jailed along with him, and the tragic death of his son, the overwhelming majority of Yoruba people – even those who were not initially supporting Awolowo – had come round to view his travails as one engineered by his political adversaries outside of Yorubaland, but aided and abetted by some Yoruba, particularly Akintola. With their cultural predilection for supporting victims, the majority of the Yoruba were now uncomfortable with what they saw as “northern conspiracy” to destroy Yoruba leaders and Yorubaland.

A region that was peaceful and prosperous under Awolowo, constituting a beacon of hope in the new Africa had now been turned into a virtual war zone, where the everydayness of violence had become familiar. Even many who had initially supported Akintola in his battle against his erstwhile leader, now saw the mobilization of “federal might” against Awolowo in the attempt to destroy him as excessive and thus, the ultimate violation of Yoruba’s cultural and fundamental aversion to aseju (excessiveness, inordinateness or overkill).

Consequently, Akintola became the ultimate alaseju, the proverbial prodigal who had over-spent power, and yet refused to turn back or quit. The Daily Times was to capture this popular feeling of Akintola’s blatant recalcitrance in a literal and metaphoric (banner) headline in Yoruba: “AKINTOLA TAKU” (“Akintola Refuses to Quit!”).

Therefore, as Akintola’s biographer concedes, in the process that eventually led to the dissolution of the Western House of Assembly in October 1965, “the people seemed to have had enough. Akintola was by now most unpopular”. Akintola too knew this, and so “travelled around the state in long conveys of cars accompanied by police sirens and truckloads of anti-riot police ready to shoot to kill”. This was a strange phenomenon in Yorubaland. As Premier, Awolowo had only one police orderly who went home after accompanying the premier back to his private residence every day. No armed guard followed him around as he visited his people. Neither were there armed guards in his home.

But in his desperate ambition to hold on to power and neutralize all opposition, Akintola had, as the Yoruba say, climbed the tree beyond the branch. He was bound to fall. Even while arguing for an important place for him in Nigeria’s political history, Osuntokun admits that Akintola’s “last three years on earth were not always admirable”, and that he “should not have held on to power for such a long time when he knew the people did not want him”.

However, before he fell, realizing her husband’s gross unpopularity, Faderera Akintola decided to challenge Hannah Awolowo’s campaigns to defeat the NNDP. If she could stand up to Hannah in the attempt to claim what she assumed to be the economic benefits of her position, she also  did so politically. But after the initial experiences in Iddo and Igogo, the NNDP government decided not to allow both women to be present in the same town at the same time on their campaign train.

During Hannah’s campaign in Ekitiland, she made Ado-Ekiti her base. In some ways, Ekitiland is like Hannah’s Remoland. The towns are almost interwoven in that they are within few miles of one another. Therefore, Hannah could travel to any town and return to Ado-Ekiti to sleep at night. She became a crowd-puller on the campaign train attracting as much crowd as her husband would have if he were free. But she knew that the love and support shown her was in solidarity with Obafemi Awolowo, but no one could be a better vehicle for transferring the people’s loyalty to, and solidarity with the leader better than his courageous and self-sacrificing soul-mate.

There was another incident in Ekitiland involving Faderera that Hannah would never forget. A party stalwart, Adebanji Akintoye – later Professor of history and UPN Senator in the second republic – recalls that he and his wife were returning with Hannah Awolowo from a campaign tour one day when they realized that they will not be allowed to drive into Ado-Ekiti in the evening.

“Two miles from Ado-Ekiti, the police met us and told us that we could not go into Adotown,” reveals Akintoye, the author of Revolution and power politics in Yorubaland, 1840-1893; Ibadan expansion and the rise of Ekitiparapo and A History of the Yoruba People. “They didn’t tell us what was happening. But after an hour, the police asked us to proceed into Ado”.

Hannah Awolowo, Akintoye and the others on their entourage later found out why they were prevented from entering the town for an hour.FadereraAkintola was in town.

“While we were away from Ado,” continues Akintoye, “Mrs. Akintola had come to Ado because of the impact that Mrs. Awolowo’s highly successful campaign in Ekiti was having. Mrs. Akintola gathered some NNDP loyalists around the Post Office in Ado. She told the crowd that when she was planning to come, the police tried to dissuade her because Mrs. Awolowo was in town. She said she told them, “I am the Premier’s wife. She (Mrs. Awolowo) was the wife of a prisoner. She is campaigning because she is rejoicing the death of her son (Segun)”.

When those who listened to Faderera’s address told Hannah this, the reference to the tragic loss of her son (Segun) by Faderera was the most devastating. It was the unkindest cut of all. What mother would mock another over the death of a child? Hannah broke into tears.

In parenthesis, tragically, like Hannah, Faderera too would experience the anguish of the death of her child, Omodele, the following year. Omodele, who “lived for only one thing: the vindication and victory of her father over his political enemies,” died on October 26, 1965, two weeks after the regional election, ostensibly as a result of “an overdose of sleeping pills”. She must have suffered severe insomnia because of the crisis.

“When Mama broke into tears (over what Faderera said), we all did too. It was such a cruel thing to say,” reveals Akintoye.

Before the crisis, Faderera had been like a mother to Segun Awolowo. That day, by disparaging Hannah about the loss of her beloved son, Faderera touched the deepest pain in Hannah’s entire 49 years on earth….