Wale Adebanwi on Mama Hid (22)

FADERERA AND I WERE VERY, very good friend”, responds Mama H.I.D when I asked her in mid-2015 about their relationship before the crisis. “When my father died in June 1951, we went to Boulos Shop in Gbagi together to buy all the jewelries that we both wore. The same kind of Jewelries, including necklaces and ear-rings. We also bought clothes together for my father’s burial.”

Boulos Shop was then the leading jewelry shop in Ibadan. It was owned by George Boulos, a Lebanese who moved to Nigeria in 1936 and was followed by his two sons, Antoine and Gabriel – who later established their own business in Lagos in 1943.

Hannah and Faderera’s friendship lasted until the first year of Akintola’s premiership when Faderera replaced Hannah as the premier’s wife. (The idea of the first lady was foreign to Nigeria then under the Westminstermodel). The rivalry seemed to have started once Mrs. Akintola gained her new status, that is, even before the relationship between their husbands thawed. Akintola’s biographer, Osuntokun states that “observers have even postulated the theory that it was this personal antagonism between the two women that was most damaging and that made a potential crisis a certainty”.

Osuntokun, however, suggests that the “antagonism” between the wives of the two leaders “arose as a result of different life-styles”. He describes Mrs. Awolowo as “a loyal devoted wife, absolutely committed to the service and causes her husband espoused,” in addition to being “a shrewd business women who benefited from the prestige and power of her husband’s position. Mrs. Akintola is described by Osuntokun as “a rather assertive, individualistic and liberated woman who wanted her husband to have power and to make use of this power without constant reference to a leader who wanted to use her husband as a puppet while running the affairs of West by remote control from Lagos.”

Osuntokun elides some important issues and the larger context in which what he describes as “petty rivalries” between the two women, Hannah and Faderera, occurred, while understanding the devastating implications of the latter’s urge for her husband to “have” and “make use” of power. The first omission is the context of party politics in a parliamentary system and the nature of the Action Group itself. As Osuntokun readily agrees, AG was the best organized party in Nigeria’s first republic. Therefore, party discipline and adherence to the rules of the party was of utmost importance. As James S. Coleman, one of the leading students of Nigeria’s political history, notes, the AG “differed from all previous Nigerian political organizations in several respects”, including the fact that “its leadership was collegial – and this at Awolowo’s insistence”. In the context of the parliamentary system and in the specific tradition of the AG, party supremacy and loyalty were immutable. Therefore, the idea of “constant reference to a leader who wanted to use (Faderera’s) husband as a puppet while running the affairs of the West by remote control from Lagos”, is an inaccurate and malicious challenge to party supremacy and the tradition of collegial leadership.

The second issue is the attitude of both women to power, which Faderera’s biographer points to. While Hannah certainly benefited from her husband’s position as premier and party leader, she was already a successful and relatively powerful business woman before her husband became the premier. As it is evident from Hannah’s background, while Mrs. Akintola was learning to be a nurse, for the most part of her adolescence and youth, Mrs. Awolowo was learning how to be a successful business woman. Her business acumen had already been demonstrated before and shortly after she married her husband. The assumption, therefore, by Mrs. Akintola that her rival became wealthy and powerful only because her husband was premier and that she could become so too if only her husband would stop playing “a puppet”, was a fatal error that eventually led her husband into political abyss and eventual self-immolation. As Senator AdebanjiAkintoye explains, it was “the loyalty to her husband (that) drove (more) people to (Hannah Awolowo’s) store. She became one of the biggest trader in Gbaji (Market)” by the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The third issue is the notion that Mrs. Faderera was a “liberated” woman, while Mrs. Awolowo was a “slave” to her husband’s ambitions, as implied by Akintola’s biographer. This is a basic misapprehension of the relationship of the Awolowos. They had settled from the start of their conjugal life that the one would be a successful lawyer and politician, while the other would take charge of the home front. Hannah never had any political ambition and didn’t seek power. She knew that she had business acumen and that she would, in the fullness of time, use her talents in this area to support their lives together. Her self-realization was therefore not in any way tied to pushing her husband to grab power. She offered advice when she could and served as his social radar, no doubt with enormous influence; but Hannah Awolowo never tried – nor would she even have succeeded if she tried to – impel her husband toward snatching power. She respected him sufficiently not to attempt to brashly control him.

One incident would illustrate the difference in the relationship between the Akintolas. During the installation of Oba Sikiru Adetona as the Awujale of Ijebu on April 3, 1960 – where Premier Akintola was greeted with shouts of “Awo!” – his driver later told Awolowo’s driver that, on their return journey, Mrs. Akintola complained bitterly about the “disrespect” shown to her husband, including the shouts of “Awo!” Akintola reportedly assured his wife that within six months he would ensure that “no one will hear the shout of “Awo” in this Region again“. She was said to have responded, “That is how it should be!”

Until the crisis broke into the open, Hannah made sure that Premier Akintola was treated with all the courtesies due him whenever he visited their Ibadan home. On her part, according to Awolowo, the “liberated” Faderera “did not hide her hostility” to her husband’s leader when Awolowo visited their home on February 9, 1962, as part of the peace initiatives. Even her first child, Omodele, refused to greetAwolowo until he sternly ordered her to do so. Therefore, the attitudinal differences between the two women did not lead to positive consequences for Faderera, as the biographer implicitly argue.

The fourth issue, which became popular legend in Yorubaland is the supposed “struggle” over the distributorship of Coca-Cola. Although Osuntokun gives a different account, there seemed to have been an assumption by Mrs. Akintola that Mrs. Awolowo got her distributorship of Cola-Cola on the basis of her husband’s position as premier and wanted to replace her when she became the premier’s wife. Yet, it is clear that Mrs. Awolowo could more easily have secured the distributorship of Pepsi products, if she wanted. The Western Nigerian Development Corporation (WNDC), in which the Region’s government had a lion’s share, and which was headed by Awolowo’s most loyal disciple, Alfred Rewane, was producing Pepsi Cola in partnership with an American company. Despite Mrs. Awolowo’s interest in the Coca-Cola business, Rewane tried to ensure that all government institutions patronized Pepsi rather than Coke, which was produced by the Nigerian Bottling Company, a subsidiary of the Leventis Group.

Odia Ofeimun argues that “properly speaking, Rewane was trying to set Pepsi in competition with Coke. That was what the Western Region set out to do by producing Pepsi, in the first instance. It was to compete with Coke. But unfortunately, what the public heard was different. It was as if one woman was promoting Pepsi and the other one was promoting Coke. No. Mrs. Akintola wanted to take over Coke from Mrs. Awolowo…. The reason it is important to point this out is that many people remember Chief (Mrs.) Awolowo as fighting with Mrs. Akintola often say ‘oh it was all a corruption feud’…..”