A former governor of old Oyo State, Dr Victor Omololu Olunloyo in this interview with SAM NWAOKO, reveals what many see as the myth around his doting mother as he served in several governments from age 27; his Government College, Ibadan experiences and sundary encounters. Excerpts:
Sir, there was this file you were said to have been afraid of touching when you were the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. What was this all about?
I saw the publication about that in the social media and there was an error because they mentioned Bola Ige. The file was about, incidentally, Diya’s home town, Odogbolu. There are three Obas in Odogbolu: The Moloda, the Elesi and the Orimadegun. In another town nearby, known as Ayepe, there are also three Obas. Before 1952, there was colonial administration. The first entry in the file was in 1917, in the first entry, they said “Put away, pending, further information.” Some of those colonial things are very interesting. They carry their own bias and there is nothing innocent about it. So, in 1917, that volume was opened. The next time was about 1953 or 1954 when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was leader of Government Business and Minister of Local Government. Awolowo, having read the file and thinking about it, said: “Pending. See pages so and so. For action later.” When Akintola came, he also wrote “Pending, see pages so and so. The last writer is from the area. If he hesitated, I must hesitate.” So when we became self-government, They were divided into ministries and this one came under my purview. My Permanent Secretary (I had about three or four who worked with me in Chieftaincy Affairs and they ended up as Head of Service): Akingbade, Head of Service, Ondo State; Degun, Head of Service, Ogun State; Abinusawa, Oyo State and so on.
So, the file came to my table, and we had been solving difficult problems. Three of the difficult problems we solved were the Alaafin of Oyo, which took four years. An Alaafin of Oyo had been appointed before Lamidi Adeyemi. We had to scrap the appointment (of Ladepo). There was a Commission of Inquiry. There were two edicts. All of them were revoked by the same man who made them, General Adeyinka Adebayo. What happened was that there was a very sinister link between Iwo and Ife. The Alowolodu Family of Oyo has several sections and several Mogajis. Mogaji Oranlola was the head Mogaji at that time, and his mother was born at Iwo and the Commissioner was Alade Lamuye. So, everybody saw that link. Each time they were asked to nominate a candidate, Oranlola will say there was only one person, whereas 11 people were in the race, and they were supposed to give the thing to Sanda Meradesa, Bayo Sanda’s father as the head of the Omo Obas. So, we solved that problem.
The second issue was Balogun of Ijebu Ode. I had to derecognise 22 Ijebu chiefs. There were 25 of them. I derecognised them namely that the Awujale put them all under Awujale except for three: The Awujale, the Lisa and the Ogbeni Oja. The Ogbeni Oja was a minor chieftaincy but the man who occupied the position was influential and rich. So, we gave him that honour. One Degun is from Ijebu Ode and his father was a Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) pastor. He was a gentleman. He said he felt I could solve the Odogbolu problem and decided to bring the file for me to treat. When he brought it and I studied the file, I said ‘Mr Degun, look at what the colonial people wrote; look at what Awolowo wrote and look at what Akintola wrote. And the chairman of the Local Government Service Board was an Odogbolu man who was regarded as a repository of wisdom. I consulted him and he said “Omololu, don’t touch that file.” So, when the file came to me, I then lectured Degun about examinations. If they give you an exam and they say full marks will be awarded to correct answers to six questions out of 10 questions, you must use the first five minutes to select the easiest of the questions and then smash them. It is not your business to plunge into number one and undo yourself. We used to be very rascally when Oyelese and Chike Obi were teaching us. If they gave us four questions to answer any three, I earned a nickname: “Mark any Three.” That means I would do all four and then I ask the teacher to mark any three he liked. So, my name was “Mark any Three.” That’s how that story came, but they are not being fair to Bola Ige. He didn’t handle the matter.
So you didn’t treat the file?
I did. I wrote ‘pending’ like my predecessors. Then I gave him a lecture that not every problem could be tackled. There were some problems which looked difficult but were easy for us to tackle. For instance, one was the Owa of Igbara Oke. Oba Agbede. He was an engineer in the Railways, and was working in the Railways Engineering section. He got injured and his hand was severed in the accident. He was a man of principle and honesty and he was acceptable to the people. But those who didn’t like him wrote a petition in which they said they could not have a one-handed man as their Kabiyesi. But we said he didn’t come into the world one-handed, but he is now going to go to his grave, perhaps one-handed. It’s not his fault. The example we used was Adesanya, Awujale of Ijebuland. He was a very handsome man. There was a dispute in which he lost his right hand. The British nevertheless made him the Awujale. He was so handsome that every time an almanac was published, there was a rush because the man was very handsome; you could almost say he was beautiful. So, there were precedence one could use for determining this kind of matter. So, Agbede became the Owa of Igbara Oke.
You were 27 when you served as a commissioner. How did handling of issues that would be said to concern the elderly come to you? Were you not somewhat intimidated by the weight of some of these issues?
I was not Commissioner for Chieftaincy as a young man. At 27 I was Commissioner for Economic Planning and Community Development with special responsibility for the 1962 Census. This was under Majekodunmi, during the Emergency. The census part of it was the highlight because of statistics. The actual national population figures were something like 17 million in the South and the whole of the North, 14 million. Of the 17 million in the South, there were 9 million in the East, 8 million in the West and 14 in the whole of the North. It was more rational because as you go towards the desert, the density of population decreases. Even from the 1931 census, there were only 17 million. Anyway, all the secret papers of these activities, you can see them today somewhere. I had a mysterious link with Chief Awolowo. I gave them to Chief Awolowo because I thought that they concerned the Action Group more.
There was no rigging of census that time?
No. But there’s something very strange. The way I handled that census under Majekodunmi made some permanent secretaries to recommend me and I was quite shocked when I heard my name over the radio that I’ve been made a commissioner again. There was another thing I gave Awolowo apart from the census. It’s about 12 2/3.
What about 12 2/3 sir?
The thing about the twelve 2/3 is that some men in Yorubaland, Simeon Adebo, General Adebayo and two other people got in contact with me and they shortlisted two poeple: Awojobi and me. Awojobi was a first class mechanical engineer, but he was not a mathematician. I was both a mechanical engineer and a mathematician. They then had a rapporteur and the rapporteur as a slightly older man, asked Awojobi to present what he had and make the opening glee. So, he gave everything he had, the way he thought it should be approached and so on and I knew it would not go to any end. I gave him an alternative route. But Nigerians like degrees and paper certificates and so on. Awojobi had a D.Sc., I didn›t have a D.Sc., but the problem was not an engineering problem, it was a mathematical problem and I got to the heart of it. I wrote eight articles (Monday Think Tank) on it for the Tribune, on the non-interchangeability which I wanted them to use in court. The explanation is in the Tribune Library, eight consecutive weeks.
The substance is, first of all, Awolowo insisted that 12 2/3 was not rational; was not sensible or reasonable. But I succeeded in proving, although not with a wave of the hand, in giving the idea of 12 2/3 a natural construction. What Awolowo’s lawyer ought to have done was to make the thing an alternative to say the condition that ought to be satisfied was 13 or in the alternative, 12 2/3. Not that it must be 13. That it must be 13 was easily defeated by somebody from the opposition party. When I did the calculations, I found that even if you said it was 12 2/3, Shagari did not make that figure, he did not satisfy the condition. It is either 12 2/3 or in the alternative, 13. Before you could be president the law said you must win in at least two thirds of the total 19 states we had in Nigeria then. Shagari won in 12. Kano State was the contestious one. Before you can become a governor you are expected to win in at least two thirds of a certain number of local governments in the state, etc. The two thirds of Kano State’s 20 local governments had meaning in terms of the governorship election in Kano State. If it had been 12 3/5, 12 4/7 those are weird fractions. But 2/3… Even if it had been 12 1/3, it would have still been weird. But 2/3…
So, Shagari did not score the two thirds in Kano?
He didn’t score the two thirds. Two thirds (of 20 Local Governments) in decimal is something like 13.3. Instead he scored 12 point something. How I discovered it is that I asked my brother, he lent me his computer and I ran a programme. He was in the University of Lagos, he died last year. He was not a professor then.
By way of digression, there were some ‘captive states’, that is those that could not be won by Shagari: Imo and Anambra. You know to whom those would go. Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Lagos, Bendel, you know to whom those would go. So, remove seven from 19, you’ll be left with 12. So it’s a natural critical thing. You see the subtlety of that. That means it was a disaster waiting to happen. Before any vote was cast, everybody knew that nobody was going to get 13 states. We did the calculation just in one evening. Of the 20 local governments in Kano, you find out which one Shehu Shagari scored the highest. It happened to be Kano Municipality: 50.1%. Next was Dambatta, 48.2, next and next. If you went through the whole list, it ended with something like 12 point something. The whole state didn’t reach 25 per cent for him. Isn’t it an easy calculation? It starts at the high level of 50.1 at Kano Municipality and Bichi and like that, down the line. Then I drew a line at where he had scored up to two thirds. As you come down in descending order, you’ll see that if he got two-thirds of Kano State, it would show easily. The cut off point in the calculation should be at 13, but when we got to 13, there was already a disaster. The two-thirds of 20 is 13 1/3 but he had fallen below that. He ended up with 12 point something. So, I analysed the three judgements in the Tribune. There was the majority judgement, there was the consenting judgement of Obaseki. The majority judgement was given by Fatai-Williams and two others. It’s in the book, “Cases, places and faces.” The third judgement was the dissenting judgement of Kayode Eso. He said the only reasonable thing was 13, because you can’t have a fraction of human beings.
There are so many myths around your person when you were the governor. One of it was that your mother was your de facto chief security officer (CSO)? She used to screen your visitors…
I just used her to scare people away.
Why would people be scared?
She was very inquisitive. Look at this book for instance, “The Path to Play” by Adelegan. When I had a problem which was getting intractable, she’ll step in. There’s one amazing episode as recorded in the book: (Reads from the book).
“Olunloyo came to Ipetu-Ijesa accompanied by his mother to speak to my people, especially the representatives of the so-called Ibadan reactionaries.” You can see the rest in the book…
So, why did you go to Ipetu with your mother?
The problem was very difficult. So, I took her there as a scarecrow…
Scarecrow. You know, when you see an unusual scenario…
But it’s quite unusual for a commissioner to have been accompanied by his mother on an official duty tour?
Yes… But a young commissioner.
And Mama was quite comfortable following you?
Yes. She was quite comfortable. Bola Ige followed me somewhere in Osogbo. He followed me to Fakunle Comprehensive High School. We had some trouble there and I asked him to follow me. He was Commissioner for Lands, I was Commissioner for Education. So, they were wondering what Bola Ige came to do. We were friends and I took him along and the teachers at Fakunle were scared to see the two of us… Two rascals in conductor dress.
Mama following you about has some metaphysical angle to it?
There was nothing. She was just there.
Chief Obasanjo was in Ibadan sometime ago and he said you should take him to Mama?
And you took him to Mama?
And only three of you were inside with her?
No, we were more than that. We were about 12 people. What happened was that Obasanjo is an Owu but he didn’t know that we were also Owu. So, the day he discovered that he was very excited.
What was the discussion you and Chief Obasanjo had with Mama?
What was that…?
Sir, any regrets that you didn’t study law?
Yes. First of all, in 1947 when I saw a lawyer dressed up… I had never seen any professional so well dressed, it was so impressive. I wanted to be a lawyer. But so did my father, who rather died prematurely, at 42. But there’s a lot of correlation between legal studies and mathematics. Lord Denning typifies the link, the same thing with mathematics and music. There’s a very close correlation.
You would have been a very potent threat to lawyers and judges if you had combined law with your mathematics?
You see, those books there are all Lord Denning. Those are the laws of Oyo State given to me officially. On the other side are books by my friend, Afe Babalola, whom I first met in Gbongan in 1949. I met him at Gbongan and I was very amazed at the depth of his intellect.
What was he doing there?
He was a pupil teacher. So, I told my grandfather that there was a strange teacher, and he was the only one who could argue with me logically. And that I don’t know what he was doing teaching pupils in Gbongan. I asked that he should facilitate his release from the bond under which he was teaching… When you go to teacher training college funded by government, you would be ‘bonded’, as they say. I told my father and he was released eventually. Two years after, he passed school certificate. Another two years after I spoke with my grandfather, he passed GCE O Level, another two years, GCE A Levels and then BSc, Economics and then he went on to Law. He is my lawyer and also made me interested in Law and I contribute to his chambers, sometimes he calls me to his “black table.” You have about six lawyers there and he would post a question to them for them to find solution. We start at about eight in the evening and sometimes, we end at about 1am or 2am, at Adamasingba. So, he is a very peculiar man. Sometimes I had fears for his eyes because he would read throughout the night. Some of these questions, he would not take part. He would let the boys, many of them are SANs to find the answers. Chieftaincy matters, contracts, torts, canons of statutory interpretations and so on. I would give them problems unaided and they would rack their brains until they got an answer. His books are here. On the Olubadan Seriki problem, I used one of his prefaces… When you win a case and you don’t enforce it, then the matter just lies there. That was what happened to the Seriki people. There’s another lawyer, called Onalaja, who wrote very felicitous forward to one of his books and I used it in a six-page article in the Tribune. Afe read it and gave me half a million Naira for the article.
He read the article and gave you the money because he was impressed?
Yes. It was taken from his book, and the way it was used. It’s about government that missed the point altogether. So, that’s Afe. He became my lawyer in the polytechnic case; then Alaafin’s lawyer and then Obasanjo’s lawyer.
You might as well have had time to study Law if you really wanted to?
But I studied law seriously under Professor David Ijalaye of the University of Ife. I went to give a lecture which featured again about four years ago. A student was at that lecture, and years later when he was giving his inaugural lecture at the University of Lagos, he said he would begin with a definition of mathematics. He said his definition was as a result of a lecture I gave when he was a student in Ife, 34 years earlier. He settled for what I said when he was at Ife. That evening, after giving that lecture, I called on Ijalaye that I wanted to read law just for its own sake and that he should give me a reading list. He was a professor and Dean. He gave me a reading list of 30 books. Immediately, I found 28 of the 30 books in Odusote bookshop and they ordered the remaining two from their Lagos office. I read the books and then to enlighten me more, I used to attend court when there was an interesting case.
In the whole lot of books here and that you have read, you said you find Shakespeare and TS Eliot most interesting? Why is this so?
I just find them interesting. I just enjoy them, and this is right from school. Shakespeare is immortal. TS Eliot, you will have to read a whole lot before you will appreciate his writing. Soyinka too… He was our hero in Government College, Ibadan. He used to write our criticism of the teachers and other staff.
Were you classmates at Government College?
No. He was two years ahead of us. His father made him, before he came to the school, to write one essay a day. His name was S. A. Soyinka, he was the Headmaster of Ake Primary School. So, he was called Baba S A, which sounded like Baba oni Essay. We would all submit our criticism of our teachers and he would write it. Some teachers were not as bright as some pupils in some subjects. So, one day people said they were fed up with the History teacher. The Geography teacher was the principal at one time. The other principal was mathematics, we had J. B. Ojo, Bakare and there were Europeans.
We found out two things about Soyinka. The first thing we found was about the libraries. We had the house library and the school library. When you borrow a book. You enter it. We found that Soyinka entered four times more books than other students. So, we concluded that he was not reading them. David Copperfield, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and so on. Owosina, who later became the greatest orthopaedic surgeon in Nigeria, at Igbobi, suggested that we did one thing: We should take the books he said he had read and divide the books among ourselves and we were going to ask him deep questions. We asked Soyinka if he was available for such a thing and he said he was ready anytime we were ready. So, we took him on and extracted quotes from the book and he would give you the exact book and where the extract was taken from. We went on and on and he got all of them. Then we gave up. It was shocking that he was reading four times as much as the rest of us students were doing.
So, on this occasion, he wrote a very scathing criticism of the teachers. The incompetent ones; the ones who were posted there because their husbands happened to be there, and so on. The Principal said “we have read the suggestion box. Boys are taking liberty for license. We shall no longer have a suggestion box. When you pass out and become teachers, take any suggestion you like from your pupils. But we stop it from today. One last thing I like to say. This last one that is stopping the whole thing, from the lexis, the vocabulary, the grammar, all quotations, this can only be the work of Wole Soyinka. He’s the author, we know that. But we know you chose him.”
There were some boys who were very bright. The son of the Alaafin Gbadegesin and the son of Fagunwa, they were classmates. They were very bright. They were below us. They were particularly bright, the son of the Alaafin Ladigbolu and Fagunwa. They were the ones that brought the suggestion that this man’s name had to be changed. Wole Soyinka, that is WS. William Shakespeare.
How would you like to be remembered? Somebody will have to write your epitaph but if given the opportunity, what would you say of yourself?
I think I will like to say ‘here lies a peculiar kind of man’. Almost like Adelabu. My first cousin went to America. He went from Igbobi to Harvard, MIT, McGill and Denver Colorado and returned to Oshodi. He died at 40. At his grave in Kudeti, he wrote something that you might find in Gray’s elegy, “you passing by will soon be in the same state that I am.” So, from that day, we christened him “William Shakespeare”. Their class was a bright class. Probably, the brightest boy in their class was one Oni, who became the Director of Medical Services at the very early stage of the Western Region. Oni of Ilesha, from Otapete Primary School. There was Olumuyiwa Awe, Physics; Abel Guobadia, INEC; Wole Soyinka, Christopher Kolade… They normally admitted 24 candidates, but one candidate said he could not afford the fees of £22. So they had to take No. 25. When they did the first exam in the school, the No. 25 took the second position. That man is Ladipo Akinkugbe.
What about Adegoke Adelabu?
Adegoke Adelabu was admission No. 96 in Government College. The best tribute to Adelabu was by Saburi Biobaku, who used to be called Bisiriyu in the school. Biobaku’s admission number is 121. He said Adelabu was the brightest boy the school had ever produced. Saburi Biobaku graduated in English in London and History at the Trinity College, Cambridge. In-between, he taught at the school, he was a pupil at the school. He was one year behind Adegoke Adelabu. When Adelabu became leader of the opposition, he was the secretary to the Premier. Adelabu was Sanusi Joseph Adelabu in school. He was not bearing Adegoke then.