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ARCHIVE! (AJASIN Vs Omoboriowo) HOW Politicians set Ondo State on Fire, many people roasted, properties burnt (1) (A MUST READ INSIDE STORY)

Akin Omoboriowo (left) and Adekunle Ajasin
Akin Omoboriowo (left) and Adekunle Ajasin

This story was written by ONIGEGEWURA for the benefit of students of history, the Political gladiators and the people of all divides to learn lessons.

Although the incident has come and gone in 1983 but the political wranglings among politicians still continue unabated giving credence to it that we decide not to learn from history

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We should not forget a sense of history for us to know the perfect way forward.  

Those struggling for power should watch it, you can only determine the beginning of any battle, you are not given the power to know where and when it would end. You may be protected but who protects your extended family?  

We should always endeavour to ‘give peace a chance’ where ever or anywhere we are.

THINK ABOUT THIS!

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“SOME said what she threw at the building was an egg. Others claimed it was a local grenade. What was not in dispute is that whatever the half-naked elderly woman threw at the office of the Federal Electoral Commission [FEDECO] was powerful enough to set the building on fire.

In a twinkle of an eye, the office was up in flames. It was not the only compound on fire. From Akure to Ondo, from Owo to Ado-Ekiti, the whole of Ondo State was burning.

The protesters were unstoppable. The half-naked woman was strolling ahead of the protesters like an army general.

Once a building was identified for her, out came her magical egg and the next moment the building would be on fire. Anywhere you turned to in Akure, the skyline was enveloped in thick, dark smoke.

People were not spared. First to fall victim of the rampaging crowd was Hon. Olaiya Fagbamigbe who was a member of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos.

Fagbamigbe was the publisher of the trilogy of collected speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo titled Voice of Reason, Voice of Wisdom, and Voice of Courage. You have seen the books? He was not the only one. He was killed along with his brother, James Fagbamigbe. Hon. Tunde Agunbiade was also caught in the crossfire. He was a member of the Ondo State House of Assembly.
From one house to another.

From one street to another. From one town to another, the carnage went on and on. The thunderstorms of tragedy continued to reverberate throughout the length and the breadth of Ondo State.

It was a day Ondo State would never forget. But what could have turned the hitherto peaceful state to a theatre of war?

What could have turned a people who were formerly in the same political family into sworn enemies?

Four years earlier, the Unity Party of Nigeria – the political party founded by the legendary Obafemi Awolowo – had won a landslide victory to produce the first democratically elected Governor of the State.

It was an unprecedented victory. UPN had coasted home to victory with 94.50% of the votes cast, leaving the four other political parties [National Party of Nigeria, Nigeria Peoples Party, Great Nigeria Peoples Party and Peoples Redemption Party] to share the remaining 5.50% amongst themselves.

Of the 66 State House of Assembly seats, UPN won 65 leaving NPN with only one seat.

To many a political watcher, the emergence of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Chief Victor Akinwole Omoboriowo as the Governor and the Deputy Governor respectively was the best thing that could have happened to the State. Ajasin was elderly and full of wisdom.

At 71 in 1979, he had earned his stripes as a tested administrator, legislator, school principal, and as a member of the Federal Advisory Council. Awolowo respected his maturity, experience, and loyalty. Omoboriowo, on the other hand, was youthful and vibrant.

Like Awolowo, he was a socialist by orientation and a legal practitioner by profession. In 1979, he was 47 years old. Awolowo admired his passion, brilliance, and energy.
If the people of Ondo State had expected anything, it was that the Governor and the Deputy Governor would get on well like a house on fire. For one, both of them were committed Awoists to the core.

Akin Omoboriowo (left) and Adekunle Ajasin
Akin Omoboriowo (left) and Adekunle Ajasin

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The Action Group was founded in Owo – Chief Ajasin’s hometown. On his own part, Chief Omoboriowo was an extremely loyal party man. He was the author of a seminal work on the philosophy of Awolowo appropriately titled Awoism – Selected Themes on the Complex Ideology of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. What could therefore go wrong?

What was however unknown outside the party caucus is that Omoboriowo was not Ajasin’s preferred choice of running mate. According to him: “Omoboriowo was not the man I had intended as my running mate, and my future deputy. But I picked Omoboriowo at the instance of Chief Awolowo who vouched for his capability and loyalty.”

On his own part, Omoboriowo considered Ajasin as being too old to be the governor. When Awolowo asked him for names of possible candidates to fly the flag of the party during the 1979 Elections, he responded by mentioning the names of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Professor Sam Aluko, Chief Ayo Fasanmi and Banji Akintoye.

Apparently not satisfied with the response, Awolowo prodded him for other likely candidates. It was at that point that Omoboriowo volunteered Ajasin’s name.

The Leader then smiled and informed him that Ajasin appeared to be the most experienced among the names so far mentioned. Omoboriowo immediately raised two fundamental points against the candidacy of the retired school principal. His first objection was that Ajasin at 71 was too old to be a governor.

His second point of objection was the desire of the Ekitis to produce the governor on account of their population which was said to be the largest in the old Ondo State. Ajasin was from Owo.

In response to Omoboriowo’s objection, Awolowo was said to have responded with “…We have to balance Ajasin’s age with the dynamism of a person from the main ethnic group in the State.” Hence the choice of Omoboriowo, an Ekiti man, as Ajasin’s running mate.

It was against the backdrop of this strange pairing that the party recorded its landslide victory in the 1979 Elections.

The first cracks began to appear on the wall of the party in the State barely six months after their inauguration. Probably on account of his advanced age, it was assumed that Ajasin would not be able to effectively discharge his functions as the governor, thereby ceding the responsibility to his younger deputy.

Ajasin however proved the bookmakers wrong by not only being active but also by showing that he was not ready to be an armchair governor. After all, ori ti a fi se ewe ko ti kuro l’orun [the head which an elder used as a young person does not desert him in old age].

This is how Ajasin put it: “Omoboriowo had expected that I would only be able to reign and not to rule. As far as he was concerned, I was going to be the de jure Governor while he would be the de facto Governor.”

On his own part, Omoboriowo attributed the genesis of the problem to Ajasin’s conservatism: “Chief Awolowo believed that it was elderly people who could administer without problems. No, it turned out that the elderly people, because of their set ideas, created more problems than members of the younger generation.”

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The problem was further compounded by the operation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979. As you are already aware, the Constitution did not provide specific executive functions for the Deputy Governor. It was left to the discretion of the Governor to assign duties and responsibilities to his deputy as he thought fit.

Omoboriowo claimed to have been sidelined in the running of the government of the State. It was his case that major decisions were taken by the Governor without his knowledge. Instances of these include: the dismissal of Professor C. S. Ola as the Secretary to the State Government; the dismissal of Dr. Bode Olowoporoku as the Commissioner for Economic Planning; the decision to establish six branches of the Owena Bank in different parts of the State; and the appointment of all full-time members of corporations, amongst others.

It was also claimed that the Governor was in the habit of paying unscheduled official visits to industries and corporations under Omoboriowo’s schedule of duties without the knowledge of the deputy governor. An instance was given where the governor went to ‘commission’ the Ero Dam Project which was largely supervised by Omoboriowo without the latter’s knowledge.

That was not all. Ajasin was also accused of being discriminatory against the Ekitis. It was claimed that no major project was sited in Ekitiland and that Ekiti were being treated as second-class citizens of the state.

The governor was accused of dismissing people who were sympathetic to Omoboriowo and replacing them with his own loyalists.

On August 11, 1981, Omoboriowo sent a memorandum to his boss in which he brought up the issue of his marginalization in the administration of the State. In the memo, Omoboriowo stated: “…I have just read this morning on the pages of newspapers that you have removed the Honourable Commissioner for Economic Planning and Statistics, Dr. M. O. Olowoporoku from office. I do not wish to go into the merits or otherwise of the termination, but in a major matter like this Your Excellency should have mentioned it to me before terminating the appointment…”

If the issues had been limited to the foregoing perhaps the situation would not have snowballed into the mayhem it became. Perhaps the gathering clouds would have disappeared eventually. Perhaps…

To the people in Ajasin’s camp, Omoboriowo was nothing but an overambitious young man who was not ready to wait for his turn. It was felt that Omoboriowo’s game plan was to portray Ajasin as ineffective and show the people of Ondo State that he was the brainbox of the administration and that the
Governor was merely a rubber stamp for Omoboriowo’s intellect and ideas.
At party meetings, it was said that Omoboriowo would try to outdo Ajasin by making contributions that suggested that he had a superior knowledge and was better informed than his boss on the subject matter under discussion.

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In many cases, the Deputy Governor was accused of being in the habit of jumping up to answer questions specifically directed at the governor in order to project himself as someone more knowledgeable and capable.

It was also observed that the Press was giving more publicity to the Deputy more than the Governor. Every function attended by Omoboriowo was given lavish Press coverage, usually on the front page whilst the governor’s programmes were tucked somewhere amongst obituary and advertisements. To the governor’s team, this was nothing but acts of a rebellious Deputy who did not wish his boss well.

On the allegation that he was not being allowed to ‘commission’ projects which he superintended,

Ajasin’s response was that as the person elected the governor by the people, he considered it his responsibility and duty to personally commission projects which, in most cases, usually have plaques with his name on it. It was also his view that the people would feel more honoured by his presence than that of his deputy.

In dismissing the allegation of Ekiti marginalization leveled against the Governor, Prof Sam Aluko was of the view that the story came mainly from Messrs Akerele and Babatola who wanted to be full-time Chairmen of Ondo State Radio Corporation and Housing Corporation respectively but were given part-time appointments.

As fate would have it, Chief Adekunle Ajasin took ill in 1981. Naturally, the Deputy Governor became the Acting Governor. It was alleged that Omoboriowo did not believe that Ajasin could survive the illness.

He therefore did not waste time before consolidating his hold on power. He started making arrangements for setting up his own government machinery. Dr. Bode Olowoporoku who had been removed by Ajasin as a Commissioner was offered the post of the Secretary to the State Government.

At a point, rumour of Ajasin’s death hit the state. As the Acting Governor, Omoboriowo stood to be the major beneficiary if the news were to be true.

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According to Aluko, this was the beginning of the trouble.

Ajasin however did not die. He soon came back to Akure as the Governor. On his return, a lot of people went to tell him that his Deputy was not very loyal and that he behaved badly while he was sick.

The Governor was also informed that his Deputy had given the impression to the state parliamentarians that were he to be the substantive governor he would have met all their monetary demands.

If there were cracks in the wall before Ajasin left for Lagos, the cracks widened upon his return. By the end of 1981, the crisis had developed into open confrontation. You know that ti ofon ba ti to si gbegiri, o di ki eleko o ko eko re da ni [when a rat urinates into a soup, that’s the end of the dinner].

The state became polarized as government functionaries began to pitch their tent either for or against the governor.

Elders in and outside the state began to take steps to nip the crisis in the bud. Many of them were old enough at the time of the crisis between Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola in the old Western Region.

None of them wanted a repeat of the bloodbath they witnessed in the 1960s. They therefore left no stone unturned in their bid to resolve the feud between the warring leaders.

On January 19, 1981, a peace meeting was called at the palace of the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti.

This was followed by another one on January 28 at the same venue. At the two meetings both camps spoke about their grievances. It was at these meetings that Ajasin pointed out that the cause of the crisis was Omoboriowo’s ambition to become the governor in 1983, which Ajasin admitted was a legitimate ambition.

It was however Ajasin’s grouse that Omoboriowo was doing everything he could to earn cheap popularity to make himself Ajasin’s unchallenged successor.

These allegations were denied by Omoboriowo who claimed that at no time did he entertain the thought of becoming a governor. In his defence, he claimed that: “They sold to the governor the idea that certain people were behind me for the 1983 governorship race.

Before God and man, I did not have an ambition to contest as governor.”

What was however left unsaid was that as far back as late 1978 the impression had been created in Omoboriowo’s camp that Ajasin would only govern for the first two years and hand over the baton of leadership to Omoboriowo who would complete the first term and run for another term.

Chief Adekunle Ajasin (Left) and Akin Omoboriowo
Chief Adekunle Ajasin (Left) and Akin Omoboriowo

 

This was confirmed by Olowoporoku who revealed that: “In fact our acceptance of him (Ajasin) as a candidate was because we were told that Chief Obafemi Awolowo directed that Chief Ajasin should be allowed two years after which Chief Omoboriowo would takeover. This was the note and understanding with which we campaigned in the election of 1979.”

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Prof Aluko also appeared to corroborate the above statement of Olowoporoku when he said that: “Chief Awolowo gave us the impression that Ajasin was going to run one term only… It was planned that after the one term, Omoboriowo would contest the nomination…”

It was not certain if Chief Ajasin was a party to these ‘impressions’ and agreements. What was however certain was that Ajasin, his advanced age notwithstanding, was proving to be a very competent leader who was performing creditably well. It was becoming clear that nothing would stop him from exercising his constitutional right to re-contest in 1983.

To prevent the festering wound from becoming an open sore, the leaders of Unity Party of Nigeria mandated Chief Abraham Adesanya to look into the crisis. His efforts came to naught.

The governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, also intervened without success.
As you know egun nla lo n kehin igbale [it is the biggest masquerade that is the last to come out of the grove], Chief Obafemi Awolowo decided that the time had come for him as the Leader of the Party to intervene in the matter. It was a two-day meeting that Awolowo summoned. All party elders and leaders in the state were invited to the meeting.

Chief Awolowo listened patiently to both parties. The major grouse of Omoboriowo and his team was that the Deputy Governor had been completely marginalized by the governor in the running of the government.

The governor was also accused of refusing to provide official cars and personal offices to the members of the State House of Assembly.

On their part, Ajasin and his group accused Omoboriowo of wanting to get him involved in the running of government in such a way as to be seen to be the brain behind Ajasin’s achievements. 

Story by ONIGEGEWURA

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2…

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Adesoji Omosebi
Editor-in-Chief
SOJ WORLDWIDE…an ONLINE NEWS with a difference.

Written by Adesoji OMOSEBI

BSc Agric Science

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