Joseph Sanusi Gbadamosi Adegoke Adelabu…he was born on the 3rd of September, 1915 and died on the 25th of March, 1958, certainly lived like a meteor and his rise was meteoric. He was Ibadan’s most prominent politician of his time. He was born in Oke-Oluokun, Ibadan, to Sanusi Ashiyanbi Adeyege Adelabu and his mother was Awujola Ajoke, who died in 1920, when Adegoke was still an infant.
Although born a Muslim, he was sent to a secular school- The Saint Davids CMS Elementary School, Kudeti Ibadan, between 1925 and 1929 and the CMS Central School, Mapo Ibadan in 1930. He had double promotions in the elementary and primary schools, he proceeded to the Government College Ibadan, where he also had double promotion. He left Government College in Form 4, and proceeded on a U.A.C scholarship to Yaba Higher College, Yaba Lagos, in 1936, which was then Nigeria’s only higher college.
Adelabu Adegoke had said of his educational exploits-
“I had a brilliant scholastic career, earning accelerated promotions on three occasions in the elementary, primary and secondary schools respectively. Despite this, I never took a second position throughout my school days. Instead, I was always several laps ahead of my runner up and not infrequently, saved tutors from tight holes.”
He was perhaps the most brilliant scholar that had passed out of the Government College, Ibadan. As was attested to by his contemporary and colleague in Government College- Professor Saburi Biobaku, who attested of his educational brilliance as thus-
“Adelabu was not much good at sports, although he subsequently distinguished himself at the long distance events, especially the half mile and mile races. It was in his studies that he excelled. At the end of his second year, he received a double promotion from class two to class four and was top of that class from the first term till the end of his time at the college. He was perhaps the brightest boy that Government College Ibadan has ever produced.”
His head master at the Central School Mapo- Chief James Ladejo Ogunshola was bereaved and Adegoke, despite being a pupil, quickly came to the rescue by taking up the classes in the absence of the bereaved headmaster. The headmaster, a diarist, wrote in his diary of Wednesday, the 15th of February 1935-
“Master Adegoke Sanusi, an old boy of central School and a pupil of Ibadan Government College who had been helping me since Monday in the school also rendered help today; he took my class in all the subjects for today.”
He was instantly employed by the U.A.C, as its first African Manager in the produce section and later the singlet factory section of the Haberdashery department. He was in the U.A.C for four years and later joined the civil service for 7 years in the cooperative department and eventually, for another 5 years, was doing his own business as a private entrepreneur. He later took sojourn in partisan politics, from where he rose from comparative obscurity, into so strong a lime light, that he had completely dazzled and baffled his opponents and admirers.
At the first meeting with Adelabu, one would be easily amazed about his strength, resourcefulness and also how he managed to get his magnetic force with which he captured his followers to the point of fanaticism. His admirers usually called him “portable Ade” and you would also easily wonder, according to him-
“How my enemies would enjoy carrying a small keg of explosives?”
He had a steady and turbulent rise in politics. He was a Councillor, chairman of the Ibadan Divisional Council, member of the Western House of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives, on the platform of the NCNC, Western Secretary of the NCNC and later rose steadily from the rank and file of the everyday politician to hold the post of Minister of Natural Resources and social services after the Federal Election of 1954.
The story goes that during campaigns for election, while others are talking themselves hoarse, Adelabu won over his supporters with inspiring songs to which all and sundry dance along the streets of his constituency.
Adelabu revels in the pomp of the worshiped and does not intend to conceal his love for their worship. As a restless and busy politician, he told a journalist during a press interview- “I can only spare you a few minutes”; and when he really got down to business, he refused to sit down, and he said- “I talk better when walking about.”
Every morning, the drummers and praise singers he took to Lagos from Ibadan, would wake up the elitist neighborhood of Ikoyi, with drumming and singing, eulogizing the exploits of the Ibadan great man and grass root politician. The Europeans or “Oyinbos” in the neighborhood, protested vehemently against this early morning nuisance and they also addressed a press conference. Adelabu in his usual style, made a minced meat of this protest, asking them to go back to their country, if they do not like his style and that was the end of the protest.
As minister in the Federal Government, Adelabu was given an official car. He took the car to his constituency in Ibadan and summoned a meeting. After the meeting at his Oke-Oluokun residence, he asked his constituents at the meeting, to be riding in the car in a group of four, from his Oke-Oluokun residence in Ibadan, to Beere round about, to savour the joy of ministerial ride. This audacious act hit the newspaper headlines the following day- “Talakawas ride in ministerial car”.
In 1956, Adelabu Adegoke left the Federal Parliament, soon after; he faced a series of criminal charges, ranging from bribery and corruption to disturbing the peace. From all these, Adelabu emerged unblemished to continue his fight for the down trodden.
During this trial, his admirers went on the street of Ibadan to sing and eulogize him with the popular song- “Adelabu ma ko owo wa na!
Igunnu lo ni Tapa, tapa lo ni igunnu!”
i.e. “Adelabu steal our money the more!
Igunnu owns Tapa, Tapa owns Igunnu! ”
Then on March 25, 1958, came another sensational story about the man whose whole life had been like a meteoric flame. The story was that Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was dead!
How did he die? Some said he had been shot. Some said he was killed with juju. Many others said he was run over, by political enemies.
But the fantastic story of his death had gone around Ibadan. Alhaji Adelabu dead? Impossible! But if he’s dead, others will surely die with him! Down with his killers! Down with all those who have hands in his death! Kill and burn them. Spare no one. Let no one live after Ade! Over his grave let us March!
That was the shout of the Ibadan masses and it was no idle cry, Ibadan became a besieged and enraged city. To avenge his death, twenty people, possibly including those who do not know him in person-were done to death by the irate crowd. Many houses were set on fire. Much property was lost.
When the law recovered from the shock, it recovered by arresting 564 persons. Of these, 102 stood trial for murder, 25 were acquitted and discharged by the lower court, and seventy seven were sent to face the Assizes.
Adegoke Adelabu was certainly the architect of grass root politics in Ibadan and with him went certain glamour from Ibadan politics. He was popularly known as “Penkelemensi”, i.e peculiar mess, which was his usual refrain when making contributions on the floor of the Western Region House of Assembly.
Adelabu’s sudden exit; ignited a volcanic eruption in Ibadan’s political firmament and a lot of distinguished personalities paid glowing tributes to this stormy petrel.
Chief H.O Davies, a front line Nigerian Nationalist painted this epithet-
“Adelabu’s life in my mind, appears to have been something like a meteor, which shines with conspicuous brilliance for a short period and disappears again into the unknown”
This was further corroborated by his friend and classmate in Government College- Professor Saburi Biobaku who also commented in his condolence remarks-
“Maybe he was one of those rare phenomena who dazzled the world by their brilliancy only to leave behind memories of what might have been.”
His friend and colleague in the Federal Parliament and also Prime Minister of Nigeria- Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in his tribute in the Daily Times of 27th March, 1958 said-
“Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was an intellectual and his capacity was recognized by his opponents” and that … “if anybody died fighting for a cause, it was Adelabu. His death was not only a loss to NCNC, but to all politicians in the country. I am really sad about his death.”
His friend and leader, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe while expressing his regret on the painful exit of Penkelemensi, also said of him-
“A man of conviction and did not disguise his feelings on any particular issue” and that he was- “a man of amazing intelligence, ready with and uncanning understanding of human nature.”
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the then Premier of the Western Region, summed it up, when he said-
“Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was, in his life time, and ever since he entered politics, a fighter first and last, with all the characteristics of a fighter. He was fearless, formidable, forthright, often caustic and uncompromising. In his death, the NCNC had lost a very able, indomitable and extremely resourceful leader and Nigeria, a most colourful, versatile and undoubted nationalist.”
The story of the passage of Adegoke Adelabu was equally strange and interesting. Unusually, he woke up his household at about 4:30am, had his morning prayers, had his shave, bath and toiletries, had his usual breakfast of Akamu (pap) and summoned his young children for a meeting.
As recalled by his first daughter- Adedoyin Jagun, who was about 8 years old then, her father, Adegoke Adelabu admonished them early in the morning-
“E lo mu ara yin se giri… Ori lo mo ibi ti ese n re”
– “you should all work hard and be up and doing, it is only the head that knows where it is to go with the feet.”
At about 7:00 am, he entered a Peugeot 205 car that belonged to his white friend- a Syrian British national, who had come from Lagos to pick him on a business trip.
He called his aides- Adeleke and Ganiyu and he bid them goodbye. Adegoke Adelabu left no single penny in his bank account. The two houses he had at Oke Ado, he had sold and kept the money in the bank until later, when he withdrew the money gradually, to cater for the poor of Ibadan. He left his Oke-Oluokun residence as his only property. Adelabu also took loans from the bank to buy the Auxmobile car with Registration Number- IB-121, which he used as a private car.
Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, being so enamoured with the life and times of Adegoke Adelabu, would easily, always, regale his audience, at any given opportunity, with memorized verses of Adegoke Adelabu’s memorable quotable quotes.
The glory of Adegoke Adelabu Penkelemensi, will continue to gather legendary coatings, as the years go by and as the story of his greatness passes from one generation to another. Akande Iji Oloye Igbeti, may your soul continue to rest in peace.
•To be continued…
This piece was written by:
HON. (BARR.) FEMI KEHINDE ATTORNEY AT LAW AND FORMER MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, REPRESENTING AYEDIRE/IWO/OLA-OLUWA
LiveTimesNG is an Online news platform of LiveTimes Media Services registered by Corporate Affairs Commission and aim at serving members of the public with interesting news on politics, entertainment, sports, and other credible news contents, especially for Nigerian audiences.