When we talk of Nigerian political heroes, late Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the second premier defunct western region, now made up of Oyo, Ondo and Ekiti states, cannot be left out.
46 years ago, precisely January 15, 1966, he was assassinated by a tribally motivated coup that toppled the Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Federal Administration. If Akintola was alive today, he would be 102-year-old, but he died at 56, as the greatest Nigerian political hero.
As a detribalised Nigerian he flew to Kaduna on January 14, 1966 with the sole intention of convincing late Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Northern premier and leader of the NPC, to flee to Niame, Niger Republic. But Ahmadu Bello told Akintola to return to Ibadan even if death would meet him there. He complied and died at home.
This was after Ahmadu Bello consulted the prime minister, Rt. Honourable Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who dispelled the coup threat following security report.
Akintola, a renowned orator, astute politician and administrator, was born in Ogbomosho, Oyo state on July 6, 1910. In preparation for independence in 1960, AG took a decision that was to change the career of Akintola and history of the party. Following the 1959 eve of independence elections and in order to project the party’s image at the national level, Awolowo, the party leader, was elected to the Federal House of Representatives where he became leader of Opposition. Akintola took Awolowo’s place as premier. This led to conflict over the implementation of AG’s policies in the West Regional Government. In 1962, things came to a head when there was an open clash in the western parliament between supporters of the two leaders.
He later resigned from AG and formed a new party with some members of Nnamdi Azikiwe led NCNC with Fani-Kayode as his deputy. This was after the election of October 1965 that culminated in the ethnic sponsored coup of January 15, 1966. Akintola, in my view, is the greatest Nigerian martyr. He was alerted of a coup but remained defiant.
Before their relationship went sour in the early sixties, Awolowo and Akintola were close confidants. Both were founding members of AG. In 1959, soon after the federal parliamentary elections, Awo became opposition leader and Akintola succeeded him as premier. Thereafter, mutual suspicion began; fuelled.
Akintola, as premier, began to consolidate his position in power, and increasingly resented what he considered as Awo’s undue interference in his administration, hence the popular slogan “Akintola taku” (meaning, Akintola remains adamant).
The NNDP entered an alliance with the ruling NPC to the Nigerian national alliance (NNA). This move was, however, political suicide as the NPC conservative party largely dominated by northerners, had no chance where the AG held sway.
Tension began to build up in the west with resentment mounting against the Akintola government. Then came the regional elections in October 1965 and the announcement of Akintola’s NNDP as winner in the west. This brought spontaneous violence in the region, leaving in its wake tales of human horror and destruction which earned the region the tag of wild wild west.”
The western region crisis snowballed into a national crisis which terminated the civilian government in post-independence Nigeria (First Republic) by the first military coup on January 15, 1966. The coup, masterminded by a crop of young military officers, was led Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and claimed the lives of prominent members of government, including Akintola.
Allthough turbulent, Akintola’s tenure as premier also witnessed some positive developments. It was during his premiership that the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife was opened in 1962. So also was the Sketch Press Limited and Wemabod (Western Nigeria Marketing Board) both in 1963.
Late Akintola was detribalised. He first resigned as a teacher in 1942 from Baptist Academy when three teachers were sacked, one of them (not a Yoruba but Efik from Cross River by name Mr. Emmanuel Esua).
A vitriolic writer, Akintola, through his editorship of the Daily Service, attacked what he perceived as injustice, not minding whether the perpetrator was high or low, but Nigerian. He later founded the Irohin Yoruba, which he also edited and used to pursue the same cause.
Akintola won a British Council scholarship in 1946 to study for a diploma in public administration in the UK and thereafter read law at the Barnet House. It was while in the UK that he joined Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Yoruba socio-cultural organisation.
Akintola returned to Nigeria in 1949, after being called to the bar, to start a law firm with Messers Chris Ogunbanjo and Michael Odesanya, both also successful lawyers.
In 1957, Akintola was appointed minister of aviation under the central government of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, whom he had persuaded to form a government of national unity sequel to the election victory of Tafawa Balewa’s party, the NPC. It was his tenure as aviation minister that set up the Nigeria airways in 1958 with the British overseas airways as technical partners.
By Hon. Sidi H. Ali. Ali wrote in from Kano