Osuntokun: 30 Years After- by Mustapha Temidayo
Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the life and times of the colourful Ekiti politician, Chief Oduola Osuntokun, who passed on 30 years ago.
He was a household name in Ekitiland, and indeed, the old Western Region. Young, handsome, brilliant, hardworking, and dynamic, he made name in teaching profession, politics and administration in the fifties and sixties.
The first military coup drew the curtains on his illustrious political career in 1966. He was 44. When he died on March 6, 1990, he was 69.
He was among the first five university graduates from Ekiti, who inspired their kinsmen to embrace education as a stepping stone to occupations of meaningful economic and social value.
But, Joseph Oduola Ibijuwon Osuntokun, eventually rode to stardom on the back of pro-independence politics, serving as a member of Western House of Assembly between 1951 and 1966, chairman of Ekiti Divisional Council, and regional minister in various ministries for 10 years.
The hallmarks of his public service careers were patriotism, discipline, diligence and integrity, making him the toast of his old Ondo Province, and ally of his political leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Leader of Government Business and Premier between 1951 and 1959.
Osuntokun served the people of Western Region without enriching himself. He shone as a politician, and he shunned corruption. To the political icon from Okemesi-Ekiti, contentment was great gain.
“As a parliamentarian and political lieutenant of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, he was in the class of Anthony Enahoro, Jonathan Odebiyi and Omowonuola Adeyi in terms of erudition and oratory, always bubbling with youthful enthusiasm,” recalled his colleague and party chaplain, the late Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande.
In 1955, he was appointed by Awo as Minister of Works. Osuntokun was barely 33 years. He also served as Minister of Finance, and later, Lands and Housing, and Health and Social Welfare.
However, the split in the ruling Action Group (AG) at the rancorous Jos convention in 1962, following deep seated hostility between the party leader and Leader of Federal Opposition, and his successor at Ibadan, Premier Ladoke Akintola, led to a sort of split loyalty.
Osuntokun supported Akintola, thereby earning the lasting distrust of Awo. On that note, his Ekiti West Constituency withdrew emotional support, and between 1962 and 1966, Osuntokun’s political career was full of tension.
A youth and fan of Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe’s nationalist fervour, Osuntokun was a Geography teacher at the famous Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, after graduating from the Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone with BA Geography, Economics and English, and Diploma in Public Administration from Durham as an external candidate.
Due to his brilliance, Durham offered him a scholarship to study for Phd. But, he preferred to return home to take care of his younger brothers.
That decision paid off for the family, which later produced other national assets-Prof. Kayode Osuntokun, renowned surgeon and National Merit Award winner, Captain Edward Osuntokun, a mechanical engineer with the Nigerian Army who died in 1964, Taye Osuntokun, a former accountant in Ondo State Local Government Service Commission and Prof. Jide Osuntokun, scholar of diplomatic history and former Ambassador to Germany, who accused the late maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, of indulging in kabukabu and wuruwuru foreign policy.
Osuntokun rose to the position of vice principal at the Christ School before he was elected on merit as an ‘independent’ on the platform of Ekiti Progressive Union (EPU), led by Chief Anisulowo, to represent Ekiti in the House of Assembly along with Chief Elijah Babalola from Oye, Canon Ajayi from Ado-Ekiti, and Barrister Adeoba.
Shortly before the inauguration of the parliament in 1952, he was wooed into the AG by Chief Samuel Sonibare, Chief J.O Adigun and Anisulowo, to the consternation of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), led by Zik. Around the same time, Chief F.O Awosika, who was elected on the platform of Ondo Improvement Union, was persuaded to team up with AG by his former student at Government College at Ibadan, Chief Ayo Rosiji, AG national secretary.
The lawmakers from Ibadan Peoples Party-Adisa Akinloye, Daniel Akinbiyi, Samuel Lanlehin, Moyo Aboderin and S.A. Akinyemi also joined AG, to the disappointment of Adegoke Adelabu, who was rooting for NCNC.
By those deft moves and mobilisation, AG had 49 members of 80-member House, making the colonial governor to recognise Awo as Leader of Government Business. It was a terrible blow first Zik, an Igbo lawmaker from Surulere, who had hoped to become the premier.
Other AG colleagues of Osuntokun in the House under the parliamentary system were Joseph Odunjo, popular Yoruba author and Minister of Lands, Samuel Awokoya, Minister of Education, Akinloye, Minister of Agriculture, M.S. Sowole, Abiodun Akerele, Bode Thomas, Adigun, Rev. S.A. Daramola( an Ekiti who was elected by Egba Constituency), Ayo Okusaga, and Odebiyi.
Others included Sule Gbadamosi, Enahoro, S.O. Ighodaro, Arthur Prest, Dauda Adegbenro, Dr. Sanya Onabamiro, Oba Claudius Akran, Gabriel Akin-Deko, white-minister Ogunniran and Adeola Odutola from Ijebu-Ode.
Osuntokun played a great role in the establishment of AG branches in Ekiti towns and villages. His compatriots in party planting also included Ehinafe Babatola, B.A. Ade Ajayi, Rufus Ogunlade, Awodimula and Richard Babalola, who later became a senator.
The party was supported by Ekiti traditional rulers, particularly Ewi Anirare Aladesanmi of Ado-Ekiti, who later became the Deputy President of the House of Chiefs when Oba Akenzua II of Benin was President.
In those days, House of Representatives members were elected from the House of Assembly. Although Awo, who was impressed by Osuntokun’s pedigree and performance, had urged him to go to the Federal Parliament, he declined.
He told his leader that another load of parliamentary work in Lagos will affect his teaching career and the interest of his Christ School students.
At that time, membership of the House was not a full time job, except for ministers. Thus, legislators combined parliamentary work with their private careers.
When Awo pointed out that he will be paid as a federal legislator, Osuntokun retorted: “Man does not live by bread alone.” When he declined, the lot fell on Minister Babalola to fill the slot.
As finance minister, he believed in value engineering. But, his innovative and aggressive internally generation scheme extended tax payment to women, who protested. He was moved to Lands and Housing where he was responsible for the industrial and residential layouts of Ikorodu, Ilupeju and Ikeja.
A principled and disciplined man, Osuntokun never allocated a single plot to himselet, family or friends. While in Health and Social Welfare, he supervised the Liberty Stadium project. Osuntokun also introduced lottery in the region.
His disdain for primitive accumulation showed when as a member of the Loans Board he rejected a bribe from someone who wanted a loan of 10,000 pounds. Awo commended him for shunning evil.
His siblings were also impressed by his probity. “Whenever sporting arenas are built anywhere in this country by government, whenever industrial and residential layouts are carved out of virgin land, let it be known that Oduola Osuntokun once did the same.
The only difference is that he had no material reward for his effort, not that he sought one either. His was a job honestly done with all his heart,” Prof. Jide Osuntokun said.
In his memoir: ‘My view of the coin,’ which was edited by two of his children, Tinuola Faboya and Akin Osuntokun, a former presidential political adviser, the eminent politician demonstrated how he agitated for the infrastructural development of Ekiti in his letter to Awo.
It was ironic because Babalola, the first regional minister of public works, hailed from Ekiti. Both did not enjoy cordial relations. Osuntokun said Ekiti deserved a better deal from Awo who ensured that his native Remo Division had good roads, pipe borne water and electricity.
He warned that since Babalola, a much older politician, had claimed that ‘Ekiti roads were naturally tarred,’ he risked losing his next election, unless Awo fought the infrastructural battle in Ekiti.
The confidential letter got him into trouble at the AG Caucus meeting where Akintola acted as the prosecutor. But, Bode Thomas came to Osuntokun’s rescue.
The home boy attracted amenities to his home town. He facilitated the establishment of Okemesi Grammar School and government funding, post office, pipe borne water, redifusion, roads and resistance to the encroachment on Ajindo lands, which belong to Okemesi.
The party stalwart served AG with the greatest devotion and fidelity. For example, decided to marry a second wife, an Ado lady and daughter of an influential man, to, in the process of social identification, break or divide the town, which was a stronghold of NCNC.
He also led party campaigns to the North, particularly Adamawa areas, accompanied by Richard Babalola, second-in- command to Taiwo Oredein, the organising secretary.
He campaigned in English to the Hausa-Fulani crowd, unsure of correct interprelation by his hired interpreter. He returned, tendering a gloomy, but honest report about AG’s chance of winning. Awo flared up.
Osuntokun also traversed the East for similar exercise. AG lost the federal elections. Thus, Awo became the Leader of Federal Opposition.
If Awo had had his way, Akintola would not have succeeded him as premier. Although he was said to have preferred Akin-Deko, Justice Minister Rotimi Williams or Akran, party elders overruled him in favour of SLA.
As opposition leader, Awo apparently faced adjustment difficuties. He was used to executive power, which eluded him as opposition leader in a hostile parliament.
A section of his party, including Rosiji and Osuntokun, preferred political alliance with the Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), led in parliament by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa. Awo turned to NCNC for alliance. But, in that slippery hour, Zik ran to Bello to become ceremonial president.
Akintola, who was under pressure from his wife, Faderera, and some ministers, wanted to become his own man, a move that was interpreted as disloyalty to the party leadership, which revolved around Awolowo. He was accused of taking decisions without clearance from the leader.
At Jos, AG became divided forever. Ahead of the convention, Alayande, sensing trouble, had advised Awo in a letter to demonstrate extreme self-sacrifice and self-abnegation. “You will need to be less inflexible and more condescending,” he wrote. Akintola who had come late for the conference because he was hosting the Sardauna at Ibadan returned to base angrily. Although Awo asked Osuntokun not to go with him, he refused, saying that, as minister, he could not disobey his premier.
At the post-convention AG executive meeting at Ibadan, the regional headquarters, between 10am and 6pm, Awo, the party leader, levelled 21 accusations against Akintola, the head of government. Following advice by elders, Ogbeni-Oja Odutola, Gbadamosi and Dr. Maja, the premier prostrated to beg for forgiveness.
Later, Enahoro moved a curious motion for the deposition of Akintola as premier and the abolition of his position as AG deputy leader.
Osuntokun was disgusted. When ministers were visiting Awo to reiterate their loyalty by prostrating, he only visited the leader to explain his deep feelings about the crisis.
For a day only, Adegbenro was premier. On the day Akintola’s popularity was to be tested in the House of Assembly under Speaker Adeleke Adedoyin, there was commotion. “Hon. Oke from Ogbomoso suddenly jumped on his table and shouted: ‘fire on the mountain.’
Chief Adeyi broke a chair on Kess Momoh’s head, drawing blood. This was followed by a policeman throwing a tear gas to the floor of the House and we all ran helter-skelter for the acrimonious smoke generated from the tear gas was unbearable,” recalled Osuntokun. It was the premise for the declaration of a state of emergency.
All the leaders, including Osuntokun, were restricted by Administrator Moses Majekodunmi. It was during that tensed period when he was labeled an Akintola fanatic by provincial leaders, particularly Richard Babalola, that he finally made his stand known.
He sent Chief S. A. Daramola to Akintola in Ogbomoso to assure him of his support and loyalty. Osuntokun had parted with Awo.
When Akintola regained political control, Osuntokun was transfered to the Ministry of Economic Planning and Community Development. The premier consolimited his hold on power, struck a deal with NCNC, made Chief Remi Fani-Kayode deputy premier and Odeleye Fadahunsi as governor.
Then, the Coker Commission of Enquiry was set up to probe former Premier Awolowo. Later, Balewa said he had uncovered an arms plot against the Federal Government. Awo was arrested, tried and jailed by a court headed by Justice Sowemimo, whose hands were tied.
Osuntokun’s evidence against Awo was that Chief Awolowo boasted he had enough men to shake the federation to its foundation if he wanted to. Ironically, R. A. Babalola, who was charged along with Awo, suddenly became a prosecution witness. But, Sunday Olawoyin, who was in detention with him maintained that he will not desert Awo.
Was there any Tactical Committee? Were AG boys sent to Ghana for training for coup? All these will remain in the realm of conjecture. But, the embattled NNDP minister became more controversial during the protracted crisis. He was decried and avoided by pro-Awo fans, who consistently accused him of political harlotry and betrayal.
Osuntokun ran for his final election in 1965. He won. But, he acknowledged that in many constituencies, the exercise was marred by irregularities.
On page 108 of his autobiography, he wrote: ”The NNDP was thoroughly emerged and enmeshed in a most shameful falsification of results of the election.
Chief Fani-Kayode was the chief priest of this ritual. When and where the AG candidates polled more votes than the NNDP candidates, the greater number of votes was announced for the NNDP candidates and they were declared winners. The practice was on such a gigantic scale that the election became a sham and was unacceptable to the AG.
The region was in turmoil during the “operation wet e.” On January 15, 1966, he ceased to be a minister.
The former minister had no respite afterwards. He was detained by the military. He was tried for allegedly embezzling the farmers’ union money.
He was discharged and acquitted. Although former Military Governor Adeyinka Adebayo prevailed on him to settle his differences with Awo, which he attempted to do by visiting him at his Apapa residence, it did not lead to real renewal of contact.
He wrote to Awo and there was no reply. The bane of the progressive bloc has been the absence of effective crisis resolution mechanism and lack of forgiving spirit.
Osuntokun also ceased to be in political reckoning. He returned to teaching on the advice of Adebayo, but his foes did not relent. He was posted to St. Andrew’s College, Oyo, his alma mater, as vice principal. His principal never acknowledged him as his deputy.
Later, he became the principal of Amoye Grammar School, Ikere, which he turned around to the delight. Although he was later appointed as principal of Surulere Teachers’ Training College, Lagos, he was frustrated out of the contract appointment by his predecessor and other forces in the ministry.
His last contract posting was Okemesi Grammar School between 1975 and 1979. He was involved in an auto crash, but he survived.
Osuntokun joined patriots from the old Ondo Province to agitate for the creation of Ondo State. But, his former colleagues in the AG never carried him along during the Committee of Friends meetings, which metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Osuntokun was the Sasere of Okemesi, Basorun of Efon Kingdom and Amuwagun of Erinjiyan-Ekiti. Today, there is an Osuntokun Avenue at Bodija Estate, Ibadan.
But, Ekiti State has immortalised the political colossus by naming a Hall in Government House, Ado-Ekiti, after him. Politically, Osuntokun never bounced back.
Yet, since then, no politician has achieved greater fame in his native Ekiti West. He took solace in his apathy to graft, the career progression of the students he moulded and his supportive siblings and success of his children – Tinuola, Kunle, Bisola, Gbonju, Akin, Bankole, Bukola, Tubosun, Dipo and others