OSOBA: At His Age, Obasanjo Should Abandon Combative And Untoward Conduct
Chief Olusegun Osoba is a former governor of Ogun State. During the Nigerian Civil War he was a journalist. He was close ally of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who he insists, backed with documents, was unanimously adopted as the leader of the Yoruba people, contrary to the claims of former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the Yorubas have never been under the leadership of any particular individual. KAMAL TAYO OROPO was among the journalists who interacted with Osoba on the issue.
Awolowo Earned The Position Of Yoruba Leader
Do you share the same view with former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, that there has never been a Yoruba leader and there is no likelihood that any could emerge?
I CANNOT share such opinion with him because 49 years ago, precisely, August 12th, 1966, I was present at the forum where late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was unanimously elected the leader of Yorubas. And the election involved all stakeholders including political, cultural and intellectuals in Yoruba land. I have records to prove that Awolowo was elected, aside the newspaper publications after the election in Ibadan.
I totally disagree with the former President. And contrary to claims, Awolowo was never handpicked by some of his supporters. At the event where Awolowo was elected as the Yoruba leader, there were people of diverse political interests. For instance, does late Dr. Kuye Majekodunmi, have same political ideology as Awolowo? Or was late Chief T.O.S Benson, a staunch supporter of late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe till death, part of Awolowo’s political family?
Awolowo was released from Prison two weeks before his election as leader of the Yoruba; he was unanimously elected by all stakeholders. The governor of the Western Region at this time, General Adeyinka Adebayo; the first military governor of the Region, on Tuesday, August 10th,1966 held meetings with intellectuals and activists in Yoruba land. The next day, which was 11th, he held meetings with the traditional rulers, before the meeting of all stakeholders on the August 12th. And on this day, there was not a dissenting voice against the election of Awolowo as the leader of the Yoruba. These are some of the facts; so I can never agree with Obasanjo.
But how could Obasanjo get it wrong when he too was an active player during this period as the Garrison commander at Ibadan?
I hate to play the role of a mind reader. But my worry is that if one fails to come out as someone who was involved in the activities leading to the election of late Chief Awolowo, history would be distorted. And in future, historians, researchers will base their conclusions on the Obasanjo’s record of events.
Yes, he was also an active participant in the events at that period. As you rightly pointed out, he was the Garrison commander in Ibadan; as such he was an active member of General Adeyinka Adebayo’s cabinet. I do not think that he would have forgotten so soon the sequence of events that threw up Awolowo as Yoruba leader. He has direct knowledge of what transpired before and during the election. In fact, on that evening, some of us (journalists) interviewed Awolowo on the statement he made after his election.
What statement is that?
After his election, Awolowo remarked that he would remain as the leader of the Yoruba for the duration of the military administration. And we asked that why should he limit his election as the leader of the Yoruba to the military period. And I can remember vividly that his response to the question on that day was; that the Yoruba race is so intelligent and sophisticated that under no circumstance in a political dispensation will the Yorubas follow same political ideology. And that he decided to limit the honour bestowed on him to only the period when the common interest of the Yorubas was threatened. He argued that the day the bell for the commencement of partisan politics is rang, capitalists, like Chief Majekodunmi, Otegbeye; socialists as well as T.O.S Benson, a Zikist, will return to their political tents. They may not be in the same political party. Under such circumstances, he cannot claim to be Yoruba leader. And that was why he deliberately tenured his office with that profound statement.
What could have led to the unanimous endorsement by these leaders, considering the diversity you mentioned?
Many reasons. Awolowo had been in incarceration. And when he came out, Gowon knew that he needed influence of Awolowo. Before his imprisonment, he had been winning elections in other regions aside the Western Region. This was because he had written on issues concerning what he called the Core States (Calabar, Ojoga and River States). He had created Pan-Nigerian for himself despite some claims that he was tribal.
Another reason was that at that time, Gowon had emerged as the Head of State and virtually, he was perceived to be representing the northern voice. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu had emerged as leader for the Igbos. The Yorubas, at that time needed someone who will be seen as the rallying point. But there was no one who could contest it with Awolowo. Besides, the militants at that time, the Agbekoyas where holding the military to ransom in the entire Western Region. It was only Awolowo who could go into the jungles to persuade them to lay-down their arms. These were some factors that led to the emergence of Awolowo as Yoruba leader.
But according to Obasanjo, late Chief Adisa Akinloye and a few others, objected to the emergence of Awolowo as Yoruba leader?
Late Chief Adisa Akinloye never kicked against the election of Awolowo; even until his death. He was one of the admirers of Awolowo. He was the one who coined the word ‘Afenifere.’ I was close to Akinloye even during his days in London where he exiled himself. He never disagreed with the fact that Awolowo must be respected as a person. There is a difference between been members of different political parties and having respect for a particular person.
For instance, when Aminu Kano was alive, he often visited the Sardauna of Sokoto for consultation. Though, they belonged to different political ideologies; while Aminu Kano belonged to the Talakawa, Sardauna belonged to the Oligarchy and aristocratic and Joseph Tarka was for the emancipation of his people. I don’t know why anyone, even in death, should denigrate the reputation of Awolowo.
Why would you think the former President would want to denigrate Awolowo, even in death?
I will not like to judge Obasanjo. I don’t want to join him in the condemnation of individuals. My aim is to put the facts straight. I respect Obasanjo; he has his own strong points and weaknesses. But one of the things I disagree with him on was the act of condemning everyone. I feel bad when he does these things, despite the luck he had. At the end of the civil war, up until the time when General Murtala Muhammed was killed, he was opportune to assume leadership role at these places.
Whether he likes it or not, Chief MKO Abiola will continue to be the hero of modern democracy in Nigeria. He laid down his life and I expect Obasanjo to recognise the fact that he became a beneficiary of his effort and see Abiola as a hero. Nobody can claim to be the only hero in a society; a society is made up of different people. Today, within the Egbas, the Kuti’s are heroes. This family produced Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Beko Kuti and Prof. Olukoye Ransome-Kuti. Other Egbas are Prof. Wole Soyinka, Akintola Williams. A tree cannot make a forest. It hurts me when the former President denigrates heroes.
With this, what are the efforts been made to put the true story in the public domain for the generation yet unborn?
I have had occasions to argue with General Yakubu Gowon. And I told him he was not fair to Nigeria by not putting on record the events that transpired during the civil war. And former Governor of Lagos State, Alh. Lateef Jakande, as well as, the Publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, Mr. Sam Amuka are the major living legends. I am not happy that Jakande has not put on record some of his accounts. He was involved in the development of journalism in the country. Also, late S.B. Awoniyi before his death, I asked him to put on record his contribution to the oil sector. I agree with you that many who know the history of Nigeria have not put on record their knowledge of events in the country. That does not mean that if he goes off target, some of us should not come out and put the record straight.
As someone close to the former President, would it be correct to assume that he’s angry that some of you have not shown him due respect?
In Yoruba, we believe that one must earn whatever status or respect he wants. We submit ourselves to anyone’s leadership voluntarily and not by coercion. He should be someone that everyone would visit for consultation. I remember when Papa Simon Adebo was alive; Obasanjo and I often visit him to learn from him. That is what people should do at the moment regarding Obasanjo. But he must earn it. The Yorubas often say that when one is aging, he abandons some combative or untoward attitudes in him. General Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalam Abubakar, retd do not speak often. But they contribute to the country’s development. They also play key roles internationally. At this age, I believe that we should weigh our words.
Who would you say is the current Yoruba leader?
There, Obasanjo is very right. We cannot have a Yoruba leader in a partisan political dispensation. When Awolowo was elected as the Yoruba leader, he said that he will remain the Yoruba leader under military. And I have often said it; what we can have at the moment is cultural Yoruba leader and not an overall Yoruba leader.
By our level of education, exposure and independent mindedness we like to express ourselves. Even within family meetings, the ‘Olori Ebi’ (head of the family), is challenged on issues affecting the family. So, each time the interest of Yoruba is threatened, we all gather under the leadership of an individual to solve the problem. Pre-civil war, the Yoruba interest was threatened. And everyone agreed that the best person to lead the Yorubas at that time was Awolowo.
When June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled; not only Yoruba leader, but everyone who believed in democratic governance, believed that the system of government was threatened. This incident threw up late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, as the leaders of the Yoruba. I remember that Obasanjo came to Owo, Ondo State, in 1994. If Obasanjo didn’t recognise Ajasin as Yoruba leader, why did he visit him in Owo? After the death of Ajasin, late Pa Abraham Adesanya was nominated by Omoyele Sowore, the founder of Sahara reporters at Premier Hotel. And the reason was that the man, Abiola, who could have assumed the leadership had died in incarceration. Many became sad. But when the bell of partisan politics was struck in 1999, Adesanya ceased to be Yoruba leader. He vacated the office to be Afenifere leader.
Since the death of Adesanya, there has not been clear cultural leader in Yoruba land. What is the reason for this?
General Alani Akinrinade, retd and Pa Reuben Fasoronti are playing that role now. In Yoruba, one must show leadership qualities before anyone can respect him. For instance, Akinrinade was involved in the enthronement of democracy in the country. He was a successful military officer. Even when the issue of former President Goodluck Jonathan and late Umaru Musa Yar Adua evolved, he went on the streets with Wole Soyinka and others, demanding that the democratic norm must be adhered to. We have cultural leaders at every level.