Oduola Osuntokun: A centenary (Feb. 20, 1921-Feb. 20, 2021) – 2 – The Nation Newspaper

By Jide Osuntokun

 

Oduola Osuntokun was very close to his father who adored him. It was considered unmanly for the scion of the Osuntokun dynasty to associate with his mother whom he rarely visited. His father had three other younger wives apart from his mother and he consequently had a retinue of sisters and brothers. He was only close to his immediate younger uterine sister who unfortunately died young. He seemed to have transferred his love to his younger brother Edward Abiodun who left Government College, Ibadan, a year or two before he returned from Fourah Bay College in Freetown Sierra Leone. Oduola was a strict disciplinarian at school and he did not spare the rod. This brought him once into a serious disagreement with his father over Oduola’s flogging of his younger brother, Kayode who was his father’s favourite. The application of corporal punishment liberally on students sometimes led to disagreement between Oduola and his Principal, the Reverend Leslie Donald Mason who did not subscribe to the Saint Andrews Oyo doctrine of physically driving the devil from the hearts of recalcitrant and stubborn young people.

Unfortunately for Oduola, his father whom he loved dearly, after several months of moving from one hospital to another, succumbed to what was apparently prostatic cancer. This was at a time when he needed his advice and guardianship at the time he was about to entire public life and to face what were seen and unseen enemies in the turbulent arena of Nigerian politics. His father’s death left a void in his life that could not be filled and a baggage of a large family to head. He perhaps because of this, found comfort in the friendship of much older people while not totally distancing himself from his contemporaries with whom he played tennis and soccer which he continued to play as captain of Ekiti soccer team even as a parliamentarian until age caught up with him.

Oduola Osuntokun was just thirty years old when he plunged into the slippery world of politics almost involuntarily.

As a result of much agitation for political constitutional changes in Nigeria, the governor- General of Nigeria, Sir John Stuart Macpherson decided to give  a new constitution to Nigeria that would introduce some electoral principle of political representation to the new regional Houses of Assembly in Ibadan, for the Western Region, Kaduna for the North and  Enugu for the East. The two political tendencies or movements in the South were the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) and the  A.G (Action Group), an off shoot of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa formed as a cultural organization in 1947 embracing all Yoruba people, that is, all those  who believed they descended from  Oduduwa the eponymous ancestor  of all Yoruba people.

Unlike the A.G the NCNC was more like a rally. It was founded in Lagos in 1944 at the instigation of young students and later metamorphosed into a political party led by Herbert Macaulay the grandson of Bishop Ajayi Crowther. After Macaulay’s death, leadership passed to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who considered himself a Lagosian because he had most of his investments in Lagos and spoke Yoruba fluently. The AG on the other hand, was new and was only formed on the eve of the election into the regional Houses of Assembly. The election was actually done by electoral college on divisional basis. The four people chosen to represent Ekiti were Mr. EA. Babalola of Oye Ekiti who topped the list, Oduola Osuntokun came second, Reverend Canon Ajayi of Ado – Ekiti came third and Barrister A. Adeoba, a Lagos lawyer of Iyin extraction came fourth. These people were chosen as the most educated people from Ekiti and they were all graduates. They were strictly speaking not card-carrying members of any of the two political parties. They were elected strictly on their own merit.

Even though the NCNC was a mass party and had large Yoruba following, its enemies began to campaign that the party under Azikiwe had been taken over by the Ibo State Union which as a bloc belonged to the NCNC which had begun to equate the party with the Ibo Union’s interest. It was in this circumstance that the Ekiti delegation moved into the Action Group. It is not true they were snatched from the NCNC; they were elected as independent leaders of their people on their own merit.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was Leader of Government Business in the Western Region until 1952 when like in the other two regions in the North and East, the leaders of business became premiers. Thus began the trial of the practice of cabinet government and responsible government on the pattern of what existed in England. Chief Awolowo chose a small cabinet of eleven people from what is now Delta, including some parts of Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, and Lagos excluding Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Apapa, the Mainland up to Yaba while the rest belonged to the Western Region as colony division. This vast area was governed from Ibadan with one civil service and a small cabinet answerable to the British Lieutenant-Governor. The choice of the first cabinet was made on provincial and divisional basis and on the principle of political balancing. Chief E.A. Babalola who topped the Ekiti list was appointed minister of works; Chief Awokoya from Ijebu Igbo was made minister of education; others in the cabinet included Chief S.O Ighodaro from Benin, Chief Adisa Akinloye from Ibadan, Chief Arthur Prest from Warri, Chief Adigun and Chief Omowonuola Adeyi from Ogbomoso and Fiditi respectively, chiefs Akin Deko and Anthony Enahoro from Idanre and Uromi in Esan  divisions  respectively and finally, Chief F.O Awosika from Ondo who was made minister of finance. It was a tight and small cabinet for such a vast region like the West.

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The accumulated reserves of the cocoa board came in handy for Awolowo’s party to embark on revolutionary changes in the West. There were many educationists in the party and Oduola Osuntokun served on the very important committees on education and finance. The Opposition was led by the formidable Ibadan politician Chief Adegoke Adelabu. Since it was a parliamentary democracy, much time, at least two weeks in a month were spent on debates on all issues in parliament. It was in this situation that Osuntokun’s parliamentary and debating skill soon caught the attention of Chief Awolowo. As a teacher, talking was easy for him and he was not crowd shy and in the confrontation and histrionic effusions of Adelabu, Awolowo needed younger people than him to confront the stormy petrel of Yoruba politics. Anthony Enahoro and Oduola Osuntokun proved very useful. He did not live in Ibadan because he still had students to teach at Christ’s School Ado Ekiti. Politics for him was not a profession unlike nowadays when politics is a full-time job for people.

As he rose in fame and prominence, people began to put pressure on him to get married. There were many young ladies who saw themselves as potential wives! But he took his time until he found a young lady, the child of an Anglican priest, the late Archdeacon M.A. Osanyin  later Bishop, who was in charge of the Anglican Church in the whole of Ekiti and who hailed from Ijebu-Jesha a couple of miles from Okemesi. It was a good catch for the young lady, Mabel Adetola, who was a pupil teacher and for Osuntokun too who needed a quiet companion to take care of the domestic front. The solemnization of the wedding took place in Ado Ekiti in 1952 obviously to the disappointment of those who had had eyes on the honorable gentleman. Soon, two children, Tinuola and Olakunle came one after another. However, it was not smooth sailing on the domestic front for the couple. The absence of the husband must have put some strain on the marriage and the life of the poor wife who had to cope with two little children and their absentee father who kept late nights attending political meetings.

Events were moving rapidly on the political front and dividing his time between his teaching job and legislative duties was proving difficult. Things took a dramatic turn when as a result of widespread complaints of neglect of Ekiti and lack of government presence as evidenced by the bad roads in Ekiti, Osuntokun and his colleagues representing Ekiti were then being challenged to exert themselves. Rumors had it that the minister of works, Babalola was not dynamic enough and that he had said the roads were not tarred because Ekiti roads were “naturally tarred” because of the granite nature of the soil. This rumor gained currency in spite of its strong denial by Babalola. Whether true or not, people began to say if Osuntokun were in the cabinet, he would take care of Ekiti’s interest. It is not clear whether this rumour influenced a cabinet reshuffle in 1955 and Osuntokun replaced Babalola as minister of works. This was at a time when there was an impending election into the Western House of Assembly itself. The AG had been worsted in 1954 in the federal elections in the number of seats the NCNC won in the West, so the AG wanted to put its best face forward. The party won the election and in 1956 a new cabinet was formed and   Osuntokun emerged as minister of finance at the age of 34. In England, the example we were following, being Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) puts you in line for the premiership. Of course Osuntokun at 34 was not expecting to be premier at least not in the immediate future.

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