In the next few days, Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, will be 90. He has a rich history and he has an equally rich story to tell generations yet unborn about Nigeria and her leaders. At the height of his political career, he was the Organising Secretary for Action Group headed by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (AWO). In this interview with City People’s Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, Papa Adebanjo revealed how he left following Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and became one of the disciples of the late Awo to date.
How did you meet Chief Awolowo? How did you become his disciple?
Well, I have been politically inclined from school. To be candid, I started out as a Zikist from school. I used to buy the West African Pilot, published by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who at that time really aroused people politically in the country. Nobody can deny him of that. He had a column in the West African Pilot called Inside Stuff By Zik. There, he had loads of articles against the colonialists. I used to commit to memory his articles. Then, Awolowo came, Zik’s slogan was One Nigeria. We equated one Nigeria to be United Nigeria. But when Awolowo came he said yes, we could be united, but it was only Federalism that could keep us together in peace. And he started to expatiate.
Both believed in the gradual development of the country. That was how I changed to be a Federalist. That was in 1949 or 50. I was still in school then. They started Egbe Omo Oduduwa and I became a very active member. I was the Secretary of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1949-50 before the Action Group (AG) came into existence. It was my activities during the era of Egbe Omo Oduduwa that when the Action Group (AG) came we joined the Action Group with Nationalism and the resolve that everybody should hold his own government.
And by the time Chief Awolowo wanted to employ full time organising Secretary, he decided to appoint one in each division. That was how the Action Group became the best organised political party in the whole of Africa. I was a pioneer Organising Secretary of the Action Group and because of our activities, Awo insisted that I must be posted to his division in Remo.
I am not from his division. I am from Ijebu. And from that time on, I became so associated with him. I became so attached to him. I became almost a member of the family. One thing that was significant that got me attached to him was that when you look at how political leaders now behave, Awolowo was one leader, who practises what he taught. That was very clear in him. And in running a party there must be discipline. Before a party takes a decision there must be a meeting of the leaders of the party and once they take that decision, and there is need for a change, the caucus must also meet to change that decision. It is not that you will just hear it announced in the air, a change of policy. I have all that in my memoir. It will be launch, I have tried to put a little bit down for you young elements.
Many of you don’t know that throughout my career, I have never held any political office. Yes, either elected or appointed.
It was not our own ambition to go for public. When I was an Organising Secretary, we took joy in the fact that the party in power that people were hailing, we were part and parcel of that party, to the extent that the only other time when people thought I would be anxious was in 1979 when Chief Awolowo asked who wanted to be Governor between me and Chief Onabanjo. I said: Sir, I didn’t want to be the Governor.
All I wanted was for you to win the Presidential election, All I want is to was to be a Minsiter under you, because during his political career, I was attached to Chief Awolowo as his Organising Secretary, what is now called Political Secretary. I understudied him.
I then said to myself what else did I want to know? I said it was Chief Awolowo that I wanted to know more about “It is you, Chief Awolowo that I want to know more about. If you are in power, I want to be there with you”. What I am saying is that we did not go into Politics at that time with an ambition to go into public office or you want to be a Governor, or a Senator. It was for service, service, service and service.
That is why we find it difficult dealing with the people whom we are relating with now as leaders in all the parties, are one after public office or the other. That is why defection is very common these days, no principle. You just keep moving from one party to another to realise your ambition to be the Governor. It was an anathema then.