How Yoruba chose Awo as their leader — Osoba

The former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, in this interview deflates claims by Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his recent book that the Yoruba never had a leader. He argues that the former president is distorting history. Osoba  also spoke on
other issues.

By Monsuru Olowoopejo
Do you agree with Obasanjo that the Yoruba never had a leader?
I cannot share such opinion with him because 49 years ago, precisely on  August 12, 1966, I was present at a forum where Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was unanimously elected the Yoruba leader. And the election involved all stakeholders -political, cultural and intellectual in Yoruba land. I have records to prove that  Chief Obafemi Awolowo was elected aside the newspaper publications after the election in Ibadan. I disagree with  Obasanjo on whatever claims he has that Awolowo was 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, late Dr. Koye Majekodunmi, had same political ideology as Awolowo. Late Chief T.O.S Benson, a staunch supporter of Late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe was there. I want everyone to know that Awolowo was released from prison two weeks before his election as leader of the Yoruba.
He was unanimously elected by all stakeholders. The military governor of the Western Region, General Adeyinka Adebayo on Tuesday, August 10,1966 held meetings with intellectuals and activists.
The next day, which was 11, he held meetings with  traditional rulers before the meeting of all stakeholders on the August 12.
And on this day, there was not a dissenting voice against the election of Awolowo. These are some of the facts.
What do you think was the reason for Obasanjo’s assertion?
I hate to play the role of a mind reader. But my worry is that if I fail 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 and researchers will base their conclusions on Obasanjo’s record of events. He was also an active participant in events of that period. As the Garrison Commander in Ibadan, 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 after his election. And the statement was that he would remain 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 Yoruba 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 Yoruba was threatened.
He argued that the day the bell for the commencement of partisan politics is rung, capitalists like Chief Majekodunmi, Otegbeye and 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 the Yoruba leader.

What could have led to the unanimous endorsement by these leaders?
Awolowo had been in incarceration. And when he came out, Gowon knew that he needed Awolowo’s influence. Before his imprisonment, he had been winning elections in other regions aside the Western Region.
This was because he had created a Pan-Nigerian image for himself despite some claims that he was tribalistic. Another reason was that at that time, Gowon had emerged as the Head of State and  Awolowo didn’t support him. Ojukwu had emerged as leader for the Igbo. The Yoruba at that time needed someone who will be a rallying point. But there was no one who could contest it with Awolowo. Besides, the Agbekoyas were holding the military to ransom. It was only Awolowo who could go into the jungle to persuade them to lay-down their arms. These were some factors that led to the emergence of Awolowo as the Yoruba leader.
 Obasanjo said the late Chief Adisa Akinloye and few others objected to the emergence of Awolowo as Yoruba leader. How  true is that?
Late Chief Adisa Akinloye never kicked against the election of Awolowo 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 was in exile. He never disagreed with the fact that Awolowo must be respected as a person. There is a difference between 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 had different political ideologies.  Aminu Kano had the Talakawa  (welfarist) ideology. Sardauna was for the  Oligachy. He was aristocratic.  Joseph Tarka was for the emancipation of his people. I don’t know why anyone in death should denigrate the reputation of Awolowo.
On implications of the statement
I will not like to judge ex-President Obasanjo. I don’t want to join him in the condemnation of individuals. My aim is to put the fact straight. I respect Obasanjo. He has his own strong points and weaknesses. But one of the things I disagree with him on is the act of condemning people. I feel bad when he does these despite the luck he had.  At the end of the civil war and when General Murtala Muhammed was killed, he was opportuned to assume the leadership of this country.   Whether he likes it or not, late Chief MKO Abiola will continue to be the hero of modern democracy in Nigeria.
He laid down his life and I expect Obasanjo to recognize 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 Kutis are heroes. This family produced Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Beko Kuti and Prof. Olukoye Ransome-Kuti. Other Egbas are Prof. Wole Soyinka, Akintola Williams and others. A tree cannot make a forest. It hurts me when Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo denigrate heroes.
Has  Obasanjo shown inclination towards feeling offended that some of you do not respect his status in the country?
In Yoruba, we believe that one must earn whatever status he wants. We submit ourselves to any leadership voluntarily and not by coercion. He (Obasanjo) should be someone that everyone would visit for consultation.
I remember when Papa Simon Adebo was alive; Obasanjo and I often visited him to learn from him. That is what people should do at the moment for Obasanjo. He must earn it. The Yoruba often say that when one is aging, he puts aside some attitudes in him.
General Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalam Abubakar  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 be careful of what we say.
Who is the current Yoruba leader?The asked
We cannot have a Yoruba leader in a political dispensation. When Awolowo was elected as the Yoruba leader, he said he will remain the Yoruba leader under military. I have often said it.
What we can have at the moment is a cultural Yoruba leader not an overall Yoruba leader.  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 Yoruba at that time was Awolowo. When June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled, not only Yoruba but everyone who believed in democratic governance believe that the system of government is threatened. This incident threw up late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, as the leaders of the Yoruba.
I remember that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo came to Owo, Ondo state in 1994. if Obasanjo didn’t recognize 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 MKO Abiola who would have assumed the leadership had died in incarceration . Many became sad. But when the bell of partisan politics was ranged in 1999, Adesanya ceased to be Yoruba leader. He vacated the office to become Afenifere leader.
Since the death of Adesanya, why has there not been a  cultural leader for the Yoruba?
General Akinrinade, retd and Pa 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 successfulb in the military. Even when the issue of former President Goodluck Jonathan and late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua evolved, he went the streets with Soyinka and others, demanding that the democratic norm must be adhered to. We have cultural leaders at every level.