If there was anyone who tormented and fought the Action Group Party in pre-independence Nigeria, it would be that politician from the city of Ibadan; Adegoke Adelabu. Adelabu was a thorn in the flesh for Awolowo and his goons in the Action Group as he (Adelabu) was an opposition leader in the Western Regional Assembly in the capital, Ibadan.
From 1955 to 1956, Adegoke Adelabu was a Federal Minister who superintended the Ministry of Natural Resources and Social Services. As a leader of his party, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, he was the leader of the opposition in the Western Regional Assembly until 1958.
Adegoke Adelabu: Early Life and Education
Joseph Sanusi Gbadamosi Adegoke Adelabu was born in Oke-Oluokun, Ibadan, to Sanusi Ashiyanbi Adeyege Adelabu and his mother was Awujola Ajoke on September 3, 1915. Adelabu’s mother died in 1920 when he was still an infant.
Born and raised in the Islamic faith, Adegoke Adelabu was sent to Saint David’s CMS Elementary School, Kudeti, Ibadan, between 1925 and 1929 and the CMS Central School, Mapo, Ibadan in 1930.
Adelabu had double promotions in the elementary and primary schools and proceeded to the Government College Ibadan, where he also had a double promotion. He left the Government College while in Form 4, and proceeded on a United Africa Company (UAC) scholarship to Yaba Higher College, Yaba, Lagos, in 1936, which was then Nigeria’s only higher college.
After his higher education, the UAC offered Adelabu employment as an assistant to the Ibadan district manager. His first assignment was a tour of the cocoa-producing areas of Ibadan province. At the end of the tour, he presented a proposal about the reorganisation of the cocoa distribution and trade structure. This report earned him a promotion as an Assistant Produce Manager with the company.
In 1937, Adelabu left the UAC and joined the produce trade business. However, he was unsuccessful in the trade and was soon looking for a civil service job. In 1939, he became an agricultural inspector and later, a supervisor of a cooperative society. He was with the society until 1945, when he went back to the UAC.
During the 1951 Ibadan local elections, Adelabu’s Egbe Omo Ibile, Augustus Akinloye, and a youth group from Ibadan Progressive Union (IPU) formed the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) as a challenge to the old guards of the Ibadan Progressive Union.
He capitalised on some anti-Ijebu sentiments among native Ibadan residents especially after the loss of the Osun division which was supported by Action Group leaders such as Obafemi Awolowo, an Ijebu-man, and Samuel Akintola.
The new party won all the six seats in the Western Regional Assembly. However, an informal alliance proposed by Adelabu to support the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) fell apart and four of the elected members joined the Action Group (AG). Adelabu then became more active in the organisation of the NCNC in Ibadan and became the Secretary of the party’s Western Province Working Committee while earning recognition within the party as the only IPP legislator who stayed with NCNC.
In 1952, Adelabu published a book, Africa in Ebullition: A Hand-Book of Freedom for Nigerian Nationalists, that revealed his political thoughts about the Nigeria of his day. To provide a formidable organisation to challenge the Action Group in the 1954 elections, Adelabu formed a new organisation, the Ibadan Taxpayers Association, which was an attempt to attract mass-following based on tax reform. The group then formed an alliance with some a farmers group called Maiyegun to become the Mabolaje Grand Alliance.
During the local elections in 1954, the alliance won majority seats into the Ibadan District Council, paving the way for Adelabu to become district chairman. He became chairman of the Finance Committee and any other standing committee of the council. In the federal elections in 1954, Adelabu also won a seat to the House of Representatives and his party won majority seats to the House of Representatives.
He later became the First National Vice President of NCNC and appointed Minister of Social Services, a post he held concurrently with his position as chairman of the Ibadan District Council from January 1955 till January 1956.
In 1955, Adelabu’s administration was a subject of an inquiry into allegations of corruption in the district council. The inquiry was set-up by the Western Regional government dominated by AG. He resigned both positions after the report of the inquiry into the affairs of the district council.
In 1956, Adelabu again ran for a seat in the regional assembly, this time as a leader of the NCNC in the Western region. Hoping to lead the party to victory, he had ordered clothes with the inscription, Adelabu, Premier of the Western Region. However, the party lost a majority of the seats to the Action Group party.
However, Adelabu went on to become the leader of opposition in the Western House of Assembly. After the loss, Adelabu sought to carve out a Yoruba Central State from the Western Region. The new state was to be composed of NCNC strongholds of Oyo, Ibadan, and Ondo provinces. However, the proposal was rejected in 1958 based largely on party lines.
That same year, Adelabu opposed the leadership of Nnamdi Azikiwe because of its support for a tripartite national government consisting of the AG, NCNC, and the NPC. Adelabu did not like the inclusion of AG describing it has an unholy alliance.
Peculiar Mess “Penkelemesi”
Adegoke Adelabu is often mentioned in Yorùbá and Nigerian history as the author of that expression: “penkelemesi”, a Yorubanisation of the phrase, “peculiar mess” which Adelabu, known for his deep knowledge of the English language, had used on an occasion to describe the opposition in the Western Region House of Assembly. Not understanding what he meant, the non-literate section of his audience translated the phrase to penkelemesi.
Legacy and Death
On March 25, 1958, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu died on Mile 51, the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway near Sagamu, present-day Ogun State. He was returning from Lagos along with a Syrian businessman when their car, a Peugeot 203, hit an oncoming vehicle. Adelabu was the only casualty. He was just 42.
Following his death, many of his supporters trooped to the streets of Ibadan to beat up political opponents. They burnt their houses and also set their cars ablaze.
Nigeria’s Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as recorded in the Daily Times Newspaper of March 27, 1958, said:
“Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was an intellectual and his capacity was recognised by his opponents. If anybody died fighting for a cause, it was Adelabu. His death was not only a loss to NCNC, but to all politicians in the country. I am really sad about his death.”
However, the story of Adegoke Adelabu, the Peculiar Penkelemensi, will continue to reverberate as the years go by, even from generation to generation.
Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.