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 cohorts 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.
The UAC offered Adelabu a job as an assistant to the district manager of Ibadan following his higher education. His first task was to tour the cocoa-producing regions in the Ibadan province. At the end of the trip, Adelabu proposed a plan to reorganise the production of cocoa and the organisation of commerce. This work won him a promotion within the company as an Assistant Produce Manager.
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.
The Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) was founded by Adelabu’s Egbe Omo Ibile, Augustus Akinloye, and a youth group from the Ibadan Progressive Union (IPU) during local elections in 1951 as a challenge to the Ibadan Progressive Union’s old guards.
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.
The alliance won a majority of the seats in the Ibadan District Council during the 1954 local elections, paving the way for Adelabu to become the district chief. He also became chairman of the council’s Finance Committee and any other standing board. Adegoke Adelabu also won a seat in the House of Representatives during the 1954 federal elections, and his party secured plurality seats in the House of Representatives.
He later became the NCNC’s First National Vice President and appointed Minister of Social Services, a position he held from January 1955 until January 1956 at the same time as chairman of the Ibadan District Council.
In 1955, Adelabu ‘s administration in the district council was the subject of an investigation into allegations of corruption. The inquiry was set up by the AG-dominated Western Regional Government. He resigned both positions after the report of the inquiry into the affairs of the district council.
Adegoke Adelabu ran again for a seat at the national assembly in 1956, this time as the NCNC representative in the Western region. So high were his hopes at the polls that he requested his name and desired position, Adelabu, Prime Minister of the Western Region, to be printed on clothes. The party nevertheless lost a majority of seats to the ruling party; the Action Group.
Adelabu, however, went on to become the minority leader in the Western House of Assembly. After the defeat, he proposed a carving out of a central Yoruba State, that would comprise of Ibadan, Oyo, and Ondo Provinces, from the Western Region. These provinces that would make up this new state were strongholds of the NCNC. In 1958, however, the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected based 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. He detested the inclusion of AG where he described it has an unholy union.
Peculiar Mess “Penkelemesi”
Due to the state of opposition in the Western Regional Assembly at Ibadan, Adegoke Adelabu, with his deep knowledge of the English language, described the situation as a “peculiar mess“. Not understanding what he meant, the non-literate section of his audience translated the phrase to “penkelemesi”, a Yorubanisation of the phrase, “peculiar mess”. The phrase has stuck to this day. Thus, Adegoke Adelabu is often mentioned in Yorùbá folklore and Nigerian history as the author of that expression, 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.
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Adelabu Yinka (2005). Adegoke Adelabu: Penkelemesi, the Nationalist Philosopher.