By Prince Dotun Oyelade
As a result of the deliberate strategy of the media and their collaborators, the history and achievements of Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, the former and last Premier of western region cannot stand on its own. His achievements had to be subsumed by the western region crisis and his disagreement with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, his leader and predecessor in office.
This needn’t be so because the western region crisis apart, SLA recorded many outstanding achievements for the region as a federal parliamentarian, minister and Premier between Dec. 1960 and Jan. 1966 when he died.
So many literatures have been published about the western region crisis, and I do not desire to regurgitate all that have been written because all of them are in public custody. Rather, I wish to interrogate what Akintola meant to history through his verifiable achievements and vision while in government, and indeed what lessons can be gleaned by the contemporary and coming generations.
To be sure, Akintola and Awolowo were political Siamese twins and their combination was made in heaven. One was exactly what the other was not. Indeed, Awolowo conceded political grand-standing to SLA, because, while SLA was given with the gift of the garb, Awolowo was taciturn and a little bit distant.
In 1960, when both of them landed at Ogbomoso, together in a helicopter, the first thing I observed, as an eight-year old inquisitive boy was their sartorial elegance. While Akintola disembarked from the chopper in wooly Kembe, Danshiki and Agbada, Awolowo followed him in a transparent white lace flowing agbada, over a chocolate velvet Buba. I took notice of the brown balley shoes both of them were wearing and their leather wrist watches.
Akintola would whip-up raw emotion, with his alliterative and sarcastic remarks that combine verbal imagery and mimicry and while Awolowo’s follow-up remarks were not an outright anticlimax, he would succeed in sobering up the mob with convincing data and science, the way a strict headmaster would conduct himself.
A politician was once quoted as saying that, ‘if you don’t want to be convinced or swayed to the other side, do not allow SLA to speak to you.’ Since the beginning of politics in Nigeria, to date, there has never been a more successful political combination, like the two gladiators.
To my mind, Akintola’s major offence at the time was being a pragmatic politician. He did not deceive himself that Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s success as a regional administrator could translate into realising his ambition as the Prime Minister of Nigeria.
He was quoted as advising his boss, Awolowo, that his political clout would not match his ambition unless there was handshake across the Niger. Not once did Akintola query the leadership of his boss and was ready to deploy his deep understanding of the Hausa language and northern affiliation to fester the ambition of his boss. But as it turned out, when he had his back to the wall, he deployed the same asset to protect himself.
Akintola was a nationalist to the core, experienced and versed in the tenuous craft of give-and-take.
As the editor of a national daily, The Daily Service, he had bitter engagement with his colleague, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, editor of the West African Pilot, among others and both sheath their swords the moment they left journalism for politics.
Akintola might have had the opportunity to march Chief Awolowo’s own achievement between 1952 and 1960 but for the internal crisis that bugged him down. He was well prepared for the job of premiership.
He was the first Minister of Labour for the federation, a portfolio he chose for himself because of his interest in labour matters. He later moved to be Minister of Health and later still, Communication and aviation.
His loyalty to his boss and party throughout this period was never in doubt and when in April 1953 it became incumbent for all AG Ministers to vacate their positions at the federal level, he did not blink an eye and resumed his position immediately as the leader of Opposition in the federal parliament.
The title of this brief discourse is ‘SLA Akintola; a classic case of media befuddlement,’ and you begin to wonder why the most popular Yoruba leader, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo’s achievements are so amplified and while that of Samuel Ladoke Akintola should be a footnote.
It is on record that as the federal minister of health, SLA played a pivotal role in the establishment of the University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ibadan. In his capacity as the minister of health, he was able to release the sum of ten million pounds to aid the completion of UCH. As a result of that lifeline, UCH was relocated from Adeoyo Hospital to its permanent site in 1956.
And in 1957, when he was reappointed to the federal cabinet and was minister of communication and aviation, he realised one of his dreams by breaking the monopoly of British Airlines with the establishment of the Nigerian Airways. He it was that the federal government sent to Holland to source for new airplanes for the newly established Nigerian Airways.
Till this day, it is still a mystery that the establishment of the University of Ife in 1961 was never credited to Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola who at the time was not only the Premier of Western Region, Visitor to the university and one of those at the frontline of establishing the University while he was deputy Premier.
Equally baffling is the refusal to credit SLA with the establishment of the Daily Sketch newspaper which was founded by the regional government on December 2, 1964 under his watch as Premier.
Similarly, when Cocoa house was formally commissioned in 1965 SLA was still the Premier of Western Nigeria though the project was the brainchild of the Awolowo premiership.
These oversights and many more are reasons why we should believe those who say that Perception is often stronger than real governance.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for this opportunity.
Being a paper presented by the Oyo State Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Prince Dotun Oyelade, at the S.L. Akintola memorial lecture and award. presentation, held at the House of Chiefs, Secretariat, Agodi, Ibadan, on Thursday 25 January, 2024.