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OPINION: The Lagos of Adeniji-Adele, By Owei Lakemfa

BALTIMORE, MD *AFRICAN EXAMINER) – With the country  moving to its new capital Abuja, the late General Mamman .J. Vatsa wrote: “Keep your new  Capital City; It’s too much of a great pity. I am rushing back to my Lagos; Where everyone’s a big boss”  One of the big bosses in Lagos was  charismatic Ademola Adeniji-Adele, perhaps the best known Prince of the Lagos  Ruling House who slept, ate and drank Lagos.

Those who did not grow up on Lagos Island  might not understand why many of those who did, see it as the centre of the universe; a bustling city complete in itself. When in the 1950s, there was an attempt to merge Lagos with Western Nigeria, Lagosians rose in unison that Lagos is an international and independent entity that cannot be merged with any  part of the country or the world for that matter. The slogan was Gedegbe L’eko wa (Lagos stands on its own) or was Danfo(Independent) This was during British colonialism!

When the capital  was moved from Lagos to Abuja, Lagosians  thumbed their noses and said ‘You can move the capital from Lagos, but can you move the (Atlantic) Ocean from Lagos?”

Adeniji- Adele was Chairman of the Lagos Island Local Government at 33, and his swagger was like that of a Governor. He had an effective administration, put street toughies (Area Boys)  in check and  ran an air-conditioned bus service in which the elderly had free rides. The two rising stars in Lagos State politics were Ademola Adeniji-Adele (AAA) and Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) Both were young, bold, charismatic crowd pullers. Many analyzed that  post-military Lagos politics, will be a healthy competition between them.

Then came the popular resistance against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. Adeniji-Adele was in the thick of the resistance, mobilizing  the masses against stone-faced military dictators whose agenda was to perpetuate themselves in office even if it  meant  the country disintegrating. I was also involved in the resistance but operating from the Civil Society coalition, the Campaign for Democracy (CD) while he, Tinubu and many politicians were  functioning mainly in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO)

Once, the CD ran out of funds and I was asked to see Adeniji-Adele. He was happy to receive me, we exchanged notes and he directed me to a popular Estate Manager who gave me the required funds. Abiola left the country unceremoniously, but when he returned, he was determined to claim his mandate and it was left to  a number of persons to  provide safe houses for him following a massive manhunt  by the Abacha dictatorship. More importantly, it was necessary to organize a public rally where he would declare himself the legitimate President of  Nigeria.

The Lagos Prince was an arrow head in planning and executing what has historically become known as The Epetedo Declaration; the rally in Epetedo, Lagos Island where Abiola openly addressed the  people and declared himself the legitimate President. Brutal military clampdown including the detention of Abiola, violent disruption of pro-democracy protests, assassinations including  of Kudirat, one of Abiola’s wives, and mass detention followed. Many were forced into exile, but the Prince remained enmeshed in pro-democracy Lagos. Unfortunately, he fell into the hands of the junta, was captured and detained for months without trial.  

When the military junta  released Adeniji-Adele, it seemed the mega city emptied into the streets and flowed towards the Lagos Airport to welcome back  their beloved Prince of Hope. The gigantic tidal wave of crowds that turned out to receive him, sent an unmistakable message to the regime that no matter the number of bayonets and tanks directed at them, the people were wedded to freedom and democracy. In the pro-democratic movement, we were exited that one of our generals was back from the gulag to continue the struggle.  Doubtlessly, his long absence might have  gravely affected his business, but the people had so much confidence and hope in him that if a fund had been set up to help him recapitalize, many might have   willingly donated.

General Sani Abacha, the head of the military junta had  decreed into existence, five political parties, all primed to transform him into a civilian President by picking him as their  ‘consensus’ candidate. Political activist and lawyer, Chief Bola Ige described the parties as the five fingers of a leprous hand. Then rumours began circulating that the Peoples Prince was romancing  one of the leprous fingers; the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDM) also known as GIDIM. One day, I got an invitation from him for a meeting. We met in a hotel and the place was swarming with party faithful who called him Papa. I was received like some royalty and he explained he joined the party as a tactical move, was going to run in the proposed gubernatorial elections and wanted my understanding and support.

I told him I did not understand his moves, would not support him nor would the CD. He told me he understood and would nevertheless want us to remain friends. Then Abacha, like a nightmare whirlwind, passed away; the dungeons were thrown open, exiles returned and the generals pleaded to be given nine months to make an orderly retreat to the barracks. Logically, there was a backlash against those perceived to have  collaborated with the defunct regime, and Adeniji-Adele’s  ambition was swept away in that tide. Bola Tinubu returned from exile  and triumphantly rode into the Lagos State Governor’s Office.

In 2007 when he could not clinch the ticket of a major party, Adeniji-Adele called me for a meeting to assist him join the Labour Party and aspire to be its Lagos State gubernatorial candidate. I explained that I was not a member of the party but would link him up with the state and national officers, which I did. Unfortunately, the party leaders without primaries, announced former Deputy Governor, Femi Pedro as its candidate.

He later joined the Action Congress under Tinubu, was Lagos State Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Social Development, 2007-2011. On Thursday, May 5, 2016, the Prince of Hope had   his last breath in far away India.



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