Before we get carried away, perhaps we need to remind ourselves of not only what late Chief Adelabu Adegoke said or did; but much more importantly what he stood for. It is no exaggeration to assert that he was the embodiment of the heart and soul of Ibadan. Indeed, he was a fascinating advertisement of the enduring virtues and characteristics of those who proudly brand themselves as “Omo Ibadan” (the sons of the soil of Ibadan) – fearless, defiant and uncompromising. If Chief Adelabu Adegoke were still with us, the government would have neither peace nor slumber !! He was an unrepentant activist and brilliant orator rolled into one and when he famously declared publicly that the government of Western Nigeria was in “a peculiar mess” over the management of its affairs, the audience, who were not all endowed with fluency of the English language, went wild with their own version of what they had heard. They translated it as “penkelemess”. That is how “peculiar mess” was supplanted by “penkelemess” which has since become synonymous with not only the name of Adelabu but also a short hand, abbreviation or acronym for any government that is considered grossly incompetent or outrageously corrupt.
I have opted to resist the temptation to venture into singing: “Penkele O, Penkele, Adegoke mi o penkele” which the inimitable King Sunny Ade waxed in memory of Chief Adegoke Adelabu.
Instead, we should get back on track and recognise that the Chief whose life we are celebrating was in every sense a “Man Of The People”. When he became the Minister of Labour, he immediately drove his official car, an American limousine (I think it was an Oldsmobile or Chevrolet) all the way to Ibadan and challenged all his teeming supporters to share the car with him. He boldly announced to them that the car belonged to them and not him !!
Similarly, when he was provided with a government house as his official residence in Ikoyi, the most exclusive part of Lagos, he turned up with drummers from Ibadan much to the discomfiture of the largely expatriate (mostly English and French) residents of Ikoyi. They protested vigorously about the noise but Adelabu would not relent. He called a press conference and stoutly declared: “If they do not like noise and drumming, they are free to go back to their own country.”
That silenced the protest!! It is beyond question that Chief Adelabu was a genius in addition to being a gifted orator. Time and space will not permit me to dwell on his outstanding academic record while he was a student at Government College, Ibadan or his subsequent achievement at the Higher College, Yaba, Lagos. We have just enough time to pause and reflect on the disclosure which is the first page of Chief Adelabu’s autobiography:
“I Adegoke Adelabu entered Government College, Ibadan at the tender age of 19.”
He lived at a time when Ibadan was the magnet of the political dynamics of Nigeria in addition to being a major commercial centre. Chief Adelabu and Ibadan were indivisible. While the city was the magnet, Adelabu was not only magnetic; he was without doubt incomparable when it came to reading the direction of the compass.
He was robustly confrontational and fiercely ebullient and that was what made him a powerful force to be reckoned with. Even his worst enemies could not ever accuse him of guile or timidity.
He was truly the darling of the masses and his own battle cry was:
“I belong to you and you belong to me”.
He did not resort to mixed metaphors. His enduring legacy is his exceptionalism.
He thrived in Ibadan because Ibadan was then and still remains the largest small town in the world. Regardless of all the tribulations and travails, Ibadan and its people have somehow managed to preserve their social cohesion. Everybody knows everybody. Christians and Moslems cohabitate without any fear, suspicion or resentment. Among themselves, every sentence is preceded by “E dakun” (please forgive me)!! It is only the detractors who refer to Ibadan as a garrison town.
I must say that indigenes of Ibadan are naturally endowed with a unique sense of humour. It may be inappropriate for me to share with you the famous encounter between the late Olubadan, Oba Ashanke and the then Military Governor of Oyo State (with Ibadan as the capital), Colonel Oladayo Popoola who had brought the then Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Sani Abacha to the palace of Olubadan on a courtesy visit.
Apparently, the Olubadan took umbrage at being kept waiting until the Chief of Army Staff turned up two hours late. The Olubadan refused to be intimidated by the boss of the army particularly on account of his rather small stature which seemed to be at variance with his awesome reputation (as he had participated in several coup d’états). On the arrival of Major-General Abacha, a northerner who could not speak or understand Yoruba, the Olubadan took one look at him and promptly delivered judgement in Yoruba:
“A se ko ga ju igo lo” !!
The translation is that the man who has created so much fear is no taller than a bottle (pint size).