Day Balewa, Adetokunbo Ademola viciously attacked Awolowo

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Dr Emmanuel Endeley of Cameroon (before it broke off from Nigeria) and Sir Ahmadu Belllo

*And Awolowo replied them in kind

It was Jonathan Swift, the writer who crafted this time-worn phrase: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” For being a highly gifted man, Awolowo was a butt of snide remarks by his political opponents.

In 1960, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister and Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, the Chief Justice of the federation then, were vicious in their remarks against the leader of the opposition, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. That was during the inauguration of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor-General. Awolowo narrated this in his Chief Obafemi Awolowo, ‘Adventures in Power: The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law’ pp. 18-19.

“Two of the highlights of [the inauguration luncheon of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor-General] were the caustic remarks subtly made against me by Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, Chief Justice of Nigeria, and the derisive attack made on me by Sir Abubakar [Tafawa Balewa].

Sir Adetokunbo in the course of his speech, told the story of a man in a village who thought it was his duty to oppose everything done in the village. As time went on, he not only lost the respect of the villagers, but also had nothing left to oppose.

Adetokunbo Ademola

On the other hand, Sir Abubakar was more forthright. He referred to me as ‘someone who called himself Leader of Opposition’, and proceeded to pour scorn on my role. As if Zik had foreseen what was going to happen, he had arranged for me to speak after Sir Adetokunbo and Sir Abubakar. I gave an impromptu speech, as they did, and do not now recall the exact words I used.

But I still vividly remember the substance. In reply to Sir Adetokunbo, I pointed out that in a dynamic society and in politics there was always something for thinking people to oppose. However, the business of the Opposition in a democracy was something totally beyond the ken and comprehension of our Chief Justice. Otherwise, he would not have spoken the way he did. It were better if in future he kept his wits within the confines of the Bench, so as to avoid behaving like a fish out of water.

And in reply to Sir Abubakar, I said that I did not call myself the Leader of the Opposition. It was the electorate of Nigeria who decided the place I then occupied in the affairs of the country. Besides, in regard to the occasion that we were celebrating, it was an irony that Sir Abubakar occupied the office of Prime Minister. Because, it was on record that it was only recently that he was persuaded to support and embrace the demand by Nigerian and African nationalists, who were fully represented at the luncheon, that Nigeria should become an independent sovereign State.

I must admit that these sharp exchanges, at the banquet arranged by Zik to mark his inauguration as Governor-General, were inappropriate for the occasion, and uncalled-for. But it was Sir Abubakar and Sir Adetokunbo, who, either by a pre-arranged concert or by mere coincidence, threw down the gauntlets in the presence of a galaxy of eminent personalities from all over Africa and Nigeria.

All I did was to demonstrate sufficient self-esteem and guts to pick up those gauntlets, with the same abandon and disrespect as they flung them down before me.”

— Chief Obafemi Awolowo, ‘Adventures in Power: The Travails of Democracy and the Rule of Law’ pp. 18-19.