Sunday, October 10, 2021 10:32 am
Friends and political associates of Pa Alfred Rewane, on 6 October, remembered the day he was murdered at his 100 Oduduwa Crescent GRA, Ikeja home 26 years ago. That was 6 October 1995. What may not be clear to many was that beyond his closeness to Awolowo and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and love for his Itsekiri people, Rewane was a radical who brooked no nonsense!
An example was what happened in Bristol Hotel in 1948 when Mr. Ivor Cummings- a distinguished African Caribbean national and a top official of the colonial office in London, was scheduled to pay an official visit to Nigeria and naturally, his first port of call was Lagos, then Nigeria’s capital. Accordimg to a tribute by Femi Kehinde, published in The Cable, accommodation was reserved for him at the Bristol hotel, a foremost hotel, then owned and managed by expatriates.
“Apparently, the hotel authorities thought that from the sound of his name- Cummings, he was certainly a white Anglo-Saxon, but they were shocked when he presented himself at the reception, that he was black. He was instantly refused a room at the hotel on that ground. A Warri based Sierra-Leonian legal luminary called T.L Williams, witnessed this odious scene. He was helpless and dumb founded. He moved to the nearby Island club, where he met Alfred Rewane and a prominent Lagos lawyer, Oladipupo Odunsin. After relating his story, the famous Lagos lawyer- Odunsin, shouted and exclaimed-
‘Our Nigeria of 1948, we cannot have this, let’s go and die!
“But the boisterous Rewa jumped up and shouted-
‘Die? No, let’s go and teach them a harsh lesson.’”
“The atmosphere at the Island club was now charged and under Odunsi and Rewane’s leadership, the Late Milton Macaulay, the Late Prince Adeleke Adedoyin and the late Akiniran Olunloyo, marched through the Onikan stadium, to the Marina, with the support of the elderly members of the island like the late J.K Randle and the late Bolaji Finnih, who had gone to wait for the rampaging youths at the Tinubu police station, in case of arrest by the colonial masters.
At the Onikan stadium point, at the Marina, the area boys.”
At the Onikan stadium point, at the Marina, the area boys, known then as Boma boys, armed with sticks and horsewhips (koboko), followed the Rewane team, without hesitation, and an assault was launched on Bistol Hotel. At the end of the rampage, the reception, Bar and restaurant were sacked and the white men in the hotel premises and its vicinity had a sorry and gory tale to tell. The whole hotel was wrecked and left in shambles.”
Read the full tribute below:
Between Obafemi Awolowo and Alfred Rewane: A study in defiance and loyalty
By Femi Kehinde
Alfred Rewane was born in Warri, Delta state, on the 24th August, 1916. He was the second son of Chief Jemide Rewane. His mother, was the daughter of Chief Mowarin of Agbarho in the present Ugheli North Local Government Area of Delta State. Chief Mowarin was one of the first six warrant chiefs in Urhoboland.
Alfred, popularly referred to as Alfredo, by Awolowo, shared similar character traits, with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in terms of learning, erudition, ruggedness, defiance, self development, loyalty, commitment to goals and aspirations and above all, a quest for an egalitarian society and a life that is more abundant.
Alfred, was in fact Awolowo’s political secretary and a very trusted loyalist. The Itsekiri people and the Delta Province benefitted tremendously from this loyalty and assiduity. Rewane was in Awolowo’s government as chairman of the Western Nigerian Development Corporation (WNDC) and one of the four directors of the NIPC (Nigerian Investment and Promotion Council).
Alfred Rewane started his primary school education, in African School Warri, and proceeded to Government School Warri, where he completed his primary school education. He then gained admission into the famous Dennis memorial grammar school Onitsha, but his father could not afford having two sons in college at the same time. His elder brother, Chief O.N Rewane, the Ologbotsere (traditional Prime Minister) of Warri, was already at Government College, Ibadan.
As a restive youth, he was by sheer providence, spotted by the United African Company, U.A.C, who instantly employed him and took him to their fold for management training in Burutu, to be trained in every aspect of business management and accounting and on completion of this intensive studies, he was posted to Lagos, in a managerial capacity as the Beach master at the Lagos Custom Wharf, where he had so much to do with the control of UAC Labour movement, the UAC being then, the largest employer of labour in Nigeria.
As a restive soul, after serving at several other departments at the UAC head quarters, he voluntarily retired in the early 40s. He found unpleasant, the drudgery, regimented and restricted life of a paid employee.
After his early retirement, mother luck smiled on him, when an European company, with headquarters in the United Kingdom, gave him a contract for the supply of Cow Bones and he later became a major exporter of Bones in Nigeria, a business which had hitherto been unknown in Nigeria, as an export commodity.
With his knowledge in business management, he travelled round the length and breadth of Nigeria for Bones to export. He also added to his export business, the supply of Black Pepper (Igbere), which was a highly priced commodity during the Second World War. This huge success, encouraged him to add timber to his export business.
In 1947, Alfred started a first class night club at Queens Street, Yaba, called the Rex club, which became an attraction for the Nigerian middle and upper class. His night club encouraged indigenous musicians like the late Bobby Benson and his wife, Cassandra. His tax assessment in 1947 was enviably the highest, for any private individual in Nigeria. He was thus, reputed to be one of Nigeria’s wealthiest citizens.
In politics, Alfred began his political career at an impressionable age. His love for the Warri Kingdom and the Itsekiri people encouraged him to go into politics for the economic and political wellbeing of the Itsekiri people. Alfred’s friendship with the late Chief Bode Thomas, brought him to the fore front of the Action Group, of which he became one of its founding members.
This heralded his association with the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which later developed into complete and total confidence with each other and perhaps cultic loyalty.
In the educational field in the early 40s, the only government college in the Warri Division, the then Warri College, which provided easy access to education, for the Itsekiri community, was moved to Ughelli in the Urhobo Divison and renamed Government College, Ughelli. In order to fill this educational vacuum, Chief ENA Begho, the late Ologbotsere of Warri, Chief O.N Rewane and Mr. Alfred Rewane founded the Hussey College, Warri on the 3rd of February, 1947. The school was named after a famous colonial educationist and located along the Erejuwa Road in Warri, Delta state. It is one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in Nigeria. It has produced many eminent and distinguished Nigerians in various spheres of human endeavours.
Among its old students, who came from various tribes and backgrounds are- Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, the former Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier General Bassey Asuquo, Navy Commander Temi Ejoor, Brigadier General Sunday Tuoyo, who were all former military governors Justice Akhigbe, Justice Awala, Chief Emmanuel Ogidi, Dr. Jackson Gaius Obaseki, Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye- a foremost telecommunications expert, prof. Tunde Bajah- a renowned Chemistry teacher, Major Isaac Adaka Boro and distinguished monarchs, like the Owa of Idanre- Oba Fedrick Aroloye and Ogiame Atuwatshe II.
Alfred Rewane’s first act of notable defiance and audacity was in the sacking of Bristol Hotel in 1948. Mr. Ivor Cummings- a distinguished African Caribbean national and a top official of the colonial office in London, was scheduled to pay an official visit to Nigeria and naturally, his first port of call was Lagos, then Nigeria’s capital. Accommodation was reserved for him at the Bristol hotel, a foremost hotel, then owned and managed by expatriates.
Apparently, the hotel authority thought that from the sound of his name- Cummings, he was certainly a white Anglo-Saxon, but they were shocked when he presented himself at the reception, that he was black. He was instantly refused a room at the hotel on that ground. A Warri based Sierra-Leonian legal luminary called T.L Williams, witnessed this odious scene. He was helpless and dumbfounded. He moved to the nearby Island club, where he met Alfred Rewane and a prominent Lagos lawyer, Oladipupo Odunsin. After relating his story, the famous Lagos lawyer- Odunsin, shouted and exclaimed-
“Our Nigeria of 1948, we cannot have this, let’s go and die!
“But the boisterous Rewane, jumped up and shouted-
“die!? No, let’s go and teach them a harsh lesson”
The atmosphere at the Island club was now charged and under Odunsi and Rewane’s leadership, the Late Milton Macaulay, the Late Prince Adeleke Adedoyin and the late Akiniran Olunloyo, marched through the Onikan stadium, to the Marina, with the support of the elderly members of the island like the late J.K Randle and the late Bolaji Finnih, who had gone to wait for the rampaging youths at the Tinubu police station, in case of arrest by the colonial masters.
At the Onikan stadium point, at the Marina, the area boys, known then as Boma boys, armed with sticks and horse whips (koboko), followed the Rewane team, without hesitation, and an assault, was launched on Bistol Hotel. At the end of the rampage, the reception, Bar and restaurant were sacked and the white men in the hotel premises and its vicinity had a sorry and gory tale to tell. The whole hotel was wrecked and left in shambles.
After the rampage, Sir Adeyemo Alakija, then patron of the island club, foreseeing an imminent raid on the island club, took the rampaging youths on a mediatory visit to the Governor-General of Nigeria- Sir Arthur Richards, for mediation.
Richard deliberately refused to arrest Rewane and his colleagues, because of his belief, that the day of segregation was perhaps gone and he said,
“with effect from today, there would be no more European hotel, hospital or club reservation in Nigeria.”
Thus, racial discrimination or apartheid was abolished in Nigeria. The European hospital in Lagos (now military hospital) and European Club at Ikoyi, were renamed Creek Hospital and Ikoyi Club, respectively.
The European hospital at Warri serving the then Central Provinces of Ondo, Benin and Warri, was changed to Maple Annex. The European Hospital at Ibadan was changed to Jericho Nursing Home.
Areas, otherwise known as European Reservation were renamed Government Reserve Area (GRA), and so on, throughout the country and there was general jubilation.
Rewane and Odunsi’s defiance, audacity and insolence, had produced a great result for Nigeria in 1948. This success was greatly applauded at the Island Club with choice wines.
Rewane’s act of defiance was revisited in 1962, at the treasonable Felony trial of Obafemi Awolowo. Rewane was charged with Obafemi Awolowo along with other Action Group colleagues, with the offence of treasonable felony. Alfred was acquitted and discharged after being remanded in prison for four months on the 1st of March, 1963.
Alfred, despite being discharged, remained in the court room, and at the close of the day’s proceedings, went back into the Black Maria which conveyed him back to the prison at Broad Street, where Obafemi Awolowo was also held a prisoner, on the pretext, that he had to collect his personal belongings.
At about 8:00pm, he had to be literarily forced out of the prison, leaving behind his leader and other colleagues. To him, his acquittal was meaningless, as long as Awolowo remained in prison custody. A few days later, he savoured the joy of this belligerence and defiance, when he went to Kingsway store at the Marina, to shop for his family.
He was deeply moved by the spontaneous acts of solidarity shown to him by the huge crowd, which gathered inside and outside the store. A couple of days later, when Alhaji S.O Gbadamosi and the late S.O Sonibare were arrested on the Federal Government orders, with respect to the loan which the NIPC of which they were directors, took to build Western House on Broad street Lagos, Rewane became more defiant to resist persecution, from the authorities to the very end. In this instance too, they were discharged and acquitted.
During Rewane’s trial, the party leader, Obafemi Awolowo, was escorted by armed police men into the court room. According to Rewane-
“we all rose to our feet and greeted him loyally, warmly and with deep emotion”
Rewane’s prison custody, with Chief Awolowo in their midst, only transformed the group of the awaiting trials, into a vibrant political club within the prison walls.
When the group of the detainees were dispersed, Rewane was very happy that he was one of the seven detainees, left behind with Chief Awolowo in broad street prison. But despite Rewane’s closeness with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his cultic loyality that was legendary and notwithstanding the fact that Chief Rewane usually took off his cap to speak with Obafemi Awolowo on the telephone,Obafemi Awolowo would still brook no nonsense or indiscipline from the A.G Chieftains.
Alfred Rewane was a member of the A.G delegation to the 1957 Constitutional Conference in London. At the conference, he became indisposed, he had no choice but to visit a hospital. The Western Region Agent General in London- Chief M.E.R Okorodudu, took Alfred to the Royal free hospital in London, where he was admitted and treated for Festibular Neurosis. The bill was 160 pounds sterling. Chief Okorodudu sent the bill to Chief Awolowo’s hotel, for approval for payment, from the delegations vote, but Chief Awolowo declined to authorize payment. He told Rewane-
“Alfredo, among all the delegates to this conference, you are the closest to me. Your indisposition is not as a result of your attendance of this conference.”
He added in jest-
“If I authorize this payment of the bill, it will create a dangerous precedent. How am I sure that some of our colleagues who may be suffering from chronic gonorrhoea would not ask me to approve payment of the bills for their treatment?”
At that point, Chief Awolowo gave Rewane 50 pounds of his own money to pay part of the bill, with further support from Chief S.O Sonibare and Chief Arthur Prest. Alfred made up the money from his personal account and the bill was settled. Those were the days!
Alfred, in 1952, played a pivotal role, in changing the title of the Itsekiri monarch from the Olu of Itsekiri to the Olu of Warri. At the same time, the then Warri Province was changed to the Delta Province, to allay Urhobo fears, thus confining the name Warri to the Administrative Itsekiri Division.
Rewane’s love for the Itsekiri nation was legendary and infallible. He had an amazing skill, to place history in its proper perspective. He was a gentleman, a good citizen and a successful businessman. He was a role model in costume and elegance. He was the epitome of wellness and grandeur. He was tall, shimmering, ebony black and stately, that one could easily be hypnotized by his presence. Alfred was unfortunately murdered at his house, No. 100, Oduduwa Cresent, Ikeja Lagos, on the 6th of October, 1995.
In the 1990s, Rewane’s residence in Lagos was the venue of political meetings that led to the formation of NADECO.
He was known as a major financier of the group which was vocal in its opposition to the military regime of Sani Abacha. The Nigerian police arrested 7 persons in connection with his murder but 5 of the suspects died while in detention, the remaining two were freed based on weak evidence from the prosecution.
May the soul of Osibakoro Alfred Rewane continually find peaceful repose with the Lord.
*Femi Kehinde, lawyer and historian was a member of the House of Representatives