It all began in October 1974: Friday, 11 October 1974. The Governor of Western Region, Governor Oluwole Rotimi was marking his third year in office, and this night at 7 pm, he made a state broadcast. In this broadcast, there was a bombshell: Civilians in West Government quit on Oct 19. And there was commotion.
No one was expecting things to go that way because, to many, the Commissioners had come to stay. Though at the early stage of his government, many had criticised the governor for bringing only his classmates at Kings College to run the government of west, yet as time went by, citizens had come to like the commissioners since they could not find any fault in them. But now this!
Those were the days of discipline in government. Commissioners were not by names alone, but by performance. Western region of 1974 comprised all the states of Southwest: Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti. And with this, it had only 12 commissioners to assist the governor in governance. So the post was meant for only those who had excelled in their chosen field, and who could actually perform.
But the governors were so powerful; they were the alpha and omega of their states, their words were law and, most especially, because they were military officers, they did not think much of civilians, however educated they might be: whatever the governor said must be obeyed, and many of the civilians too thought it a privilege to work for the governor.
And despite the poor financial remuneration of the then commissioners, they wielded so much power that the powerfulness paid handsomely for the meager wages, thus no one wanted to leave, and when anyone was appointed, it was a celebration galore, which made the governor think he was doing the appointee and his family a big favour.
Of course, it was seen as a favour by all, so no one would ever reject it and once appointed, no one wanted to leave the post. So it was a shock to many when on this 18th day of October, Governor Oluwole rotimi faced the microphone and announced: “When about three year ago I decided to bring in civilian as state commissioners to assist me in the task of government, I did mention at the time that the personalities invited to join the government had made it clear that they would want a limit to be placed on their term of office as they would deplore a situation in which the people might begin to feel that they were holding career appointment.
‘It was on the basis of this consideration that each of the state commissioners at the time was appointed for a period of three years.
“Happily enough, the state commissioners are themselves prepared and willing to relinquish office in keeping with understanding reached at the time of their appointments.
“Again, looking into the future, I am further persuaded by latest developments on the political front as recently announced by the head of state that this will be a convenient and appropriate point in time to review and, consequently, in due course, renew the machinery of government.”
The governor said he was particularly delighted and appreciative of the fact that each and everyone of them would still be willing to make available to the state, his or her service and experience in whatever capacity, if and when called upon in the future.
“I have therefore decided to wind up the present administration with effect from Saturday, October 19, 1974.
“In doing so I would like to mention only in passing on this occasion my deep gratitude and esteem for the outgoing state commissioners, I have nothing but praise and admiration for the high sense of loyalty and devotion with which they have worked these three years. I shall have occasion very soon at another time and place to pay fitting tribute to these worthy and faithful functionaries of the state.”
Well, it was true that the commissioners agreed in 1971 to spend three years, but having tasted the sweetness of power, the most fervent prayer of most of the commissioners was to be retained by the governor. The governor knew that, too but was able to hammer them based on the earlier agreement.
Thus, Brigadier Rotimi relieved all the Region’s commissioners of their service, and allowed them to go home. The difference this time, however, was that when they were appointed, there were various parties thrown by well-wishers, classmates, former colleagues, town clubs, etc. But when they were told to go home now, none remembered to hold any party for them. They were left on their own.
This was the reason why there was serious lobbying between October 18 and November 6, 1974 in the Western region. Oluwole had hinted in his speech that he would not hesitate to reappoint some of them still willing to, because any day any time, he would give them an “A” in performance appraisal. Based on this, everyone that got “A” from the governor wanted to return.
However, at the end of the examination and re-examination, only five of the twelve commissioners were recalled. It was reported this way: “NEW CABINET IN THE WEST, Five old faces show up again: Five of the Western State civil commissioners who are relieved of their appointment list month are among the 12 new commissioners appointed yesterday by the state governor, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi.
“They are Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice (same port-folio); Dr Adedewe Aderemi, Commissioner for Finance, (same portfolio); Dr Biyi Afonja, Commissioner for Education (same portfolio); Mr. T.S Aliu, Commissioner for industries (re-assigned).
“Others are Dr. G.A. Ashiru, Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources; Chief G.O Gesinde, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; Mr. S.K. Babalola, Commissioner for Health, Dr. Kola Majasan, Commissioner for Home, Affairs and information; Mr. E. M. Ajala, Commissioner for Trade and Co-operatives; Mr. M.A. Ifaturoti, Commissioner for Economic Planning and Reconstruction; Mrs. Ronke Doherty, Commissioner for Lands and Housing.
“Mr. Ajala, one of the new commissioners, was formerly the factory manager for the Nigerian Tobacco Company. He is a native of Ogbomosho.
“Mrs. Doherty, wife of the late Mr. Justice R. A. Doherty, of the High Court of the Western State, is the Secretary General of the Nigerian Red Cross Society.
“Mr. S. K. Babalola, a well-known educationist is an executive member of the Nigerian Union of Teachers.
An official announcement in Ibadan last night said that the commissioners would be sworn in by the governor at the Executive Council Chambers in Ibadan next Thursday.”
Even though Brig. Rotimi was quoted as saying that he would have given the outgoing commissioners BOX A if he were to award grades, he dropped seven of them from his new cabinet. The governor was being diplomatic. Having attended King’s College, University of Ibadan and Mons Officer Cadet School in England, he knew how to relate with people without offending anyone.
The commissioners who were removed after their three years term were Messers Fagbure of Home Affairs and Information; G.A. Alawode, Economic Planning and Reconstruction; Olaniwun Ajayi, Health, Bayo Akinnola, Industries; and L.A.D. Oyewo of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Others were Chief J.E. Babatola of Trade and Co-operatives; Chief K.O. Akinlehin, Lands and Housing, Canon J.A. Akinyemi, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs; and Mrs. Folake Solanke of Establishment and Training.
It was while scouting for the new commissioners that Rotimi fished in trouble waters. Without any consultation, and probably thinking he was doing the man a favour, he announced the name of Richard Osuolale Akinjide as one of his commissioners-to-be. And there was fury in the land.
Akinjide was away in England when the governor made the announcement, and even while there, his friends and family members were busy looking for telephone to locate him, while others were using the telegraph. As the radio continued its announcement, so were people sending him messages of goodwill. He rushed home.
When his people saw him, they were very happy: the new commissioner had returned. But Akinjide stunned them. Instead of rushing down to the government house to thank the governor for considering him out of many others, he went to his office and issued a press statement, sending same to the very radio where his appointment was announced, and other media houses.
The statement said Akinjide received with shock, the news of his appointment as a commissioner in the Western State government. For one, he had not been consulted by anyone for the post of a commissioner and he had not applied to be a commissioner. Akinjide said, “I have not applied to be a commissioner and I do not want to be a commissioner!”
What could be more embarrassing to a military governor! Brig. Rotimi might was shocked that a ‘bloody’ civilian could disobey him, something a gun-carrying and fierce-looking soldier dared not do when he was Platoon Commander of 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Kaduna or when he was Station Commander and Second-in-Command to I Battalion at Benin and Enugu respectively.
But Akinjide saw it in a different light. Taking up an appointment in a public office was a call to service. He might not have seen it as an opportunity to champion personal aggrandisement. He probably felt he was going there to help his state, not to gain there from. He must have wanted Rotimi to realise that he was doing a favour to Western State by accepting the post and not vice versa as the governor might have erroneously believed. Akinjide might have wished to understand the person he was to work with, the nature of his job and how to execute the programmes lined up in his ministry.
To Akinjide, it was no big deal if he was made a commissioner. He had been in bigger positions. He was Federal Minister of Education in the mid-sixties, he was a Member of Parliament from 1959-1966. He defeated Mr. T.O.S. Benson, the first Nigerian Minister for Information by 148 votes to 86 in 1970 to become president of NBA, he was a member of Nigerian delegation to the UN in 1960 and a host of others.
Akinjide clearly understood what it entailed to be in public office. And for somebody of his caliber to degrade into becoming ordinary commissioner, it had to be gracious. The governor had to appreciate that fact and go through the proper channel. Perhaps be needed to lobby Akinjide. Would any governor do that? Not Governor Oluwole Rotimi.
In 1974, if there was any position Akinjide would have wanted to serve, it must be at ministerial level because most of his colleagues who were minister during the Tafawa Balewa government had also served in Yakubu Gowon’s government as minister, people like Shehu Shagari, Tony Enahoro, and others. If Akinjide would now become a local champion, it must then be through proper consultation. This was the cause of the fight.
Because the governor did not talk to him before going to radio to announce his name, Akinjide too did not see the need to see the governor before denying him on radio. Thoroughly embarrassed, the military officer waited for the man, looking for an avenue to show him where the power of the day actually lay. Akinjide’s friends were warning him: Beware of the governor!
Brigadier Rotimi organised a farewell dinner for the outgoing commissioners and, on the day, threw a veiled condemnation at the ‘big lawyer,’ saying: “Acceptance of the office of a state commissioner was a sheer self-sacrifice and an act of patriotism. The emolument and remuneration are so meager and the demand on time and energy, and not omitting them, are so tasking as to daunt all but the very devoted and patriotic.”
These must have been the issues Akinjide quietly considered. The remuneration was meager, the job was daunting and time consuming, yet the governor would not consult him before appointing him as commissioner when he knew how big he was earning from his private legal practice.
Apart from this, Akinjide had felt that it would be parochial of him if he should serve within a state. He was bigger than that. A federal appointment would be better or better still, his private legal practice.
Hear him when prodded by reporters of Jos Television in a programme “Guest Of The Moment” in October 1976 on why he refused to serve as commissioner under Governor Rotimi. “I have a commitment to my country and my profession and in any capacity that I served during the period I was still serving the nation.” That was it!
On the day of the swearing-in, the governor quietly removed Akinjide’s name and sermonised that: The army needs civilians. The day was reported thus: “The Western State governor Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, said today that participation of civilians under the peculiar circumstance of the military regime had been of tremendous assistance to the achievements of their goal.
Brigadier Rotimi was speaking at the swearing-in ceremony of 12 new civilian commissioners appointed recently by him at the Executive Council Chambers, Secretariat, Ibadan.
Hundreds of people including High Court judges’ diplomats and top government officials witnessed the 45 minute ceremony which began at noon.
He said many people must be wondering as to the necessity of appointing new commissioners at this time, having regard to the recent announcement made by the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon on the future of the country.
The governor maintained that the business of the government, if approached in the right spirit and with the singleness of purpose which it demands, calls for a full mobilisation of human talents and resources at all times.
“It is only in this way that the government can still be satisfied that it is in constant touch with the feelings of the people” he added.
Brigadier Rotimi pointed out that those now invited to serve as commissioners were fully aware of the nature of their tenure of office.
He added that as dedicated citizens, they were in no way deterred by this, knowing full well that it was not the length of service that counts, but the sacrifice and devotion which they brought into it.
The opportunity to serve one’s nation, the governor further declared, was indeed a sacrifice and an honour, no matter the duration.
The present appointment has, therefore, been made in full awareness of the future course of events as announced by the Head of State.
He urged the people of the state to strive at all times to uphold the policy of the Federal Government and the unity of the federation.
Political analysts saw the governor’s speech as an indication that the commissioners might be relieved of their assignments at the end of March next year when all governors are due to be reassigned by General Gowon.”
Even, with this realisation that the army needed the civilian populace to be able to govern well, Akinjide was not welcomed in government circle in Western State, and something might have happened to him, were it not that six month after this hullabaloo, the government of General Yakubu was removed from office, and the storm also carried away Oluwole Rotimi from the government house of Western State.