TRIBUTE: The Intriguing Life of Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, By Prof Adeolu Akande
It is 10 years today that the strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu went the way of all mortals. I had the privilege of observing his politics, first as a political reporter at the Nigerian Tribune and later, as a teacher of politics when I supervised undergraduates who were encouraged to study his brand of politics. In later years, I was persuaded that his brand of politics deserved a closer and detailed study through a biography. His brand had many components that the public abhor but yet, his brand offered a very good understanding of Nigerian Government and Politics, including how we can prevent those components that are uncomplimentary.
On the 10th anniversary of his passage, I offer you snippets from his uncompleted biography;
Adedibu refused to be released from detention…
The dateline was 1991.The government of General Ibrahim Babangida had fixed the governorship election between its Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Party (NRC). But it was worried that its vision of a political dispensation dominated by new breed politicians was being derailed by old politicians. It went after the old folks. Among them was Major General Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Dr Olusola Saraki, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. Adedibu’s inclusion was curious because at that time, he had not attained the prominence comparable to the other detainees.
They were taken to Kirikiri Maximum prison and Chief Bola Ige was worried over Adedibu. He protested vehemently that while the military government could complain that the political activities of these politicians threatened its agenda, Adedibu was unjustly included because his activities could no way affect the transition programme. Alhaji Adedibu said he immediately thanked Chief Bola Ige but protested against been released.
“Why will you protest being released when a case had been made for your release”, I asked him. “What will I be doing at home”, he countered in Yoruba and continued: “In that detention camp were the First Eleven of Nigerian politics. If the newspapers are reporting that the most prominent politicians are detained, they will list my name among them. Will I gain such prominence if they release me and I go and sit at home…”. His visibility at the national level was enhanced by the detention.
…And his ‘doctor’ became courier of political messages.
The eminent politicians were initially detained at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos. When the throng of sympathisers to the prison became unbearable to the military government, the political gladiators were moved to a detention camp in Epe in Lagos State. Adedibu shared the same chalet with General Yar’Adua. No visitors were allowed to see them as the government controlled their contacts with the outside world so that they would not influence the impending governorship election. Their contacts with the outside world were at the benevolence of the ubiquitous security operatives detailed to keep watch over the detention camp.
Adedibu got a message out to one of his aides. One morning, the aide arrived at the detention camp with the overall of a medical doctor, a stethoscope and a bag of drugs requesting to see Chief Adedibu. On enquiries, he introduced himself as Adedibu’s medical doctor. He was allowed in. Yar’Adua was surprised when the visitor turned out to be Adedibu’s personal assistant. Adedibu had a good laugh. The aide gave Adedibu a detailed account of the political situation at home in Oyo State and received instructions on what should be done in preparation for the election. Adedibu also wrote letters to some politicians on what he wanted them to do. The envelopes were addressed in the names of Adedibu’s wives. Thinking that an obstinate security operative could insist on reading it and knowing that they were not from the South West, he wrote the letters in Yoruba.
Yar’Adua expressed concerns that he was cut off from political reports from home because he had no access to the radio, Adedibu’s aide then approached the security aides that Adedibu’s health was degenerating and he urgently needed some drugs. He returned with a small transistor radio that fits into the package of a drug. From the detention, Yar’Adua and Adedibu monitored political activities across the country.
Adedibu and the lepers’ colony
An associate of Adedibu had a running battle with his tenants. He approached the Rent Court which ordered the tenants to vacate the residence but the obstinate tenants appealed the judgement. The court process became frustrating for Adedibu’s friend as the case was repeatedly adjourned at the behest of the tenants. Suspecting that the tenants were pulling some strings in the judiciary to frustrate the case, he approached his friend, Adedibu, to help him with his (Adedibu’s) own contacts in the judiciary. “Can you raise about N50, 000”, Adedibu asked him. His response was positive. Money at hand, Adedibu called his aides to go to the market and buy a set of stove, cooking utensils and foodstuff. When they returned from the market, he asked them to take the food to the popular colony of beggars in Ibadan. They were to announce to the lepers among the beggars that the government had decided to offer them free accommodation and free food. The volunteers among the lepers were taken to the building occupied by the recalcitrant tenants. The tenants fled with their families. By evening time, they were sending emissaries to Adedibu to allow them pack their property from the house.
Adedibu and his debtor
A businessman who doubled as a politician had a transaction with Alhaji Adedibu and held on to his (Adedibu’s) money. After much pestering, he issued a cheque on the debt to Adedibu.
Pronto, Adedibu went to the bank. He was asked to re- present the cheque. Using his network within the bank, he found out that the balance in the account was less than the amount on the cheque.
Adedibu headed for the residence of his friend, Alhaji Azeez Arisekola Alao, telling him that he got a business that would yield profit within 24 hours and asking the billionaire to lend him the shortfall in the funds he needed for only 24 hours. Arisekola, a generous man by all standards, obliged. Adedibu got his men to deposit the amount in his debtor’s account and thereafter presented the cheque, again. He was paid.
Days after, the businessman realised the transaction had taken place in his account and went to Adedibu to ask why he deposited money in his account to make up for the amount on the cheque. Adedibu retorted: “You forget that I am an Ibadan man. You cannot come from the village and play a smart one on an Ibadan man.”
Adedibu, madmen and elections…
Adedibu never had it easy as a politician. While his most enduring epithet was “Strongman of Ibadan politics”, he had a serious challenge winning elections in his Ibadan South West Local Government, particularly in the Oke Ado area where voters were mostly non-indigenes. For every election, he does his calculations to make projections of where his votes will come from and where the greatest challenge is.
On this particular election, the major challenge was narrowed to a particular set of polling units in the premises of a school. His opponent was sure of recording high votes to cancel out his advantage in other areas. Meanwhile, being a very generous man who gives arms to beggars and the needy, he had a very long list of disabled people who collect weekly monetary support from him. One of them was a mentally deranged man who curiously comes to collect arms on a particular day of the week without fail. He wears a very bushy air, dressed in rags and looks violent. Adedibu asked him to come on Election Day. On arrival, he was given more money than he expected and had the tag of “party agent” hanged on his neck. He was taken to the polling unit that Adedibu feared he would lose the election with a huge margin. He was introduced as the party agent. As words went round that a mad man was a party agent at the unit, many voters stayed away. Adedibu successfully controlled the margin of his loss in the polling unit.
Adedibu and Arisekola’s Zoo…
Arisekola was Adedibu’s closest ally in the politics of Oyo State. Adedibu was the politician and Arisekola was the financier. In the 1990s, Arisekola built what would go as one of the biggest mansions in the ancient city of Ibadan. The mansion was to have a zoological garden as compliment. Adedibu told his friend Arisekola that he had contacts in Senegal who could supply lions to the zoo. Arisekola released N10 Million for the lions. Week after week, there were no lions in sight. Arisekola was worried and became agitated. When Adedibu heard of his worries, he visited Arisekola one early morning. As he climbed the stairs to his presence he announced, “Are, awa ti na owo awon kiniun re o. Bo’ba ju awa na sinu cage k’awon ara Ibadan o ma wa wowa”. (“Aare, we have spent the money you gave us to buy lions. You may wish to put us in the cage meant for the lions so that the people of Ibadan can come and watch us”.
Both men had a good laugh and their friendship continued.
A politician must laugh in his campaign poster…
The contest for the Oyo South Senatorial seat in 1992 pitched Chief Rasidi Ladoja against Chief Abinusawa, a former Head of Service in Oyo State. Adedibu supported Ladoja who was just making his first attempt at an election but his ally, Arisekola wanted Chief David Abinusawa for the seat. Adedibu played hide and seek with Arisekola. On the eve of the election when it became apparent that there could be a clash between them on Election Day, Adedibu went to Arisekola’s house.
Clutching a bale of Abinusawa’s campaign posters, he dumped the posters at the feet of Arisekola complaining bitterly, “I don’t like it when I work for someone and the person messes up my efforts.” Arisekola was alarmed. He asked what the problem was. ”Look at these posters, why is he not laughing in the posters. No one will vote for a candidate who is not friendly in his poster”. Arisekola rushed to his telephone stand and called Abinusawa. He complained about the picture in the poster and advised him to quickly take new ones for another set of posters. When he got back to Adedibu and told him what he had done, Adedidu resumed his complaint, saying it was too late. “I accept that I have lost this election due to the bad pictures. May be we try our luck some other time”, he said as he took his leave of Arisekola.His preferred candidate, Ladoja, was elected the following day.
Adedibu’s enduring cognomen
Adedibu was a toast of traditional musicians and there was hardly any of the eminent traditional musicians of the Fuji, Apala, were and Sakara genres that did not compose songs in his praise. Perhaps the most enduring of the lot was that by the wordsmith from Ilorin, Odolaye Aremu, who sang:
Adedibu lo soja o m’ adiye wale
Kora, kogbe, beni won o si bun…
(Adedibu went to the market and returned with a chicken
He didn’t buy it. It was not a gift. And he did not steal it.)
This is probably the best description of the intriguing life of Alhaji Adedibu whom Odolaye also described as “a half of Ibadan mistaken for one person”.
Akande is a governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress; he writes from Ibadan.