The Prince of Hope: Ademola Adeniji-Adele (1956- 2016)

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OLASUPO SHASORE Guest Columnist

The posters were pasted all over Lagos Island, holding suspense only to the uninformed yet, confirmation to political insiders. On the blue background were the bold white letters ‘Prince of Hope’ every tree, every board, every wall space and just about any open surface was plastered with the words ‘Prince of Hope’. It had started. The campaign evolved for all to learn that Prince Ademola Adeniji Adele was running for Chairman of Lagos Island Local government council.

The year was 1989 and the candidate for Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government cruised to a resounding victory. As chairman or ‘papa’ as he was also to be fondly known, he captured the imagination of the entire state with his common touch politics and easy communication with people of all walks of life. As chairman he pioneered the setting up of the Lagos Island Foundation for Education (LIFE), the resuscitation of the Lagos Municipal Transport Service (known to most by its acronym, “LMTS”), and the Sura market development.

Ademola was the 12th child but third son of the Eleko Musendiq Adeniji Adele II. The Oba Adele II also known as ‘Ologbon d’ori eja mu, Omo Buraimoh’ the era in which he grew up in part is often recalled by historians as the height of the prestige, respect and authority of the modern day ‘monarchy’ in Lagos. The Oba was a brilliant scholar winning a 1927 Gold medal prize for best novel written by a native West African.

As the Action Group led clamour ‘Lagos belongs to the West’ grew in the (1930’s), the late Oba and others are on record for resisting the clamour to make Lagos a part of the Western Region administration. “Gedegbe ni Eko wa!” meaning ‘Lagos is independent’ was their war cry. This position was controversial in the face of Action Group popularity. Being opposed to the party in government in the west was a position the Oba stood firmly for and it was significant for its ‘independent Lagos’ mantra without which, there may not have been the sub-national Lagos State that we have today.
“Gedegbe ni Eko wa !” – The significance of this is all the more poignant as we gear up to celebrate Lagos State at 50 years- to celebrate its culture and historical origins first as a kingdom and then the first Crown Colony that later was the smallest in the amalgamated troika to create Nigeria in 1914.

Adeniji Adele had large foot steps to follow in opposition politics.
The Prince did not have to wait long. When presidential election was held on 12th June, 1993, it was clear to all to see that Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC). After indeterminate suspense and manoeuvrings, the election was eventually annulled by military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and political impasse then ensued Ademola was not the only member of the SDP to throw himself into the milieu but he was one of the most steadfast and most committed. Nigerian politics has probably never known any more determined opposition in its history and Ademola was a leading force of this movement.

Later on, when the Lagos State SDP suffered a two-way split leaving Dapo Sarunmi as the head of a depleted force, the groundswell of progressives remained in the rump SDP under a caucus known as “Primrose”, under the leadership of Dr Wahab Dosunmu and then Senator Bola Tinubu joined by Prince Adele, Senator Rasheed Shitta Bey, Alhaji Kola Oseni and others.
When the time came for Bashorun Abiola to make his presidential declaration as the one year anniversary of the election drew close, a close knit trio was tasked with the logistics of the president-elect’s ultimate declaration, Dosunmu, Adele and Omotilewa Aro-Lambo. The closely-guarded logistics and MKO’s appearance at Epetedo, Lagos Island for the historic event was the responsibility of Dosunmu and Adele. And so on the 11th of June 1994, with Adele standing defiantly at his side MKO made the following declaration:

“…People of Nigeria these are challenging times in the history of our continent Africa and we in Nigeria must not be left behind. Our struggle is the same as that waged by the people of South Africa which has been successfully concluded..we in Nigeria are also fighting to replace minority rule.. They talk of treason but haven’t they heard of the Rivonia treason trial in South Africa ? Did those treason trials halt the march of history? People of Nigeria our time is now…”
For his heroic role in NADECO and the June 12 movement he was ‘rewarded’ with unlawful arrest by the military dictators; he was slammed into detention at the age of 38 from 1994 – 1996. His treatment and incarceration in detention was later to cause grave damage to his health from which some say he never fully recovered.

As we all know, the Abacha regime that followed the annulment of the June 12 elections commenced the ‘five fingers of a leprous hand party politics’. Many people were sceptical but Adeniji-Adele couldn’t stay on the sidelines; he joined the governorship race as the candidate of the defunct Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM). It was never consummated till the military government gave in to civil democracy in 1999.
An insatiable politicker, who was acutely aware that politics is a calling, and not a profession for job seekers. By 1999, Adeniji-Adele was with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), becoming the running mate to Chief Dapo Sarunmi for governorship.

We now know too well that the successful ticket for governorship that year was the Senator Tinubu/Bucknor-Akerele under the banner of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
Adeni-Adele had been a brilliant scholar at the famed CMS Grammar school, Bariga, Lagos, where he scored a distinction aggregate at the school certificate examinations. He later went on to earn a First Class degree from the equally prestigious University of Ife, Ile-Ife. He was both academically gifted and astute, so much so that he knew when to quit the reactionary politics of the PDP.

When the ‘hand writing’ was clear he knew it was time for Adele to return to the progressive politics of his birth. It couldn’t have taken then Governor Tinubu long to convince him then to join the Action Congress (AC) and to play his prominent part in the election of the emerging candidacy of Babatunde Fashola (SAN) as Governor of Lagos State in 2007. The party soundly defeated the Jimi Agbaje candidacy of the PDP.
It was no surprise that Adeniji-Adele was chosen as Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Social Development in the Fashola administration between 2007 and 2011. He was an effective and influential member of that cabinet where he set new standards in sports administration.

Even when majority in the All Progressives Congress (APC) galvanised towards success at the polls many didn’t always agree with his actions or positions particularly during the lead up to the 2015 elections, certainly one of his more questionable decisions.
Adeniji -Adele was a heartfelt ‘Lagos Islander’ and kept many issues affecting Isale-Eko close to his heart. His brand of populism was value-based. He was Mogaji Adini of Lagos Central mosque and patron to many Muslim societies all of which he was very proud of.

He struggled recently with his health, no doubt a legacy of his ill treatment in the gulags of Nigerian military politics. He travelled on more than one occasion to India to attend to his health until he succumbed at the very premature age of 60 years.

Till the last he lived modestly rightly not acquiring great wealth from public office, and importantly he remained a great son of Lagos and Nigeria, a champion of democracy and a master of politics.
He is survived by his wives and children who, with many Lagosians and other Nigerians, will miss him sorely.
• Shasore (SAN), a historian and former Attorney General of Lagos State, writes from Lagos