Isiaka Adeleke: When death denied an encore

Isiaka Adeleke

“Against staggering odds, Isiaka Adeleke became the first elected governor of Osun State at 37 in 1992. His shocking death at 62 on Sunday brought an end to his quest to return to the office to complete his self-imposed assignment for his people.”

When Isiaka Adeleke announced that he wanted to be governor of Oyo State in 1991, he was one of those that not many took serious. He was little known even in the state which he sought to govern, although his father had been a senator in the First Republic who was well-loved in his ancestral hometown of Ede.

It was under the political transition programme through which the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, had vowed to transit Nigeria to an Eldorado, a stable and prosperous polity efficiently run by newbreed politicians.

About two dozen governorship aspirants had sprouted that year in Oyo State under the Social Democratic Party, the more accepted in the area of the two parties that Mr. Babangida had fabricated as the official platforms for a political process that would later expose itself as an elaborate game of chicanery.

Worried by the unwieldy field of aspirants, the state party leadership would soon appear with a winnowing fork to “separate the men from the boys”. It whimsically announced that it considered only five of the aspirants as genuine contenders. Of course, Mr. Adeleke was not one of the five.

But just before the race got off, Mr. Babangida’s deft political footwork (for which dexterity the General had by then become nicknamed Maradona, after the greatest footballer at the time) sold the politicians another dummy. He created nine new states, with Mr. Adeleke falling under Osun, the new state hacked out of Oyo.

Even at that, Mr. Adeleke was not considered a serious governorship aspirant in the new state. One of the five “serious” contenders, Oladosu Oladipo, had also fallen into Osun among the original old Oyo SDP aspirants and was naturally anointed by the media, and discreetly by the party leadership, as probable candidate.

Apparently, as it turned out, everyone had fatally underated the mecurial youngman! In the party primary that allowed every registered party member to vote, Mr. Adeleke somehow managed to stop Mr. Oladipo from taking the ticket at the first ballot by winning virtually every vote in Ede and earning himself a place on the ballot for the runoff. He would soon complete the upset through a novel “shock and awe them” tactic that immediately earned him the moniker “Serubawon”.

Although the party establishment (and political grandees such as Bola Ige, Bisi Akande and Sunday Afolabi who had been banned from the field and tethered to the sidelines) were aghast and initially protested the party nomination, he secured the ticket essentially by again sweeping the votes in his ancestral area to emerge with a majority of the total votes. Mr. Adeleke, whose slogan of “Oti serubawon, oti jawon laiya” (He has frighthened and scared them!) had captured the imagination of voters across the state, handily won the general election and became the first elected governor of Osun State at 37.

For the nearly 23 months that the civil rule with a military head experiment lasted before Mr. Babangida finally dribbled himself out of the field but mischieviously left his sidekick, Sani Abacha, on to sweep out the so-called newbreed in the coup of November 1993, Mr. Adeleke held the new state enthralled with his mercurial leadership style and debonair personality.

Among his achievements was establishing a polytechnic at Iree, a college of technology at Esa-Oke and completing the Osun State Broadcasting Corporation.

According to Mr. Babangida later, Mr. Adeleke was one of the few political leaders of that era who dared urge him to his face to reverse his annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election of the SDP candidate, Moshood Abiola. The annulment of the election concocted a political impasse that would eventually see Mr. Babangida “stepping aside” on August 26, 1993 and transferring power to an interim mational government headed by Ernest Shonekan.

Less than three months after on November 23, Mr. Abacha sacked the interim arrangement in which he had been left behind ostensibly to protect as the Minister of Defence. He immediately scrapped all the democratic structures that Mr. Babangida had promised would last forever and restored full-blown military dictatorhip with himself at the head.

Although Mr. Adeleke remained in the country throughout the five years that Mr. Abacha ruled with an iron fist and perpetrated a less discreet political chicanery of his own, Mr. Adeleke did not have much playing time on the political field until the return of the Fourth Republic in the wake of Mr. Abacha’s death.

He had initially joined a few others in the South-west such as the late Lamidi Adedibu and Reuben Famuyibo to float a political organization but withdrew into his shell after the authorities instead decided to register the “five fingers of a leprous hand”, as the official political parties programmed to transmute Mr. Abacha into elected president.

At the outset of the current dispensation, Mr. Adeleke joined the All Peoples Party and was beaten back in his bid to return to office as governor of Osun State by Mr. Akande, the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which was dominant in the South-west. He was not to have another sniff of political office until 2007 when he was elected senator on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party to which he had defected after the then ruling party had uprooted the AD from the South-west.

At the Senate, Mr. Adeleke was at different times chairman of several committees, including more notably that on the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Mr. Adeleke lost his reelection bid to the Senate in 2011 as the Action Congress of Nigeria, an offshoot of the AD, resumed its spread across the South-west.

But his eyes were always trailed on the Government House of Osun State, an obsession that inevitably put him at odds with some members of the PDP in the state who were better connected in Abuja. Following a violent incident during the party’s governorship primary, Mr. Adeleke On May 31, 2014 defected to the then rising APC whose candidate, Rauf Aregbesola, had in 2010 been declared governor after a suceessful petition against the reelection three years earlier of the PDP governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

Explaining his decision to quit the PDP, Mr. Adeleke accused the party of breeding political thugs.

“I was asked to come and vie for governorship, that Omisore (Iyiola, the PDP candidate later defeated by Mr. Aregbesola) is not capable.

“I have nothing against PDP, but I don’t see myself working for a criminal. I can’t support a violent person to go to the Government House.”

He said he had gone to a hotel in Osogbo to meet members of a five-man committee sent by the national headquarters of the PDP to conduct the gubernatorial primary election in which four aspirants were vying in the state.

The “five-man electoral committee invited us, the aspirants to a meeting at the hotel and when I got there, I saw five men lying on the floor at the entrance of the hotel with guns pointed at them by DSS operatives. When I moved closer, I discovered that they were my men and inquired what their offence was. They told me that they were thugs. I said that they were not thugs.

“The DSS guys told me that they were acting on the authority of the Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Adesiyan, who instructed them to hold my men. I intervened and they were released, with their phones earlier seized returned to them.

“On entering the hall, I saw Omisore, Adesiyan, Sogo Agboola sitting together. I went to Adesiyan to complain that police officers and DSS operatives were holding party men outside. But, instead of listening to me, he jumped over a table before him and hit me with a blow on the chest. Sogo Agboola also attacked me. Before I knew what was happening, Omisore hit me with a blow from the back. About seven guns, corked were pointed at me,” Adeleke claimed.

But Mr. Omisore disputed the account. Reacting through his spokesman, Diran Odeyemi, he described the account as a tissue of lies concocted to create false impression.

“All the allegations raised by Adeleke are fictitious stories from the blues and how can he claim that Omisore, Adesiyan and Agboola beat him up. These are gentlemen with civility and decorum. They can never do such a thing to Adeleke as he falsely claimed.”

The state Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Maishanu, acknowledged that Mr. Adeleke reported the incident at his office.

“We learnt that he came to the venue of the meeting with plenty of thugs. We have commenced investigation into the matter.”

Governor Aregbesola of the APC was eventually reelected in a testy poll in 2014, with Mr. Adeleke playing a significant role in the victory. His new party rewarded him with the senatorial ticket for the 2015 election, which he won handily to return to the upper chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly.

With Mr. Aregbesola not due for reelection, Mr. Adeleke was considered one of the brightest prospects to succeed him in 2018. But between him and the party’s ticket had appeared other contestants, long before the race is declared.

As is the case with the PDP, the APC has broken into bitter factions, each plotting its route to dominance. Mr. Adeleke was thought to belong to the faction of the party with connection to the national leadership in Abuja, while Mr. Aregbesola leads the other block in the state said to draw inspiration from Lagos.

This situation may have largely been responsible for the angry reaction on Sunday to the news of the sudden death of Mr. Adeleke. His death happened less than 24 hours after he attended a burial in the Ile-Olugbo area of the state. The tragic incident came as a rude shock to his family members and political associates.

Many in his camp and thousands of his supporters in the state believe that the man they revered as Serubawon had met an unnatural end through the machinations of elements who were determined not to allow him shock and awe them again to the state’s Government House.

It is instructive that most of the dignatories who could dare the rage of his local supporters to turn up at his burial on Monday, including Ibikunle Amosun and Rotimi Akeredolu, governors of Osun and Ondo states respectively, are thought to belong to the Abuja block of the APC.

Mr. Adeleke touched many lives. As a teenager, he had served as a rate clerk in the then Ede district council. The experience enabled him to have very close rapport with people at the grassroots.

Before he ventured into politics, he had recorded success in business. With Adedeji, his younger brother, who is the father of pop star Davido, he set up many business ventures under the business name of Pacific group, which at a point included a bank. They later set up the Adeleke University, Ede.

Born in January 1955, Mr. Adeleke was brought up in Enugu but was forced by the Nigerian civil war (1967 – 1970) to complete his primary education at Alafia Institute, Mokola, Ibadan. He later attended Ogbomoso Grammar School for his secondary school education before proceeding to the United States of America, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master’s degree in public administration.

He also bagged a master’s degree in criminal jurisprudence.


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