Niyi Adegbenro, son of the late Premier of Western Region:
By Moshood Adebayo, Abeokuta
Chief Niyi Adegbenro, son of the late Premier of defunct Western Region, Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro, has one regret. Hard as he tries, he can’t put it behind him. Even as he clocks 70, the pain won’t go away. It follows him like a dark shadow, haunting him all the way like a ghost. It has to do with the decision he took way back in the 1960 as a starry-eyed young lad. And that was the decision to abandon his education at Ibadan Grammar School. He took the decision to stay with his late father who was languishing in detention in Osogbo.
For the records, the Action Group (AG) parliamentary body had elected Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro as premier of the defunct Western Region during the crisis of the 1962. But the government did not last for more than one week. It was aborted. His words: “I took a decision when my father was in detention in Osogbo to leave Ibadan Grammar School during my final year to join him. That decision terminated my education. It robbed me of the opportunity to read further to become someone well knowledgeable; to be a lawyer; my ambition as a child was to be a lawyer. “The crisis of 1962, which led to the declaration of state of emergency truncated my ambition to be a lawyer.
That’s one major regret that I have in life at 70 now, even though I thank God for His abundant mercies and blessings on me and my family.’’ He recalled that Pa Emmanuel Alayande, principal of the school at that time, wanted him back, but “one way or the other, something went amiss and I can’t even explain why I did not return to school and since that time, I started doing something else outside my life ambition of being a lawyer.” Adegbenro who described his late father, a staunch ally of the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, as a major player in the then AG and the defunct Western Region, said aside from the greatest mistake of his life, he learnt so many lessons of life from him as he went through the vicissitudes of life. “I learnt a lot from him because I followed him during his days as a politician.
The lessons I learnt are many and I can’t finish utilising them all until my death,’’ he declared with a sense of pride. Indeed, the younger Adegbenro has played such major political roles that if his late father could see from the land of the dead, he would feel proud of his son’s exploits. From being a councillor in 1976, he has served Ogun State in various capacities. “What else do I want in life that God has not done for me?” he asked rhetorically. “He has been kind to me.”
What life has taught me at 70
I have learnt a lot at 70. Particularly, life has taught me to love my neighbour. Life has also taught me that loyalty pays, no matter the circumstances. I have also come to appreciate the fact that life is not a bed of roses.
You will be surprised that my happiest moment was when I turned 70 recently because I never thought I would attain that age. My friend, Chief M.K. Makinde and I had a ghastly auto accident along Kaaba Road in Kogi State. It was so serious that the car, a brand-new 505 car we were travelling in broke into two. We were rescued under the wreckage of a trailer. With such an accident that left me hospitalised for six months at 41, I never thought I would be 50, let alone 70. So, to God be the glory, because even an accident of less magnitude has claimed souls.
Nigeria, yesterday and today
When we were growing up, there was not too much money. You can imagine that when I was a councillor at Abeokuta Local Government, I was being paid N100 per month in 1976. During our own time, it was parliamentary system of government. Councillors will elect their own chairman. But now, it is a different ball game, where the chairman is allowed to contest on his own. If he spends a fortune to get there, definitely, when he gets into office, he would struggle to recoup all the money he had spent while vying for the office to the detriment of the people he is supposed to serve.
If Nigeria must progress as a country, I think we have to return to the parliamentary system of government, which I think is the best. I know it may be difficult for members of our National Assembly to do so, but it is the best for the country as it will address so many things. It will reduce indiscipline among our leaders. It will reduce high cost of governance, corruption and so many things. You will recall that Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to contest first as a honourable member in Ikenne while my late father, Chief Dauda Adegbenro contested in Ifo before they got to the then House of Assembly in Ibadan. The current system of government has really enlarged corruption in the country and it must not be allowed to continue.
It was fun throughout playing around with other children of the affluent. I also remember that I played football for Ibadan Grammar School. I was nicknamed Aneyetoto. As the first centre forward for the school, it was fun as I participated in the first ever Hallogen Cup finals ever played in Liberty Stadium. It was between Ibadan Grammar School and Ife Grammar School. In my childhood, I had my own fair share of playing football and pranks and being a rascal. I did so many other nasty things too.
Who between my parents had the greater impact on my life? Well, I think my mother left me too young. I was in primary school when she was driven away from home for her refusal to become a Muslim by my father. As a daughter from the popular Soleye family in Owu, she acted in consonance with her parents and she was forced out of her matrimonial home. As a child, I chose to remain with my father even though my mother wanted me to go with her. So, it was my father that had the greatest impact on my life because I learnt a lot from him, particularly during his travails with Chief Awolowo during and after his detention.
As a child, I dreamt of becoming popular as my father. I think to some extent, I have achieved that, at least, in a little way in my community as well as in my state, Ogun in particular and in the country at large. To God be the glory. At least, I have been secretary, commissioner, adviser, chairman of parastatals and agencies of government.
Concept of leadership
Leadership to me is by good example. It is by liberation of your followers to their own advantage and to your own advantage. Leadership is the ability to create an enabling and conducive environment as well as that of raising the standard of the led for the better. I don’t believe leadership should be servitude; it must be earned and not commanded.
Definition of success
I will define success as the ability to raise others from the shackles of poverty. Helping those who want to be in a particular office achieve their aims and aspiration, to me is a success. I don’t rate success based on the amount of money or affluence one has. There are so many people in this state that when they were aspiring to hold one office or the other, I played prominent roles. To me, that’s success. Being useful to others who are in need is real success.
Style of life
Simplicity is my style of life. I hate to do things the way others do them. I like to be myself and not like others. So, I like simplicity, just as I like to be generous and kind to people. I also like to forgive those who trespass against me.
Most treasured possession in life
My children are my most treasured possession. I am particularly happy that God has given me good children, both males and females.
I always tell people to trust God, because He alone provides and gives longevity.
What I admire in people
I admire simplicity, honesty and transparency. I hate bickering and side talks or someone trying to pull down his colleague just because he or she wants to a position in life.
My late father and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were my role models. I admire them for their foresight and leadership qualities. Believe me or not, I admire Chief Olusegun Obasanjo even though we don’t agree on a number of issues. I see him as a role model because he has achieved what our forefathers could not achieve by becoming president of this country. He did successfully both as a military and as a civilian. Awolowo did well by raising many political leaders across the country. I think Obasanjo should do same, particularly in the Southwest. A good leader must be able to train others to succeed him. I also admire Gbenga Daniel for his courage, resilience and contribution to mankind as a leader.
My attitude to money
Money is not very important to me; it is the blessing of God that is important because it comes in many folds. Once you are blessed by the Creator, other things like money will automatically fall in. Of what use is money that you have but can’t spend?
I wake up around 5am to have my early morning salat (Subhi) after which I pray for my immediate, extended families as well as my state and the country at large. I pray for Nigeria because if the country is not stable, we are all in trouble.
My hobbies? You know I don’t like women? That’s why I didn’t marry many wives. I like to socialise. I like to do sports, play both lawn and table tennis and do keep-fit exercises. I also like travelling, meeting people, reading newspapers and journals. Those are few of the things that I do that I consider as my hobbies.
Commissioner for one day
Former Governor Olusegun Osoba appointed me as commissioner for finance, but unfortunately, the joy did not last because the military administration of General Sani Abacha truncated it. After the swearing-in ceremony at Government House, I was entertaining my guests at the house of Alhaji Sule at the GRA, Ibara (Abeokuta) only to receive a telephone call from the governor that one Army Brigadier had ordered that all commissioners should hand over. I had nothing to handover because I was barely one day in office as a commissioner. It was a shocking news.
At 70, I feel alright
In whatever form, I am fulfilled, because God has given me the grace to still be healthy in spite of few health challenges. I am hale and hearty with good children; to God be the glory. But if it is in term of my life ambition, I am not.
At 70, I am praying to God to give me the energy and grace to unite our people- politicians of various parties- in order to make the Yoruba nation better than it is now. I pray God to give me the grace to unite the likes of former Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and his counterpart in Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in particular as well as other former and present governors for the progress of Yorubaland.
I want a situation where all Yoruba leaders will come under one umbrella and speak with one voice for the Yoruba nation. My joy is to see all Yoruba leaders come under one umbrella and fight for the cause of the Yoruba race. Yes, I agree that we should not put all our eggs in one basket, but I think it is high time we did what is happening in the Northern part of the country through the AREWA. Let our traditional rulers take the bull by the horn and call our prominent political leaders to order in our own collective interest. If we are not united, there will be nothing like the Yoruba nation. Disunity will not pay us as a nation. We must unite and fight for the progress of the nation as well as for the future generations.
My wishes and prayers
I want God to give me the grace that He gave my father before he died in 1975 at the age of 75 that all his 32 children survived him. I want my children, all of them, and my grand children (over 20) to bury me at my old age. I don’t want to bury any of my children. That’s my wish and prayer at 70.
I don’t like women as such. At 70, only four women bore children for me. I had my wives one after the other. I can never live with two women in my house. Even as a Muslim, I can’t have two women under my roof; God has not blessed me the way He did my father who had all his wives under the same roof.