Ajasin and Omoboriowo: A head on collision

Ajasin and Omoboriowo: A head on collision

Sunday, November 22, 2020 8:20 am


Governor Adekunle Ajasin and his Deputy, Akin Omoboriowo


By Dare Babarinsa

Early in the life of the Second Republic, the governor of the defunct Ondo state, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, famously collided with his deputy, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, in a fractious political conflict. The bitter struggle between both men peaked years later, in 1983, when the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) controversially declared Omoboriowo governor-elect following a fiercely contested gubernatorial election. The ensuing political crisis and civil unrest in the old Ondo state was a prelude to the eventual collapse of the short-lived and ill-fated Second Republic (1979-1983). The following excerpt, taken from an interesting account by the renowned journalist, Dare Babarinsa, unravels the roots of the conflict.


“Six months into the life of the civilian administration, it was apparent to discerning observers that a schism was developing within the new Ondo State government. The cause of this was the manifestation of [Deputy Governor] Omoboriowo’s ambition so early in the tenure of the new government, according to [Governor] Ajasin’s loyalists, while Omoboriowo’s group accused the governor of intolerance, and dislike for the majority Ekiti people. Whatever was the reason, it was clear that the growing rift harboured the promise of a battle royal. By the time Ajasin woke up to the perceived threat of his deputy-governor, Omoboriowo’s had built a formidable network of power and influence not only within Ajasin’s cabinet but also in Ondo State House of Assembly, the civil service and other sectors. Therefore, if the governor was intent on taking on his deputy governor, then he was in for a long and protracted struggle.”


“In December 1980, [Adekunle] Ajasin proceeded on leave. There were rumours that he was critically ill. At 72, many people were ready to speculate that the rigour of the governorship job was now  taking its toll on Ajasin. Before he left, [Akin] Omoboriowo insisted that he should be sworn-in as acting governor, but Ajasin refused. Ajasin said since he had been sworn-in as deputy-governor on October 1, 1979, it was not necessary for him to be sworn-in again as acting governor. Omoboriowo’s argument was that when Chief Bisi Onabanjo, the governor of Ogun state was going on leave in April, 1980, Chief Sesan Soluade, his deputy was sworn-in as acting-governor. Ajasin maintained his ground. It should be mentioned that the Ogun State example was not repeated either in Ogun State again or in any other state of the federation throughout the Second Republic.”

 “Omoboriowo was bitter that he was not sworn-in as acting governor and when he paid his only visit to Chief Ajasin on his hospital bed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, he was sulky. He later wrote a letter, full of bile, accusing the governor of undermining his regime as acting-governor of Ondo State. What irked him was that Ajasin was still being briefed on goings on in government especially on financial matters by people like Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Mrs. Osomo who were visiting Ajasin virtually everyday at LUTH.”


“In its February 21 edition of 1981, the ‘Daily Times’ carried a front page story on Ajasin, headlined: Ajasin Critically Ill. The paper reported: Governor Michael Ajasin of Ondo State is very ill and a team of medical experts is now battling to save his life.’”


“Immediately the ‘Daily Times’ story hit Akure, it caused panic. Many people now regarded it as a confirmation of the persistent rumour that Ajasin was dead. It was not unusual in Yorubaland for the announcement of the passing of an important public figure to be delayed for several days or even weeks. For the supporters of Ajasin, the only trump card they had was to keep Ajasin in the saddle, for despite everything, the advantage of incumbency was tremendous in the intra-party battle [raging between Ajasin and Omoboriowo factions of the Unity Party of Nigeria in Ondo state]. Now if Ajasin’s death should be confirmed, then everything was lost.”


“Many legislators and other top notchers of the party, on hearing the rumour of Ajasin’s passing away simply went to Omoboriowo’s residence to congratulate him as the new governor. An embarrassed Omoboriowo had to tell them that there was no substance to the rumour. He said though it was true that Ajasin was in LUTH on admission, he was actually recovering. He later issued a statement on Ondo State radio, assuring the people that Ajasin was still alive.”


“Ajasin returned to Akure Friday, February 27, 1981, to a tumultuous welcome. He did not spare Omoboriowo the length of his tongue, accusing him of wishing him dead,  for having written him ‘that wicked letter’ on his sick bed. He said though it was true that he had an operation for haemorrhage, he was not close to death’s door. Therefore, if Omoboriowo was waiting for his sudden death, he had a ‘long time to wait.’ It was becoming clear now that the gap between the old man and his erstwhile political son was becoming unbridgeable and neither side was willing to shift ground.”

SOURCE:—Dare Babarinsa, ‘House of War: The Story of Awo’s Followers and Collapse of Nigeria’s Second Republic’ (Ibadan: Spectrum Books 2003) pp. 69, 74-75


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