Chief Ayo Adebanjo is a lawyer, politician of the Awolowo school of thought, activist, elder statesman, and chieftain of Afenifere (the Pan Yoruba socio-political group first established in the 1950s).
Born on April 10, 1928, barely six years after the Clifford Constitution and the first legislative elections in Nigeria, Adebanjo has lived through the finest and ugliest moments of Nigerian history: the constitutional processes, the struggle for independence, party politics leading to independence, and after, the civil war, military rule, return to democracy, the struggle for the protection of democracy and civilian rule, and the bigger struggle of ensuring the survival and development of Nigeria.
He joined the struggle early in 1943, as a Zikist, as a follower of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe but in 1951, he became a member of the youth wing of the Action Group, and a mentee and political disciple of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This became the defining moment of his life and 67 years later, he has remained faithful to the ideals of that political party and the ideology/political philosophy of his mentor – that is Awoism.
In 1962, during the travails of the Action Group and Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s trial for treasonable felony, Adebanjo was charged with a felony, along with 30 others. He had to flee to Ghana. He has been detained more than once for his political beliefs, but this has not altered his resolve. Following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, which was won by Chief MKO Abiola of the then Social Democratic Party, Adebanjo was one of the chieftains of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). He joined protests, stood at the barricades and made his voice heard. Used to the dangers of political life in a dangerous society, Adebanjo’s resolve remains unshaken, even in the winter season of his life.
When he fled into exile in 1962, his father was arrested, detained, and rough-handled by the state. Many of Adebanjo’s colleagues have died in the course of the struggle. The very essence of Chief Adebanjo’s politics lies in his consistency, his unwavering commitment to ideas rather than opportunism, his courage in the face of fire and intimidation, the life of sacrifice that he has lived, and his loyalty to Awo and Awoism. He may in fact be described as the last of the original Awoists.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo has been one of the most vocal, most unrelenting apostles of Awoism in Nigeria. His loyalty and religious devotion should be a worthy study. He believes that Nigeria should, no, must be, restructured and that Nigeria’s unity is indeed negotiable, the basis for that having been established in 1954 and the subsequent Lancaster House conferences. As a member of the 1978 Constituent Assembly, and the 2014 National Political Conference, Adebanjo has been consistent in demanding a restructuring of Nigeria through the vehicle of a Sovereign National Conference. He believes almost with thuggish resolve in federalism, as he continually makes the point that Nigeria as presently arranged is doomed to fail.
Beyond this politics, Adebanjo, originally a journalist before he went to study law in England, has proven to be media-savvy. He is not shy in expressing his views. He understands the power of the media. He is brutally frank. He is an engaging conversationalist. He enjoys public engagement. He is intellectually gifted and confident enough to hold his own in any argument. He actually enjoys engaging professional intellectuals and calling them out for duty. You can’t intimidate Chief Adebanjo. You can’t bully him. Adebanjo belongs to and represents a different tradition of the politics of character and dignity and truthfulness.
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