Reminiscence: The Great Debate Of Bola Ige Vs Richard Akinjide By Dapo Rotifa


“Since members of your own family also benefitted from Awolowo’s free education program, how many of them have become armed robbers or touts?”

1979 Old Oyo governorship race: Bola Ige on UPN ticket was the candidate to beat. Another eminent lawyer, Richard Osuolale Akinjide was another strong candidate on NPN ticket. Oh well, Akinjide was a no-hoper in that election but his party was going to win the presidency. Yoruba gladiators in NPN needed to show they could win for the party in our West (we had no SW, SS, NE… then). They actually actualized that four years later with their Federal might.

Back to the Oyo Guber election of 1979. That election perhaps laid the foundation for an essential tool for the voters to make a rational choice of a candidate based on how such candidate outperforms others in laying out his vision: DEBATES. That’s something we couldn’t develop beyond the elementary level it has been.

Both two leading candidate Ige and Akinjide, with a great deal of mutual respect for each other but never in the same side of the political aisle, have other things in common: both, brilliant lawyers, were said to have married from the same Oloko family of Ibadan.

Towards the election, Ige and Akinjide featured on TV program in a debate setting. Both showed brilliance and great understanding of issues they were debating. Ige knew how much our people appreciate education. He would flaunt the success of free education program of Awolowo during the First Republic as something he would replicate as Oyo governor in accordance with UPN manifesto summarized into a 4 Cardinal Program.

In an attempt to decimate that free education claim made by Ige, Akinjide said most of the beneficiaries of Awolowo free education have turned out to be armed robbers, touts, and social misfits in the society. Trust Ige’s witticism. That guy was a great wordsmith, both spoken and written. He would hardly allow Akinjide to finish when he jumped in: “since members of your own family also benefitted from Awolowo’s free education program, how many of them have become armed robbers or touts?”

Woo-hoo…..that was more than below the belt. It hit Akinjide like a thunderbolt. It got so much under his skin that he couldn’t take it and had no response at all. In fury, he stormed out of the program, live on TV. End of debate.

I don’t want to agree that we’ve seen the best of message-based electoral contests, aspirants engagements, political debates and all that good stuff in our country. But it’s no exaggeration that all those good stuff that make elections interesting have ebbed terribly over the years. I didn’t know of anyone queuing to receive one kongo of “rices” during the electioneering era of Second Republic. That’s not to say it was all perfect then. I’m still hopeful we can get it better.

Continue to rest in peace the great Cicero of our time: Bola Ige.

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