Grace to grass: The story of ST Oredein, an associate of Obafemi Awolowo involved in armed robbery

There was no one in Western Nigeria who did not know S. T. Oredein. If there was such a person, he must have just arrived from Planet Jupiter. Chief Samuel Taiwo Oredein was not just a politician. He was politics personified. He was a kingmaker. He was a godfather. In fact, he was the Big Boss. 

Oredein belonged to the exclusive club of the seven people who partnered with Chief Obafemi Awolowo to establish the Action Group which became the party that produced the first premier of the region. You don’t know the other founders? I will tell you. They are: Abiodun Akerele, Ade Akinsanya, J. O. Adigun, S. O. Shonibare, Ayo Akinsanya, and Olatunji Dosunmu.

 

 ST did not hold a cabinet position. He was however more powerful than some Ministers of government. He was the Principal Organising Secretary of the Action Group in the First Republic. It is on record that ST had legal authority to issue query to Ministers and chairmen of government’s statutory corporations. It was Chief Oredein that broke the news of Segun’s death to Chief Awolowo.

 

As an acclaimed authority on political moblisation, he also wrote a book. He was the author of A Manual on Action Group Party Organisation. It was published in 1955.

 

When the news broke in 1971 of his involvement in a case of armed robbery, it was greeted with shock and unbelief. It must have been a mistake, people thought. Or could it have been a political frame-up?

 

Today, Onigegewura brings you the story of a political godfather who became a robbery kingpin.
On April 13, 1971, Nigerians woke up to hear the news of an armed robbery attack on Bacita Road. Bacita is a small town in Kwara State. It used to be a very popular town in the past. It is the location of Nigerian Sugar Company. When the company was established in 1964, it was the first integrated sugar factory in Nigeria. The town even has an airstrip.

 

The armed robbery attack was as daring as it was audacious. It was carried out with military precision. Two officers of Barclays Bank and two policemen who were in the vehicles that were attacked by the armed robbers were seriously wounded. One of the wounded persons later died of his injuries at the hospital. (And in case you are wondering what happened to the then Barclays Bank, it is the bank that became our present day Union Bank of Nigeria Plc.)

 

At the end of the ‘operation’, the armed robbers went away with a box containing thirteen thousand pounds. That was a lot of money in 1971. Chief Awolowo was then the Finance Minister and with his prudent management of Nigerian economy, our pound was almost at par with the British pound.

 

Mr. Kam Salem was the Inspector General of Police at the time. The Kam Salem House on Moloney Street, Obalende, Lagos is named after him. He directed all police formations across the country to fish out those behind the attack. The police spread its dragnet and within days of the robbery, Felix Dumeh, the leader of the gang was arrested. Nigerians jubilated when they heard the news.

 

Felix did not make any attempt to deny being the ringleader. He promised to cooperate with the police. He told his interrogators that although he was the leader of the gang, he was not the real brain behind the daring raid. Felix must have at some point in his life aspired to be a musician. He began to sing like a canary. He started to mention names.

 

The investigators listened in shock as Felix began to mention one name after another. He was not mentioning names of common criminals that the police officers were familiar with. The names of people he mentioned as his backers, protectors and shareholders were names of people you only read about in newspapers.

 

The first person he mentioned was a Chief Superintendent of Police at the State Criminal Investigation Department in Ibadan, Patrick Njovens. The interrogators opened their mouth in wonder. Felix threw another bomb when he mentioned Mr. Yesufu Bello, an Assistant Superintendent of Police also of CID, Ibadan. The third person he listed as his backer was Amusa Abidogun, a Chief Inspector of Police stationed in Ibadan.

 

The investigators thought they had heard everything. They didn’t know that egun nla ni o n kehin igbale. It is the biggest masquerade that is the last to come out of the grove. Then Felix spoke again. The name came out in a whisper. It was the name they were all familiar with. I have already told you that there was no one in the Western Region that did not know High Chief Oredein.

 

 

Iya Agba, my grandmother, used to tell me that when a child’s net catches a tilapia, the child eats it alone. But when the net catches a shark, the child must run to his father. The investigators knew immediately that this was not a tilapia. The fish they were looking at was nothing but a shark. They went to brief their superior.

 

The Kwara State Commissioner of Police was Mr. Sunday Adewusi. He was later to serve as the Inspector General of Police between 1981 and 1983. Ha! You remember him? He was the IGP when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President.

 

Mr. Adewusi sent his officers to Ibadan Command to investigate the matter. On getting to Ibadan, Adewusi’s officers were arrested by the three senior police officers they were sent to arrest! You are saying “Haba!” The hunters became the hunted. The Ilorin officers were later thrown out of the station! They were warned never to come to Ibadan again.

 

The three senior officers however didn’t reckon with Adewusi’s tenacity. He came back and got the three of them arrested. He took them to Ilorin. He also invited Chief Oredein for a ‘chat’.

 

Chief Oredein arrived at the Police Command in a grand style. He came to Ilorin in his Mercedes car with its unique plate number: WR 6666. He expected it to be a brief meeting. He had engagements later that day in Ibadan and he had promised to be back at his base before nightfall.

 

Unknown to ST, the police had done their homework thoroughly. They had painstakingly investigated the case and gathered relevant evidence and related materials before inviting the political godfather. One of the people that the police met in the course of their investigation was Mustapha Adigun who was popularly called Balewa. He got the nickname from the abbreviation of his first name, Tafa! But he was never a Prime Minister. He was also called Tafa Igiripa by some people.

 

Adigun claimed that Oredein was his boss during the days of politics when he (Adigun) was the head of ST’s political boys. He informed the police that in the evening of the day of the armed robbery attack, he went with his boss to the house of Felix Dumeh. In addition to his boss, the three police officers mentioned by Felix were also present. I am not sure they were wearing police uniforms for that special assignment.

 

Felix was said to have brought out a bottle of schnapps and some pieces of alligator pepper. He opened the bottle and poured a little quantity on the floor and also threw some alligator pepper on the floor. Like a Chief Priest, Felix then raised the bottle of the alcoholic drink and said: “this thing wey tin we dey do, God make it no let it prove.” They all chorused amen to the solemn prayers. Felix then drank out of the bottle and chewed one alligator pepper. The four of them also drank out of the bottle and chewed alligator pepper.

 

Oath taking and prayers completed, Felix went to bring a brown paper bag. It was the size of a carton. He gave it to Oredein. ST was about to open the carton when Amusa Abidogun, the Chief Inspector of Police snatched it from him. Abidogun passed the carton to his superior officer Njovens, with a smart police salute. You know seniority is important in the Force. It was the Chief Superintendent of Police who finally opened the paper bag. It was full of currency.

 

Njovens looked suspiciously at the carton, his eyes made a mental calculation of the total sum. “How much?” He asked. Felix raised his spread left palm before saying “Five.” The senior police officer shook his head. “Is that the arrangement? Before, the arrangement was seven” Felix began to fidget. “The boys are too many on it.” Well, half a loaf of bread was still bread. Five or Seven, Njovens was not one to reject money. Akosapo la n ko owo. The proper way to reject money is to put it in your pocket, as Iya Agba used to say.

 

Oredein was stunned when he arrived at the police headquarters to meet both Adigun and Felix. Commissioner Adewusi asked them to repeat what they told the police. They did. In the presence of Oredein, Felix confirmed Adigun’s statement that it was Oredein that first received the carton of money from him before Abidogun snatched it from him.

 

The former Principal Organising Secretary of the Action Group looked blankly at Felix. With a straight face and a deadpan expression, he denied knowing Felix or ever visiting his house. Njovens, Bello and Abidogun also made feeble attempts to deny knowing Felix. Later they started to beg the future IGP to assist them because it was the devil that actually used them to collect the money. “Ise asetani ni. Mo fi Anabi ati Jesu Krisiti beyin!” That was from Alhaji Amusa Abidogun, the Chief Inspector. He offered to return part of his own share.

 

Chief Oredein, the master strategist, realized that the cards were stacked against him. He checked his sleeve to see whether he had an ace he could use. He found none. It was then he reluctantly admitted that all that Adigun who was also known as Tafa Igiripa said was correct. However, the Chief denied that the money was in one-pound denomination as stated by Adigun. Adigun maintained his stand. Finally, ST nodded his head that the money was actually in one-pound denomination.

 

It was over the radio that people heard the news. Chief Oredein had been arrested and would be arraigned in Court for armed robbery! Armed robbery! It must have been a case of mistaken identity. It could not have been the Chief S. T. Oredein that they knew. Armed robbery! Ki lo pa alaso funfun ati alaro po? What could have been the connection with the owner of a white cloth and a dyer?

 

In truth, Chief Oredein was not a poor man by any standard. Everybody knew he was a man of means. Ohun ti a ko mo ni a ko mo, eni ti o ba ti ri oyun oyinbo ti mo pe omo pupa ni o ma fi bi. It is a well-known fact that the product of a white woman’s pregnancy would always be fair in complexion. Between 1942 and 1962, Chief Oredein had erected six buildings. And mind you, we are not talking of four-bedroom ‘boys quarters’ in a village o! We are talking of real buildings in strategic locations. Four of the houses were at Ibadan. He built one at Oshodi. The sixth building was in a prime area in Ikeja.

 

What of automobiles? ST had a total of nine vehicles, including cars and lorries for both his business and personal use. He was not only sagacious on the political field. He was also productive in the other room. He was blessed with more than 30 children.

 

Finally the day of the trial arrived. People had travelled all the way from Lagos, Ibadan and Ogere to Ilorin to confirm whether it was truly the Chief Oredein that was arrested. To the surprise of many of his supporters and friends, it was the author of the book on political organisation himself that was brought to court.

 

ST was arraigned alongside the three senior police officers. They were charged with abetting the commission of a robbery and of receiving stolen property as well as offence of harbouring known offenders. In other words, they were charged with receiving 5,000 pounds from the armed robbers in order to screen them from legal punishment for the offence.

 

It was a criminal trial like no other. It was a battle of giants. Chief Oredein and Patrick Njovens briefed Chief Rotimi Williams to appear for them. Bello and Abidogun retained the services of Mr. Richard Akinjide. The prosecution was led by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Kwara State, Mr. Anthony Ekundayo. The three senior lawyers proved their mettle.

 

The trial judge was a relatively young judge, having been appointed to the Bench only two years before the trial. However, what My Lord Justice Moradeyo Adesiyun lacked in age, His Lordship made up with uncommon brilliance and exemplary courage.

 

At the trial, Chief Oredein testified that on the day of the robbery he was at his hometown, Ogere having left Ibadan around 6.30pm on that day and only came back to Ibadan the following day. He admitted that it was true that Adewusi confronted him on May 26 with Felix Dumeh but he stated that he denied there and then the allegations of Dumeh. His principal witness was his solicitor who claimed that he was with Chief on April 13 from about 3pm to 11pm. Chief also called an Imam and a farmer as his witnesses. They all testified that he was at Ogere on the evening of April 13.

 

The trial was not only being conducted in the courtroom. From Ilorin to Ibadan, From Lagos to Enugu, From Port Harcourt to Ile-Ife, people were also busy conducting their own versions of the trial. Would the young judge be able to convict ST if he was found guilty? Would AG leaders allow their former colleague to go to prison for robbery?

 

When His Lordship adjourned the matter to December 28, 1971 for judgment, speculations began afresh. It was said that it was to enable the judge to release the accused before the end of the year. Some said that thanksgiving services had been planned to coincide with the New Year. All Nigerians waited with bated breath for the judgment day.

 

Finally, the day arrived. It was a Tuesday. It was three days after Christmas and three days before the New Year.

 

The four accused persons were brought to the Court in a Black Maria. If ST felt any apprehension, it was not apparent. As he was led to the court, Oredein gave the sign of victory to the crowd of spectators who had come from far and near to hear the verdict. It was a good sign. It was a sign of victory. His people became happy.

 

Hon. Justice Moradeyo Adesiyun began by reviewing the charges against the four of them. His Lordship extensively analysed and appraised the evidence. When His Lordship noted the fact that the accused were not at the scene of the crime, Oredein turned to smile at the people in the courtroom. He would soon be on his way home.

 

Then came the moment. His Lordship found that though the accused persons were not physically present at the scene of the armed robbery, they had prior knowledge of the robbery before it took place and that the three of them who were police officers did nothing to prevent the robbery. His Lordship also found that they all received proceeds of the robbery.

 

Justice Adesiyun therefore came to the conclusion that the accused persons were guilty of the charges against them.

 

Chief Oredein could not believe his ears. Guilty as charged? He was not going to be free? His native cap which he had been holding, in deference to the authority of the court, clattered to the floor with a thud. The High Chief from Ogere Remo stood still as if he was Opa Oranmiyan in Ile-Ife. It was Yesufu Bello who was standing beside him that nudged him back to reality. “Chief, ‘they’ are asking if you have anything to say.”

 

Oredein had not prepared any allocutions. He had not expected to be convicted. Ko si eni ti o gbe oju fifo le adiye ori aba. Who could have imagined that a mother hen would fly off from her hatchery? You don’t know allocutus? It is another Latin word they taught us in Law School. It is a statement made by a defendant who has been found guilty before he is sentenced. It is like ‘A beg, tamper justice with mercy’ that a Lagos bus driver would tell you after breaking the side mirror of your Range Rover.

 

Allocutus or no allocutus, something must be said. The court had only convicted, His Lordship had not yet pronounced their sentences. Perhaps something could still be done. His eyes scanned the crowded courtroom. It appeared he was looking for someone or something. Whatever he was looking for was not in the court. He turned back to His Lordship.

 

Oredein pleaded for leniency. In a very moving voice, he informed the court of his past travails: “First it was the treasonable felony and conspiracy trial, but I was acquitted at the Supreme Court. Second, the Aberenla murder trial came, and I was in custody for 11 months before I was freed at Ijebu-Ode High Court. I humbly plead for Your Lordship’s forgiveness.”

 

Of course you know the treasonable felony trial the Chief referred to. The Aberenla trial he mentioned was the case over the murder of Ogunkoya Aberenla who was the Leader of Ogere Remo’s branch of Nigerian National Democratic Party of Chief Ladoke Akintola (Not to be confused with the party of the same name established by Herbert Macaulay in 1922). Aberenla’s body was never found. Onigegewura will write about his mysterious disappearance soon.

 

Justice Adesiyun looked at the accused persons. “If you had any conscience, you should drop your heads in shame.” His Lordship observed that they were lucky not to have been caught by the amendment to the Robbery and Firearms Decree which provided death by public execution for convicted armed robbers and those found to have aided and abetted armed robbery.

 

His Lordship therefore sentenced each of them to life imprisonment. There was no Federal Court of Appeal in those days. It was only Western State that had a Court of Appeal and Kwara was not part of Western State.

 

The four of them ran all the way to the Supreme Court.

 

On May 3, 1973, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment. My Lord Justice Coker who delivered the judgment of the apex court dismissed the appeal of all the convicted persons and affirmed the life sentences imposed on them by the trial court.

 

Chief Rotimi Williams later became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Mr. Richard Akinjide became a Chief, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Attorney General of the Federation. Mr. Anthony Ekundayo, the DPP, was elevated to the Bench as a Justice of the High Court of Kwara State. The trial Judge, My Lord Adesiyun was also elevated. His Lordship served as the Chief Judge of Benue State from 1976 until his retirement in 1985.

Source African free press

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