How Popular Nigerian Politician Adegoke Adelabu aka Penkelemesi Died In A Car Accident On Lagos-Ibadan Expressway In 1958 Inside Ijebuland & Why His Number One Enemy Obafemi Awolowo Was Accused Of Using Juju To Spiritually Murder Him

He remains one of the most brilliant political minds in Nigeria. A radical nationalist who was incredibly passionate about causes of the masses, Alhaji Gbadamosi Adegoke Adelabu better known as Penkelemesi had no idea that he was going to have a date with death on 25th of March, 1958.

Aged just 43, he was a spellbinding speaker whose powers of oratory captured an entire nation. For the over 500,000 citizens of Ibadan in Western Nigerian, he was the second of two famous heroes (with the other being the national legend and world featherweight champion Hogan Bassey) at that time.

The nucleus of the Ibadan People’s Party, Penkelemesi dazzled everyone with his perfect English and his passionate struggle to better the lot of the masses.


A quintessential politician, on the eve of the local elections, Adelabu jumped inside the Peugeot 203 car that belonged to his Syrian-British friend (he had come from Lagos to pick Adelabu on the trip) and was off to Lagos the federal capital for a crucial meeting.

This is a Peugeot 203.

At that time, Adelabu was at serious loggerheads with Obafemi Awolowo, who at that time, was the Premier of the Western Region (all of Western Nigeria) in addition to being the chief of the commercially-savvy and industrious Ijebu tribe.

It was also around the same time he was planning with his colleagues and party stalwarts on how to strategize on the best ways to defeat the candidates of his sworn rival in the 1959 federal elections. He would be never witness the elections as fate had an entirely different plan for him.

POLITICAL FOES: Adelabu and Awolowo.

Adelabu called his aides, Ganiyi and Adeleke and bid them farewell not knowing it was going to be his last.

While he was returning home to Ibadan from the trip, Adelabu’s vehicle was reportedly speeding through Ijebuland, the constituency of his political archenemy Awolowo.

All of a sudden and in the blink of an eye around Ogere-Remo on Mile 51 end of the Nigeria’s most famous expressway (then known as the old Lagos-Ibadan Road of the defunct Western Region), Adelabu’s car sideswiped another vehicle on the road and he crashed into a ditch in the process. Adelabu was crushed to death in the bloody process. But his Syrian-British friend survived the crash.

TRAGIC: Adelabu’s car after the accident.

  With the speed of light, the news got to Ibadan that their most prominent son had just died inside Awolowo’s territory. It was a rude shock to the people of Ibadan, their young brilliant star had just been extinguished.

For many of his supporters, Penkelemesi was still alive and for someone who survived 18 ‘political’ trials in five years, he could not just die like that. He was too much of a strongman to be killed like that, they said. To add pepper to their injury, one of the presiding judges said Adelabu led a life of charms.

By the time his corpse arrived, a nightmare had become doomed reality for the 100,000 mourners who gathered to attend his funeral. It was a season of nonstop wailing and ululations as the great politician was lowered into his freshly-dug grave.


Although Adelabu had been buried, it did not take long for a dangerous rumour to spread. Some of his supporters (including Adelabu’s family) claimed that the death of their beloved leader was caused by the witchdoctors of Ijebuland who used a lethal juju, one that was so powerful and selective that it killed Adelabu only and spared the lives of the foreign friend and the other occupants in the second car that had crashed with his own.

In Yorubaland where many are deeply superstitious, nothing could happen on its own, there must be a cause. They asked all sorts of questions: why didn’t he die in Lagos or Ibadan? Why did he have to die in Ijebu territory? Why did his white friend survive it? Why was he the only one to die? Why did he have to die when the elections were so close? Why did the occupants of the second car survive? For them, Adelabu’s death was not natural and the demise of the 43-year-old extremely popular and charismatic leader of the opposition National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the West was too much of a devastating blow for them.

In a maddening frenzy, thousands of fanatical Adelabuists and adherents of Penkelemesism took to the streets of Ibadan and mercilessly beat up political opponents of the Ibadan People’s Party. They burnt their houses and set their cars parked on the streets on fire.

The aftermath was so violent that a Yoruba chief and his family members were hacked and chopped to death: they were accused of not showing enough grief at the death of their political master. It became a real battle between Ijebu Yoruba migrants and their Ibadan hosts, the city was in an entropy mode.

  That was not all. The rural buses popularly called mammy wagons that made the grievous mistake of not carrying the traditional green leaves to denote mourning were overturned and destroyed. Panicky passengers had to run for their lives.

A mammy wagon.

In ten days, the official death toll was already 20 with countless others lying wounded in the hospitals. When it looked like the possessed mob had run of political opponents to attack, they poured their stinging venom on the government tax collectors.

  The Premier of the Western Region, Obafemi Awolowo, accused of using spiritual means to kill Adelabu called the allegation ‘wicked and utterly false’ and said no black magic was involved in the death of the respected politician. The Adelabu camp was not ready for any of Awolowo’s sweet talk, to them; he was nothing but the devil, and they were going to do everything to destabilize his government.


When the violence was spiraling out of control, Awolowo had no choice but to call for federal police reinforcements and by the time those ones arrived, they unleashed a cold-hearted hail of tear gas and gunfire in a chaotic attempt to dissolve the mob, they killed two people in the process and 296 of the rioters were arrested.

By weekend, Ibadan remained under a state of emergency and eventually, a total of 564 people were arrested, of which 102 stood trial for murder, 25 were acquitted and discharged by the lower court and 77 were sent to face the assizes. Adelabu was gone and no amount of riot or magic could revive him. This was what Awolowo had to say about him:

“Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu was, in his life time, and ever since he entered politics, a fighter first and last, with all the characteristics of a fighter. He was fearless, formidable, forthright, often caustic and uncompromising. In his death, the NCNC had lost a very able, indomitable and extremely resourceful leader and Nigeria, a most colourful, versatile and undoubted nationalist.”


Thirty years after his death, Adelabu’s first daughter, Mrs. Adedoyin Jagun (nee Adelabu) spoke for the first time and said it was as if he knew he was going to die and that his death was definitely not natural but engineered. She was eight years old at the time he died and she said of his last day on earth:

It was strange really, but as a young girl there was nothing I could do about it. On the morning of that day at about 4:30 am, my dad called me to bring him some water in a bowl with which he shaved and washed his mouth. After that he had his usual breakfast of akamu (corn pap). That was where the drama started. He later instructed me to call all other children in the house. When we all gathered, he shouted to us in a loud voice: ‘E lo mura yin, ki e se giri. Ori lo mo ibiti o nba ese re! (You should all work hard and be up and doing; it is only the head that knows where it’s to go with the legs) I was perplexed for he had never said such a thing to us before. We did not know what he meant. He then left home at about 7 a.m that morning after he had called his aides, Adeleke and Ganiyu. He bade us goodbye and off he went in a Peugeot 203 car that belonged to his white friend who had come from Lagos to pick him. Little did we know he had waved final goodbye to us – forever. He did not go to Lagos for a political party meeting, neither did he go for his private business but the white man who came to pick him up said he had a problem with the government in Lagos and wanted my father to intervene and bail him out of his problems. He had been coming for three consecutive weeks before my father finally agreed to accompany him to Lagos. It was after they had finished that assignment in Lagos that my father decided to say hello to his son, Aderemi, who was sick at the Aunty Ayo School in Lagos. They finally left Lagos and when they got to Ode-Remo near Shagamu (Ogun State) the worst happened. An accident occurred and my father was sent to the great beyond by emissaries of his opponents. We were waiting for him to return because we wouldn’t eat unless he was around. We used to eat together.


At about 7 p.m, people started trooping into our home and we thought it was the usual gathering of the party faithfuls that would take place but alas they had heard about his death and were afraid to tell us. The radio connections were cut so that we could not hear the news and at last the people of Ibadan came to shed tears and in their voices we knew that he had died and the whole house turned into a babble of wailing voices. For a whole week all members of our household could not eat and for days we lost consciousness of happenings around us.

He left no single kobo, the two houses he had at Oke-Ado he had sold and kept the money in the bank until later when he withdrew all the money to cater for the poor of Ibadan. He had taken a loan from the bank to buy the Auxmobile car (registration Number LB 121) which he was using but which later grounded. It was repaired by our elder brother who used it for sometime and it has since been out of order.

My father did not die a natural death, his death was sponsored by his political opponents but we have forgiven them because in politics you don’t have a permanent enemy. The British national who led my father to his death has paid it anyway, for we heard he was shot in on the thigh and died in Britain. Every deed of man lives after him. My father died for the talakawas (masses) and he fought for the unity of Nigeria. This is the time the government should consider the plight of the downtrodden in the country for this was the cause my father pursued till he died. The exposure he gave us has sustained us till today though we have great financial problems but his political associates have been helping as much as they could since he died.

Late Aminu Kano helped to train one of us in the secondary school and late Vincent Ikeotuonye trained me up to secondary school level. Dr. KO Mbadiwe trained Adekunbi Adelabu in secondary school while NCNC central committee trained Aderemi Adelabu up to the secondary school level and he trained himself to the university level.

Late Reverend Akin Adewo trained one of us to the secondary school level as well. My father, Lion of West Africa, has vacated the scene for others but I am sure one of us will continue from where he stopped. I thank Chief Azeez Alao Arisekola for his unflinching support to the family and also Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Bola Ige, Chief MKO Abiola, Chief Saburi Biobaku, Chief TOS Benson and others too numerous to count for the assistance given to us.’

And that was the story of how Penkelemesi died. What are your thoughts?




  2. ADEGOKE ADELABU PENKELEMESI: A dazzling politician, meteor and iconoclast (1915-1958)
  3. How Adelabu Penkelemesi Contributed To Awolowo’s Success, The Guardian, 4th September, 2015.
  4. The Final Hours of Adegoke Adelabu Penkelemesi – by Daughter
  5. Remembering ‘Penkelemsi’ Adegoke Adelabu by Lekan Alabi, The Guardian, 18th April, 2017
  6. Adegoke ‘Penkelemesi’ Adelabu Has Been Carried To The World
  7. Juju: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music by Christopher Alan Waterman.
  8. K. O. Mbadiwe: A Nigerian Political Biography, 1915–1990 by H. Lynch
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