Today, I yield this space to a bosom friend of mine, Prof. Eyitope Ogunboodede, the immediate past vice-chancellor (2017 – 2022) of my alma mater, the University of Ife, GREAT IFE! (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife). Titled “Requiem for Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu”, Ogunbodede’s reminiscences on the late governor of Ondo State are as moving as they contain a lot of useful information. Enjoy it!
“It is a harrowing experience writing this piece on Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, who many prefer to call by his alias of “Aketi “. I am united to Aketi not only by his and my membership of the Owo Community or by virtue of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), of which he was a committed alumnus, but also as bosom friends. Oluwarotimi Odunayo
Akeredolu (SAN, CON), born on 21 July, 1956 in Owo to Reverend Jacob Ola Akeredolu and Lady Evangelist Grace Bosede Akeredolu of Aderoyiju family of Igbotu, Ese-Odo, in Ondo State, passed on to glory on December 27, 2023 while serving his second term as Governor of Ondo State. He studied Law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University – OAU), graduating in 1977 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1978. He served as the Attorney-General of Ondo State from 1997 to 1999. In 1998, he became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was chairman of the Legal Aid Council from 2005 to 2006. He became president of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2008. In 2012, the Nigerian Bar Association named its new secretariat in Abuja after him for “his selfless service”. He was a Managing Partner at the Law firm of Olujinmi & Akeredolu, which he co-founded with Chief Akin Olujinmi, a former Attorney-General and Minister for Justice of Nigeria.
Akeredolu was sworn in as the governor of Ondo State on 24 February, 2017 in Akure, the Ondo State capital, having won as the flag-bearer of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). While at OAU as a student, he served as president of the Law Students Society. He was also an active member of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), which metamorphosed into the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1980. Akeredolu displayed great passion for Obafemi Awolowo University, his alma mater. Their Law firm, Olujinmi & Akeredolu, are External Solicitors to OAU and it handled many cases for the university pro bono. He eruditely delivered the OAU Convocation Lecture at the December 2021 convocation during which Professor Yemi Osinbajo, representing the Visitor, humorously referred to him as “the Commander-in-Chief of Amotekun Forces”!
Akeredolu was an ardent lover and supporter of African culture. During one of his invitations to OAU, he was officially welcomed by the Kegites Club. To the surprise of all that were present, he took the microphone and sang some old Kegites tunes, which were unknown to the current members. He was their “World Songito” and composed many songs for the Kegites during his student days at Great Ife. The Kegites Club, with the motto “Unity in Diversity”, is the first socio-cultural club in the world, founded in 1962 at the Ibadan campus of the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) by students. There are now branches nationally, UK, India, USA and others. Akeredolu was, until his death, working on a befitting World Headquarters for the Kegites Club at OAU. I do hope the project will be completed.
A major lesson to learn from Aketi’s life and times is that when we think as mere mortals that it will be long, God in His own mysterious ways may decide to make it gloriously short for His own purpose. Dying at 67 years is untimely and saddens us but it is comprehensible because we are mere mortals that can be called home at any time or age. In the case of Akeredolu, we have every reason to be thankful because, while he has physically departed, his legacy, good deeds, love for humanity and memory will live forever.
Aketi demonstrated very clearly the numerous positive contributions that can emanate from the toils of a genuine patriot, committed leader and political strategist. He was an epitome of humility, commitment, competence, tenacity of purpose and absolute dedication. He was a political leader that refused to play “politics” with his people. When I challenged him on his posture on some trending issues during his campaign for second term, he simply retorted “Tope, I will only promise what I know is possible. If I fail, I will go back to my law practice. It is not a do-or-die matter”.
In the heat of his bid for a second term, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party at a press conference falsely alluded that I was the Returning Officer invited by INEC for the (Ondo State) governorship election. The party further disclosed that it was rejecting my appointment because I was “a known crony of Governor Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress and hails from Owo, the same hometown as the APC candidate”. The embarrassment to me was mitigated when INEC immediately countered the spurious assertion, informing the public that “the Returning Officer for the Ondo Governorship election is not from Ondo State and not from the university mentioned in the said press conference.”
Aketi called me and asked in his characteristic humorous manner “Tope, what is this falsehood that they are peddling about you? If they truly know you, they will know that you will never accept INEC’s invitation to serve as the Returning Officer for Ondo State where I am one of the candidates. Don’t worry, it is all politics and will soon be over.” I met Governor Seyi Makinde at the book launch of Professor Tope Alonge at Ibadan in March 2021. It was a great surprise to me that he openly apologised for the embarrassment that the misrepresentation must have caused me. I was not expecting any Governor in Nigeria to tender an apology to an “ordinary” citizen. In that rare gesture, Governor Makinde actually deviated from the norms and exemplified humility at its best. His attitude to power is worth emulating and my respect for him has soared since that Ibadan meeting.
All who know Akeredolu will agree that he was not the conventional politician whose main preoccupation is to talk and act in ways that sway the voters and endear them to support him. He not only declined chieftaincy titles but officially adopted the sobriquet “Arakunrin”, the Yoruba equivalent of “Mister”. Even as governor, he refused every opportunity to play to the gallery. An example will suffice. He was at a wedding ceremony on my invitation. At the end of the church service, he pulled me aside and jokingly expressed in Owo dialect his displeasure on the physical condition of the church. Three days later, he called to inform me that he had taken a decision to personally and anonymously complete the construction of the church, and that I should not disclose to the church that he was the benefactor.
When construction materials were deposited in the church, the leadership called me to find out who was the generous donor. I told them the donor said I should not disclose, and they misinterpreted my statement to mean that I must be the one. When I found that the renovation of the church was being arrogated to me, I called Aketi to let him know that I needed to divulge the information to the church. Though he raised a serious objection, I went ahead to let the cat out of the bag! The church members were in utter bewilderment because it came from an angle they never imagined. The church was completely transformed within a few weeks. That is Aketi for you!
It will surprise many to know that in 2019, when the staff of OAU were being kidnapped along the Ife-Ibadan express road, I ran to Aketi in Akure for advice. He listened attentively to me and retorted “Tope, we will find a solution to the problem”. He immediately called the then AIG in charge of Zone II comprising of Ondo, Oyo and Osun States, Adeleye Oyebade (who later
retired as DIG in 2020): “Leye, I want you to please help us look closely into this challenge on Ife-Ibadan road. The VC of OAU is with me now and the university community is worried”. I am aware that DIG Oyebade (rtd.) immediately swung into action and, working assiduously with the then Commissioner of Police, Mrs. Abiodun Ige, they combed the entire landscape and found a solution. The rest, as they say, is history.
At the church service during the burial of his mother, the Bishop in his homily lamented that “life is hard in the country and the poor are getting poorer”. He opined that Nigeria needs a change that will ensure safety and security for all, and called for a government that understands economics. When Akeredolu had the opportunity to speak, the Senior Advocate in him propelled him to query why some of his modest achievements were never mentioned for a balance. In his words, “We have listened to your political sermon. It was wonderful listening to the sermon and I will not contend with you. But I know as politicians we are doing our best. It might not be good enough for everybody. You should also acknowledge those things that we have done. Continue to pray for us that we will do our best”. Such is the man Aketi, genuine and direct, no-holds-barred, no pretence!
Akeredolu has done his best and now leaves the rest for His Excellency, Governor Lucky Orimisan Ayedatiwa. I had the opportunity of sitting on the same table with Governor Ayedatiwa (then Deputy Governor) for about four hours at the Jacob and Grace Garden, Owo during one of the ceremonies for the burial of Lady Evangelist Akeredolu in November 2022. I had met him before then but never had such close interaction with him. Since that meeting, I have watched him very closely and I admire him for his hardihood, vivacity and zeal. I can say unequivocally that he is committed to the progress of our “Sunshine State” and that he has the experience, temerity and political sagacity to raise the state to higher heights. I wish him well in his new assignment, and pray that the almighty God will guide him to make the right decisions!
Now that Aketi has gone home to rest, we take solace in the fact that he positively touched numerous lives and that his legacies will endure. Until his death, he was the chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum. He led the Southwest Governors to establish the Western Nigeria Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, at a time the ruling party, to which he belonged, was vehemently opposed to its establishment. Akeredolu will forever be remembered as the Lion-heart of Nigerian politics. He was down-to-earth, extra-ordinarily bold and daring, the architect of Amotekun, and a dominant force in Nation-building.
I cannot agree more with Lasisi Olagunju who wrote in his article “Akeredolu, death desires and 2024” in the Sunday Tribune of January 1, 2024 that: “He did so well as a field commander that, at his death last week at age 67, it was as if he had lived for 100 years.” One project that was very dear to the heart of Arakunrin, which he did not have the opportunity to complete, was the upgrading of the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic (RUGIPO), Owo to a university status. He was initially reluctant but once he got convinced, he wanted it done immediately and he supported the project with all available resources. It, however, suffered a lull when he fell sick. The greatest legacy that the State government can bequeath to Arakunrin is to complete the process, which is at the final stages, and name the university after him.
May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace!”
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Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.