“Baba-Wole! Whether you like it or not, it is my duty to carry your bag onto the plane today”, insisted Aketi, as we threw banters on the queue at the Ibadan Airport en route to Abuja. I yanked my bag from his hands but he promptly reclaimed it. Our mutual friend, Bisi Ogunbadejo, who was also travelling, flashed a knowing wink, having gotten used to witnessing countless Great Ife theatrics between many of our alumni.
It was two weeks to Aketi’s electoral victory. I joked with him that, on second thoughts, it was probably fitting that he should carry my bag into the aircraft because it was likely to be the last time I would see him as an ordinary citizen. He replied, matter-of-factly, that he would remain the same old Aketi we all knew and that power could never change him. It turned out to be prophetic: I didn’t have any physical interaction with Aketi again till he answered the final home call seven years later.
Rotimi Akeredolu, a.k.a. Aketi was one of a kind. Back at the University of Ife, he had been the Vice-President of the Students’ Union during the presidency of another patriot, John Olakunle Mabayoje, alias Awe. That position honed him for future challenges because it brought out his latent goodness, especially his extraordinary ability to be empathetic. Aketi never went into any battle half-hearted. He always threw everything he had into the fray. As far as he was concerned, any battle worth waging was worth waging well.
That was the background that moulded his performance later in life as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and later as Governor of Ondo State. Mabayoje traced Aketi’s trajectory from Ife to the government house in a tribute he wrote when he learnt of the demise of his trench mate:
“Emperor Aketi” as he was known at the University of Ife, started his political career at the University of Ife where, from being an activist, he successfully ran for the office of Vice President of the Students Union at a time when our dear country was at a crossroad following the removal of General Yakubu Gowon from office to end agitations which we all participated in between 1974 and1975 under my predecessor in office, Ayo Olukotun. 1975-1976 proved to be indeed a watershed year in the Nigerian academic community and the country as a whole. Rotimi was an integral member of the body of student leaders of that time. Courageous and savvy he was blessed with courage and wisdom beyond his years…”
Aketi’s demise brought to the fore the importance of vision and tenacity as necessary qualities for success in any worthwhile endeavour. There are leaders and there are dealers. Some people stumble into positions of power unprepared. True leaders, on the other hand, are armed with both a vision and an action plan. More importantly, they demonstrate that rare quality of empathy, being one with the people in season and out of season; in good times and in bad times.
Many landmark projects were executed during the stewardship of Aketi as governor of Ondo State. What captured the imagination of the world, however, was the way he handled the tragic loss of scores of worshippers in his native Owo town when a band of armed terrorists attacked St Francis Catholic Church in the town during Sunday Mass on June 5, 2022. The entire Owo community and sympathisers all over the country were inconsolable. As governor, Aketi didn’t play Tarzan. He showed that human blood flowed in him. When he made his way to the pulpit amid wailing indigenes, he, too, broke down in tears. That picture is etched in the minds of many people as they fondly recall how their governor rose to the occasion in those dark days.
He swore that never again would Owo be a sitting duck for any group of killers to take potshots at. He said he would ensure that the dead had not died in vain by preventing the possibility of such a massacre in future. It was unsurprising that he was the arrowhead of the founding of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun. Those who chose to misunderstand the governor’s intention and who wanted to characterise the security outfit as a tribal army were shamed as Amotekun made one giant stride after the other.
To calm the frayed nerves of those tagging the Amotekun Corps as a regional army, Governor Akeredolu took time to explain: “The Western Nigeria Security Network, Amotekun Corps, as a response, is now not just the first line of defence, but the ultimate bulwark in the protection of a way of life and of a civilisation. The efforts of our determined and valiant Amotekun personnel since inception must be underscored, encouraged and highly commended. We must all rise at this time to acknowledge their efforts.”
Other states outside the Southwest have started copying the idea. That is one everlasting lesson that people have learnt from Aketi’s stewardship. Power is not just about fancy clothes and sirens and an assemblage of dark-goggled security guards. It is about caring, about holding the hands of the bereaved, about showing through words and deeds that their governor has their back.
In a way, Aketi defined his era. A man may not know his worth until he takes his last breath. Positions of power attract favour-seekers like bees and nectar. The truth about a man’s worth is told after he expires. Is the funeral train purchased like party supporters paid to attend rallies? Or did they rise early in the morning to join the queue to do honour to their beloved leader? Aketi bought himself a place in the hearts of his people. The currency he paid was love, diligence, honesty of purpose and brutal frankness.
Teach us to number our days, Lord, so that the preacher at our funeral would not have to lie about some phantom goodness which none but the liar saw in the deceased. The outpouring of grief since Aketi’s death testifies to the fact that he has positively touched many lives and the human community is poorer without him.
When the story of this era is told, Aketi’s stewardship will be chronicled as one of the brighter moments in people-centred governance in Nigeria. His tenure certainly lived up to the words of the Great Ife anthem: “Conscious, vigilant, progressive, a luta against all oppression…”
Adieu, Aketi. May the celestial rewards reserved for those who positively impacted the lives of their fellow men and women never pass you by.
The Last Dance
(For Jimi Solanke, 1942-2024)
His artistic gift was of elephantine proportions,
So, to each encounter-er, Jimi Solanke was at once
The compelling thunderclap amidst the loudest of silences
The coarse hair of Àjànàkú’s tail mounting sentry
behind an otherwise hairless mass
Those piercing eyes conveying visions from unshared secrets
— Lamp posts of an aerobicised body
Ernest and persistent, commanding and pleading…
If six blind beggars are telling different tales
About the same mass
It is because they feel the elephant from different sides.
Is it the ivory of the tusk that tickles your fancy?
Or the rough tarpaulin of the body?
Or the four pillars with which it pounds the earth?
Or the trunk— nature’s straw
Enabling the slaking of thirst?
The elephant lies down like a hill
On its deathday
Carvers bearing cleavers gather…
The last question on the elephant’s mind
Is, “Who will mourn my demise when I expire?”
The heavens and the earth know
That Father Time’s unseen eyes do bear witness
To Lákátabú’s connection of the dots
Between the cradle and the grave
And they lead the cortège…
Yes, they do
to attest that this funeral blurs the line
Between a requiem
And an alleluia
As Bàbá Àgbà does his trademark bata dance
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021