Agagu: Musing Requiems And Missing Refrains

Agagu: Musing Requiems And Missing Refrains

Thursday, October 9, 2014 3:30 pm

By Yemi Olowolabi

I enjoyed the choral quality of the remarkable choristers of Chapel of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan on Saturday, 13 September, 2014. I enjoyed the majestic sways and metrical swings which elaborately enlivened the first remembrance service of my late boss and former governor of Ondo State, Dr. OlusegunAgagu. Resplendent in their flowing robes, these lively minstrels are not the common spectacles found in many churches. Either in their strides or in their songs, they were poles apart from the profane prances of conventional choristers who pull all kinds of stunts like asonto, soki or alanta in the name of praising God. The reason is simple. Most members of the choir here are matured women of advanced ages as opposed to youngsters in cassocks. In other words, at Chapel of the Resurrection, the choristers are mothers in the cathedral. And their delivery of moving mantra at Agagu’s memorial service was momentous. So was the insightful sermon delivered by Bishop George Latunji Lasebikan. From the rhythmic presentation of lively songs to the rhetoric enunciation of inspiring homily, the remembrance service was a refreshing moment of celebration. For once, family and friends put aside the groans of loss and put on the garment of praise in appreciation of Agagu’s legacies. Everyone frolicked and pirouetted to serial song ministrations that became a classic tribute to a towering persona of service.

From her charismatic swirls on the promenade, Mrs. Olufunke Agagu, the heroic widow of the late politician, left no one in doubt that it was a good day for the Agagu clan. But as I sat ensconced in deep thought, my mind wandered through the labyrinth of sonorous hymns and my imagination went wild. I pictured Agagu’s trademark dance steps, his swaying hands and husky voice. He loved hymns. Even at political rallies, the former governor entertained his followers with hymnal choruses. I remembered how, on sighting the mammoth crowd that gathered at First African Church Primary School sports ground in Igbokoda in Ilaje Local Government Area, during his re-election campaign in 2007, he burst into song: Ha egbe mi, e w’aasia, bo tin felele, ogun Jesu fere de tan, a fere segun. Do dimu, emifere de, be ni Jesu wi… Indeed, Agagu turned everything to songs with scholarly relish and sang about everything with jocular flourish.

•The late Agagu

•The late Agagu

Notwithstanding the exquisite stagecraft of the singers, I felt there was a missing rhyme in this hugely musing requiems for Agagu. The closing hymn should have been that foreboding song Agagu sang with delight the last time he hosted some media chiefs at his Ikoyi residence. On that fateful day, I was busy with my usual editorial work in my office when my phone rang. The caller was Mr. Femi Agagu, younger brother of the late governor. Oga wanted me to join him in Ikoyi. And off I went. Already seated in my oga’s sitting room were two colleagues: Moses Jolayemi, managing director of Newswatch Newspapers and Steve Ayorinde, who was then the managing director of National Mirror. We exchanged banters. Then I turned to Agagu: “Excuse me sir; I was your Chief Press Secretary when you were governor. Four years after we left office, I still continue to function in this capacity. When will I be free from this job?” Agagu’s response was quick and philosophical: “Ojo iku l’ojo isimi (No rest until one dies).” Among other things, our discussion ranged from electricity power situation, politics, development and the economy. Then, we had a good meal courtesy of Mama, as we call Mrs. Olufunke Agagu. We also drank good wines and champagne. I remember how excited Jolayemi was when oga brought us a bottle of Dom Perrignon. “This is what my publisher in ThisDay (Nduka Obaigbena) called the sign of good life,” Jolayemi said. From that moment, our conversation became light and social. Momentarily, I was docked on my transition from a serious journalistic engagement to a chronicler of high profile parties. My defence was simple and swift. Events business has become sophisticated, culminating in elaborate birthdays, weddings and flamboyant funeral ceremonies. Jolayemi recalled that in his home town of Oke-Imesi Ekiti, when influential people die the community would explode in celebration. “During the funeral service in the church,” the Newswatch boss said, “the choir would sing thus: ‘Baba o, aye ye o, oni aye ye, l’orunmaye.” Meaning, whoever is honoured on earth will be honoured in heaven. Agagu took over as our choir master, singing this song repeatedly. “I like the corollary of this song. It means that if a man lives well on earth, he will also live well in heaven,” Agagu affirmed. For the rest of the evening, that was our song.

So, as I sat at Chapel of the Resurrection for the memorial thanksgiving, my mind meandered through thoughts and all sorts of imaginations. From the benefit of hindsight, the well-choreographed song was a dirge with a binge of prophecy. Agagu had lived well. The glorious service was an evidence of the bliss beyond.

As we walked out of the church, my imagination snapped again. What would have Agagu be doing after such a church service attended by high profile Nigerians? I was certain of one thing. He would probably have asked the Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo: “Prof., Where are we on power generation?” Certainly, from former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he would have enquired, “Baba, where are we on the reconciliation in the PDP?” Of course, he would have tapped the Communications minister, Omobola Johnson: “Mobola, where are we on our last discussion?”

Indeed, for anyone who has worked or walked closely with Agagu either in his academic or political odysseys, “Where are we?” is a familiar refrain with which he did follow-ups on projects and assignments. Subtle but suitable, witty but weighty, Agagu’s utterances are enduring epithets of a snooping intellect. They come in a clear diction which carries conviction, passion and a predilection for profound explanations. One year after his death, many of us are still filled with fond recollections of Agagu’s words on the marble; his indelible humour and undeniable clamour for sanity in the society. In my personal diary of encounters with this spectacular man, I have cherished moments that I often share to inspire those who care about service. As governor, Agagu canonised diligence and criminalised indolence. In those six glorious years of his executive superintendence in the Sunshine State, he ran a conscientious government guided by virtues, values and voluminous fruits of service delivery. In and outside government, he was the scourge of the slothful, the merciless nemesis of the lazy. Agagu’s allergy for lethargy was informed by his incredible energy and admirable knowledge. A man of destiny who bestrode the nation like a colossus, his place in contemporary history is replete with extraordinary strides and exemplary streaks. His tenure witnessed faithful implementation of life-transforming programmes. From education to health care, from infrastructure to agriculture, from tourism to industrial development, Agagu took Ondo State to greater heights. The records are legendary. Agagu’s achievements are imperishable in the sands of time and in the hearts of the people.

He achieved so much, because of his passion for service and he never left anything to chance. He needled you with enquiries until you have performed. I remember when he sustained a tendon injury on the lawn tennis court at the government house. For some weeks, he was confined to the wheelchair to allow the leg heal. Some of us went to greet him as he convalesced on his desk at home. As soon as I got there, “Thank you, Yemi. So, where are we on the documentary you are working on?” he asked with a straight stare that left me in a momentary quandary. Not for want of response, but in sympathy with his health condition at that time. He turned to the next person with his probing style of getting updates. Where are we on this or where are we on that? A highly intelligent person, Oga read the expressions of surprise on our faces and he tried to calm us thus: “I am sick in the leg, not in the head. So we have to do our job’’
Agagu loved to share knowledge and ideas to engender development. Though he was a member of the PDP, he wrote several papers for many governors of the opposition parties on how to move their states forward. For him, development of Nigeria should be the cardinal programme of all political parties. I know that he shared some thoughts with Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the APC. He wrote some papers and sent to Dr.Akinwumi Adesina, minister of Agriculture, on cassava revolution and for several others who are in the corridors of power.

As the first memorial service drew to a close, I remained cocooned in my solicitous communion. Though we may not see him physically, Agagu’s critical and analytical refrain, Where are we?, remains a compelling metaphor and a wake-up call for our leaders to stem the tide of lip service to development. To his successors, in Ondo State government, Agagu’s voice still rings clear: Where are we on Olokola? Where are we at Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa? Where are we on road development in the riverine areas? Even in his grave, Agagu continues to resonate on many unfinished projects in Nigeria. “Where are we in Nigeria? Where are we on insurgency? Where are we on power shortage? Where are we on the repairs of our refineries? This is the missing refrain we have missed so much.

Agagu’s allergy for lethargy was informed by his incredible energy and admirable knowledge. A man of destiny who bestrode the nation like a colossus, his place in contemporary history is replete with extraordinary strides and exemplary streaks. His tenure witnessed faithful implementation of life-transforming programmes

Yemi Olowolabi, former chief press secretary to late Gov. Olusegun Agagu, writes from Lagos.

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