General and the home boys

Generaal Alani Akinrinade

By Dare Babarinsa
No one who gets to Efon-Alaaye once would ever forget it. Its topography is enchanting and challenging.
The town clings to the precarious side of Ekiti Hill undulating from a distance like a slow river in constant motion. It is beautiful and captivating and you wondered what must have motivated the ancestors to pick that hilly side after their sojourn from Ile-Ife. There is abundance of water surrounding the settlement and you think of games, especially the wild buffalos that was beloved by old hunters who loved the challenge of tackling the beast noted for its bad temper and strong hide. Efon Alaaye is quiet most days of the week when the able bodied youths move to the farms and only mostly the pupils and old people are left to contend with okada riders and merchants of local wares.
This town was home to General James Oluleye, former Nigerian Minister of Finance who was also General Officer Commanding the 2nd Division of the Nigerian Army, Ibadan. He loved Efon, like most of the indigenes. After his worldwide adventures and honours, he built his country home in the town and called it Mesirinka (I am done with wandering) Lodge. For him, no place was like Efon Alaaye, despite its stony pathways and craggy streets, breathtaking scenery and precarious topography. Oluleye’s love for Efon was permanent.

Once Apostle Ayo Babalola beheld Efon and he could never escape the magic. Babalola was the first General Evangelist of the Christ Apostolic Church, CAC, who pitched his tent at Oke-Ooye in Ilesha. He landed on the missionary scene like a hurricane, sweeping everything in his path, bringing fervent Christianity to the Ijesha and Ekiti countries in the early days of colonial rule. He would begin his ministrations and prayers with the declaration, Ni orunko Olorun Alaaye (In the name of the living God)!

Soon Efon Alaaye indigenes who have attended Babalola’s evocative crusades in Ilesha brought the news to their king, the Alaaye of Efon. “There is a man in Ilesha who is always talking about the God of Alaaye!” The king invited the evangelist and almost the whole of Efon became converted to the CAC denomination of Christianity, overtaking the Anglican Church which had been planted earlier. The people persuaded Babalola to make Efon his home base. But he was of the restless spirit and one day, he went to the mountain in Erio, another community in the Ekiti country less than 15 kilometers from Efon, where he died suddenly on July 26, 1959. The Erio people regarded Babalola as a holy person and decided to bury him on their soil. The Alaaye however sent Efon youths to retrieve the body and he was re-buried in Efon Alaaye.

Efon is an irresistible place for its indigenes and those who have fallen under its spell like Apostle Babalola. One great Efon son who has travelled all over the world but has not really left home is Dr Kunle Olajide, the Aare of Efon Alaaye who works in Ibadan where he has a flourishing medical practice. Olajide, who celebrated his 75th birthday recently, is an eager community leader and an ebullient politician. In the old dispensation he tried to win the governorship ticket of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, but lost to Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua who eventually emerged the Governor of old Ondo State in 1992. Another attempt in 1998 failed narrowly when Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo emerged as the Governor of the new Ekiti State. Yet Olajide remains a constant predicate of Yoruba politics. He served, until lately, as the General Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders.

Olajide’s commitment to Efon reminds one of many other leaders who remain rooted in their native roots whatever the circumstance. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first Premier of the defunct Western Region, put Ikenne, his hometown in Ogun State, on the world map. One of Awolowo’s young followers in later years was Chief Segun Adegoke, now 78. Adegoke was the youngest commissioner in the cabinet of Chief Adekunle Ajasin of old Ondo State. He never left his root in Ondo town where he has maintain his law chambers for more than 40 years.
Love of home towns has led to many consequences, most of them positive. Legal icon, Aare Afe Babalola, put his university in his hometown of Ado-Ekiti. Ditto Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, the founder of Elizade University, Ilaramokin, Ondo State. Chief Gabriel Igbinedion brought his hometown of Okada into the national lexicon when he started the Okada Airline. Of course his pioneering Igbinedion University is in Okada. It is also Chief Ponle who put Ada, in Osun State, on the world map. The Ada Golf Course is built to world standard. During my first visit to Ada, Chief Ponle showed me the humble hut where he and his father used to sleep during his childhood years in Ada. The hut has been preserved in the centre of the Golf Course.

During our struggle against military dictatorship, Chief Anthony Enahoro was at the centre of our resistance. His bosom friend, Chief Alfred Rewane, had been assassinated on October 6, 1995 by suspected agents of the General Sani Abacha dictatorship and we knew that Enahoro, the grand patriarch of the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, would be the next target. A friendly Western High Commision helped us to hide him in Lagos while preparation was in top gear to smuggle him across the border through the famous NADECO route. Few days before he was moved across to Benin Republic by a team led by Dr Frederick Fasehun, the leader and founder of the Oodua peoples Congress, OPC, Chief Enahoro hibernated in the Ikeja home of Dr Amos Akingba, the great nationalist and fearless chieftain of NADECO. However, Chief Enahoro would not agree to be moved until he visited his home in Benin. A special arrangement had to be made for the visit.

The man who received Enahoro in exile was Lieutenant General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, retired Chief of Defence Staff and leader of NADECO. General Akinrinade is a cat with more than nine lives. During the Nigerian Civil War, he served with the famous Third Marine Commandoes Division commanded by the tempestuous Colonel Benjamin (Black Scorpion) Adekunle. One night he was dancing with a lady at his field headquarters, which was really a hut with thatched roof. Suddenly, his dancing partner became numbed and collapsed. She had been hit by bullet which was actually meant for Akinrinade, then a bearded commando officer.

From left, Alabi Isama, Akinrinade, Adekunle, Godwin, Ally, and Col Alimi Ogunkanmi during the civil war

Few months later, Akinrinade disagreed with Adekunle and angrily left the war front. His meeting with the red-cap chiefs at the Defence Headquarters in Lagos was heated. In the end, he won the argument. Adekunle was removed and the methodical Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo replaced him. Akinrinade concluded the war with Obasanjo. He later led the posse of military officers who foiled the bloody coup of February 13, 1976 during which General Murtala Muhammed was killed. He was one of those officers who insisted that Obasanjo, who had served as Muhammed’s deputy, must become the new military ruler. In 1982 at 42, he retired from the army as President Shehu Shagari’s Chief of Defence Staff.

But he did not retire from trouble as his subsequent involvement with NADECO and Chief Moshood Abiola was to prove. Abacha’s agents sought to kill him and when they missed their quarry, they set fire to Akinrinade’s Lagos home. He became one of the major leaders of NADECO in exile along with the likes of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Enahoro, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Cornelius Adebayo. When I met him in his Maryland, United State residence in 1998, he was nostalgic about home. With the restoration of democracy, Akinrinade returned to Nigeria and headed home to Yakoyo, the village where he was born October 3, 1939.

Akinrinade is now a big time farmer in Yakoyo which is the centre of his universe. He has resisted all temptations to drag him into partisan politics but he remains outspoken about national affairs. He remains decidedly partisan and outspoken on the side of the truth and the people. A man who has cheated death many times cannot be persuaded to keep his mouth shut. It is a great thing that he is celebrating his 80th birthday in Ibadan today, the city where he once acted as the military Governor of the Western State.

Maybe we need to follow the examples of General Akinrinade and these home boys and develop our country from its smallest units.

-The Guardian