Sunday, April 26, 2020 10:14 pm
By Dapo Ogunwusi
I became News Editor in 1996. Shortly afterwards some armed robbers decided to visit the Southwest end of the city robbing and killing from Challenge to Abeokuta road.
I jumped in my car. The chief photographer, Bayo Obisesan rode in his own car. By Mobil at the entrance of Oluyole Estate, we met a pitched battle between the robbers and the police. We crouched with the police as sporadic shots flew about. A policeman looked at me with shock as I gave them ideas and encouragement.
I pretended not to see his expression as we all bobbed and wove for many minutes. The outcome was a fantastic front page.
The editor in chief, Biodun Oduwole told me of a phone call he got. Richard Akinjide loved the story so much and would like to see the writer. What a coincidence. I had been taken to Akinjide’s house by the former governor, Dr. Victor Olunloyo, the previous weekend. I thought It was all part of my to-do list being news editor. The previous item was to have a friend at the ICU of the biggest hospital around. I reckoned that was where the next celebrity death would occur.
So I went to see the legal luminary. “I am not interested in the heroics. I read the story and it felt like I was reading a standard British paper. The story flowed so seductively” he volunteered. Then began a friendship that lasted the rest of his life. I later got to know members of his family, but for some strange reason that I could not understand, he left many unimaginable secrets in my hands. I wondered briefly at a time if he deliberately chose me to one day publish those secrets for him. He hardly did anything accidentally or carelessly. His life was a riddle.
The relationship was so close that I feared his late wife, Chief Mrs Adesola Akinjide, was wondering what was going on. It was even more disturbing that I had one of his names, evidence of my father’s admiration for Akinjide in his NCNC days. When eventually his wife died, I had to come to Nigeria on a number of occasions to see him. We would talk late into the early hours of the day. I would leave him snoring or ask him to go and sleep before slipping out of the house sometimes at 1.00am.
I learnt from him how to think in a new manner. He would look at events and make uncanny predictions that always hit home. He sought information so voraciously from the most unusual sources and interpreted things so aptly. Times International published a report on Hilary Clinton late 2011. She had boasted in Angola that Nigeria could not get things right in her recent election and had to rely on the US State Department to sort things out. Akinjide wondered why she couldn’t help gloating how the Americans midwifed the Monday morning accord, the secret meeting between Bola Tinubu and Goodluck Jonathan that saw the ACN chief entering an agreement that spelt the death knell for Nuhu Ribadu’s presidential dream.
Can one write an epitaph to such a charmed career without talking about 12 two-thirds?
Akinjide won election to the federal parliament during the first republic. He was the Secretary General of the Mabolaje Grand Alliance led by the ebullient Adegoke Adelabu. That group dominated the politics of Ibadan and never forgave Awolowo for the carpet crossing that saw him emerge as first premier.
When Adelabu died there was widespread rioting obviously orchestrated by the pro- NCNC group. That was the background that informed Akinjide’s political leaning.
As minister of education he gave a disproportionate volume of federal scholarships to Yoruba scholars. He wrote and spoke more about Yoruba nationalism than anybody I know. How does one then reconcile 12 two-thirds?
I identified two factors rolled into one. The first is personal ambition. He found the Awolowo group rather opaque and unknown to him. It was an obstruction of sorts. He felt perhaps rightly it was not sufficiently democratic for individual ambition. Hear him:
“The Awolowo group did not know the difference between a cult and a political party. Akintola was an outsider and he saw that rather late. Even if Nigeria consisted of the southwest alone, such a group would always have difficulty in attaining federal power. Awolowo first conceived an ambition and then formed a party or group. It should be the other way round”. His deep vision was similar to that of Bola Tinubu in APC today.
I had a child in 1999. I had no car to take mother and child from the hospital. I was worrying about this problem when Chief Akinjide volunteered to pick the duo from the hospital and take them to my house in Ososami! There was pandemonium at the hospital when the nurses and doctors found I had engaged one of the biggest Ibadan masquerades to pick my kid and his mum. I was gobsmacked. I never imagined him capable of that kind of humility. He could simply have sent a driver in one of his cars. He chose to go with us.
Even at such close quarters he remained an enigma to me. He betrayed many basic traits of an ordinary human being which could explain several events. There were many other qualities that one reads about only in fantasy.
One day he told me to watch out for Diana, the princess of Wales and she was dead in a few days! That event was unum ex pluribus! That was the kind of man he was. How did he know? I got tired of figuring him out. He simply loaded me with far too much. I recall Dr. Olunloyo telling him rather blandly that he should remember I was only a young man. I scoffed at that. I was far older than the two of them at the ages they gained high office.
I rapidly saw it was a waste of time second-guessing him. He was the hardest nut I ever had to crack. I decided it was far better taking him as he came.
One Saturday morning in 1999 he suggested we went for a game of golf. That was odd. But I took the privilege of being on his party. We had a great time playing golf and came back home only to confront the true reason why we had to be out of the house. Alhaji Lateef Gbadamosi had led a party of the incoming president Olusegun Obasanjo to his house. Reuben Abati was on Obasanjo’s team . I knew it was a charm offensive to get Akinjide to drop his own presidential ambition. More on that later.
Many years later he was playing a game of ayo with Obasanjo. I queried him why he didn’t beat Obasanjo black and blue. His response: “Sometimes you do things not because you can do it, but because you have to do it”. So it is expected one has to lose a game to a president! Anyway it made sense to let your opponent think you are a dummy.
Another visible trait I dare not forget was his calmness. Well, I have met many brilliant people in life. I have never seen any capable of his level of composure. He was always so sedate and cool. He frequently spoke in such bland misleading words. Many people thought they understood what he said only to realise how wrong they were. In court I would hate to confront a man who speaks with such cool composure switching at will to that seductive low baritone and exuding calm authority. I saw clearly part of why he was such a terror in court.
I had the privilege of compiling and editing his book. In that I had the opportunity of working with the then president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Professor Babatunde Ogunmola.
On many Sunday evenings I had the privilege of sitting with him and a battery of other distinguished people as we brainstormed about Nigeria. I listened more, naturally. Quite rewarding to be honest.
A taciturn military man who had a habit of looking downwards most of the time joined us one day. He spotted a grey kaftan and had on a pair of glasses. He deferred to the older statesmen most of the time. He is the present chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, then a Lt. Col. Buratai was chief of staff at the time to General Danbazzau who was GOC 2 Mechanized Division of the Nigerian Army.
General Felix Mudjaperuo was one day on the golf course in the days of Abacha lamenting how Abacha refused to allow him clear the Elf jetty at East Atabong. He sounded so sad as the island overlooked the Nigerian position on Atabong West. It was all during the Bakassi war. I knew those islands very well. I nearly got killed there.
One day, Yayah Jameh, then president of Gambia, came calling. He had known the chief a long time back when he Jameh , a young officer of the Gambian air force had caddied the late Sir Dauda Jawara who used to play golf with Akinjide. To golf illiterates, a caddy is one who carries the kit and follows the player on the course.
Nobody can say all there is to say about Richard Akinjide. There is one other event I must recall though. It left me better able to make sound judgment about him.
We started by discussing Abuja and how on earth it should have been made capital. Chief Akinjide took a long look at me and said “It was a bad time”. I probed him.
He lamented how he actually tried to stop Justice Akinola Aguda from recommending the place as federal capital. First he gave a long lesson how the best nations had such capitals like Lagos. He listed France, UK, USA among others as nations with “corner-side capitals.” The centrality factor was redundant in the face of modern advances in transportation and communication, moreso with the kind of budget Abuja would eventually need.
He described how he had visited Aguda early one morning and pleaded with him not to recommend such a wasteful project. Instead he told Aguda the federal capital could be extended to parts of Ogun and Oyo States. Abuja he reasoned, would diminish Yoruba influence. Aguda was sure Abuja was the right choice.
‘Did you do that? But why did you keep it a secret?’ I rounded on him. His answer would forever resonate with me: “that is what they call statecraft. Sometimes you turn your back to where you are going”. I was even more bewildered.
His faith in excellence was an overriding spirit that dominated his life. In one of his many cryptic sermons, he assured me “there is always room for excellence”. He lamented that many professionals just couldn’t pick ideas quickly enough. He would then lapse into Latin, his favorite language: fortuna favore fortis!
May his soul rest in perfect peace.
-Dapo Ogunwusi, a former Editor of Nigerian Tribune, is a legal practitioner.