Sunday, March 28, 2021 2:00 pm
By Dotun Adekanmbi
“ I’ve noticed that some of you come to class and tutorials without asking or answering questions.” That was how our EGL 301 tutorial lecturer, Dr S.B Ajulo, signified his intention to make class very ‘hot’ that day. About 15 of us squeezed for space in his cramped office in Humanities Block 3 at then University of Ife.
“Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, please ask your question,” he called out randomly. The rest of the class hurriedly buried their heads in previously unread textbooks or scribbled nothing in exercise books or did just about anything to avoid eye contact with the lecturer so one didn’t get called to answer any question.
“I don’t have a question, Sir,” Ojudu replied.
“But you must ask a question today,” the lecturer insisted. So Ojudu asked a question that is now lost to memory.
“Mr. Dotun Adekanmbi, please answer Mr. Ojudu’s question,” Dr. Ajulo ordered. I had no answer. Not surprisingly, I heard the story of my life. Class over, I accosted Ojudu and wanted to know why he had to ask a ‘hard’ question. That incident further cemented a relationship that began in our JAMBITE year through a cluster of mutual friends and emerging interests in campus journalism.
Whereas Grammar classes bored him, Literature classes brought out the lion in him, perhaps, because much of the texts highlighted social realities to which he could easily relate. Perhaps, too, because we had great lecturers who encouraged one to ‘challenge authority.’ Since he, like many of us, did not come from an economically privileged background, grasping the essence of Literature helped him to properly interrogate the basis of justice and equity to gain insight into the nature of the war to be fought outside the confines of the ivory tower.
Within and outside the campus, journalism gave him a platform to question everything. His Master’s degree in Political Science only added petrol to a raging inferno. But Femi or Babafemi, as he almost always prefers to be called, is not one to raise issues for the sake of hearing his own voice. No. He raises questions oftentimes just so he could understand why things are the way they are; show how they could be better done and, ultimately, contribute to making society better for all. Since he graduated from Great Ife in 1984, he has questioned far too many things far too many times that it is no surprise that he far too frequently landed in trouble with the establishment, at least until recently.
Femi does not speak from a position of ignorance. His very rich library and endless quest for information make the landscape of his mind a goldfield. The welter of information at his disposal makes him a very difficult opponent to combat at an intellectual level and his six-foot frame makes it difficult for anyone to attempt physical intimidation. As a reporter, when he locked into a cause, it was especially difficult to fend him off. Chief Bode George (as Governor of the old Ondo State) will bear witness; so, too, some Justices of the Supreme Court; so, too, Ayodele Fayose, the Governor of Ekiti State and so many others. But the late dictator, Sani Abacha, kept him out of circulation for a while during which he still managed to smuggle out news reports to the rest of the team at TheNEWS/TEMPO.
I laughed heartily the other day when an acquaintance asked me about my friend, ‘Senator Maa ri e later.’ The appellation, he told me, came about because many constituents considered Ojudu ‘too stingy.’ By that, he meant Ojudu does not throw money around like confetti, like most politicians do. I asked my friend what was primary: temporary pecuniary gain or a future assured? I asked if the people complaining appreciated the fundamental difference between an insult and respect? I also asked the extent of their understanding of the politician called Babafemi Ojudu.
The Ojudu that I know places no premium on material possessions. He does not have the kind of money a lot of people think he has. But whatever much the Almighty has put in his care he has used to attain long term ideals. He has sponsored and continues to sponsor brilliant young Nigerians in some of the best educational institutions within and outside the country. He has initiated and continues to initiate development programmes in his Ekiti Central Senatorial District and even beyond. He has never and will never subscribe to the kind of ‘infrastructure’ programmes that temporarily feeds bread and water (not even butter) to the stomach and denies the people access to knowledge and physical as well as health and social infrastructure that make life worth living. He has fought and continues to fight for helpless individuals who would otherwise have been denied their rights in our society that tends to favour ‘exclusionary’ rather than participatory democracy. Ideas, ideals and, as they say, the pursuit of happiness of the greatest number define the worldview of Babafemi Ojudu. You can always count on him to stand for whatever is justifiably true.
By the way, ‘Maa ri e later’ is a filler in Femi’s conversations, just as other people say ‘you know.’ It predates his entry into politics and it is most unlikely to be jettisoned anytime soon. It is not in any way dismissive or, as people say these days, a ‘post’ to dodge meeting an obligation. If you requested anything of him, he would hardly hesitate before answering ‘Yes,’ ‘No’ or ‘Be patient.’ To that extent, he is frank to a fault.
The Ojudu that I know will always stand by a friend. Fresh out of the university and working with Guardian Express in the mid-1980s, he hunted for jobs for me as though he was my human resource agent. Many years later, he dragged me away from my modest practice of advertising back into the newsroom. The difference between us was not in doubt: for him, journalism was just slightly short of wielding a gun to lead the charge to effect social revolution; for me, a relay race: raise hell, job done; let everyone else sit up and do the needful. He gave us a thousand ideas to do our job well on the Business Desk, particularly in terms of providing human angles to statistics so our readers could have good information to take informed decisions.
His brand of ‘combative’ journalism made his entry into politics natural. He knew what needed to change and how to change them. He had practical perspective on when to try to change things. He had no difficulty learning the ropes to get in the thick of how to make things happen. From school, he had picked his niche…’progressive’ politicking, the kind that placed people first. He was not exactly a Marxist/socialist, though he mixed in that crowd. But it is correct to simply describe him as a lover of humanity and a fighter for any cause that would promote the good of human existence. His voice was loud in the Senate on behalf of his constituents in Ekiti Central. His voice is loud in his party in support of ideals that would bring about change. His voice is loud on matters of South West development agenda and youth empowerment. On matters that concern Ekiti in general, he does not mince words that only the best is good for Ekiti. But he is also an unusually pragmatic politician who knows when to fight and when to walk away.
His networking skill is great. He is, in truth, the ultimate ‘PR Man’ whose people skill transcends regional affiliations; gender barriers or socio-economic classification. Not for him the populist notion of driving in a state of the art car and pulling up at the nearest corn seller or food vendor for a photo opportunity. He is a man of the people all right so he does not have to try to justify any claim to being one. Over the years, he has committed himself to every worthy cause to promote development in Ekiti. He remains, perhaps, the most vocal ‘son of the soil’ who has defied personal discomfort as well as threats to life and property to stand with the people, not at election time but always. His antecedents from the position of a cub reporter to being an Editor, then a Senator and now as Special Adviser to the President bear eloquent testimony of service to the people. He has not deviated from the path he consciously chose to tread many years ago. I have no reason to think he would ever tread any other path.
This is the Babafemi Ojudu that I know. This is the Babafemi Ojudu I speak of. And this is the Babafemi Ojudu I always will stand with. For the very simple reason that, warts and all, he embodies the Ekiti concept of an ‘Omoluabi,’ one that stays true to the core values of simplicity, honesty, loyalty, discipline, hard work and love of his people.
I should know because I am also a true son of Ekiti, raised on these time-honoured values.
-Dotun Adekanmbi is a journalist and Public Relations consultant