Lunch with former governor Olunloyo

Lunch with former governor Olunloyo

Friday, August 11, 2023 9:25 am

Dr Olunloyo, right, and his home

Richard Elesho

The more than 70-year-old white mansion sits on a sprouting plot. It was an unscheduled visit. Yet, we drove into the compound without much ceremony. There were no hostile operatives. No daredevil thugs. Not even Aboki to ask probing questions at the gate. So Bunmi alighted from the car, strolled into the pedestrian entry, unhooked the lock, and opened the gate for us to drive in.

As one familiar with the terrain, he led me through a sidewalk of the duplex into the sitting room. On our approach, the lady of the house, friendly Aunty Ronke, spotted us from afar and reflexed warmly, “Ah Bunmi Olukotun ekaabo o.”

Promptly, we made our entry, adding to the population of three, including a wheelchair glued greyhaiman. Dressed in Ankara attires, he seemed asleep. Oh, the ambience of the room! Furnished with settees and dining set simple in style and ornamentation, yet not lacking in beauty. There were no electronics. They speak to the spartan taste of the landlord.

Bunmi introduced me as his journalist cousin, and we exchanged vibrant pleasantries. The company chatted about everyday topics. The old man, who all the while appeared egrossed in his exclusive world of slumber, completely untouched by the hilarity of voices, slowly came to life. With head slightly raised and without really opening his eyes, he uttered some words of reception and enquired how we were coping with the “removal of subsidy.”

Welcome to the Molete Ibadan home of His Excellency Dr, Victor Omololu Olunnloyo, former Governor of Old Oyo State. In more ways than one, Molete has evolved as a hot political pot over the years. The house is a stone throw from the domain of another illustrious Yoruba, Late Lamidi Adedibu, the former strongman of Ibadan politics. An octogenarian, Dr. Olunloyo effortlessly oscillates between sleep and being awake, contributing to the discussion in mono syllables. But the aptness of his interjections confirms the depth of his intelligence.

Dr Olunloyo’s compound

Meanwhile, conscious that my host’s wife was out of town, Aunty Ronke asked us what we would like to eat between rice and solids. We opted for Semovital, and the kitchen was promptly activated. Baba wanted Amala, with specifications. Not the one prepared in his house, but bought from a particular Iya Ala’mala: Alhaja Alakowe in Oja Oba, Oke Ado area.

Uncle Samson, his driver of many years, was immediately dispatched on the errand to obtain the preferred pabulum from the Amala joint. “So fun won pe gomina loma jeo.” (Tell them the food is for a Governor). He instructed Samson humorously.
Severally, Baba called the attention of “Nuuurse,” his in-house medical attendant, and Wura, his daughter, for one instruction or the other.

Eventually, the table was set, and we variously settled to dealing with our respective choices. I loved the informality of the arrangement. My mind immediately went to an encounter at the dinner table of another prominent politician (now late) in Abuja, around year 2000. Every meal was a feast. I was made to understand that the kitchen staff were bound to regularly cook at least four different meals, from where the big man would make a choice at the point of eating. Wastage was of no concern.

Dr Olunloyo

Not in Pa Olunloyo’s house. He paid attention to details and remembered events, facts, and figures with impressive precision and alacrity. It could hardly have been otherwise for a man who bagged a PhD, in Mathematics and Engineering, from the prestigious St Andrews University Scotland at the age of 26 years. That was in 1961, and his academic records in the institution stand unbroken to date.

It did not take time for the young academic to come to public notice. On his return from abroad, Dr. Moses Majekodunmi, then Administrator of Western Region, appointed him as Commissioner for Economic Development at 27. Olunloyo was reappointed Commissioner by Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo, and served in three other ministries. It is instructive that as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, he crowned two of former Nigeria’s longest serving monarchs, namely the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III and the Soun of Ogbomosho King Oyewunmi, both of blessed memory. He also served as the chairman of the Western Nigerian Development Corporation, WNDC.

The peak of Olunloyo’s public service career was 1983. That was when he was elected Governor of Old Oyo State, under the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, leaving the Cicero of Esa-Oke and then incumbent late Bola Ige of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, as a major casualty of that victory. He was in office for only three months when the duo of Generals Muhammodu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon military junta crushed the third Republic.

It is worth noting that in all his years in office, integrity and courage defined his character. He narrated a story of how he met Idiagbon some time after the coup. “During our discussion, I said to him, why did you people remove us and replace us with thieves? He looked at me and said: Ah, uncle ema laya o (uncle, you are so brave), and we laughed it off.”

There was a pleasantness to keeping Baba’s company. He was at home with virtually all topics, including science, arts, music, politics, and commerce. By the way, the former governor boasts a huge collection of books and music from the works of the Western legend, Amadeus Mozart to the traditional African genre. It was, however, his passion for Nigeria that gripped the heart.

He described the problems confronting the country as complex, noting that the judiciary, which ought to be the last hope of the common man, has often turned out as the last disappointment. He believed that only divine intervention could deliver the biggest African nation from the twin maladies of corruption and poverty.

Olunloyo blamed the greedy political class and their followers for plunging the nation into avoidable woes. For solutions to the problems, he paused, then offered:

“How can one know the answer to that? How to solve Nigeria’s problems..? I wish the answer was simple. I am a mathematician, an engineer, and a politician. I have also been a public servant of many years of experience. Yet, one can not say this is the shortcut to solving Nigeria’s problems. But there is nothing God can not do. Those in public office should always remember they are not there for stealing or self enrichment. We can start from there.”

Asked how he would like to be remembered. His response was snappy. “Dr. NO was here! I would not steal and wouldn’t allow anyone under me to steal. So they called me Dr. No.” He recalled how he missed being appointed a Minister under the Gen. Sani Abacha regime due to his uncompromising attitude to corruption.

Yet, Baba would not take glory in his reputation for living above board. Rather, he ascribed the restraint to his privileged roots. Listen to him: “Those who steal should know why they steal. One was almost an English man. Awa b’owo n’le ni (I was born into wealth). Look at this house, for instance. My father built it in 1947. I really have never had reason to steal. To be appointed or elected should be seen as an opportunity to serve and not to steal.”

By the way, lunch has since ended. Let me quickly confess that the 88 years old former governor who was recuperating from a sickness did not grant a formal interview. I only took notes.


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