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Fellow Nigerians, please allow me to make a serious confession. I’m an incurable fatalist. I have more than enough reasons to believe in the power of Destiny. There are too many things man cannot easily explain about our cosmos. The journey of life is riddled with mysteries. And unwittingly man is nothing but a toy in the wheel of fortune. We move around and work like the proverbial jackass not knowing what God has in stock for us. At the height of our arrogance we try to play God instead of recognising the supreme Master. But those who have been touched by His grace often appreciate the significance of the limitless grace of God.
If I had doubts about the unexplainable kindness of the almighty, my faith was rekindled around 1991 as a young editor in Lagos observing the political battle of wits of that era.
Two political juggernauts reigned in our dear old Lagos. They both nursed the ambition to govern Lagos as Governor. The State vibrated vigorously under the grip of these aspirants, Professor Femi Agbalajobi and Chief Dapo Sarunmi. Their battle was so fierce that they ended up being disqualified by President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. A seemingly neutral candidate later emerged in Chief Yomi Edu, a charming and charismatic politician, contesting under the banner of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). On the other side were Sir Michael Agbolade Otedola who slugged it out with Chief Mrs Oluremi Adikwu for the ticket of the National Republican Convention (NRC). Unlike the other gladiators in SDP, both Sir Michael and Mrs Adikwu did not fight dirty and agreed to work for the greater betterment of their party and the State in general.
It must be noted that Sir Michael was practically the under-dog in the race. Many had wondered what such a refined gentleman was looking for in the murky waters of politics. This is where I believed without doubt that fate had a major role to play in the emergence of Sir Michael Otedola. To most people his candidacy was a huge joke for several reasons.
First his membership of NRC was almost a charade considering the fact the party was not a particularly popular one in the South West of Nigeria. Second was the fact that not much had been heard about Sir Michael in the political circuit. He was a virtual unknown. Three, money had always been a key factor in the politics of the Third Republic as spawned by IBB and Sir Michael was known to be a man of very modest means. Four, politics in our clime has often been a dirty game for rugged and rough fighters and Sir Michael was an epitome of humility and gentlemanliness. How was he going to cope with duelling against the demons and principalities that littered the political landscape?
How did it occur to Sir Michael to go into politics and even think of running for elective office was the question most could not ready explain. Unbeknown to many people it had all started like a joke which was destined to crystallise into reality.
On my part, my connection with this chapter of Nigerian history was simple enough. I had come across a friendly young man around 1989 by the name Femi Otedola. He seemed very notable amongst the upcoming young men of the time and was renowned for his jokes and wisecracks. He wasn’t a rich man but you could see the grace of God in him that early. He was very popular and streetwise. I believe he lived somewhere in Surulere at that time and worked in his father’s Impact Press which was located on the famous Randle Avenue. Impact Press was a moderately successful printing press run with the professionalism, competence and discipline that Sir Michael would espouse and display in politics.
The year 1989 was the period the Afro Juju music creator Sir Shina Peters released his monster album, aptly title Ace, produced by Mr Laolu Akins. It was the music of Sir Shina Peters that cemented the bond of friendship between the young and upwardly mobile socialites of that era. SSP was able to attract a crop of fun-seekers in Lagos and beyond. They were in different categories. We had the silver-spoon kids, young professionals from a wealthy, famous or medium class background, that included Segun Awolowo, Lanre Tejuoso, Kweku Tandoh, Toyin Pinheiro, Ayo Subair, Femi Otedola, Ladi Williams, and others who formed the nucleus of the Afro Juju fans. The devotees grew geometrically and soon we had Wale Otubanjo, Lobito Disco, Tayo Ayeni and the Ayeni Brothers, Mohammed Gobi, Aliko Dangote, Segun Alawaye, Mayor Akinpelu, Kunle Bakare, Kayode Ajala, Gboyega Okegbenro, Rotimi Obey and many others joining the former group. We loved SSP to bits. Even the older generation caught the bug and it was awesome. Chief MKO Abiola and Oba Adedapo Tejuoso were godfathers of the group.
Shina had specially customised anthems for each and every one of us. Femi Otedola’s anthem was nice, unique and prophetic. Shina in the song said he dreamt and saw Femi sitting on an exalted chair behaving like a Governor. You can then imagine how we all felt when news broke that Femi’s dad was going to contest the Governorship seat in Lagos State.
According to inside sources Femi was the one who had the brainwave of telling his dad to try his luck. He believed that his father had the unquestionable ability and moreover the discipline and sanguinity to bring sanity, stability and success to the political arena.
Femi had gone round his senior friends such as Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and others to solicit for finance. Femi once told me that Dr Adenuga stunned his dad with uncommon generosity and when it seemed hope was fading. The Globalcom Chairman came out like the spirit that he is to rescue the campaign. Sir Michael had entered the panic mode, complaining to Femi and the family aloud about the supposed misadventure.
Fortunately, the fight between Agbalajobi and Sarunmi had damaged their party beyond repair. It was a case of a house divided against itself which could not stand. Lagos witnessed an unprecedented electoral process. The citizens voted SDP in the Assembly and gave massive votes in favour of Sir Michael Otedola as a mark of their protest against the implacable warriors of SDP. Otedola’s name in Yoruba is that of someone who has benefitted from the chicanery of conspirators. It is difficult to rule out the efficacy of certain Yoruba names which often reflect the circumstance under which a baby was conceived.
Sir Michael Otedola soon found himself in a very precarious situation. His Executive arm of government belonged to NRC while the Legislative arm was under the firm control of the arch-rival SDP. It was such a chaotic arrangement but Sir Michael was able to apply his sagacity to make it less riotous. Had he been a typical politician it would have been impossible for him to manoeuvre the wheel of State for the 23 odd months he served before his government was sacked unceremoniously along with others by the Abacha coup of 1993.
In those months, Sir Michael showed a different style of governance that got him the sobriquet of Baba Go-Slow because of the manner he took his time on everything he had to do. He never rushed into hasty decisions. He didn’t grab power for his personal aggrandisement. He was a man so measured in talk and modest in action. His tenure would make a veritable case-study in how not to loot the treasury voraciously or at all but how to build a legacy of peace and trust. Our country has a lot to learn from the life and times of this great statesman, a patriot, devout Catholic, family man and worthy role model to a generation that thrives in sin.
I was happy to join the Thisday publisher, Nduka Obaigbena, and others on a trip to Epe yesterday as soon as we landed and disembarked from our London flight. It was a little sacrifice to pay in order to say goodbye to a good man. As we drove past his home in Odorogunshin, Epe Local Government area of Lagos State, we could attest to the simplicity and frugality of a man who led a fruitful life of service and died a very fulfilled man. It did not matter to him that his son was a billionaire who could have provided a lifestyle beyond his dreams. He was content with what God gave him and especially the place reserved for him in Nigerian history and folklore.
That was the lesson I took away and hope to imbibe if ever I have that rare privilege to serve my great nation. May God instill such Godly spirit in the leadership of our country and give us the knowledge to know that we came with nothing and shall surely depart with the evil or good that we did on earth.
A PRAYER FOR DORA AKUNYILI
As I was rounding off this column, calls poured in from friends who wanted to confirmed the veracity of the story that the great Amazon of our time, Dr Dora Nkem Akunyili has passed on knowing how close we have been for many years. I immediately suspended what I was doing and started working the phones. I called her main line and it rang endlessly without anyone answering it but it gave me some hope.
I called former Governor of Anambra State, Dr Peter Obi, who I knew had visited her in India. He too didn’t pick his call but I was delighted when he called me back later to tell me our mutual sister was alive. It was wonderful to have such a positive confirmation. Some blogs I was told already posted the news while some sympathisers had her pictures with sorrowful pictures of her on Blackberry Messenger and Facebook.
My joy for Aunty Dora is the fact that she has not served her nation in vain. In life she has become an icon of excellence and a quintessential reference in public service. Nothing could be more exhilarating in one’s lifetime. Let’s continue to pray for this wonderful woman who gave her all to a country where heroes are readily forgotten.
Please, stay strong. May the good Lord be with you and your family at this difficult time. Amen.
Dele Momodu Write the Pendulum For Nigeria’s Thisday Newspapers, Email: Dele.firstname.lastname@example.org
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