Akeredolu And Parable Of Onirese

By Suyi Ayodele

I am personally scandalised by the news coming from Ondo State about Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and the state of his health. This piece, I must confess, tasks my humanity more than anything I have ever written on this page. I, however, decided to do it because of the way I feel about it. Without any intention to disparage anyone, I make no bones saying that if the matter were to be about any other governor, I would not have bothered to dwell on it. Arakunrin Akeredolu occupies a position in the history of constitutionality in Nigeria such that we cannot ignore the news coming from his state. For whoever wants to contest it, Akeredolu is more than a governor of a state. He is, if all things were to be equal, the constitutional moral compass that Nigeria and Nigerians are expected to use to navigate through the shambolic democracy we are running in Nigeria.

Morally, nobody should play politics with the health of others. Doing so is completely inhuman. Only God knows who will live or die as well as the when and how of our transitions. As mortals, who do not have any idea of what tomorrow holds, therefore, we are enjoined to be circumspect when discussing the issue of death and illnesses. A very recent example is the brazen manner the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, went about the health issues of the immediate past president, General Muhammadu Buhari. If Fayose were to be the giver of life, Buhari would have long been buried and forgotten. That Buhari lived and lives today, does not in any way, however, vitiate the fact that while he hid his health status from the Nigerian public throughout his eight years in office, he nevertheless expended our common patrimony to service his so many unknown ailments.

At a time, Buhari abandoned leadership and spent well over 100 days outside Nigeria attending to one health matter or the other. The only occasions we were told what ailed the Mai Gaskiya was when he could not make it to an official engagement in Lagos due to an ear infection and the last two weeks or so of his exit from power, when he had to stay back in the United Kingdom to attend to a toothache. God bless our leaders. They treat us like the proverbial iwofa  (pun), who, when he is ill, the rich creditor says: “oh, the silly one has come up with his tricks again”, but when the son of the rich creditor is down with fever, his father says; “just try and swallow this fish stew” (bi iwofa ba nse aisan, won a ni alakori ti gbe ise re de; bi o ba nse omo olowo, won a ni ko ro ju fi obe eja s’enu). While Nigerians were dying in their hundreds, killed by treatable diseases, our president was in the UK to see a dentist! I know that one day, God will judge between us and our rulers.

Buhari left the Nigerian populace to speculate about his health issues for good eight years. He was not the first president to do that. Before the National Assembly invoked the novel “Doctrine of Necessity” on February 9, 2010, to empower the then Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to serve as acting president, his then principal, the late President Musa Yar’Adua, had been in and out of the Aso Rock Villa attending to his health challenges without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly or handing over to his deputy as required by the constitution. Yar’Adua left the shores of Nigeria on November 23, 2009, and it took the nation 47 days before Jonathan was asked to act as president. Even at that, not a few ‘erudite’ scholars picked holes in that noble decision of the National Assembly, describing the action as illegal.

For instance, the late Professor Omo Omoruyi, in his reaction to the decision, said that the National Assembly acted illegally, stressing that the legislators ought to have respected the sanctity of the constitution and its supremacy. It never mattered that Yar ‘Adua, who took an oath to preserve and defend that same constitution, openly raped it with impunity! Yar’Adua was eventually announced dead on May 6, 2010, days after he was sneaked into the country under the cover of darkness by his close associates. He was said to have passed on Wednesday May 5, 2010, at about 10.30pm. Nigeria and Nigerians have General Olusegun Obasanjo to thank for his infamous: “Umoru, you don die” telephone call to the ailing Yar’Adua, who, as the candidate of the PDP in the 2007 election, was hovering between heaven and the earth. While Obasanjo remains culpable for imposing Yar’Adua on the PDP and the nation, the late president, his immediate family, and those political profiteers, who knew well his debilitating health conditions but egged him on to take over the most tasking job in the land, have the greatest share of the blame.

The same was the case of the late self-over-indulged Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, who, on October 25, 2012, hopped into a light aircraft and flew himself to a dismal crash. Suntai, who flew an unregistered Cessna 208B Caravan plane, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), said had no licence, no competence, and no qualification to fly that type of aircraft. Talk of what my Yoruba people call: “akeju tin ba omo olowo je” (over-indulgence spoils the child of the rich man). You may wish to ask what a governor was doing flying a private jet without a license when half of the people in his state were living below the world poverty standard and riding camels to their farms. After the unfortunate incident during which Suntai sustained brain injuries, he became a vegetable as he was moved from the Federal Medical Centre (FCMB), Yola, to the National Hospital, Abuja, then to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, USA and finally to the Government House, Jalingo, where his aides and acolytes kept prodding him like a sagging bag of maize. He remained the governor of the state in such a pitiable state and ‘completed’ his second term in office on May 29, 2015, and died on June 28, 2017, in his home. You may wish to ask the people of Taraba State what became of governance in the state while the governor’s aides and family members were the ones calling the shots.

This is why the story from Ondo State is particularly worrisome to me. I have never met Akeredolu in person, but I have seen his images (still and motion) on several occasions. When a man is handsome in my place, there is a way the women folk salute him. They will say: “omokurin lo dara bayi. Bi eleyi o se oko eni, hi ba se ale eni” (look at how handsome this man is. If this cannot be one’s husband, let him be the concubine). Akeredolu will, any day, answer that praise name. His figure, his gait, his well-trimmed white beard, and his infectious toothy smile are disarming. He is a man, like every other human being, nobody should nurse any evil against.  So, when the news first filtered in over a year ago that he was dangerously down with an undisclosed ailment, the public sympathy was with him. His aides and political associates tried all they could to deny the ill health of the governor. However, all that crashed when Akeredolu appeared in public and his gait told the story, even to the blind. His wife, Betty’s video early this year, where she was castigating one female aide of the governor for bringing local concoction to the governor was the height of Akeredolu’s health misfortune. Not a few were scandalised that while many were deeply worried about the health of the governor, the only thing the wife could think about was the activities of a suspected side chick of the governor. It was akin to the case of an infirm for whom all villagers were fasting and praying but was caught eating three square meals. That video by Mrs. Akeredolu, I daresay, triggered a public debate about the governor’s health forcing Akeredolu to admit that, yeah, he was down health wise, though there was no immediate danger involved. He stopped at that, and nobody has ever volunteered to name what ails the governor.

Last weekend however, changed the entire narrative about Akeredolu and his health. The news came in vide the uncontrolled social media that the Ondo State governor had passed on. Sahara Reporters, an online platform, in what it termed ‘exclusive’, on Thursday, June 1, 2023, posted the following news item: “Exclusive: Ondo State Governor, Akeredolu Incapacitated, Bedridden in Ibadan; Unable to Sign Documents Yet Refuses To hand Over To Deputy.” Shortly after the publication, the rumours of the governor’s death hit the town, such that the state government had no choice than to issue an official statement. The terse statement, titled: “Ignore The Rumour On The Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN, CON”, and endorsed by Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, Commissioner for Information and Orientation, states: “We have been inundated with calls and messages concerning the state of health of the Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON. We had chosen to ignore this wicked fabrication until it appeared that certain persons seek to draw political mileage from the disinformation. Though the Governor has been indisposed, he has been attending to state matters and delegating functions to functionaries of the Government, when necessary. We enjoin the members of the public to ignore the rumour. Aketi is very much alive”. The statement emphasised that the governor was very much alive without being specific about his condition.

The opposition PDP in the state would not have such an incomplete statement. In its “Theater of The Absurd: Akeredolu’s Whereabouts Should Not Be A Secret” statement issued by Kennedy Ikantu Peretei, the party’s State Publicity Secretary, the PDP admitted that, while “As mortals, any human being can fall sick. Whether in public office or private life. Rotimi Akeredolu is employed by the people of Ondo State, maintained with taxpayers’ money. So, it is criminal and a great disservice to keep mum over his health status and his whereabouts”. The party demanded that: “Those hiding the governor should tell the people where he is to save the state from speculation.” The Ondo State chapter of the PDP alluded to the 2010 health challenges of the late President Yar ‘Adua, when, “Akeredolu was one of the most vociferous voices, calling for his resignation and allowing the then Vice-President to take over.” The party added that: “If for whatever reason, Akeredolu can no longer discharge his official responsibilities, the most reasonable thing to do is to hand over to the Deputy Governor as required by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).” If you ask what I think of this demand, I will tell you right off that the party is right, absolutely right! I will explain why.

Like I mentioned in the introduction, Akeredolu is different from any of the run-of-the mill governors we have around. For one thing, the man who adopts the sobriquet of Arakunrin (Mr.) is a constitutional lawyer. He is not just one of the lawyers in town, but a very big masquerade in the legal profession. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and a former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). His pedigree in civil society circles stands tall. He was once the voice of the voiceless in this country. He joined forces with other Nigerians to fight the military and earned democracy for Nigeria. As a sitting governor, Akeredolu took on the Federal Government on several issues. He championed the birth of the Western Nigeria Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, to fight killer herdsmen in the South-West. He was, and the only governor, who issued an ultimatum to the killer Fulani herdsmen occupying any forest in Ondo State to register or vacate the forest. He backed that up with action. Even when the agents of darkness took the battle to his Owo homefront and killed innocent people in a Catholic Church, he remained uncowed and soldiered on like an akoni okunrin (courageous man). So, what has changed? Do we now have another Aketi in power? Is Governor Akeredolu saying that he does not know the capacity and ability of his current health? I ask: what spoils if Akeredolu resigns to go and face his health challenges? Will he no longer be reckoned with as former governor of Ondo State or what? Can anything, or anybody ever obliterate his achievements as the governor of Ondo State, if he resigns to attend to his health? What has he got to lose? While seeking answers to these and many more questions, I leave Akeredolu, his immediate family and his handlers to the legend of Onirese.

The story of Onirese is a lesson in the perpetuity of good deeds. It tells us that no matter the circumstance, one’s good deeds live forever as testimonials of one’s sojourn here on earth. Onirese was an Oyo calabash carver. He was the best in the guild of carvers of his epoch. He had a long list of clienteles, among whom were kings and the nobles of the land. The then Alaafin of Oyo, satisfied by the works produced by the carver, made him the head of Irese quarters. But at one time, due to marriage and exposure to other climes, Onirese abandoned carving for other engagements. Whenever people came to him for carved calabash, he would simply direct them to his other fellow carvers. When it dawned on the people that Onirese would not carve calabash for them again, they reported him to the Alaafin and asked that he should be compelled to resume the craft. Alaafin listened attentively to the people and when they were through, Iku, Baba, Yeye, answered them thus: “Bi Onirese ba ko to lohun o fin’gba mo, eyi to ti fin sile ko ni parun” (If Onirese refuses to carve calabash again, the ones he carved before will endure forever). Nothing in life obliterates good works. How I wish Akeredolu will see the wisdom in the saying of our forebears and take time off the government house to attend to that which should matter to him most. Or is health no longer wealth? What other fame does the governor crave? What is more important in life than health? Or is there anything else in the government houses such that even at the point of death, every invalid wants to remain there?

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, June 6, 2023)

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