Akande: Style and substance
Chief Bola Ige, first elected governor of old Oyo State, never had any doubt that Chief Bisi Akande should be the governor of Osun State in 1999. He knew Akande too much, his courage in the face of adversity, his incorruptibility, his loyalty, his diligence and his competence recommended him above all. Akande was Chief Ige’s Secretary to the State Government in 1979 and when the Deputy-Governor, Chief Sunday Afolabi resigned in 1982, Chief Akande moved up to become the Deputy-Governor. From that office, he and his boss were ousted in the controversial general election of 1983 which brought Dr Omololu Olunloyo, the famed mathematician, into office as governor. When General Muhammadu Buhari seized power from President Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983, Akande and his boss fell from grace to grass.
This week, his people are rolling out the drums to celebrate Bisi Akande at 80. He is the Asiwaju of Ila-Orangun, his hometown in Osun State. He was the second elected Governor of Osun State. He was the founding Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the impossible amalgam that brought President Buhari to power in 2015. He is one of the very few politicians in Nigeria who has never been invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Since he left office in 2003, he has persistently refused to take any board appointment and has never made any attempt to move into the Senate, now the retirement home of former governors.
In 1998, when General Abdulsalami Abubakar unfolded his transition to civil rule programme, Chief Ige, the deputy leader of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba cultural and political organisation, wanted guided nomination for political offices. He wanted the Afenifere Leadership, headed by the intrepid Senator Abraham Adesanya, to insist on nominating people for the offices of governors. Many politicians had trooped into Afenifere following the death of General Sani Abacha and the opening of the political space. Despite what was happening in other states of the South-West, Chief Ige took keen interest in who would be governor. For Osun, he had no doubt that the mantle should fall on Akande.
But Akande had a lot of doubts. After his return from prison in 1985, he had vowed not to seek elective political offices again. He had been appointed SSG from the cosy environment as a top executive of British Petroleum, the giant oil multinational and by the time the government was toppled, he found that he was far poorer than he entered. Worse, he was put in prison by the military for an offence he never committed. He was accused of encouraging local government chairmen to buy campaign vehicles for the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. The chairmen were never charged. Akande, along with his Governor, was jailed 22 years by the Charles Ndiomu military tribunal.
So when Ige told Akande that he had to run for the office of governor, Akande refused flatly. He had suffered enough for the wrong reasons. So one Thursday in November 1998, there was a meeting of Afenifere General Assembly at the country home of Senator Adesanya in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State. Baba Adesanya announced that those seeking to contest for governorship should move to a separate room. All other aspirants, Chief Segun Osoba, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, Senator Bola Tinubu and others moved into the room. Akande remained rooted on his seat. Uncle Bola glared at him, shouting, “Bisi get up! Get up!”
Akande obeyed. Instead of joining the others however, he simply headed for his car and drove to Lagos. The following day at the Afenifere meeting in Osogbo, the people decided that Akande should be the consensus governorship candidate. He went on to win the election and ran a government noted for its prudence and accountability.
In 2002, Afenifere sent a visitation panel to all the states governed by Alliance for Democracy, AD governors. The panel was headed by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. It rated Akande as the best performing governor. He had transformed the landscape of Osun forever and offered what future generations would regard as imperishable service. He built the new Osun State Secretariat and constructed thousands of kilometres of new roads. He built schools and hospitals and ensured that government money was spent wisely. He made powerful foes.
His attempt to spend money with prudence alarmed the House of Assembly who soon formed a coalition with opposition forces to impeach the governor. The Civil Service too was restive and wanted business as usual. The labour unions called workers out on strike many times. And there was a war going on between Ife and Modakeke. One day, the severity of the situation was brought home to the governor when Professor Roger Makanjuola, the vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife, rushed into the Governor’s Office in Osogbo. One of his students, a medical students, had been kidnapped.
Akande sent for his deputy, Otunba Iyiola Omisore, an indigene of Ife who was in the thick of things at the home front. Omisore made some phone calls and then reported back to the governor. “Sir, forget it, ” he said flatly. “The boy is gone!”
Akande was devastated. There were other disasters in the offing and one of them was Omisore, a seasoned carpetbagger without the ideological or puritanical constrained of his boss. Omisore was eventually impeached at great cost. Chief Bola Ige was killed. Akande lost his election in 2003 when the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, engineered a blitzkrieg and got Akande and his colleagues in the AD out with the solitary exception of Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos. The man who succeeded Akande was the suave soldier, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former military administrator of Lagos State.
Few weeks to the election, I had attended the opening of Bola Ige House, the new Governor’s Office complex built by Akande. I sat next to Justice Adewale Thompson, who was Akande’s colleague in the old government of Bola Ige when Thompson served as Attorney General. It was an impressive ceremony attended by the cream of the society, including the widow of Chief Ige, the formidable Justice Atinuke Omobonike Ige. Akande explained that both the State Secretariat and the Bola Ige House were built from savings he made from recurrent expenditure. He said in the past, such monies often disappeared with the general rush governmental spending.
Our father, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran, the Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, who spoke on behalf of traditional rulers at the ceremony, said Akande needed to take better care of traditional rulers. It was a subtle reminder that Akande’s prudence and puritanical stands bred oppositions from many quarters. Baba Thompson whispered to me that Akande was far ahead of his own people and that many of them would have preferred that the State Secretariat should be converted to money and bags of rice.
Akande balanced his budget. He refused to borrow money to fund his projects. He did not own contractors, suppliers or his workers. Yet when enemies appeared at the city gate, many of his old comrades were with them. He has faced the ultimate dilemma of the statesman; either to work for the next election or work for the next generation. Akande decided to work for the next generation.
At 80 now, he could reflect on what has been accomplished and what is still needed to be done. Yesterday in Ibadan, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo led leaders of Nigeria to pay tribute to this outstanding statesman and pathfinder. Osinbajo said a lot could be achieved by states as presently constituted, in the pursuit of the cherished restructuring. He gave the example of Lagos State during the governorship of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, which achieved a lot through the creative use of the law.
But Osinbajo’s position is diametrically opposed to what the Yoruba leadership has been advocating for many years. We want a return to regionalism that would put all the Yoruba people of Nigeria, including those in Kogi and Kwara, under one government. That we should take what we have now is beside the point. There is still a need to find a way through the Law and the Constitution, to achieve the objective of regional autonomy.
Baba Akande is 80 now and may be battle weary, but his wisdom is priceless and his reliability and experience are attributes that the nation still need in the years ahead. Happy birthday to a great man whose tour of duty has shown to us that good government is not only necessary, but also possible. Akande also proved to us that we can transform our country without leaving a mountain of debt for future generations.
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