By Femi Babatunde
Last weekend, in far-away Okada in Edo State, a befitting honour was accorded one of Nigeria’s most eminent, enigmatic, inspirational and forthright politicians, Chief Adebisi Abdulkareem Akande.
That honour, an award of Honouris Causa in Political Science of the Igbinedion University, was significant for many reasons.
One, it was truly deserving. Two, the choice of the awardee could not have been better made by the leadership of that University, considering Akande’s illustrious professional and political career. Three, it came from a university that has earned its stripe as a respected citadel of learning, having blazed the trail as the nation’s first private university.
Again, the fact that the honour came from a region quite far away from Akande’s base in Ila Orangun, Osun State, is highly symbolic. This further validates his credential as a national political icon of unparalleled mettle.
Given his reputation for modesty and self-effacement, one would imagine that it must have been a tough call by the University’s leadership to convince ‘Baba Akande’, as we fondly call him, to step forward and be so honoured.
In a country renowned for politicians seeking desperate recognitions, Akande stands tall as a different breed. The reason for that, one would imagine, is not far-fetched. A true disciple of the Obafemi Awolowo school of politics, Akande belongs to that rare and vanishing breed of men who were inducted into politics as a lifelong preoccupation for service and not for personal aggrandizement.
The story is often told today of how, as the Governor of Osun State, Akande led a spartan lifestyle to the extent that the force of his personal example was sufficient to whip officers of corrupt and reckless tendencies who served in his cabinet into line!
The fact that he built the imposing State Secretariat in Abeere, among many other phenomenal infrastructural strides in a State noted for its low revenue profile, is an eloquent tribute to his financial wizardry, focused and disciplined leadership.
Although he was later denied a second term by the widely acknowledged Peoples Democratic Party-led ‘rigging machine’, Akande has admirably continued to remain relevant in the country’s political experience, not only as a respected leader but as an accessible and down-to-earth mentor of younger politicians. His sobriquet, Baba Awo Omo Keke, meaning father of the young ones, aptly captures the essence of the man whose life has become a ceaseless inspiration.
It is also to his credit that, unlike many of his former governor colleagues who leave office only to constitute needless distractions to their successors, Akande personifies a radical departure – a worthy model steeped in quietness, humility, contentment and grace.
A teacher and an accountant by profession, the Ila-Orangun born elder stateman’s rise in politics was basic and organic and a sure encouragement to many a Nigerian youth who seek political relevance.
Despite a lucrative employment as a staff of the British Petroleum between 1963 and 1978, Akande showed promise as a radical community mobilizer and was visible in a number of local town unions.
From there, he shone brightly and was appointed by the military as a member of the Ila Local Government Management Committee. Later, he was elected unopposed as a councilor.
That began his most eventful and fortuitous journey to national relevance and reckoning, which has seen him represent his people in 1979 Constituent Assembly, he served as a foundational member of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and subsequently became a member of UPN’s National Executive Committee under the chairmanship of the inimitable leader and sage, Chief Awolowo.
In recognition of his impressive credential and untainted loyalty to the progressive ideals, Akande earned a joint gubernatorial ticket with the late Cisero of Esa Oke, Chief Bola Ige as a deputy governor between 1979 and 1983.
A man of deep conviction, Akande’s forthrightness has been variously tested and at no point did he ever waiver on the path of truth, fairness, and justice. Not even when he was unjustly imprisoned, or fought alongside other patriots to rescue the country from the grip of the military jackboots.
Perhaps more than any other time, his political dexterity and enormous wisdom was to come in handy while he steered the ship of the All-Progressives Congress (APC) and led his party to oust an incumbent president, having earlier led the Action Congress (AC) and later, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
In all these positions, he worked diligently. He placed the parties on solid foundations and creatively worked with other progressives to nurture parties whose philosophy and raison d’etre was absolutely pro-ordinary people.
In essence, therefore, the recognition of Akande by the Igbinedion University was very well-placed. It was a vote for his timeless impact and a quiet life spent for the people, and in the continuous search for a greater nation.
In his characteristic critical and fecund self, Akande, after his decoration at the well-attended ceremony treated the audience to a thought-provoking acceptance speech, which argued eloquently for qualitative education as a tool for development and for the liberation of mankind.
Affirming his love for education, he took the audience down the memory lane tracing the evolution of education from the preliterate society to the modern age and underscored why education should be well-funded.
Hear him: ‘‘I am fascinated with education. Education thrills me as I know the value of it. I also appreciate what the lack of it does to a human being and society at large. I consider education as an inalienable right of an individual that society and Governments must provide and fund adequately’’.
Hearty congratulations, once again, to the distinguished elder statesman!