Goodbye Aketi (1956-2023)

Few knew about the arrival in this world on July 21, 1956, of a baby, who was later known as Rotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN, CON, popularly known as Aketi. However, millions knew about his departure in the early hours of Wednesday, December 27, 2023, exactly one week ago. He was 67 years old.

The publicity of his death stemmed from three major factors: (1) his status and role as the incumbent Governor of Ondo state; (2) controversies over the temporary governance crisis in the state due to his illness and subsequent disagreements between him and his Deputy; and (3) negative perception of the role of his family over his illness and in the affairs of the state.

Preoccupation with these issues have led to mischaracterisation of Akeredolu as a person and as Governor.

Yet he was a rounded figure: Christian, unionist, Kegite, lawyer, politician, husband, father, and cherished anchor to his network of friends. He would be remembered for his legacies in these roles.

However, the two roles for which he was widely known were lawyer and politician. He birthed both roles at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). As a law student at Ife, while I was teaching there, Akeredolu was popularly known as an activist and a strong member of the Student Union. He successfully ran and won the election as Vice-President of the Student Union in 1975/76. Akeredolu was also a visible and proud Kegite (that is, a member of the Palm Wine Drinkards Club) of which he later became a Grand Patron. It was also at Ife that he met Betty, who would later become his wife. The coterie he developed as an undergraduate remained as his permanent friends till death.

The commingling of law and politics at Ife would persist throughout Akeredolu’s life. After a stint as Attorney General in Ondo State, he contested and won the presidency of the Nigerian Bar Association. After joining other top lawyers, including his law partner, Akin Olujimi, SAN, and Wole Olanipekun, SAN, to help rescue the stolen mandate of a number of politicians in the progressive fold, Akeredolu opted for the rough terrain of “real” politics. But it was not until the second attempt in 2016 that he won the governorship election in Ondo state under the banner of the All Progressives Congress.

I did not support Akeredolu on both occasions. Nevertheless, I supported his administration and reelection in 2020. I also had several conversations with him throughout his tenure, admonishing or praising him and offering tips, where necessary. For example, I admonished him over the scuffle with Osun delegates in Akure in 2017 and advised him to close ranks with then Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state just as I also advised Aregbesola to do the same. They both met in Abuja and closed ranks.

Regardless of the assessments of armchair columnists and social media bugs, Akeredolu’s stewardship as Governor was good in comparative terms. His stellar projects featured over 500 kilometres of roads, including a virgin link road between Akure and Idanre via Ijoka and dualised roads in major towns; the Ore flyover at the intersections of Sagamu-Benin Expressway and Ondo-Okitipupa roadways; the flyover at the Onyearugbulem junction in Akure; the ODIRS Building Complex; the Technology Hub; the conversion of two major State Specialist Hospitals in Akure and Ondo to Teaching Hospitals and the construction of a 200-bed Complex in each one; the development of Ore Industrial Hub; and advanced plans for the construction of a deep seaport in the state.

Akeredolu’s stature grew beyond the state, when he took on herdsmen encroaching on farmlands and the state’s forest reserves. He pushed against open grazing and the detectable activities of herdsmen, notwithstanding criticisms from Northern quarters and even the presidency. He gave the herdsmen a seven-day ultimatum to vacate Ondo forests; banned under-age, night, and highway grazing in the state; and, as Chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum, he ultimately led other Southwest Governors to establish the Amotekun Corp to defend their states against criminality.

Another national issue he boldly took on was the advocacy for political parties to honour the established convention of zoning the presidential ticket to the South in the name of equity, justice, and fairness after an eight-year tenure of a Northerner. These major positions on national issues came as a capstone of Akeredolu’s preoccupation with fairness, equity, and justice, all of which he honed during his undergraduate days at Ife.

Nevertheless, all was not rosy for Akeredolu. Like most others, he had his own albatross to contend with. What was exceptional in his case was the conjunctive pressure of three albatrosses, namely, a debilitating illness; over-ambitious Deputies; and an immediate family beyond control.

The details of Akeredolu’s illness were never officially revealed. Rumours pointed to leukemia and prostate cancer, but the family only named the latter after his death. If that was the case, Akeredolu should have known that prostate cancer was detectable through periodic medical checkups and was treatable. However, like breast cancer, it had to be caught early before it spread beyond the prostate. Even leukemia is treatable, if diagnosed early, usually before blood blasts begin to accumulate.

Akeredolu’s first Deputy, Agboola Ajayi, was so over-ambitious that, like Atiku Abubakar, he was planning to supplant his boss during the latter’s reelection in 2020. Once the details of his plans were uncovered, he got ostracised from government until he resigned from the APC and later joined the Peoples Democratic Party. He jumped over to the Zenith Labour Party, when he lost the PDP primary. He eventually performed woefully in the election.

Ajayi’s replacement, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, allegedly took advantage of his boss’s illness to spy on his medical records and to begin planning to replace him, hoping that he might die sooner. He also began to plan his election in 2024 once power was transferred to him while his boss was on medical leave between June and September. His actions paralysed governance in the state for three months. Aiyedatiwa’s media aides, who broadcast all sorts of negative stories about Akeredolu’s illness, were dismissed on Akeredolu’s return from medical leave in September. The relationship between the two men became so frosty that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had to intervene twice.

It was during Aiyedatiwa’s latest stint as Acting Governor that Akeredolu never returned as Aiyedatiwa had long hoped. His anxiety to become Governor became even more evident when he greeted his supporters in Yoruba, “A ku ori ire” (roughly, we thank God for His blessings) as soon as he was inaugurated as Governor on the day Akeredolu died.

It was also during Akeredolu’s illness that the shenanigans of his wife and son, Babajide, became even more evident than before. However, I will not go into the details here in deference to Akeredolu’s memory and the agony of family members, who just lost a dear one.

Goodbye, Aketi.

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