Aketi’s Candour – Our Country’s Candle

By Adetolu Ademujimi

He was an attorney, activist, administrator, advocate of good governance, family man and politician whom God crowned his multi-faceted career with the people’s mandate as Governor of Ondo State when he took the oath of office first on 24th February, 2017 and for the second time on a similar date in 2021. Notwithstanding his imperfections like you and I, one trait stood him out in the crowd of Nigeria’s political actors; he was exceptionally frank!

Truth is an indomitable and immortal antidote to political falsehoods, social half-truths, governance pretences, economic tricks, legal charades, and administrative shams, all of which are despicably synonymous with Nigeria’s recent history. Aketi was unshaken in conveying that truth. Despite his membership of the privileged class of political elite – the Nigeria Governors’ Forum – from 2017 till death, this courageous man often spoke as though he was a part of the dissatisfied and oppressed. Despite his membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), he habitually communicated the grumblings of the minority within the party. It is safe to state, therefore, that the late Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON (Governor of Ondo State, 24th February 2017 – 27th December 2023) paraded an uncommon candour that ceaselessly and wittingly spilled truth to illuminate our country’s dark paths while he was around. May I share some of my encounters with this plain-spoken man fondly called Aketi, whom no one could gag from baring his mind.

The public presentation of my third book titled Politics Without Principles (the first in my series called “7 Demoters of Nigeria’s destiny” – an adaptation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven deadly public sins), took place on the 30th day of December 2010. Mr. Akeredolu was invited by his friend – my father, Dr. Kola Ademujimi, to chair the ceremony. My old man was at the time, Chief of Staff to Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who was also Mr. Akeredolu’s longstanding friend from their days at Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. Recall that Aketi was also a member of the brave team led by a legal generalissimo, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, OFR, CFR, who helped Dr. Mimiko (fondly called Iroko) secure a legal victory to unseat late Dr. Olusegun Agagu as Governor in 2009. My dad had spotted Aketi’s quiet entry into the Babafunke Ajasin auditorium of the State Ministry of Women Affairs beside the Ondo State House of Assembly Complex in Akure ahead of schedule. He then requested that we both walk up to the legal luminary to warmly welcome and thank him for accepting to chair the book launch. After the two gentlemen exchanged peasantries, I was introduced to Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN; “Aketi, meet my son, Tolu, the author”. Trust Aketi to immediately give me the first impression of himself when he replied with a handshake in my direction but his eyes gazing at my father; “Kola, so this is the young man who brought me out of Ibadan on the 30th of December”. My dad and I chuckled. He continued his frank talks by saying; “I rarely travel out of Ibadan during the festive season, particularly two days before the new year. So, Kola, I didn’t accept the invitation to come down to Akure at this sensitive period because of you. I came to honour this daring young man who has the courage to write about Politics without Principles in Nigeria today.”

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Incidentally and unknowingly, I had invited another friend of Aketi and co-student at Loyola College, Prof Pat Utomi, as the guest speaker for the event. They were surprised to find each other at the occasion to honour little me. Lest I forget, Prof Pat Utomi had stirred my writing interest in that title and sundry others of Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven deadly public sins. Not done, Mr. Akeredolu, had, while delivering the Chairman’s remarks, demonstrated his bluntness with a bit of jest, when he queried how another common friend of the trio (his humble self, Governor Mimiko, and my father), who was announced by the compere as “Chief Launcher”, had presumably become rich to assume such a role. In his words, “When I heard your name as Chief Launcher, I said level has changed o”. Come 2012 two years after my event and its accompanying camaraderie-cum-reunion, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu demonstrated his inalienable right, conviction, and bluntness by contesting the governorship election as flagbearer of then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) against his friend and former client, then Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Labour Party (LP). If Aketi had won that election, he would have displaced Iroko as Governor and truncated his friend’s bid for a second term as Governor. Although unsuccessful at the 2012 governorship election, Mr. Akeredolu later emerged as the successor of his friend-turned-political rival in 2017.

Fast forward to second month of Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu’s second year in office as Governor, my then employer, Ondo State Primary Health Care Development Board (OSPHCDB) conducted a flag-off ceremony for Measles vaccination campaign at Idanre on Tuesday, 6th March, 2018 at St. Patrick primary school, Odode-Idanre. I was the Deputy Director of Medical Services and doubled as the State Incident Manager of that vaccination campaign and Engr. Ade Adetimehin, the Chairman of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), who was invited to the event, had led me to the Governor for re-introduction just before the national anthem was rendered to officially kickstart the event. As soon as Engr. Adetimehin was done with the kind introduction, Aketi responded; “I know him; although more as a writer than a medical doctor”. At the event, Governor Akeredolu, who was invited as Special Guest of honour to flag-off the public health campaign, spoke with candour when he eulogised his predecessor, Dr. Mimiko, not minding their political divides, for his significant contributions to the health care delivery system of the State which he met. As history would later have it, Aketi offered similar commendations at some other public fora, despite the rumblings by some members of his political camp who felt that such open praises of Iroko’s achievement in the health sector could be to Aketi’s political disadvantage. He was simply a man of candour.  

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Again, sometime in 2020 before the governorship election, my then boss and Director-General (DG), Ondo State Contributory Health Commission – ODCHC (the State Health Insurance Agency – SHIA, which Governor Akeredolu’s administration birthed in June 2019), Dr. Abiodun Oyeneyin, had asked that I join him in my official capacity as Director, Business Development & Marketing, to see the Governor. Just so you know, the then State NLC Chairman, Comrade Sunday Adeleye, alluded during negotiation with organized labour for the commencement of the Orange Health Insurance Scheme (ORANGHIS) for the State’s public servants that Aketi’s openness was a major impetus for their consent. It gave them an assurance that the State government would not fail in the timely & monthly remittance of both the ‘employer’ (Ondo State government) and ‘employee’ (individual public servant as principal enrollee on the scheme) premium contributions at a 60:40 ratio respectively from government coffers to ODCHC’s bank account. On the said day, the DG had to personally take a crucial document to this pro-health insurance Governor for approval at this infancy stage of the SHIA. Although Dr. Oyeneyin had secured an appointment through the then Chief of Staff, Chief Olugbenga Ale, we had sat for about eight hours on the first day at the Governor’s waiting area but couldn’t see him due to exigencies of his office. Undeterred, we were there the next day and had sat for about three hours before we were ushered in. After initial brief introductions, the DG spoke to the document for less than five minutes and presented it in an official file for Mr. Governor’s assent. As the Governor penned his signature in red on the document, he inquired; “Is that all you came here for?” Dr. Oyeneyin answered in the affirmative. Shocked, the Governor tendered his apologies for the several hours in two days it took us to see him. He added; “I hate to keep people waiting unduly. It’s not in my character. Please forgive me.” Just before we departed, he asked after my dad, his friend and gave me a word for him; “Now that PDP is no longer strong in Ondo State, I hope Kola (my dad) will join us in APC. Anyways, my regards to him o”.  I couldn’t stop laughing till I returned to my workplace and called to inform my dad about Mr. Governor’s remarks to which he equally giggled.

Furthermore, in 2021, Governor Akeredolu’s Chief of Staff, Chief Olugbenga Ale, and Commissioner for Culture & Tourism, Mr. Wale Akinlosotu, discussed my innovative idea, then tagged Idanre Tourism District (now Idanre Tourism Zone) with him at different times. Thereafter, Chief Ale relayed to me that as soon as he mentioned my name and held out the draft blueprint to Governor Akeredolu, the Governor had hinted that this must be “a new book from that boy” but it soon became clear that it was a visionary blueprint, for which Mr. Governor requested the Chief of Staff to arrange a meeting for me to present the idea extensively. While sharing the tourism innovation with some external minds, a few persons expressed their reservations for the word “district”. The most prominent of these voices was that of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who frankly communicated his dislike of the word to Mr. Akinlosotu. My team heeded this superb contribution and changed the brand outlook to end with the word “zone”. Unfortunately, due to his protracted illness-induced-absence from office between 2022 and 2023, his much-anticipated physical meeting and political buy-in for Idanre Tourism Zone never came to be in his lifetime.

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However, how do I forget also, how the late Governor took the bull by the horn to stamp his conviction about Federalism when he accepted to, and wrote an official endorsement for my book on Restructuring that is titled “DIAL 811: DEFT or DAFT?” in 2022 – a period of ultra-caution by high-ranking political officeholders who wanted to be ‘politically correct’ in the light of the 2023 polls that were ahead? Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, OFR, CFR had written the Foreword of the treatise. By the way, DIAL 811 is an acronym I coined for “Decentralization Is A Lifeline for 811 Federating units” – a conviction I realized I shared with Arakunrin Akeredolu but wasn’t sure he could put his pen down to clearly identify with it. With candour, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON, wrote as published in the book; “I have known this young and discerning Nigerian, Tolu, as much a writer and a medical doctor. I recall that I chaired the public presentation of his book – Politics Without Principles on 30th December, 2010 in Akure and I am aware he has published more books since then. His critical interest in saving lives has commendably transcended his medical profession to the larger public space. I am very excited that he is devoting his intellectual and scholarly prowess to study the governance remedy that many democrats, statesmen and well-meaning Nigerians continue to recommend. As a Governor and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the concept of constitutional devolution of powers to sub-national units of government in Nigeria, without compromising her unity, is one that I responsibly believe in. It is elating that Dr. Adetolu Ademujimi has wittingly and critically analysed and recommended such in this book He has penned his words to support the notion that for efficient delivery of security, development and other dividends of good governance to out teeming population, true federalism must be truly entrenched in this country’ Consequently, I have no hesitation to endorse this laudable and patriotic book to all Nigerians, even as the conversation lingers on whether to decentralize powers to six regions as proposed by some or to the 36 States, FCT and 774 Local Government Councils that Dr. Ademujimi’s book recommends” I congratulate him for the success which his works represent.” I picked up the official letterhead containing these brave and forthright words alongside his official stamp from Chief Olugbenga Ale, not knowing that it was my last encounter with Aketi’s candour – our country’s candle! Adieu, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON.

Aketi’s Candour – Our Country’s Candle

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