By Prof. Banji Akintoye
When I received the message from our father, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, that I would serve as the reviewer of his autobiography at the ceremony of today, I felt very highly honoured by his message. Baba, I am indeed very highly honoured by the privilege of standing here now to review the book in which you have told the story of your life and the enormous legacy of your beautiful and self-sacrificing life.
I am sure that all of us who have known you for most of these many decades expect me to start by thanking you, Baba, for giving us this autobiography, and for giving it to us at this very momentous turn in the history of our people and nation. On behalf of all of us who have walked side by side with you, who have shared in the glories, successes and pains of your life, who have with you stood unwavering in the gap in defence and promotion of the prospects and wellbeing of the underprivileged masses of our people in this perpetually buffeted part of Nigeria, I thank you for giving us this wonderful asset at this time.
We are going through extremely unstable and destabilizing times. The times are so unstable and so destabilizing that we all seem incapable of finding any compass by which to navigate the road ahead. In the throes of the uncertainty and looming catastrophe in the Nigeria of these times, we people of our endangered Yoruba nation appear like effigies being whirled around in the tornado that Nigeria has become. Yoruba groups are knocking against Yoruba groups, friends against friends, brothers against brothers, young people against their own parents – until, sometimes, it all looks as if we Yoruba are caught in a war of all against all.
Happily, Chief Fasoranti now offers us the story of his life, his autobiography, almost like a manual to guide us into a calm coherent and purposeful march through the storm. The dominant character of Chief Fasoranti’s life has always been his calmness, his cool striving to understand fully the nature and turns of events, and his calm but unwavering courage in the face of trouble. His has always been among us the voice of calm, reasoning and courageous combat with situations. On his 90th Birthday four years ago, I said of him, “When young people of my age were beginning to step like toddlers onto the political stage of the then Ondo Province of Nigeria in the years about Nigeria’s independence, Chief Fasoranti was one of the brightest lights illuminating our way. Calm in even the most challenging situations, diligent in ascertaining the facts of every development, brave in battle, selfless, self-effacing, and never running away from making sacrifices, for ever ready to accept our failings in whatever mistakes our group might make, and forever capable of leading to provide answers to such failings, always solid out there as a rock no matter what our adversaries might throw at us or at him, Chief Fasoranti has led us in these parts through the political life of Ondo Province, the larger Ondo State, today’s smaller Ondo State, and through our nation’s successes and vicissitudes in the rocky politics of Nigeria”.
The book that Chief Fasoranti gives us today is vintage Fasoranti at his most sublime. It is almost uncanny in the way it goes calmly over the political storms of our time, over our hardest and most painful experiences in the politics of Nigeria, and over his own most painful personal experiences and losses. The voice of calm covers every page of this book – calm in the face of shocks, calm endeavor to grasp the details and realities of situations, calm resolve to stand up and battle against challenges and threats, calm in the face of victory, calm in the face of sorrow.
The serenity does not only belong in Chief Fasoranti’s mind, it is forever radiant on his face, in his demeanor, and his lifestyle. He tells us, for instance, that his diet consists of simple Yoruba foods, that he almost always prefers to dress in simple Yoruba men’s clothes, that his choice of residence is a simple bungalow surrounded by green trees and green lawns, that he loves to keep connected to his old friends and school mates, that he learnt early to forgive easily, that he loves encouraging good character in young people, and that, throughout his life, he has remained a member of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
I must urge our people to read this book. We need to expose ourselves to its predominant psychology. I am sure that it will help us to calm down, to calmly look at the facts, the details and the realities of the situation of these days in Nigeria, to calmly decide and resolve what is demanded of us in the situation, and to calmly march towards accomplishing that which we resolve to do. Our people desperately need that quality of response today.
The details of Chief Fasoranti’s life story are typical of the life stories of the generation of Yoruba men and women who were born in the late 1920s or early 1930s and who were fortunate to be raised by far-sighted and ambitious parents who were eager to obtain education for their children. As educated young adults, Chief Fasoranti’s generation grew up to experience the exhilarating progress that the Western Region of the 1950s achieved under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Their Western Region provided the scholarships, sponsorships and other kinds of assistance that enabled them to acquire higher education in the world’s best colleges and universities. They returned home from their universities and colleges to become competent civil servants, school teachers and school principals, builders of schools and colleges, inspired leaders eager to guide their people towards a great future. But not long after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the men and women of this inspired generation were rudely pushed aside by lesser men who proceeded to brutalize Nigeria and to push Nigeria down the gaping mouth of hell.
After graduating from the University College, Ibadan, after marrying his brilliant sweetheart, and after completing a postgraduate qualification from the University of Hull, he returned to Nigeria and accepted the huge task of building a community high school from scratch. Sacrificially working and scraping resources together, he built the physical structures of an impressive Community Grammar School, and he used the sponsorship system to raise a strong team of teachers. Some members of my generation were among the teachers whom he sponsored and employed.
But his greatest mark as a school principal was his firm maintenance of self-respect and discipline among the students. It was an expression of his own life of thoughtfulness, calm and discipline. At lju-ltaogbolu Grammar School, and at other schools where he later served as principal, he earned accolades as a very successful builder and upholder of discipline among his students.
But from 1966 when the military took over the governance of Nigeria, the beautiful task of building and leading a school as principal came upon hard times. Intent on controlling all aspects of the life of Nigeria, the military dictators took over all schools. One of the consequences of the take-over was that principals and teachers became government employees, and that principals found themselves being transferred from school in an irrational and disruptive manner. In these ways, the military rulers of Nigeria laid the foundations for the destruction of educational standards in Nigeria.
After being whisked around to a number of schools within a few years, Chief Fasoranti became tired of it all, and he opted out of government service altogether. But that did not mean the end of his service in the profession that he loved. He and Mrs. Fasoranti founded Omolere Nursery School and St. Frances Grammar School, two schools that have contributed tremendously to the development and quality of life of our people in our time. Even today at the age of 94, Chief Fasoranti, the dedicated school principal, still goes to St. Frances Grammar School daily to do the job that he loves most.
Given Chief Fasoranti’s kind of personality, it was inevitable that he would become involved in politics – and in politics of the progressive type. At UCI, he became notable in the politics of the students’ community. He even served as editor of the students’ free newspaper, The Bug. And he joined with other students in a students’ chapter of the Action Group. All these, plus his love of development and progress, attracted some notice back home in Akure. Therefore, when he graduated and returned home to head the new lju-ltaogbolu Grammar School, he quickly became a figure among the rising crop of young politicians in Akure. A group which called itself the ‘Alarm Clock Party’, with Chief Fasoranti as its leader, won the election to the Akure Local Government and made him Chairman of the Local Government. But the group quickly returned to the Action Group and then seriously began to expand the support for the Action Group in Akure. Ultimately, Chief Fasoranti became a major leader in the Action Group in Ondo Province and in the Nigerian Southwest – and then in the 1970s he became one of the builders and leaders of the Unity Party of Nigeria. He emerged as the AG candidate for election to the Western Regional House of Assembly in 1965 and, like most AG candidates in that election, he had victory stolen from him. In all these positions, his calm and rational quality of leadership made him one of the foremost pillars from Ondo State in the Nigerian leadership of the Action Group and, later, of the UPN.
His reward finally came in 1979 when the UPN swept Ondo State and Chief Adekunle Ajasin was elected Governor of the state. Chief Ajasin appointed him to the important position of Finance Commissioner. In the next four years, as Chief Ajasin’s government gave Ondo State the very best in progressive governance, Chief Fasoranti was his frontline partner and friend. And when the Omoboriowo rebellion against Chief Ajasin battered the government and the Ondo State UPN, Chief Fasoranti was always a calm and influential voice of reason in the defence of the government and the party.
The political troubles of 1983 were capped by yet another military coup in the December of that year. Many of us leaders of Ondo State were detained together in very dehumanizing conditions in Akure. Of course, most of us looked up to Chief Fasoranti as our leader in that painful situation. His natural calm and his Christian character contributed much to comforting and strengthening most of us. In the end, our whole group was split into two, half going to Owo Prison and the other half going to Ado-Ekiti Prison.
It was while he was thus in prison that the news of the death of his first daughter reached him. For many days, it was no small addition to his pains that the military rulers refused him permission to go and see the body of his daughter. Since then, he has been served other cups of sorrow – at the passing away of his unforgettable wife, and at the assassination of another one of his daughters. But Chief Fasoranti is a man of almost superhuman fortitude and calm, a victor whose victory ever remains wrapped in his calmness.
Chief Fasoranti is a titan among us. We his friends gave testimony of our admiration of him by appointing him the Leader of Afenifere, and he has proved mightily worthy of the honour. Now he has honoured us and done us proud by bestowing upon us the story of his life.
Baba, we your friends sincerely assure you that we cherish this gift – and that we shall drink deep from its well of wisdom. We all thank you.