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Ayo Adebanjo at 90: Our joy, his sorrows 

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Attaining age 90 in a country where life expectancy is 55 years is a monumental achievement. Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the great Awoist, nationalist, patriot, democrat, leader, ideologue and Afenifere chieftain, has, by the mercies of God that he serves with single-minded devotion, made that rare achievement.

Since I got close to him about a decade ago, it has never ceased to amaze me how someone could be so single-minded, dogged and self-sacrificing in matters that concern ordinary Nigerians, legacies of his leader – our leader – the Sage, Obafemi Awolowo, the wellbeing of our country, as well as transcendental issues of personal principles, justice, equity and fairness. No one spends just 30 minutes with Adebanjo without noticing his passion on these issues.

Before meeting him in person and getting close to him to the point of being admitted into his bedroom on so many of my visits to his residence, I had read, heard and watched his countless interventions on matters that concerned Nigeria in general and his Yoruba Nation specifically. So lofty and elevated were his positions on issues of politics, law, economy and society that I, somewhere in the inner recesses of my mind, thought them mere ripostes and precepts higher than the personal and private life conducts of Adebanjo himself. With the critical disposition of a probing intellectual and skeptic, I started my interaction with him on a cautionary note and expectation of discovering in him the hypocrisy and duplicity of many of Nigeria’s social critics who run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

Alas, in vain did I get to spot the expected gaps between Adebanjo’s public postures and private conducts. With him, what you’ve heard and seen is precisely what you get on close contact and scrutiny. What a joy!

Besides his unimpeachable integrity and honour, Adebanjo is a compendium of Nigeria’s history. He effortlessly recounts the country’s history of Constitutional and political development, not just as a scholar but, more, as a participant observer. He is Nigeria’s history ‘come alive.’ The free lectures we get whenever we’re with him on how our beleaguered country got to where she is and the historical personalities that played key roles in her affairs, are priceless. As he is ‘historical’, so much more is he contemporaneous on matters that affect our collective welfare as a people. Adebanjo consumes news voraciously and digest them efficiently.

But Baba Adebanjo is not a tepid intellectual. He is light-hearted and full of life. He relishes jokes and he’s quite ‘social’. He is always there in our moments of celebration. I had the honour of my life when Chief Adebanjo wrote and delivered the lecture to mark my 50th birthday six years ago. In every good and joyful cause, he is there in his dignity and satorial elegance. Oh my, Baba is fashionable and dignified!

Just as he is contemporary and up to date on socio-political matters, Chief Adebanjo is a digital old man. With the latest iPad and iPhone, he’s right there with you on WhatsApp, email and online news channels. In words and in deeds, this old man is youthful. Adebanjo courts, encourages and promotes the young and youthful. He connects with them like no other elder that I know. All the foregoing and more are our joy in having Adebanjo with us now, in times past and, prayerfully, for many more years to come.

But Chief Adebanjo is yet a man of sorrow. He is quite unhappy that the vast majority of Nigerian political leaders are selfish, incompetent, unprincipled, unpatriotic and anti-people. He expresses his regrets that majority of those who mouth Awolowo’s ideals and principles do so mainly for political gains and self-aggrandizement. He is miffed that quite a sizable number of those he fathered politically have strayed from the narrow and straight path of serving the people with honesty, dedication, integrity and credibility. Baba is anxious that there seems not to be available enough of the few that’ll take the baton from him and his surviving contemporaries and colleagues in the struggle to enthrone true federalism, democracy, equity and fairness in our country. He is absolutely sorrowful that very many of those who should know often sacrifice principles for short-term gains.

For these sorrows, Adebanjo works himself to the bone, in his old age, searching for and encouraging those who show commitment to the good of Nigeria and her suffering people.

I’m seized with trepidation over the sometimes intruding thought of what would happen to this country when this passionate and committed patriot and inspirational leader and his colleagues go to where all mortals go. Who will remain as the consistent voice of truth and of the voiceless? Who else will inspire and admonish us to be principled and selfless in our socio-economic and political pursuits? To whom will we go for direction in the maze and labyrinth of Nigeria’s political system and disorder? Who else will be our true moral compass as he has consistently been?

Whenever these nagging questions crop up in my consciousness, I’m comforted and assured by the admonition of our Lord Jesus Christ in that we shouldn’t be anxious for tomorrow. It is enough and gratifying that we still have Chief Adebanjo with us today in his full physical, mental and moral strength.

Here’s, therefore, wishing this inimitable, tireless leader and inspiring father and role model, our dearly beloved Chief Ayo Adebanjo, happy 90th birthday. Many happy returns of the day, Sir.

• Kawonise, former commissioner for Information and Orientation, Ogun State, is publisher and editor-in-chief of NewsScroll newspaper.


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