Ayo Afolabi: Ever serving, never asking for compensation
He was the quintessential leg man. For Afenifere he was there. For its offshoot, the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), he was the one bearing the head pan. For Alliance for Democracy (AD), ACD, ACN, APC, he was the site worker. Even the SDP that preceded those parties, Ayo Afolabi played a key role. He was in NADECO.
He was in Idile. You will find him planning, sharing invitations, securing halls. Ensuring that things go as planned ultimately.
Just mention it, whatever edifice is being constructed that will further the cause of the Yoruba, of Nigeria and of humanity in general, call Ayo Afolabi. You will always find him digging the foundation, laying the blocks but never asking for a room in the house! He is a tireless worker, the one who makes things happen without asking “…what is in it for me?” Under the military, he suffered arrests, got detained and put his family at risk.
I recall how he surfaced in the newsroom of The News magazine one hot afternoon during the Christmas period in 2002. He came in with his driver, bearing two bags of rice as Christmas gift for our reporters. He was sweating profusely and almost struggling to catch his breath. He had come all the way from Osogbo to deliver the gift in the spirit of the season.
I was so filled with concern for him that day. I decided to see him to his car downstairs. It was a rickety Peugeot 504 station wagon with no air conditioning which he brought all the way from Osun to deliver bags of rice to different newsrooms in Lagos. Afolabi was no Mai Kaya, but a man dedicated to his duty even in the face of inadequate equipment and tools.
Although he was the spokesperson for the governor of Osun State at that time, you could not see any affluence in him. He loved his job and the man he served the way the apostles loved Christ. When the assignment ended abruptly in 2003 with the defeat suffered by his Principal at the polls, Afolabi continued to serve, sometimes making three trips in a week from Ibadan to Lagos, taking night buses from Lagos to Abuja to attend party functions and answer the call of duty and returning to his base same day by night bus.
One afternoon I ran into him at Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s house in Ikoyi. As usual, he had come to either deliver a message from the party or to pick an instruction. I suspected he didn’t come in his own car so I asked: “Egbon how did you come?” And he responded as expected: “by public transport.” I was outraged and I told him I was going to convey him to the park for his return journey to Ibadan. When we got to my car I pleaded with him that I forgot to tell Asiwaju something and he should please excuse me for some minutes to do so while he waited in the car.
I went in and challenged Asiwaju with the following questions: why are we watching Ayo Afolabi suffer if we truly find him so useful to the cause of the Yoruba? Are we going to wait until he dies in a crash in rickety commercial buses before we realise he deserves better and we all go for his burial and read long and teary orations?
Asiwaju in his usual kindness asked me to tell him to come back the following day and pick a car. “I didn’t know he has no car. That is his weakness. Ayo will suffer in silence, not asking and not demanding and not complaining,” said Asiwaju.
That is Afolabi for you. He is a quintessential patriot of the Yoruba cause. Energetic, mobile, full of endurance, kind and loving, self-effacing and understated. In the midst of the young, you never get to remember his age.
What life has failed to give to Afolabi in material acquisition it has compensated for in brilliant and high achieving children, good health and a loving family.
Egbon, don’t worry we are not retiring you yet, as I used to joke with you: Ina o i ti i tan laso, eje si wa lee’kan.
We celebrate you today Egbon , I am tempted to say Pa, and wish you many more years of service to humanity. May the just and equitable society you dream of come to reality in your life time.
Asodun modun …
Senator Ojudu is Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters.
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