Eulogy of an unsung hero: Evangelist Bamidele Isola Olumilua
Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua was a gentleman of the highest status and grade; he doubled as a gentleman of gentlemen. He was brilliant, witty, cerebral, profound, suave, civilised and cosmopolitan. It is repeating the obvious to say that he was intellectually deep and religiously sound. To those of us who knew and worked with him closely, his niceties were mesmerising.
He made a success as a career diplomat, representing Nigeria at different Missions. After gleefully and voluntarily retiring from public service, he ventured into business, warehousing assorted merchandise in different parts of the present southwestern States.
Contemporaneously with business, he forayed into the volatile politics of Nigeria, first, taking a chance to go to the Senate in 1983, but the attempt was truncated by the political exigencies of that period.
Unrelenting, he stoically renewed his political interest and reinvigorated his political machinery under the turbulent and unending Babangida transition programmes, combing every nook and cranny of the old Ondo State, campaigning and asking for votes to be Governor of the State. He began this adventure about 1986, culminating in his landslide election as the Governor of the State in December 1991, and his swearing-in on 1st January 1992.
As Governor of Ondo State, he was an exemplar per excellence – a man and a half. All who knew him were conversant of the fact that he led by example and practiced what he preached. Most importantly, Bamidele Olumilua was a man of purpose – a necessary existence, both in terms of form and substance.
In the composition of his State Executive Council, he took pains to assemble a formidable team of intellectuals and experts to superintend the various ministries and parastatals. As for me, he paid an unscheduled visit to my Ikere country home on 25th December 1991, when I was having a pounded yam feast (in celebration of Christmas) with my nuclear family and parents, diplomatically luring me to accompany him and his late friend, Chief Sola Akintayo, to Ado. It was on getting to Ado that he pleaded with me that I should consider accepting to serve as the State’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. While he was pleading with me, Chief Akintayo was offering the doxology. I later found out it was a premeditated design by the two old friends. The rest is now history.
Unbeknownst to many; unrecorded by chroniclers of history; unmentioned by the bards, writers and columnists in our national dailies; unrecognised in the mighty fortresses of government circles; unacknowledged by most folks around; uncelebrated while he was here with us; untrumpeted by any coterie of praise singers; and unlauded by lyricists on the roll, Governor Dele Olumilua made a substantial success of his militarily abridged tenure as Governor of Ondo State. He had a progressive vision and developmental mission for the State.
He assiduously pursued the dream of the State being recognised as an oil-producing State, leading to his mandate to the Ministry of Justice under my supervision to prepare a draft of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) Decree No, 23 of July 1992, which I later took to the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Clement Akpamgbo, SAN, who approved of it, with the proviso that we include Abia and Imo States! OMPADEC was the precursor of the present Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). I recall Governor Olumilua’s joyful exclamation on the day the OMPADEC Decree was ratified by General Ibrahim Babangida at the Council of States meeting, to the effect that it was his “happiest day in the life”. He genuinely and passionately loved the State and sincerely worked for its progression.
Ondo State’s first royalty payment of N500, 000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) as an oil-producing State was received under Olumilua’s tenure as Governor sometime around October 1993. He had a fantastic dream of urbanising some major towns in the State, including Akure, Ado, Ikere, Owo, Ijero, Ikare, Ondo, Okitipupa, Igbokoda, Ikole, etc, leading to the establishment of the Capital and Urban Development Authority. Conscious of the impact of human activities on nature and the environment, he established and inaugurated the Ondo State Environmental Protection Agency, with the charge to combat every aspect of environmental degradation in the State.
During his campaigns, which unusually lasted about four years, there was scarcely any town, village or hamlet that he did not visit twice, and this gave him a clearer picture of the potentialities of the State and the need to internally harness them for his developmental agenda. Seeing that the entire State was littered with rocks of different shapes and shades, he set up a team of experts to advise on the utility value and advantage of the said rocks; and the team came up with the idea that if properly harnessed, diverse by-products, including Asphalt, Gypsum, Salt, Potash, Coal, chemical grade Limestone, Common Clays, China Clay, Kaolin, Ball Clays and Silica sand, amongst others, could be extracted from the rocks for several purposes, particularly for the rehabilitation and tarring of all the roads in the State.
On assumption of office, he directed the Ministry of Justice to incorporate the Ondo State Roads Materials and Construction Company Limited, with the main object being the establishment of quarries and Asphalt plants in the three Senatorial Districts of the State. First to take off was the one situated at Igbimo, in the present Ekiti State (Ondo South Senatorial District), where sophisticated equipment, amongst which were quarry machines, stone blasting tools, standby generators, etc, were already put in place; while the quarry at Apomu, Akure, in the Ondo Central Senatorial District, followed closely behind.
These are just a few of the several projects and companies put in place by Governor Olumilua. Unfortunately, he served as Governor at a most inauspicious period; a time of uneasy uncertainty; a turbulent and dicey phase in the Nigerian political and democratic adventure; a diarchic arrangement which had few precedents in history – with a ‘military President’ governing with and churning out decrees at the center, and democratically elected Governors at the State level.
In October 1993, he re-shuffled and reinvigorated his cabinet with a view to vigorously advancing his dream for Ondo State, charging every member of his cabinet to brace up for the task ahead. Timelines were fixed on a quarterly basis for the purpose of deliverables. Little did he know that the military was lurking around the corner. His four-year tenure was aborted on 17th November 1993, when General Sani Abacha staged his afternoon coup d’etat, sent the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan packing and, at the same time, sacked the democratically elected Governors as well as members of the National and State Assemblies; thus, the tall dream of Olumilua for the renaissance of Ondo State was cut short.
Nevertheless, Olumilua’s footprints on the sands of time cannot be washed away, particularly in areas of magnanimity in victory, accountability in governance, humility and simplicity exhibited by him while in power, and equanimity in character. Few will believe that the late Chief Aaron Komolafe, nicknamed Ajiroba, who later became Olumilua’s closest friend and ally, was fiercely opposed to his emergence as the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) governorship candidate, because, like the biblical Saul, he resisted both Olumilua and his supporters. Immediately after Olumilua emerged as Governor, he extended an olive branch to all and sundry, appointing Chief Aaron Komolafe as a Special Adviser and ‘Ambassador Plenipotentiary’. Like the biblical David and Jonathan, both of them established a chord, with Komolafe becoming the closest aide to Olumilua while in government, and the most bosom friend of his out of government, till Komolafe passed. In like manner, the late Chief Lawrence Agunbiade aka LACO, to whom Olumilua’s senatorial victory in 1983 was bequeathed, later became so close, friendly and convivial with him.
Despite being the Chief Accounting Officer of the State, Olumilua was always under trepidation whenever the need arose for him to make any withdrawal from the Governor’s Security Vote, always exclaiming and complaining that one should be very careful in dipping his hands into the government till even for expenditures bordering on security. I recollect him calling me on one or two occasions to advise on whether or not it was proper for him to spend money from his Security Vote, and despite my advice, he would still be so hesitant and reluctant in making any withdrawals from the Vote unless and until the security crisis was almost engulfing the State. A typical example was during the wild demonstrations attendant to the annulment of the 12th June 1993, presidential election.
Notwithstanding the fact that Olumilua was Governor of the State and the Visitor to the Ondo State University, Ado (now Ekiti State University), he declined to interfere on behalf of his daughter, Omolara, who had wanted to read Law but was turned down at the point of registration on the ground that she had a P7 in Mathematics. Yet, Omolara’s O’ Level results were garnished with distinctions and credits, while she performed exceedingly well in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (JAMB). Olumilua’s rationalisation was that he would not want to lay a bad precedent by directing the University to bend the rules because of his daughter!
His fidelity to friendship and a common goal was legendary. In this regard, he assiduously committed himself and his government to the realisation of the ambition of his friend, Chief Olu Falae, to become the President of Nigeria; and this commitment was total in every respect – financial, physical and spiritual. I also recall that after a particular visit to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Governor Olumilua saw the grandeur of the seat of power and later called members of his entourage to a prayer session in his suite, lifting up his voice, asking God to open His eyes to see the prayer warriors and open His ears to hear their voice, and anoint Olu Falae as the next President of Nigeria! Again, Olu Falae’s ambition was also aborted by the political nuances of the military dictatorship. Olumilua was devastated. A man of peace, Olumilua always shunned any subject or matter that would disrupt law, order, peace and harmony of any part of the State. He avoided chieftaincy matters like a plague, excusing himself by saying that he would not want to change or interfere with centuries-old institutions and traditions; not even when it concerned his immediate elder brother (of the same mother), the late erudite lawyer, Prince Deji Adegoroye, a royal of Akure Kingdom.
Unlike most African leaders who see themselves as absolute rulers who could not and cannot make mistakes, and who knew and know everything, Olumilua was always humble enough to admit his limitations and accept his human errors, whether privately or publicly. A topical example was when high ranking government officials, traditional rulers, political and religious leaders assembled at the Cocoa Conference Hall to broker peace between the government and Union leaders in the State, and in the course of the discussion, a veteran trade unionist who was also the leader of the Worker’s Union provoked the Governor by saying some unpalatable things against him. Naturally, the Governor reacted by directing that a certain action be taken against him immediately. I whispered into Olumilua’s ears that his decision and directive were not in consonance with the law. His countenance changed but his calmness was unruffled. After a few minutes of silence, Olumilua broke the ice by announcing to the teeming gathering that his chief law officer had overruled him and, as such, he was rescinding his decision in respect of the union leader. There was thunderous ovation for the Governor’s magnanimity, and the union leader, there and then, sought leave to address the gathering; he applauded the Governor’s large-heartedness and immediately called off the lingering industrial action.
Amity Lodge, Olumilua’s moderate and simple country home, located along Ikere-Akure Road, was built by him about twenty years before he assumed office as Governor of Ondo State. As a sitting Governor, suggestions, hints and outright recommendations came from different angles and quarters that the modest house was most unbefitting and that there was the need for resources to be raised to build for him a very appropriate edifice consistent with his status at Ikere. Unequivocally, Olumilua rejected all these postulations, insisting that he was satisfied with his modest abode at Ikere. Coincidentally, Olumilua retired to this simple building after leaving office as Governor and lived there with his family until sometime in 2018, when his children gifted him another modest home located along Akure Road. This was where he breathed his last on 4th June 2020.
As a politician and Governor, Olumilua was not a man who would hide behind a finger; he was not used to diabolical gyrations; he would let people know where he stood on every issue, not caring if he was the lone voice. At times, his warnings later became accurate as of the Swiss watch. Regarding the criminal annulment of the 12th June 1993, presidential election, Olumilua always cautioned against any invitation to the military (to take over), as this was the disguised suggestion from some quarters, even within the rank and file of his political party, the SDP. Instead, he suggested that the court should be approached to declare Chief M.K.O Abiola as the winner of the election, rather than asking the court to simply nullify the Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. He queried the utilitarian value of an exercise which would stop at the sacking of the Interim National Government without a consequential order by the court declaring Abiola as the winner of the election. His alternative suggestion was that his Party should press for a prompt election whereby Abiola would contest again as the presidential candidate as, in his considered opinion, Abiola would emerge victorious. For his position, he was called names, while accusing fingers were pointed at him. With the benefit of hindsight, Olumilua was prophetically right, while his critics were wrong.
Whilst his abode was this mortal plane, he went placidly amongst the noise and the haste; he spoke his truth quietly and clearly, and always listened to others; he knew all men have their story. As Governor of the old Ondo State, he enjoyed his achievements, always maintaining his interest in the welfare of his people; he knew it was his real possession in the changing fortunes of time that he had been elected to serve.
Governor Olumilua was always himself, and never feigned affection. He took kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. In doing so, Uncle Dele remained a custodian of values, even in his senescence. It will be told on mountains that till the very end, Bamidele Olumilua was of wholesome discipline and diligence. In the noisy confusion of life, he kept the peace in his soul. Unfortunately, Olumilua was a man who was grossly misunderstood, misrepresented and largely misconstrued because people who did not work with or close to him were interpreting and constructing him from a distance. Olumilua was a good man, kind-hearted and, as an administrator, he was superb. Olumilua was fine and refined; handsome and elegant; brilliant and profound; honest and sincere; simple and sure-footed; civil and courteous; sober and reflective; spiritual and godly. He lived a fulfilled and content life. Undoubtedly, he was a beautiful specimen of humanity
With all the sham, drudgery and broken dreams littering the world, Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua lived a beautiful life; such was his “Desiderata”. He will be sorely missed, but we take solace in the fact that he has gone to join the Saints Triumphant and the heavens are rejoicing.
Even as the currency of his goodwill continues to burn, it is a dawning reality that Bamidele Olumilua has gone gently into the night, not raging against the dimming light, but catching the sun in flight. Even in death, he continues to teach us fundamental lessons in humility, simplicity, sincerity and incorruptibility. May his luminous soul continue to rest peacefully in the bosom of the Almighty God.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, LL.D, FCIArb.
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