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Alao-Akala: The lifetime of a humane politician

By Tunji Olaopa
25 February 2022   |   2:42 am
It was Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator, who once remarked that: “the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

Alao-Akala

It was Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator, who once remarked that: “the life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

With these words, Cicero reminds me of a similar saying of Yoruba, that we are deified after we are dead! In other words, memory serves as the point of the immortality that humans seek to perpetuate themselves in existence. Indeed, almost everyone wants to live forever.

But there are those who, without even seeming to try, succeed in generating memories in the lives of people. One of these is Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala. Of course, it is practically impossible for the dead to command the entire positive memories of everyone alive. However, there was a significant outpouring of grief and reminiscing from across the spectrum that links the masses to the elites. It would seem that the long reach of Akala’s compassionate nature reached everywhere.

Significantly, even the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, testified to Alao-Akala’s deep sense of generosity and humanity. This is one example of a man that had battled to rise from the heap, from grass; a humble beginning, and was determined to raise as many as he could. He was a passionately compassionate soul who had no apologies for his desire to reach out to those in need, a desire molded in the fire of his affliction while growing up.

This is how Festus Adedayo reviewed Akala’s passion: “I see a down-to-earth man who had no airs, a man hunted by the unpleasant experience of his childhood which manifested in an uncommon generosity in him while in office that was misconstrued as profligacy”.

Otunba Alao-Akala was an exceptional figure in all respects. And as I proceed in this eulogy, I shall further highlight some significant dimensions of his exceptionality without attempting to write another biographical account of his life.

First, I like to consider his religiosity. As a Baptist myself, I can easily and deeply appreciate the influence of the Baptist doctrinaire variant of Christianity in his worldview and in his intellectual and emotional maturation. Of course, being Baptist constitutes a fundamental influence in the historical formation of Ogbomoso as a community, and almost all her indigenes. Indeed, being entirely submerged in the Baptist way of life was sufficient to provide a prism by which Akala, the church-boy, would eventually see all of life and its meaning.

He read all his dealings as ascension in life through his connections and disconnections to God. It is only in this way that one could understand why he could give the autobiographical summation of his life and it’s unfolding a spiritual title “Amazing Grace.” And who would query the influence that Providence had taken in his life if that is what he saw from his childhood all through his lifetime? And all that was truly unusual –a politician that saw the hand of the Almighty in his political calling and becoming. How strange could such a person be? How exceptional?

In putting Akala as an Ogbomoso boy in perspective, let’s start by putting that bit in its historical context. Indeed, historically, Ogbomoso stands at the confluence of several historical juncture, from Yoruba, the South West and the Nigerian federation. Ogbomoso was significant in defining the fate of the old Oyo Empire especially in resisting the calvary force of the invading Fulani. Ogbomoso would also significantly contribute to the erosion of the power of the Oyo Empire when it shifted its allegiance to Ibadan, the then rising military town, which defeated the Fulani in 1840.

This political strategy of pragmatic reading of times and seasons of politics has led Ogbomoso into being a significant bloc in the politics of the South West and of Oyo State. The rise of Chief S. L. Akintola and the political and ideological disagreement with Chief Obafemi Awolowo would further entrench Ogbomoso’s political significance in the South West scheme of things. It was therefore inevitable and logical that Akala’s incursion into Oyo State politics would be from the platform afforded by Ogbomoso as a political base.

To understand this, we have to return to S.L. Akintola and his Ogbomoso cultural connection from which Akala took his political cue. It is therefore not strange for Akala to pronounce that “history has not been fair to … Akintola.” In yielding to the godfatherism of Chief Lamidi Adedibu therefore, Akala was clearly motivated by what he called the “Ogbomoso political behaviour” and its antecedent alliance with Ibadan, with an unstated reckoning that papa Adedibu was by blood Omo Oyo Alafin.

And in Akala’s reckoning and my reading following after Akintola, if an alignment with the Northern Nigeria would benefit Ogbomoso and in this case through Chief Adedibu with Ibadan, then that was the best political move to make. He said this much in justifying his joining the All Progressives Congress (APC), and in his words: “the party had the national spread and was in control of the center.” It is in this sense that we must salute the political sagacity of Otunba Alao-Akala. It was not an easy thing for him to ride the formidable dynamics of his Ogbomoso grassroots politics into the fortress of Ibadan realpolitik, mediated by the mercurial Alafin Molete, and not only win the electoral contest but to become a godfather himself.

The question for the political class taking a cue or the baton from him is therefore to keep pushing the political interest of their constituencies while forging alliances that are critical to the fruition of a political culture and resilience that are required to building a strong and prosperous Nigerian state, overall, with sensitivity to better harness our diversity to not only position the South West in the larger federation, but to salvage our ailing and failing Nigerian nation-state. This relates to the issue of how the political class in Nigeria manages the tension that comes with ethnic and tribal politics, and crisis management. Taking lessons from and in stark contrast to the Awolowo-Akintola environment of bitterness polluted polity, Senator Rasheed Ladoja’s testimony that though he and Akala had occasions of political disagreement, “but this did not injure our personal relationship…I therefore never saw Alao-Akala as a betrayer” was instructive. It validates Akala’s ideology of live-and-let-live, a politics that tried as much as possible to be devoid of bitterness that has become the hallmark of the Nigerian politics.

Lest I am misconstrued, Akala was not a saint by any stretch of imagination. He was just a man; an amiable lover of pleasure, a socialite, who cherish being in social circles with friends and associates. I am indeed a beneficiary of his warmness and his uncanny capacity to maintain a social circle and network with people irrespective of age, status, tribe or class.

Since 2011 when I met him, Otunba Alao-Akala not only adopted me as a kid-brother, but also indirectly taught me what it means to insinuate oneself into the lives and concerns of those around me. He was essentially a part of my family, with an encouraging presence in all my events to boot. He attended my inaugural lecture and would always call to offer his goodwill whenever I record a major stride. I later discovered that that was the modus operandi he had for everyone that crossed his path, even if they are outside his political network.

In a time where relationships are counted in terms of political patronage and connections, that was a huge legacy for Otunba Alao-Akala. Indeed, he was in some sense an unusual being, an enigma, a spirit of some sort who simply passed by this land and had ascended to attend to duties of higher calling. The best we can do is to read the footprints of his passing and orient ourselves by them. Indeed, there are several significant senses in which he was just a typical politician motivated by sheer ambition in the way he moved from one party to another. A dimension that is the face of realpolitik that all politicians are used to in Nigeria today.

No one would however deny the capacity of Akala as a bridge-builder and a master-negotiator who understood the technique involved in high-politics. And a testament to this is the coalition of politicians gathered here today in a posthumous seminal reflection on Oyo State political future, all to honour the broad-mindedness, accommodationist exemplariness, that he was dedicated to in his lifetime.

Let me end this critical eulogy by characterizing the persona of the politician that I think Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala represents; a legacy that could serve as a pathway for a politics that can move us forward. Otto von Bismarck, former first chancellor of the German empire, once wrote that: “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable—the art of the next best.” This quote speaks about the essence of realpolitik; the capacity to get things done even outside the demands of ideologies and idealism.

Politics within the context of Nigeria could be a very difficult thing. It demands a lot of compromise that often clashes with one’s ideological principles. To get things done is therefore not to be perfect, but to get things done in ways that improve the lives of people. It is in this sense that Chief Alao-Akala was such a pragmatic politician who deeply understood what it means to be a politician that makes things happen.

And one significant way he did this was through building an inter-and intra-ethnic confidence and negotiations that transcended party and ideological lines to fast-forward the demands of good governance. It seems to me that no one can accuse Chief Alao-Akala as being for Ogbomoso alone, or for sidetracking essential infrastructural development just to favour Ogbomoso to the detriment of other regions in Oyo State.

In this sense, Alao-Akala created a definitive contrast by which we can assess what it means to be a pragmatic politician in a context that should normally have generated acrimony and dead-weights of delayed decisions that make lives difficult for citizens.

That any politician could survive within such a stifling environment is a miracle. It takes compromise and pragmatism. It takes a vision that is already aware of the deep mines involved in acting on behalf of the people rather than for selfish and self-serving ends alone. The key word in my last sentence is “alone” because it makes allowance for a politician to find means to feather her own nest or those of her ethnic constituents without compromising her stewardship to the people. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Nigeria urgently needs politicians who are simply not mere jobbers, but those who are motivated, as Alao-Akala was by his background and existential deprivation. Whatever motivates anyone running for office, the critical matter is that such a person must be ready to do whatever it takes to make life more abundantly richer than what exists before she gets there. This is what it means to make politics the act of the possible, and Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala was our exemplar.

Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor at National Institute (NIPSS), Kuru-Jos, delivered this paper at the Day of Tributes organised by the Oyo State Political Class in collaboration with the Oyo State Government in Ibadan.