For Afuye, a long goodnight
It is not easy to come to terms with the sudden passage of Funminiyi Afuye, the Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly until his sudden death last month. He and his wife, Titi, were planning the wedding of their daughter, Abisola, but fate had other plans. So, on Sunday, October 16, Afuye had gone to the Ekiti State Pavilion, Ado-Ekiti, to attend the inauguration ceremonies of the new Governor of Ekiti State, Abiodun Oyebamiji. The following day, he attended the Interfaith Service in honour of the new governor. On Tuesday, he was to preside over the session of the House of Assembly that would screen the new Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. He took ill and decided to rest at his country home in Ikere-Ekiti. Twenty-four hours later on October 19, he was dead.
Death met Afuye on duty. He always believed in doing his duty to his friends, his family, his state, his country and to humanity. Tomorrow, Mother Earth would receive his remains in Ikere-Ekiti. His tour of duty has ended where it began 65 years ago.
Who could have thought that the journey would end so soon? Afuye was a man full of life and vitality. He radiated vitality and sheer aliveness. He was witty and intelligent. He was a natural leader with an aura of authority. He was devoted and fearless. He did not believe anything was impossible. He dared and won many battles. When death crept on him like a thief that Wednesday, he must have thought initially that it was a macabre joke. Now the joke is on us.
There are very few people who would take precedence before Afuye on the roll of honour among heroes, who fought to free Nigeria from military rule. In 1993, Afuye was one of the young people who gravitated towards Chief Moshood Abiola, the presidential candidate of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP). When Abiola’s victory was annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, Afuye, like many of us, was devastated. However, unlike many people, Afuye did not just wring his hands and then resigned to fate. He decided to do something about it. He and Bayo Adenekan, the then Managing Director of Capital Oil Plc, met me and we decided to take action.
That was how Idile Odua was formed. Our colleagues who founded the group with us included Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Biodun Bankefa (now Bandupe), Kayode Anwo, Pascal Adeleke Idowu, Prince Ademola Oyinlola and Prince Adedokun Abolarin (now our father, the Orangun of Oke-Ila in Osun State). The group was later joined by many illustrious Nigerians including, Professor Rotimi Akinola, one of Nigeria’s most celebrated gynaecologist; his brother, Kehinde, an Engineer, Ajibola Famurewa, who later went to the House of Representatives for Osun State; Ayo Arise, who represented Ekiti State in the Senate; the late Professor Wole Omikorede of the Lagos State University (LASU); publisher of Alaroye, Chief Oyafemi, Reverend S.S. Okelola, Rotimi John, Gbenga Akano, Niyi Aluko, Chief Taiwo Fagbemi, Kule Awobodu and many others. I was privileged to be the chairman, while Adenekan was my deputy. The Secretary-General was Funminiyi Afuye.
As the Secretary-General, Afuye was the engine-room of the organisation. He kept all our records meticulously. He made available his office at the old Onyx Plaza on Sobo Arobiodu Street, Ikeja GRA for the organisation’s use. He hosted our regular nightly meeting in that office which he shared with Abolarin and another outstanding lawyer, Gbolaga Ajayi. Two other members of that office, Julie Donli, a young lawyer, later served as the Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and Bukola Adeyemo, the office manager, were all very useful to our organisation. Afuye was at the centre of all these. He was the octopus with many hands and he juggled his assignments with competence and dexterity.
Few months ago, I had visited him in Ikere. I wanted some seedlings from his extensive compound, where he had mangoes, coconut and Ishin. I was particular about ishin, which is the fruit famously associated with Otun Ekiti, the homeland of my ancestors before they migrated to Okemesi. I took some seedlings from him. Those seedlings are now growing in my compound in Okemesi. I have to nurture them as memorial trees to my friend, Afuye.
Afuye was part of our team that was sent to attend the regular meetings of Afenifere under the leadership of Senator Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya. The other two members were Adenekan, who led the team, and Adeyeye, who, in later years, became the spokesperson for Afenifere, represented Ekiti in the Senate and served as a minister under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He was our outstanding ambassador. In June 1996, some of our leaders were detained by the brutal Abacha regime on the excuse that they were suspect in the gangland-like assassination of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola; Afuye was one of the members of Idile mandated to visit them in detention. The old men loved him like their own son. To Baba Adesanya, Afuye was Afemoo! I cannot remember now how Papa came about this appellation.
The old men found Afuye to be very reliable, brilliant, courageous and dependable. He and Oyinlola were my most constant companions in our trips to Owo in the early days of Afenifere when Papa Adekunle Ajasin was the leader. We were all eager to join the struggle for democracy after the annulment of Abiola’s victory. When Abacha revealed his Dracula teeth and fangs, we knew we were in for a bitter struggle. Afuye’s steadfastness and solid stamina gave us courage. He truly earned his epaulets as a hero of democracy.
It is fitting that this morning, the Ekiti State House of Assembly is honouring its first speaker to die in office. That House was the theatre of Afuye’s years of glory. Now for the last time, his colleagues would perform the solemn ceremony of giving Afuye a royal farewell. Never again would Afuye walked through that portal or hit the gravel.
Afuye and I first met at the then University of Ife in 1976 when we were admitted as beardless undergraduates. He was studying Political Science, while I was in English Education. Though, I crossed over to the great University of Lagos in 1978 to read Mass Communication, our friendship never flagged. Afuye had a magnetic personality, and therefore, he remained in touch with many of our old classmates from Ife. Afuye, I and Abolarin, who later became founding fathers of Idile, were all in that class. Bayo Adenekan was also in Ife where he studied engineering. Both Afuye and Abolarin later studied Law. It was an unforgettable class of many brilliant young men and women. Who could encounter and ever forget the likes of Shenge Rahaman, Ade Obisesan, Tayo Alawode, Bola Oni, Yinka Ojora Adejiyan, Ademola Oladele and many others?
After his National Service, Afuye took up employment with a bank. We were neigbours at Ire-Akari Estate, Isolo. When he wanted to marry, I followed him, in the company of other friends, to Ilaje, where he had found the woman that would bring him joy and fulfillment to his life. Titi’s father was a retired colonel and he must imbue his beloved daughter with the inner strength and stamina that are coming to play during this time of challenging storm. They were a fabulous couple. Titi is a pharmacist who provided my friend with the necessary domestic felicity. It was she who dug his anchor deep so that he could make his impactful political and social forays.
Tomorrow, Afuye would formally join the ancestors in Ikere-Ekiti. Painful, but who are we to query the decree of the Almighty? We thank God for the immense privilege of knowing Funminiyi Afuye. He enriched our lives. Now, his exit makes us poorer. Goodnight buddy! From here till eternity!