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The bell tolls for Omotosho and a good man

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Sir Remi Omotosho was a vigourous man of 75. He was full of life and his boisterousness and agile mind belied the fragility of life. Who could have predicted that he was so near the end? He had so much more to do and yet God said enough! When the news of his death came, it was a shocking blow to those of us his friends and younger ones. He had led a full life and his contributions are apparent and indelible.

Before he became the Managing Director of the octopoidal Oodua Group of Companies, Omotosho had risen to become the Executive Director of Unilever Plc. and was being tipped to succeed Chief Rufus Giwa who was the chairman and M.D. Oodua was to present him with greater challenge and opportunities. By the time he came, the company was on the throes of death and the military rulers of Nigeria were thinking of selling it. It is to the eternal credit of Omotosho and members of his team under the leadership of their unforgettable chairman, Chief Jobi Fele that the company was brought back to life and good health. He was to serve in that office from 1978 to 2004.

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Since then, he had lent his sagacity to many ventures including serving as chairman and director of many companies. Money was never the object of his service. His passion was the development of the youths, the promotion of his church and the prosperity of his country. He was for many years our chairman in Ekitiparapo Society of Lagos and he spent his time and money for the pursuit of the people’s interest. His death is a big blow to the people of Aiyedun and the entire Ekiti people. He was a man of international stature and was the head of the laity in the Methodist Church of Nigeria. Death has hurt us and hurt us deeply. Everyone, princes and plebeians, is helpless against the blow of fate. It doesn’t rain, but it pours. That is what is happening in Ekiti when it was also announced that the first and only Ekiti person to be governor of old Ondo State, Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua died at 80 at his country home in Ikere, Ekiti State. Olumilua was a governor at a most turbulent period belonging to the class of elected officials who served when the military was still in power. General Ibrahim Babangida had allowed the election of governors, states and National Assemblies, but had remained as the military President. Olumilua became the governor of old Ondo State in 1992. He, along with other elected leaders, lost his job in November 1993 when General Sani Abacha toppled the regime of Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan, the Head of the Interim National Government, ING, left behind to manage the shop when Babangida was forced out of power in August 1993.

Out of job, he went back to his farm in Ikere. Olumilua had worked in the Foreign Service before joining politics. In 1983 when I first met him, he was a dedicated supporter of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the beleaguered Governor of Ondo State, who was facing a spirited rebellion led by his former deputy, the self-proclaimed Awoist, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. He was in the same league among the young Turks surrounding Ajasin including the likes of Chief Segun Adegoke, the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Nimbe Farunkanmi, a member of the State House of Assembly and Alex Adedipe, another member of the House of Assembly. Both Farunkanmi and Olumilua wanted to go to the Senate. Farunkanmi won. Olumilua lost.

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Olumilua was a candidate of Ajasin’s Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. His opponent was the wealthy businessman, Mr. Lawrence Agunbiade, the owner of LACO Stores, Akure, then the premier shopping mall in the city. Agunbiade was the candidate of National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Olumilua’s defeat was shocking and unexpected. He believed he had been rigged out. He went to court to challenge his defeat. The case was still on when General Muhammadu Buhari seized power and sent the politicians out of business. Olumilua’s opponent was to spend only three months in the Senate before the military struck.

Ironically, it was this defeat in 1983 that paved the way for Olumilua to become governor. General Babangida, who had led a palace coup against Buhari on August 27, 1985, had banned those he called old politicians, including all former senators. Because he lost his bid for the Senate, Olumilua was spared. He then contested on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, to defeat his opponent of the National Republican Convention, NRC. Those were heady days when we believed that democracy was at hand and that military rule would soon be a thing of the past.

I met Olumilua several times both in Akure and Lagos in the crampy Governor’s quarters at the Oduduwa House on Victoria Island. He never sought to go and stay in any hotel or seek better accommodation for himself. He and all his top aides including Dr. Olusegun Agagu, the Deputy Governor and Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, the Commissioner for Health, were all staying in that crampy Oduduwa House. His cabinet was star-studded. It included the famous accountant and banker, Chief Yemi Agbelusi, the pioneer Executive Director of the Financial Institutions Training Centre and Chief Wole Olanipekun, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. Who was to prove himself as a lion of the Nigerian Bar.

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Two challenges were to tax Olumilua statesmanship among others. In 1993, some of our leaders from the Ekiti part of old Ondo State formed the Ekiti State Movement and I was invited to attend their meeting at the Oduduwa House. We met on the Lawn Tennis court. Some of the leaders complained that the governor refused to join us and that he declined to provide suitable accommodation for the movement within the liaison office. When we discussed the matter later, the governor said Chief Awolowo, their leader, believed that the old West should have been left as one state. He said Awolowo warned them that indiscriminate creation of states would be counter-productive. In the end, General Sani Abacha created Ekiti State in 1996.

The second challenge came with the passage of Oba Adekola Ogunoye, the Olowo of Owo in November 1992. Oba Ogunoye was a well-loved monarch whose reign brought peace and prosperity for Owo people. The problem for the Governor was that Ogunoye’s illustrious predecessor, Oba Olateru Olagbegi, was still alive and well. Oba Olagbegi was a flamboyant man who flirted with politics and became shipwrecked in the process. He was deposed in 1968 by the Western State government of Colonel Adeyinka Adebayo following agitations by Owo people led by Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the Oba’s cousin, the first principal of the town’s first secondary school, Imade College, and a former member of the House of Representatives.

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By 1992, Ogunoye was dead and both Ajasin and Olagbegi were old men on the threshold of the eternal journey. Ajasin was Olumilua’s leader in the UPN and the SDP. Awolowo was dead and Ajasin was now the leader of the Awoist Movement and by extension the leader of the Yoruba. Olumilua hurried to Ajasin’s home in Owo and intimated him with his plan to restate the old king instead of seeking for a new one. Ajasin advised that the governor should be cautious. One evening Kabiyesi Olagbegi drove to his old palace. He was welcome by most of his old chiefs. Owo people had learnt their lessons. The town people trooped to the palace to congratulate the returned king.

Olumilua was to explain later when I met him in Ikere after his retirement. He said immediately after the demise of Ogunoye, many prominent citizens of Owo met him, pleading that the old King should be allowed to return. All the princes who should have contested for the throne were also united in that demand. Despite the passage of time, Olagbegi remained very popular with Owo people. Most of them wanted a foreclosure of the crisis of the 1960s.

Now there is a closure to the Olumilua story. He was a great man who led a simple life. He was not a perfect man, but he was a good man who led with courage and conviction and showed us the meaning of competent leadership. We will miss him.

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