Tribute to Akande-Pathfinder of the progressives
— Dwight D. Eisenhower
There are lasting lessons to learn from the driving passion, socio- economic philosophies, leadership style and the political trajectory of Chief Bisi Akande as he celebrates the elusive age of 80 today.
Even as family members, faithful friends, political associates and well wishers gather to clink glasses and toast to express their groundswell of goodwill, what truly matters are what we can glean from his inspiring experiences, over the decades.
Without sounding immodest and backed by empirical evidence, Akande stands tall today amongst his peers as a peerless brand of humility, integrity, financial discipline, prudence, love for the poor, honesty of purpose, candour and a patriotic fervour still uncommon here in Nigeria’s effervescent political horizon.
A brand, according to marketing expert Godwin Idahosa,“ is the sum total of the relationships a company, product, service or even a person has with the customers”.
It is not a mere living or breathing organism but an experience- a worthy one at that. It is a store of the values it represents. And so it is with Chief Bisi Akande.
A glimpse at some of the instances when and where he had demonstrated the aforementioned leadership qualities would serve as an enduring guide.
SCORING THE FIRSTS
As the wise ones say, “the morning shows the day”. A true-life story with regards to Chief Bisi Akande’s political roots would amply illustrate that.
He was a dutiful member of staff with the British Petroleum (BP) when the search for a worthy son of Ila –Oragun, his home town to represent their political interests began.
For instance, he was the first son of the soil to win the Ila/Odo Otin seat to Nigerian Constituent Assembly, NCA in 1977, the first to win the Ila/Ifedayo/Boluwaduro and Boripe seat to the National Constituent Conference, CON in 1994 and the first from Ila-Oragun to win elections into any of the National Assembly.
Curiously, all these happened at a time the area was not even politically strong enough to be considered a federal constituency.
Similarly, he was also the first to serve in the cabinet of any government as Secretary to Oyo state government, 1979-1982.
As fate would have it, he was to become the Deputy governor of Oyo state, an onerous duty he combined with the sensitive task of running the affairs of the Commissioner for Local Government, between 1982 and 1983.
And to cap the series of epochal political mandates, he also became the first indigene of Ila-Oragun to clinch the much-coveted post of the first civilian governor of Osun state and subsequently that of the Chairman, Alliance for Democracy, AD.
When political exigencies saw to the merger of the progressive parties to form the APC in 2014. Akande also stood above others to be appointed as the first Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
HIS HUMILITY and FIGHTING ON BEHALF OF THE POOR
As Leo Tolstoy, the globally acclaimed Russian author rightly noted: “No one has ever regretted living too simply”.
In spite of how far he has gone with his career- once as a teacher and later across the political spectrum- Akande, unlike several of his colleagues caught in the self-decimating ego trip, never lost the common touch with the people!
For instance, he was said to have confronted injustice as a young tenant, in his battle to save the children of his landlord from an undeserved punishment.
Such caring and compassionate attribute he must have learnt from his loving and doting parents, as the first son of Pa Bamgbose Akande and the mother, Madam Humani Wuraola Akande (of blessed memory).
Though the father, then a palm wine tapper from Ile -Asuda in Isedo quarters of Ila- Oragun was by all standards a well-to-do man, in those days when palm wine tapping was a lucrative business, he grew up to imbibe the culture of humility.
AKANDE, WITH INTEGRITY AS HIS WATCHWORD
One remarkable but painful incident that tested his attitude on honesty took place when he was teaching at Ijama Primary school in Idanre District.
Being a young bachelor he rented a room in a bungalow where the landlord’s family also resided. Much unlike his peers who took delight in playing ludo or ayo game after school, he always got himself busy studying to better his life.
On that fateful evening, the young Akande strolled outside his room into the corridor.
Lo and behold, he saw his landlord chewing a piece of meat and suspiciously taking another one from the efo riro stew pot inside the family cupboard. Both exchanged greetings as if nothing unusual had transpired.
But not long after, the landlady discovered that some pieces of meat were missing from the soup pot.
As expected she summoned her two children to explain their role in what happened. They claimed innocence but their mother was not convinced. They were directed to kneel down, ready for flogging when Akande, feeling out rightly disturbed took the bull by the horn.
Before the family members he volunteered to spill the beans-that it was the landlord, rather than the innocent children- that had committed the odious act! It was like hell was let loose. In outrage the landlord asked for Akande’s summary eviction!
Another one came up while he was the acting Headmaster at Ijama Primary School.
Back then there was the deliberate, yet fraudulent inflation of school enrolment figures if one wanted the location of a school in a new place, to his favour. But Akande was not going to be part of it. So, despite the fact that he could have been promoted to head the new school at Itese village he did not show any interest.
It is most inspiring to note that ever since, and even finding himself in the murky waters of party politics, the Akande Brand for INTEGRITY and insisting that the right things must be done has drawn credible people to him, like bees to the honeycomb.
Akand-A Brand For Financial Discipline
An interesting episode to shed light on this assertion in the inspiring life of Chief Bisi Akande, was once told by Mr. Wale Adebanwi, a columnist (Home Away from Home) with the Nigerian Tribune precisely on Sunday, August 15, 2004.
It had to do with his astute and transparent financial managerial skills clearly exhibited during his tenure as the governor of Osun state.
Back then, an unnamed UK-based International Donor Agency embarked on the mission to assist Nigeria out of her crisis-riddled economy.
To kick-start the project the foreign organization working in partnership with the federal government chose six states, with the aim to help them manage their public finances in a much better way.
Abia, Cross River, Gombe, Kebbi and Osun were the states selected for the pilot scheme.
Incidentally, the expatriates who visited these states made Osun their last port of call. From one state to the other of the first five, they discovered, to their sadness, that none of them was transparent with regards to their public finance management.
But it was a different kettle of fish which they discovered when they visited Osun state! Lo and behold, the Akande-led state had complied with the ethos of financial management. They did not waste time therefore, to recommend the state to the donor agency for the long awaited, intended financial support.
As such, his honesty and integrity marked him out as the diamond amongst the rubble.
So outstanding was Akande in handling financial transactions that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) openly affirmed it that, “Chief Bisi Akande of Osun State is the only governor whose integrity I can vouch for”
Free Education Policy For Poverty Aleviation
Chief Bisi Akande, having been a beneficiary of the popular Free Education policy instituted by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and driven by the love for the helplessly poor ordinary Nigerians ensured same when he was the state governor.
He saw the policy as a veritable foundation on which the house of sustainable poverty alleviation could be erected.
To enhance that, schools that would be the facilitating centres for requisite knowledge have to be built to have solid and stable structures, with well-equipped library and laboratory facilities. They should enjoy a steady supply of electric power, safe drinkable water and also accessible with good road network.
Furthermore, the presence of well qualified and open-minded teachers is an imperative, as they would act as caring, committed, compassionate yet disciplined parents away from home. He abolished the payment of all forms of school levies-including fees and Parents Teachers (PTA) levies by primary school pupils and students.
Within that period, 639 new classrooms equipped with furniture at a cost of N341.5million were constructed for primary schools across the three Senatorial Districts of the state.
Ditto was the construction of 114 classrooms at a cost of N46.2 million for secondary schools all over the state.
Furthermore, to quickly resolve the challenge of inadequate science teachers for the 305 secondary schools in the state, he instituted a crash programme for their training in the two Colleges of Education and two polytechnics. And to act as a stimulus for science education in the state several teachers with that background got promoted even as the government built additional 24 science Schools, Seven Technical Trade Schools in addition to the two inherited Trade Centres, all evenly spread across the state.
Another gladdening feature of the boost in quality education delivery was the adequate funding of the tertiary institutions in the state, including Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) in Ogbomosho.
A brilliant feather to the cap of the Akande-led administration’s impact on free education came precisely in December 2002.
That was when six out of the top ten students drawn from secondary schools in the state, who took part in the Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists (JETS) National Competition were from beneficiaries of the government’s free education policy.
Interestingly, the state clinched the fourth position at the event which took place in Umuahia, Abia state.
Indeed, the government under him spent N522.85 million from June, 1999 to November, 2002 as subsidy on education.
This laudable initiative saw to the increase in enrolment, attendance and quality of education within a short period. Thank God that the products are all over the world doing Osun state, and Nigeria proud in the comity of nations.
Having had his tutelage under Chief Bola Ige (of blessed memory) as his Deputy and at another time as the man who took charge of the affairs of local government administration, he knew exactly what he wanted to achieve as the number one citizen of the state.
From primary infrastructural development, healthcare delivery through the provision of quality education, agriculture, housing and transportation he was strictly guided by some administrative principles.
The first was to ensure that these projects emanated from the wishes of the benefitting communities, articulated as their most pressing needs.
The second was to ascertain their cost implications, set the tone for financial accountability and prudence on the part of the contractors.
The third was to make sure that the funds for all on-going projects were made available and the contractors paid upon their completion.
Chief Akande made sure that almost all projects, and there were over 1,000 of them during his administration, were completed while in office.
All said, Akande has stood out as a torch bearer in the dark and long-winding tunnel of mass poverty and ignorance.
He therefore, represents that missing link between the favoured few members of the political class and of course, the long-suffering Nigerians, defining the brand of the much sought after, yet uncommon ideal Nigerian politician the citizens have long been yearning for.
So, as the much-awaited 2019 general elections dawn on us, enlightened Nigerian voters are enjoined to identify the Akandes amongst them and get them into positions of accountable political leadership.
Idowu Ajanaku is a journalist, wrote from Lagos