Olunloyo at 85: A noble reminder of Nigeria’s glorious past
As such, last Easter Monday when Dr. Olunloyo celebrated his 85th anniversary, it was a period of mixed feelings, but majorly a time of reminiscences of the life story of a brilliant iconoclast, whose sharp intellect and sense of service placed him in a class by himself.
Questions about Nigeria’s history, which young people will always seek answers from the 85-year-old ageless mathematician are legion, but the most outstanding is the issues of the 1962 population census that happened when he was Commissioner for Economic Development for Nigeria’s then Western Regional Government.
Also, the same man, who served as commissioner at the age of 27, served also as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, thus making him an authority on the wrangling that preceded the crowning of two prominent traditional rulers, namely, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III and the Soun of Ogbomosho, King Oyewunmi.
In talking about his experience in public service, Dr. Olunloyo also served as chairman of Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC) and those still amazed at the ingenuity in planning and policy formulation that undergirds the Odua Investment could see that the Yoruba’s excellence in statecraft was not a product of chance or nitwits.
As a mathematician, Dr. Olunloyo should and indeed ventilated his perspectives to the contentious 122/3 controversies, which not only defined the second republic’s first election, but also served as the foundation of Nigeria’s judicial abracadabra in presidential polls. But, it was the tragedy of December 31, 1983, which cut short his election as Oyo State governor that occupies a greater part of the conversation about the former governor’s stint in public service.
Those who know how Victor Omololu Sowemimo Olunloyo rose from a humble background to acquire a doctorate degree after losing his father at age 13 do not fail to recognise the place of his scholarly erudition and intellect in his triumph over the vicissitudes of life. His family background holds rich lessons about religious tolerance and accommodation: His father, a Christian, was married to his Muslim mother. And what he lost by his father’s untimely demise at age 42, Victor gained in the longevity of his late mother, Alhaja Bintu Tejumola, who lived to the ripe age of 102.
In his short, but eventful three months in office as governor of the highly politically assertive, even if abrasive old Oyo State, folks made a myth out of the governor’s fondness and closeness to his mother, when it was commonly held that Alhaja Bintu was his son’s Chief Security Officer.
Prior to his momentous electoral victory, in which he defeated another intellectually sagacious radical, Bola Ige, not much was celebrated about the mathematician and his highly respected and disciplined mother. But after serving as his confidant, counselor and constant companion, the ‘Chief Security Officer’ could not avert the tragedy of the New Year eve, which swept her son out of office, when he was settling down to bring his wealth of experience to bear on the governance of the state of the ancient empire.
Yet the wisdom and intellectual inputs he espoused during his tenures as WNDC chairman and commissioner of different ministries, especially that of Economic Planning and Community Development remain as witness to the lie that masks Nigeria’s stunted socio-economic growth. For instance, as Commissioner for Economic Planning and Community Development, when he was charged with the responsibility of overseeing the 1962 census, Dr. Olunloyo exposed some salient facts about the actual national population figures.
According to him, the population distribution among the regions was “something like 17 million in the South and the whole of the North 14 million.” He disclosed in an interview with a national daily that “of the 17 million in the South, there were nine million in the East, eight million in the West and 14 in the whole of the North. It was more rational, because as you go towards the desert, the density of population decreases. Even from the 1931 census, there were only 17 million.”
Perhaps, the inability of Nigerian leaders to assimilate Dr. Olunloyo’s statistical truism that “as you go towards the desert, the density of population decreases” is at the root of the impossible structure the country has continued to labour under. That may also be reason the nation’s potentates ensured that the old man does not, like his peers, have a title to even a 50 by 50 portion of land in Lagos or Abuja to this day.
But as a jolly good fellow with a clear conscience that bears no malice to none, Dr. Olunloyo continued to spread love and laughter wherever he goes. An example of his affable nature, despite the cataclysm that trailed the 1983 election in the Southwest, which saw the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) losing grounds in old Oyo and Ondo States, the situation in Oyo was different, majorly because it was a case of a bright candidate being succeeded by another, who appeared more acceptable to the highly enlightened electorate.
The former governor once told a national daily (not The Guardian) the story of how, despite differences in their political idiosyncrasies, Chief Ige had to accompany him on a visit to Osogbo, when they were commissioners: “He followed me to Fakunle Comprehensive High School. We had some trouble there and I asked him to follow me; he was Commissioner for Lands, I was Commissioner for Education.
“So, they were wondering what Bola Ige came to do. We were friends and I took him along and the teachers at Fakunle were scared to see the two of us. Two rascals in conductor dress.”
Apart from cutting short the democratic experience that was bourgeoning under the novel presidential system, the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari coup d’état of 1983 robbed Oyo people and Nigerians of a golden opportunity to see the impact of bright intellectuals in governance and leadership.
The remarkable feature of that military debacle was that while the brass hats were exulting in their archaic manifesto of corruption allegation, Olunloyo and Michael Adekunle Ajasin were found without the wrinkle and blemish of corrupt enrichment.
An encore that didn’t come
At the return of the country to the path of constitutional democracy in 1999, Olunloyo made another effort to contest the governorship, but the intricate garrison politics in his chosen political platform, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), did not allow that effort to bear fruit. However, like an oasis in a desert of political immorality, Olunloyo used the electioneering period preceding the 2013 general elections to showcase his academic brilliance, understanding of the issues as well as his impeccable public service record.
While addressing a crowd of expectant supporters at the legendary Mapo Hall, the former governor made public his intention to contest for the governorship ticket of PDP, hoping that should the party honour him with the nomination, he would assuredly turn the table once again against the entrenched platform in the Southwest geopolitical zone, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that had just transmuted to Action Congress (AC). Although he was an Awoist, Olunloyo doubted the Awoist credentials of some of his peers in the ruling AD and chose to pitch tent with the conservative PDP.
Alluding to that disparity in political orientation and belief while announcing his desire to seek nomination of PDP, the mathematician said: “I am an aspirant simply because the degree of decay and deterioration in nearly all facets of our life needs to be arrested swiftly and efficiently calling for as it does, a seasoned, experienced hand.
“At times such as this, there should be no room for new comers to governance. My gubernatorial aspiration and candidature is a little different from others in that I need no introduction as to past activity and experience at nearly all-intermediate levels in these parts.
“I am for efficiency, prompt solution to problems, probity and transparency. All these are better said than done, but I believe I have been fully tried and tested. The things that tend to divide us deserve mention. I am for peace, love and unity. I am for the protection of the rights of all people, foreign or national, North, East, South or West to live in peace here.”
Falling back on his experience and knowledge of the burning issues in Southwest politics, he outlined his determination to forge Yoruba unity, even as he assured that nobody should be afraid of others, particularly against the background of skirmishes between Arewa community and Odua Peoples Congress (OPC).
His words at Mapo Hall about religious harmony were loud and clear: “We must steer clear of religious tensions. We are a closely-knit people religion-wise. We must cater equally and respectfully for all forms of religious worship. We must beware of potentially explosive issues like sharia, which if carelessly handled, will mess up our state.”
As a man candour and simplicity, Dr. Olunloyo seems to have come ahead of his time, because it is just as if the nature of Nigerian politics has not matured to the level of accommodating his vision of leadership as the fortress of the best and the brightest. At least his arguments about the contentious 122/3 political arithmetic in the presidential election dispute between Chief Obafemi Awolowo of UPN and Shehu Shagari of National Party of Nigeria in 1979 show that morality should be the soul of politics.
From his testimony, it was clear to all that Shagari did not win the election, but the Supreme Court Justices were allowed to get away with their sophism: “The substance is, first of all, Awolowo insisted that 12 2/3 was not rational; was not sensible or reasonable. But I succeeded in proving, although not with a wave of the hand, in giving the idea of 12 2/3 a natural construction.
“It is either 12 2/3 or in the alternative, 13. Before you could be president, the law said you must win in at least two thirds of the total 19 states we had in Nigeria then. Shagari won in 12. Kano State was the contentious one.”
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