‘I will be a catholic priest if life gives me another chance’
“What I think has aided my youthful look is the fact that I don’t feel animosity toward anybody. Also, I don’t allow any problem to last beyond a day in my heart. No matter the problem, I let it rest by the time I am going to bed in the evening. I do so because there might be more problems tomorrow. So, I allow the problem of today to go with today.”
With these words, a former Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Remi Akintoye, who celebrated his 76th birthday on May 29, gave an insight into the principles that underlie his longevity.
The septuagenarian, in an interview with The Guardian, also attributed his long life to eating balanced diet, living in contentment and obeying the 10 commandments of God.
“I obey the 10 commandments. I am not a saint. I know my weaknesses. If you look at all the 196 countries in the world today, you will notice that each of them has a constitution. If you combine all the constitutions, you will find in them all the laws in the 10 commandments. So, if you have those virtues enshrined in the 10 commandments, you will live long.
“My biggest virtue is humility. You can virtually smell or touch it in me. I don’t know how I cultivated the virtue. At times, my humility becomes embarrassing to some people around me but it is not embarrassing to me because it had opened doors for me in the past,” he said.
Reminiscing about his early days in life, Akintoye was full of praise to God for granting him longevity. “I thank God for His mercies in all ramifications of my life. When I was born, I was so small in size that my mother didn’t think I would survive. I was so tiny that she needed to wrap me in about three towels to be able to lift me from the bed. For quite a long time, my mother suffered the fear of whether I would survive or not. But this is me, strapping, good looking if not handsome, at 76. I thank God,” he said.
Akintoye, who shared some of his memorable experiences in life, said he would never forget the day he passed out from secondary school, because he missed home a lot.
“I was also a student of the University of Lagos from 1969 to 1972. The day I graduated is very memorable. Thereafter, I taught for about two years. That period of teaching is also very memorable. And till today, I still get the benefits of being a teacher for only two years. There are people who would meet you and say, ‘excuse me sir, you don’t know me again, you taught me in class five’. And they will accord you so much respect. Some of them are very high-ranking officials.
“The day I got married and the day I had my first daughter are also memorable. The day I was nominated as Commissioner for Agriculture during the administration of Admiral Mike Akhigbe as military governor is very memorable. I was afraid because I didn’t know what a commissioner was supposed to be doing. It was nomination for a political office where I had no experience. But I knew I have a post-graduate degree in Agricultural Economics. So, I told myself that agriculture wouldn’t be the problem but the political side of it. Through the help of God, I performed excellently well in office such that after five years, the press corps at the Government House, Alausa, contributed money to celebrate me as the best commissioner they ever worked with,” Akintoye recalled.
To him, the press corps gave him the honour due to the humility he exhibited while in office.
“As a commissioner, I said to myself, ‘you cannot lock your office door’. So, the moment I come into the office in the morning, my secretary would open it wide. Anybody could come in. But I made people to understand that I am not a magician. What I could do, I did immediately and what I could not do, I told whoever that was concerned that it had to be attended to by Akhigbe.”
Akintoye noted that though he found himself in politics by accident, he excelled by upholding his cherished virtues of honesty and integrity in his service to the nation.
“The moment you enter into politics, you will lose part of your integrity because politics has a lot of branches. The first branch is ‘they said’. The next one is to lie, then rumour and rivalry. But on the left side of the three are beautiful things. Politics is very good; it is the people who practice it that are bad. Whether in Nigeria, America or Zambia, it is the politicians that are bad, especially in Africa where a typical politician places his interest first and begins to look at the amount he can scoop from the common purse.
“When you are in politics, doors will open for you; you don’t have to steal. I didn’t steal one kobo when I served as commissioner and I can swear before God and even lesser gods. But because of the fact that we all rose from poverty background, we adore money, thinking that the more money we can get, the better, whereas money is an ordinary paper. If there is any law tomorrow that says don’t take that paper again, if you have millions of it in the house, it turns to trash. But there is nothing that can compare with good name,” he said.
Asked to compare his time in government with what obtains currently, Akintoye described development as dynamic.
“If you make a man governor tomorrow and all he could do in four years is to put one block on the other, he has achieved something. The next man should be able to build on that foundation and complete it because development is dynamic and progressive. But when you come to Nigeria today, the first action of an incumbent governor is to destroy what the other person has done and start calling contractors to say, ‘if you don’t tell me the truth, you won’t get your money’. Before you know what is happening, the contractor will start chanting like a parrot.
“We thank God that what we did was auspicious for that time. There were no phones for me to talk to farmers then, now farmers have phones and the commissioner can reach them as a community or as individuals. So, what we did then, compared with what is being done now, was very good because we could only work with what was available then. They are doing their best at the moment; we did our best at that time.”
Akintoye, a former acting National Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), blamed Nigerians for what he described as apparent disconnect between the people in government and their constituents, noting that such existed when he served as commissioner.
He explained further: “Even then, there were commissioners who locked their doors but I opened mine. At that time, I was the only commissioner that would enter a lift and allow other people to come in. It was supposed to take about 14 people, so why should it take me alone. It became a saying in Alausa that Dr. Akintoye is the best commissioner. So, it depends on the individual and culture in the society.
“Most of the things we are talking about cannot happen in America or any other civilised country. It is only here that a person can take the pension funds of a nation and he will still be walking around. In Japan, they would have hung him at the gate of their central bank.”
He called for enlightenment of Nigerians on how to curb the excesses of their political leaders. “I took a taxi one day in England from the airport to central London. The driver asked me where I was going and I told him. He said he had driven for 22 years in England but didn’t know where I was calling. I didn’t know I was not pronouncing the name of the place correctly. I was actually going to Eldon Way. When we eventually got each other right, I boarded the taxi and we started talking.
“The man had never been to any secondary school. His father was the one driving the taxi, but he later handed it over to his son. However, by listening to the radio every day, the driver knew why Margaret Thatcher would not be re-elected and why Labour Party would win the next election. The man educated me so much about things he learnt just by listening to radio. And those are the people that mattered. The people were ready to vote in Labour Party against Conservative Party because of Thatcher’s high handedness at that time. They actually voted out the Conservatives.
“Here, it is the pepper sellers and their likes that vote during elections because of small quantity of rice and N1000 that they get from political candidates. You and I may be watching the process on television screens. Our people should be educated to know that it should be the country first, and the political party next. Here we don’t see it that way.”
Akintoye said that if life would give him another chance, he would become a Catholic priest.His words: “If truly dead people come back to this world and I come back, I would rather be a Catholic Reverend Father. Some years back, I miraculously found myself in a Catholic environment and became a Catholic. I passed through Anglicanism, it was in that church that I was baptised. But I went to a Catholic school. That was where I met the late Funso Williams. I was one year ahead of him but we became very good friends.
“What that school did to me was that it opened my eyes to what this world is all about. If you look at it very well, you would ask: what have we come to do in this world? People have different answers to the question. But to Machiavelli, we are here for two purposes, which are to serve God and serve mankind. Just love God and obey Him and love your neighbour. That is all. And the best people that are doing that are the true Catholic reverend fathers. I used the word true intentionally. The reverend father that truly practices celibacy and is winning souls for God is a man that is doing the two things that we have come to do in this world. So, if I have the opportunity, I will be a good reverend father,” he said.
Akintoye gave a hint of his plan to build a home for old people, saying he was praying to God to give him the resources required to achieve the aim.
“What has agitated that in my mind is the last seven years of my mother’s 92 years on earth. In those years, I realised the need to pay special attention to old people, especially women. If I have the resources, I will build it, even if it is a 50-bedroom hostel, and donate it to a church for the upkeep of old people till they die and get befitting burials,” the former commissioner said.
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