For Aketi, greatness cannot outrun mortality – By Dare Babarinsa

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*Photo: Akeredolu *

Ultimately, we would always remember Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the son of an Anglican priest, as an Arakunrin, the sobriquet he adopted in his political odyssey. He was the Arakunrin, the loving brother, who decided to bear the burden of others. It was a tough assignment, he found out in the end. He fought his way through the thicket of politics and professional competitions to emerge as one of our rulers and most prominent men in the land.

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In his chosen profession as a lawyer, he attained at 42, the highest professional status as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). As a politician, he was elected twice as the Governor of our beloved Ondo State. In the last few months, he fought to dictate to the future, but then he found that his time was past as his body was ravaged by illness. Greatness cannot outrun mortality. So it was with our brother, Arakunrin, who died on December 27, 2023 at 67.

The man of power was not in charge in the last months of his life. Till the very end, his name was used as a magical wand to conjure things and made things happen. He was a valiant man and must have confronted his illness with courage and tenacity. Who knows how he must have taken the grim scenario that both friends and foes were on his Death-Watch? He was a public man and his last struggle could not be kept too private, as much his family would have wished.

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No governor in the history of Ondo State had brought members of his immediate family into the sanctum of power as did our beloved Arakunrin. He became the first governor in the South West to die in office since the assassination of Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi in 1966. Therefore, Betty, his wife of more than 40 years and Babajide, his son, were powers on their own, as long as they have Arakunrin’s name to conjure with.

It was as if Ondo State was going to start a new rule by primogeniture. Now all those have ended and we are left with the enormity of our loss.

Akeredolu, alias Aketi, was a great man and greatness is not a perfect state. We remember his herculean effort to help combat terrorism in Yorubaland, especially in Ondo State, a major transit route from Abuja and also from the East and the state suddenly became a theatre for lawlessness. Among the major players were suspected rogue Fulani herdsmen who were specialists in kidnapping for ransom.

In July 2019, daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti was killed by suspected Fulani gunmen. Earlier, in 2015, Chief Olu Falae (now our father, Kabiyesi, the Olu of Ilu-Abo) was kidnapped on his farm also by suspected Fulani rogue herdsmen.

Yorubaland appeared helpless before these new gangs. It was then Aketi and his fellow governors endorsed the idea canvassed by the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), and they set up the Southwest Security Network, also known as Amotekun, in 2020.

When it was launched in Akure, Aketi proudly wore the full uniform as an Amotekun commander. He was fearless in confronting some Federal hegemonists who were demonising the outfit. It was his proudest moment.

It is instructive that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in his tribute to Akeredolu, praised his role in setting up the Amotekun network. Said he: “In challenging moment of our statehood, when marauding agents of darkness spread their tentacles across our country, Rotimi was a strong voice in the wilderness calling us to rethink our security architecture so we can have a more secure nation. His unrelenting advocacy led to the birth of the local police in the South-West.”

The President’s tribute is a well-timed cue to the governors of the Southwest and other states, especially the troubled Middle-Belt region, to canvass for the setting up of state police. Nigeria must be the only Federation in the world that has a central police command. Before the Nigerian Civil War, Nigeria had regional police as distinct from the Federal police.

In 1966, General Yakubu Gowon made Alhaji Kam Selem, the former Commissioner of Police for the Northern Region, the Inspector-General of Police. It was during the tenure of Selem that regional police were abrogated and members were absorbed into the Nigeria Police Force, NPF.

Arakunrin realised that the old system cannot be sustained in the long run. He had travelled the distance to discover the truth. He was born on July 21, 1956, in Owo, when Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of the Western Region and Adekunle Ajasin, the principal of Imade College, Owo, was the local hero.

He attended three famous secondary schools: Aquinas College, Akure, Loyola College Ibadan and Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro in Ogun State, before proceeding to the University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, where he bagged a first degree in law in 1977.

Three things were to define his life: his career as a lawyer, his passion as a politician and his commitment as a family man. He was the managing partner of the law firm of Olujinmi and Akeredolu, which he co-founded with Chief Akin Olujinmi. Both of them were to become legal icons; Olujinmi serving as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Akeredolu serving as the Attorney-General of Ondo State.

In 1997 at 41, Akeredolu was appointed the Attorney-General of Ondo State by the military administrator, Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem. He left office in 1999 when Chief Adebayo Adefarati became the elected Governor of Ondo State.

Akeredolu was a great socialite and yet a cerebral, courageous, industrious and consistent advocate for public good. This was what dominated his passion for politics and public service. He was elected as the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in 2008 where he held office until 2010. Then he focussed on the Government House, Akure. He wanted to be governor and nothing else. He tried once and lost. He tried the second time in 2016 and won on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC). At last, the man has met his destiny.

Many critics have frowned at the unusual influence of Aketi’s immediate family on his government, especially that of Betty Anyanwu, his wife. They had met in Enugu during Akeredolu’s National Service. According to Betty, it was love at first sight. “I was 25, Akeredolu 22, when we met,” she wrote. “I fell in love with his broad shoulders. Then he was really looking very cute.” She added: “It was quite magnetic.”

The magnetism got stronger with time. They got married in 1981 and had four children. What became clear was that Betty was the mother-hen, protective, jealous, inspirational and formidable. She gave winds to his wings. She propelled him by her sheer unconquerable spirit, to higher and higher heights. When he became a SAN at 41, it was for her. When he was appointed Attorney-General, it was for her. When he joined the governorship combat, it was for her.

In his years of power, Betty felt she had earned her right to throw her weight around. She had survived a harrowing battle with cancer and had become a fierce campaigner in support of victims and survivors. She was not afraid of being in the thick of battle. It was surprising that she did not fully appreciate the cultural nuances of the Yoruba environment and despite her long years of matrimony, she continues to move with trampling insouciance.

Now, Akeredolu is dead, and yet she remained in Ibadan, when tradition dictates that she and her children should relocate to Owo, where Akeredolu’s ancestors are buried. She embraces the enormity of her loss without fully grasping the reality that Aketi, dead or alive, was no longer her own alone.

He belonged to Ondo State and especially to Owo. It is a reality that even in her deep sorrow, Betty has to come to term with. Ibadan is home, but Owo is the ancestral homestead and that is where Akeredolu belongs. Akeredolu was the second son of Owo to govern Ondo State. Papa Ajasin was the first.

It is Akeredolu’s successor, Governor Lucky Orimisan Aiyedatiwa, that would have to contend with the legacy of his principal. Aiyedatiwa, who served as Aketi’s second deputy-governor, had survived an impeachment threat from the House of Assembly during the closing months of his principal.

Now he has the duty to unite the Aketi political family for the next Ondo State governorship election. He needs to build on the good work of his formidable predecessor and create a new paradigm that would make Ondo State work. The year is new.

But as we mourn Aketi in this new year, we should remember that his life ambition was to leave the world a better place. Aiyedatiwa needs to get down to work in earnest. That is the best way to honour our beloved Arakunrin.

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