By Tunde Olusunle
Nigerian politics over time has been flavoured by branding, the affixing of monilkers, sobriquets and aliases to major players across seasons. Iconic figures like Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo; Busari Adelakun; Bola Ige; Abubakar Olusola Saraki; Olusegun Obasanjo, to mention a few assumed novel hues in the political and public sphere arising from such rechristening. Awolowo, the scholar, philosopher, visionary and statesman was known simply Awo. Adelakun was dubbed Eru Obodo to underscore his fearlessness, while Ige was emblazoned with the appellation of Cicero of Esa-Oke, to denominate his depth and outstanding oratory. Saraki was a cult figure in the politics of Kwara State and was celebrated as Oloye, “the titled one” by his followers. The publicity directorate of the Olusegun Obasanjo Campaign Organisation, (OOCO), of 1998 and 1999, abbreviated the surname of Nigeria’s former military Head of State, to a less mouthful Obj in referring to him.
Elsewhere across the country, legends like Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe, attorney, journalist, revolutionary and statesman was revered as Zik of Africa. This was to capture his irrepressible advocacy for the liberation of Africa from its colonialists. Aminu Kano, teacher, poet and writer was highly revered in the old North West, especially within contemporary Kano, Jigawa, Katsina and Kaduna states. He was invested with the necklace of *Baba’ talakawa* to denote his wholesale identification with the masses. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, the colourful politician, nationalist, statesman and orator was better known as *KO* derived from initialising his first names. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s former President rode to the State House, Abuja, on the wings of being perceived by his supporters as *Baba Mai Gaskiya,* the honest and transparent leader. Revelations by investigators into the activities of Buhari’s aides, however, have reportedly tracked about N12 Trillion to the local and offshore accounts of some of his proteges. So much for the blighted reputation of a plausible pretender.
Younger politicians have also been bitten by the same bug, and have been baptised with cognomens popularised by their supporters and followers. Nigeria’s President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, comes to the party with quite a number of appellatives. These include BAT, a compression of his initials; Asiwaju, to underscore his leadership exertions since the birthing of the Fourth Republic and Jagaban, lead warrior, conferred on him in Borgu, Niger State. Olusegun Mimiko who at various points was health commissioner; minister and governor of Ondo State, is probably better known as Iroko, even as Seyi Makinde the hardworking governor of Oyo State, is GSM for short, among his people. This acronym is derived from his present office and names, “Governor Seyi Makinde.”
Olurotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, the recently, painfully demised governor of Ondo State equally came to office with his own customised signatures. Like his former colleague in Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola who adopted Ogbeni literally translated as “Mister,” Akeredolu opted for the prefix Arakunrin, which is a slightly longer variant of Aregbesola’s. Akeredolu’s was, however, a double-barrelled brand which threw up Aketi as his pseudonym. Very glaringly, this was obtained by the ingenious amalgam of parts of his surname and the first. He succeeded Iroko January 24, 2017, upon the completion of the latter’s two full terms in office.
I never got a chance to meet Aketi but I followed his endeavours quite a bit. He commanded quite some pre-gubernatorial era attention, having served as attorney general and commissioner for justice under the administrations of Anthony Onyearugbulam and Moses Fasanya, both military administrators of Ondo State, between 1997 and 1999. He had equally led the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), from 2008 to 2010, succeeding Olisa Agbakoba, and preceding Joseph Bodunrin Daudu, both senior advocates of Nigeria, (SAN), like him. He bolstered the prototype activism of the NBA, typically standing with the people on burning issues. With such glittering resume, a lot was expected from Akeredolu.
Dapo Adelegan a Lagos-based serial entrepreneur and distinguished indigene of Ondo State affirms that Akeredolu continued with the redevelopment of township roads in the state capital begun by Mimiko. He also extended infrastructural development to Owo his ancestral home. He is also credited with the establishment of the Amotekun vigilante outfit across the south west, as response to the unrestrained incursion into that section of the country, malevolent nomadic Fulani herders. Against protestations by parts of core north of the country, Akeredolu operationalised the security outfit. The Muhammadu Buhari administration threw up its arms, bereft of answers in the face of potential cross-national conquest by the vaulting herdsmen. Akeredolu led the way and other states in the south west region followed. He also envisioned a seaport project in riverine Ondo State which considered imperative to accelerate socioeconomic development in the state.
Akeredolu was equally unequivocal in supporting the advocacy for the return of the presidency to the south of the country. With Buhari’s below par performance across sectors and indicators and the reverse development which he brought to bear on the socioeconomy, he had encumbered the path for a potential northern successor. Not forgetting the triumphalist accentuation of ethno-religious sentiments by Buhari and his orchestra. Key appointments into public offices and the establishment of projects and infrastructures were unduly skewed in favour of the north, despite the established fact that the north was the lesser contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product, GDP). Figures from the estimated budgets of states and geopolitical zones for 2024, shows the South West, South South and South East, ahead of their equivalents upcountry. For Akeredolu therefore, Nigeria’s leadership post-Buhari demanded fundamental political tinkering beginning from the topmost echelons.
Low points of the Akeredolu years in office included the murder of Funke Olakunri daughter of Afenifere a pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Reuben Fasoranti in June 2019, in Ore, Ondo State, by itinerant marauders. As though choreographed, the third anniversary of the murder of Olakunri was commemorated with the satanic shooting and bombing of a Catholic Church in Owo, three years later on June 5, 2022. The incident reportedly claimed between 40 and 80 people. Akeredolu, touched like every human about the carnage, broke down inconsolably tears at the funeral of the victims a few days later. The mass burial was a very sad reminder of the mass internment of 70 victims felled by Fulani herders in Benue shortly after new year’s day in 2018, in Benue State. Samuel Ortom, governor of the state at the time, equally broke down on that occasion. Public officers are human after all and Aketi was no different.
Aketi was expected to spearhead the industrialisation of the state as an imperative for socioeconomic growth. Akeredolu was fervently looked upon to help unlock and energise the natural endowments of Ondo State in agriculture, oil and gas, solid minerals and tourism. This would have taken many idle youths off the streets by putting resources into the pockets of the people. It would also have impacted the mass production of miscreants, touts and deviants which has become something of a constant in the politics of several states. Key projects like the half a dozen industrial initiatives of the Adekunle Ajasin government between 1979 and 1983, remained moribund under Akeredolu. They include the palm kernel plant and the glass industry, among others.
There were loud murmurs across Ondo State during Aketi’s reign, that he reportedly condoned interference by members of his family in the day-to-day running of the state. His wife, Betty, and one of his children, Jide, were perceived to be the real powers behind the throne. State officials were alleged to have spontaneously deferred to them and their demands behind Akeredolu’s back, oftentimes against public service rules. Public servants are forever apprehensive of rebounds and boomerangs if they are caught on the wrong side in any situation. The last months of Akeredolu were particularly testy for the state bureaucracy. They had to deal with “orders from above” as Akeredolu’s relatives reportedly exercised proxy authority on behalf of the ailing chief executive. It re-echoed the national political stasis into which Nigeria was plunged following the long illness which incapacitated Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, successor to Obasanjo between 2007 and 2010.
The year 2023 was most traumatic for Akeredolu who was in and out of hospital contending with leukaemia and prostate cancer, both terminal afflictions. He shuttled between his home in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital where he lived for the most part of his professional life and Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany, for most of his final weeks and months. There were issues surrounding the fact that he should have pronounced his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa or not, even as certain non-state actors tried to function at the instance of the indisposed former Ondo State helmsman. Akeredolu as NBA President during the Yar’Adua health saga preceding his passage, canvassed that Yar’Adua ought to have ceded power albeit in acting capacity to Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy. Akeredolu, sadly, transited in a German hospital on December 27, 2023. His remains arrived Nigeria January 5, 2024.
A number of video clips which have become popular in the social media post-Aketi’s departure, feature him as a regular guy, a jolly good fellow. Whether it was at the “gyration” event of the *Palmwine Drinkers Club* or the *New Afrika Shrine* owned and operated by Femi Kuti, the bohemian Akeredolu was never far from the microphone. He also shared the stage with the renowned Jimi Solanke, the octogenarian poet, folk singer, film actor and dramatist, on occasion. He was a jolly good fellow. An eight-day programme has been drawn up for his rites of passage. This will hold across three cities and towns, Akure, Ibadan and Owo, which all bear correlation to his life and career.
Rotimi Akeredolu was born July 21, 1956 in Owo. His formative years were spent in schools in Owo, Akure, Ibadan and Aiyetoro. He studied law at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU), formerly known as the University of Ife, (Unife), graduating in 1977 before attending the Nigerian Law School, Lagos in 1978. His wife, Betty informs us that they both met when Aketi participated in the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) in Enugu and they got married in 1981. The union produced four children. The NBA in 2012, honoured Akeredolu by rechristening its Abuja secretariat after him. It was an intentional decision by the NBA “for his immense contributions to the development of the association, and for his courage and rigour in leading the NBA.” That this honour was bestowed upon Akeredolu years before his gubernatorial ascent attests to the fact that it was merited. He was in October 2022, draped with the respected national honour of “Commander of the Order of the Niger,” (CON), by Buhari.
Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors.