Bashir Othman Tofa. Oba Saliu Adetunji. Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan. Sonny Chu Okongwu. Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala. Why is 2022 depleting the ranks of Nigerian leaders? Second week of the first month of the year and five prominent citizens in addition to others gone! But who are we to blame the grim reaper? Dust we are and unto dust we shall return.
The death of any man reminds me of mine, goes a saying. When Alao-Akala commiserated with the family of Oba Adetunji 11 days ago, he did not know that it would soon be the turn of his family to be condoled. But thankfully, he had his wish of dying as a politician. In a sit-out with some reporters in Ibadan seven years ago, the deceased had said like Lamidi Adedibu, the strongman of “Amala” politics, he also wanted to die as a politician.
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Until he drew his last breath, he was the leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Oyo, a shoe he stepped into after Abiola Ajimobi, his successor, lost the battle to COVID-19 in 2020. Alao-Akala was the only former governor in Oyo APC; he had been given the task to reconcile aggrieved party members in the buildup to the 2023 elections. He started it but it’s clear that someone else will take over from where he stopped.
PROUD SON OF OGBOMOSO
With teary eyes while delivering a moving speech at Wilmington, his hometown in Delaware, on his inauguration eve, President Joe Biden had said, “When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.” Biden loves Delaware so much; on his last night as Vice-President to the charismatic President Barack Obama, he took a train ride to Delaware, just to connect with his people.
It was in Delaware that an accident claimed the lives of his wife and daughter; it was in Delaware that Biden took the oath of office as a first-time senator in 1972. While his colleagues took theirs in Washington, he was at the bedside of his sons at Wilmington General Hospital. Beau and Hunter, his sons, had survived the accident that took their mother and sister, and Biden was right there by their side. This piece is not about Biden, please.
Alao-Akala so much loved Ogbomoso that on different occasions in his lifetime, he said he wanted to die at home. Although he was said to have battled a terminal ailment, Alao-Akala flew in from Abuja hale and hearty a day to his death. Sources in his circle said he flew into Abuja from Ilorin, Kwara State, which is some kilometeres from his beloved hometown. He was even reported to have played with his family members the previous night; meaning that he could have remained in the nation’s capital till the dying moment but perhaps, the love for the town influenced his choice of having his final sleep there.
When he was governor, many sons and daughters of Ogbomoso benefited in different ways. He appointed them into office and also attracted some projects to the town, among which is the refurbishment of the teaching hospital there. Except he was outside Nigeria or had a special function in Ibadan, Alao-Akala spent virtually every weekend at Ogbomoso. As a police officer, he did not hide his love for his people. He once said, “While I was serving in Lagos, I had a place reserved as accommodation for Ogbomoso people who were newly deployed in the state. They stayed there till they found their way.”
THE PEOPLE LOVED HIM IN RETURN
Still on the love for Ogbomoso, the deceased never missed spending Christmas at his hometown where he organised an annual concert. He raised millionaires there. The people also reciprocated the love Alao-Akala had for them, voting him in as chairman of Ogbomoso North Local Government under the platform of the Action Peoples Party (APP) in 1998. Between 1999 and 2002 he was the vice-chairman of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Oyo State Chapter.
ALGON prepared him for the office of deputy governor which he assumed in 2003, with Senator Rashidi Ladoja on the seat of power. There are many accounts of how and why Alao-Akala was picked as Ladoja’s running mate but one thing that remains evergreen in that relationship is the role of Pa Adedibu.
Feared in his lifetime, Adedibu was a power broker in Oyo State. While his reign lasted, his Molete ‘palace’ in Ibadan, determined who got what in the state. He had worked for the emergence of Ladoja, whom he fell out with midway into his tenure.
Although Ladoja admitted the role played by Adedibu, he refused to yield to his demands. Addressing this issue before he was impeached in 2006, Ladoja once said, “While people can help you get a job, they can’t help you to do the job.”
Ladoja said Adedibu had requested over 25 percent of the government’s security vote, N15 million per month. He also wanted to pick the Commissioners who would serve in Ladoja’s cabinet. The rift between them later shifted to the state assembly where 18 out of 32 members were loyal to Adedibu. Dubbed “G-18”, the lawmakers failed in their first move to impeach Ladoja and it resulted in a bloody fiasco at parliament.
One week after failing to hatch their plan, policemen escorted the G-18 lawmakers, believed to have federal backing, to the assembly for another attempt.
Again, hell was let lose. But this time around, they had their way and Alao-Akala took the seat of power with Hazeem Gbolarumi, a stooge of Adedibu, as deputy.
In his weekly column as Editor of The Sun, Femi Adesina, now spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari, had recollected an encounter with Ladoja before he was removed. According to Adesina, when he visited the then Governor at Government House, Agodi, Ibadan, he saw a well-built body guard hovering around him. Adesina said the man was in sight while he had a conversation with Ladoja. “I wonder where that hunk of a man was when Ladoja was ferried out of power,” Adesina had creatively written.
Fifteen years after that incident, Obasanjo blamed Ladoja for the events that led to his ousting. At the launch of “Amazing Grace”, the autobiography of Alao-Akala, Obasanjo said Ladoja had turned deaf ears to his entreaties and he paid heavily for it.
“You pointed out on page 140 that Ladoja picked up a quarrel with me for reason of a non-existent third term. I didn’t know that Ladoja picked up a quarrel that his becoming governor was due to the grace of God and major contributions of the two people. I pleaded with him to make accommodation for them both. He told me that they were all Ibadan people and they knew how to deal with themselves. He subsequently proved himself right as they dealt with themselves and he, Ladoja, came out the worse for it.”
SUPREME COURT REINSTATED LADOJA
After Alao-Akala’s 11-month reign, the Supreme Court reinstated Ladoja and declared his impeachment as illegal. Six out of the seven justices of the court upheld the decision of the Appeal Court which had earlier declared the impeachment of Ladoja null and void. This was a blow on Adedibu, who had earlier boasted that the apex court could not save Ladoja. But rather than wallow in regret, Adedibu returned to the drawing board, shifting the battle to the 2007 governorship election. Perhaps he saw the signs clearly, Ladoja did not contest the election but worked with Ajimobi, then candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). But despite their alliance, Alao-Akala was declared governor.
In an interview he granted after the election, the deceased had said whoever wanted to learn about politics should go to the Molete residence of Adedibu which he described as the university of politics. He said that was where real politics was taught. Adedibu had a major influence on Alao-Akala. But for him, it would have been difficult for the deceased to break the jinx of a non-Ibadan being elected governor of Oyo.
However, Ajimobi stopped Alao-Akala from breaking the record of the first Oyo governor to be elected twice. Alao-Akala’s influence had dwindled by 2011 and Adedibu was not in the picture, as he died three years before the election.
As it is the norm with many former governors in Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) went after him one year after he left power. Alongside Hosea Agboola, one of his former commissioners, he was accused of N11.5 billion fraud.
The defendants faced an 11-count charge of conspiracy, awarding contract without budgetary provision, obtaining by false pretence, acquiring property with money derived from illegal act and concealing the ownership of such property.
He allegedly awarded a road contract worth N8.5 billion to Pentagon Engineering Services, a firm owned by Femi Babalola, a businessman based in Ibadan, without budgetary allocation. He was also accused of conspiring with Agboola to withdraw N2.9 billion from Oyo’s Local Government joint account.
Although, he had pleaded not guilty, an Ibadan high court ruled in 2015 that Alao-Akala had a case to answer. Subsequently, the EFCC rearraigned him in 2018 and he went in and out of courts. However, some weeks to his death, the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan discharged and acquitted him.
Like other humans, Alao-Akala also had controversies in his lifetime, among which was his manner of dressing and love for jewelry. He was even accused of bleaching. Like an Afro Pop star, Alao-Akala was often bedecked in his rings, chains and bracelets. He was a socialite to the core.
He flew into rage when a journalist took him up on the allegation of bleaching.
When a reporter asked Alao Akala on why he bleaches his skin, he got upset and called him stupid.
“Bleach? That is stupidity; you are asking a very stupid question, how can I bleach? You are very stupid to ask that question. What do you mean by that? What gave you that impression? He reportedly raised his singlet to show his skin, and continued, “Is this bleaching? Have you seen the cream that I use that makes me bleach or did you know me when I was black? So if you want to write that, put it there that I said you are very stupid to ask me that kind of question. Don’t ask that kind of question again. What you don’t know, you ask. You don’t even know my parents. Is my wife complaining or are my children complaining? I don’t know what gave anybody the impression that I bleach. You don’t know me, do you know what it takes to bleach?”
Asked to comment on his love for jewelry, he said “Yes, I have been using jewellery as a young man. Do you know what they called Ghana before, Gold Coast. I lived in Ghana and that was where I got used to it early in my life. We make statement with our looks in Ghana. In those days when we were in Ghana, your wife bathed you and took care of you. I am from Ghana, so I have been using jewellery (he sends for an album). I want to show you some pictures. Pictures that I took some 40 years back, you would see chains on my neck. Look at my hand chains and rings in this picture. That is how I was brought up. Even when I was in (police) uniform, I wore my chain with my uniform.”
EDUCATION, CAREER, GROWING UP
At the age of two, Alao-Akala lost his father in a ghastly motor accident, which happened on his way to Ogbomoso from the then Gold Coast now Ghana. His mother remarried, and he was raised by his grandmother, Iya Subuola Otunla, According to him, his grandmother, popularly called “Iya Alaro”, who he knew as his mother while he was growing up, was the divine grace who piloted him through what he termed as “hopeless years” after his father’s unfortunate demise.
At the launch of his autobiography, Alao-kala said “Iya Alaro” single-handedly reconstructed his fractured childhood.
“It fulfils my desire to bookmark the landmark narratives of my life, how the tragic death of my father in a road accident in 1952 single-handedly threatened to swamp my dream of getting to the cusp of my life aspirations but how providence miraculously found for me a path to the top.”
“My grandmother, Iya Alaro who I knew as my mother while growing up, was that that divine grace in action, my guiding angel, who manifested as an old woman. She piloted me through those hopeless years after my father’s unfortunate demise. As I said in my book, Mama Alaro singlehandedly reconstructed my fractured childhood. The title of the book, “Amazing Grace, is not a happenstance. It is the audacity of providence to bring me out of the dungeon of a hopeless tomorrow into the fulfilment of a life that I today celebrate at seventy years on earth.
“I am a product of grace. I was the pencil in the hands of the Creator who drew the picture of who I am today. God brought me from the junctures where many who had great and greater hope of tomorrow, fell. He lifted me, without an iota of hope, to my feet and brought me to this juncture,” he said.
Born on June 3, 1950, he had his elementary school at Osupa Baptist Day School, Ogbomoso before proceeding to Kamina Barracks Middle School, 5th Battalion of Infantry in Tamale, Ghana.
Alao-Akala enlisted as cadet inspector of police in June 1974 at the Nigeria Police College, Ikeja, from where he was recommended for training at Hendon Police College in London. He also attended the Administrative Staff College, Topo, Badagry; the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos; Police Staff College, Jos; Command and Staff College, Jaji and participated as a Nigerian delegate at two INTERPOL conferences in France and Spain.
From being a station officer, he became the Administrative Officer, Federal Operations (FEDOPS), at the force headquarters in Lagos, eventually taking up the role of operations officer. Alao-Akala served as Aide-De-Camp (ADC) to Sunday Adewusi, former Inspector-General of Police.
Alao-Akala retired from the force in September 1995, having attained the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police.
WAS PREPARING FOR WIFE’s 70th BIRTHDAY
Alao-Akala was planning a special birthday for his first wife when death came knocking. The event was fixed for Saturday in Ibadan. Invitation Cards had already gone out to guests. Sources said he wanted to finalise his engagements at Ogbomoso before heading for the special occasion, where moments of silence will now be observed in his honour, if the event goes on as planned.
Florence was so special to him. She was said to have consented to Alao-Akala’s decision to make Kemi, his younger wife, First Lady when the deceased was governor of Oyo.
Of Florence, he once said, “My first wife is an old woman like me and she is still with me. She was also brought up in Ghana and that’s why I was able to marry her. Most of the people in Nigeria cannot keep up with my lifestyle.”
Rest in peace, Alao-Akala! You made your mark while here, go and enjoy your new abode. For now, it’s goodbye from here.