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How MKO Abiola and I prevented sale of Odu’a company — Oloye Lekan Alabi
Ekefa Olubadan of Ibadan, Oloye ‘Lekan Alabi, was born on October 27, 1950. In this interview with WALE OYEWALE, he recounts his childhood as well as social life and career with reference to the Nigerian polity
What was growing up like for you?
I am a regular analyst with a radio station at Liberty Road, Ibadan. On October 1 this year, as the vehicle conveying me got to Liberty Stadium, I remembered October 1, 1960. I was one of the chosen pupils of Seventh Day Adventist Primary School that marched on Independence Day. I was 10 years old and in primary three. Looking back, I remember that 60 years ago, there was an emergence of a new nation, Nigeria. But, looking at it now, all has evaporated like steam.
There are so many problems in the country. What is the bane of Nigeria’s challenges?
The problem is the people. Great communities are made by the people. A vision must be progressive and have the capacity to uplift humanity. Nigeria, as a nation, has no problem. Our leaders are fraudulent.
Are you implying that the vision of the founding fathers of the country has been scuttled?
Yes. On Saturday, January 15, 1966, there was a military coup; the originator of the coup made a statement in his speech, saying Nigeria had fallen due to corrupt politicians. He described them as 10 percenters, but today, we have 100 percenters. Newspapers reported that money meant for feeding students at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic was discovered in private pockets. At the start of the journey, our leaders knew what they wanted. They wanted to drive away the British because once you say you are under any nation, you are slaves.
Sir Ahmadu Bello was saying at the time: Let us first identify our differences. He would always repeat this statement but they would reply and say, “Ahmadu, let us discuss this after independence.” Then the British convinced Ahmadu Bello that “everything has been designed in your favour. In terms of population, you have it and if it is about coup d’état, you have all the military hardware in your region.” A former British Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, said Chief Awolowo could easily govern Britain. In terms of vision, courage and discipline, they were all blessed.
However, the real stumbling block was the promulgation of the decree in May 1966 by Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, turning the regions into groups of provinces. By that, a civil servant or anyone could get transferred from Bauchi to Nkalagu in the East. They should have just left us with true federalism – regional government. The Federal Government is now unnecessarily taking charge of natural resources, internal affairs, education and agriculture.
Can we blame the leadership for this?
The leaders and the followers are to blame because, if the leaders are drumming the beat of fools and idiots and the people do not stand up to dance, the leaders would stop it and change the beat. But Nigerians, particularly the gullible followers of politicians, are repeating the same mistake. Give it another two years, the mad dance shall start again.
Don’t you think this has to do with the people’s level of education?
Yes, education is important. Two, there are people of certain ethnic groups in this country that would rather go hungry than allow their children not to go to school, while some others do not bother if schools are closed down.
Can we say you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth?
I was born into an aristocratic family. I am from the Ekerin-Ojengbe family and nobody can push us back. Go and read the Olubadan history; my family is prominently mentioned. Yusuf Olatunji (legendary Yoruba musician) was at my naming ceremony, where Chief Lekan Salami was the master of ceremonies. You can see where I am coming from – aristocratic background but disciplined.
How did you get into journalism and why?
My father worked with Round Tree Nigeria; the company made chocolates. The manager liked my dad so much. He was elegant, neat and punctual. That was where he derived his nickname, ‘Raimi-Right-Time’ and I think I took that from him.
The manager wanted to take my father to England. My grandfather said, “No, only two of you survived, you are not going anywhere.” My father moved to Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd. He worked in the Marketing Department, distributing the publication to as far as Cameroon. His boss was the late Alhaji Ismail Jose. My father would come home with copies of Daily Times; that was where the interest started. What I liked most were the pictures and the names of the reporters, and also, I spoke good English.
What has changed in journalism between the time you practised and now?
Technology has made most journalists lazy. In our days, when we attended conferences to cover them, you would think we were taking an examination. But today, sharing of reports is common. Again, social media has dealt with them also.
How challenging was it being a journalist during the military era?
During the military era, I was the Press Secretary and Public Affairs Officer of Odu’a Investment Limited. In 1979, I was with the Nigerian Television Authority, Ibadan. I had gone to do a private assignment – I went to cover the Oba Dam. Then, I saw a military inspector. The assignment was not on my schedule; we were not invited but I found out about it and put it in our newspaper. When the military inspector saw it, he told them to go and bring me. His nickname was Colonel Koboko.
You had an encounter with General Yakubu Gowon; how did he influence you?
It was as a result of my background and the enlightenment when I read the daily newspaper. The headline read, “Wole Soyinka will remain in prison.” The second day, I went back and said, “Is this the way you imprison people without trial? What is his offence?” They said he visited Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. I wrote a letter of appeal to the general and a letter of solidarity to Mr Wole Soyinka through the Chief Warder, Kaduna Prisons. When he was released two years after in 1969, Prof Wole Soyinka formally acknowledged my effort.
The late Chief Bola Ige was an icon and you had interactions with him. What fond memories do you have of him?
Chief Bola Ige was a talented man. I was lucky to be among his discovered protégés.
You retired in 2009 as the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of Odu’a Investment Ltd. Do you think there is as much regard for the company as there was decades ago?
My answer will certainly not be fair. I left the great institution 14 years ago, but as we speak, I maintain a friendly position with them. However, let me say this without being immodest: After the failure of the April 22, 1990 Major Gideon Gwaza Orkar-led coup pushed Ibrahim Babangida out of Lagos. But before he left, he made a decree – Odu’a should be sold. By God’s grace, I went to Chief M.K.O. Abiola. It took us about six hours until he convinced Babangida to do otherwise. That was how Odu’a survived.
You are a busy man. How do you manage your time?
When you do things you love, you will not consider the hardship or the discomfort. Having been trained as a journalist, I know that the job is very hazardous – no Ileya (Sallah) or January 1 holiday. I do radio programmes and interviews, but I do more as an Ibadan traditional chief as directed by Kabiyesi and I love it.
Nigerians have been clamouring for self-actualisation. Do you think it is achievable?
Let us go back to the Nigeria of January 1966. Let us go back to regional government.
What are your thoughts on Amotekun?
When somebody comes to your father’s compound or your house and he is not only threatening you but asking you to open the gate or he would come in and injure you, you must defend yourself with what you have. You must not go down in your territory. Your property, particularly your life and dignity, are at stake. Therefore, self-defence is the best approach, not only attack. Amotekun is not the only outfit that was set up; people are only talking about Amotekun, and not mentioning the arrangements in the South-East, Middle Belt and other parts of the country. The Nigeria Police is handicapped in terms of manpower, training, technology, etc., so any unit of the country that will complement the efforts of the police on internal security should be encouraged to do so.
At 70, what aspect of your life has changed?
In movement only. When people saw me walking, they would say, “Do you walk like a soldier because you were in the military?” But now, it is slow and steady.
How do you keep fit?
Because of my mottos in life that “whatever you sow, you reap,” and “whatever you eat, your body reacts to,” I do everything in moderation. I believe in God and being good to others. Don’t wish anybody evil and you will be happy. Happiness is not what you see on the face; it is about the inner one and it radiates. And people will say, “Please what are you using? You are looking younger.” I don’t harbour any anger or malice. I am ambitious but not overambitious. Whatever I run after and can’t get, I believe it is because it is not yet time. My biography has been written, which I will launch on my birthday; my life is full of miracles.
Do you enjoy spending more time at home or at Omo-Ajorosun?
From the prediction that was made, I have always lived my life for public good. If you are going to live for public good, you won’t consider your personal comfort because when the ‘public is good’, we are all going to be shareholders, so anywhere will be home.
What advice do you have for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
They must really be faithful. You can’t deceive God. It is only in Nigeria that we see religiosity without godliness. Let God dwell in your heart, whatever your faith is. The five pillars of Islam say: Accept the Lord your Creator. Love your neighbour and all. God said work and pray; God didn’t say pray alone. Also, always obey the law.
What are your thoughts on Nigeria at 60?
As I said, the people that control us are the major problem, from the local government level to the state level. The country is full of brains and people with potential but it is still crawling at 60. Why must a child crawl at 60? We must take action to prevent it. Democracy, either in Nigeria, India or Britain, has only one colour, and the colour is equity. Anybody who commits crime will want to use tribe or religion. But no, let the constitution work; don’t manipulate things. It is when manipulation comes in that people say they are cheating us.
Can you still recall what happened on Independence Day?
On that day, when we left the stadium and returned to our schools, the government provided lunch for us– rice. I took it twice because the food was in surplus. With the flag up, everyone had a dream. If you knew your brain couldn’t go beyond Primary Six, you would go and learn a skill. Provisions were made for individuals at each level.
I have had the privilege of visiting many countries like Ghana and Cameroon. Nigeria got independence before them but their systems are more organised. As a matter of fact, they are supposed to be following Nigeria and copying us, but the reverse is the case. When you consider how foreign embassies treat Nigerians, you will understand that the situation is very bad.