Chief Bisi Akande’s bomb of a book
IN his newly minted epochal autobiography, pithily titled ‘My Participations’ notable progressive politician and statesman, Chief Bisi Akande, gives a vivid account of his indelible contributions to Nigeria’s political evolution over the last five decades. His has been a near permanent presence on the country’s often treacherous political terrain for the best part of the country’s post-independence history. The title ‘My Participations’ is instructive and indicative of the Greek political thinker, Aristotle’s description of man as essentially a political animal. Man’s definition as human stems principally from his being a member of a human community. His alienation from and indifference to the activities of that community, particularly in contributing his quota to promoting and upholding the public good, would detract significantly from his human essence. In this memoir, Chief Akande comes across as a political animal par excellence.
It is only natural that the author’s account of his life journey begins with his first participation in politics at the national level as a member of the Constituent Assembly, which in 1978 had drawn up the 1979 Constitution, which was the legal foundation on which the democratic politics of the Second Republic was predicated. At the Constituent Assembly, Chief Akande quickly showed what stern stuff he was made up of and the strength and intensity he could muster to abide by his convictions, conscience and cherished principles against all odds. What shines radiantly throughout this book is Chief Akande’s ardent love for and resolute commitment to the progressive brand of politics popularized by the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Although he notes that his father and mother were from prominent, well-to-do families in Ila, they were unable to breakthrough to attain success and wealth and thus died poor and in relative youth. With the help, understanding, love and support of his grandparents on both sides, Chief Akande was able to pursue his education acquiring various certificates that enabled him to embark on a teaching career and thus with his Elementary School Certificate, he began teaching as a pupil teacher in 1955, “thus becoming part of the Free Education Programme that was to transform the West and the entirety of Yoruba land”.
How does one explain Chief Akande’s consistent and relentless courage in facing issues and responding to challenges at all times? Does this tendency lie somewhere in his genes? I think it is possible to answer this question in the affirmative. According to chief Akande’s narrative in tracing his family lineage, he was the first grandson of Pa Sangopidan, his paternal grandfather. Pa Sangopidan believed that Chief Akande was the reincarnation of his own father, Ladimeji, one of the great military commanders of the Yoruba wars from Ila.
Even though he was not to become a warrior fighting in battles with weapons of war, Chief Akande has, nevertheless been a warrior in Nigerian politics utilizing his courage, character and conscience in ceaselessly defending the truth and fighting the cause of Justice.
Having acquired further relevant professional qualifications, Chief Akande made a transition from teaching to the oil industry when he secured employment at the multinational oil corporation, British Petroleum. Over the next 14 years at BP, he was sent on several courses that enhanced his knowledge in diverse fields of finance and accounting, computer operations as well as organizational management.
Even when he was eventually appointed first as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and then Deputy Governor in the Bola Ige administration, Chief Akande never hesitated to offer to quit office rather than compromise his principles. On one such occasion as Chief Akande relates in this memoir, he wasted no time in turning in his letter of resignation. Of course , the governor turned down the resignation.
Following the collapse of the Second republic in December, Chief Bola Ige and Chief Bisi Akande were found guilty on a two-count charge of conspiracy and unlawful enrichment of their political party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) after what amounted to nothing but a secret trial. They were sentenced each to 21 years of imprisonment on each count to run concurrently. However, they were exonerated by a subsequent military administration and released.
After his ordeal with the traumatic impact particularly on his family, they remonstrated with him to quit politics and he promised never to accept elective or appointive office in future.
Despite his promise to his family, Chief Akande had become much more valued and appreciated for his life of service to the pro-democracy movement and progressive causes that it was invariably impossible for him to simply step aside and take a ringside position on the arena of politics. At a meeting of Afenifere in Ijebu Igbo to determine the governorship candidates of the AD for the 1999 elections, all those who had governorship aspirations in the South West were requested to leave the venue and await the decisions of the meeting. While other aspirants promptly left the hall, Chief Akande remained firmly on his seat. According to him, “Uncle Bola Ige glared at me angrily. Bisi, go out! Why are you sitting down when governorship aspirants are asked to go out? Do you want to cause problems for us in Osun? Go out! Go out now!” Reluctantly, Chief Akande went out and in the course of time, much against his will, became the elected governor of Osun State in 1999. But then, Chief Akande was an unusual governor. He ran one of the most frugal, ascetic and prudent, yet productive administrations in the history of state governments in Nigeria.
Chief Akande’s disdain for opulent material acquisition as well as determination to run an administration that was transparent, accountable and rendered qualitative sevice to the people was at the root of his government’s skirmishes with the legislature, the trade unions, some eminent traditional rulers and even his Deputy, Chief Iyiola Omisore.
When he resumed office as governor of Osun State in 1999, the indebtedness on recurrent expenditure alone, which his administration inherited from the military included: Arrears of gratuity due to retired civil servants and secondary school teachers (N20.080 million); arrears of gratuity due to retired primary school teachers (N122.8 million); arrears of pension of civil servants and secondary school teachers (N20.703 million); arrears of pension of primary school teachers (N42.120 million); arrears of 1988 leave bonus (N31 million); arrears of the implementation of the new minimum wage of N3000 per month for the months of January and February, 1999, (N185 million) and unpaid salary arrears for the months of April and May, 1999, at monthly sum of N206 million (N412 million). When external debts were added, the state’s indebtedness was over N2 billion. Yet, despite incessant Labour unrest and without taking any internal or external loan throughout his tenure, Chief Akande had entirely paid off the arrears of salaries, gratuities and pensions while also bequeathing to his successor in 2003, over 900 carefully documented projects started and completed by his administration in diverse sectors.
In this rich and intriguing memoir, we watch with bated breath at ringside as critical instances in history unfold before us courtesy of Chief Akande. We are given insights into the behind-the-scene intrigues and politicking within the Uncle Bola Ige administration in Oyo State in the Second Republic. We are taken through the turbulent campaigns for the 1983 elections in Oyo state including the bloodshed and violence particularly in the Ife-Modakeke axis. The author reveals to us the various turf wars within the UPN in that era as well as the bitter rivalries that were later to considerably hobble both the AD as a party and Afenifere as a viable and vigorous socio-cultural organization.
The author gives us refreshing perspectives on the gruesome murder of Chief Bola Ige as well as then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s duplicitous relationship with the AD governors and the Afenifere leadership resulting in the crushing defeat of the AD in all South West states with the exception of Lagos in the 2003 elections with Lagos as the only state standing.
Chief Akande gives us a vivid idea of the hard, relentless, back-breaking work, including ceaseless meetings and endless criss-crossing of the length and breadth of the country at all times of the day and night in the Herculean effort to midwife the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a formidable opposition party capable of edging the then entrenched ruling PDP out of power at the centre come 2015. We are given insights into the choice of General Muhammad’s Buhari as Presidential candidate and Professor Yemi Osinbajo as Vice Presidential Candidate of the nascent APC.
It speaks volume that the illustrious Professor Wole Soyinka penned the foreword to this book in his inimitable manner.
Although an accountant by profession and thus a man of figures, Chief Akande deploys words with dexterity and flair like an accomplished writer. The vigor and candor of his language and style mirror his utter lack of guile and pretense making the work all the more readable and enjoyable. The uncompromising boldness of his language and his often brutal frankness reflects his unflinching commitment to the truth no matter whose Ox is gored. But then he must be prepared for not a few explosive reactions and possibly legal jousts as this bomb of a book goes on sale.