By Lekan Alabi
Today is Valentine’s Day, a day for lovers all over the world and the 71st posthumous birthday of the lovable first Aare Musulumi of Yoruba land, late Vice President – General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Aare of Ibadanland, businessman and philanthropist, Alhaji AbdulAzeez Arisekola Alao, to be called by his popular title, Aare, in this tribute.
Aare was a well-connected man in and outside Nigeria, as attested to in a book of tributes titled, “Arisekola In Our Minds”, edited by Professor Rusheed Aderinoye. It was launched by Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State at Aare’s Oluwo Kereke Basorun Area home in Ibadan, at the 70th posthumous birthday Fidau of Aare on Valentine’s Day last year. Besides writing the foreword to the book, my tribute forms part of the book.
The life and times of the late successful businessman, best known for his charity, who started out as an apprentice ‘Gammalin’ trader under his late uncle, Alhaji Karimu Olasupo Jenrola, at Ogunpa Business District in Ibadan in the 1960s, were very open and still open vide the said book. In this wise, I shall focus on some public acts of Aare between 1975 and 2014 when he died as witnessed (personally) by me. In Yoruba, “Awon ise Aare ti won soju mi korokoro” (translated – Some acts of Aare Arisekola Alao before my very eyes) as the title of this piece above indicates. May the kind and noble soul of the witty dapper continue to rest in Aljannah Fridaous. Amen.
I started my journalism career in 1973 with the defunct Sketch Publishing Company Limited, Ibadan as a reporter/writer/reader, in addition to writing a column in the Yoruba language weekly in the Sketch stable – “Gboungboun”. A year later in 1974, a late editor of the popular “Sunday Sketch”, Mr. Phillip Bamidele Adedeji, did the unprecedented not only in the Sketch Group, but in the Nigerian media history by offering me a column and later a page in the weekly, thus making me Nigeria’s first bilingual (Yoruba & English) columnist (“Mo ri firii” in Gboungboun and “Its what’s happening” in the Sunday Sketch). Old generation newspapers readers would remember that there were just three weekend (no Saturday papers) newspapers in Nigeria in the 1950s to early 1970s) – (i) the mother of them all, Sunday Times, (ii) Sunday Sketch and the then new arrival, (iii) Punch, which started as a weekly on Sundays. One day in 1975, our News Editor, the late Mr. Abiodun Famojuro, a vibrant wordsmith and tireless journalist, assigned me to go and interview the young, with due respect, Alhaji AbdulAzeez Arisekola Alao.
I did my job, but politely turned down the kind offer of Aare – “a token for your transport fare back to Sketch”. The Editor of “Sunday Sketch”, had warned us not to receive gifts in any form, with emphasis on pre-publication gifts. That interview in 1975 was my first contact with Aare.
Upon my graduation and return from the famous College of Journalism, Fleet Street, London, UK in 1978, I resigned from the Sketch and joined the services of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Ibadan. I resigned from NTA in 1982 to join the newly-established, Television Service of Oyo State (TSOS) now called BCOS TV. I was a pioneer editorial staff – the first reporter to appear on the channel on its first day of transmission (30th October, 1982) and the first Chairman of the station’s chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
In February 1983, I was seconded to the then Governor of old Oyo State (present day Oyo and Osun States) the “Cicero of Esa-Oke”, Chief ’Bola Ige, my boss and mentor, as a Press Secretary. God grant his soul repose. Amen.
In the general elections of 1983, the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) declared Chief Ige of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) a loser in the state’s governorship election to Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo of the also defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Three months later, on December 31, 1983, the military staged a coup detat that toppled President Sheu Shagari – led NPN Federal Government and states government also. Our incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari became Nigeria’s military head of state, and the then Lieutenant – Colonel Oladayo Popoola (now a retired Major – General, lawyer and printer) was appointed the Military Governor of old Oyo State.
Governor Popoola, in what I always describe as the “eighth” wonder of the world, ordered that I resume as his Press Secretary, after my appointment had been terminated earlier in October 1983, like some others, by Governor Olunloyo’s NPN government. I thus returned to my old desk in the Governor’s Office, Ibadan.
One day in 1984, my friend and colleague, the current resident media consultant to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Folu Olamiti, then a senior editoral staff of the Nigerian Tribune, Ibadan visited me in the office and told me of Aare’s urgent need for an appointment with the Military Governor. I replied Folu, a close acquaintance of Aare, to give me some time to arrange the visit. It will be recalled that the new military government was wary of civilians. After strategic maneuverings, I succeeded in fixing the appointment for Aare, which Governor Popoola graciously approved. Their meeting, at which I was present, took place in a private home (not connected to Aare) on Bodija Estate, Ibadan.
It was about a decade after the 1984 ‘rendezvous’ that Aare got to know that I was the ‘Mr. Fix It’ of his audience with the military governor. Of course, that further cemented our relationship.
Our fourth child was born in August 1987. Aare was one of my invited guests to the new baby boy’s naming ceremony. Although he could not attend, Aare sent a representative with, as usual, his trademark of a cash gift. But, the representative played a smart game with Aare’s gift, unknown to me. He slashed the cash gift, and gave me a third of it! One day, the rip-off became public.
Not long after the naming ceremony, I visited the late Managing Director of Sketch Press Limited, Ibadan, Mr. Peter Ajayi, in his office at Dugbe on an official matter. As I was ushered into Uncle Peter’s office, I saw him and Aare (backing the door) discussing. The shouts of “Lekuze, se a se o” (Lekuze, I hope we have not offended o) by Uncle Peter made Aare to look back and say, “Lekan, Onitemi, I have offended you. I didn’t attend your son’s naming ceremony”.
I immediately greeted and replied Uncle Peter first that neither he nor the Sketch group had offended anyone. And to Aare, I said his representative had explained the reason for his absence. Moreover, his handsome cash gift of ‘x’ naira was delivered to me. On hearing the ‘x’ figure mentioned as his gift presented to me, by his representative, Aare stood up and shouted “Lahila Ilalahu! Ko seniyan gidi laye mo” (My God! Trustworthy people have become rare in the world). He requested to use the landphone on Uncle Peter’s desk, a request which was granted. Aare called the representative, “Can you please remind me of the sum I sent through you to ’Lekan Alabi on his son’s naming ceremony?”
The receiver answered. Aare, raising his voice, then said, “Lekan is here with me in the office of the MD of Sketch. But you gave him 1/3rd of the gift I sent to him, and that’s unfair. You know the press people, they can publish your dismeanour. You better see ’Lekan unfailingly tomorrow with the balance”. In compliance with Aare’s order, the representative visited me very early the following morning in my office within the Governor’s Office, and released the 2/3rd balance, pleading that his earlier act “was an oversight”. I called Aare immediately I received the balance, as it were. He appealed to me to forgive the representative. I did, or didn’t I?
On my last day (30th March, 1989) in office as the Press Secretary to the fourth governor of old Oyo State that I had the good fortune of serving, the late Brigadier – General Sasaenia Oresanya, God bless his kind soul, he asked me, at the end of our long farewell chat, to make a request, any request, with a vow to grant it. I stood up, thanked him, as it was unprecedented in Nigeria, and requested for 1989 Hajj sponsorship. My request was granted on the spot.
I visited Aare on my departure to Saudi Arabia. He prayed for me and my two professional colleagues (Alhaji Mikhail Adeogun and Alhaja Labake Adebiyi, both of the now defunct Concord Press Nigeria) who I took along to his home on Rotimi Williams Avenue, Bodija Estate, Ibadan.
On my return from Hajj, I paid him a thank you visit accompanied by my wife, Adetokunbo, at his office in Lister House, Ring Road, Ibadan. He was so delighted to see us, particularly I. We went into a long, lively discussion, which suddenly turned sour the moment I answered his question of “Which of your houses did you return to from Makkah?” with a “Sorry, sir, I have not built a house”. Rising from his seat with the famous frown on his face, he retorted “Lekan, se emi loo maa pa iro fun? Sebi won ni o ko ile si Bodija ati Oluyole? O ko fe soro loju iyawo re? (‘Lekan, why will you lie to me? But, people say you have built houses in Bodija and here in Oluyole Estate. Or you don’t want to disclose the secrets before your wife?)
He sat down and requested that ’Tokunbo should please excuse us. I repeated my earlier denial of ownership of any personal house either in Bodija, Oluyole Estates or anywhere in the world. At that point, he called ’Tokunbo back into his office to join us. Facing her, he blamed her for not “pushing” me hard enough into owning at least a house in the course of sleepless nights of running around for four governors of Oyo State for six years! I added petrol to naked fire when I interjected by saying, “Sir, my former bosses are not to blame. I didn’t ask them for favours?” Aare hissed and said something like this, “From today, ’Tokunbo, you and I have a duty of waking this my aburo up. He needs to open his eyes”, to which ’Tokunbo replied, “Yio dara fun yin, sir. Kii fe gbo otito oro (God bless you, sir. He detests the truth).
In 1998, Aare asked me when I would be promoted from Mogaji to the Olubadan Traditional Chieftaincy line and to let him know what the requirements were. I made enquiries and recounted to him my missed chance of what would have been an instant appointment / promotion by the late Olubadan Yesufu Oloyede Asanke 1 in 1986, who said that he felt honoured and proud of me for acceding to his royal order to forgive two civil offenders, despite the fact that I was the Press Secretary to the then Military Governor of old Oyo State, Colonel Adetunji Olurin (now a retired Brigadier – General). That one – in – a – million chance was stalled then by a subsisting decree promulgated by the Buhari / Idiagbon Federal Military Government in 1984 banning civil servants/public officers from receiving traditional chieftaincy titles. Those who had been honoured before the decree, were to repudiate them or quit service.
One day in August 2002, after closing from my office at Odu’a Investment Company Limited, Dugbe, Ibadan, where I was the pioneer General Manager, Corporate Affairs, I paid a routine visit to Aare at his Oluwo Kekere home.
On getting to the “Red Carpet” sitting room, where I met him reading newspapers amidst some visitors, I paid courtesies to Aare and others. He answered with his trademark of a curt “E kaa” (Welcome) without looking up – a sign that something was amiss. I gave him some minutes before making a statement to measure the depth of his (bad) mood. He only nodded. I immediately knew that someone or something had put the otherwise ever-jolly Aare in a bad mood. I thought to myself that since he was in such a mood, immediate departure was the best answer. This style of exit was known only to the inner caucus of Aare’s “Oluwo Roundtable”. As if he was reading my mind, before I could say goodbye to him, Aare stood up, collected his bunch of keys on the table and walked out of the sitting room.
I was asking the people in the sitting room what transpired before my entry, when I heard Aare calling my name from the lobby. This was echoed by visitors and bystanders in the lobby and the staircase. I answered and went out to meet Aare. By then he had descended the staircase. When I caught up with him in the car park, he held me by the hand, asking where my car was. I pointed it out to him. He literarily dragged me to the car, ordered me to get into the driver’s seat and open the front passenger’s door for him. I did.
Aare entered my car, and asked me to drive the two of us out of his palatial home. “Turn right, turn left, go straight” were the directives given by him to me till we got to the front of Olubadan Ogundipe’s palace at Oranyan where he asked me to stop and park. By the time I parked the car, got out and entered the palace, Aare had climbed the staircase to meet with Kabiyesi upstairs.
After spending an hour or so with Kabiyesi, Aare came out and we departed the palace for his Oluwo home together again in my car. His convoy had since got to hear of our unceremonial departure from Oluwo and had found its way to the palace. He did not tell me his mission to Oba Ogundipe, neither did I ask him. On getting home, he said to me, “I will teach you the secrets of success.” He bade me good night, came out of my car, shut the door and walked into his apartment. I started the engine and left for home. A few weeks after that dash by Aare and I to his palace, Olubadan Ogundipe broke the good news of his intention to promote me from Mogaji to Jagun Olubadan of Ibadanland. And this took place on December 14, 2002. Aare had initiated my promotion on that unscheduled visit to Olubadan Ogundipe.
One night in 2008, Aare called me on the telephone to see him very early the following day before the usual stream of visitors would begin. I reported at Oluwo Kekere at 7 am. I alerted him of my arrival on telephone, he then summoned me inside his bedroom. After exchanging pleasantries, Aare in a very sober mood told me of his decision to marry an Edo lady who resides with her parents at Apapa – Ajegunle area of Lagos State. He said three of us – himself, his late uncle (Baale Abidoye Olaniyan) and I would be going for the introduction ceremony the following day. I would be his family’s representative / spokesman at the ceremony. He instructed me to keep the information to myself and not to tell anybody.
Very early the following morning, the three of us, accompanied by Aare’s usual retinue of bodyguards and escorts departed Oluwo Kekere for Apapa -Ajegunle, Lagos State. We arrived the young, pretty and well – mannered lady’s Ajegunle home where we were warmly received by her Christian parents, a brother and about three other family members. It was a very private family introduction ceremony.
I performed the duties assigned to me with solemnity and brevity after which traditional rites in Edo custom were performed. We were entertained with a modest feast, after which we departed for Ibadan. The fair – skinned lady eventually moved into Aare’s home. But, after a while we did not see her again, and Aare did not tell me about her whereabouts.
Aare was a personification of public relations and good human relations. One day we attended a social ceremony hosted by a retired general of the Nigerian Army somewhere in Osun State. By the time we arrived the venue, the sermon was on and all the seats had been occupied. Aare, a respecter of all religions, told us, including himself, to perch quietly in a corner because of the on-going service. Since a gold fish has no hiding place, heads started turning towards our direction. In a jiffy, the Managing Director of the Guardian Press Limited, Mr. Emeka Izeze, who was sitting next to where Aare had perched (stood is the word) got up from his seat and offered it to Aare. He politely declined the kind offer, but Mr. Izeze insisted. Aare, to avoid creating a ‘scene’, reluctantly took the seat. The gentleman sitting next to Mr. Izeze, followed suit by giving up his seat to me. I also declined, but Mr. Izeze again insisted, and I took the seat.
Two weeks after the public honour by Mr. Izeze and his colleague, Aare asked me to write a letter of appreciation, which he personally signed to Mr. Izeze. Surprise, surprise, Aare took the letter from me, called out to his aides and drivers and said, “Lekan, let’s go to the Guardian in Lagos and deliver the letter to our friend, Mr. Izeze”. I knew he was not joking, as he was fully dressed for an outing. Our trip to the Guardian Office at Isolo, Lagos State, which Aare intended to be a pleasant surprise for Mr. Izeze was aborted some few kilometres to one of the notorious knotty points on the Lagos/ Ibadan Express way, due to a sticky traffic jam, which kept us on a spot for over an hour.
Since it was intended to be a snappy dash in and out of Lagos, the traffic jam took the wind out of Aare’s (surprise) sail. A decision was taken by him to abandon the journey and return to Ibadan. He turned to me in the car and said, ’Lekan, please you have to proceed on this ‘thank you’ visit to Mr. Izeze in Lagos.” After being “ well – kitted” by Aare, I got out of his limousine, entered a spare car in the convoy and followed the traffic tide to deliver Aare’s message to Mr. Izeze who was so delighted to receive me. Till today, Mr. Izeze, our dear friend in Lagos, says he remains humbled by Aare’s modesty.
Since the universal path is not an endless straight lane, there would always be twists, turns and corners in every journey. The long, mutual, sweet and beneficial relationship between Aare and I received a jolt which turned our relationship sour in 2009. Someone received a biting, acrimonious and rude text message intended for Aare on her handset. She forwarded the rude message to Aare. Naturally, as a human being with feelings, Aare was discomfited by the acrimonious text message. He, thereafter, summoned the famous “Aare’s Inner Caucus Cabinet” to his home and read out to us the highly offensive text message wherein the author alluded to Aare as a one-eyed man in a land of the blind. Our comments on the message were invited. I, in my contribution, said even though the sender was anonymous, the registered subscriber (owner) of the GSM no could be traced by the police and the network service providers. Little did I know or could ever imagine that I was suspected by Aare to be the author as I was told some days after the meeting, of the damming text message! A gulf was thus created between us. I maintained my innocence, and stayed off Aare’s company.
As light conquers darkness, and truth defeats lies, I was later vindicated by God, men and women of goodwill. Aare and I put the issue behind us and our relationship resumed with greater gusto, as he practically demonstrated at my 60th birthday party on October 27, 2010, during which he danced with relish in public for the first time after several decades of “Switch – off” from socials by him.
Aare travelled to Switzerland and the United Kingdom early in June 2014 with a promise to return early to chair a 60th birthday celebration in Ibadan of one of his younger sisters, which I was co-ordinator. His last words to me on his departure for the fateful overseas visit were, ’Lekan, Baba Oloye, go ahead with your aburo’s 60th birthday plans. I shall, Insha Allah, arrive a day to the celebration”. Pitifully, he did not.
Aare died in his sleep in his London, UK home on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, aged 69 years and was buried in his Oluwo Kekere Basorun, Ibadan home on Friday, June 20, 2014. May his kind and noble soul continue to rest in peace in Aljannah Fridaus. Amen.
*Oloye Alabi, D.Litt (h.c), is Aare Alaasa Olubadan of Ibadanland.