I was at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral Church, Owo, Ondo State, last Friday, November 11, 2022. The last time I was at the Anglican church was on Saturday, November 15, 1997. Today makes it exactly 25 years that I first stepped into that holy land. I was at the Cathedral to attend a family function, the wedding ceremony of a daughter of one of my childhood friends. Immediately I entered the premises, memories of my first and last visit to the place rushed through my mind. I looked to my right hand and I saw the imposing mausoleum, where one of Nigeria’s icons and disciplinarian per excellence, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin, was buried, exactly 25 years ago! The entrance to the Cathedral had been cordoned off by a long stretch of warning tape because Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, was to have the service of songs for his late mother at the Cathedral. A group of Anglican priests, in their black cassocks, were outside, possibly planning for the big man’s event.
The journalistic instincts in me took the best part of me. Rather than going to the hall, on the left hand side, where we had booked for our own small man’s event, I veered off to the right. I approached one of the priests and asked if I could go to inspect Pa Ajasin’s resting place. “Who are you”? The priest asked. I introduced myself as a journalist. I told him that I covered the funeral ceremony of Pa Ajasin in the church in 1997 and that I had not stepped into the church premises ever since. “Ok, what exactly do you want to do there”? The Anglican priest asked again. I told him I would like to have a look and possibly take some photographs. He gave the go-ahead and I went closer to the sepulchre, housing the legend and his equally late wife, Mama Babafunke Ajasin. I took some photographs. On Pa Ajasin’s tomb is written this epitaph: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them (Rev 14:13)”. I shook my head, left the tomb, thanked the priests and went back to the function that brought me to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Owo.
But the memories of November 15, 1997 kept invading my space. I was detailed by my Editor in the defunct Diet Newspapers to cover the event. I was a freelancer with the Sunday Diet under the editorship of Sheddy Ozoene. I had no functional identity card, save for a Diet Newspaper letterhead, where a “To Whom It May Concern”, introductory letter, with my stamped passport photograph attached. For the journalists, who covered the funeral rites of Pa Ajasin, when the expired dark-goggled General Sani Abacha, was the Head of State, they would attest to the fact that that burial remained the most militarised funeral ever in the history of Nigeria. It was hell for the regular journalists to have access to the various venues, where the several events were held. You can then imagine the fate of a freelancer. I recall an incident at the Owena bridge end of Ondo State and Osun State, where the body of Pa Ajasin was exchanged. Having died at the University Teaching Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, and being a former governor of the old Ondo State between October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983, the then Oyo State Government brought the corpse to Owena boundary. There was a brief ceremony, journalists scrambled to cover. The current Editor of Saturday Tribune and columnist with the paper, Lasisi Olagunju, covered the event for the Tribune Titles. He joined others to cover the brief ceremony, while yours sincerely dared not come down from the bus; because how I entered the bus from Akure without an identity card was a miracle in the first instance. From the bus, I could see clearly what was going on. Suddenly, I saw Mr. Sola Akinuli, the then CPS to Navy Commander Anthony Onyearugbulem, then Military Administrator of Ondo State talking to some Naval ratings, pointing in the direction of Olagunju. Then, I saw Olagunju hasten back to the bus. I later got to know that the Nigerian Tribune had published a lead story titled: :’Govt request on sermon ungodly – Bishops” that Friday, November 14, 1997, to the effect that the state government wanted to vet the sermon to be delivered at the funeral service so that the government would “not be messed up”. The story was anchored by Olagunju with two others, Toyese Oladejo and Akinjide Akintola, contributing. The state government never liked the story and the CPS called the Naval Ratings to “deal” with the reporter for daring to write the story. It was when the Naval ratings were moving towards Olagunju that he hastened back to the bus. In the bus, I initiated a discussion with Olagunju and when his accompanying photographer, Tommy Adegbite, came into the bus, I also greeted him. I explained my identity card predicament to Olagunju and he simply said: ” Kò sí’yonu. Ìwo o maa tèlé wa ni”- that is no problem, just follow us wherever we go”. I took that advice and flew on their wings as Olagunju and Adegbite became my access to the venues of the funeral ceremonies. It was through the duo that I entered St. Andrew’s Cathedral, where the funeral service was held.
From the window of the hall where we were holding our marriage ceremony, I took a peep at the church premises and the retinue of security agents on ground to secure the venue for the service of songs for the late governor’s mother. I remembered how soldiers and other security apparatuses swarmed on that premises during Pa Ajasin’s funeral because General Oladipo Diya, who was the Second-in-Command to Abacha, was in attendance at the funeral. My mind played back the voice of the late Prelate of the Anglican Communion, Most Reverend Abiodun Adetiloye, as he chose his sermon, titled: “Teach Us to Number Our Days”, from Psalm 90:12. I pictured vividly how the fiery Anglican preacher laced his sermon with pungent ethos and how General Diya fidgeted on his seat. Adetiloye was a consummate preacher. He took no prisoners while the sermon lasted. He told a story of how Nigeria ended up with bad leadership. He recalled how other nations, which had the misfortune of receiving just one mineral deposit from God, during creation, protested at the number of mineral resources God deposited in Nigeria alone. The priest said God pacified the protesting nations to remain calm and see the type of leaders He would assign to manage the resources deposited in Nigeria. Adetiloye reminded the congregation that the poverty in Nigeria was a function of the type of leaders God gave to Nigeria at creation. Those leaders, he asserted, mismanaged the nation’s God-given natural resources. The National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, members in the church roared with laughter and clapped. General Diya shifted again in his seat, his eyes dilating. But there was nothing he could do. Adetiloye was unstoppable. He had a “younger brother” in the Akure Diocese of the Ministry, Bishop Bola Gbonigi. The two were thorns in the flesh of Abacha and his military administration. Not done, Adetiloye told all present that the man, for whom they all gathered, Pa Ajasin, was different and not among the bad leaders that God asked to manage Nigeria’s resources. He praised Ajasin to high heavens and the congregation nodded in approval and applauded where necessary.
My mind razed again to Pa Ajasin. The epitaph on his tomb came to mind, especially the last clause: “their works do follow them”. I saw from the window, some glittering vehicles streaming in. Governor Akeredolu’s invited guests had started coming in. An overzealous aide had come into our wedding reception to remind us that we should leave. Someone politely told him, in our Ekiti ” Èfó hí lé’fó l’aáhò” (one vegetable does not chase out another one from the cooking pot) matter-of-factly that we rented the place. I knew Akeredolu would soon be around. I looked at the table around me. Majority of our wedding guests were workers of the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo. Pa Ajasin established the institution in 1979. Among the guests were husbands and wives, who work in the same polytechnic. Then my heart beat faster. My friends in the institution told me that they had not been paid in the last 12 months. Yes, you read me correctly; workers in the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, are owed one full year salary arrears! Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor owing them that one year salary arrears is from Owo. He does not owe just the workers in the polytechnic; civil servants, I learnt, are owed two months in arrears in Ondo State. Workers of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, and those in the Olusegun Agagu university of Science and Technology, Okitipupa, were last paid in June 2022, that’s five months ago! My heart bled for the workers. I took a look at the Cathedral. It occurred to me that while filing in with his invited guests to the church for the funeral rites of his mother, Akeredolu would come face to face with the grave of Pa Ajasin. Then I began to make comparisons.
What sort of governor is Arakunrin Akeredolu? While passing by the tomb of Pa Ajasin, would it not occur to him that the old man, as governor for four years and three months, never owed workers salaries for one day? Who would preach at Akeredolu’s mother’s funeral service? Will the priest be like Adetiloye? Will he remind Akeredolu and other governors and politicians that will gather at the event to number their days well? Will the officiating priest not be patronising, or will he be like Adetiloye, who put General Diya on the edge of his seat while the sermon at Pa Ajasin’s burial lasted? Is it true indeed that God at creation gave us all manners of mineral resources but assigned locusts as leaders to manage them? Questions, questions and questions! I was a secondary school student when Pa Ajasin served as the governor of old Ondo State. I recalled, in that wedding hall, that all I took to my Araromi High School then were a locker, a chair, one iron bucket called pail, a cutlass, a hoe and a bunch of brooms. Nothing more. Before the end of my first week in the school, and like all other students, I was supplied with all the textbooks for all the subjects offered at school. I had in addition to those, stationeries, ranging from notebooks to the smallest item, pencil. I recalled that on all the items supplied was the inscription: “Property of Ondo State Government: Not for Sale”. I tried to ask myself if there was any time, our teachers complained of not being paid and I answered in the negative. I asked again: “is this not the same Ondo State? My second mind responded: “No”. I was jolted. What has changed? I asked. My inner mind responded: “Ondo State is now an oil producing state, collecting 13 percent oil derivation funds and so, has more money than the time of Pa Ajasin”. I debated: “But Akeredolu owes Owo Poly workers 12 month salary arrears”. My inner mind responded: “Remember Adetiloye said 25 years ago that God gave us locusts as leaders to waste our resources”. I puffed! At that moment, I had only one wish: Pa Ajasin should just wake up from his rest, enter St Andrew’s Cathedral, Owo, and did what Jesus did to those traders in the temple as recorded in Mathew 21:12-14, to all bad leaders- those who trade with and profit from the temple of public service. A good number of them were in attendance at that funeral ceremony.