Thursday, November 5, 2020 will forever be a red-letter day in the life of Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, a former governor of Oyo state. The day will linger in his memory and all his admirers will not forget in a hurry the events of that day when he held the public presentation of his autobiography, appropriately titled, “Amazing Grace,” at the Trenchard Hall, University of Ibadan. In one breath, the event passed as a very successful one that Akala was reported to have declared, “I am fulfilled,” and in another, the programme put him not unexpectedly in the eye of the storm. A memoir from a controversial public servant such as Alao-Akala will surely draw flaks if the author is unperturbed to state the truth as it occurs to him in a blunt, frank and courageous manner. Certainly, a daring writer will ignite daring responses. And the Akala’s autobiography is a bold and daring one, a no hold-barred story of the events that shaped his life and engagement in politics cum government. He stirred the hornet’s nest with the explosive piece and so right from its unveiling, scurrilous attacks were targeted at him. But one benefit of this however is that he has enhanced his relevance and greatness.
But for the covid-19 pandemic the launch would have come up early on June 1, as part of activities to mark his 70th birthday on June 3. And importantly, the programme was on the verge of another postponement because of the EndSARS protest. It was his strong belief that the riots would have subsided before the new date that made him resist the suggestion. He worked strenuously for the success of the programme in his characteristic manner, and so, it is no wonder the high level of success of the event.
Always having an ace up his sleeve, the former governor was decked in a wine blazer that day on a matching pair of black trousers. He arrived before 11 o’clock the programme was billed to commence by which time the hall was already filled to capacity with people from all walks of life. There is no doubt that it is a quality audience consisting of captains of industries, top government officials, political gladiators, about ten members of the National Assembly including two serving senators, retired top military brass, traditional rulers and so on. The first VIP to arrive who created a buzz in the hall was Alaafin of Oyo Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III. His arrival threw the hall into frenzy; and the revered monarch took his seat in the front row. Shortly after, Chief Olisegun Obasanjo, former Head of State and president, the indefatigable “Ebora Owu,” breezed in, a real banger that he made it to honour the celebrant. He was the chairman of the occasion.
The arrival of the former president sparked the commencement of the long-awaited programme as the anchor Yanju Adegbite called it to order. He made a promise that the whole thing would be done within one and a half and two hours and so it was. There were only 6 speakers despite the plethora of luminaries at the occasion and the six men who held the mic were Alao-Akala, Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Alao-Akala, Obasanjo, Dr. Saka Balogun, Alaafin and Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
Words of welcome
The former First Lady, Chief Mrs. Kemi Alao-Akala captivated the august audience with her free-flow and accented delivery while welcoming the guests to the programme. She said the public presentation “was a public manifestation of the author’s long desire to tell the world his life story. It gives the family joy, the book will be for future reference. Amazing Grace is an autobiography with a difference and will be a value addition to autobiographies available.”
The author speaks
The celebrant stressed also that it was an history making event, which was a fulfillment of his dream to unveil to the world the narrative of his life story: the difficulties imposed on him sequel to the tragic death of his father when he was just two years old, a situation he said, brought him under the care of his maternal grandmother, popularly called “Iya Alaro,” whom he thought while growing up was his real mother.
He adds, “She piloted me through those years. As I said in the book Iya Alaro singlehandedly reconstructed my life.”
“Omo Iya Alaro,” as the former executive chairman of Ogbomoso North local government is fondly called noted that the title of his memoir was very instructive, asserting, “The title of the book – “Amazing Grace” – is not a happenstance, it is an audacity of providence to bring me out of the dungeon of a hopeless tomorrow into the fulfillment of a life that I fulfilled.”
He touched on various issues contained in the book which makes it a compelling narrative, and waxing philosophical, he averred, “I am a product of grace, I am a pencil in the hand of the creator, who made the picture of whom I am today. God brought me from the dungeon to this junction…”
Baba Obasanjo was in his element as he spoke, never dulled by his advanced age. He commended Akala, whom he loves to call “Bayo,” for his bold “effort” just as he punctured some of his narratives contained in the book, while going ahead to unfurl his own version of those stories in which he was one of the dramatis personae. OBJ, as he is fondly called ever blunt, was blunt, offering a critical approach in his responses to those events he knew about.
Which aspect should one exclude from the remark of “Ebora Owu?” it is difficult to expunge any aspect, hence, it is reproduced almost whole here for the purpose of historical records and to appreciate his duty.
“I cherish history because to forget history is like losing one’s memory, in which case, you will not remember what you ate last night. History is a conglomeration of biographies. And without history, we lose the past with all the record of events.
“History, no matter how expansive, never captures all events. But biographies are even more limited and narrower and greatly subjective. And the caution may be “readers beware!”
“Although biography is neither a definitive nor an entirely reliable window into the past, without biography there could be no human history.
“Having started with an attempt to make the point of biography more than history being in the mind and purpose of the writer and therefore must be taken with a pinch of salt, I must hasten to congratulate Governor Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala for the great efforts he had mustered to write his own biography.
“I know from experience as a regular book and letter writer how much discipline and courage you need to garner to write meaningfully. And Adebayo has exhibited extra courage to invite eyewitness and ear witness of some of the events chronicled in the biography for confirmation or otherwise. It is both courageous and dangerous to do so.
“By inviting me to be here at the launch of this great intellectual work of yours, you are asking me to confirm all events itemised in the book and in which I am connected as correct which you may or may not know are not.
“But I am here as I promised you on every occasion you visited me to ensure that I will be present at the book launch. And you gave me a copy of the book early enough to be able to read and put some things right according to what I know.
“There are two issues on page 125 of the book that I need to get you properly informed about. In1992, Shehu Yar’Adua came to me to request me to intervene on his behalf with Chief Adedibu. It was not the usual thing I would do but for Shehu, I went to the Chief, meeting him one on one for the first time and he received me warmly. And I said to him, “I know both Olu Falae and Shehu Yar’Adua very well as they both worked directly under me – Olu as Permanent Secretary and Shehu as my political Number 2.
“They are both very good. But if we are looking at the entire Nigeria picture, it should be Shehu before Olu; if, however, it is purely Yoruba issue, it should be Olu before Shehu. If my information is correct that you people are considering Nigeria and not just Yoruba land, then I will recommend Shehu.” That led to Chief Adedibu changing his support in favour of Shehu YarAdua in 1992.
“Again, Atiku did not back down as you claimed until Alex Ekwueme was defeated at the primary of PDP in 2003 as Atiku’s agreement with Ekwueme was to be Ekwueme’s running mate and Ekwueme, as President, spending three years and resigning for Atiku to complete the fourth year and then for Atiku to contest election in his own right in 2007. It was after the result of the primary that Atiku backed down, if you put it that way, it was when there was no other choice.
“You pointed out on page 140 that Ladoja picked up a quarrel with me for reason of a non-existent third term. I did not know that Ladoja picked up quarrel except that his becoming Governor was due to the grace of God and major contributions of two people – Yekinni Adeojo from whom the party structure was wrenched and Chief Adedibu who spearheaded the whole programme. 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.
“Adebayo, I must thank you for weaving my school life with your uncle, Chief Gabriel Otunla, my Physics and Chemistry teacher at the Baptist Boys’ High School, BBHS, Abeokuta on page 387. Without him, none of us at school at that time, including MKO you mentioned, would have studied any science subject other than biology. When Chief Otunla returned from Manchester University, he changed our situation drastically and our lives were enriched and we were all better for it. Maybe in thanking God for Chief Otunla, I should also thank you for Chief Otunla being your uncle or thank Chief Otunla for being your uncle.
“I wonder how you came on page 390 of your book to blame or criticize me for dividing the Ibadan-Ilorin Road to three sections for reconstruction during my second term that it could be expeditiously completed. You had a full term plus one year from Governor Ladoja’s tenure as Governor and even up till today, the roads are not completed and you believe honestly that in your biography, I should be blamed, at least thirteen years after I have left office.
“As an Ogbomoso man, I can understand how important that road is to you. But when I took the steps which I took for the road to be expeditiously handled, it was not for your interest as an Ogbomoso man but for the importance of the road for the economic life of Nigeria and it is tragic that the artery road remains in the sorry state it is today.
“Bayo, I will not say much on the issue of Muraina and Mulikat for Speaker of House of Representatives as reported on page 391 as you put it,” sinned against this man once and that has marred our fantastic relationship.” The story as you put it down is not correct.
“You proposed Muraina for the job and we all accepted him for South-West and started to work. As a result, the then National Vice-Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo, wrote to the then Acting Chairman of PDP, Alhaji Haliru Mohammed Bello, on 12 May 2011 to put forward Muraina. I got a copy of that letter as chair of BOT of PDP. It was unbelievable for me to hear that you later surreptitiously started prompting Mulikat, a lady from Ogbomoso, and you had started working behind the scene for her without coming back to tell me what had changed and why, nor go back to the South-West Caucus. Iwo lo pe ole ko wa ja, Iwo lo pe oloko ko wa so oko. That, to me, is duplicity and I don’t play such a game. Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo told me later the game that was played and in the end you and the South-West were the losers. But you have apologized and I have forgiven and, of course, I am here. That too has also passed into history. I find this book easily readable and I will recommend it to practitioners of politics and students and teachers of politics and Political Science in all educational institutions.
“Finally, Bayo, this is a good effort for which I once again, commend and congratulate you. You have had opportunity to serve, you have served to the best of your ability. You have kept as best as you could recollect records of events as you wish to present them. It has become part of history and let others contend. And you are already a maker of history. Well done! And, once again, congratulations!”
Iku Baba Yeye had the mic for a brief moment during which he similarly made reference to a section of the book he felt was inadequate. The highly venerated monarch submitted, “In the book he wrote, there is a leg that I am not satisfied with. He included the part played by Ebora Owu to make him governor, the parts played by late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu were there, but the parts we played to make him deputy governor and to make him governor and how we stayed by him were not there.
“If not for our president, Ladoja wouldn’t have been impeached; he did well in the first 11 months. And as governor, he did remarkably well too, but I had a cat and dog relationship with him, and our differences were always settled by Ebora Owu. We thank him for that. He often insisted that ‘Akala is your son.’
“Akala is a tough son that you must be at your best if you want to deal with him though he is generous to a fault to the point that I do castigate him as a spendthrift, it is God that makes him like that. Thank God you clocked 70 years old, by the grace of God you will live long.”
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state presents the book
Ekiti state governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who presented the book to the public, described “Amazing Grace” as a book worth having in one’s library, adding that he was particularly struck by Akala’s rise from grass to grace.
Dr. Fayemi asserted that the author is a good man and a brilliant mind commending him for writing the book. He insisted the book would become useful to practitioners and students of politics.
“I have listened with rapt attention to Baba Obasanjo’s remark and the author’s remark, as well as Dr. Balogun’s review. What can be deduced from the various presentations is that this is a book worth having in one’s library.”
Disclosing he got a copy of the book two months ago stated, “I am particularly struck by his younger days – his days in Ghana and his ability to move in between several potholes. As we heard, he is a polyglot, speaks several languages and his capacity to accommodate people across political circles is awesome. And those who have associated with him in his politics and in ordinary life will tell you that Chief Akala is simply a good mind, there is no other way to describe him and that is very well encapsulated in various chapters in Amazing Grace.”
The chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum, assuring he would buy copies for all universities in Nigeria and leading newspaper’s columnists for an unbiased analysis of the book, further said, “The discipline, the candour, the commitment and passion on display that my Egbon has done in the production of this book we thank him. This is also because those of us who are in politics have a lot to learn from them. So, on behalf of all of us who are your brothers still coming behind, we are immensely grateful to you and to Papa (OBJ) and to other writers who put pen to paper to furnish us with their experiences in the political environment.”
Dr Saka Balogun, the book reviewer
The cerebral Dr Saka Balogun who served as Chief of Staff to Chief Akala while he was governor, was saddled with the task of reviewing the book and he did not disappoint except that at times, personal issues got the better of him. As an instance, he countered the author that his defections from political parties were not altruistic but borne out of personal interest. Akala often attributes his cross-carpeting from one party to another his resolve to always promote the interest of Ogbomoso. This Dr Balogun dismissed ruthlessly. Somebody who is not very close to Akala wouldn’t have questioned this portion of the book the way he did, hence the declaration of infusion of personal issues into the review.
“The author’s attempt citing the example of Chief S.L. Akintola’s alliance with the NPC (Northern Peoples Congress) in the 1960 to justify his political decisions for hibernating in four different political parties within four years cannot stand the test of political logic or interrogation. It cannot, it does not add up. If you look at page 61, you get the quotation…the author took his political decisions in his own interest certainly not in the interest of Ogbomoso community, let alone the interest of the Yoruba.
“It was after he lost the ticket for PDP for governorship that he joined the Labour Party (LP), the LP was not in control of the centre, so, where is the rational using Akintoal’s example to justify his own personal calculated political interest? I say Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala has his reasons changing parties other than the interest of the Yoruba or specifically the interest of our Ogbomoso community and I say it on very solid ground…”
Dr Balogun also affirmed that all that Akala achieved was borne out of God’s divine interventions cautioning him against reveling in being a smart person just as he delved into political histories in Ogbomoso, those areas in which Akala was a major actor.
He however praised Akala’s rise from the ashes of difficulties to glory noting that the book teaches many lessons such as that “confronting the initial handicap does not necessarily amount to a life sentence to a permanent failure.”
Saying the book is divided into 19 chapters with three dimensional structure i.e. his life, police career and his activities in politics, he observed, “The book is written in prose, in simple, lucid English. It makes such an interesting reading that sustains the interest of the reader.”