A Talk at Akungba: Inspirations from the Past for Young Leaders of the Future

By Babafemi Ojudu

I get frequent invites from university students to give talks, and I always make an effort to oblige them, no matter how inconvenient it may be.

Last week, I answered such a call and traveled two hours to Akungba, the university named after the disciplined and incorruptible politician, Chief Adekunle Ajasin.

A little bit about the man: I was a student when he was governor of the old Ondo State, so I wouldn’t say I knew him much as a governor, but I have read his autobiography over and over, and it was worth reading. Ajasin’s Memoir and Memories teach a lot about integrity in public office, service to humanity, and non-covetousness. In four years of service he established seven key industries without a single trip to foreign land in search of ‘investors’. His only trip out of Nigeria was to Sierra Leone to receive an honorary PhD from his alma mater, the Fourah Bay College.

I later saw a bit of him when I became a journalist. By now, he had retired to his country home in Owo.

The house was a storey building, very old without the splendor we see today with “office holders.” Not a single exotic car in the garage. Each time I visited to talk to him or seek his opinion on particular issues, the gate was wide open, and you simply walked upstairs to the sitting room where he sat on a relaxing chair reading or having a very simple meal. What a life, what a generation of truly committed Nigerians. It was in that house in Owo that Action Group was formed and where the document for the much successful Obafemi Awolowo Free Education program was first drafted. It is a program without which many of my father’s generation and my generation in Yorubaland would have passed through life unlettered and unfulfilled.

Late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, former governor of Ondo State

This piece is not about Ajasin, but about the young students of the school named after him by Chief Adebayo Adefarati, former governor of Ondo State and one of his followers.

I arrived at the Nelson Mandela Hall, the venue of the event put together by the student parliamentarians of the university, some 30 minutes before the time. My delegation of young men and a woman and I had to wait another hour for the event to kick off. It was a good opportunity for me to watch these young lads up close. I could see frustration on their faces, just as I could see hope for a better tomorrow as well. School fees have gone up, and feeding has become a big challenge.

In the face of the existential problems confronting them, I could see them mimicking the present as well. This, for me, calls for worries. Inscribed on their face caps were “Senator this,” “Senator that.” That is not bad in itself, but I pray they are not learning and admiring the bad habits as well. If they do, then the future of the country may be grim. This I made them aware of. There certainly must be a break from the present selfishness, the ruling self-centeredness of “eminikan ni, eminikan ni” — the philosophy of not giving others room to survive. What a friend of mine called adanikanjopon in Yoruba, which means the tendency to eat the whole platter all alone.

We, those of us who can, must help these kids turn their backs on this ruling tendency and prepare themselves to build a Nigeria different from the one we are confronting. To once again quote my friend, “It is so sad. We have somehow managed NOT to pass down the core values that built our enviable traditional communities. We have raised two generations of selfish leaders-to-be.”

This was the core of my message to my Akungba friends.

SBO, speaking at Akungba, May 2024

Coincidentally, the young man who invited me happens to be the President of their parliament. He has been in touch with me since he was a teenager, even before being admitted to the university. He must have visited me in Abuja about four times to show me his manuscripts and ask to be mentored.

Akingbondere Tunde would take public transport from his base in Ondo state and show up in my office in Abuja just to talk to me and show off his attempt at being an author. At one point, his ambition was to meet the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka. He did everything he could to realize this ambition. When he did, he was over the moon and again embarked on that long trip to show off the autographed copy of his book by WS and a photo opportunity to boot.

Tunde is now a law student and looking forward to being a politician. I hope he and his colleagues will find the example of Ajasin, the man whose name is memorialized in their school, worth following than the present crop of politicians.

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