A chieftain of the pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, died on Friday at the age of 91, drawing emotional messages of condolence from across the country.
The prominent Yoruba leader who, 48 hours before his death, spoke exclusively with the Saturday Tribune, died before 12 midnight on Thursday, according to his personal secretary, Mr Samson Aremu.
The Isara-Remo-born politician was reported to have complained of pain on Thursday afternoon and was taken to Lagos by one of his sons, Dr Konyin Ajayi, SAN. He died hours later.
Sir Olaniwun was born in Isara-Remo on 8 April, 1925, to Mr Benjamin Awoyemi Ajayi, a farmer and Marian Efundolamu Ajayi, who traded in farm produce to sustain the family.
Sir Olaniwun had his early education at Islamic Primary School, Epe, where he schooled for three months and later enrolled into a primary school in 1937 and completed his primary education in Ode-Remo after-which authorities of the school engaged him to teach there due to his intelligence and excellent result.
Sir Olaniwun later attended Wesley College, Ibadan, Oyo State, for a four-year teacher’s course. After leaving Wesley College, Sir Olaniwun became a supervisor of schools for the entire Remo and Ijebu province. He attended the London School of Economics and Political Science where he read Law and also studied to become a chartered secretary. In October 1962, he returned to Nigeria and worked with the UAC for six years. After his resignation from UAC, Sir Olaniwun was appointed by the then Governor of Western State, Brig. Gen. Oluwole Rotimi as commissioner for education and two years later, he was appointed commissioner for health. After about three years of public service as commissioner for health, he went into private practice as a lawyer.
President Muhammadu Buhari has condoled with the family of Ajayi and the Afenifere on the death of one of its oldest surviving members, Sir Olaniwun.
Buhari also commiserated with the government and people of Ogun State on the death of the author, legal practitioner, elder statesman and nationalist.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, on Friday in Abuja, the president commended Sir Olaniwun’s efforts at strengthening democracy in the country through his engagements in Afenifere, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and the Patriots.
“Guided by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s principle, the president believes that the late revered Yoruba leader effectively combined his sharp commentary on the state of affairs in Nigeria with uncommon patriotism while working tenaciously to further unity, development and prosperity in the nation.
“President Buhari urges all who mourn Pa Ajayi to emulate his lifelong commitment to dialogue, democracy and development, which are key ingredients for national growth.
“He prays that God will comfort Pa Ajayi’s family and grant the soul of the departed eternal rest,” the statement said.
He was full of knowledge, wisdom —Awolowo Dosumu
The Co-chairman of the African Newspapers of Nigeria (ANN) Plc, Dr Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, has described the late Sir Olaniwun as a man full of knowledge and wisdom, who will be sorely missed.
She said this, on Friday, during her condolence visit to Pa Ajayi’s residence in Isara-Remo.
Awolowo Dosumu said that the vacuum created by his death would be difficult to fill, saying that the deceased was one of the titans of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s political ideology.
“Yet another one of the titans has left us. May their legacies continue to endure. May the great soul rest in peace”, she said.
He was a pillar of support —Ooni
The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, joined other Nigerians to mourn the death of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi.
The Ooni described the late Ajayi in glowing terms calling him a pillar of support and an “exemplary pan-Africanist with unapologetic patriotism in the course of Yoruba emancipation, unity and progress.”
“I commiserate with the family of our beloved Papa Olaniwun Ajayi; I commiserate with Remo people, I commiserate with the people and government of Ogun state. I commiserate with the Yoruba race, with Nigerians and the entire continent of Africa over the death of this exemplary leader who until his death remained a fantastic family man, a dependable Remo leader, an exemplary cultural and political ambassador of Yoruba race, a Nigerian nationalist par excellence with an undying spirit for pan-Africanism.
“His moral support for my reign since I mounted this sacred throne of Oduduwa will definitely remain indelible,” the monarch said.
We’ve lost a rare leader —Afenifere
The pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, declared that with the passing of Sir Olaniwun, its oldest surviving member, it has lost a rare leader.
The group, in a statement in Lagos on Friday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said Sir Olaniwun’s death had robbed it of the wealth of experience of a philosopher, prolific writer and memory bag.
In the statement titled “We Lost A Rare Leader,” Afenifere said it mourned the death Sir Olaniwun but expressed joy that in a country with life expectancy of 53, the elder statesman made it to 91 ageing graciously and in good health till the last 24 hours of life when he had to be hospitalised for some health complication.
Afenifere said one remarkable trait of the deceased’s life was “his consistency in the Awolowo political family where he put almost 70 years of dedicated service as a lieutenant of the sage and one of his worthy successors after his transition.”
“He had a sense of history and lived his life deliberately to make impact on his environment. In Afenifere, the National Democratic Coalition, The Patriots and the Methodist Church where he was a knight, he left his indelible footprints on the sand of time.
“The last days of his life were spent in worries over the state of affairs in Yorubaland in particular and in Nigeria at large. He was not just lamenting but he was taking practical steps to find verb for our noun in the syntax of human experience.
“It is hoped that all those involved in such intervention would keep those efforts on as a memorial for this worthy son of Oduduwa.
“The great man of sound intellect may not have much good news for AWO as they meet in yonder but the seeds he planted in the last moments of his life must grow into trees that would bear the fruits of freedom,” the group said.
It promised to pay the right due in honour of the elder statesman, while still awaiting the burial arrangements from the family for the man it appreciated as good and of sartorial elegance.
“While waiting for burial arrangements from the family for the good man of sartorial elegance, it is a promise that we shall pay his shade the right due,” Afenifere.
“Our heartfelt condolences to the good family he has left behind and it is our prayer that the Lord will take his place in their lives. Adieu, Papa. Goodnight to a worthy leader,” it added.
He was a man of integrity —Fape
The Archbishop of Lagos Province, Dr Olusina Fape, said that the late Sir Olaniwun was one of the few Nigerians that did not allow politics to stain his garment of purity.
Fape, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, in Isara-Remo, described the death of the elder statesmen as saddening, saying he was a man of integrity who led a transparent life.
“The last time I saw him was during my presentation as the Archbishop of Lagos Province. He was in attendance with Pa Ayo Adebanjo. He was an encourager to me as a minister of God. His identification went beyond denomination. I am of the Anglican faith and he belonged to the Methodist fold.
“His voice rang loudly and he gave candid opinion on issues that are right. He was one of the few Nigerians that did not allow politics to spoil his garment of purity. His life was a living epistle worth reading by all men and women.
“He was an embodiment of purity, honesty and transparent life. His loving nature was infectious. He contributed his quota to the development of Yoruba nation and Nigeria. He was, indeed, a worthy elder statesman,” the cleric said.
He was a patriot —Atiku
Former Vice President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar describes the deceased leader of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Pa Olanihun Ajayi as a patriot whose exit will create a void that will be difficult to fill.
Atiku, in a press statement by his media office on Friday, said he was shocked at the announcement of the demise of the Yoruba leader, noting that Ajayi’s convincing advocacy of a restructured Nigeria was the noble signature he left behind.
According to the Turakin Adamawa, “Pa Olanihun Ajayi was a patriot you could rely upon. His advocacy for true federalism and for respect for human dignity will be a signature he left behind.”
Nigeria has lost a major progressive voice —Ambode
Lagos State governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, on Friday, expressed sadness over the passage of Sir Olaniwun.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Habib Aruna, said the late Ajayi was a frontline politician who was passionate about the progress of the Yoruba nation and Nigeria at large.
“Papa was one of the few surviving close associates of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. After Chief Awolowo’s death, he was a consistent advocate for the struggle to see Nigeria achieve the dreams of her founding fathers.
“He was very passionate about the progress of Nigeria. He was an intellectual genius who had an enthusiasm for the development of his immediate community and the country at large.
“I recall my last meeting with him just about three months ago at the residence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It was like a premonition. He had admonished all of us to give him a long lasting legacy and ensure that the Yoruba hegemony is not trampled upon and tarnished.
“This wish of his, as a great Nigerian statesman, and true son of Yoruba land, we are committed to uphold and to cherish,” the Governor said.
We have lost a giant —Aregbesola
Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, mourned the death of Sir Olaniwun.
In a statement by the Director, Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Office of the Governor, Mr Semiu Okanlawon, Aregbesola said the late frontline politician believed and worked for the progress of the Yoruba race and the country as a whole.
The governor, who described Sir Olaniwun as a giant and one of the students of the Obafemi Awolowo school of thought, said the politician was one of the best the country had produced as he never wavered in his political philosophy until his death.
“He was a politician of high repute and immense clout. His political horizon spread across the country and beyond. He was a giant in the battle for a better Nigeria,” Governor Aregbesola said.
He led highly impactful life —Amosun
Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, said although he would be “sorely” missed, “we cannot but thank the Almighty for the eventful and highly impactful life that the late Sir Olaniwun Ajayi lived”.
The governor described the associate of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as one of the icons of Ogun State and architect of the modern-day Nigeria.
He added that the fact that the elder statesman lived a long, fulfilled life in good health and made it to the “gracious” old age of 91 was something to be grateful to God for.
He was a great patriot —Oyinlola
A former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, expressed his condolences to the Yoruba race, government and people of Ogun State, especially the immediate family of Sir Olaniwun over the death of the elder statesman.
Prince Oyinlola, in a message, described the death as one that has robbed the country of a leading light in its journey to political maturity.
“Sir Olaniwun was a great patriot who stopped at nothing to fight for the entrenchment of good governance through the instrumentality of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
“Baba led a life of service and set examples for all of us in being the best versions of ourselves. A man of peace, he embodied love, patriotism, loyalty and godliness. He will be dearly missed. God rest his soul,” Oyinlola said.
Yoruba race has lost an icon —Daniel
A former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel, said that Sir Olaniwun was one of the greatest Yoruba men that ever lived.
Daniel, in his condolence message, described the late Ajayi as a leader of leaders, noting that the Yoruba nation had, indeed, lost an illustrious son.
“Finally, we lost one of the greatest Yoruba men that ever lived, a quintessential leader of leaders, most consistent, most eloquent, clear-headed, ideological and as constant as the Northern star in thought. The Yoruba nation has, indeed, lost one of the most illustrious leaders.
“He was a very strong force in Nigerian polity and well respected in the political landscape over the years, as he improved on the democratic ideals of the founding fathers and played his roles in the service of the nation in various capacities.
“He was a courageous personality noted for his frank disposition to issues and policies. He remained principled when it mattered most and never compromised his stance even in the midst of challenges. His invaluable contributions to national development will be greatly missed”, Daniel said.
His death great loss to Yoruba race, Nigeria —Olugbo
The chairman of Yoruba Obas Conflict Resolution Committee, the Olugbo of Ugbo Kingdom, Oba Frederick Akinruntan, described the death of Sir Olaniwun as a great loss to Nigeria and, indeed, the Yoruba race.
The traditional ruler said Sir Olaniwun died at a “critical time” his “wise counsel” was needed the most.
Oba Akinruntan recalled the roles of Sir Olaniwun in lending support to resolving crises among Yoruba monarchs and his support for the committee which, he said, had resolved many crises among the monarchs.
“It is painful to lose him at this critical time. He was an intelligent Yoruba man. He worked assiduously for the unity and uplift of the Yoruba race to take its rightful place in Nigeria. He was a selfless leader and I will always remember his contributions to resolving crises among Yoruba obas. I know history will be kind to him.
“On behalf of Yoruba Obas Conflict Resolution Committee, I sympathise with his family, the Afenifere and all Nigerians on the death of this great man and I pray God will grant his family the fortitude to bear the loss”, the traditional ruler said.
He was a consummate Awoist —Kaka
A former senator for Ogun East district, Adegbenga Kaka, in his condolence message, described Sir Olaniwun as a consummate Awoist, political mentor, legal icon, peacemaker and outstanding lover of his family, community and nation.
“Words can never be adequate to capture the bundle of blessings the nation has just lost. It may take decades to realise what our nation would be missing by his exit, just as the un-regained lost opportunities in Papa Obafemi Awolowo.
“We, however, take solace in a purposeful life well spent, nearly seven decades of mentoring of the younger generation in an increasingly morally decadent society and preserving the legacy of good leadership bequeathed to the nation. Papa, you deserve eternal rest after putting everything at your disposal in the service of the nation and humanity,” Kaka said.
He was an advocate of Nigeria’s restructuring —Akinfenwa
Former national chairman of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Senator Mojisoluwa, commiserated with Afenifere and family of Sir Olaniwun.
Akinfenwa, in a message titled “Tribute to a Titan: Sir Chief Olaniwun Ajayi”, said: “One of the very few remaining leaders of the puritan era of politics in Nigeria, has fallen at 91.”
The AD chieftain said Sir Olaniwun “witnessed and took part in the struggles that won Nigeria its independence from the colonial masters in 1960.
“He was also at the forefront of the several struggles, successes and challenges of progressive politicking in Nigeria, especially during the oppressive military regime in Nigeria.”
“Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was part of the struggles for democratic ideals and egalitarian principles as taught in the Awolowo School of Political Philosophy, and was an iconic leader, in politics and opinion formation, in the South West, in particular an in Nigeria in general.”
Akinfenwa, who described Sir Olaniwun as a true Christian in politics and a successful lawyer, said though a politician, “politics was not his business.”
“Pa Olaniwunn Ajayi was an avid believer in and an advocate for the restructuring of Nigeria. He fought for it doggedly, fearlessly, and unsubdued until the home call.
“I commiserate with all the the members of Afenifere family worldwide for the loss of one of the leading members of the unique family. May his gentle soul rest in peace,” Akinfenwa said.
He was my dad—Odebiyi
Chief Tolu Odebiyi described Sir Olaniwun as his adoptive fatherwith whom he shared a strong bond
“Papa was my dad. He was the pillar that stood with us when my father died and came daily to Iboro. They were friends but he went beyond the duties of a friend. He immediately filled the vacuum and adopted me as his son and my family as his children, too.
“He prodded me to come into the fold of Afenifere, chided my aloofness and lack of interest in politics, encouraged me to build on the legacy of my late father.
“We have lost a whole lot in this country, most importantly our beacons of hope and moral compass. Papa was such and shall be greatly missed. He was truly loved, cared for, gentle, disciplined, regal and polished. He was a man of style, loved to look good and did it with class.
“He abhorred mediocrity and wanted the best for the country and Yoruba race. I thank him, and shall hold on to this words and memory for as long as I live”, he said in a tribute.