Sir Olaniwun Ajayi lived well, died well

Oration delivered by Dr Olatokunbo Awolowo Dosumu in honour of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi

The fact of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi’s sudden death on November 4, 2016 is only gradually sinking in. At 91, he has had a ‘good innings’, as they say. He lived well and died well. Yet, what a loss his death is to his family, the church of God, his political associates and acolytes, society at large and, in particular, believers in the indispensability of the principles of decency, truthfulness and reliability in all spheres of human endeavours.

I have had the privilege of knowing him for very many years. First as a keen observer of the goings-on in the highly political home in which I was brought up and, much later, at closer quarters, as the Executive Director of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation where Sir Olaniwun Ajayi served as a most valued member of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership’s Selection Committee.

From my knowledge of him, the two words that best sum Sir Olaniwun Ajayi up are ‘commitment and loyalty’ – to his God and the body of Christ, to his wife and family, to the highest ideals in politics and public life and to his friends and associates.

His commitment to God and the body of Christ was evident throughout his life in the total deployment of his time, talent and substance to ‘the great commission’ of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His commitment to his wife was unquestionable. Indeed, many were surprised that he survived for as long as he did after her demise. His children, their spouses and their children meant the world to him, and he left no-one in any doubt about that.

His commitment to ideals and his loyalty is also well-known. People like Sir Olaniwun Ajayi are not given to frivolity. They only commit to ideas and relationships after very rigorous consideration.  His legendary loyalty to Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the ideals he espoused, is an excellent example and was, practically, his defining attribute.

For their generation, the only goal of politics was to serve humanity. That was the basis of their enduring philosophy of Afenifere. Any potential critic has to appreciate this fact in order to understand their fierce commitment to the fundamental principles of federalism and political restructuring in Nigeria as the logical means of guaranteeing the delivery of ‘life more abundant’ to the citizenry.

Sir Olaniwun Ajayi seized every opportunity that came his way to point, and urge us to navigate our way back, to those ‘ancient landmarks’ that served his generation so well and which hold the potential, still, to serve future generations even better.

Although his message and his principled stance may appear unrewarding to some in the current political dispensation, I believe that he is assured of an enviable place, not only in the history of this country, but more importantly in the pantheon of the architects of the highway that would lead us to our manifest destiny.

On the Selection Committee of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi never missed a single meeting and he always generously availed us of his profound knowledge and wisdom. He will be greatly missed.

He also remained committed to the family of Chief Obafemi Awolowo throughout his life, sharing deeply in all our joys and challenges.

Let me urge his children and grandchildren that, as inheritors of a proud heritage, you are obliged to ensure that the heritage endures. I pray that the Lord will guide your every step as you journey into the future.

Finally, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was a foremost member of a gradually disappearing ‘band of pilgrims’ whose vision and mission in public life extended far beyond self and material gain.

For the benefit of those of us he left behind, permit me to quote excerpts from the poem, ‘The Present Crisis’, written in 1844 by James Russell Lowell, an American scholar, poet and diplomat.

This poem assumes greater poignancy in a year that Oxford Dictionaries’ choice of word of the year is ‘post-truth’ because 2016 is considered best characterised by a word that, believe it or not, questions the very concept of facts!

Rather ominously, the publisher is reported to have said in a video explaining its selection, that ‘post-truth’ is likely to have a long shelf life, because it describes ‘a general characteristic of our age.’

Back to James Lowell’s words. They are profound and deeply spiritual. Hear him:

‘Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side… Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand…They were men of present valour, stalwart old iconoclasts…But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free…

New occasions teach new duties. Time makes ancient good uncouth. They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth…Truth forever on the scaffold… Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own…’

Chief Obafemi Awolowo left us almost 30 years ago. He passed the torch to the likes of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi who we here honour. I have no doubt that history will adjudge him to have carried the torch forward with admirable courage and distinction.

Now the question to succeeding generations is this: to which side of history do we wish to belong?…

To Sir Olaniwun Ajayi I say, farewell, valiant pilgrim. You have earned your rest.

Farewell. And Godspeed!

  • Dr O. Awolowo Dosumu

November 23, 2016