Who is afraid of Ekungba?

Suddenly, the media deemed Chief Jamiu Ekungba as deserving the most robust visibility among all the recent All Progressives Congress (APC) contenders for the office of the governor in Ondo State. Ironical and most stunning is the fact that the mischief makers refused to engage with sound issues raised by Ekungba during his campaigns prior to the primary election.

The winner of the election, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, had hardly been announced when Ekungba’s character assassins went to town to hack him. He was alleged to have gone bananas, hauling unprintable epithets against his fellow citizens.  He was particularly alleged to have been peeved by the fact that people collected N300 million from him but refused to give him the expected support.

In this urban century laden with information of varying grades, everyone has multiple sources of information. My first source of the allegation against Ekungba was an online news platform, an24.net run by a GboyegaAkosile, a well-known former student of mine. Though an online platform, I don’t get to see reports from this website regularly.

But Gboyega not only published this, he took the extra trouble of promoting it through his personal Facebook page. “What?” I exclaimed within myself. Ekungba lost this much and volunteered this comment? “Not the same Ekungba I have known for more than 20 years,” I muttered. Immediately, shame gushed up within me. A flurry of questions followed: Is this how Nigerians play politics? So,Ekungba can suffer this fate from anyone’s hands? Is this a design to terminate Ekungba’s timeously rising profile in politics?

What, in my own estimation, stood out Ekungba among his fellow contenders is what the entire Nigerian nation should reckon with – his robust knowledge of the economy as a successful banking career of more than four decades. Not known for smooth-talking and frivolities, he had announced during his campaign that he would fix the economy of Ondo in 45 days. So, if Ondo never had oil, what would have happened?

The reality therefore is that Ekungba that I know, given the same media attention that Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, his contemporary in banking practice has, he is in a position to offer similarly deep solutionist comments on the ailing Nigerian economy. And SLS, knowing him so well, can attest to this.  Perhaps soon, as President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have a renewed interest in attracting as many experts as possible to work on the economy. Ekungba, for sure, will make anyone’s grade “A” list. And I’m saying this as an academic of integrity.

But I also know Ekungba. Indeed, my entire knowledge of his person runs acutely contrary to the false colouration of his adversaries. My first opportunity to interact intimately with this banker was during the Muslim holy pilgrimage of 1993 which we performed together. I was a full time journalist on the Features Desk of Concord Press of Nigeria and Ekungba was already a senior banker with the defunct Trade Bank. Two things registered with me about Ekungba immediately.  He could be frank to a fault. Ekungba’s contemporaries at Trade Bank would attest to this. Not for nothing than his performance as chief inspector of the bank remained one to beat till the bank ceased to exist.

So, when a serious minded person like that made a categorical statement on what he planned to achieve in office, you want to believe. And for those of us in development practice, when you have a plan of action, a goal but without timeline attached to it, there is a serious vacuum. You then begin to wonder on how the fantasising adversaries managed to come up with their attribution to Ekungba.

Indeed, the authors of the evil machinations against Ekungba picked on a wrong victim. Ekungba is one person who, in spite of being enviably credentialed, is unimaginably humble. Why won’t I believe that Ekungba’s projection on the economy of Ondo? Since he exited the banking sector, he’s been on the move to higher levels. His tenure at Bi-Courtney began and completed the construction of the edifice at Murtala Muhammed Airport II otherwise called MMA2. It remains the most outstanding radical modernisation in the nation’s airport system till date.

He’s also successful farmer and a grassroots conscious citizen. Though the greater part of Ekungba’s professional practice had been in cosy environments typical of white collar jobs, he musters the inspiring energy routinely to supervise his farms to the point of harvests. This, no doubt, had scared his rivals especially some of them who naively presume they have the monopoly of grassroots connecting. Ondo voters have since found out some of these characters are sheer pretenders. But Ekungba’s profile through his tertiary education days is filled with selfless service and this is known among his peers and subsequent generations.

It is gratifying that Ekungba has done a rebuttal. As a journalist and a trainer of journalists, it will be more fulfilling in future if more of Nigerian journalists endeavour to undertake thorough fact-checking on all declarative and reactive statements. None, for instance, ever bothered to avail the public of the details of Ekungba’s seemingly magical promise of fixing Ondo’s economy in 45 days.

  • Dr Akanni, a development consultant and journalism teacher, wrote from the Lagos State University, Lagos.