Memories of the first civilian governor of old Ondo State, Michael Adekunle Ajasin, were brought back to life last week when virtues of the late educationist were extolled during the 20th colloquium organised by Adekunle Ajasin Foundation to celebrate the late politician, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI writes.
IT was a gathering of eminent persons cutting across different professional backgrounds and experience; people who have individually distinguished themselves as scholars, politicians and public administrators. On this particular day, they all spoke in unison on the need for exemplary leadership for the nation to reclaim its enviable past.
Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai; his Ondo State counterpart, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Senator Bode Olajumoke, Senator Remi Okuriboye, among others, who converged on Akure, the Ondo State capital, for the annual Adekunle Ajasin colloquium, agreed on the quest for visionary leadership for the country.
Each speake touched on the heart of what most of their compatriots saw as the bane of Nigeria in spite of its immense natural resources and human capital potential. The personalities interrogated the extent the ideals and principles the late educationist and politician, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, lived for had been sustained since his demise 22 years ago.
Again the name of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, also resonated on the occasion, with Governor el-Rufai reliving how Awolowo›s programme on human capital development served as a catalyst for the development in Yorubaland. Indeed, the audience at the International Event Centre, The Dome, in Akure, was held spellbound by the various speakers through their call for sober reflection on the state of the nation.
The 2019 edition of the colloquium in memory Ajasin, the first civilian governor of old Ondo State, was primarily designed to interrogate if the ideals and principles he espoused and lived for have really been achieved, 22 years after his demise. In line with the aim, the governor of Kaduna State, who was the guest speaker, lectured on the theme; “Promoting Economic Development, Social Justice and Rule of Law as Pathways to Stability, Peace and Prosperity in Nigeria.” He observed that the topic could not have come at a better time than now, saying the rule of law was sine qua non to achieving economic development.
El Rufai said: “The much-awaited Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) will elude us as a nation, as no businessman will want to invest his fund where the safety of his investment is not guaranteed and where governments at all levels disregard valid court orders.
“Without the rule of law, there cannot be social justice, which is defined as a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. This means without rule of law, there cannot be social justice, stability, peace and prosperity in Nigeria.”
The governor attributed the high quality human capital in the South-West to the foresight of Chief Awolowo and his political ally, Chief Ajasin, through the implementation of a free education programme in the then Western Region. He asserted that their ingenious idea on education contributed positively and improved the fortunes of the South-West.
“The high quality human capital development in the South-West is a direct consequence of the free education policy,” he noted.
He reasoned that the feat was attained through a consensus among the South-West leaders and elite, while he noted that it would have been a difficult task for Ajasin and Awolowo to achieve the dream, if they faced stiff opposition from the elites, saying instituting and executing the policy would have been a difficult task.
He, however, said this could be replicated in modern Nigeria with elites across the country coming together to reach positive consensus in galvanising the nation towards economic development and social justice, listing such consensus to include key issues and areas like the rule of law, citizenship, meritocracy, diversity and devolution of power.
He said: “One of the problems of the country is that the elite never agree on how to make things work. They should all come together and make things work and they will be the greatest beneficiary. Nigerian leaders have failed to realise that if the people are not comfortable, they will not enjoy their wealth.
“One of this is that the ordinary citizen must have access to justice. The law must be balance. Each person should be judged by his merit and competence, if we want our country to grow. Any policy that has failed to work for the development of the country in the past years should be reviewed.”
The guest speaker, however, added that Nigerians had a greater role to play by choosing competence ahead of political party or ethic affiliations while electing their leaders, saying this was to create the kind of change they desire and for the nation to achieve rapid national growth.
While stressing the need for the electorate to be pragmatic in choosing their leaders, he urged Nigerians not to leave politics and administration of the country in the hands political jobbers whose main business in power is to enrich themselves and not for the welfare of the people and the development of the land. He noted that these political jobbers are in the corridors of power because the nation’s best brains are scattered across the globe working and developing multinational companies, while the nation lacks real experts who can turn the country around. He urged such persons to delve into politics and usher positive change into the country.
“Those people that are saying politician messed up the country are at fault, because our best never join politics. They are all working with multinational companies, oil companies, telecommunication companies and so on, while the politicians are messing up the country. They are now shouting. The best they can do is to join us to collectively move the country forward,” he said
Ondo State governor, Mr. Akeredolu, also lent his voice to the need for the country to embrace the rule of law principles. Addressing the gathering, Akeredolu said without rule of law, there could not be any meaningful development in the country, adding that there could also never be social justice. Akeredolu, who was represented by his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, said Ajasin left a gap that contemporary Ondo State politicians found difficult to fill. He said the fact that present politicians used Ajasin’s name to campaign showed that the late former governor would not be easily forgotten.
He commended Ajasin’s children for instituting the programme to remember their father’s legacies.
Akeredolu said: “The first civilian governor of the old Ondo State, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, is precious to the people of both Ondo and Ekiti states, because of the legacies he left behind when he governed the two states between 1979 and 1984. His legacies of good governance dot the landscape of the two states and that is the reason the Ondo State-owned University, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko (AAUA) was named after the late sage.
“That an annual colloquium is organised in his honour testifies to the fact that the family and political associates cherish his memory.”
The chairman of the occasion, Senator Olajumoke, described late Ajasin as a visionary leader who had contributed immensely to the political and educational development of the country through his commitment and honesty to public good and democratic principle. He noted that the late politician left behind legacies that were difficult to surpass by any administration in the state.
Senator Okurinboye, on his part, pointed out that Nigerians were selfish and more concerned about their pockets, rather than the service they could offer the nation. He said there was need for complete restructuring of minds for people to maintain and build on Ajasin’s record of achievements.
He said: “Ajasin has exceptional achievements that only few people can match. The level of honesty of baba was high. The scenario has changed. It is very difficult to achieve except by people like us who people regard as old politicians. Nowadays, people have decided to throw away honesty to get what they want.” An educationist, Chief Femi Aluko, said the late Ajasin was an authority in education, as far as the country is concerned, adding that his education policy should not be allowed to die naturally. He called for improvement to sustain the achievements of Ajasin through publication of books in order to encourage future generations that education is the key to success.
Earlier in her welcome address, one of the late Ajasin’s children, Mrs Jumoke Anifowose, said the foundation was initiated in 1999 in honour of her father, because his life was marked by unwavering belief in the cause of social justice, equity and fair play.
Anifowose said: “Very close to his heart were principles of accountability, transparency and probity. As an elder statesman, Chief Adekunle Ajasin contributed tremendously towards salvaging the country from the firm grip of military dictatorship, working with like minds in ushering in a democratic government.”