For two years I was Hillary’s neighbor at Fajuyi Hall in Ife. I was in Room 242 and he was in 243. We were friends and then became brothers.
He tells me every now and then that three Yoruba personalities have made the best impacts on his life: Alhaji Lam Adesina, Chief Gani Fawahinmi and Chief Alex Akinyele.
Lam boarded the last flight first, Gani followed and now Aleco.
I yield this space to Larry who specially requested I say thanks to Dr Olusegun Mimiko for his presence with the Akinyeles throughout his funerals, for his reflections on the ebullient man:
Death is a destination that we all share in common. It is life’s change agent that no one has ever escaped. It clears the old and make way for the new. I am not distressed because Alexander Akinyele, a.k.a Daddy is no longer with us. With gratitude to God, I acknowledge the providence that brought us together.
He held various important positions in Nigeria. He was President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Information Minister, National Sports Commission Chairman, Ondo High Chief, Chairman and Chief Executive of several companies, among other honours. Fortunately for both of us, none of these earthly positions or the power and influence that came with them was ever a consideration in our relationship.
His son, Kayode, my friend, was the connection between Daddy and I. After school in Ile-Ife, I relocated to North America. This was the era of one telephone per household for those that could afford it. This also meant that whenever I called, someone including Daddy will answer the phone with the usual “Hello, who is calling, where are you calling from and who do you want to speak to?” Perhaps in today’s Facebook and WhatsApp environment, chances are that we may never have gotten as close as we did. Prior to leaving Nigeria, my relationship with Daddy was very faint at best. We actually became more acquainted from my regular calls. He particularly admired my spirit of staying in touch.
A Friend in Need:
One day, alone in my North American abode, stressing over an issue and not realising the time difference with Nigeria, I called Daddy at 2am. His lovely wife, the late Mommy Yvonne picked up the phone. Daddy took the phone from her wondering if anything unseemly had happened. As soon as I realised what time it was in Nigeria, I started apologising but he made it known that he was available to me 24/7.
He was loyal to all my causes to a fault and was prepared to take risks to prove it. The legendary Gani Fawehinmi was representing me in a legal matter in Lagos. Publicly and privately, Gani and Daddy were not on the best of terms. As soon as Daddy found out that Gani was my lawyer, he put every personal consideration aside and drove to Gani’s law chambers to let him know that my issues were his issues too.
As chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee, Daddy was attending an event at the Concorde Hotel in Owerri. A dinner invitation from a very unexpected source was extended to him. His would-be host promised to pick him and his entourage up later in the evening. Daddy called from his hotel and told me that as a father, he would never accept an invitation from anyone who had treated me callously. He told me that if I ended up seeing pictures of him in a warm embrace of this would-be host that I may never trust him again.
When God called Mommy Yvonne home in 1998, I called to inform Daddy that I was making arrangements to come home. In his usual supporting voice, he told me that as much as it meant a lot to him that I returned home, my safety was way more important to him than anything else. He advised against the trip and asked me to support him with prayers.
A Detroit Airport Meeting:
This was summer of 2000 and Daddy was in London planning a trip to Colorado to visit his son Bayonle of blessed memory. I insisted that he made a layover in Detroit. Due to time constraints, he accommodated me as much as he could. He planned and routed his trip through Detroit. We had up to four hours of transit before his flight continued from Detroit to Colorado but his flight from London arrived an hour late. I picked him up at the international wing of the airport. The original plan to take him briefly to my house was aborted. I was simply delighted to see him.
The Detroit Metropolitan airport was extremely busy on that hot summer afternoon. After circling around the airport a few times looking for a parking spot, I dropped him off at the domestic wing and he promised to wait for me. An hour later, I found a parking spot and raced to where I dropped him off. He should be close to his boarding gate at this time but shockingly Daddy waited for me at the same exact spot the entire time. On getting to him, he said that his spirit told him that we were going to see each other before his flight to Colorado.
As we walked towards his departure gate, he spared a few minutes for a Nigerian man who recognised him at the airport. He told Daddy that he was part of the Nigerian contingent in the recent global soccer competition in Japan. He asked if Daddy remembered him and he said yes. As we walked away, he told me that there was no way he could possibly remember everyone and we both laughed out loud. We arrived at his departure gate, he prayed for both of us and I bade him farewell.
The Remaining Days:
In 2007, I travelled to Ghana and Nigeria on a mission sponsored by a European Investor, the Canadian government and the United Nations. On arrival in Lagos, I discovered that Daddy was still in New York. He returned to Lagos the night before my departure and summoned me to his house the following morning. He organised a picturesque breakfast of yam and egg. We ate and enjoyed each other’s company. Unfortunately, as I write, overwhelmed with emotions, this was my last physical meeting with Daddy. As I stood up to leave, he asked if I needed anything. When I inquired what he had in mind, he said it would be money. I reminded him that I was heading out of the country in a matter of hours. He told me that the money could be spent in any part of the world. I thanked and reminded him that if I ever needed such assistance, I would not hesitate to let him know.
About two years ago, Daddy had been continually ill and his phone numbers changed. We went for months without speaking to each other. I remember contacting a mutual acquaintance who benefitted financially from Daddy when the going was good and requested that he stop by his house to check on him. A few months later, I asked Daddy about this and he laughed it off. He reminded me that some people will only be your friend when the OVATION is loudest.
I called Yinka Odumakin and not knowing what to expect, I asked if he could please go check on Daddy at my behest. A few short days later, Yinka called me from Daddy’s house. Daddy was home but was too weak to make it downstairs. Yinka spoke to Daddy by telephone from the house and the same phone was taken upstairs for me to reconnect with him.
Death News Hoax:
In November 2018, City People magazine quoting anonymous source published a story that Chief Alex Akinyele had passed away. I called Daddy and he picked up the phone on the first ring. I was shocked and relieved at the same time. I pretended as if it was one of our regular heart-to-hearts. He too had been informed of this reckless journalism and he knew why I called. Unable to contain my resentment, I called and texted the editor of the magazine and got no response. I called Daddy again the next day and this time he told me that he knew why I called. He had already issued a public statement to confirm that he was indeed alive and well.
The Goodbye Call:
Our chats had become irregular but we still managed to squeeze in a call every now and then. On this day in June of 2019, my phone rang and it was Daddy. He sounded much better than he did in a long while. He was cheerful and joked like his normal self. He told me that he missed me and demanded that it was time for me to visit again. Daddy also insisted that I snap out of whatever trepidations I was going through and return to the old hilarious Hillary that he was accustomed to. He told me that he had always admired my courage.
Daddy disclosed to me that he is now on a wheelchair. He had been through a lot lately. Knowing how resilient he was, I was convinced that this too shall pass. On September 24, 2019, I called him while on a trip to New York only to discover that he was on admission in a hospital. I spoke to him briefly and we explored options of procuring his medications from the United States. This was my final chat with him. He was later discharged from the hospital and he returned to his country home in Ondo. A few days later, he made the final bow.
Daddy was charismatic, an amazing human being, kind, nurturing and loyal. I am missing him dearly but our bond from the great memories will never end. I will do my utmost best to live out my life and accomplish the counsels he gave me on our last phone call.