The Ekefa-Olubadan of Ibadanland, Chief Lekan Alabi, is every journalist›s delight. He recollects history and matches it with dates, names and what have you. He also has an enviable record of serving four different governors (military and civilian) as Press Secretary. The former reporter with the Sketch Newspaper, who will be 70 years in October speaks to TUNDE AYANDA on his early start, the prediction before his birth, his principles and how he has come this far.
At 70, how do you feel?
I think age is a matter of number. I don’t feel any different from the time I knew my left from my right. But biologically and medically, one can notice recess in human activities like climbing stairs, walking in quick paces… All these have slowed down otherwise I don’t feel any different. I just look at it that I am 70. More so, my mum is still alive. She is 92 and people still won’t believe her age. I still look at myself as the child of a mother who is alive.
What were your days as a young child like?
One day, Adegoke Adelabu visited his women leader who happened to be my grandmother. They were coming from a campaign and they all came to our house. My father had gone to work. My father was very enlightened. He had worked with the British Roundtree company. They made chocolates. The manager wanted to take him to England but his mother refused. In our house, we had electricity and a radiogram. My father had switched off the electricity supply when he left for work, so when Adelabu came, they wanted to switch on the fan and radiogram for him and no one knew how to do that, and my grandmother was pacing up and down in confusion. I asked her, what is it? I was about seven years old then. I told her to ask someone to climb the chair and pull the switch, Adelabu was impressed and he gave me one shilling. I remembered he told my grandmother there that she should allow me go to Government College, Ibadan. You know Adelabu was the best student in Government College. His record is still at the school – unbroken.
Why were you sacked from TSOS by former Governor Omololu Olunloyo?
After I left Sketch, I went for my professional training in London at the College of Journalism, 62, Fleet Street. When I came back, I joined NTV. From there, I became one of the pioneer staffers of the Television Service of Oyo State (TSOS) in 1982. I was later seconded to the Governor’s Office under Governor Bola Ige as Press Secretary. We won the 1983 election but FEDECO said otherwise and the rest is history. But instead of allowing me to go back to TSOS, the government of Dr Victor Olunloyo said no and anybody who returned to either OYO or TSOS was sacked. Many were sacked and many were transferred. So, they were all begging but I refused to beg. My father and uncle were puzzled. They were socialites and friends with Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. My father went to Adedibu, and Adedibu said ‘Lekan Alabi? Ijesa ni Omo yen! That was because I was very loyal to Bola Ige. He said they should bring me, but I refused. I said I would not beg. All the pro-Ige people in the civil service were sacked. They were calling us UPN sympathisers. So, I was home for three months without a job. Lo and behold! There was a coup.
The following month, I was reappointed as the Press Secretary to Governor Oladayo Popoola. There were many miracles in my life. My letter of appointment came but the officials said they couldn’t locate me. They lied. The new government ordered all the people dismissed, suspended and penalised by the civilian government to return so that the new government could set up special investigation panel to look at the case.
One afternoon, I was at a Total filling station in Bodija when one of our uncles, Engineer Popoola, who was a cousin to the military governor, saw me and asked, ‘Lekan, how is your boss? I thought he was referring to Bola Ige and I said, ‘Oga has been taken to Lagos’. He said he wasn’t talking about Chief Bola Ige. I now approached him and he asked why I had not resumed. It was through him I heard that I had been reappointed. He asked me to come to his house in the evening. I went there and he told me the governor said they couldn’t locate me and he was already thinking of appointing another person. He now said if I was still interested, I should come to the office the following day. That second day, I wore one of my best suits. When I got to work, I pinched myself. I felt I was dreaming.
Working with Bola Ige at that time must have pitched you against Dr Omololu Olunloyo?
Dr Olunloyo wrote the foreword to my book.
So, you never had any problem with him?
Nothing personal. Till now, he still calls me. You need to read my book, ‘Speaking for Governors’ and what he wrote in the foreword of that book. Let me quote him, he said, he would have loved to retain me as his Press Secretary but for some do-gooders that didn’t want ‘Lekan Alabi’.
You worked with four different governors, how did you achieve that?
Yes, I worked with one civilian and three military governors as Press Secretary. Let me just tell you this: it’s my destiny. The last person I worked with, Brigadier Sasaenia Adedeji Oresanya, didn’t even tell me anything. It was at the tail end of his government in 1989 that he asked me to make a request and that he would grant it. That was March 30, 1989. And I asked him to sponsor me to Hajj. He was surprised, so he sponsored me and I left his service as Press Secretary. The day we were going to Hajj was the day the Odua Board was also meeting and the military governors. Oresanya was the current chairman then. So, when we were about leaving for Hajj, one of the protocol officers, Kola Fatunbi, saw me. They went to pick the food for the Odua Board at the government house and he shouted ‘egbon, congratulations’. I thought he was greeting me for Hajj and I was thinking what’s the big deal? He now said, ‘You have been appointed the Public Affairs Officer of Odua. They have already taken the press release of your appointment to media houses’.
Working with four governors, was there any particular time your work put you in trouble?
I had issues with MKO Abiola who was my mentor. Everybody knew we were so close. He would invite me to Lagos when he had matters to discuss. Also, Kabiyesi Arapasowu Olubadan, I was his confidant. I was his official director of protocols and confidant. When kabiyesi wants to discuss something in confidence with me, none of his family members, even wives, must stay with us. Oba Yinusa Bankole Ogundipe, I was his confidant.
What happened that time? The Alaafin of Oyo, Ikuba Baba Yeye, was going to make MKO Abiola the Aare Ona Kakanfo and the relationship between Governor Adetunji Olurin and Alaafin Adeyemi was stormy. I was Press Secretary to Governor Olurin at that time. So, Abiola invited Babangida, who was the Head Of State, to the installation in Oyo, but Babangida sent the Chief of Air Staff, Ibrahim Alfa, to represent him and my boss was already in a ceremonial army uniform because it was going to be a big ceremony and we were at the government house waiting to receive the representative of the Head of State. They had sent a signal a day before that Babangida was not coming but that he would send a representative. So, when Alfa drove into the government house, he wore a civilian dress.
Are you asking me? I don’t know. So, my boss saluted him and Alfa said it was a private thing that Olurin shouldn’t bother to go; that he should go to his work. Alfa went to Oyo and asked us to step back. Abiola got furious and when he was asked in an interview why the military governors from the South West did not attend his installation, Abiola said ‘all those ones are eaglet governors’ Eaglet governors? A full Colonel of the Nigerian Army who fought in Lebanon and won medals? Then Raji Rasaki and Mike Akhigbe, you called them eaglet governors? I wrote a rejoinder which rubbished MKO Abiola and it was published. The title was ‘What Do You Take Yourself For…’
And he was your friend?
I was avoiding him. If I saw him at any function, I would hide, but he later wrote a letter of apology.
Did he reach out to you after your rejoinder was published?
Ah! In the military days? Security would be watching out for you to see if you were double-dealing. That would be too dangerous. It’s best to be straightforward. All the people that knew us together, particularly his family, stigmatised me. Later, they transferred Olurin and I started working with Oresanya. The University of Ibadan was launching one foundation and Abiola was the toast of any foundation at that time. So, he came to the University of Ibadan. That time was different, unlike now when thousands follow a governor everywhere he goes. That time, only four of us would follow the governor out. The ADC, Director of Protocol, NSO and the Press Secretary, definitely, we would be standing behind the governor. When I saw Abiola at the event, I was scared.
Did he see you?
I was behind my oga; his back was turned to me. So, I put up a straight face but the MC broke the ice as he recognised the VIPs. He said, ‘My senior, Akogun Lekan Alabi, is also here.’ So, Abiola looked back and said, ‘Oh, you are here? Akogun Agbaye (he used to call me that), I quickly went to him and he said he would be sleeping in Ibadan that day and we should meet. I went to meet him at the vice chancellor’s chalet and he asked me why I was running from him. He said, ‘You did your job. Any good press secretary would do what you did. I was like, ‘so you are not angry?’ He asked me to come on Sunday and I went to his Ikeja home and that was how it ended. He told me my life’s history that day. You know he was also not an ordinary being?
My advice is for those who manage whatever they claim to manage for presidents and governors, they should all be careful. How can you be insulting personalties and important people? You can go to issues, but don’t personalise to please your bosses.
At 70, what are the things that you do to stay fit?
The doctors did certain prescriptions on what you should eat, drink once you are 40. There was an article I once read in a magazine, ‘How to Fire Your Boss’. The author outlined some things you must do before you get fired, like paying all your mortgage, your children must be out of school, don’t get caught in any court case, pray against illness… I carried that book about and I said I was going to follow that. The day our last born graduated, I was glad. So, my retirement was planned, timed.
Now, I am engaged in syndicated writings, lectures and seminars. The traditional title and duties have increased, and I have three weekly live radio analyses that keep my brain very alert. I do exercise and I love eating amala.
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