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Olumilua: Lessons in dignity

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By Emmanuel Oladesu

There are 10 qualities which young members of the political class can emulate from the life and times of Evangelist Bamidele Ishola Olumilua, former diplomat and Third Republic governor of Ondo State, who recently passed on at 80.

The first is that the eminent politician was a self-made man, who embraced education as a stepping stone to greatness. Although he never attended a secondary or grammar school, he made it to the premier university, Ibadan, through the dint of hardwork. He was in love with knowledge.

But, having known that the imported education would not be enough, he was also inducted into the culture, custom and tradition of his people. The informal education produced a man bubbling with native intelligence, moral restraints and achievement motivation.

Second, Olumilua had a second address. He embraced work because he relished dignity of labour. He rose to the top, not the very top anyway, in his diplomatic career, leaving service without blemish. In retirement, he was not idle. He ventured into business and succeeded.

At school, work and later in politics, he built a network of friendship.

Third, the deceased was a committed family man who worked for and took delight in the unity and success of his big family.

Fourth, Olumilua was a community man before becoming a statesman. He never forgot his root, making the people of Ikere-Ekiti to invite him home to participate in politics, in furtherance of his service to the town.

Fifth, Olumilua epitomised the virtue of Omoluabi, which Ekiti were noted for, before the erosion of moral standards in the hilly state. He was honest, down to earth, frank and sincere in his private and public dealings.

Sixth, having set a high moral and religious standard for himself, it became difficult for him to deviate. As a churchman, he was also a gentleman. During difficult situations, he was locked in sober reflection and exhibited calmness.

Seventh, the former governor shunned politics with bitterness, which, in his view, was antithetical to politics of focus and service. To him, political vendetta was counter-productive. While in office, he never personalised political power. He was a good captain; very firm, but yet, a team player.

Eighth, Olumilua could be credited with audacity of courage. He took some decisive steps in the interest of communities. He also fought for the rights of the state. Ondo won recognition as an oil-producing state during his tenure.

Nineth, he was never tribalistic. He supported Baba Gana Kingibe, a Kanuri, as against Moshood Abiola, a Yoruba, until he later switched to Abiola after he emerged as Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential standard bearer. He said having assured Kingibe of support, he could not betray the trust.

Tenth, Olumilua was a man of contentment, a fact that made him to reject temptations, avarice, kleptomania and the tendency towards corrupt enrichment.

Since Olumilua knew how to wash his hands, as it is said in Yorubaland, he definitely was also privileged to wine and dine with elders.

One good turn deserves another. Little did he know that his principled position on the Adekunle Ajasin/Akin Omoboriowo rift would later opened doors for him.

Although the principle of rotation and the pre-eminence of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the old Ondo State determined the emergence of the Third Republic governor, Olumilua became the beneficiary. Ajasin, the political patriarch, recalled his courteous attitude to politics as a “top notcher” of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic.

During the feud, he stayed on the side of truth by decrying the desperation of his kinsman, the treacherous deputy governor who wanted to pull the rug off the feet of his ailing boss.

Not only did Olumilua align with pro-Ajasin forces against Omoboriowo, a man in a hurry, he also resisted the pressure to dump the UPN, led by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for the notorious National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

Ajasin maintained that Olumilua, the UPN senatorial candidate, lost the election to rigging. But, the old man of Owo never forgot that devotion to principles and political finesse.

Although Ajasin and the old breed were precluded from the political process, he made the progressive structure under his leadership available to Olumilua.

If former Deputy Governor Nathaniel Aina and Chief S.K Kolawole had not been banned by the military, may be, the progressive bloc would not have adopted Olumilua, an old breed himself, who only escaped the military hammer because he lost his senatorial election.

Apart from Olumilua, in the SDP governorship race were Dr. Kunle Olajide, Dr. Jide Akinyemi, Prof. Opeyemi Ola and Prof. David Oke (Pick A Gem), who came into the race too late.

Reminiscing on why he supported Olumilua, Ajasin, in his memoirs, stated: “I delved into his background and found that I had reasons compelling enough to throw my weight behind him.

“For one thing, he had been widely known to have had a successful career in our foreign service as a career diplomat. This had given him the privilege of being widely travelled and enormously exposed.

“For another thing, he had been demonstrating his commitment to the interest of the state on the issue of the presidency of the country. He had been one of the early prompters of Chief Falae to put in for the presidential race at a time the latter was still in government.  I was not unimpressed by his choice of an Ondo State indigene for the presidency.

“After giving him my support, I did not hesitate at all in selling him to the leadership of our party in the state. And among the generality of our followers, I also made my position know to those who came for advice.

“In no time, it soon became widely known that Mr. Olumilua was not only the candidate of my choice, but also that I was actually his sponsor.  Given the general respect I commanded and the influence I had in the state, Mr. Olumilua soon became the leading gubernatorial aspirant in the state. He actually won the party’s flag at the primary and later, the gubernatorial seat at the general elections.”

However, Ajasin also admitted that his support for Olumilua was only a contributory factor as the aspirant left nothing to chance while pursuing the realisation of his ambition.

Olumilua ran an effective campaign. His political consultants, Prof. Olu Agbi, who he later appointed as Secretary to Government, and Prof. Dipo Kolawole from Ondo State University, Ado Ekiti, lent intellectual and strategic support.

Olumilua defeated another Ekiti star, Chief Ayo Ogunlade of the National Republican Convention (NRC), at the governorship poll. But, the evangelist assumed the reins at Akure, the state capital, at a wrong period. The hand of military President Ibrahim Babangida was heavy on the civilian governors who lacked free hands to govern their states under the strange diarchy arrangement.

Olumilua loathed the lies of IBB, preferring to eat with the Evil Genius with a long spoon. When the five Southwest Governors-Segun Osoba(Ogun), Isiaka Adeleke(Osun), Michael Otedola(Lagos), Ishola Kolapo(Oyo) and Olumilua met the military president at Osogbo, Osun State capital, during his visit, only Olumilua kept mute as his colleagues were making demands from the Federal Military Government on behalf of their states. Obviously yelling, IBB the dribbler beamed an infectious smiles, saying although the governor of Ondo State did not make any request, “our government will not forget the good people of Ondo State.”

Despite the meagre resources at his disposal, Olumilua ran an all-inclusive and effective government reputed for transparency and accountability. Former aspirants were carried along. There was no friction between him and his deputy, Olusegun Agagu, who later served as governor. The small cabinet was made up of seasoned technocrats and politicians.

Olumilua attempted to fight the infrastructure battle. Although he did not alter the non-residential policy of the state university, he invested in building hostels for students. Like his predecessor, Commodore Sunday Olukoya, he also gave N500 bursary to many indigent students. At that time, the governor had two daughters in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the institution. Lecturers and students perceived the two children as products of a home of culture, etiquette and decency.

Olumilua shunned opulence and rascality, unlike his neighbour, Serubawon of Osun. He encouraged dialogue and consensus building in resolution of crisis arising from governance.

The way he resolved the obaship tussle in Owo underscored a display of courage. The ex-Olowo, Olateru-Olagbegi, had survived his kinsman, Oba Adekola Ogunoye, who ascended the throne, following his removal by the military government on February 15, 1968. It was evident that the Ajasin camp in the divided ancient town was not disposed to his second coming. Ajasin could be described as Olumilua’s godfather or benefactor.

However, in a rare display of compassion, Olumilua believed that forgiveness and mercy should triumph over political malice and hate, so that the grand old kingly man, who had endured the disgrace and pains of dethronment for more than two decades, could gracefully return to the palace at the twilight of life, so that the prospects of going down into his grave in sorrow could be averted.

Olumilu’s tenure was abruptly truncated in November 1993 by the Abacha coup. He could not realise his full potentials as an elected governor. He never bounced back to power at the state level.

Also, curiously, the former governor plunged into political uncertainty when, against the run of opinion, he pitched tent with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), thereby mocking his antecedent as a progressive element.

In that company of strange bedfellows, he discovered an awful picture of actors without vision and ideas. He nevertheless, tried to make a difference on the task allotted to him as Chairman of Pilgrim Welfare Board. But, he was taken aback by the corruption and gross insensitivity to the plight of the masses who continued to groan in poverty.

Olumilua returned to his natural habitat, when he joined the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), only to discover that politics and politicians had changed drastically in the Fountain of Knowledge. Gerontocratic monitoring had become old fashioned and younger elements never listened to elders’ wise counsels. Instead, they prefered carrots being dangled by power barons and dubious money bags in the political arena, particularly as from 2003.

From his Ikere residence, he fired corrective salvo to younger elements who perceived politics, not as vocation, but an occupation of high economic value. He also decried rascals in power who promote thuggery, theft and graft, and the culture of ‘steal and go.’

Olumilua was a rare Christian evangelist who successfully presided over a large polygamous family, despite the popular feeling that polygamy could be a prelude to domestic strife and rancour.

The greatest tribute to his memory is for the political class to emulate his humility, modesty, honesty, integrity and his admonition on the vanity of life.

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