He was very welcoming and seemed eager to make media friends whom, I suspected, he felt he needed to bat off Rasheed Ladoja’s counter-offensive to his removal from office.
He was chatty, telling us of how much of a force he was in Ogbomosho where he was a council chairman before becoming Ladoja’s deputy. He felt he was a big hitter in his own right.
But he also had a lot of respect for Adedibu, the author of the chicanery that made him governor and elevated the street tyre mender-level Hazeem Gbolarunmi to the position of deputy governor. The interview, naturally, was heavy on what was to come in the shape of Ladoja’s response.
Alao-Akala was persuaded that Ladoja’s chances of reclaiming the governorship were nil despite being told that the process of his emergence was kooky. “Editor, whatever the outcome of his court case is, he will not return. That outcome will only be used by Law undergraduates in school. It will have no bearing on our politics here,” he said in Ogbomosho dialect.
He was certain that the Obasanjo-Adedibu double act would trump any court decision and laughed each time we said that wasn’t proper. He mocked Ladoja for going to court, reminding us that as before he was removed, he spat at two court rulings in favour of an Alliance for Democracy (AD) chairmanship candidate in Oyo North. The guy had gone to the tribunal when he felt he was denied victory and won. An appeal filed against his victory by the candidate of the PDP, to which Ladoja and Alao-Akala belonged, was also decided in his favour.
Yet, Ladoja refused to swear him in as chairman. Alao-Akala, with pride, told us that he swore the guy in because that was what the courts decided, adding that Ladoja had no moral basis to yell about his removal. Almost everything he said had Adedibu’s name inserted into it, something that riled me.
He got the hint, a very bold one, that I was pissed and jokingly said there was nothing I could do about the man’s influence. “Editor, Baba (Adedibu) should be a course of study in Political Science departments in our universities. I will lend you a copy if you promise to return it,” he said.
I didn’t need further prompting to make the promise, which I did not keep. Not very proud of it, though. The book, written in inelegant language, was Adedibu’s biography and detailed his role in the June 12 saga.
Alao-Akala was warm, even if he was a bit coarse. He didn’t pretend to be what he wasn’t. He wasn’t posturing as a man of some great intellect, but as one with a common touch.
Ladoja won. Alao-Akala returned to his rightful position as deputy governor. An attempt to interview him after that was unsuccessful because he thought it was inappropriate. I met with members of the entourage around him while he was governor and they told me that they and their principal were being treated by the Ladoja camp as though they had a communicable disease. Hardly surprising.
He had become, in short, as appealing as a cough over your shoulder on a supermarket queue in the Covid era. One of them told me that the water supply to his lodge had been cut off, provoking a shake of the head. I returned to Lagos.
There was another interview attempt, successful this time. It was on the day of the 2010 World Cup final. He had finally become governor. Again, courtesy of Adedibu’s muscles. I arrived at the Oyo State Government House in the company of Kemi Akinyemi AKA Abeke Onassis. It was about three quarters of an hour until kick-off and he pleaded that we should have the interview after the match. Sensible.
He was exuberant. Who wouldn’t be after becoming governor? He joked freely and said he harboured no bitterness against Ladoja despite what happened. He said he grew up in Ghana and had his first girlfriend, at the age of 19, in Ghana.
The first girlfriend, he said, was around in Nigeria and actually in the building as we spoke. He was proud of the fact that they were still in touch.
I would not be Bamidele Johnson if I didn’t say something verging on the insane. “My Excellency (the sycophancy-laden description of those in his position), is there still some spark after all these years,” I asked.
“Editor, ko dabi pe e gbadun rara (it doesn’t seem like you’re very well),” he replied good-naturedly. We all laughed. Don’t remember well now, but I think he said the woman was a widow with grown children and was known to his wife, with whom she’d become friends. I commended him for remaining close to her and he said he remained close to many of his childhood friends, mentioning a few names. His aides nodded. Of course, it rained red wine and accompaniments.
We watched the match, which spilled into extra time and was decided by Iniesta’s goal. And then, the interview, which dragged on because we started late. He was not the most polished or glib of speakers. He didn’t make copious use of figures or democracy jargons to hoodwink. He was rustic and was not ashamed of it. He saw himself as a man of the people and thought he was serving them well. They are the ones who give a more accurate assessment of his performance.
To me, he was a jolly good chap. No airs. RIP
Bamidele Johnson was editor of the rested TEMPO Magazine.
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