I woke up on Monday, October 26, 2020, and like every morning, had expected business as usual, especially from the ‘news sector.’ While hoping for a better tomorrow, my newsfeed was still dominated by the Trump v. Biden US Election coming up; the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still very serious here; and the saddest of them all, the widespread humanitarian challenges in Africa from police brutality to child trafficking and gender-based violence. However, I woke up to other news this time, the death of an icon, Chief Theophilus Adeleke Akinyele. Pa. Akinyele was a baba to me in every sense of the word. Although he died at the prime age of 88, I prepared for my Keynote with the Thabo Mbeki School with a heavy heart. Perhaps, I am selfish here, but I had hoped he would stay around with us for much longer, long enough to continue to share with us from his pool of wits, his tremendous wealth of knowledge, and vastness of experience.
Please allow me to tread a pathway of history for those who do not know this great man. Born on February 29, 1932, in Ibadan, Oyo State, Chief Theophilus Adeleke Akinyele (February 29, 1932, in Ibadan – October 26, 2020) was a Nigerian business consultant and civil servant. Chief Akinyele worked as a public servant for about 30 years. In those 30 years, he served in various positions as a Permanent Secretary in the old Western State of Nigeria in the Ministries of Agriculture and Finance. He later served as Registrar and Secretary to the Council of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, Osun State. He worked as Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service of Oyo State, Federal Director of Budget and Special Adviser to the Nigerian President on Budget Affairs from 1979-1983. Privileged, I must say, and twice it happened, I observed him up close without getting personally too close. I was a student at Ife when he served as Registrar, and when I served in the position of Administrative Officer in Ibadan, he was Head of Service. And with that, you can trust what I have to say about him. He lived a whole morally good life even though he occupied and served in several positions of authority. He was committed to his work; he was extremely meticulous and efficient at what he did. Thus, it was easy for me to revere him even as a youth. Growing up through adulthood and now that I am also a grandpa, my respect for him was retained and kept soaring.
Upon retirement, he ventured into the private sector, managing his firm of management and financial consultants in Ibadan. You can never associate idleness with Baba. Not only did he benefit himself from his vast experience in public service, but he also contributed actively to national issues. Indeed, he was someone you could say was development-oriented and passionate about institutional reform, good governance, transparency, and accountability —these qualities being some of the things he exhibited within the powers he held in service.
He has authored works on budgeting, financial policies, and institutional reform mainly centred on the Olubadan institution, drawn from his personal experience. He served as a member of national and international professional associations. At the same time, he was mostly identified with the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA), having served for 10 years as the Chairman of Economics and Statistics Committee. He also functioned as a member of the National Planning Commission.
Chief Akinyele completed his Bachelor of Arts in Classics from the University College Ibadan (now the University of Ibadan) in 1959. He furthered his studies at the Oxford University, University of Connecticut, and the Harvard Business School in specialised courses. As a former Federal Electoral Officer (1959) and one with a keen interest in Nigeria’s electoral process, the views of Chief Akinyele on the 2003 presidential election could not go unnoticed. In the Africa Update Newsletter (Vol XI, Issue 4, 2004), he contributed an extensive analysis of the sequential events leading to the 2003 presidential election and the aftermath of the country’s democracy. Through his work, his commitment to democratic principles and institutions could not be missed. Given his background on electoral matters dating to 1959, he was well versed in the history of elections in Nigeria and their conduct, having followed them with keen interest. He alluded to this himself when he contributed to the newsletter mentioned above titled: “The 2003 Elections in Nigeria: Views from a Policy Maker,” wherein he wrote: “I have watched with more than keen interest the preparations for and the conduct of the most recent elections in Nigeria, meant to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the democratic process.”
Throughout his nearly nine decades of existence, out of which he actively spent three in public and civil service, I cannot recollect (with my sharp memories) when he was associated with any scandal, negative controversy, or situation that warranted him being called unprintable names. With the positions he occupied, these reproachful acts would not be difficult to come by. However, these pitfalls were not for Baba. As aforementioned, he was a morally upright man. He valued his integrity and disciplined himself to protect his good name. Such was the kind of life he lived, worthy of admiration and emulation for younger generations, to which I belong (if you permit me – laughs!).
However, one that comes to mind as perhaps the most significant controversy he was involved in when perfectly cross-examined would only serve to amplify my opinion of him. For about 30 years, people in Ibadan had agitated for and demanded the chieftaincy law review. Chief Akinyele had been one of those who believed the reform was needed. He chronicled his thoughts in a book he authored titled, Ibadan Traditional System: Reform and Regeneration, published in 2011. In the book, on the background of his knowledge of Ibadan and to reform it to ensure its efficiency, he made informed suggestions on the best way to carry out the reform. Indeed, the late governor Abiola Ajumobi referred to the book as one of those that inspired the reform to give the political disaster that would follow a level of legitimacy.
The crowning of 21 Baales and elevation as beaded kings rightfully generated an uproar. However, with Baba’s name being the only one mentioned (with others unknown) as his book referenced, Baba was dragged into the centre of the political tussle between the late former governor and the Olubadan. In a swift response, Chief Akinyele demonstrated his impeccability and maintained his integrity by setting the record straight. He penned a letter where he sought to make clarifications: “I owe it a duty to categorically state my position on the issues involved in the current developments enveloping the Olubadan Chieftaincy system for the sake of consistency, truth, and personal integrity, and to avoid the possibility of being misquoted or misunderstood by anybody or group… at no time did I suggest that Ibadanland needs the proliferation of Obas nor the wearing of beaded crowns. In this regard, I would like to invite attention to the portion of the following pages of my book (pages 83-84), which would appear to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” He expressed that wearing a crown does not necessarily translate to the actions expected of a king. He also opined that the obas must not become political stooges while stating that some obas have allowed themselves to be used by politicians. “I also want to believe that the issue concerning the wearing of beaded crowns has become the Sword of Damocles dangling over the Ibadan Traditional System now that some unwary Baales in Ibadanland have been surreptitiously lured into turning themselves into pawns in the hands of politicians with the juicy carrot of wearing beaded crowns even if the beads are nothing more than Chinese-made artificial beads! The hood does not make a monk.”
As a man of integrity, reputation, mighty courage, a father, and an organic scholar, the world will certainly miss him. I am sorry for our collective loss and that of current and future generations for the void left behind by an incredible leader.
Falola is University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair at The University of Texas at Austin, US