Dateline was November 27th, 2017. I had left home for Mokola, to complete a printing project I was undertaking for a client. It was my first major contract. Barely an hour after I settled down for business at the printing office, a friend rang me. Maybe out of fear or force, he talked about a scoop and the need to meet me immediately. I didn’t know he was acting the script of some ‘askaris’ who had trapped him to have me arrested. Initially, I told him to send the story highlight via WhatsApp or email but when he said he would love to see me, I gave him a clue of where to locate me at that particular moment. When he got to the place, he notified me and I came out to receive him but he was ‘invisible’ until a man opened the front door of an already parked Toyota ‘big daddy’ Camry and tapped me to enter. I was furious. “Enter where,?” I queried him. “Gentleman, the Commissioner of Police would like to have a word with you”. He told me with an eerie smile.
He later showed me his police identity card but I was still not convinced he was a police or better still, an officer on a legal mission. ” How can I be sought by the CP? I wondered. I was still hesitant when the back seat of the car was opened and I saw my ‘bait’ friend, two other plain-clothed policemen and a familiar police orderly of a top government functionary in the State inside the same vehicle with a full blown air conditioner. What could have happened? I couldn’t think straight. However, my fear was allayed seeing those two known faces but none of them uttered a word. I joined them thinking we were going there together. They later ‘excused’ my two friends and I was left alone in the car. They drove off.
As we approached the gate of the State Police Headquarters, Eleyele, my fears heightened. They drove me straight to the Anti Kidnapping Unit. This was not my first time at the police Headquarters though. Before and during my service year, I had covered police events, especially when suspected criminals were paraded. I couldn’t call anybody, not even my wife, as my phone had been seized (or was it collected?) from me.
Meanwhile, on Sunday 26th, the late chairman of the Oyo State chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Alhaji Taofeek Oyerinde aka Fele, had called me. “Hello, se eyin le nje Debo,” he asked in a strange but baritone voice and I answered ‘Yes, sir’. “Alhaji Fele lo nsoro…” After expressing his anger about the story I published, he later requested me to do a rebuttal as his alleged sickness was a hoax, according to him.
Let me provide a background to that phone conversation; Between November 24th and 25th, 2017, rumours had it that he was dead. I am close to the hierarchies of the NURTW as my uncle was once a chairman of Bere mini bus branch. I still maintain contact with some of my Uncle’s boys till date. After making several calls and confirming that he was alive but sick, I published a story with the caption- Fele Is Sick, Not Dead. Within few minutes, the story went viral. I didn’t know I had courted trouble. That fateful Sunday, I was at the residence of one of the gubernatorial aspirants when his call came in. At first he cursed me, saying things like “Se Omo egbe awako ni yin ni? Se a mo ra ri ni? O wa ni Fele sick, not dead…” After he was done, I explained how I came about the story. He even demanded to know who told me that he was sick but I declined. He later begged me, asking me to publish another story. I did another with the caption, “Fele Speaks, Says I’m hale and hearty.” I sent the link to him later through the WhatsApp platform.
I had thought everything was over until that Monday morning. I would later be told that the officers used my arrest to impress Fele, their benefactor, who had initially told them that he had settled everything with me. They led me into an air-conditioned room. I overheard the officers telling his superiors that they have arrested the ‘guy.’ One of the senior officers later called Fele to inform him about my arrest. After few minutes, one of them brought sheets of A-4’ papers before me. My eyeballs changed. I was not going to write anything until I see my lawyers… My phone was not with me.
After arguing for close to an hour, they begged me, saying I had no problem; that it was a ‘small issue.’ I later decided to write a statement. “My name is Sikiru Akinola, a native of Oyo town and a graduate of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.” I dropped my pen. He asked if that was all and I nodded…He took it to his superior. I didn’t know what he saw. He became gentle. He later asked if I knew Fele and I said “Yes, there was no way I couldn’t have known him.” He asked me to include this. I was about including it when Fele arrived with retinue of aides. They came in different exotic cars and buses. They didn’t hold any weapon but the chains on their necks were enough to cause permanent damage if Fele had decided to unleash them on me.
After he was seated, the officer in charge asked one of his officers to bring me before him. The place was filled to the brim as Fele ‘boys’ from the NURTW and the Police Command stood on the two sides leading to the small office. I summoned courage and followed the officer. I had entered before they knew it was me. They had expected a huge personality or someone close to the leadership of the Union. On sighting an unknown and innocuous me, they became more infuriated; they wanted their boss to know they were capable of dealing with me. They were not even deterred by the presence of the officers of the Command, most of who were to show ‘loyalty’ to a powerful benefactor. I heard one of them thunder: “Mio ba ti fo epon Iya re…” Fele yelled at the guy, “Se o ya were ni, se ija lawa ja nibiyi ni? I greeted him. He looked me in the eyes. He had become gentle. His phones were ringing, repeatedly. He picked few of them. People were calling from far and near, to confirm if truly he was sick. He stood up, “Se o ri apere aisan lara mi? Ko da bayi…” His boys started raining abuses and curses at me but apparently, he was averred to their attitude. He almost slapped one of them.
Meanwhile, he looked frail as it was obvious he was sick. My story caused him to leave the hospital bed that morning… He needed to demonstrate he was in a ‘good condition’, he had been to NURTW branches in Iwo Road, Ojoo, Bere, Oje, Gate and was heading towards Molete/Challenge when he was informed of my arrest. I explained how rumours of his death filtered etc. He looked at me again and told the police officer: “This one is not a blackmailer. See his forehead. He is a ‘real’ Muslim. Nobody could have asked him to publish the story to smear our image. I am no longer interested in the case. Let’s settle it amicably”. By the time he called me a ‘real’ Muslim, water dropped from my eyes. I knew I am not what he called me. Allah has been merciful to me.
He left few minutes after but not without telling the officers to allow me go without paying a kobo. “Don’t collect anything from him. He is my person”. He left and some of them, who had known me during their days with late Aare AbdulAzeez Arisekola, congratulated me for escaping an ‘evil’ day.
I was later asked to return to where I was kept before he came. This was after they had shown me how I was tracked via my airtel line, for two days. Meanwhile, time was going to 5 pm. I came out to tell them that I want to leave. Alas, two men laughed at me hysterically laughed and discarded my innocence almost immediately; “You cannot come here and leave just like that. You must part with some money, my friend”. I told them that I had nothing on me. They asked me to call someone who would stand a surety. I called one of my uncles who was in Ibadan for a meeting. He came together with another big uncle.
They returned my phone. They had tried unsuccessfully to switch it on to obtain ‘vital’ information but there were two passwords. My phone rang afterwards and guess who, it was Fele himself. “Se won ti release re…” I said no. He called them immediately, expressing anger about the development. They promised to release me. One of them later came to toast me that he must ‘gbenusi’. My uncles parted with N17,000 before I was eventually allowed to go.
I later informed his close associates of my detention. Some lawyers wanted us to sue the police but some sympathizers told me to forget everything. Later, some people called him to express sadness over the development. He was also angry that they collected money from me. He asked them to bring me. He was going to repay me. I respectfully told him that I had got to move on. And that was why I decided to keep it away from the public.
These people would later told me how Fele rose from nothing to something. How he never forgot where he came from. Till he breathed his last, he was always remembering his roots. Just like every human being, he would have his shortcomings. I can only pray Allah to forgive his shortcomings.
I later met him few months ago at the commissioning of a filling station. He remembered me at once. I walked up to him. His aides laughed as I moved towards him. I was happy with the Fele that I saw that day. To me, he was recuperating so fast. I remember I had called his close associates when I could not see him at the installation of Otunba Gani Adams as Aare Ona Kakanfo.
Apart from my encounters with him and comparing his reign to those of his immediate past predecessors, I can say Fele was a man of peace. The only NURTW chairman that comes close to him in that regards is Alhaji Abubakre Tawa, who reigned during the time of former governor Rashidi Ladoja.
When I didn’t see him at Ibadan Central Eid Praying Ground last Tuesday, little did I know that he was hospitalized and would pass on same day. His last official outing was when the office of the NURTW was relocated to its yet-to-be completed permanent office. This was after the temporary Olomi secretariat collapsed.
Adieu O Fele lenu, o tutu lokan.
PEN-TA-GUN, Sikiru Akinola’s opinion about political events in Oyo State, is published every Monday. He can reached via email@example.com. He tweets via @sikiru_akinola