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Akintola: 50 Years After

Posted: Jan 15, 2016 at 10:44 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Maria Abimbola Akintola

Growing up, I came to behold my daddy, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, as a colossus. In my infant eyes, he was full of life, very effervescent and I had, in my childlike innocence, thought that he would be around forever. My father was my personal hero and my world, to an extent, revolved around him. I grew up knowing him as a wonderful father, teacher, counsellor and friend who helped everyone around him to be a better person. Akintola, the man that I knew, was sagacious, personable, erudite, urbane, suave, industrious, energetic and intelligent. He was a great organiser, talented mobiliser, an outstanding orator and a man of the people in the truest sense of the word. These attributes made him a very successful politician. As a politician, he had friends and foes in legion but his main preoccupation was a united Nigeria in which every tribe especially his beloved Yoruba race would partake in the common patrimony as equals.

Fifty years after his passage, I still reminiscence of a father with a heart of gold, one who could hardly hurt a fly and who refused to pay his opponent in their own coin even when political exigencies demanded just that. Often times, I marvel at the concerted demonisation of his memory for political pottage. At such times, I am reminded of the old story as recounted by the Nigerian nationalist and prolific author, Mokwugo Okoye, of the great Athenian general and statesman, Aristides, hero of the Marathon War, noted for his valour, incorruptibility and magnanimity and nicknamed, The Just. When out of his rival, the venal Themistocles’ machination, he was banished from his country by the ostracism that was the bane of Ancient Greece, Aristides met an illiterate citizen who, not knowing his identity, wanted him to inscribe “Aristides” on the shell which he wanted to vote for the general’s banishment. The latter asked him: “Whether Aristides had ever injured him?” The dutiful burgher replied in the negative, adding, “Nor do I even know him, but it vexes me to hear him everywhere called The Just.” The great man, we are assured by Plutarch in his Lives of Greek Heroes, said nothing but inscribed his own name on the “ballot paper” as he was directed and later suffered his banishment, praying as he left Athens “that the people of Athens might never see the day which should force them to remember Aristides.”

But his prayer was signally unanswered and three years later, Xerxes of Persia, terror of the Greek world, was at the gates of Athens with his grand armada, which obliged the frightened citizens of the city of culture to revoke their decrees of vengeance: all the exiles were recalled, and subsequently Aristides, now reconciled with Themistocles, distinguished himself at the Battles of Salamis and Platea.

Unlike Aristides, my father did not have a second chance as he was brutally murdered by a band of misguided and mutinous soldiers on January 15, 1966. Like Aristides’ illiterate voter, many of the writers, politicians, carpetbaggers and renegades who calumniate the memory of my father could not claim to have been offended by my father or even to have known him closely; yet, when it became expedient and their Themistocles sounded the battle cry and accused him of all sorts of crimes, they sheepishly cast their votes with scurrilous castigation and venomous damnation of his memory and his place in history.

Thank goodness, history is hardly partial and there still abound in Nigeria men of goodwill and good conscience. I am reassured by the resurgence of unbiased record, review and analysis of my father’s place in history even as I remain amused by the apparent consternation of some dye in wool partisans who still cling to distorted facts. Lord Acton, a celebrated British historian, while quoting an Italian counterpart noted that “the gods have placed upon the earth two judges of human actions; conscience and history.” While people are left to live with their conscience, the verdict of history remains forthright and palpable. The facts of history are clear. My father was a prominent lawyer in his time. He was an accomplished teacher, frontline journalist, first Nigerian Minister of Labour, Minister of Health, Minister of Communications, first leader of opposition in the Federal House of Representatives, 13th Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, brilliant parliamentarian, astute administrator, nationalist, patriot, statesman and visionary. National treasures like the National Stadium in Lagos, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Ikeja Industrial Estate, Surulere Housing Estate etc. bespeak the deft touches of his administrative acumen and his ingenuity as a parliamentarian.   Historians are settled on his preeminent role in the fight for the nation’s independence and his prodigious contribution to post-Independent Nigeria. No amount of latter-day red herring will obliterate the facts.

As ebullient as they come, my father was soft at heart. A good family man, he dotted on the love of his life and only wife, my dearly beloved mother, Chief Mrs. Faderera Abeke Akintola (of the blessed memory) with whom he bore five children. He loved his children equally and for different reasons largely based on unique attributes specific to each child. The last of his children, Olatokunbo till his death in 1973, was “the soul of the family” and had earlier achieved fame as the first African to attend the highly regarded British public school, Eton College. A large-hearted man, he extended unaccustomed benevolence to his family, friends and associates as well as charity and goodwill to all men.

Most times, when I think of my father, I often ruminate on the import of the inspiring admonition of Rudyard Kipling in the inimitable poem IF.

“If you can keep head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your hearth and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on,”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”

The poem could have been more than enough consolation only if my father was alive to share it with not just me but with all his loved ones today, January 15, 2016. But since he is no longer around to share in the witty cadence of the ennobling verses so meticulously weaved together by Kipling, I shall continue to read alone and reminiscence on the time we shared together; precious time, now distant in memory, yet evergreen.

Dr. Akintola, a former Minister of State for Finance and daughter of the late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, lives in Lagos