Sunday, September 13, 2015 3:09 pm
It is exactly two years today that former Governor Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State, western Nigeria died. His Chief Press Secretary writes this tribute.
By Yemi Olowolabi.
Our lust for a reversal of the testing times thickened with the thread of tales by daylight. Intriguing narratives and descriptive anecdotes rang clear with a glut of emesis and reminiscences. Almost everyone present at the first Olusegun Agagu Memorial Lecture which took place last year in Ibadan, had a story to tell. Nearly all the stories took us back to Agagu’s epic sojourn in the corridors of power and his academic career in the ivory tower. And for several hours on that historic day of September 13, 2014, the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan was awash in cascades of diverse tongues.
The big story, of course, came from the rostrum where scores of distinguished guests had gathered. The keynote address was presented by his Excellency Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former President of Bostwana who was represented by Myrong Bowang, Deputy High Commissioner of Botswana. Mogae defined public service and its numerous responsibilities. And concluded that Agagu employed the arsenal of public office to transform his environment. Mongae spoke as if he was a resident of Orisumbare Number, one of the many remote villages of Ondo State that Agagu visited in his voyage of rural urban integration. In other words, he succinctly accentuated the views of many unheard voices of appreciation for a life of service that Agagu lived.
There were more stories in form of inspiring tributes; cascading from the lips of iconic individuals who extolled the uncommon virtues of Agagu. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Mrs Omobola Johnson, then Minister of Communication Technology, Mr Oba Otudeko, Chairman Honeywell Group and Admiral Akin Aduwo, former Governor of Old Western State took their time to talk about the Agagu they know.
In truth, their stories were gripping and gratifying. But there were largely moderated delivery of the ‘high table’ usually determined by time, defined by ambience and often decided by the tempers of the audience. Really, when people are called to the rostrum, their freedom is restricted. They become frantically formal and unusually ceremonial.
But for the rest of us on the floor, it was freedom according to our preference. Sometimes, we cut chicken thighs with teeth and drink straight from the bottle of coca cola. We share jokes and stories with relative ease. That was the situation at the first memorial lecture last year. There was abundance of life on the popular side. Virtually everyone had something to say about Agagu. But not through the microphones. We spoke in loud whispers and stroke in warm laughter. Stories made the rounds. The late former governor was the subject matter of jokes and anecdotes. From official to personal, from friendship to family ties, scores recalled their memorable encounters with Agagu. It was no holds barred. No rules. No regulations. The vivacity of the stories contrasted made the formality of the upper table where icons sat in suspended animation.
As governor of Ondo State, Agagu severally described himself as an executive prisoner locked up inside the Alagbaka Government House, daily led out by security operatives on a guarded tour of duty and similarly escorted back home at the close of the day. We are familiar with this story. There is a version of this prisoner’s story known only to his cabinet members. It goes thus. Agagu was presiding over ministerial briefing at the state executive council chambers in Akure when a permanent secretary presented his ministry’s reports. Hear him: “Your Excellency, we have not take approval for it but we have went…” The perm sec committed some unpardonable blunder. But Agagu ignored the syntax and clung to the substance. Nevertheless, at the close of work, we retreated to the government house. As we were about to disperse, Oga, as we called the governor beckoned unto us with burst of humour. “This governorship position is a very bad thing o”Agagu quipped. “Why sir …how sir” We all asked in unison. He said he noticed the perm sec’s grammatical somersaults but he dared not laugh. Can you imagine being denied such a golden opportunity of laughter” Beyond his prodigious intellectual capacity, Agagu was humour personified.
It was a sin not to laugh at his memorial event. Some of us who worked closely with him began to recall our very intimate moments with him. It was a case of a man and a story. Though I didn’t hear the story those who sat afar, I noticed whispers and laughter everywhere. I sat close to Mrs. Tolan Aworh, Olorogun Eddy Olafeso, Barrister Sola Oludipe, Honourable Agboola Ajayi and host of other politicians of Ondo State extraction. Then, someone brought a story of how Agagu frustrated his son, Feyi’s plan to demolish his country home in Iju Odo. Feyi wanted his dad, who was then the governor, to build a befitting house at home. It was a coup he plotted with other accomplices who are still at large. He brought an architect and informed the governor of the demolition plan. Agagu responded with King Sunny Ade’s song: “Won yo kumo, yo Kondo, won Fe wole ola…” They brought clubs and cudgels, they want to demolish the house of wealth” Everybody laughed. But he had made his point. That he was satisfied with his modest 4-bedroom bungalow brick house. That is the essential Agagu, a super modest man with immodest gift of intelligence.
However, not all the stories made us laugh. Some led us into deep reflection and appreciation. Agagu was greatly misunderstood by many people and in many quarters. That was a point Agboola Ajayi emphacised. In his opinion, Agagu opened the gate of good life that all may come in. “Many of us are surviving on Agagu’s name.” This was corroborated by many of the story tellers of the day. Agagu made people without knowing their names. That was the story of Dipo Akinsola, former Special Assistant to the Senate President on Economic Matters. As aides of the governor, we had accompanied him to the office of Adolphus Wabara then senate president on a visit. The senate president told Agagu to nominate someone to be his SA on Economic Matters. The governor thanked his host for the honour. As soon as we stepped out of the senate, Agagu turned to us- Honourable Abayomi Sheba and I. “Do you know anyone with masters in Economics?” We started contacting our friends. Finally, Sheba called Dipo Akinsola who immediately forwarded his CV to us. Agagu sent the resume to the senate president without asking who Dipo was. And Dipo Akinsola became SA to the senate president.
There were many more stories that sounded like fairy tales. But those that sat close to me wanted to hear my own stories. I told them to wait for my memoirs. But the pressure mounted. I remembered sharing just two stories with them. First was the story of my aborted resignation as chief press secretary to the governor. After the 2007 governorship election in which Agagu was declared winner by INEC, I offered to quit my job. The reason was simple. A lot of people wanted him to relieve me of the post and hire a more political person. The rumour was everywhere. Since I couldn’t ignore it, I personally offered to go. And I told my boss. His reaction was disarming. “Yemi, it is true people have come to me to complain that you are not loyal. Nobody has any evidence against you. And more importantly nobody can fault your competence on the job… ignore the rumour… concentrate on your job. If I listen to every rumour here, I will even sack everybody.” Agagu placed premium on competence and not primordial, political sentiments. I have more stories. But they are meant for another day. One thing is sure, both in life and in death, Olusegun Agagu remains an enigma whose name inspires hope of a better society.
–– Yemi Olowolabi, Chief Executive Officer of Red Carpet Communications Limited, served as Chief Press Secretary to late Governor Olusegun Agagu