Friday, March 18, 2016 10:37 pm
By Banji Akintoye
I grew up with an Ekiti vision. When I was a child at Emmanuel School Ado-Ekiti, we and St. Louis Odo-Iro in Ikere used to play an annual football game – Ikere this year, Ado next year. Whenever we played at Emmanuel School, the students of St Louis would run all the way from Ikere to come and watch the match and then run back to Ikere. Then when it was time for us to play at St Louis Odo-Iro, we boys from Emmanuel school would run all the way to Ikere and then across Ikere to Odo-Iro, and then run all the way back to Ado after the game. The distance used to be much longer then.
That was how I grew up. As I ran between Ado and Ikere and back each year, I had a great dream. I dreamed that Ado and Ikere (these two largest Ekiti towns) would grow until they become one single city someday. As I grew up, I believed that more and more strongly. The two towns have now grown much closer. The distance between them has shrunk and is persistently shrinking. Indeed, they are already becoming like one city. That is a fulfilment of my childhood dream.
In 1979, I was nominated for election to the Nigerian Senate. My Senatorial District included both Ado and Ikere, plus other towns. The first time I went to present myself at Ikere, I presented a picture that warmed the heart of all my hearers – a picture that was very dear to my heart. In summary, I told them that, well, it used to be that Ikere people and Ado people were traditionally hostile to each other, and that it was unthinkable that Ado people would vote for an Ikere candidate or Ikere people vote for an Ado candidate. But, in contrast, I had humbly brought a different message. I told them the story of how I and other Ado and Ikere school-boys of my generation used to run between Ado and Ikere every year. I then told them that something in my spirit had been telling me since those childhood days that Ado and Ikere would grow and merge someday and become the largest single city in the whole of eastern Yorubaland, and one of the largest cities in Nigeria and in Africa. I added, “As you can all see, that childhood dream of mine is gradually coming true.
It is happening. It will happen. A day is coming when our new great city will lead Ekiti to prosperity in many ways. It is time for us to begin to think and plan for that coming day. We of the present generation of Ikere and Ado people are doing something that our forefathers would never have thought possible. We have a great duty to our posterity, and we must begin to think of how to fulfil that duty”. When I had finished speaking, many of the leaders expressed pleasant surprises at what they had heard. Many said, “This is our own son”, and they came over and hugged me. From that day on, I enjoyed the fullest support of Ikere political leaders and people.
I grew up knowing Ekiti very intimately and loving Ekiti passionately. I thank God for giving me the urge and the capability to be of service to Ekiti. I see the fruits of my humble contributions everywhere I go – now that I am back home as an old man from decades of sojourn in foreign lands. Everywhere I go, people run to me and remind me of how I had led them to school when they were little children. Others tell me how I guided them to university, or how I helped them through university when they were confronted by obstacles in university. One very successful businessman reminds me that when he was a kid and was scared of white people, my wife and I used to take him to Christ’s School and put him among the white teachers there, to show him that white people don’t eat little children.
So, it was that, four year later, when I decided not to run for a return to the Senate, our Senatorial seat became vacant. Ambassador Dele Olumilua, a son of Ikere, had just returned home from the Nigerian Foreign Service, where he had served with distinction. I was able to stand before our Ikere leaders and strongly recommend Dele for nomination and election as my successor in Senate. I did the same before the leaders of Ado. On the day of the nomination convention, I reminded the Ado delegates, “As you know, the rule now is that Ado votes for the Ikere candidate and Ikere votes for the Ado candidate. I desire this as one of my gifts to Ekiti people”. Dele Olumilua won all the Ikere and Ado votes – and easily won the nomination. It is a great pleasure for me to see him here this morning.
I have many other stories to tell. I grew up knowing Ekiti very intimately and loving Ekiti passionately. I thank God for giving me the urge and the capability to be of service to Ekiti. I see the fruits of my humble contributions everywhere I go – now that I am back home as an old man from decades of sojourn in foreign lands. Everywhere I go, people run to me and remind me of how I had led them to school when they were little children. Others tell me how I guided them to university, or how I helped them through university when they were confronted by obstacles in university. One very successful businessman reminds me that when he was a kid and was scared of white people, my wife and I used to take him to Christ’s School and put him among the white teachers there, to show him that white people don’t eat little children.
Our Ekitiland is a beautiful land. God gave us Ekiti people a beautiful homeland. And God made us Ekiti people a beautiful people. It is true that events of the past years in Nigeria, the crooked politics, the culture of corruption, and the hopeless poverty in the midst of plenty, have distorted and concocted most things in Nigeria. These have shrouded and distorted the authentic image of Ekiti. But here is my message this morning: the real Ekiti brand is very good indeed. There is nothing we Ekiti cannot achieve if we set our mind to it. We are a very tough and stubborn people; and an honest and straight-dealing people.
When we step forth to fight a battle, we don’t lose – we don’t know how to lose. The Ekiti mind does not accept failure as the final settlement to anything. We fight and we win, because we are ever determined to overcome any obstacles. That is our character. That is the character that Ekiti State has. That is the character in every child of Ekiti. The events of Nigeria of today may have tainted the Ekiti character here and there, but that character is still essentially alive and well. And we are going to use that character to achieve success again – as we have always done.
Banji Akintoye, retired Professor of History, delivered this speech in Ado-Ekiti recently.