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Akeredolu's legacy of Yoruba nationalism overshadows his governance shortcomings

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s legacy as a Yoruba nationalist and critic is cemented.

The late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State

If anyone wouldn’t say anything, probably because of the fear of the Establishment, the cabal, future ambitions, or EFCC witch-hunting, it definitely won’t be the eminent Aketi of Ondo State.

His passion for speaking truth to power, one could say, started from the unionism days of the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), where he was a Student Union leader while studying Law. For anyone who attended Ife, Law and unionism were the perfect recipe for politics.

The life sojourn of Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (1956-2023) would then take him through Nigerian Bar Association leadership, both at the state and national levels, further exposing and emboldening him for the cause of defending the law and upholding human rights.

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This fearlessness would not slow down his career, as he became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria at just 42, a time he was already serving as the Attorney-General of Ondo State.

All these made Akeredolu’s voice an irrepressible one, which he regularly lent to critical state issues.

The "joke taken too far" was his reaction to the presidential ambition of Godwin Emefiele, who was the Central Bank governor, a position that was supposed to hinder him from having any political aspirations.

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"The news of the purchase of Declaration of Intent and Nomination Forms to contest for the office of the President… by the supporters of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, has been received with palpable disbelief and shock by many Nigerians. This act, if unchecked, timeously, portends great danger to the fragile economy of the country.

"The audacious moves by those who claimed to be supporting this interest have been unsettling…

"Consequently, we admonish Mr Emefiele to leave the office, immediately, for him to pursue his interest. He cannot combine partisan politics with the very delicate assignment of his office. Should he refuse to quit, it becomes incumbent on the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to remove him forthwith.

"This is a joke taken too far," Akeredolu slammed.

Only Twitter warlords and independent columnists were bold enough to poke Emefiele in the face while sounding an alarm for Aso Rock dwellers. When the infamous naira redesign policy was launched by the embattled Emefiele, the former NBA president would not keep quiet.

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"The Central Bank of Nigeria, through its Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, who purports to act under the powers conferred on the institution by the CBN Act, has chosen this period, when the country prepares for general elections, to redesign the currency notes for sundry reasons…

"The choice of this period for the implementation of a policy, which bears an instant negative impact with no discernible mitigation in sight, raises serious suspicion of partisanship on the part of the CBN. Ordinary people are the victims. Depositors can no longer access their monies even to feed their families. Hunger is not the anticipated result of a monetary policy," the late lawyer further stated.

If his rhetorical checks and balances didn’t endear him enough, his decision to leave the books and lace his boots to combat insecurity in his native Southwest region made him an instant Yoruba nationalist as he worked tirelessly alongside Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to establish Operation Amotekun (formally Western Nigeria Security Network).

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While pockets of insecurity still exist, there is no denying its impact as the Southwest region could have descended into a complete war zone like a counterpart in the North.

He cemented his Yoruba nationalism reputation when he was characteristically vocal about the presidency returning to the South as Muhammadu Buhari was rounding off his tenure. Ambition and the fear of the federal might have gagged some politicians but never the man who dubbed himself Arakunrin.

Not minding the ambitions of the likes of ex-Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Akeredolu told his party, APC, and the Buhari presidency that the South must produce Nigeria's next president in 2023.

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"It is expedient that we avoid self-inflicted crises before the general elections. It is the turn of the Southern part of the country to produce the next president. The party leadership should have no difficulty in making pronouncement on this very important issue, just as it has fixed various fees for the purchase of forms," Akeredolu emphasised.

Despite the valiant Yoruba nationalist efforts of Governor Akeredolu, his state workers wished they could sing his praises the way neutrals did. However, they could not marry the image of the political figure who regularly called others to order with the governor who was paying their salaries in fractions.

The drama that surrounded his relationship with his deputies, first Agboola Ajayi, then Lucky Aiyedatiwa, could have been avoided.

President Bola Tinubu having to intercede and instruct that power be handed over to Aiyedatiwa betrayed the law-upholding reputation that Akeredolu had built and projected over the years.

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He was quick to call out Emefiele but, unfortunately, he couldn’t call himself to order, perhaps due to his ill health. The eventual emergence of Aiyedatiwa as substantive governor after Akeredolu passed on December 27 was enough stick for his critics to flog him with, as we are reminded once again that life and power are transient.

Akeredolu’s legacy as a Yoruba nationalist, statesman, and fiery critic is cemented. Hardly can we have another leader like him who would not mind calling out his own party and going to the extreme to fight insecurity. And these might just be enough to overshadow his flaws.

Adieu Aketi!

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