As a young boy growing up in rural Kwara, I would not be accused of heresy if I said Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki was the next thing to God for us. It was more so for those of us coming from very poor backgrounds. For us, there was no problem that could not be solved if you brought it to Turaki Ilorin. In fact, until well into the 1990s, I did not know that anybody else in the world was actually addressed as Turaki.
There was only one Turaki and he was Dokita Saraki Oloye Baba Bukola. I even thought that the Bukola in question was a girl. For me Oloye was both a myth and a reality. And I thank God that he died without been demystified. It would have broken our hearts if he was demystified. That was why I was very disturbed when Govenor Bukola and his sister, Sen. Gbemi began to drag their dad into the PDP and ACPN governorship mess. If they did not know what they had as father, we the masses of Kwara aptly appreciated (and still appreciate) the man. Funny enough, despite my many years in Kwara, including seven years of schooling in Ilorin, I never met Saraki one-on-one until I began to work in Lagos.
But I had felt Oloye’s caring touch long before that. It was way back in 1980. It was an Outing Day (one of those Saturdays when students in the boarding house were allowed to go into the town). Curiosity and love of adventure had taken hold of me and I headed to town. I had just turned 12 and was in boarding house. I still don’t remember getting into a crowd or rush situation, but somewhere around the Emir’s palace, I discovered that the wallet I had stylishly put in the back pocket of my school uniform had fallen off. Till this day, I have refused to believe that it was picked, because that was not common in Ilorin in those days. But whether picked or dropped, my wallet was gone.
I had no other money. I had been literally stranded in the heart of Ilorin. After wandering and futilely searching, the tears streaming down my cheeks soon betrayed my agony. And in those days of innocence, when the elders always looked out for the younger ones (irrespective of whose child the kid was), one old man passing by walked up to me and asked what the problem was. I told him. He did not, for one second, doubt my story, or think that I was up to some mischief or 419. He told me that he could not help me, but that he could take me to Oloye’s house.
That he was sure he would help. And with every confidence in his voice, he told me to wipe the tears on face, saying ‘did you not hear that Oloye is in town? I followed him, not thinking anything of ritual killings, kidnappings or any of those vices our elders get up to these days. The image of Saraki’s home that I carry in my subconscious today remains that which I saw on that my first and only visit. It is that of so many people sitting round the compound – both within and outside the fence walls, some praying, some chatting, others moving from one part to the other. Unfortunately for me, Oloye was not home. But my guide did not lose hope.
He walked up to one man (I suspect, a staff of Oloye’s), spoke to him briefly and the man vanished into the house. Moments later, my guide came back with a crisp one naira note and handed it over to me. He told me in Yoruba that Oloye was not at home, but that the man said he should give me the money and that he should make sure he took me to where I could find my way back to school. I could not believe it! All of one naira! For me alone! Now, the best way for anybody to appreciate the value of one naira in 1981, is to check out what you could buy with it: one medium sized UNIlorin loaf (one of the sweetest bread ever made.
It came from the bakery of the University of Ilorin), one tin of Titus or Queen of the Coast sardines or Geisha, three bottles of Fanta Ginger Ale and three Butter Mints or Malta sweets. I was still in a daze when a taxi driving past noticed my guide and pulled up. They were obviously friends. So, we hopped in, and he took us all the way to Oja-Oba, dropped us and zoomed off, without saying anything about money. My good Samaritan led me to where I boarded a bus to Oloje, and only turned back when I assured him I could find my way to Ogidi village (in the outskirts of Ilorin where my school was located) from there. It was not the GSM era, so there was no question of exchanging numbers. In fact, it was the time when telephone was not for the poor.
That was how good and safe Nigeria once was. Where did we lose it? Today as we mourn Oloye, I remember how he touched me from a distance, and I can’t stop wondering how many more lives he so touched. That is why I remember the story I was once told of the mother of a now retired judge from Ilorin. The judge was said to be having a very serious conversation with his aged mother when chants of Oloye, Oloye rent the air from outside the compound.
The old woman abandoned her judge son, ran outside to join the crowd in cheering Saraki who happened to be in the neighbourhood. The woman came back in after Oloye had left and as she sat down, she innocently prayed, to her son’s hearing: Olorun je ki awa na bi’mo to ma to Oloye (may God give us a child that would be as great as Oloye). It never occurred to her that, as a justice, her son was probably bigger than Saraki, at least, as at that time. May Allah grant Oloye Aljannah. Amin.
Celebrating with the Class of 88
I always had a thing for Law. In fact, I am not ashamed to confess that Law was actually my first choice course when I took the UME. It was when my 268 score failed to make the 271 cut-off mark UNN had set for Law that I settled for mass communication. Of course, I have never regretted that twist of fate. In fact, I had come to realize the blessings in that disappointment so soon that when the opportunity came to dump Mass Comm and cross over to law, some 13 months later, I turned it down. However, when I found myself at the Nike Lake Resort, Enugu last weekend, I was green with envy almost kicking myself that I had turned down Law. It was some sort of a reunion of the Class of 1988 of the Nigerian Law School.
The alumni were being hosted by one of their own, Sen. Anyin Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The Class of 88 prides itself as the most prominent class of the Nigerian Law School. And it is not for nothing. Apart from Anyim, the NLS Class of 88 was last hosted by another member of the class, a certain Obong Godswill Akpabio. Akpabio is one of the three serving governors produced by the class. The others are Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) of Lagos and Liyel Imoke of Cross River.
There is also Chibudom Nwuche, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Olisa Metuh, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Prof Odinkalu, Hon. Uche Anya, Nnia Nwodo, Chudi Ofodile, members of state and federal legislatures (including Hon. Jerry, a three-term member of the Adamawa House of Assembly), court registrars, state chief magistrates and judges of High courts and the Appeal Court, some of the brightest legal practitioners and businessmen in the country. Don’t accuse me of leaving out the ladies; I am told even the ladies are all learned gentlemen. Even the almighty Igodomigodo, Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon who was recently appointed Chief of Staff to the Edo State governor is also a member of this class. In fact, Obahiagbon was one of those billed to be honoured.
He could not make it, so he sent an sms text. Of course, the wording is better imagined. It was probably to underscore the importance attached to the Class of 88, and maybe, underline the acceptability of Anyim among his people in the South-East that all the governors in the zone except one turned up for the get-together. There was governor Martin Elechi of Anyim’s home state of Ebonyi who actually opted to host on behalf of the SGF, Peter Obi of Anambra, T.A. Orji of Abia and Rochas Okorocha of Imo. The only one missing was Enugu’s Sullivan Chime, said to be abroad attending to health issues.
Even at that, he not only called Anyim in solidarity, he also instructed his chief of staff, Mrs Nwobodo, to ensure Enugu played a good host. Chime then sent his attorney-general to represent him at the event. For a change, the Class of 88 decided to take the reunion beyond back-slapping and hand-pumping. They squeezed in to lectures on issues relating to legal practice and legal education. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Bello Adoke (SAN) delivered the keynote lecture while Director-General of the Nigerian Law School, Dr. Tahir Mamman, delivered the other.
And they also honoured a few of their teachers, among whom was Justice Amina Auta of the Appeal Court, Lagos Coming out of that event, I know that there is also a lot of touting in legal practice. I know that virtually all the ills that afflict our society also afflict the legal profession. Most of all, I now know that the busy-body lawyers whose only job is to read through newspapers everyday and write to strangers soliciting to sue media houses on their behalf are just motor-park touts. I also know that, like everything else, the standard of legal education is going down.
However, I came out from the lectures happy that the older lawyers are not only aware of it, but that they are doing something about it. I look forward to the day that my Mass Comm class of 91 would also come together they way NLS Class of 88 is doing. Yes. Don’t laugh. Me may be less than 40 but we can start small.