S.K Babalola: An exemplar, role model and mentor joins the saints triumphant By Femi Orebe

What a sobering week it has been for us in Ekiti with two of our indomitable titans, great and loyal disciples of the Avatar, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, joining the Saints Truimphant. We are comforted, however , that none of them died young: Pa, Senator Ayo Fasanmi at 94, and Chief S.K Babalola at 89.

Their departure home, therefore, is for us, a celebration of life. They lived well, and served God and humanity well, and are therefore, assured, by His grace, of eternal rest at the feet of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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I was, initially, not that close to Chief Babalola, he a top party chieftain, commissioner and the state party secretary, and little me, onlyan unofficial spokesperson of the Omoboriowo faction of the UPN, but one event would soon change that for life.

As spokesperson, I severally debated the likes of both my good friend, Hon Alex Adedipe and Chief Olaiya Fagbamigbe, two great logicians, and both now of blessed memory.

May their souls rest in perfect peace.

Teacher, and principal of many schools, Chief Babalola was your dream politician, quintessential administrator, and great father.

The crisis in the UPN had worsened after the party primaries which Chief Ajasin won, and not a few of Chief Omoboriowo’s top supporters were urging him to join PDP. But until the hawks finally succeeded, he was, body and soul, in the UPN and only eagerly awaited Chief Awolowo, who he loved very much, to come and give him a soft landing. But the Avatar was already so annoyed that Akin, as he called him, had let things go too far that he had only harsh words for him when he visited the state.

On the primary election day, Chief Akin Omoboriowo’s acceptance speech, which I had written, and he had approved, and which I was to have delivered if he won, was with me, as he had left town earlier.

His decampment gave some of us a very serious sense of foreboding as we could not imagine ourselves in the NPN, for which reason one of us, my friend Olu Aduloju, was beaten to a pulp at Ijero shortly before a meeting to which I luckily arrived late.

That was the point at which I ceased every contact with the group. I did not, however, rush back to the UPN as those were extremely dangerous days, and one had to be very careful.

I merely went back to my business, an upscale relaxation centre which the Trade commissioner, Chief (Mrs) Osomo, representing the state governor, had officially declared open earlier in the year.

Some time after the primaries, I would receive an unexpected visit by the trio of Professor Agbede, Hon. Alex Adedipe, and my other friend, now Professor Remi Fayemii who had come to woo me back to the party.

Their pitch was simple: ‘Femi, they said, you have always been a strong Awoist, and at Ife, you were one of the arrowheads of anything Awo. They went on to say they had observed that I no longer fraternise with the Omoboriowo group since they joined NPN, concluding with a plea that I come back to the UPN.

They were, of course, preaching to the converted. After thanking them, the only thing I did was to give a conditionality: they must arrange a meeting for me with Papa Ajasin.

That meeting happened three days later at the state house. I am happy I have previously written about the meeting before, and it is all in my forthcoming book: ‘Simply a Citizen Journalist’. I say that because it is only by the unmerited mercy of God that I am still on this side of the divide, as all the other participants: Papa Ajasin, Chief Babalola and Hon Adedipe, have all passed on. Eternal rest grant them O Lord.

It was at the meeting Chief Babalola would make the greatest impression ever on me.

The governor nsturally spoke first. He went straight into how he had been told I always shredded his government, calling them names etc. It wasn’t his wont to talk too much, and did not on this occasion, but there was no missing how exactly he felt.

It was at that point Chief Babalola came in. He would not even allow me say a word in my own defence.

“Papa, he said, with all due respect, Sir, that is not true of Mr Orebe, at all. If my wife and I heard during the network news at 9 o clock , that Mr Orebe would be on television at 12 midnight, we would both suspend our sleep to listen to him because he always made a lot of sense. Although he will vigorously make his point, he is never abusive”.

The governor did not contradict him one bit, but rather changed tack asking what I would like the party to do for me.

I thanked him and told him that I was happy he attended the burial of his very good friend, our Leader, Chief Oloketuyi, not too long ago at Igbemo, adding that ideally, the road from Iworoko to Igbemo ought to have been declared closed and that I would be most grateful if government would help us tar it.

If he was surprised I asked for no personal favours, the governor did not show it. Rather, he turned to Chief Babalola and authorised him to go and complete for our community, the type of agreement the party has with Igede, a town which was having issues with Iyin – Ekiti where General Adeyinka Adebayo, a very top NPN leader came from.

Unfortunately, the Buhari coup of 31st December, 1983, cancelled that out and it was not until 20 years later, in 2003, that Governor Adeniyi Adebayo would tar the road, demonstrating how, very badly, the military under – developed Nigeria.

From that day, my respect for Chief Babalola knew no bounds. I became like a son to him and often went to his house where I was very warmly welcome.

Only God knows what Ekiti state would have become today had Chief Babalola won the 2003 governorship election which Governor Ayodele Fayose – no thanks to President Obasanjo and Bode George – won on the platform of the PDP.

That is not to say that Governor Fayose did not do his best, but were Chief Babalola the governor, Obasanjo would never have had any reason, nor the audacity, to serially come to Ekiti to excoriate everything we stand for. More than any other state in this country , Ekiti stands shoulder high, in integrity, honesty and sheer erudition; yet there was no name he did not call us, culminating in his “fehin gbe pon”, as he was reported to have said, in the 2007 governorship election in the state.

Concerning the 2007 election, I have had the rare opportunity of telling our leader, Bamofin Afe Babalola, that he disappointed Ekiti hugely because we all looked up to him. This was at the Fountain Hotel, Ado- Ekiti in 2009 as he accompanied a group of journalists who had come to visit his University, ABUAD.

As I met him, he made to shake my hand, but I, instead prostrated. It was the day the campaign of candidate John Kayode Fayemi was going to my constituency.

Standing up, he now asked who I was and I told him it was in his house we coordinated the Ekiti opposition to the plan to make UNAD, the Ekiti state university multi- campus, with only the Arts Faculty coming to Ekiti.

I told him that as our number one leader in the state, he should have dissuaded his friend, President Obasanjo, from rigging the state governorship election, (as the Appeal court has since affirmed) because the contestants, being friends, and both in E.11, would have worked together for Ekiti development, no mstter which of Oni or Fayemi Ekiti voted for on their own accord . I told him they would have found a modus vivendi, after some quid pro quo.

Baba agreed with me but said that some guys in E.11 misled him and that he had now found out – to use his own words – that omo gidi bi iyan ni Fayemi – meaning that I was right in my critique of him, and that he has discovered that Fayemi is as good as pounded yam – an Ekiti delicacy.

It was on that occasion he introduced his protege, and the longest serving Ekiti state Attorney – General , Gboyega Oyewole, now a member of the inner bar, to me.

As for President Obasanjo, he would sooner, rather than later, get his full comeuppance for enjoying thrashing Ekiti when the two-term Ekiti state governor, Dr Ayodele Fayose, showed him who a free born Ekiti is.

May the good Lord grant our indomitable and affable leader, Chief S K Babalola, eternal rest and comfort Mummy and my darling aburos, who would, forever, be proud they were sired by this incredible lodestar.

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