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Aketi as I knew him: A Lawyer and professional in politics, by Babatunde Ogala

Late Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN

*Late Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, former Governor of Ondo State of Nigeria, was boisterous and damn down to earth

Babatunde Ogala

I had met late Rotimi Akeredolu (Aketi) very early in my legal career. I didn’t have the privilege of meeting him before I was called to Bar and as a lawyer.

I first encountered him as a young lawyer when he contested and was elected Publicity Secretary of the Bar.

From thence I admired him from a distance. He was boisterous and damn down to earth.

Within a few months thereafter, I was to get close to Aketi, and from there we began the journey as friends as well as “egbon” and “aburo”.

Our relationship further blossomed in 2006, when we were both involved in the campaign to elect Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, as President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in Port Harcourt.

Like Aketi, I stood on the conviction that we needed a fire brand and activist like Agbakoba to lead the bar at the time.

This was against the sentiments of our South-West forum that believed we should support one of us.

Aketi stood on the conviction that it should be what was best for the Bar at that time and period of our very nascent democracy after several years and decades of military rule and on the background of our pro democracy struggles for the actualisation of June 12 mandate.

Both Olisa and Aketi were deeply involved in that struggle as I was.

I recall at one of our meetings, when reminded that supporting Olisa Agbakoba against a South-West candidate might work against him in his own future aspiration, Aketi had retorted by saying his own aspiration could be subjugated and sacrificed in the interest of what he considered the best for the Bar at the time.

At the election, Aketi not only supported Olisa, he did so openly and courageously and stood with him all through the voting process.

Olisa won the election, and was elected as President of Nigerian Bar Association. Aketi was to succeed him in 2008, having been elected unopposed.

I was elected a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2007, and Aketi was there for me as NBA President.

He was not just supportive but appointed me as a member of the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association perhaps as the first serving legislator to ever be so appointed. I served Aketi diligently as a NEC member.

I take the liberty here to tell one of the two stories in peacemaking that Aketi made.

In 2010, in the build-up to the 2011 General Elections, there was tension in Lagos as to whether the then incumbent governor was going to be nominated for a 2nd term in office.

It was, indeed, tense in Lagos then. I took the initiative to call Aketi to intervene. He told me that he was not a politician and wouldn’t get involved in politics.

At that time, he didn’t know that he too was close to joining us in the clean waters of politics. Aketi was in Yola, and I took a flight to meet him there , appealed to him to come to Lagos and mediate.

Reluctantly, he agreed and promised that he would do so. Aketi flew from Yola to Lagos, checked into Eko Hotels and invited two other colleagues who are also SANs to visit our leader.

As I was told, on getting to his presence, Aketi went flat and “dobale”, pleading that the governor be returned. That is Aketi the peacemaker.

Aketi was down to earth and said it as it is. He was pragmatic, yet humorous  and result oriented.

An example of Aketi’s pragmatism was displayed in the quest to have a benefiting National Secretariat of the  Nigerian Bar Association. A committee was set up for that purpose.

At one of our NEC meetings, while discussing the issue, one of our colleagues had gotten up to speak and suggested that we set up a “Special Purpose Vehicle” to build the Secretariat.

In response Aketi said and I quote as much as I can remember,  *”I don’t know about any vehicle,  whether Peugeot, Toyota or Volkswagen, all I want is to build a befitting Secretariat for NBA, so use any vehicle you like, just get the building going”*

That was Aketi the pragmatic humorist.  The building was eventually built and the skyscraper stands tall, and was named after him in Abuja. I also don’t know which vehicle they eventually used. It may have been a Mercedes or Rolls Royce because the structure is opulent.

When I met Aketi in Yola to intervene in Lagos, little did he know that he too was going to be on the ballot as a gubernatorial candidate in his home state within two years of telling me he was not a politician.

And hence I recall a late night when I sauntered into Lagos House in 2011 to see the governor and I met him with Aketi.

We played and gisted only for him to call me later to ask if I knew why he was in Lagos House.

Of course, I didn’t. He told  me that they had sent emissaries to him to come and contest the governorship of Ondo State.

You could guess what my response was. He joined the fray and didn’t make it at the first attempt. He moved on in his practice and kept an eye on politics. He was to play a leading role in the formation of APC.

And then came 2015 Elections after President Muhammadu Buhari had been nominated as the candidate of APC and a Campaign Council formed and inaugurated.

Aketi was Director, Field Operations, and he immediately nominated me as Secretary and we set to work.

He asked me to identify good heads to join us, which I did. Before then, I had co-formed a support group called *Buhari for Nigeria* where Aketi and his wife, Betty, were members.

He proudly identified and worked hard for the electoral victory of PMB. As the most senior lawyer in our midst then, we had prayed and hoped that he would be made the Attorney General of the Federation, but little did we know that God had other plans for him.

Not long thereafter, he was nominated as the gubernatorial candidate of APC. His 2012 quest was on the platform of ACN.

In the build up to the gubernatorial election, a dinner was organised at the Civic Centre, in Lagos, and people were listed to speak.

After those who were listed had spoken and commended his candidature, he took the microphone and said there was somebody that must speak that was not listed and he called me out.

I spoke and recommended his candidature with all the fibre in my being. People in the audience were to later tell me that I indeed knew Aketi because even he, in his speech, repeatedly said “ask Tunde Ogala, he knows me.”

Like him I hold no prisoners and say it as it is. We both could sometimes even be said to be brash.

In the formative days of Amotekun, we all still recall the controversy and near confrontation between him and Aso Rock, the Police and then AGF.

Aketi stood his ground on behalf of his colleagues and the South-West, but there was a deadlock.

One afternoon, I had been to see Asiwaju Tinubu and we discussed the issue consequent upon which I encouraged him to find a solution.

He sought my advice and I gave same. He immediately picked up his phone and sent for Aketi, the IGP and AGF separately while he also spoke with the then Vice President.

A truce was found, and as usual, Aketi stood his ground and Amotekun survived the stillbirth that was intended and was born healthy and growing till date.

I recall Aketi saying to me “Tunde, eyin ni lawyer, oya e lo ko law wa fun Amotekun.”

When I was to contest to be National Legal Adviser of APC at the  2018 convention of APC, Aketi was my champion.

He called me on phone and said “BKJ, mo gbo pe o fe se legal adviser” and I answered in the affirmative.

He then went further that at the South-West APC leaders’ meeting that my name had come up and suggested by Asiwaju Tinubu.

I was later told that at the mention of my name by Jagaban, Aketi immediately took up my campaign before even speaking with me.

He stood by me all through and ensured I was elected unopposed. He was also my supporter as National Legal Adviser.

Before I became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Aketi was on my case. He would call and say jokingly to me “iwo boy yi, se o ni apply fun SAN mo ni ki won to pin tan”?

Aketi encouraged me, kicked my ass and gave me the push till I was conferred with the rank. And on my nomination and conferment, I received a beautifully written congratulatory letter from the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN.

I am sure we all recall Aketi’s outspokeness on Southern Presidency against the wishes of some very powerful interests within and outside the Presidency at the time, even when some of his colleagues were being evasive.

He boldly stood up for the South to produce the Presidency in 2023 and especially for his leader Asiwaju Tinubu, who is now President.

I recall that when asked about his position on the Presidency and who to support, even before President Tinubu declared his interest, Aketi said and I quote to the best of my recollection: “We are waiting for our leader Asiwaju to return from his trip to tell us where to go. He is our capone”* .

That was Aketi already declaring his loyalty based on his conviction.

His support for President Tinubu at the Presidential Primaries and subsequent election was undiluted and absolute.

He stood firm for a Southern Presidency and President Tinubu even where some of his colleagues vacillated.

Like he would say to me, Asiwaju has his own fault and shortcomings, but I cannot forget and betray his benevolence towards me. That was Aketi. He was not an ingrate.

He was playful, a dancer and singer. He probably would have been in showbiz, if he wasn’t a lawyer.

Aketi was selfless. I still recall his selflessness almost fanatical dedication and unparalled hard work in the tough and tedious legal journey to retrieve the mandate of ACN in Osun and Ekiti States.

Not forgetting Ondo State where stood up for Governor Mimiko of Labour Party. Aketi perhaps did most of these matters pro bono. I don’t recall him ever taking a brief against a progressive. Aketi will not do it. He was not mercantile.

He practised law with conviction and not just for material gains. There were briefs that he wouldn’t touch, no matter the proposed remuneration.

A good man has gone to be with the Lord. Aketi was a good man.

Aketi, the songito, will sing for the angels in heaven.

Aketi, the dancer, will dance for them in heaven .

Aketi, the advocate and defender of rights, will defend the rights of the heavenly beings.

Aketi, the the loyalist, had been loyal to his God and will continue to be loyal in heaven.

Good night, Good man.

Good night, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, CON, SAN.

O daaro.

*Ogala, OFR, SAN, is former Legal Adviser of All Progressives Congress.

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