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Aketi: Lawyer, professional in politics

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I had met Aketi (Rotimi Akeredolu) 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 young lawyer when he contested and was elected Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). 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, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), as President of the 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 southwest 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 Agbakoba and Aketi were deeply involved in that struggle as I was.

I recall at one of our meetings, when reminded that supporting Agbakoba against a South West candidate might work against him in his own future aspiration, Aketi had retorted by saying that his own aspiration can 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 Agbakoba, he did so openly and courageously and stood with him all through the voting process. Agbakoba won the election and was elected as NBA President. 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 (NEC) of the NBA, 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 elections, there was tension in Lagos as to whether the then incumbent governor was going to be nominated for a second 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 this 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 Hotel 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 NBA. A committee was set up for that purpose. At one of our NEC meetings, whilst 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 named after him in Abuja. I also don’t know which vehicle they eventually used. It might 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 in Lagos 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 said to 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 All Progressives Congress (APC). And then came 2015 elections after President Muhammadu Buhari had been nominated as the APC candidate 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 and he proudly identified and worked hard for Buhari’s electoral victory. 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 (AGF), 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 under the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria.

In the build up to the gubernatorial elections, a dinner was organised at the Civic Centre, 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 is. We both could sometimes even be said to be brash.

In th 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 Bola 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 Inspector General of Police and the AGF separately, whilst he also spoke with the then Vice President. A truce was found and, as usual, Aketi stood his ground and Amotekun survived the still birth 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 (you’re the lawyer; go and write the Amotekun law)”.

When I was to contest to be National Legal Adviser of APC at the 2018 convention, Aketi was my champion. He called me on phone and said “BKJ, mo gbo pe o fe se legal adviser (I heard you want to be legal adviser)”, and I answered in the affirmative. He then went further that, at the South West APC leaders meeting, my name had come up and suggested by 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 SAN, 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” (This boy, aren’t you applying for SAN before it becomes unavailable)”? 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 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, Tinubu, who is now president.

I recall that when asked about his position on the Presidency and who to support, even before 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 Tinubu at the presidential primary and subsequent election was undiluted and absolute. He stood firm for a southern presidency and Tinubu even where some of his colleagues vacillated. Like he will 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 a 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 uparralled 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 he stood up for Governor Olusegun 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 practiced law with conviction and not just for material gains. There were briefs that he wouldn’t touch ,no matter the proposed renumeration.

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 with defend the rights of the heavenly beings.
Aketi the the loyalist has 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 National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress

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