The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: email@example.com
When I launched my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death: A front-row account of Nigeria under the late President Yar’Adua’ on 13th December last year (2011), I sent out invitations mainly through SMS and adverts placed in THISDAY. Yet, the turnout was very impressive. But as the chairman, the Sarkin Sudan of Wurno, Ambassador Shehu Malami was making his remark, I saw the late Dr Lateef Adegbite from a distance as he walked gingerly into THISDAY Dome, Abuja. I was not surprised that he would turn up and I had to beckon on Bashorun Akin Osuntokun, who was Master of Ceremony, that I needed to specially acknowledge the presence of somebody very dear to me.
The late Adegbite didn’t stay till the end, but he left a message that he made appearance merely to honour me but had other commitments. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the last encounter I would have with him until I read about his passage last week and I felt a deep sense of loss.
Even while I cannot lay claim to being close to him, I had a special relationship with Adegbite that I really cherished. From Concord newspaper to THISDAY, I always encountered people who would tell me something like “Dr Adegbite has tremendous respect for you” or “Dr Adegbite likes your writing”, yet this was a man I had never met. All that changed on the morning of Saturday, 16th November 2002 when the Saturday edition of THISDAY carried a story on the Miss World pageant then being hosted in Nigeria with a line that was rather offensive to Prophet Mohammed.
As editor of the Sunday Newspaper, I was in the office when trouble started brewing. The moment my attention was drawn to the story, I spoke to my chairman, Mr Nduka Obaigbena who was then in South Africa. He directed that I should contact as many Muslim leaders as I possibly could to help douse the fire. The first name that came to my mind was Dr Adegbite. If the man truly liked me as I had been told by many people, then I had to leverage that affection at such a desperate moment as we had on our hands with sinister text messages being passed around.
Having learnt he lived in Abeokuta; I drove to the Ogun State capital where I was given the direction to Adegbite’s house. Quite naturally, he received me warmly until I told him my mission. He had not read the paper, but I took along a copy of the publication. He read it in my presence, and I could see he was also angry, but he promised to intervene and immediately, he began to make calls. He didn’t allow me to leave. He spent considerable time sharing with me the essence of his faith and he dissociated Islam from the occasional burst of violence usually perpetrated by some people in the name of the religion.
Since that day, I maintained contact with the late Adegbite, even though he was the one who initiated most of the telephone conversations we engaged in. And it was at his instance that I made my first public speaking engagement in 2003, when I was invited by a Muslim group to which he was patron as guest speaker at their dinner. While I served in government, he called whenever there was any issue on which he thought he should offer advice either to me, or through me to the president. But he never made any request to see my late boss and never sought any favour. Adegbite lived a Spartan and contented life, as anybody who has visited his Abeokuta home would attest and he had contempt for wealth and the avarice that seems to drive our society today. It is on record that he was consultant and the founding Company Secretary of Habib Bank which he helped to incorporate yet doesn’t own a single share in the bank!
Incidentally, Adegbite was a man about whom many people would have an opinion, but I can almost wager that such opinion would be about his faith: either that he was an Islamic fanatic or a devout Muslim. But then, the question really is: how many people can we truly identify with their faith in word and in deed? That we can talk about Adegbite is because he lived his life in such a manner that he left people in no doubt that there was no compromise when it came to the matter of his God. His faith offered meaning to his existence and he demonstrated the fact that when our beliefs are invested in something greater than self, we will find fulfillment in life. But he was no fanatic as his Personal Assistance for a very long time happened to be a Pentecostal Christian.
While Adegbite was not a man who would engage in loud professions of superior righteousness as many ‘men of God’ do today in our country, he had no hesitancy in proclaiming his Islamic faith for which he had no apology. But he earned the respect of many, including Christians like me, because he was honest, honourable and respected the rights of other people. This is being attested to by those who served with him in the inter religious council. The late Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs was a man of strong convictions. Yet he did not make merchandise of his religion, and his public interventions were usually devoid of the hypocrisy so commonly resorted to by many charlatans who play the politics of religion to command attention in our country.
Given the state of our nation and the fact that our public offices are manned by adherents of Islam and Christianity who would pray and mouth the name of God yet steal public funds, there is the temptation to deride the place of religion, especially given the Nigerian condition. But that would be wrong. The challenge of our nation today is that most people don’t live the faith they profess and that has nothing to do with God or religion. It is simply a statement about the character of our people.
In his professional life, Adegbite was a lawyer of repute and before then, a law lecturer, having attended the University of Southampton where he graduated with a first degree in Law in July 1962 and the College of Law for Solicitors, Lancaster Gate in London. With a Commonwealth Scholarship, he would later obtain his doctorate in law after which he began his teaching career at the University of Lagos before he was appointed Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the old Western Region in 1973. Upon leaving government three years later in 1976, he founded the legal firm of Lateef Adegbite & Co as the Principal Partner, specializing in commercial and corporate law. Yet notwithstanding such rich pedigree in the legal profession, Adegbite was not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) essentially because he did not crave the title.
The lesson we can all learn from the life of the late Adegbite is that religious faith cannot be a ‘part time’ conviction for the true believer and that people must practice what they preach. The crisis of values in our nation today is largely traceable to the bastardization of the deep spiritual truths brought to mankind over thousands of years by the prophets and true servants of God. Ours is unfortunately now a generation that makes a public show of God, while the lives most of us live give us away as no better than apostates. But beyond religion and Islam, the late Adegbite always addressed national issues with a high sense of social responsibility, always ensuring that divisive sentiments were not brought to the fore and he stayed away from partisan politics.
As we therefore mourn this illustrious son of Egbaland and distinguished Nigerian, let us reflect on his legacy of deep religious faith, simplicity and a form of self-respect that did not at any time seek self-advertisement. Unfortunately, these enduring virtues are conspicuously absent in the official profile of most of our leaders today.
May Allah grant Dr Adegbite Aljanah and may God in His infinite mercy comfort the family he left behind.
The Mubi Massacre
In most civilized countries, anytime there is a story of a gunman or gunmen entering a campus to kill a student or some students, it is usually a big tragedy that would draw the attention of all the citizens and that of the world. And until the killers are found, the media would not let up in following the story. But it is doubtful if the Independence Day dawn tragedy that claimed no fewer than 26 students (if we choose to go by the number released by the police), will catch our attention for long. We are so used to tales of mindless violence that Nigerians are gradually getting used to them to our collective shame.
I saw the gory photographs of the victims of the brutal massacre yesterday and I still fail to understand how anybody (or group of people) would plan and execute such atrocities. The story is that unidentified gunmen stormed the off-campus hostels of students of Federal Polytechnics Mubi in Adamawa State, called out a list of names and then began to open fire. With that, several families are now mourning the loss of their sons with the nation left traumatized. Yet to compound the situation, it is not likely that the killers would ever be found or anybody brought to justice on account of the mass murder.
More unfortunate still, there is now a controversy as to who was responsible for the killings given conflicting stories. But is that really important? The real issue is that our society has degenerated to the level in which life now makes little or no meaning. But as I keep appealing on this page, it is time for all men of goodwill who can help to reign in the entrepreneurs of violence to intervene. Before the situation gets out of hand.