It was sometime in 1997, Idowu Ajanaku, now an aide of Gov Akinwunmi Ambode and I, had booked an interview with then-dashing young man who was stepping out of his paternal luxury into the notorious murky waters of politics. We were both of The Guardian Newspapers at the time. The young Richard Adeniyi Adebayo had aligned, then with the defunct United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP), being coordinated by Dr Bode Olajumoke, at the time. Mr Niyi Adebayo wanted to be governor of his home state, Ekiti. But he was a typical Lagos Boy, who looked too burnished for the rough tackles of politics. But that afternoon, after the interview, he not only impressed us, he convinced us that he understood what he was going into.
I recall that the headline of our interview was, “I will Never Steal a Kobo from Ekiti Government Coffers”.
Two years later, under a new political dispensation, (after the collapse of the political machination of the five leprous fingers of the late Gen Sani Abacha), Niyi Adebayo was elected as the first executive governor of Ekiti State. He was the third-youngest governor at the time. Saminu Turaki (Jigawa) and Donald Duke (Cross River) were the first and second youngest respectively.
At the time, Ekiti and Kogi States were almost always at the lowest rung of the FAAC allocation table. Very little was their federal allocation. But Niyi Adebayo, a lawyer, was determined to grow the pristine state from its rustic status. And because he wanted to carry his party men along, he was almost always at his wit’s end trying to get everybody on board. I recall how he would fractionalize the contract of a single drainage among several party men, each taking some meters or so.
Even then, he embarked on some great projects like rebuilding the then Owena Hotels, building what Rueben Abati, then called Bulletproof Legislators’ Quarters, along with several road projects.
While Adebayo governed Ekiti State, the incidents of crime and violence were rarely heard. The state was remarkably peaceful, until the political Buccaneers took over and we started hearing of assassinations and all sorts of violence and social disquiet.
And while he was yet planning to consolidate and raise the bar of governance in the state, the old fox called President Olusegun Obasanjo tricked them out of office. And the rest, they say, is history.
But ever since he left office in 2003, Niyi Adebayo has remained one of the very few former governors (in the class of 1999) that has held his head verily high, and has continued to earn public respect, as he kept to his vow of not stealing a kobo from the Ekiti purse. He has one of the cleanest records of public service in Nigeria. It was not so much because there wasn’t quite enough to steal, because many of his successors have been enmeshed in the deep dye of corruption allegations, but because he is a perfect gentleman that went, saw and conquered the allure and fad to be roguish. Humble, amiable and unassuming, Otunba Adebayo, a consummate politician and loyal chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has continued to operate like a silent colossus both in the business and political terrains. Sitting cool on the board of many companies, he has managed to sustain his political career by keeping in touch with his allies and friends, one of whom I am.
Few years ago, when I turned 50, I had invited Otunba and his elegant stallion of a wife, Erelu Angela Adebayo to the thanksgiving service in my church.
He refused to confirm if he would attend. I was impressively surprised to find that he arrived the church premises with his wife, even before me, waiting for the service to commence.
Ever since then, he has remained a great boss, friend and confidant.
By next Thursday, the young man will hit the Diamond age even as he still looks 40ish. I join his many followers and friends to wish him a Happy Birthday and many greater feats in the years ahead.
Pix: Niyi Adebayo.jpg