Olusegun Adeniyi pays tribute to Ayo Adebanjo, an elder statesman, at age 90

Although the terminology, ‘elder statesman’ is being grossly abused in our country today, especially by the media, I doubt if anybody will contest the fact that Chief Ayo Adebanjo eminently qualifies to be so described. As a young man in the last century, Adebanjo fought for the independence of our country along with other notable individuals. He has also, for several decades, been a credible voice for the Yoruba people; right from 1951 when the Action Congress (AC) Youth Wing was formed. Today, he remains a strong advocate of a Nigeria that works for her people. And it is a testimony to Adebanjo’s personal integrity that even as he clocks 90, no scandal has ever been traced to his name despite his influence and political links.

However, if there is any word that adequately captures the person of Adebanjo, it is consistency. Any interested researcher can check anything he said or stood for 70 years ago and there is no difference to what he is saying today or stands for. He neither prevaricates on ideological positions nor changes positions to suit his audience. He does not sit on the fence nor tiptoe around issues. He says it as it is, brutally, frankly, without minding whose ox is gored. And he is never afraid to rock the boat.

In an age when the only thing trending is politicians jumping from one party to another, recanting and retracting statements, Adebanjo has remained strong and dedicated to the ideals of his mentor, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. From the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic to the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) during the General Sani Abacha era to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) of which he was Deputy National Chairman at the beginning of the current democratic dispensation, Adebanjo has remained consistent in his worldview.

Adebanjo is also a very courageous man. I saw this first-hand in 1997 during the Abacha era. A group of opposition figures led by what was then known as The Ijebu Mafia (a quartet of himself and three other compatriots, now of blessed memory—Solanke Onasanya, Olanihun Ajayi and Abraham Adesanya) had organised a farewell reception for the then outgoing American ambassador, Dr Walter Carrington. Determined to ensure the ceremony was disrupted, the Abacha regime sealed off the premises of Onasanya’s residence and deployed soldiers to all surrounding areas in Surulere. Undaunted, the organisers moved the event to Adebanjo’s residence about four kilometres away.

When soldiers eventually invaded his house to break up the party and throw out everybody, including Carrington and his wife, Arese, a furious Adebanjo confronted them without minding the risk to his life. Throughout the military era, Adebanjo fought alongside others for the enthronement of civil rule and in the process he was at a point detained.

Another thing that stands Adebanjo out is that he is a very contented man, perhaps because he is one of the few politicians in the country with a daytime job. He is a lawyer by profession and he has always practiced. Therefore, unlike many others, politics has been more of a vocation for him rather than a means of livelihood.

For the over three decades that I have known him, Adebanjo has been a passionate advocate for the restructuring of Nigeria and the establishment of a federalism that takes account of our diversity. For him, restructuring is not a mantra, neither is it confusing. It is simply reverting to the constitution as agreed to by the founding fathers, especially Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. He participated at the 2014 National Conference and has, on different occasions, called for the implementation of its report.

However, Adebanjo is not by any means a perfect man. In fact, where some people disagree with him is that adhering to certain ideals should not foreclose looking at other viewpoints. A common charge against Adebanjo, which is not without foundation, is his rigidity on issues. As Zik Ziglar argued, people can be clear about their goals yet be flexible about the process of achieving them. But once Adebanjo takes a position on an issue, it is almost impossible to move him to adapt his plans even while keeping the dreams and goals.

Rigidity is not always a virtue but Adebanjo can be forgiven because it is a disposition that is common with many members of his generation who believe they can solve the problem of a 2018 Nigeria with a 1950 formula!

Ever consistent, ever courageous, ever resourceful, passionately engaging, a reporter’s delight, a reservoir of experience and a great blessing to our country, I wish Chief Adebanjo a happy birthday as he joins the exclusive nonagenarian club while still looking young and strong. I pray the good Lord to give him many more years in good health not only to witness the Nigeria of his dreams but to continue to be of service to the country he loves so much.