Victor Ogunje writes about the contributions of the late Speaker of Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon Funminiyi Afuye, to the political development of the State before his sudden death last week
On Wednesday, October 19, 2022, something terrible happened at the Ekiti State House of Assembly. The Speaker, Hon. Funminiyi Afuye, was snatched by the cold hands of death.
His demise was mysterious to some and this necessitated why different meanings were read to his sudden, devastating and wondrous departure. While some said it could be spiritual, the other school of thought attributed it to the call of nature and destiny.
In a manner suggestive that of an excruciating regret and teeth gnatching, one of the assembly members while responding to his departure said: “This incident was funny and shocking. Rt. Hon Funminiyi Afuye was at the House of Assembly yesterday(Tuesday), so his death was devastating to us. It was a rude shock. We learnt he developed sudden complications this morning and was rushed to the hospital, where he died”.
Dramatically, Afuye appeared at the inauguration of Governor Biodun Oyebanji, on Sunday hale and healthy. He was bubbling with life, with no premonition of death. He was said to have also attended the plenary on Tuesday, after which he joined Governor Biodun Oyebanji on inspection of some projects in the state capital, Ado Ekiti. These attested to how surprising, unpredictable and incredulous death could be.
It was not gainsaid that the assumption of Governor Oyebanji onto the governorship seat on October 16, 2022 altered the political matrix and configuration of the state. His coming seems to have tilted the political calculation in favour of Ekiti South Senatorial District.
The Zone that had cried loudly over marginalisation has the Deputy Governor, Mrs Monisade Afuye and the Speaker coming from the district with Ekiti North now dislodged from the major first three ranking positions, with former Governor Kayode Fayemi’s exit. Knew what they were, politicians don’t normally take chances. Their case is like a nature, it abhors vacuum.
Reports from the assembly indicated that underground and surreptitious scramble for the speakership had started even before Fayemi exited. Reliable sources confirmed that some lawmakers of Northern extraction had started the permutations targeted at dislodging Afuye to cede the position to Ekiti North that seems sidelined in the equation. This was to ensure political balancing
But before these clandestine debate hots up, the nature brought out its own calculus and took away Afuye, who represented Ikere constituency 1, at the age of 66. Though he had hardlining supporters among the lawmakers, who shared the view that the late speaker should be allowed to complete his tenure on June 6, 2023.
According to a statement credited to Ekiti State Government, the deceased speaker died of cardiac arrest. Before finally breathing his last, the former lawmaker was rushed to the hospital, after developing complications before falling into the cold hands of death.
In actual fact, the pain caused by his death had resonated so deeply across the state. The ruling party and even opposition were dazed by his abrupt demise, because the former Speaker was perceived as consummate and cosmopolitan, and had carved a robust network of friendships across political and social divides.
In his community in Ikere Ekiti, he was well loved. He remained one of the few politicians in Ekiti that people had unfettered access to. Humility radiated around him, and he was not power drunk.
Probably because of his background as a former students’ leader at the then University of Ife, where he read Political Science, Afuye believed in Marxism principle. He was not desperate for power, material acquisition and very temperate in approach to issues, no matter how inflammable.
He had a rich political history in the politics of Ekiti. He was one of the foot-soldiers that fought between 2007 mad 2010 for the reclamation of Fayemi’s “stolen” mandate from Segun Oni of the People’s Democratic Party. The late Speaker was the leader of the opposition then. He was leading the 13 lawmakers elected on the platform of the defunct Action Congress that metamorphosed to Action Congress of Nigeria in the then assembly.
That period was the most engaging in Ekiti politics. It was a 13:13 equal strength between the PDP and ACN. It was that time that Afuye’s deep sense of reliability came to fore. He neither wavered nor contemplated defection to the ruling PDP to shore up his perks of office.
Afuye was pungent in his criticism of government and highly vociferous. He demonstrated leadership with panache suggestive of a staunch opposition desirous of good governance for its people. The late lawmaker never primed politics and primordial attachments over corporate benefits. That was why he rarely opposed any bill or policy brought for ratification by Oni to improve the wellbeing of Ekiti populace.
His dependability spurred Fayemi to reappoint him as a Commissioner for Information in 2011 after leaving the Assembly. His popularity in that office was electrifying to the extent that some people in government were rattled and became uncomfortable. Good enough for him, Fayemi always believed in his ability. He was later moved to the Ministry of Regional and Inter-governmental Affairs to rally support for regional governance being mooted by the then southwest governors.
In actual fact, when opportunity beckoned for reelection into the Assembly in 2019, Afuye got it on a platter of gold, riding on the crest of his lofty and scintillating performance between 2007 and 2011. He won the election so convincingly and with no hassles and became the Speaker of the Assembly, where he spent 40 months and 13 days and rested his case.
Under his leadership, the executive and legislature cohabited in a manner that was mutually inclusive. It was a case of mutual respect and honour. Afuye piloted the assembly without rancour and crisis. Not even for one day was the threat of impeachment raised against him. He was above board and pragmatic. He cooperated with the executive without sacrificing the independence and honour of the hallowed chambers on the altar of political relevance and patronage.
To underscore his relevance, every budget brought by Fayemi since 2019 was being critically reviewed. In 2020 budget, Fayemi presented a total budget estimate of N124.7 billion but the assembly reviewed it downward to N91.9 billion due to the striking and debilitating global nosedive in the economic situation triggered by the dastardly effect of Covid 19 pandemic.
The same scenario played out in 2022, Fayemi brought an estimate of N100.6 billion while the assembly jacked it up to N100.8 billion to accommodate some critical sectors.These confirmed high level of freedom the lawmakers savoured under his outstanding hegemony.
Through Afuye’s shrewdness and proficiency in the act of lawmaking, the assembly passed a total of 81 bills within a spate of three years and four months. Among them were bill for the upgrading of the College of Education, Ikere Ekiti to now Bamidele Olumilua University of Education,Science and Technology and bill establishing the Ekiti State Polytechnic, Isan Ekiti.
These substantiated his spine and immeasurable love he had for good leadership.
Underscoring his influence in Ekiti politics, his death affected every facet of the society. President Muhammadu Buhari, the Government of Ekiti State, National and State Assembly members, his political party, Association of Local Government of Nigeria(ALGON) and others mourned his demise and called for the repose of his soul in the bosom of the Lord
President Buhari said the late Speaker had distinguished himself as a key soldier for democracy and was widely admired as a humble grassroots political leader who relentlessly championed the interests of his people.
“He served the State and its people diligently and devoted his life to uplifting common good,” the President said.
The Governor, in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Yinka Oyebode, said Afuye’s death was shocking, sad and unfortunate adding that he was shocked when he got a call early Wednesday morning that the late Speaker was rushed to the hospital.
The Governor said he was convinced that Hon Afuye would leave the hospital hale and hearty in view of the medical attention he was receiving when he paid him a visit at the EKiti State University Teaching Hospital ( EKSUTH) Intensive Care Unit( ICU), Wednesday afternoon.
“I was speechless when the news of Hon Afuye’s death came later in the evening.” The Governor described Afuye as a loyal friend and party man, a patriotic Ekiti leader and a tireless advocate of good governance, who in the last 30 years had committed his time, energy and resources to the development of the State and the country.
“Ekiti lost an illustrious son, a perfect gentleman and a champion of democracy and rule of law. My heart bleeds over the loss of this great leader who was a great friend and brother indeed.
“On behalf of myself, my wife, the Government and good people of Ekiti State, I commiserate with the Afuye family and the people of Ikere Ekiti. May the good Lord give everyone of us the fortitude to bear this loss”, Oyebanji said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Southern Senators Forum via its Chairman, and representative of the Ekiti Central Senatorial District at the Senate, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, described Afuye as one leader that contributed immeasurably to Ekiti’s development through effective lawmaking and partnership with the executive.
Bamidele, in a statement signed on behalf of the 51 Senators, last Thursday, sympathised with the Ekiti State Government, Afuye’s family and political associates, on the loss of this priceless leader, who gave his physical and intellectual resources to develop the state.
The Forum said; “Hon Funminiyi Afuye was one leader that had etched his name in gold in the building of Nigeria’s democratic institution. He was patriotic and that necessitated why he put his life on the line fighting military junta as a member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO).
“Since the advent of democracy in 1999, the late speaker had also contributed richly to entrench good governance, and worked hard to fasttrack deployment of the instrument of democracy to usher in development, and make lives more rewarding for the citizens.
On its part, the All Progressives Congress in a statement by its state Publicity Secretary, Segun Dipe, regretted that Afuye had left a big vacuum by his sudden departure. The party commended the quintessential roles played by the deceased’s politician and expressed gratitude to him for standing up to be counted when the APC was at the crossroad in its political journey and evolution.
The body of Local Government and Local Council Development Area Chairmen/Chairpersons, (ALGON), Ekiti State, in a statement released by its Public Relations Officer, Prince Michael Ogungbemi, the Chairman of Ajoni LCDA, described the late lawmaker as a selfless and passionate political strategist, who worked tirelessly for the economic growth and political stability of the State.
“As a former Hon. Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation and two term member of the State House of Assembly, he was humble, accessible and compassionate. He was very active in the progressive political family which has brought monumental development to Ekiti State”.
A prominent opposition leader and former Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate, Asiwaju Segun Oni, said Afuye belonged to the group of Omoluabi Ekiti, a very humble and an astute politician who has served Ekiti meritoriously In various political positions and speaker, adding that he has left behind a good legacy.
The royalty was not also left out as Ekiti Council of traditional rulers joined the league of mourners of this priceless leader. They said the late speaker had etched his name in gold as one leader who didn’t compromise good governance for anything, saying his history would remain indelible in the annals of history of Ekiti’s development phase.
Born on July 11, 1956, in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Afuye is a lawyer, banker, teacher, lawmaker, former commissioner and a successful administrator.
He is a product of the then University of Ife(now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, Osun State(1976-80), the University of Lagos(1981-82 and 1988-94) and the Nigerian Law School, where he bagged B.Sc, M.Sc, LL.B, BL respectively.
Before his adventure into politics, he had been a clerk at the Federal Statistics, Ibadan, Oyo State(1974-76) and Ministry of Economic Development, Ondo State(1976); a teacher at Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, Lagos; Senior Manager, First African Trust Bank(1992-95) before he became a lawyer and later Principal Partner at Funminiyi Afuye & Co, a firm of legal practitioners.
Now that the big Iroko had fallen, what then becomes of the Ekiti Assembly after him is now the issue resonating on the lips of the people. Would it be able to stand on its feet and look the governor in the eyes? Would it be able to maintain its independence, honour and integrity? Would it act as a co-pilot or rubber-stamp entity? Would the members prime Ekiti over self aggrandizement? All these shall unfold as life returns to the lawmaking chambers after the dirge over Afuye’s demise subsides.