Fellow Nigerians, I had cause to visit Yakooyo, a very small town in the State of Osun days ago. I had not been here I’m sure in over two decades. As tiny as Yakooyo is, this rural settlement boasts of one of the most famous military icons in Nigeria, Lt. General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade. For those who may be too young to remember this great veteran of many exploits, let me make a brief introduction. Born on October 3, 1939, General, as we all fondly call him, started his early life in his home town but travelled out for his secondary education at Offa Grammar School before joining the Army as a cadet in 1960. He later attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, in the United Kingdom from August 1960 and was duly commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Infantry Corps on December 20, 1962. He attended the Infantry Officer Career /Airborne Course in the USA, the Staff College, Camberley and Royal College of Defence Studies in the United Kingdom…
The General rose rapidly: Lieutenant in 1963, Captain in 1965, Major in 1967, Lt. Colonel in 1968, Colonel in 1972, Brigadier-General in 1974, Major General in 1976 and Lt. General in 1979. The attractive, affable, amiable but stern General occupied many positions in the Army notable of which are: GOC of 1 Infantry Division 1975-1979, Member Supreme Military Council during Murtala/Obasanjo regimes 1975-1979, Chief of Army Staff and eventually, Chief of Defence Staff, before his voluntary retirement in 1981. Space and time would not allow me to shower enough encomiums on this gentleman officer and Statesman but I had the pleasure of meeting him at home this week in the company of my very good friends, Prince Adedamola Aderemi and Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, as well as some members of the Aderemi royal family. This visit was more in the form of a reunion and an opportunity to relive old memories, as the trio of Prince Aderemi, Senator Afikuyomi and myself had worked assiduously and tirelessly in England in various ways and forms during the NADECO days, with several other NADECO strongmen like late Papa Anthony Enahoro, Prof Wole Soyinka, General Akinrinade, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Odigie Oyegun, Rev. Peter Obadan, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Dr Wale Oshun and their ilk, in the fight for the actualisation of democratic freedom and ideals in Nigeria. We spent more than a couple of hours tapping into his cerebral brain and drinking from his fountain of wisdom and knowledge, whilst enjoying his wisecracks. Trust me, you can never get tired of chatting with this General of Generals.
General Akinrinade earned my utmost respect during the NADECO days when some of us took to the forests to escape from the maximum military rulers of the time and we served our exile years together. His commitment to the reinstatement and enthronement of Democracy was total. He risked everything including his safety and personal comfort and that of his family. In those ugly years, he and Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu committed stupendous resources to the battle for the soul of Nigeria and the General lost his prime possessions in the course of the struggle. He has remained steadfast ever since and he is currently championing the cause of Yoruba unification and continues to be a most vociferous voice for the advancement of his people. Today, I remember the endless meetings at his famous apartment at The Quadrangle near Edgware Road and it was in that spirit we drove with my colleagues to Yakoyo to pay homage to this proud son of Africa and to pick his ideas on the on-going developments in the Yoruba polity especially.
The General did not disappoint. He was his usual ebullient self. He looked as fresh and calm as a cucumber. Although just only recently arrived at home from farming that afternoon because we had called at short notice to alert him that we were on our way, his skin appeared flawless and he was as usual mentally alert. It is a measure of the simplicity and humility of this great man that he was willing to receive us in his home despite the short notice that we had given him and his pre-occupation with the work he was doing on the farm.
Once we settled in with him, he took us on a tour de force of the Nigerian trajectory from the past to the present. He was perfectly in sync with us despite our wide age differences. I met a man at peace with himself and his God.
That journey ignited something in me. It was a spark that catapulted me back to my roots. If I refer to Yakoyo today as a township, it is as a result of the wonderful contributions of its most celebrated son, Alani Akinrinade. Alani, with due respects, is every parent’s dream. He has given a lot back to his community as evidenced by the fact that the roads of this provincial small town are well tarred and maintained in contrast with some of its neighbours.
Entering General Akinrinade’s private abode is something else from the moment you enter through his gates as your senses are titillated to expect the experience of a lifetime. The driveway into Alani’s paradise instantly reveals a great mind at work. The trees are well manicured and the flowers and plants properly maintained. As if to demonstrate the splendour of the place a proud peacock struts its stuff beside the dazzling blue swimming pool.
The General’s home is not your simple country home though. He and his brothers have a massive farm homestead which boasts of a major poultry farm and a gari factory that is almost second to none in quality. From the gari factory, the brothers maintain a steady and significant source of income through exportation to Europe, the United States and indeed Asia.
Truth is, the serenity and tranquillity of the place got me very jealous. The rustic setting of the surroundings was surreal for someone who has lived in Lagos and other cities of the world. Approaching the homely plantation I had seen the good fold of Yakoyo going about their daily business in a simple but clearly contented and peaceful manner. The hustle and bustle of a city was totally lacking and you could palpably sense the kinship, friendliness and support structure engendered by the communal spirit in which the people live.
I realised that Lagos in particular has kidnapped most of us and kept us in a gilded cage. We live in expensive ghettos and think we are enjoying. Believe me, real enjoyment belongs elsewhere in rural areas like Yakoyo.
From its name, Yakoyo (pronounced ‘ya ko yo”) means, “visit us and eat to your heart’s content”. You can imagine the confidence that gave birth to the generosity of the populace of the town which is clearly inherent in the name given to the town. Farming must have been a major preoccupation of the people. They must have imbibed the adage “bi ebi ba ti kuro ninu ise, ise buse” (once food is available, poverty is reduced). That was what came to our minds as we walked into the welcoming arms of our great mentor. Despite our protestations that we were coming from a family gathering where we had been adequately nourished with food and drinks our genial host would hear nothing of it. We were therefore dutifully plied with champagne of various hues, red wine and soft drinks by loyal staff who demonstrated their adoration and respect for their boss in the way in which they efficiently dealt with our requests, such that we did not want our stay to end.
We spent good time learning from this amazing teacher about the military, politics, social interaction and business. I was most touched when the kind General bemoaned the plight of university lecturers and the hard times upon which they had fallen. He noted that in the late 70’s and until the early 90’s, he hosted lots of University lecturers and had cause to showcase their diverse talents to visiting dignitaries and businessmen. At that time the lecturers were smart, confident and content because they were reasonably well paid and could afford the good things of life like decent homes, nice serviceable cars and above all proper education for their children. Now the reverse is the case as most university lecturers live a pitiale existence and have lost confidence in themselves.
When our short but highly informative lecture session was over, we were simply not ready to leave our host and his delightful home, but nightfall was beckoning. We had a long-winding road, at various stages of construction and re-construction, to traverse all the way to Lagos. We left with good memories of a Paradise lost and wished we could set the hands of the clock backwards and relive our lives all over again. We drove out and joined the famous Ife-Ibadan dual carriage Expressway. It was anything but express or indeed dual carriage as we dodged not only potholes and near gullies but also oncoming vehicles that had to leave their own side of the road because what we were experiencing on our side of the road was child’s play compared to seeming road failure on the other side. Still we didn’t mind the inconvenience. Something must take you back home and indeed something took us back to that cradle of civilisation. In the fullness of time, you will appreciate what we all collectively vowed to do henceforth.
Oh, how can we ever forget the trip to Osogbo on Tuesday night as we contemplated relaxing after a hard day of meetings and consultations. As we raced towards the Osun State capital, our tongues salivated to the prospect of Mama Ope’s food canteen where we were determined to deal ruthlessly with those stubborn goats and the orisirisi. We didn’t bother going to our hotel first to refresh. It was that serious. I had not been to that joint in years. Wow, the gbegiri was heavenly. I felt a taste totally different from the fake ones mostly served in our big cities. The palm-oil was refreshingly tasty. The ewedu was organic and straight from the farm. The amala was light and healthy. This is the life, I thought. I should have brought my son Eniafelamo along to do justice to these tasty dishes.
Now you can feel why I feel like the Odyssey band singing: Going Back to our Roots…