By MOSH BOLA OWOLOWO
Tuesday, August 24, 2021 was destined to be an unusual date for me. For personal reasons I left my main phone at home before leaving for an appointment. By the time I returned home in the evening, I noticed missed calls and unread messages – as expected, but the weightiest were the notification and commiseration messages about the passing of Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye.
Senator Durojaiye eschewed politics of acrimony and focused on bridge-building. He was a progressive who put aside political differences for the greater good. For instance, he contested the SDP primaries that M.K.O Abiola emerged as presidential candidate in 1992. And when the June 12 1993 elections were annulled by the “Evil Genius” – Ibrahim Babangida, Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, along with other NADECO chieftains, swung into action undeterred and unrelenting in the struggle against tyranny. His political activism, culminated in his incarceration – without charge – by the dictator, Sani Abacha. Identified internationally as a “prisoner of conscience”, Otunba Durojaiye spent 560 days (3 December 1996 – 16 June 1998) in detention and was eventually released during the Abdulsalami Abubakar administration.
The military junta were eventually ousted from power, after the protracted June 12 struggle. As one of those who sacrificed for the emergence of Nigeria’s ‘democratic’ dispensation of 1999, Otunba Durojaiye was elected as Senator for Ogun East Senatorial District. He served diligently from 1999 to 2003. At this juncture, it must be emphasised that the only reason he was not re-elected was because of the “do-or-die” politics of the PDP – spearheaded by Olusegun Obasanjo. The Otta-based general had literally declared war on the political landscape of Yorubaland. Obasanjo was especially irked by the lack of support from the region during the 1999 election, and the grim reality of his party (PDP) not controlling his home state – Ogun State. I was in Ogun State and witnessed how the ‘coup’ conducted under the guise of an election unraveled in 2003.
The irony of that shameful episode is that Senator Durojaiye was among those who intervened when the National Assembly had Obasanjo by the jugular and was scheduled for impeachment in 2002. Despite such sordid events, Senator Durojaiye continued with his principled politics, devoid of bitterness and diviseness.
On a personal level, I gained a lot of experience during the era NADECO battled Abacha’s despotic regime. Under the tutelage of Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye, I was exposed to sociopolitical realities and entrusted with critical responsibilities. He didn’t consider me too young to contribute my part to the cause. That trust boosted my confidence and courage and spurred me on at very early stage in my political passage. From that episode, I learned there shouldn’t be any age-restrictive barrier to nation building. Those willing to contribute to national development can be groomed, encouraged and given opportunities as they come of age.
An incident I will always cherish was during the “Owoism” chapter of my life at the University of Lagos; when I transformed from a campus socialite to a student activist.
I, along with other like-minded students, organised a symposium at the school auditorium. The primary objective, was about getting good and conscientious people involved in politics, especially at the university level. Society will ultimately benefit if more principled people got involved in politics.
I invited Senator Durojaiye for the symposium and he flew in from Abuja to attend the event. My antagonists felt threatened by the event and were shocked a serving senator attended. Some drama ensued because this was a tense period on campus. It was the era where student cultism was a menace in tertiary institutions, and cultists more or less influenced campus politics and controlled the student union. I was having none of that. But that is another story! Following that encounter, Senator Durojaiye advised and encouraged me not to relent in my pursuits for a better society. Also, when I was contesting for the 2015 assembly election, Senator Durojaiye was supportive and prayed for me. As was his custom during our engagements, he emphasised my parents are good people, and often went down memory lane about my late father. Good character is priceless!
During his lifetime, Senator Durojaiye was very accessible. Unlike some politicians who feel pompous and are intoxicated by the trappings of power, he remained grounded. After all, he had achieved in his professional career and distinguished himself during his public sector stint, before joining politics. Even as an elder statesman, he continued to impact society, and was still willing to serve in an advisory capacity. His last official position was as the erstwhile chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Otunba Olabiyi Durojaiye was an economist, banker, lawyer and politician guided by principles. He is evidence politics can indeed be played with principles, if the objective is to actually serve the public.
Adieu Baba Durojaiye! (February 8, 1933 – August 24, 2021)
© M.B.O 2021