BY FOLU OLAMITI
I woke up in the early hours of July 1, 2022, around 2 am. I felt in my body some kind of chilling feelings, broke into praise worship, read the day’s portion of the Bible and said my prayers. Usually, I should have read Chief Akanni Aluko’s usual new month message forwarded at the end of every month but did not see it before I went to bed. I went to his message platform at 4.45 am still it was not there. I shrugged it off and shifted to doing other things. At 6.02am, my phone rang. Lo and behold! it was Akanni’s Aluko’s name on my screen. With excitement, I bellowed our usual greetings: “Chief OOO happy new month” but before I ended, it was a shivering voice of his wife Mama Kemi that came on and tearfully I heard her say: “Akanni Aluko ti lo” meaning Akanni is gone. “Lo sibo” meaning Gone where? was what I heard myself saying. She came back: “Akanni ti ku” meaning Akanni is dead. That was it.
I blanked out for a few minutes to regain my composure and started recalling how I met Akanni, the camaraderie that existed between us and how much he had impacted so much in my life. Akanni Aluko was not only an elderly brother, he was a friend indeed, a confidant and someone I owed so much that I cannot tell it all. My relationship with Akanni started in the early 70s when I started as a cub reporter with the Nigerian Tribune. He was a young businessman in his early 30s. One thing led to one another that I became so crafted to him, not in terms of monetary gains but in a true friendship built on love, trust and integrity.
Gradually he introduced me to his friends, the late Chief Adeseun Ogundoyin, the Ogiyan of Ejigbo, Oba Omowonuola Oyesosin II and Late Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, Alhaji Azeez Arisekola Alao. The foursome dominated the social space from the 70s to the late 90s; they became the toast of the low and the mighty. Of all the four, only Baba Ogiyan, a forthright royal father is still standing. Akanni would have clocked 80 on July 23, 2023, which would have made him live more than 10 years above his other two compatriots that had passed on much earlier.
Our friendship, as I earlier stated started in the 70s from his rented office at Adamasingba. He was a big dealer in frozen fish which later made him so popular in Ibadan and beyond. However, his flair for writing incisive political analysis whetted his appetite to love journalism. At this period I had risen to the position of Sunday Tribune editor. He, therefore, sharpened his talent for intellectual discourse on diverse issues, be it social, political, or economic. He went on to buy two pages of advertorial every week in the Sunday Tribune under the headline: ‘Third Eye’, to critically assess the performances of the military leaders in government and proferred quality solutions.
This paid column became so popular that it turned out to be the Sunday, Sunday tonic elixir for those in government and the populace. By this time, Akanni had become so prosperous that he decided to plunge into the newspaper business; The Third Eye newspapers. While I was the editor of the Nigerian Tribune, I became his unofficial consultant. During this period, the military shut down a number of so-called “unfriendly” newspapers. Third Eye, therefore, became a haven for journalists, especially those from Lagos that were thrown out of jobs. Many of them like Raheem Adedoyin and Fred Ohahwa moved down from Guardian Newspapers.
Aluko took me out of the pack of journalists to become one of his closest family members who had the freedom to move in and out of his bedroom. In many instances, he provided succour making me feel so comfortable in a pen profession with a poor wage package. He spoilt me with everything I needed. I remember when I told him I would soon be 40 and that it was my desire to be a landlord. I told him about how Chief Obafemi Awolowo spurred me to begin the project. He told me to calm down and assured me that “before the end of that year you would perform your housewarming”. By the Grace of God it happened. I remember the day he and Mama Kemi stood in front of my completed abode in Ibadan and watched Akanni, beaming with smiles of satisfaction. He delightedly prayed for me. It was a landmark in my life that I would never forget.
His philanthropic gestures knew no bounds. Those who came through me for one problem or another to Akanni always smiled home. To those, I could not recount got houses and vehicles. Whenever Akanni was feeling unwell I would be the first person he would call. Then I had a doctor friend now late — Bob Owolade — who was at his beck and call. As busy as I was as the editor of Nigerian Tribune I made sure I was with him before I retired home. My main visit was for an intellectual tonic that helped me in no small measure in producing the second-largest newspaper after Daily Times in Nigeria. I earned the name: “People’s Editor”. I did not miss the opportunity to see him whenever I was in Ibadan until his death.
Akanni Aluko was a devout Catholic. He served God to the end. He put in so much both material and spiritual to ensure the gospel of God is spread to all. He donated a church near his residence in Ilesha to the Catholic Church. As if he had a premonition about his death, he contracted a media group to move around Nigeria to interview his closest friends on video.
“Chief Akanni OOO” — my usual banter of greetings, while he too would say: “Editor oooo!” will no more be heard until the second coming of Christ. You came, saw and conquered. May your gentle soul continue to find eternal rest in the bosom of the Creator. Amen.