By Prof Akintunde Akintade
Ogbeni stood ramrod and made his remarks with panache. His deep voice bellowed with resonance, passion, and conviction. He was speaking from the depth of his guts and his eyes were on the prize.
It was indeed an auspicious day to lay down the non-negotiable rules and principles of political engagement in Nigeria. A new dawn in political participation beckoned. He came, spoke, and gracefully left the stage.
The day was February 12, 2019, and the context was Abeokuta, Ogun State, the “gateway to Nigeria.” This surreal scene at a political rally immediately went viral and it boldly confirmed Ogbeni’s reputation as a man without cant and as a major player in the Nigerian political landscape.
I have known Ogbeni for almost eight years. I see in him a yearning for change and a knack for embarking on new things. He is very creative, courageous, and confident. I see him as an intrepid political maverick who is on an urgent mission to leave his mark in the sands of time. He rejects monolithic templates. He sees a “tunnel-vision” paradigm as a mark of weakness, irresponsibility, and myopia. He exemplifies and embodies the beauty of diversity. He understands the power of the transcendence in Christianity and Islam. He embraces the importance of celebrating the birth of Prophet Muhammad, but he also affirms that it is imperative to set a day apart to commemorate indigenous religious sensibilities. This is not a sign of sullen syncretism; rather, it is a product of a beautiful mind that celebrates connections and contacts.
Ogbeni commands people’s respect in Alimosho and Osogbo. He has friends in both Southern and Northern Nigeria. Surely, Ogbeni can sway a crowd with his mastery of both Yoruba and English languages. In terms of political power, he applauds the significance of both the center and the periphery. He is a renaissance man who celebrates dialogue, diversity, and difference.
Ogbeni has a curious mind that rejects facile comments and dogma. He wants to learn and he yearns for true knowledge. I vividly recall an evening with him about two years ago. It was at the beginning of the blockade of Qatar by major political players in the Muslim World: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain. I met Ogbeni after his usual long and hard day. He looked tired, but it was the last day of the Ramadan, and he was excited to see me. He invited son, Kabiru to join us. Out of the blues, he asked me: Prof., tell me the new route for Qatar Airways from Qatar to Lagos in light of the blockade? I replied: I am not really sure oga, I think my flight went over Iraq. He responded: I really want to know. He immediately took out his iPad, his ubiquitous vade mecum to map out my aeronautical journey from Doha to Lagos. His eureka moment made his face to shine and he was happy to display this empirical certification to me.
That’s quintessential Ogbeni! He exhibits the traits of an “organic intellectual” to borrow a phrase from Antonio Gramsci. This tribute celebrates the humanity of Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola. It also conveys my warmest birthday greetings and my deepest appreciation. His 63rd birthday celebration provides a good time to stand with him and reflect on his political philosophy. Professor Olusola Adeyeye has declared that “Aregbesola is the best thing to happen to Osun.” In the past six years, I have visited Osogbo several times and I can testify to the fact that it has a new look and ambiance. This is an empirical fact that goes beyond toxic political shenaniganism, alternative facts, cheap propaganda, or negative rhetoric.
The transformation of Osogbo is a concrete political legacy that was engendered by the vision of Ogbeni. Happy birthday Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. May Almighty Allah continue to direct your path and passion. There is the fire in your blood and soul. It burns with considerable gusto and power. The fire that burns within you ignites transformation and consumes corrosive stagnation. Your slim body frame belies the tremendous vitality and power that lies within you. Kikere labere kere, ki i se mimi fun adiye (A needle, albeit very tiny must not be swallowed by a chicken). This capacity enables you to exude a true joie de vivre that animates your daily engagements.
My foray into Hindu philosophy and spirituality has enabled me to discover an interesting perspective about the majesty and prestige of fire. It purifies, illuminates, and transforms. Agni, the god of fire provides the veritable antidote to illusion (maya) and ignorance (avidya). In this eternal tradition, fire generates heat (tapas) which symbolizes vigor and verve. The redeeming qualities of fire in this tradition are encapsulated in many mantras.
Coincidentally, in Yoruba sacred lores, Sango spits out the fire to engender righteous justice or to evoke what Rudolf Otto has described as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of what Max Muller dubbed the “infinite.” A comprehensive study of Ogbeni’s eight-year stewardship in the State of Osun and his present leadership roles in Lagos State should be the focus of a monograph written with objectivity, informed empathy, discernment, and rigor. Oruko nro ni. (Name accounts for people’s sensibilities). The name Aregbesola connotes conviviality, communal immersion, and concerted fellowship. It seems to me that the name resonates with the spirit of Ifelodun, Irepodun, and Egbedore. Shakespeare underestimated the connections between name and identity when he rhetorically quipped “what’s in a name?” in Romeo and Juliet. Oruko n roni, inagije n roni —— Yoruba people are very intentional in choosing the names for their children.
The name Aregbesola evokes a robust embrace of the other. Ogbeni is at home with farmers at Otan-Ayegbaju, with seasoned intellectuals at an academic discourse at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and with market women in Ipetumodu. Oga transformed from “rough” to love, and light, and loyalty. Happy birthday to a political gladiator. My hearty cheers and congratulations from the Land of Sheikhs to a bonafide “son of the soil,” a charismatic Omoluabi, a formidable protégé of Oranmiyan, the fearless and faithful friend of Jagaban Borgu, and the true son of mama Olobi, May Almighty Allah continue to bless you with good health, divine guidance, and long life as you re-dedicate yourself to the service of humanity. Congratulations to the man of the people. Aluta continua! The struggle surely continues! I salute you oga. Baraka ‘llahu fik!
Akinade is Professor of Theology Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service Georgetown University, Doha, Qatar.