We glanced at each other from where we sat before the programme started. I eventually got up to greet him. He responded with a smile and asked, “you are Wole Street Journal, right?” My reply was “no sir, my name is Wole Adejumo. Wole Street Journal is the Publisher; that is my boss”. He stretched out his hand and the handshake that followed marked the first physical meeting Honourable Kehinde Ayoola and I had. It was a Singles and Youth programme at Rhema Chapel, Oluyole around 2012 and he was invited to discuss a certain topic with the youth. I was also on the table as a discussant.
I had wondered why the Singles Fellowship brought a politician but before I left the programme, the former Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly did not only live up to his reputation as a fortress of ideas, he spoke eloquently and showed that he had an intimidating knowledge of the Bible. That was when I began to notice that though he was a politician, he was a rare breed. As a Christian in politics, I kept asking myself if he was not in the wrong vocation. He simply looked too straight to be a politician; that explains why he didn’t challenge his impeachment as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. That was the kind of person he was; he took things too simply.
Before that Rhema Chapel meeting, we had been friends on Facebook but we had never met. We however interacted well on Facebook. I sought his opinion and reactions for quite a number of my stories back then and he gladly obliged. He was always willing to contribute and advise through my inbox. He was one of the people I consulted while doing a story on the murder of Alhaji Lateef Salako ‘Elewe Omo’. In his inbox message, Honourable Ayoola told me that “security aides of one of the chieftains of our party were said to have had a confrontation with some hoodlums”.
As time went on, Parrot Xtra Magazine brought us closer. He was a regular caller at the office, being the Chairman of the Editorial Board. Honourable Ayoola would hail me as “Tallwolleh, Basorun Onigege Wura of Ibadanland” and my usual response was “k’ara o le sir”. Our discussions cut across all topics; sports, politics (local and international), health and death. Yes, death!
At a certain time, Mr. Yinka Agboola, the Publisher fell ill and Honourable Ayoola got to hear. Typical of the Publisher, he chose to finish the production of the next edition of the magazine before anything else. On arrival at the office, I told Honourable Ayoola to persuade his friend to take things easy and rest. “Wole, there is nothing much about life. If I die now, people will gather, speak big English and go”, the Publisher said. I however maintained my stand that there was so much to live for.
In his characteristically cool manner, Honourable opined that it was better to stay alive because after death, the human body is of no value. He used his first experience at a morgue at a time of bereavement to drive home the point. He gave a vivid description of the charred remains of an accident victim and how much damage fire could do to a human being. There and then, we all agreed that the best thing was to live well so one’s spirit doesn’t regret afterwards.
It was that same day he told me about a driver he had as a member of the House of Assembly. Honourable Ayoola said in the driver’s bid to impress him, one day, the driver carelessly said he was the one that drove the body of a Lieutenant Colonel who died during the phantom coup saga of the Abacha era all the way from Makurdi to Oke Ogun area of Oyo State where he was buried in his hometown. “From that day, I was no longer comfortable with him”, he said.
His wise counsel when I was arrested and taken to court over an article about a former Commissioner cannot be forgotten. “Stay calm my brother, it is one of the hazards of your profession. And don’t rule out the possibility that you and the man could become the best of friends someday. He might need you in the near future. That is life”, he told me.
And in the build up to the 2019 polls, we saw a supremely confident Honourable Kehinde Ayoola. We sat down a couple of times to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the contenders in the governorship race and he was incurably optimistic that Engineer Seyi Makinde would win. His assurance was at Mount Everest level; he was so sure it was “Seyi’s time”. So when the ‘Omi Tuntun’ era came, we all rejoiced at Parrot Xtra, knowing fully well that Honourable Ayoola deserved something.
He was a cool politician; calm, like a sheep among wolves. But he was a sheep even the wolves needed. Politics is not just about votes, it involves a lot of strategy and Ayoola was a strategist – a damn good one at that. Behind him, Lanre Olabisi, Dare Adeniran and I would discuss how he manages to cope among more rugged and controversial politicians.
The truth remains that in his lifetime, the Honourable Kehinde Ayoola I knew was at peace with all men. I never saw him bitter. I never knew he would leave so soon. An Uncle had given me an assignment to speak to the Commissioner on his behalf. I was bidding the right moment to do so until I got a message from Toyin Adeyemi, a mutual friend on May 11. “Please how is Hon. Kehinde Ayoola doing? Could you please find out what is wrong with him? He has not been active on his Facebook page”.
Of course I have an idea of how much work the Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources does in Oyo State so I told her all was well and that I would chat with him later in the day. I couldn’t believe it when his passage was announced three days later.
While our last conversation bordered on the loyalty of Iku Baba Yeye, the Alaafin of Oyo to his old friends like the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion and Aare Afe Babalola, Toyin told me Honourable Ayoola spoke to her about serving God more. The lesson in it for me is to stay loyal and hold on to God till the very end.
To the mutual friends we had, especially the likes of Nike Adegoke (who sadly never met him physically), Nike Oloyede and others who told me their minds went to me immediately they heard that Honourable Ayoola passed away, his transition is indeed a lesson for us. Death is an inexorable end; the fire will one day become useless to the fellow whose pastime is eating roasted yam.
Mr. Yinka Agboola couldn’t say much when I called him. “Wole, iku to np’ojugba eni, owe lo npa fun ni” (death is telling you something when it takes your peers) was all he managed to say. Uncle Tunde ‘Winter’ Oluade, his junior at Olivet Heights, Oyo said “the lesson here is that you could see someone in the morning and by night you will hear that he is no more”.
The biggest of the lessons however, is that we should live right and be ready to meet our Creator when the time comes.