What does farewell mean if not death? But will death itself be a farewell?”- Honore de Balzak
I am not from Ekiti State but, like every other mortal, the untimely death of Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka, Governor of Ekiti State, devastated me.
My knowledge of this pretty, witty and willing-to-go-places woman came about during the 2007 General Elections in which Ekiti Governorship election became an issue of prolonged litigations. This relationship no doubt deepened during my tenure as the Administrative Secretary of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) of which the late Deputy Governor was a prominent member. I met her for the first time at the Magodo GRA, Lagos-venue of ARG meeting in February 2009. Since then, I have not stopped appreciating God for the wonderful opportunity. What fascinated me was the involvement of an Amazon in politics, especially, in a region where men were characteristically – and, understandably, too – the custodians of the ace. I saw in Sister Funmi a strong woman of poise and purpose, always with Kayode Fayemi, her principal, through the thick and the thin of the struggle. That I am therefore emotionally compelled to partake of the feelings of grief and loss which this sad event has unleashed on the good people of Ekiti State should spring no surprise.
Death, where is thy sting? But why Funmilayo Olayinka? Why must she die now – at her prime, when all things seem bright and beautiful? Why must death snatch her away, especially, when she was yet to give her best to her family, her state and humanity in general? Dead but not forgotten: have we any lessons to learn from her untimely death or is it another case of heavens themselves blazing forth the death of princes?
Erin wo! Ekiti State Deputy Governor is dead but the legacy she left behind will forever be cherished by succeeding generations. A woman of many parts, she was one leader whose dealings went beyond the realms of politics, religion, culture or race. Not a woman to be taken-in by political piracy and religious bigotry, Funmi Olayinka, as she was fondly called, was a vertebrate fighter who put all she had into whatever she believed in. She was an epitome of a hopeful future who, within her short sojourn on this scorched planet, helped in stitching “up what has been torn apart” as well as making “happiness meaningful for nations poisoned by the misery of this century.” Though she dwelled where saints dreaded, the late politician was a lover of peace, one who succeeded greatly in employing her God-given talents and opportunities in bringing “together in common understanding peoples of all faiths and creeds.” Little wonder she ended up towering above the many pseudo-democrats and icy ideologists who now litter Nigeria’s socio-political landscape.
From the man on the street whose life Olayinka gave a meaning; to the weak, the helpless, the hopeless and the powerless whose cause she spearheaded and made a success of, the late icon was the rallying point for progressivism and an inspiration to the progressive movement. She was a woman of her own vigor whose understanding of leadership went beyond platitudes. She was indeed a woman of all times whose impression on the progression of contemporary times can never be wiped away. As an administrator, she was not only meticulous in the discharge of her duties but was also so filled with the milk of human kindness that she would stop at nothing to assist a fellow being in times of need. Unfortunately, she died fighting on two fronts: one, fighting for a Nigeria which everybody, irrespective of creed or race, could call his or her own; and, two, fighting against a disease, inflicted on her, by only God knew what!
With Olayinka’s demise, Nigeria has lot a gem. Ekiti State in particular has lost the invaluable service of a virtuous woman. Frankly, Sister Funmi’s death forces me to think about over life, its lifelines as well as its lifelessness; its few ups as well as its many downs; its valley of hopelessness as well as its angst of depravation. It makes me ponder its many wrongs as well as its few rights, especially, why the worst continues to thrive while the best are with each passing day lost to the fangs of death and diseases. Olayinka makes me mull over why the have-nots in our midst outnumber the haves and why the latter still milk the former to a state of stupor. Indeed, why the world remains skewed, that is, why the system that is in place compensates the wicked but condemns the sincere to servitude, remains a source of worry to me.
Yes! I knew Funmi Olayinka! I knew her as a woman blessed with unmatched traits of meticulous exactness, honest patriotism and generous human sympathy. A woman of volcanic eruptiveness, the woman I loved to refer to as Governor Fayemi’s sister, not, assistant, was a rare combination of head and heart. She was a leader of earnest sincerity and straightforward enthusiasm, one who perfectly understood that being successful in government was no rocket science; it only meant knowing one’s onions, getting focused and being at one’s best.
As a mother, she understood that the knee was a joint, not an entertainment. No matter the nature or tightness of her schedule, Olayinka would always make out time to respond to people and their concerns. It might take days but be assured you would get a reply. For instance, when I sought her views on the Ekiti Governorship Election Rerun Tribunal judgment, which gave temporary victory to Segun Oni, Sister Funmi simply said: “My brother, it is well. But, truth will prevail.” On my article, titled, ‘Bishop Adebiyi’s Sermon’ published in 2012, the late Olayinka sent this to me:“Hello my brother and thanks for this. Bishop [Peter] Adebiyi is my Bishop – my church is under his Diocese. So, I know the stuff he is made of. It is well with us and our country in Jesus name.” On my part, I knew where she was headed! So, I wrote: “Your Excellency … I am also an Anglican, by birth, by faith and, by His grace, I will die an Anglican … Papa Adebiyi is one priest who will never mince words. But how far he can go, especially, in a clime where the issue of ego has overtaken the pride of Communal Togetherness, is my major worry …” Nonetheless, when Her Excellency failed to respond to my last Yuletide messages, I knew something was wrong, least of which was any nearness of the end.
Yes! I knew Sister Funmi as a Lay Reader at Anglican Church of the Ascension, Opebi, Lagos. I knew her as a quintessential leader who stood for justice and freedom in the face of domination and intimidation. A wonderful conception of human mindset, the late Olayinka was a model of what a woman in public life should be: fashionably beautiful, elegantly quiet, infinitely refined, mild yet forceful. She was a woman of unusual sweetness of character, one with the pleasing-to-the-eye ‘gift of seeing the present in the past and of judging what would be by what had been.’ That she succeeded tremendously in uniting all peoples of God, was therefore not by accident. Even in the thick of Ekiti’s ‘Long Walk To A New Dawn’, Olayinka, alongside Fayemi, still found time to attend my wedding ceremony at Aramoko-Ekiti in 2009. And up till the time death closed her eyelids still, Her Excellency remained a tower of inspiration, unsurpassed in the expression of fidelity to her country.
Marion Howard describes life as “a blanket – too short.” Pull it up “and your toes rebel.” Yank it down “and shivers meander about your shoulders.” According to Howard, only cheerful folks “manage to draw their knees and have a comfortable night.” The question now is: did Olayinka leave Nigeria the country of her dream? I doubt! Did she leave dear fatherland better than she met it? I doubt! Without a shred of doubt, Olayinka lived in and left behind a nation completely overtaken by chronic perpetrators of evil who walk tall in the society while their victims hang their heads in shame and confusion. She left behind a commercialised, deregulated and privatised system, where politics not only diminishes harmony for humanity but also promotes whims of hatred and fancies of anguish. Moremi lived in and left behind a nation riddled with the twists and turns of ungainly ambiguities, intentional contradictions and the theatrics of “sharing the national cake, economic growth, bickering for power and other material things.”
Unlike saner climes where the majority rules, ours is a majority ruled by the minority. Before our very eyes, they steal our votes and use our stolen mandates to steal not only our commonweal but also traumatize our conscience. Still, we dare not raise a hand in protest. Added to our woes is a president who appreciates cluelessness with disgusting affinity. Matthew Kukah calls them “accidental warriors” while Ladi Thompson refers to them as “wartime generals.” In the words of Tunde Bakare, they are “men who see money as a toy to play with, not instrument of wisdom and eternity.” Since the situation is that bad, I will rather refer to them as ‘victims of good luck.’
In the words of John Dryden, “all human things are subject to decay and when fate summons, monarchs must obey.” Olayinka is gone past this ‘short blanket’! But, trust Nigerians in their usual slyness. It was a Nigerian who described the late Obafemi Awolowo as “the best president Nigeria never had.” But this man was among the few but powerful cliques who criminally denied Awo the opportunity of extending his magical wand to other parts of this geographical expression called Nigeria. They are at their best again! While one referred to the late Deputy Governor as “an indomitable Amazon” and her death, “a huge loss to the nation”, the other described Sister Funmi’s death as “a loss, not only to the people Ekiti State but to the entire country.” That’s life! That’s the nature of man! In all of these however, the comforting conviction is that this woman of solid learning came, saw and conquered.
So, as we leave Funmilayo Adunni Olayinka alone in her glory; and, as this princess lies resplendently like a warrior taking her rest, O Lord, I pray: grant the spirit of the faithful departed eternal rest!
Komolafe writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State