Who’ Is Afraid of Chief Ekungba?, By Tunde Musibau Akanni

It is gratifying that Ekungba has done a rebuttal. As a journalist and a trainer of journalists, it will be more fulfilling in future if more of Nigerian journalists endeavour to undertake thorough facts-checking on all declarative and reactive statements.

Suddenly, the media deemed Chief Jamiu Ekungba as deserving the most robust visibility among all the recent APC contenders for the office of the governor of Ondo State. Ironically and most stunning is the fact that the mischief makers refused to engage with the sound issues raised by Ekungba during his campaigns prior to the primary election.

The winner of the election, ‘Aketi’ Akeredolu, had hardly been announced when Ekungba’’s character assassins went to town to hack him. He was alleged to have gone bananas hauling unprintable epithets against his fellow citizens. He was particularly alleged to have been peeved by the fact that people collected N300 million naira from him but refused to give him the expected support.

In this urban century laden with information of varying grades, everyone has multiple sources of information. My first source of the allegation against Ekungba was an online news platform, an24.net run by a Gboyega Akosile, a former student of mine, who is well known to me. Though an online platform, I don’’t get to see reports from this website regularly. But Gboyega not only published this, but took the extra trouble of promoting it on his personal Facebook page. I actually got the link via Facebook. “What?” I exclaimed within myself. Ekungba lost this much and volunteered this comment? “Not the same Ekungba I have known for more than twenty years”, I muttered. Immediately, shame welled up within me. A flurry of questions followed: “Is this how Nigerians play politics?” “So Ekungba can suffer this fate from anyone’’s hands?” “Is this a design to terminate Ekungba’s timeously rising profile in politics?” I was glued to the computer screen for long, lost in thought. I later registered my feeling thus: ““Ina lilah…”.” Not long after, Gboyega, the publisher went on to “’like’” my comment. Why this ‘like’? He probably felt the magnitude of my incomplete remark which means “From Allah we came and to Him is our inevitable return”. I couldn’t have commented differently given my personal interaction with Ekungba. That was what compelled me to keep an eye on his campaign in the first place.

What, in my own estimation stood out Ekungba among his fellow contenders is what the entire Nigerian nation should reckon with – his robust knowledge of the economy, having successful worked in banks for more than four decades. Not known for smooth talking and frivolities, he had announced during his campaign that he would fix the economy of Ondo State in 45 days. Not even Akeredolu ever made any such categorical statement on the grounded economy of the oil producing State. So if Ondo never had oil, what would have happened? The reality therefore is that the Ekungba that I know, given the same media attention that Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, his contemporary in banking practice, commands, he is in a position to offer similarly deep solution-based commentaries on the ailing Nigerian economy. And the Emir, knowing him so well, can attest to this. Perhaps soon, as President Buhari appears to have a renewed interest in attracting as many experts as possible to work on the Nigerian economy. Ekungba, for sure will make anyone’’s grade “A” list. And I’’m saying this as an academic of integrity my students of more than 15 years will attest to.

But I also know Ekungba. Indeed my entire knowledge of his person runs acutely contrary to the false colouration of his adversaries. My first opportunity to interact intimately with this fine bank executive was during the muslim holy pilgrimage, hajj, of 1993, which we performed together. My meeting with him was at the instance of my urbane boss and most adorable mentor, Alhaji Liad Tella. I was then a full time journalist on the Features Desk of Concord Press of Nigeria and Ekungba was already a senior bank executive with the defunct Trade Bank. Two things registered with me about Ekungba immediately. He could be frank to a fault. He is very frank. He won’’t contemplate calling a spade another name. Ekungba’’s contemporaries at Trade Bank would attest to this. Its not for nothing that his performance as Chief Inspector of the Bank remained one to beat till the bank ceased to exist. So when a serious minded person like that made a categorical statement on what he planned to achieve in office, you want to believe him. And for those of us in development practice, when you have a plan of action, a goal, but without a timeline attached to it, there is a serious vacuum. You then begin to wonder how the fantasising adversaries managed to come up with their attribution to Ekungba?

Indeed, the authors of the evil machinations against Ekungba picked on a wrong victim. Ekungba is one person who, in spite of being enviably credentialed, is unimaginably humble. The High Chief of Owo stunned me in Saudi Arabia when it was time for us as pilgrims to commence the process of return. Ekungba suddenly spotted Femi Abbas, arguably Nigeria’’s most celebrated newspaper columnist on Islamic affairs. Abbas was making efforts to move his luggage to the airline’’s scale for weighing. Promptly, Ekungba stopped Alhaji Femi Abbass. Instantly, he lifted Abbas’’ luggage up on to his head and headed for the scale. This is Ekungba’’s nature at all times. Till date several of his former colleagues keep celebrating the good man’’s civility. Even I!

Having cultivated some relationship with the distinguished former bank executive during the 1993 hajj in Saudi Arabia, there was a mutual consciousness to sustain it. Not so long after, Law Professor, Taofik Abdurazaq, wanted the public presentation of two books he wrote then done in Lagos. Ekungba drafted me in as a friend. I eventually facilitated the hiring of Ohi Alegbe, former African Concord Editor, now General Manager, Public Affairs of NNPC as the compere. It was a huge success.

I later emerged as a media consultant to the Initial Public Offer, IPO, of Trade Bank for which the defunct Intercontinental Bank served as the Issuing House, together with FBN Merchant Bankers. All Ekungba, as one of the supervising officers of the Trade Bank, wanted was good quality. Though he brokered my involvement in this, not for him was any likelihood of under-table dealings. I did not spare anything either to get the best out for the bank. It earned unanimous commendation from the management of the bank. The offer was over-subscribed.

Why won’’t I believe High Chief Ekungba’’s projection on the economy of Ondo? Since he exited the banking sector, he’s been on the move to higher levels. His tenure at Bi-Courtney began and completed the construction of the edifice at Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, otherwise called MMA2. It remains the most outstanding radical modernisation in the nation’’s airport system till date.

He’’s also a successful farmer and grassroots conscious citizen. Though the greater part of Ekungba’’s professional practice had been in cosy environments, typical of white collar jobs, he routinely musters the inspiring energy to supervise on his farms to the point of harvests. This, no doubt, had scared his rivals, especially some of them who naively presume they have the monopoly of grassroots connecting. Ondo voters have since found out some of these characters are sheer pretenders. But Ekungba’’s profile through his tertiary education days is laden with selfless service and this is known among his peers and subsequent generations nationwide. Not for nothing was his company, after a competitive screening by the frugal government of Governor Shekarau in Kano State, selected as tax consultant to the state. This is probably one quality why Tranquility Farms, whose board he chairs, is a model to many aspiring farmers.

It is gratifying that Ekungba has done a rebuttal. As a journalist and a trainer of journalists, it will be more fulfilling in future if more of Nigerian journalists endeavour to undertake thorough facts-checking on all declarative and reactive statements. None, for instance, even bothered to avail the public of the details of Ekungba seemingly magical promise of fixing Ondo’’s economy in 45 days.

Tunde Musibau Akanni is a development consultant and journalism teacher based at the Lagos State University, Nigeria.


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