Chief Michael Akinfenwa pays tribute to Baba Olopoenia, describes him as ‘timeless Political grand father’

…Commends Ayo Olopoenia Oke Ogun (AY) for setting the tone in remembrance 

Chief Michael Akinfenwa has described late Shittu Olopoenia as a timeless political grand father and one with absolute humility, loyalty and generosity. 

In his heartfelt eulogy for Baba Olopoenia, Akinfewa remarked that the deceased was a man of excellent personality, good character, and whose life itself was a lesson. 

He noted that Baba was extremely pious and humble while also being intelligent, successful, and well-connected.

According to him, Baba was knowledgeable, successful and well connected yet, very pious and humble. Baba was powerful and courageous; and able to speak truth to power; Baba was friendly, accommodating, fair minded and generous but very strict. He was transparent and honest in his dealings. 

Akinfewa equally commended Ayo Olopoenia Oke Ogun (AY) for setting the tone in honouring the venerable political grandfather, noting that Baba was a highly-ranking official in Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa’s First Republic government because he actively participated in all the significant events that led to Nigeria’s independence. 

He wrote: “Ayo Olopoenia Oke Ogun (AY), thank you for setting the tone in paying tribute, once again, to our Timeless Political Grand Father, Baba Shittu Olopoenia. 

“Baba Olopoenia (as he was fondly called by ALL)’s political history pre-dated Nigeria’s independence in 1960. In fact, Baba was an active participant in all the important activities that led to Nigeria’s independence which was why he was a High Ranking member of the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa’s First Republic government. AY captured Baba’s essence. I only want to lend credence to his assertions because I had known Baba by reputation, all my life and I worked with  him closely for close to 30 years. In 1994, I was appointed a  Commissioner in Oyo State in charge of Commerce, Industry, Cooperatives & Tourism. One of the potfolios of my office was the management of the troubled and troublesome Igbeti Marble Industry (that is a story of its own for another day). I was, ex-officio, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the company.

“I, therefore, found myself sitting at the head of the Board Room table of a powerful team including Baba Shittu Olopoenia as a Member among others. Thank God for my background as a professional and a board room politician from Corporate Lagos. Nonetheless, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I would direct affairs where the great Baba, an ally of Iku Baba Yeye, Alaafin Adeyemi; the Baba that later, Ebora Owu, even as the sitting President of Nigeria, would prostrate to greet – even in Aso Rock. The stories behind all these are also for another day. The three lessons I learn during that era from Baba were humility, loyalty and generousity.

“Baba made it clear from the Board’s first meeting that he was representing the interest of his late friend and the major sponsor of Igbeti Marble Industries, Chief Emmanuel Ashamu of Oke Afa Farms fame and that whatever Chief Ashamu wanted on the industry was all he came to defend. He did just that with all his being. I was thirty Six, Baba was about Eighty. Yet, he did not only cooperate with me, he also accorded me and my office maximum respect. That endeared him to me such that later, when I became one of his political grand sons, I was very loyal and committed to the political course we chatted. That will be another story for another day.

“I must clarify that I referred to myself as a political grand son to Baba Olopoenia because am not qualified to be called his political son, given the age, number and calibre of those that Baba had mentored politically before me. When PDP, AD, APP and other political parties were formed in 1998, Baba alligned with the PDP being a more National political party. Oyo State in 1999 did not share the PDP vision. That was why Legendary Uncle Bola of the AD won the governorship election. However, Baba Olopoenia gave a good account of himself as a apolitical giant. His old Kajola Local Government was one of the 3 or 4 LGAs that PDP won with a Landslide.

“Then, President Obasanjo wanted the South West to be part of his Federal Government and in the Oyo axis, he found Baba Olopoenia whom he had known for decades and our unforgettable political General, Baba Adedibu, as reliable hands to lead the efforts. This is indeed, a big story for another day. In my discipleship of Baba Olopoenia, I learnt two more important  lessons of life. One was Selfless and committed leadership; the other was Fair Sense of Reward. 

“LEADERSHIP: Baba led us, he did not rule us. Baba supported us with his money and was not interested in recieving returns from political appointees like many leaders do. He  never exploited us. Baba was very democratic and consultative. Every now and then Baba would summon meetings to discuss issues that many known leaders would have arrogantly decided upon by themselves. On every matter, Baba wanted to know the views of his followers. We trusted Baba and Baba appreciated us. One day, we, the leaders of G-18 went for a meeting in Baba’s house in Ilupeju, Lagos.

“As usual, Baba had provided food (real food o!) and drinks. After the meeting, one of us brought out Two Hundred Thousand Naira and gave it  to one of Baba’s aids to give to Baba. He did immediately and Baba asked what it was meant for. Our friend said it was for Baba to assist in his regular expenses on Party matters. Baba rejected the money and warned all of us never to do that to him. Baba was very angry with the Aid who received the money in the first place.Hiz saving grace was that he told our friend at the point of collection that Baba won’t accept the money.

“It was at that point that Alhaji Sadiq, a former Ommissioner in Oyo State, announced that Baba had just given him M300,000 for our group to assist us in our G-18 activities. The story of G-18 will also be told on another day. FAIR SENSE OF REWARD: Baba had a long history of doing justice among his followers. Those that had access to him always wanted him to use his position to hijack nominations for elective and appointive positions for them and Baba always refused. Baba always insisted on positions going to party members with track record of loyalty,  commitment to and support for the party. Then the idea came that Baba’s biological child should vie for an elective position. I don’t know who originally muted it but it was not Baba himself. When the matter was tabled before Baba, he rejected it. His argument was that his biological children were not active members of the party and should not be given such position over and above loyal, committed party members.

“The matter was taken to Baba Adedibu and Baba Adedibu thought it was a good idea and tried to persuade Baba Olopoenia to support it but to no avail. I guess it was Baba Adedibu who told President Obasanjo. I was present in a meeting between Baba Olopoenia and  President Obasanjo in Its in company of Hon Sodiq when President Obasanjo persuaded Baba Olopoenia to drop his objection. Both men had long term, deep respect for each other. That was how Hon Abbas Olopoeniyan became the candidate for House of Rep which he won to represent Kajola, Iseyin, Iwajowa & Itesiwaju Federal Constituency in the Federal Parliament. To be double sure that Baba’s lukworm attitude won’t affect the party’s victory at the election, Baba Adedibu sent a powerful delegation to the constituency with reasonable logistics to campaign for the Party and it’s candidates. So, if you hear people who knew Baba Adedibu singing his praise as “oranmonise f’aya tii; oninkan ko, Adedibu gba….” This must be the kind of things they knew about him – this is also a good story for another day. 

“In conclusion of this Tribute to Baba Shittu Olopoenia, I dare say that his personality, character and life were lessons in themselves. Baba was knowledgeable, successful and well connected yet, very pious and humble. Baba was powerful and courageous; and able to speak truth to power; Baba was friendly, accommodating, fair minded and generous but very strict. He was transparent and honest in his dealings. He was a natural leader and he led very well because he lived his own life too beautifully. May Allah accept him among the favoured.”

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