Fleeing to the bush for dear life; bullied and ridiculed for bearing the name of a one-time Western region Premier and cheated by a school mate who ‘snatched’ his college heartthrob, one could assume life couldn’t be worse for him. A one-time columnist, a former General Manager (corporate affairs) of Dangote Group of companies, who later became the Director of Publicity of the Obasanjo/Atiku campaign organisation and a former presidential political adviser, Akintola Osuntokun had a privileged upbringing. His father was a regional minister during the first republic. As his political clout grew, he declared his intentions to run for the governorship seat of Ekiti State on the platform of PDP but didn’t make it. He tells Azuka Ogujiuba and Adedayo Showemimo that his worst moment was when he failed his ‘ A’ levels exam.
Keeping the Family Banner Aloft…
Akin, as his siblings – call him – has to comport himself. He carries with him a family name and tradition which has to be protected. He is from the illustrious Osuntokun family of Okemesi-Ekiti. Still don’t know much about the family? Okay. Let’s help you out.
His father was a minister under Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola regional governments in the first republic. His uncle, Professor Benjamin Olukayode Osuntokun, was a renowned medical scientist before his death from prostate cancer in 1995. His brother, a professor of history, Akinjide Osuntokun, was formerly Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. Perhaps, you can see why Akin has to be a gentleman; he carries the family banner of honour and dignity. Little wonder that he looked up to his father as a role model.
“My aspiration was to be like my dad. I didn’t know how to be like him. I just knew I wanted to be like him.’’
Looking straight-faced, as if nursing some regrets that he had failed in the quest to be like his father, he revealed further: ‘‘Many of us grew up knowing my dad as a legend. His image was very big and influential. When I was writing my ‘A’ Level exams, he wrote a letter to me and said: ‘read as if you are going to live forever, but when it comes to what the geographers call saturation point and economist calls diminishing returns you should take it easy’. (Chief) Afe Babalola was his student at one time, and there’s this story that my dad once gave them a test and Afe Babalola did so well that my dad marked him 11 out of 10 (laughs). Well, back to me, I attended Osogbo Grammar School and Christ School at Ado-Ekiti. Thereafter, I went to the University of Lagos for my first and second degrees in Political Science. Really, the bulk of what I had learnt intellectually, are things I picked up from reading after formal education. I’m a bit unconventional in my attitude towards life.”
But he had a political baptism of fire earlier in life. Were it to be the way politics is done in today’s Nigeria, Akin would be a privileged child. His father was appointed a minister under the Awolowo government in 1955 and served till 1966 under the regime of Akintola. Many would recall how the relationship between Awolowo and Akintola boiled over like a violently shaken volcano. The older Osuntokun made the ‘mistake’ of pitching his tent with Akintola and he became a marked man when crisis broke out in the West after the 1964 general elections which were preceded by the crisis that rocked the Action Group, AG, in 1962. What happened to Akin was never the best thing a child would want to grow up with.
He takes the story: “One of the things I remember as a child, was when my mum and myself were running out of the house during the attacks. We fled into the bush because my dad was in detention at the time. He was one of the two people that were found innocent by Justice Kayode Esho panel. They could not find any indications that they misused office. He was a kind of model minister and after 11 years of serving as a minister, he went back to school to become a secondary school principal.”
Osuntokun was named ‘Akintola’ after the late Western Region Prime Minister, Ladoke Akintola. If his father had known that naming his son ‘Akintola’ would turn the poor boy into the butt of dehumanising jokes, perhaps he would have thought twice. It was a time, as a result of political propaganda in the West, anything negative was ascribed to the late Akintola. He was demonised for no other reason than choosing to read the political prism differently from the way Awolowo read it. There was a lollipop named after Akintola’s private part. It was called ‘Epon Akintola’. Also, a stubborn plant, which was actually a soil rejuvenating plant, was named ‘Akintola grass’. This, however, did not deter him from perpetually adoring his father.
“I was constantly a butt of jokes amongst my peers and I was always crying. I even remember telling my parents that I wanted to change my name. On the other side, my dad was my role model and in my admiration for my dad I have always aspired to also become a politician and public figure. Somehow it happened without me having to work consciously towards it. When I graduated from the university in 1984, I was more interested than many of my colleagues in working in the banks where we can get the big salaries. But it didn’t come and sequence of events led me to journalism. Journalism is one of the strongest departure points in terms of profession, because it exposes you to a lot.”
His father’s legacy was enviable. Akin says his dad was one of the foremost Ekiti sons who had university education. The senior Osuntokun graduated from the famous Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone.
“He was a great man. He was the first child of his parents; and the second university graduate from Ekiti State. He graduated from Fourah Bay College in 1950 in Geography and post-graduate in public administration. My father had one of the busiest public careers anybody can imagine. Between 1950 and 1966, he was at one time the chairman of the Ekiti Divisional Council, he was a minister and he was a member of the regional House of Assembly, all at the same time. He was one of late Chief Awolowo’s golden boys because Awolowo liked him very much. He started the family on a path of excellence and blazed the trail. My dad’s younger brother was a world renowned professor, Professor Benjamin Olukayode Osuntokun. He was one of the recent centenary award winners. He won the world medical prize in tropical medicine in 1968 at the age of 33. My uncle was an authority on a diabetes-related ailment called ‘Osuntokun Syndrome’ (in the medical world it’s called ‘tropical artasic neuropathy’ which he actually discovered). He was a global authority at the age of 33.”
He also believes that unlike what some people are thinking, President Goodluck Jonathan would not lose the 2015 election. He situates this within the fact that the country would known no peace should President Jonathan be ‘forced’ to leave office next year. To him, the Niger-Delta is having a shot at the presidency for the first time. If they could make the country almost ungovernable when they did not have the presidency, he could imagine what would happen now that some of their leaders have been empowered politically and economically.
“I think he will win the election; he still has an edge as an incumbent. And he’s from Niger Delta; a zone that has never produced a president before him. The zone is synonymous with the economy of Nigeria; then realistically, in the Nigeria of today, can you foresee a situation where Jonathan would leave office in 2015 and there would be peace in that part of the country? When they didn’t have this magnitude of recognition and power, they practically paralysed the economy of the nation. So the oil economy is extremely vulnerable to sabotage, so how we’ll manage that, given the perception that somebody from their region is almost being ridiculed and stampeded out of office. But like I said earlier, I think it is irrelevant talking about the 2015 elections.”
Akin, As No One Knows Him…
Are you surprised that Akin studied Political Science in the university? Don’t be. But if you still are, then hear what his best subject was when he was in secondary school.
“My favourite subjects were government, mathematics and chemistry. My worst subjects were biology and physics; and I think it had to do with our teachers. My chemistry teacher made chemistry easy but the other teachers were not as good. They made biology look very difficult.”
Was he a ladies’ man when he was school? He smiled wryly. Maybe he was. Maybe he was not. He just liked ladies’ company –just like any other man.
“I find the company of ladies to be fun and I think that’s natural for any man. I remember when I was in form four, I had this girlfriend who was my senior in school. She was very pretty and the guys who were her classmates were always harassing me because of that but I wasn’t fully mature. Then came a friend who was also older than me, he eventually snatched her from me. At that point, I felt very cheated and it’s still something I remember till today (laughs) because I felt humiliated by that experience and since that time I pledged that I would never put myself in a situation where I would be acting slow when it comes to women.”
Meeting his wife was unique…
He was already 30 and every relationship anyone at that age is going to be in, should be geared towards establishing a life-long relationship. Therefore, it was heartache for the lady he was dating when he had to leave for Germany in 1994 and end the relationship. And this made him vow not to ‘break’ anyone’s heart again.
“I went to Germany in 1994 as a fellow with Voice of Nigeria. When I was leaving, I was already above 30 years. When you are at that age, if you have any relationship with ladies, it’s natural for them to think that it could end up in marriage. The lady I was dating before I travelled out felt particularly bad that we had to call off the relationship. On my journey back home, I vowed to God that I don’t want to make anybody unhappy anymore. I asked God that when I get to Nigeria He should please give me my wife and I said to myself that the first lady I dated would be my wife and that was what happened.
“I came back during Christmas and there were these family parties here and there. At one of these parties, my younger sister introduced her friend to me and that was it. My wife is currently studying for her doctoral degree at Glamorgan University in Cardiff.”
Only very few people could be very honest about their personal flaws the way Akin is with himself. He comes out clean and admits that he could be very sensitive and lose his temper easily.
“My greatest inadequacy is the fact that I tend to be very moody and sensitive and a few times I’m unable to control my anger. People don’t believe it because I appear very calm and gentle which I really am. I’m not easily rattled by any situation. I’ve seen a lot in life and I’m a very strong believer in God and in Providence and I’ve also been lucky to have the benefit of people wanting to assist me. That has been the trend of my life. There has never been anything I critically need that I don’t get. I have that kind of goodwill and I think it is God’s doing. People have been very good to me –especially, powerful people like (former) Presidents Obasanjo and Babangida. They are all like father figures to me.”
Akin will never forget when he failed his ‘A’ Levels. It remains the lowest moment of his life. He believed he had always been a brilliant boy and he was wondering, and many people were too, how he could have failed.
“When I failed at my first attempt in ‘A’ levels, I felt very bad because I wasn’t expected to fail. I was associated with brilliance and it was quite disappointing. It made me unhappy and also dashed the expectations of my parents and relatives who had such high hopes of me.” Osuntokun’s lowest moment would later pale into insignificance when compared with immeasurable joy of the birth of his first child. ‘‘It was my happiest moment,’’ he declared with a sense of nostalgia.
His fear is that Nigeria would unravel. “Apart from what is happening, the national conference is supposed to be a mechanism for addressing those problems, but news that you hear from the national conference does not excite one. The omens are not good.”
Akin doesn’t have any regrets in life. He believes that all that have happened to him, regardless of his intentions, have turned out to be good. But not the lie they told about him that he was supporting the rumoured third-term ambition of former President Obasanjo. And talking about Obasanjo, can he recollect their first meeting? ‘‘Oh! Our first meeting was when I was invited for a media chat in the early 2000s. Prior to that time, we have been family friends. He was a friend to my uncles. We have met at several occasions when I was young. We met officially during the media chat and because of our history together, it was relatively easy to break the ice with him. Today, we are quite close.”
And that is it: the family pedigree comes to the fore again: being related one way or the other with the high and mighty. It is an enduring reason why Akin has to behave. And that he has been doing…very well.
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