By Babafemi Ojudu
“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”
- Donald A. Adams
I was boarding a flight from Toronto in Canada to Thunder Bay when a call came in from Chief Sola Olarewaju , the Ejemua of Ado Ekiti. “Papa Odoba is gone” , he said.
I was sad and at the same time happy. Sad because the death of Chief Alex Olu Ajayi, the Odoba of Ado Ekiti, was like the burning of a huge library.
I was equally happy because Papa lived a fulfilled life and left behind the story of his life and accomplishments in a well written autobiography. More importantly, he replicated himself in children who have been of immense service to humanity. One of them Adesuyi Ajayi , a professor of medicine ,recently received a global award in medical research.
Son of late Canon Ajayi, one of the earliest Christian converts in our town, Papa lived till 92 and breathed his last at a humble abode he has lived in in Ado since his retirement not up to a kilometer from where his journey started.
We had planned two years ago to celebrate his 90th birthday in a big way but the COVID pandemic didn’t permit. I wrote a tribute then in The News magazine to celebrate this noble man. “Omo baba e,” he called me after reading it and thanked me profusely. “Omo baba e”( his father’s son) , was his sobriquet for me in acknowledgement of my dad’s propensity to stand by what he believed in.
That pandemic deprived the children , numerous grandchildren and all the people whose life he touched over the years from gathering to adulate him.
A towering figure , in stature ( he is about 6ft , 5inches in height) , and in life, Chief was a high school principal at the age of 27 which for any age and will be considered early achievement.
Completely detribalized and cosmopolitan, he cherished his friendship with both the late poet Pius Okigbo and world acclaimed writer Chinua Achebe. They were both his friends and contemporaries at the University College , Ibadan now University of Ibadan.
He was particularly close to Okigbo going by the numerous photographs they took together while in school and while he was principal in Fiditi College. Papa many times ran me through these historical photographs to demonstrate his close friendship and affinity with Okigbo and how sorely he missed him since he passed on on the battle field during the Nigerian civil war.
Papa was a Nigerian patriot and more importantly passionately committed to the growth and progress of Ekiti state and her people.
When Ekiti State University was established in 1982 he donated his house in Ado Ekiti to the new school as a temporary office for the pioneer Vice Chancellor, the Registrar and other administrative staffs.
The house till today is still adorned with the inscription on the entrance doors to the bedrooms ‘Office of the Vice Chancellor’, Office of the Registrar’, office of this , office of that.
Papa was my dad’s cousin, almost of same height. He was always welcoming of relations whenever he visited Ado in the 60s and 70s. Then and till his last breath visiting him was like sitting at the feet of Socrates . Every encounter comes with new stories , probing questions , refreshing perspectives on life and national affairs . No matter how wise you are you could not but drink from his well of knowledge and rare insight into our contemporary history and politics.
I remember as an adolescent when dad used to take me along to see him whenever he came visiting Ado Ekiti from his stations. Looking back now I could deduce dad did that so that Papa’s life and education could inspire me. Sitting down with the two men I used to hear him tell my dad in his baritone voice that dad should “ do everything to get these children educated”. “ That is what is going to make a difference in the future” , he would add.
His own father Canon Ajayi had snatched a child who doubled as atokun to his aladoke masquerade dad from that path, sent him to school and became a renowned professor of economics.
Papa made a great impression on me and I used then to admire his sparkling Citroen car sitting arrogantly in front of Aba Canon’s house. Legend told us then that the Citroen could drive on land as well as on water! I would stare and stare at the car as a young folk praying to God to one day make me own one when I grow up.
An educationist, Aba’Doba as he was called since he retired home, impacted so many lives.
Education was his fort . From Fiditi College in Oyo, to the then University of Ife , where he was a top administrator to being Chief Executive of Exam Success , an organization that prepared students for exams through correspondence, Papa saw myriad of young people to achieve their educational goals.
Papa gave to the world many accomplished children and grandchildren in academics and public service.
Until recently he regularly attended meetings of chiefs at the Ewi of Ado Ekiti palace where he gave freely of his wisdom and experience in the management of the affairs of the town.
He was a man of integrity who lived a life of contentment and service to humanity. He was a living encyclopedia.
His wisdom was as long as his legs . He was ramrod in his integrity, not bending, not shaking.
Never had anyone says he took what does not belong to him even when in his prime whatever he asked for or chose to take could have been his. He was happy and contented till his last days.
It was Dwight Eisenhower, who opined that “ the qualities of a great man are “vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character”. I can say without any iota of doubt our hero acquitted himself in all of this and it is for this , not the millions he left behind, nor the many mansions, or several plots of land he acquired , that we celebrate him.
Now , the baritone has gone silent and the giant gone to rest. His memory , however , will forever be cherished by those of us whose life was touched by him. I swear , we are legion.