Late Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, 1st Executive Governor of Ondo State
CHIEF MICHAEL ADEKUNLE AJAS1N, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), BA (Durham) Dip. Ed (London), DCL (Sierra Leone) LLD (OSU), LLD (FUTA), Teacher, Headmaster, Principal of Imade College, Owo, Proprietor and Principal of Owo High School, Councilor, Council Chairman. Member of the Federal House of Representatives, Governor of old Ondo State, the Asiwaju of Owo, Leader of the Yorubas, Chairman and Leader of Afenifere, Peoples Consultative Forum and National Democratic Coalition was bom in Owo to Peter and Deborah Ajasin on November 28, 1908. The eldest of five children, two of whom survived him - Mrs Rachael Morenike Ojomo and Mrs Mary Ajibola Aiyegbusi.
Education and Early Life He attended St. James's School, Owo, St. Paul's (later Oloyede Memorial School) and entered St. Andrew's College, Oyo in 1923. He passed out of the College in December 1927 following a brilliant and enviable record. The CMS authority (who were his sponsor) subsequently posted him first to St. Andrew's School, Warri and later to St. Luke's School, Sapele, where he remained as Headmaster until 1943 when he left for Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone in the heat of the second World War. He graduated in July 1946 and proceeded to the University of London for a Post Graduate Diploma in Education.
He returned to Owo in 1947 to become the Principal of Imade College, (a member of the Aionian Group of Schools) and one of the best schools in Western Nigeria, where he stamped his personality of high discipline, hard work, athletic disposition and academic brilliance on the thousands of pupils who passed through him and who are leaders in the Country today. He founded Owo High School in 1963 and within a short span of time the school has also produced a number of highly placed Nigerians in various spheres of endeavour.
Politics and Public Service All his life, he was involved in political affairs of the people. Even from far away Sapele, he made his influence felt in the political affairs of Owo. He was by his education and experience, the obvious choice to represent Owo in the different constitutional conferences before independence. The Action Group (a Political Party which revolutionized the old Western Nigeria) of which he was Vice President was officially founded and launched in his home at Owo.
For a very long time in Owo, his political leadership was undisputed. He paid his dues in politics - rising from the lowest rank. He ran and won election as a ward Councilor, District Council Chairman, Divisional Council Chairman, Federal Legislator and Governor of the old Ondo State (an election in which he won the highest percentage of votes in the gubernatorial elections throughout the whole country in 1979). He was referred to as the 'Millionaire Governor' as a result of his feat of being the only governor to record votes of over one million. In 1962 he became the President of Egbe Omo Oduduwa and with the passing of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1987, the leadership of Awo's political family naturally fell on him. The unfolding transition program of General Ibrahim Babangida saw him become the rallying point for progressive political forces in Nigeria which culminated in the victory of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Presidential Elections of 1993 - an election that has been acclaimed as the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria.
It was the annulment of the election which brought out the best in him politically, for since June 1993, he became the arrow head of opposition to the nullification of the election and thereafter worked relentlessly for an early enthronement of democratic civilian rule as practiced in all civilized countries.
"Despite his old age, and sometimes ailing health, he continued to attend various meetings with the hope of finding a peaceful resolution to the political impasse. He dialogued with Nigeria's Head of State, General Sanni Abacha a couple of times; convened the first ever summit of Politicians in December of 1995 - all in an effort to find a just solution to Nigeria's problems. It was during one of the preliminary preparatory meetings for the Summit that he took ill and Dr. Alex Ekwueme had to take the chair.
While alive, his home in Owo became virtually a Mecca for leaders of all shades of political opinion in Nigeria as well as many dignitaries and diplomatic representatives of foreign countries. He welcomed friend and 'foe' alike.
Life Style Chief Ajasin had an indomitable spirit, engaging in battle to uphold justice and defend the rights of the oppressed. Although born with royal blood in his veins, he was throughout his political life always espousing the cause of the ordinary people. He demonstrated in both his public and private life a high sense of probity and accountability which is difficult to beat. His whole life is a struggle for a better Nigeria using in particular education for his crusade. He was a humble and modest man - As aptly put by Chief Anthony Enahoro -
"He had the singular virtue of modesty, even humility. He never boasted about the historic fact that he was the undeniable architect of the free education which transformed the old Western region and became a shining example for other parts of the country".
He was a democrat to the core - never one to take decisions without consulting his followers. Once a decision was reached, he carried it out with utmost vigour. He was never known to relent. He was very loyal and dependable. He respected authority. Through thick and thin, he maintained an unflinching loyalty to the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo both in the Action Group and the Unity Party of Nigeria. He never coveted any position - All positions and achievements he attained came to him naturally. It is no wonder that his leadership equally commanded so much respect and loyalty from his teeming followers.
He was a workaholic. Even at the age of Seventy-one when he became governor he brought an unmistakable dynamism of a much younger person to bear on governance of Ondo State. This is attested by the various achievements of his administration in the fields of Education, industrialization and rural development during his tenure as governor of the State.
He was honest to a fault - He led his life by showing good examples, he was not one to say do as I say and not as I do. Rather, he practiced what he preached. He was a highly disciplined and principled man. He was simple and lived a Spartan life. He 'stubbornly' pursued any cause for which he believed and was convinced to be right and just. He was very consistent. He had a very unselfish attitude to life. While the golden rule says do unto others as you would wish they do to you; He did more for others than he ever wished done for himself. He lived a life of selfless service to humanity and he was a source of inspiration to all who came across him. His doors were always open to everyone at anytime of the day or night, even despite the protocol at Government House, he never turned back any visitor no matter how 'small'. We can go on and on - but suffice it to say that the story of his life is that of an uncommon man.
It can be truly said of Chief Ajasin "By Jove I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost. It yearns me not if men my garment wear, such outward things dwell not in my desire, but if it is sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive " - Shakespeare
Family Life He was happily married to Babafunke (nee Tenabe). The marriage took place at Ido-Ani on Thursday, 12th January l939 - at the Holy Trinity Church. Barely a fortnight after the wedding Papa remarked in a letter to his uncle "Comfort is doing well she has started to show that she will be a dutiful wife and one that will make me happy". After fifty eight years of marriage it will be difficult to find a couple who can beat the record of happiness, faithfulness, respect and loyalty to each other as he and his wife. It was hoped that he would live a couple of more years to celebrate their diamond jubilee. He in his memoirs described his wife as
'not only a jewel, she is the priceless jewel of my soul. She is not just the woman behind the successful man, she is the soul of the man'
Hear what General Babangida had to say about him. "As a husband and father, he personified the dignity and sanctity of marriage and family life as a lifelong institution" Chief and Mrs. Ajasin are blessed with four children, Modebola, Waleola, Olatokunbo and Olajumoke.
Trials and Tribulations His life was not all a bed of roses, even though he attained the peak of his career in all its ramification, he had his own share of problems, starting with - the political turmoil of the old Western Nigeria during which time, the Action Group and its leadership were subjected to all sorts of persecution.
There was the conflict at Owo arising from the disaffection between him and the Olowo of Owo which unfortunately lingered on for so long to the detriment of Owo Community. What about the disloyalty within his party - the Unity Party of Nigeria during which his deputy played a disappointing major role. Unfortunately this led to the rigging of the gubernatorial election and the consequent conflagration which resulted in the loss of lives and property in Ondo State. We cannot end his tribulations without reference to the unjust treatment visited on him by the military. Contrary to all codes of human decency and natural justice which presumes that a person is innocent until proved guilty; the military government of General Buhari incarcerated him on the presumption of guilt while asking him to prove his innocence. He was tried thrice and thrice he was discharged and acquitted yet he was not released until General Babangida freed him 20 months later.
Inspite of his old age and ailing health, he was subjected to all forms of discomfort and stress, through detention, threats and harassment. Through all the trials and tribulations, he was undaunted, pursuing his goals with all the resilience, consistency, determination and belief in God.
It has been said of him that "He ran a very long race, neither did he fall nor stumble, when he has run his own part of the race and finished tops and we (Nigerians) would not do our part, he took the baton again and led the way". The Guardian, Oct. 10, 1997
To those who could be discouraged by obstacles to good life and democracy in Nigeria - those who would rather join them because they cannot beat them, the life of Chief Ajasin should serve as a shinning example for which the following quotation truly and aptly applies; "Some say that the age of chivalry is past, the age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth, or a man or woman left to say, 'I will redress that wrong, or spend my life in the attempt,' The age of chivalry is never past, so long as we have faith enough to say, 'God will help me to redress that wrong; or, if not me, He will help those that come after me, for His eternal Will is to overcome evil with good". - C. Kingsley
Honours During his life, Chief Ajasin had a number of honours conferred on him. He was conferred with the third highest honour of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) in 1982 by President Shehu Shagari, a proud alma mater, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, made its distinguished alumnus as Doctor of Civil Laws (Honoris Causa); a grateful Ondo State University honoured itself by bestowing on its founder the degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa): and an admiring Federal University of Technology, Akure recognized this great man's worth with another Honorary Doctorate of Laws. He was a Honorary Fellow of Ondo State College of Education, Ikere-Ekiti.
He was also honoured with several chieftaincy titles, among which are: Asiwaju of Owo, Owosoyin of Ijero Ekiti, Adingbuwa of Ondo, and Obarimiyo of Akure.
Papa lives on as Bankole Anifowoshe, one of his grandsons put it "Papa will never die".