All autobiographies and biographies are significant documents. For one, they are records of the lives and times of significant individuals whose histories intersect the trajectories of the human societies in which they lived, and how these societies evolve over time. Whether we like it or not, history is more often than not the deeds of great men and women who impact the narratives of the society with their actions and inactions. This is what Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish philosopher, enunciated as what is now regarded as the “Great Man Theory.” The history of the world is, therefore, essentially the biography of great men and women. And when these great people now go further to write their autobiographies, or commission biographies, we are further provided with an illumination of those aspects or dimensions of their lives and times that were hidden from the public glare when they were still active.
All autobiographies are retrospective. They provide us with several insights into the past of the person who is the focus of the narration. Autobiographies also speaks to the relationship between the central figure and all those whose lives and stories intersects his or her own. So, in narrating the trajectory of his or her life, the autobiographer must also necessarily narrate those aspects of the lives of others that affect, molded and impact his or her own. And when that autobiographer turns out to be a public figure, or a politician, the narrative becomes even more charged with intrigues, revelations and assessment. This is the point where the autobiography of a politician becomes a fundamental contribution to political history.
Like all history, political history is sketchy and partial. When political events happen, we do not always have all the facts and evidences at our disposals to achieve proper understanding. And, therefore, we quibble and speculate and quarrel. This is so until a significant political gladiator speaks out and clarifies and provides more evidences that illuminate the historical silences and gaps that were empty before.
Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala is a significant political gladiator. And the political history of Oyo state is not complete without some chapters to his presence and actions. He was not only the sixth executive governor of Oyo state, he is also a prominent player in the political landscape of the state. There is therefore a lot to learn from an autobiography of such an eminent politician and public figure that will benefit a deeper reflection on the political history of Oyo state, as well as Ogbomoso that donated Otunba Alao-Akala to Oyo state. This makes his newly minted autobiography a significant event in Oyo State’s political history.
Amazing Grace is a nineteen-chapter, and 530-page, tour de force that combines the personal, the political and the historical into a solid narration of the trajectory of an extraordinary personage. Like him or not, Otunba Alao-Akala is a force to be reckoned with in Oyo politics. From the title of the autobiography alone, we are immediately sensitized to the spiritual framework within which Alao-Akala situates his life and all he has achieved so far. Chief Akala wants to leave us in no doubt about the fundamental role that Providence has played in what he has become. And with this, he acknowledges most profoundly that “God rules in the affairs of men,” according to the Scripture (Daniel 4:17). And that finger of God actively charted his paths from a young baby, born screaming and kicking into the world to a formidable governor of a formidable state.
Amazing Grace is an amazing narrative of how the grace of God could intervene in the life of a hitherto unknown boy, born in a small corner of the world, but destined to shake a larger corner of that world.
From the very first sets of words in the “Prologue,” we are given a hint of the progression of the narrative—it is the story of a boy who had no clue about the future and what life had in store for him. According to him, “For a toddler who lost his father at age two, and whose widowed mother’s anguish knew no bound—more so being a young woman—the future did not hold any promise for me.” But by the time we arrive at chapter four of the autobiography—“Police Cadetship: Robust Vision and an Excellent Career as Officer of the Law”—this young and partially orphaned boy was already finding his feet in the world. And from chapter six—“Politics, Here I Come!” to chapter thirteen—“Progressives and Conservatives: Where the Thin Line Lies,” we get right into the thick of the political significance of Amazing Grace; the context within which former Governor Alao-Akala cut his political teeth and became a political factor to be reckoned with.
Of course, this narration of the political events and incidences in the state were all from his perspective, but then that perspective is a cogent one. This is because history speaks through those who participated in it. And their voices add to the elaborate and complex mapping of what happened and why and how they happen. With Amazing Grace, we have a most important addition to the mapping of the political history of Oyo state. And every such voice and narration ought to matter to political historians in their assessment of the circumstances that shape the lives of everyone. This autobiography shed a significant light into the political saga that molded Oyo state into what it is now. And we can begin to connect several dots, while raising new political reflections.
Otunba Alao-Akala hailed from Ogbomoso. That in itself is a significant opening statement in the political history of Oyo state. Ogbomoso stands at the confluence of several historical juncture, from Yoruba to Nigeria. Its geographic location as the intersection that link Oyo, Ilorin, Ikoyi and Osogbo ensured that Ogbomoso became not only significant in defining the fate of the old Oyo Empire (and especially its hostile relationship with the invading Fulani); Ogbomoso also contributed to the erosion of the power of the Empire when it shifted its allegiance to Ibadan, the then rising military town which defeated the Fulani in 1840. This political strategy of reading the time and space of politics has led to Ogbomoso being a significant bloc in the politics of Oyo state. It is with the rise of Chief SLA Akintola that Ogbomoso further entrenched its political significance in the politics of the Old Western region. With Chief Obafemi Awolowo and their ideological and political disagreement, Akintola not only help precipitate the 1962 political crisis which is one of the proximate causes that led to the 1966 coup and eventually the civil war. His principled stand derived from the need to maintain a firm belief in a strategic alignment with the center. It is this belief in strategic alliance that links Akintola to Akala.
Thus, it is not just mere coincidence that Chief Alao-Akala and Chief SLA Akintola were both Ogbomoso indigenes and both solid Baptist members. It is therefore not strange for Chief Akala to pronounce that “history has not been fair to…Akintola.” The reason for this judgment is simple: Akintola, in Akala’s critical assessment, was merely following the Ogbomoso political leaning, which was oriented towards the national political center, and those who dominate it—the North. And if alignment with the North could benefit Ogbomoso, then that was the best political move to make. Chief Akala said that was a significant motivation for his joining the APC: “the party had the national spread and was in control of the center.”
And on the basis of this decision, we saw the rise of an Ogbomoso politician challenging the Ibadan hegemonic dominance. In aligning with Adedibu, the archetypal godfather, and his guerilla-type politics, Akala was motivated by what he called the “Ogbomoso political behavior.” It is in this sense that we must salute the political sagacity of Chief Alao-Akala. It was not an easy thing for him to ride the formidable dynamics of his Ogbomoso grassroots politics into the fortress of Ibadan realpolitik, and not only win but also become a godfather himself. The late Chief Lamidi Adedibu was the indefatigable avatar of Oyo politics. Even though he was referred to as the “strongman of Ibadan politics,” Adedibu was unofficial kingmaker in Oyo state. His brand of populism and patronage politics ensured he had a control over the voice and votes of the Oyo people. The question for the young and rising Akala was simple: how to keep pushing the Ogbomoso political interest in the face of Adedibu’s tight hold on Oyo politics, and preference for Ibadan? Though Adedibu held sway as a force in the PDP, he was sufficiently pragmatic to immediately recognize how Akala could inject the influential Ogbomoso bloc into his own political complex calculation. Adedibu recognized a fellow populist, and power broker. Between Adedibu and Akala, political historians, scientists and theorists will have a field day theorizing the role of patronage, populism, opportunism and strategic consideration in Oyo state and Nigerian politics.
The reformer in me would not allow me leave this review without giving attention to an issue of infrastructural development, as it relates to Akala’s governorship. I am talking about the LAUTECH saga, and the development of the Southwest. The autobiography inevitably addressed the LAUTECH issue in chapter fourteen. This tertiary institution has been involved in a crippling ownership tussle between Oyo and Osun states that was recently resolved in favour of Oyo state. Can we say that the imbroglio that initially stalled the resolution of the LAUTECH issue is a result of the politics of territoriality? This is a significant given that the six Southwest states have a significant infrastructural vision in the Oodua network that undergird the DAWN framework of action. Since education is a key part of this vision, in what sense, therefore, is the LAUTECH predicament a slap on the face of a joint commitment to collective development?
An autobiography of this magnitude indeed provides the opportunity for political historians and scholars to reassess epistemically and politically the existing dynamics of realpolitik and political practice. Akala’s Amazing Grace brings to the fore again the persistent issue of godfatherism, and patronage politics, and their place in democratic governance. It further concretizes the role of political geography—of place and space—in the understanding of how political and governance decisions come to affect the wellbeing of citizens. to get the most from the autobiography, one needs to come to it with an open mind for insights on gaps and silences that require filling.
The Amazing Grace makes for a significant addition to Oyo and national political history. Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala is not someone to be easily pushed aside. And no political historian will discount the narration of someone who reshuffled the political dynamics of a state that contributed a lot to the shaping of the Nigerian political landscape. I will end with the brilliant and befitting portrait of Akala penned by Festus Adedayo, who wrote the Foreword to Amazing Grace:
I saw a down-to-earth man who had no airs, a man hunted by the unpleasant experience of his childhood which manifested in an uncommon generosity in him while in office that was misconstrued as profligacy. I saw a man who inputs into his rise and strides in life the unseen hands of grace. This reflected in his view of every needy who comes his way as a replica of, or a reconstruction of his own situation while growing up. He saw in them the helpless and hopeless young Bayo whom grace elevated from the lowest rung of the ladder and catapulted to the exalted office of the Chief Executive of a state, sitting in an office which a Yoruba ancestor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once occupied.
*Olaopa is a retired federal permanent secretary
& professor of Public Administration,
National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos