By Odunayo Ogunmola
“Good afternoon Odunayo, my name is Funminiyi Afuye, the House of Assembly member-elect for Ikere Constituency 1. At last, I am knowing you today. I have been longing to meet you all these while and I am very happy that at last, I am meeting you today. I have been reading your news, analyses and features in THE NATION Newspapers and I am impressed by your brilliant work.
“I so much love the dispassionate, objective and incisive ways you report and analyse issues in your newspaper and in the days ahead, we will need your assistance and I know you will oblige us.”
These were the words of the Right Honourable Funminiyi Afuye on the very day we met for the first time. The day was May 8, 2007 at the premises of the Ekiti State High Court Complex in Ado Ekiti where Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the candidate of the then Action Congress (AC) came to file his petition against the declaration of Engr. Segun Oni of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election.
That marked the beginning of a relationship between the two of us which resulted in a friendship, brotherhood and camaraderie despite the huge age gap until the icy hands of death took the state’s number three man away that fateful Wednesday evening of October 19, 2022 at the age of 66.
Before we met for the first time, Afuye did not know me as a person but as soon as he arrived the High Court Complex on that day, he was busy asking for THE NATION man. I guessed somebody who knew me might have identified me to him and he wasted no time in coming to the exact spot where myself and my colleagues had gathered and were locked in discussion as we awaited the arrival of Fayemi to submit his petition to the Secretary of the Tribunal.
Throughout the time I spent as a Reporter on the Politics Desk at THE COMET Newspapers head office in Lagos where I was handed the assignment of covering activities at political party secretariats, local government/local council development areas secretariats and socio-political organisations before I was transferred to Ekiti State, I never met Afuye one-on-one but I read about his activities at Afenifere.
Afuye at the time was one of the younger elements in Afenifere alongside personalities like former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and his old schoolmate and friend, Prince Dayo Adeyeye under the leadership of the late Chief Abraham Adesanya in whose house in Ijebu Igbo, the group held its meetings periodically.
During that period, our then Senior Correspondent on the Politics Desk at THE COMET, Dr. Emmanuel Oladesu (who later became THE NATION Politics Editor and presently THE NATION Deputy Editor), used to cover the meetings of the Afenifere at the Ijebu Igbo residence of Chief Adesanya where issues affecting the Yoruba in particular and the country at large were discussed and decisions on the interest of the race were made.
At the time I met Afuye for the first time, he had won election into the Ekiti State House of Assembly as a member-elect to represent Ikere Constituency 1 in the April 2007 general elections. The Ekiti State House of Assembly election of that year was unique and unprecedented in the annals of the state in the sense that the two major parties, the AC and the PDP, won equal number of seats in the 26-member state parliament.
At the first ballot held alongside the governorship election on April 14, 2007, the AC won 13 seats while the PDP won 11 seats with election in Ekiti West Constituency 2 and Efon Constituency declared inconclusive. The PDP backed by power of incumbency wielded by the then Acting Governor, Rt. Hon. Tope Ademiluyi, won the two remaining seats at the repeat elections held on April 28, 2007 to become equal with the AC on the number of State Assembly seats won.
With tension still hanging in the air and the uncertainty on how the state would move forward with the two parties having equal number of seats and the impending legal fireworks at the Election Petition Tribunal, both the PDP and the AC were perfecting plans on how to seize the control of the Assembly by producing the presiding officers therein.
It was in the light of the scenario above that Afuye, as the leading light of the AC lawmakers-elect, was seeking the support of the media as the party (AC) would be an opposition party by the time Oni would have been sworn in as governor on May 29, 2007 which would have given the PDP an upper hand as the party in control and enjoying the power of incumbency which the opposition party would not have.
The leadership of the PDP knew that not having the majority of seats in the Assembly could be likened to “going to sleep when the fire is burning at the roof of the house” and was concerned that sharing equal seats with the major opposition party would constitute a stumbling block to having its way and assisting Oni to have seamless governance hence there was a need to put the umbrella party at advantage ahead of the resumption of the Third Assembly (2007-2011 set).
Members of the Second Assembly (2003-2007 set) which was dominated by the PDP with 25 members sat on Friday, June 1, 2007, two days after the expiration of their tenure, to amend the House Standing Rules to the effect that the party that controls the Executive arm would henceforth control the Legislative arm by producing the Speaker and other principal officers except the ones conceded to the minority party.
The action of the expired Assembly was interpreted in many quarters in the state to give unfair advantage to the PDP and further stoking anger by the fact that it was carried out by an Assembly that its tenure had expired rendering the change of the Standing Rules as illegal as later ruled by the State High Court when the action was challenged by the AC.
It was this cat-and-mouse game, mutual distrust and suspicion that was in the air ahead of Tuesday, June 5, 2007 when the Third Assembly (to be composed of 13-13 members each from the two parties) was billed to be inaugurated and proclaimed into existence by Oni, who had been inaugurated as the Governor on May 29 (seven days earlier).
The PDP, as a party, had nominated Rt. Hon. Femi Bamisile, the then member-elect for Ekiti East Constituency 2 for the position of Speaker while the AC, had settled for Afuye from Ikere Constituency 1 as the preferred choice for the Speaker with both of them coming from Ekiti South Senatorial District. It was in the light of this that the expired Assembly changed the Standing Rules to favour the ruling party and to have its man as the Speaker.
The day of inauguration of the Third Assembly was a tempestuous and rancorous one inside the chambers of the Assembly. With Oni coming from Ekiti North and his deputy, Dr. Sikiru Lawal coming from Ekiti Central, Ekiti South senatorial district was expected to produce the Speaker. The two parties were determined to produce the Speaker and their members-elect came with the mind to ensure that they achieve their aim.
The then Clerk of the Assembly, Mr. Ojo Fasiku, addressed the about-to-be- sworn-in legislators and educated them on the procedure for the election of the Speaker but his attempt to conduct the election with the manipulated Standing Rules sparked a crisis that resulted in fight that involved some members-elect and their supporters who had thrones the Assembly premises following the action of the immediate past Assembly.
Fasiku called for the nomination of a new Speaker but before he could continue with the assignment, Afuye raised raised an objection and faulted the attempt to use the Standing Rules which had been “illegally amended” by the immediate past Assembly the tenure of which had expired at the time of the amendment to elect principal officers of the House. He warned the Clerk against being used to endorse the illegality of the expired Assembly.
As Afuye was making his point, the PDP members were shouting him down but he continued making the Clerk to understand the illegality of electing a new Speaker with the amended portion. What began as a shouting match degenerated into fisticuffs and Oni who had earlier performed the proclamation of new Assembly was spirited out of the chambers as party members in the gallery joined the fray in support of their lawmakers-elect on the floor of the House.
The election of new Speaker could not be performed on that day but the PDP lawmakers returned two days later to elect Bamisile as Speaker while Hon. Adebayo Morakinyo (Ikole Constituency 1) was elected as Deputy Speaker. The AC members-elect who had boycotted the Assembly for about two months in protest later heeded the calls of Ekiti traditional rulers, elders, clergymen and other leaders of thought to be inaugurated and after consultations with the leadership of their party.
In a bid to ensure a lasting peace, a power sharing deal was agreed to fully integrate the AC caucus into the Assembly. Morakinyo stepped down as the Deputy Speaker after holding office for two months to allow the AC lawmaker for Moba Constituency 1, the late Hon. Saliu Adeoti emerge as Deputy Speaker. Hon. Lai Oke, PDP member from Ijero Constituency became Leader of Business while Afuye became AC House Leader (nobody was addressed as Majority Leader because no party was in the majority) while other offices were shared among the two parties.
For the greater part of the tenure of the Third Assembly, Ekiti was enveloped in political crisis as the legal battle was raging in the court in the petition filed by Fayemi with the AC lawmakers alleging threats to their lives for their principled stance on key constitutional issues like budget presentation, passage of the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) bill, conduct of the local government election among others.
It was during this period that Afuye showed the stuff he was made of. Anytime he and other AC lawmakers at the Third Assembly wanted to address the press on any issue, I was usually the first person he would contact to help mobilise colleagues for press conferences on constitutional issues in Ekiti State at the period.
There were times Afuye and the then lawmaker for Ikere Constituency 2, Hon. Bolu Akomolafe, would come to my personal residence (I was living in Ikere at the time) to hold emergency press conferences anytime urgent issues that must be put in public domain arose. I even remember a day we conducted an interview with Afuye and AC colleagues on the roadside using the booth of my car as makeshift table where I jotted down the points marshalled by them.
In July 2008, Bamisile was removed as Speaker and replaced with fellow PDP lawmaker from Gbonyin Constituency, Rt. Hon. Olatunji Odeyemi who went on to become Acting Governor when the Court of Appeal sacked Oni from office in February 2009 and ordered a rerun in six local government areas after which Oni returned to office again in May 2009 after the rerun poll only to be sacked again from office by the Court of Appeal in October 2010 which ordered that Fayemi be sworn to office as governor.
Following the change of government in October 2010, five PDP members defected to ACN in early 2011 which made Afuye to become the Majority Leader with the broom party increasing its membership strength in the Assembly to 18 members leaving the umbrella party with 8 members.
In recognition of his integrity, loyalty, consistency, faithfulness and giving the right leadership to his colleagues during his tenure in the Third Assembly, Afuye was appointed Commissioner by Fayemi during a cabinet reshuffle in 2011 and was handed the portfolio of Information and Civic Orientation which he held till 2013 after which he was redeployed to the Ministry of Integration and Intergovernmental Affairs.
My relationship with Afuye grew stronger when he became Commissioner. I got closer to him with my own pieces of advice on how I felt he would make a success on the job. Being a humble person, Afuye was a political leader that used to listen to advice no matter how unimportant they could seem.
He always told me never to be far from him to give him support in his role as the government’s chief spokesperson. At the time, I was Special Assistant (Media) to the Governor with Print Media as my brief. Anytime I came across any issue that affected the Ministry of Information under Afuye’s leadership, I would call him on phone to draw his attention to same.
Shortly after his appointment, there were occasions Afuye appeared on television programmes in Lagos (which I did not have foreknowledge of) but I monitored them and developed news item out of them and ensured their usage in newspapers the following day. I would then call him that I monitored his appearance that he should expect the news in the papers which to which he showed his gratitude after such news had appeared as promised.
He was somebody that would be called by journalists to react to issues at anytime of the day and would give a concise and robust reaction. He was the type that always had facts at his fingertips and would be ready to respond with the speed of the lightning. Afuye was brilliant, sharp, witty, articulate, calculated and blessed with good command of English, Yoruba or even Ekiti dialect for reaction as the case may be.
Journalists in the state looked forward to the State Executive Council (EXCO) Briefings during Afuye’s tenure because of the way and manner he handled the parleys as the moderator and the cerebral manner he answered questions some of which were tricky. There was no dull moment as members of the star-studded cabinet took time to explain programmes, policies and projects of the JKF 1 Administration for proper articulation and dissemination to the people in the grassroots.
On many occasions I would leave by desk at the Governor’s Office for the State Secretariat to see Afuye on issues that were too serious to be discussed on phone. He was always nostalgic about the support he enjoyed during the turbulent days of the Third Assembly and believed that the collaboration should continue.
I was his unofficial media adviser during his tenure as Commissioner and Afuye made the job easier by being truthful, factual, open-minded, accessible and allow for broad discussion of issues and cross fertilization of ideas. During our strategy meetings on topical issues, he was ready to bow to superior arguments as long as they would be beneficial to the state and the success of our boss, Governor Fayemi.
Afuye sustained the momentum during his tenure as Commissioner for Integration and Intergovernmental Affairs as the face of the administration on issues that bound the six states in the Southwest together some of which he was espoused to as a member of the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere.
Although he had been a banker and a lawyer all his life, he leveraged on the good relationship he had built with journalists to succeed in his line of duty in the two executive positions he held after he had left the Assembly. He was always there for journalists in the state and developed a personal relationship with them. He paid visits to the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Secretariat and various chapels to spend time with members of the pen profession.
Despite the loss of power by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2014 governorship poll, Afuye remained consistent as a strong force in Ikere in particular and Ekiti State in general. He had shown interest and had started mobilising support for his party’s ticket ahead of the 2018 governorship primary.
Afuye had to withdraw interest ahead of the the commencement of the sale of nomination forms when Fayemi showed interest in seeking a re-election to give support to the former Governor. He instead sought a return to the Assembly ahead of the 2019 polls which he won convincingly to represent his constituency for the second time.
With the speakership conceded to Ikere and Afuye being a ranking member, he was unanimously elected Speaker by the Sixth Assembly (2019-2023) in which the APC won all the 26 seats. After waiting for 12 years, Afuye eventually clinched the seat of the Speaker and blessed with experience in the executive branch which came in handy for him as the number one legislator in the state.
Blessed with previous legislative experience and having learnt from the mistakes of some of his predecessors which led to their unceremonious exit from office, Afuye, in his capacity as the Speaker, ensured that every Assembly member was carried along in every level of decision making.
As a team player and a listening leader, he ensured that the inputs of fellow principal officers, other lawmakers, the management and staff of the Assembly are accommodated in the day-to-day running of the legislature and never joked with their welfare.
He was able to achieve these because of his humble and down-to-earth nature. The doors of his office were always open to anyone that wanted to offer useful suggestions, counsel and advice and he was ever ready to listen because of his belief that everybody was somebody in his own management style.
As a man of the people, his private residence in Ikere and his official residence in Ado Ekiti, the Speaker’s Lodge, were always filled with constituents needing one help or the other and he would be ready to listen to everybody. He was a politician who would ensure that you smile back home fulfilled that your problems were either partially solved or totally solved.
The Sixth Assembly he presided over would not be forgotten for its industry in adding value to governance with passage of landmark laws aimed at smoothening the wheel of governance bettering the lots of the citizenry and improving their standards of living. Under his leadership, the Assembly had passed a total number of 81 bills into law since its inauguration in June 2019.
Some of the bills include Ekiti State Property Protection and Anti-Land Grabbing Law, aimed at protecting the people against the activities of land speculators otherwise known as “Omo Oniles;” Ekiti State Security Network Law which birthed the Amotekun Corps to enhance security in the grassroots; Ekiti State Food Security Law, which gave legislative imprimatur to quest to improve agriculture and banish hunger from the land; Ekiti State (Transition) Law, which mandates a succeeding administration not to abandon ongoing projects already commenced by a predecessor government; Ekiti State Gender Based (Prohibition) Law, which criminalizes all forms of gender violence, among others.
I found it difficult to believe the news of Afuye’s death broken to me by a colleague at about 7pm on Wednesday, October 19 because we spoke on phone on Monday, October 17 and the voice I heard never gave him away as somebody that was sick, shaky or incoherent. I promised to visit him anytime soon but unknown to me, that would be our last conversation.
It was sad that the journey which began on July 11, 1956 came to an end on October 19, 2022 with barely three days to the wedding of his daughter, Bisola, already scheduled for October 22, 2022 in Lagos. The reality that Mr. Speaker would never speak again dawned on me and I am yet to recover from it.
May God console and comfort his beloved wife, Mrs. Titilayo Afuye, whom I fondly call Mama Lamide, the children, the aged mother, grandchildren and other members of the family still mourning the huge loss.
The whole episode reminds me of the sayings of the Bible in Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 Verse 3 that “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Psalm 103 Verses 15-16 says, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”
Life indeed is vanity and everyone of us shall return to our Creator at one time or the other. The best we can make of it is to serve God and humanity so that we can leave good legacies behind and find rest with Maker at the end of our sojourn on earth.