The essence of the life of the individual lies in the memory of how the person impacted the life of others and/or society in his lifetime.
To this extent, on both personal and societal levels, the death of Aketi is a painful loss to me and to humanity.
I start with the significance of the life and times of Aketi from the standpoint of the promotion of public good, particularly the material wellbeing of ordinary people.
The first issue that readily comes to mind was the participation of Aketi in mass protests against perennial increases in the price of fuel. In 2012, he and his wife, Betty, joined the mass protests called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the streets of Ibadan, as part of nationwide huge mass protests against increase in fuel price. His participation was an inspiration to workers, youth and ordinary people.
That singular event shows where the passion of Aketi was – with the downtrodden, against the powers that be.
I think Aketi’s radicalism had to do with interactions with radical forces of the mould of the Late Kanmi Isola Osobu, Fela’s lawyer who was also one of my lawyers during my first rounds of arrest by the State Security Service (SSS) in 1988. It is perhaps for this reason that Aketi established the “People’s Chambers” in memory of Kanmi Isola Osobu. The People’s Chambers, till date, serves to help young lawyers. Young lawyers who have the opportunity to be allocated an office in the “People’s Chambers” do not pay rent. The People’s Chambers consists of about six offices with common library and reception. I have established that just last year some young lawyers were admitted into the Chambers.
Still from the standpoint of Aketi’s relevance to popular causes, Aketi demonstrated, in his lifetime, that he was a principled personality.
Aketi’s leadership of the NBA, as President, remains one of the most impactful glorious era in the history of the NBA, in the mould of the Alao Aka Bashorun when the NBA stood as a reliable ally with the masses in opposing tyrannical excesses of the government. The speech of Aketi at the 2009 Annual NBA conference defined the qualitatively refreshing character of the leadership that Aketi provided the NBA. In his speech at the 2009 Annual Conference of the NBA, Aketi explained the worldview, which characterised his leadership of the NBA as follows:
“…We are driven by a vision of a principled, people-oriented legal profession, which is accessible and able to respond to the needs of the society. This is an important component of our intervention. Nigerians want a justice system that works in the interest of justice. They rightly expect a system of justice that gives every person a fair and equal access to justice and guarantees the dignity, rights and security of every persons and all communities regardless of money or any other difference.”
During his tenure as Governor, Aketi defended the democratic right of dissent and peaceful protest. He defended the right of the people who protested against increases in the prices of fuel under the government led by his own party at the federal government level. He publicly declared that students, working class youths and ordinary people who wanted to protest against increase in fuel price were exercising their democratic right and that, for as long as the protests were peaceful, no protester should be repressed.
Aketi, as Governor, made this declaration in defence of the right to peaceful protest during the 2021 celebration of June 12. The Government of Ondo State under the leadership of Aketi kept faith with associating with and defending the democratic mandate given to MKO Abiola in the 1993 Presidential election which was annulled by the BABANGIDA Military junta. The Government of Ondo State celebrated June 12 Anniversary every year throughout the period Aketi held sway as Governor of Ondo State. In this laudable tradition, I was invited to deliver the lecture to mark the 2021 celebration of June 12. The lecture was entitled “Democracy and Insecurity: Challenges and Way Forward”.
The late Governor Aketi knew me as a critic of his party, the APC. In spite of our political differences, he approved my being invited to deliver the 2021 lecture to mark what the government called “Democracy Day”. My central argument in the lecture was that physical insecurity in the country was a function of rising poverty, showing that the various governments at all levels were the cause of physical insecurity and that to curb physical insecurity, economic insecurity has to be addressed. Aketi as Governor, in his response agreed that the ruling parties might have done their best, but that their best was not good enough. That is the hallmark of a person who lived a principled life. He was not one to close his eyes and ears to the agony of the masses just because he happened to be Governor.
On a personal note, I owe so much to Aketi in my career as a legal practitioner. Aketi willingly allowed me to undergo the “Chambers Attachment” phase of the training of lawyers in his law office, the Lawhub. I therefore learnt under the feet of one of the best Masters in the legal profession. Aketi prioritised anything that concerned me. For example, in spite of his very tight schedules and several invitations, Aketi found time to attend the dinner party organised in my honour by friends at the call-to-bar ceremony in Abuja.
On that day, he encouraged me not to waste time in resigning from my teaching profession and commencing full time legal practice.
Circumstances surrounding my criticism of corruption in The Polytechnic, Ibadan and the then Oyo State Government wherein the funds of The Polytechnic Ibadan were being used for international tours for the establishment of a private technical university made me to retire, voluntarily, from The Polytechnic, Ibadan. The reason for the voluntary retirement was that twice, within about five weeks (on 22/11/2012 and 29/12/2012) armed men attacked me in my quarters at The Polytechnic, Ibadan. Aketi was one of the very few persons with revered social stature and voice who issued public statements to decry the attempts to eliminate me at the time. I can never forget such an important intervention at a critical time in my life. Though Aketi is no more physically with us, he lives in my heart.
When I retired voluntarily in the circumstances described above, Aketi also provided his very luxurious and conducive law office for me to start my professional career as a lawyer. I had unrestrained free access to the rich books in the library of the Lawhub. Till today, I am regarded as a part of the Lawhub, enjoying the network of friendship with experienced, principled and credible senior lawyers and Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). Aketi has therefore contributed to whatever I have attained today as a legal practitioner. Though Aketi is physically dead, he lives in my heart. Whoever lives in the heart of people for good causes does not die. Aketi lives on!
Aketi was also humble and he treated people with respect. On one occasion, during my “Chambers’ attachment” in Lawhub, my colleagues and I, about 10 of us who were on “Chambers attachment” had cause to collectively interact with him on an issue. He was seated while we were all standing. Aketi said to me, “Femi, please sit down. You and I are age mates”. He never used the fact that we were learning under him to disrespect us. Aketi lives on in my heart!
Aborisade is a lawyer, lecturer and human rights activist