Tribute: Prof Femi Odekunle: A Patriot and Intellectual Icon bows out


By Henry Femi Osobu


Prof. Femi Odekunle’s fame as the first and globally renowned Nigeria Professor of Criminology had preceded him, while his alleged involvement in the phantom coup against Abacha, had brought him into the public space and consciousness of many Nigerians. I only had the privilege of seeing him for the first time and watched him from a distance in 1998 at Abuja when I was invited to a reception held in his honour by some group of friends after his release from detention. He had earlier been discharged and acquitted by the military tribunal that tried him and others for an alleged coup plot attempt to overthrow the Abacha Regime. At the reception, he regaled his audience with the harrowing experience he went through while he was in the Abacha gulag. However, it was not until some years later that our path crossed.

I first met Prof. Femi Odekunle on June 24, 2000 at Ilesa, during the formal launching of the defunct “Ilesa Restoration Group”, whose aims and objective was to restore the past glory of Ilesa and attract infrastructural and industrial development to the capital city of Ijesaland. I was one of the three that conceived the idea and initiated the formation of the group which was enthusiastically received and promoted by Chief Akinwande Akinola, the Sawe of Ilesa. The other two initiators were Chief Mrs. Oluremi Olowu and Hon. Gbenga Onigbogi, both of whom subsequently became chairperson and secretary of the group respectively, I opted not to occupy any position but was always given the privilege of delivering the welcome address to members and guests in attendance.

Immediately after I delivered the welcome address at the formal launching of the group at Ilesa, attended by the Owa-Obokun Adimula of Ijesaland, Oba (Dr.) Gabriel Adekunle Aromolaran, and was stepping down from the dias, Prof Femi Odekunle walked up to me and congratulated me on what he considered to be “a well written and eloquently delivered address”, and I also thanked him for the compliments. That was how we became acquaintances.

Our paths later crossed again when we both served as members of the Abuja Branch of the 2007 Owa’s Palace Construction Committee, of which I was the secretary. Prof. Odekunle’s contributions at the various meetings gave him out as a great and cerebral Ijesa Patriot who was also a Nigeria nationalist. It was in the course of our serving in the committee that we became close, established a good relationship and indeed became friends.

In the course of our interaction, I found him to be an amiable, loving, charming and down-to-earth person. He comes with so much joy and liveliness that it is impossible for anyone to be sad around him. He was a friend to all irrespective of age. He was indeed a lesson in humility, forthrightness, courage, candour, dedication to friendship and commitment to noble ideals and principles.

He was a man of tremendous courage who sticks to principle at all times without regard to consequences. For instance, I cannot forget my encounter with him at the end of a church service at the Methodist Church Cathedral Otapete, Ilesa, when he was serving as chairman of a committee set-up by the Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola Administration to probe the immediate past administration of former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

I had offered an unsolicited advice to him, based on my Civil Service experience, that he should endeavour to brief the government of the day on progress being made by his committee so as to win their confidence and prevent the report of his committee from being left in the shelf to gather dust. He bluntly responded that he would not do such a thing as he never lobbied for the job and that he would report exactly what he found without fear or favour. He further assured me that it would not bother him if his report was rejected or left to gather dust in the shelves. He finally submitted the committee’s report which gave a clean bill to Oyinlola.

Femi had a humble and pleasant personality that made him flowed very well in his interaction with the young, not too young and old people that came his way. Despite the age difference between us, he was never bothered when I called him by his first name, Femi, but would on few occasion jokingly remind me that “mo ju o lo o, sugbon ogbon ju mi lo”. He had a pleasant habit of either checking on me and having nice time together whenever he passed through my house at Asokoro on his way back from Africa Independent Television (AIT) after participating in an interview or live programme. When it was not convenient for him to branch, he would phone to say “moti mi gba iwaju ile e lo, sugbon meri o nita o, me ni leya wo o, bami ki madam o” (I am passing through your house now, did not see you outside, but won’t be able to check on you, my regards to madam).

Whenever we find ourselves in Ilesa, he would always ensure we spend some time with his father at their family house in Ijofi Ilesa. Femi was a chip of the old block as I found similarity with his father both in physiognomy and mannerism. The old man who later died at the age of over 100years was full of wisdom, wise-cracks and an encyclopaedia of some sort.

I hereby commiserate with the wife, children, family members, his numerous friends and the Nigeria nation, which he served in various capacities for this great loss, but will urge us all to take heart and be comforted that he lived a fulfilled and impactful life. I pray that the Almighty God grant all of us, the fortitudes to bear this great, monumental and irreplaceable loss. We will all miss him, but will always remember his legacies of love, humility, integrity, candour and contentment.

Good Night Prof.

Barrister Henry Femi Osobu is an Abuja-based Legal Practitioner 



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