It was swift and well calculated to deliver a big, maximum political punch on Ekiti politics. Perhaps, that is the only mild manner the sudden appointment last weekend of Modupe Adelabu as the deputy governor of Ekiti State could best be described. A professor of Education, Adelabu replaces the immediate past deputy governor, late Eunice Oluwafunmilayo Adunni Olayinka, who passed on, on April 6, 2013, following a protracted battle with cancer.
The late Olayinka was an amazon gifted with guts, gumption and iron in her backbone while her sojourn on planet earth lasted. Unfortunately, her poise, finesse, elegance and mental acuity had been consumed by a notorious cancer that cut her down.
The outpouring of emotions, grief, tributes, and the well-choreographed rites of passage with which she was ‘escorted’ from her death bed to her final resting place at Ado-Ekiti, the fast growing capital of Ekiti State, attested to the high esteem which the Ekitis usually accorded their heroes and heroines, living or dead. No wonder many people, especially her kindred in Ekiti, knighted her “Moremi Ekiti”. This is a great honour and perhaps, the first time in the history of Yoruba land, that someone is considered worthy to literally step into Moremi’s shoes.
‘I can bet it with any serious politician in Ekiti State today that the choice of Adelabu as deputy governor has given Fayemi another victory, a resounding victory at the yet-to-be-contested and conducted 2014 polls’
Moremi, in Yoruba mythology, was a damsel who was abducted (or kidnapped) by some bandits from a particularly nagging tribe that perennially invaded Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba land many, many years ago. On one of such raids, Moremi was taken along among the supposed captives, easily one of the spoils of wars then.
Legend has it that Moremi allowed herself to be captured by her own volition. Before then, the Yoruba were always voting with their feet whenever the masquerade-looking invaders who they ignorantly referred to as ‘ara-orun’ (spirits) invaded Ile-Ife. Moremi stopped all that. During her period in captivity, she spied on the so-called invaders who had tormented her people for a long time. One day, she escaped and meandered her way back to Ile-Ife. There she revealed to her people that the recalcitrant invaders were actually human beings disguised in regalia made of raffia palm and dressed like masquerades to frighten and terrorise the people.
Now loaded with the gift of insider knowledge, the Yoruba started plotting how to confront the terrorists. By the time they came on their next expedition, they were not only confronted by the now emboldened Yoruba, they were massively slaughtered and rooted. The trick was simple. Long bamboo sticks were mounted with ‘oguso’ (dried palm fruits waste), which was highly combustible. It is still used in some African rural settings to make bonfire till date. So many of them, stored in various ‘armouries’ all over the ancient town, were released. Bonfires were then made of them and the ‘masquerades’ were set on fire one by one. Before they realised what was happening, the invaders had been rooted. Those who managed to escape, if any, never dared the Yoruba again.
It is to the everlasting memory of the heroism of Moremi that the Yoruba worship and equate her with a deity, which she really was. It is in commemoration of the titanic battle that the Ife people celebrate her annually with what is known as ‘Edi’ festival, which holds towards the end of the year. It is an event which attracts people from all walks of life, including the Diaspora, to Ile-Ife.
During the festival, which runs for about seven days, the fourth day called ‘ina-osan’, ‘noon fire’ is celebrated by inducing a mock ‘war’. Here, able-bodied men carrying thick and long fire-bearing sticks, usually emerge from the innermost recess of the palace of the Ooni of Ife. With the ferocious fire burning all through the streets, crisscrossing Itakogun and Arubidi quarters of the town, a distance of about six or more kilometers to the palace.
The procession terminates at a sacred grove located deep inside a thick forest (Igbo Oro), in the Iyekere area of the ancient and historical city, close to present-day Ondo Road. This procession is held amidst drumming, singing, dancing and acrobatic displays by various traditional, gender, age and cultural groups in the town.
After the fire-bearing men has exited the palace, another group of tall and huge men dressed in the costume of the ‘masquerade’ invaders of old, will emerge from ‘hiding’ and dance round Enuwa quarters located just by the gate of the palace. They also dance inside the palace with youths and young children trooping behind them. The final day of the Edi festival is marked by the appearance of ‘Tele’.
That seven-day revelry that accompanied the annual Edi festival was the equivalent of what the Ekitis did for Olayinka all through her death to her final interment. That was more than what a princess, which she was, deserved because Olayinka proved that it was possible for a lady to combine beauty with brain and sparkling achievements. By doing that, she joined the lengthy list of eminent women who are today occupying sensitive places in the hall of fame not only in Nigeria or Africa but the world at large.
This is a big challenge for the new deputy governor who is stepping into such giant-size shoes. Do I call it Queen-size? I am quite sure that she is up to the task. This is because Adelabu’s academic standing speaks volumes about her talents. Kayode Fayemi, the workaholic, incumbent governor of Ekiti State, had initially wanted her as a deputy, but the case of her ailing husband at the time was more compelling for her total attention. Hence she politely turned down the offer. At that time, she was the Head of the Department of Educational Administration and Planning of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of Moremi. She was later appointed chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB.
Adelabu has held many important positions both in the academia in Nigeria and abroad. She was part of the 15-member Education Reform Panel that worked assiduously on Ekiti State government’s reforms in the education sector. At various times, the new deputy governor has also served as a resource person for United Nations Development Programme, UNDP; United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF; and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, on numerous issues bordering on education. She has also been involved in consultancy work for the Universal Basic Education Commission in Nigeria.
As someone who had served as external examiner in some reputable national and state-owned universities, I am sure the education sector in Ekiti State, which is the major industry in the state, is set to witness great transformation, I mean real transformation and certainly not a cosmetic one that has become music in the airwaves all over the place. I think the education portfolio and, in some cases, local government affairs are usually tucked under the purview of deputy governors, especially in educationally advanced states of the South-West of the country.
Aside from the education sector, between 2000 and 2003, Adelabu was also a foundation member of Board of Ekiti State World Bank Assisted Poverty Reduction Agency. And fighting poverty is a major plank of the Fayemi administration in Ekiti State and by extension, a major political weapon being wielded by the Action Congress of Nigeria now re-christened All Progressive Congress, APC, a new political identity that is already sending shivers down the spines of other real and fake politicians in the country.
She has consulted for the World Bank, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) and other international agencies. This is another asset for the Fayemi administration and Ekiti State in general, especially the womenfolk who are now required to rally round one of their own just like they did for the departed Olayinka.
I can bet it with any serious politician in Ekiti State today that the choice of Adelabu as deputy governor has given Fayemi another victory, a resounding victory at the yet-to-be-contested and conducted 2014 polls. This is indeed a win-win strategy designed to inflict maximum punishment on the rancorous opposition in the state!
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