Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Burial of Ambassador Akindele on 12 March in Ibadan

Burial of Akindele, Nigeria’s late envoy to Benin on Sat, 12 Mar
Body leaves Cotonou Fri

The burial of Mr. Lawrence Olayiwola Akindele, Nigeria’s late Ambassador to BeninRepublic; will take place on 12 March in Ibadan, Oyo State.

The Embassy of Nigeria in Cotonou; where the late top-flight diplomat held sway, held a Service of Songs from 5pm to 7pm on Wednesday, 9 March, at the local Ambassador’s Residence in honour of their departed boss.

Meanwhile, during a chat at the Nigerian Embassy on Monday, 7 March with Mr. Ajayi Ayoola James, Charge d’Affair, following Ambassador Akindele’s demise; it was gathered that the remains of the late envoy will depart Cotonou at 6am on Friday, 11 March; for Ibadan.

In the same vein, executives of the Cotonou chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), after a meeting with other members of the local Nigerian community on Wednesday; revealed at least one luxury bus had been hired to convey sympathisers to Ibadan for the burial. The vehicle(s) will depart Cotonou at 5am on 12 March for Ibadan, according to Pa Abdul-Lateef Olujobi; who spoke with mauricearchibongtravels in the Beninese economic capital.

According to funeral arrangements announced by the family, the interment will be preceded by a wake at the deceased’s compound, No. 9 Awomoro Street in the Shasha neighbourhood of Ibadan on 11 March; followed by Requiem Mass, billed to begin at 9am, the next day; 12 March, at the University of Ibadan Catholic Cathedral. Interment will follow thereafter.

Meanwhile, tributes have been pouring in for the late Ambassador Akindele, who died at the age of 57 years on Thursday, 3 February 2011. NIDO Cotonou President, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu, was among the earliest to pay a condolence visit to the Nigerian embassy; and, has been at the forefront in arrangements to make the trip to Ibadan as comfortable as possible for members of the local Nigerian community, most of who are still reeling in shock over Ambassador Akindele’s sudden transition.

Similarly, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, Leader of Igbo Union in Benin Republic; has also contribution in various ways to succour his grieving compatriots. Chief Onunkwo, who described Ambassador Akindele’s passage as a terrible blow to the Nigerian community; had added: “It is a disaster to Nigerians in Benin Republic”.

Ambassador Akindele’s death “Has created a gaping vacuum because he was a very good man. Apart from being an outstanding diplomat, he also stood out as a humane and very humble personality. He ran an open-door policy and all Nigerians came to see in Ambassador Akindele; a friend, a brother and a father. In fact, words cannot describe the way I feel”; the Igbo Leader rued. 

Chief Onunkwo re-echoed this impression in his tribute left in the condolence register, where he wrote, inter alia; “We are going to miss you tremendously. You were like a father to all of us; now, we’re like sheep without shepherd. A big vacuum has been created”.

The entry of Chief Omeregbe Bruno, Chairman of Edo Community; who was first to sign the condolence register was: “This life is a journey and a visitor must come and go”, while the lament of Medina Nadako, an Abuja-based freelance journalist, was: “It was an honour knowing a true diplomat like you; unfortunately, the relationship we established is now short-lived. Just a few days ago, I played back the interview I had with you, unknowingly to me, you had passed on. I will definitely miss your warmth and camaraderie anytime I visit the embassy. Thank God for your able leadership, your staffs have taken after you”.

“Serving the fatherland with patriotism and competence is our duty as citizens but for some, it is a high calling. He was one of our best and we are grateful for his exhibitions”, wrote Prof. Alfred E. Opubor of WANAD Centre, Cotonou. “Your exit is painful to me and all the children who were with you in August 2010. We can’t forget your fatherly role which you played while we were in Cotonou on excursion. We only submit to the will of the Almighty God”, stated Mrs. C.S. Nwoye of Channelle Francaise.

Ambassador Ramadan Bakr, Embassy of Egypt, Medegan K. Frederick, Embassy of Angola, Ambassador Muftau Laleye, Embassy of Benin Republic, Abuja; are among members of the diplomatic community that left tributes in the condolence register. Tributes also came in from staff/students of Jos University, Laurel International School, Cotonou; Adesina College Ibadan, Soussoukpe Sylvaine of Huawei Technologies in Benin Republic; University of Ilorin; Funso Ibitoye of EcoBank, Seme branch, observed: “He lived a good life”.

Others that have visited the Nigerian mission to condole with the family and embassy staffers include members of the International Model School, Cotonou as well as the Rebuilding Nigeria Initiative aka West Coast Movement.

Akindele assumed duty as Nigeria’s Ambassador in Cotonou on 8 July, 2009; he had earlier worked as Permanent Representative of Nigeria’s Mission to the United Nations in New York, USA, among other postings; in a distinguished diplomatic career which spanned decades.

An alumnus of University of Ibadan, Akindele was much loved by everyone, irrespective of ethnic group, religion or calling. In deed, memorable encomiums were showered on him by Nigerians of all nationalities during a reception held at the local embassy’s residence; when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan visited Cotonou on 31 December last year. 

It could be recalled that President Jonathan was so touched by commendations for Akindele and the improved Nigerian Embassy Cotonou that he practically quipped: “I am happy that our embassy here has transformed from mere consulting clinic to a teaching hospital”.

Truly, Akindele radically transformed the hitherto negative perception by the Nigerian community of their country’s mission in the brief period that he spent as Nigeria’s envoy to Benin. One of his legacies is the Business Forum, which has brought together principal stakeholders of the Nigerian corporate community working in Benin Republic.

A keen athlete, Akindele was a table tennis champion in his younger days and represented Nigeria at several international competitions in this sport. Those that knew him would also remember him as a man of epicurean taste and as a lover of music; especially one from cordophones like the guitar. Akindele also read frequently because of his high regard for proper education and development of one’s intellect.

Decades after taking a degree in linguistics from University of Ibadan, Akindele could still read Greek and Latin; these, he told me during a conversation, while riding with him in a car taking him to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, where he had a Cotonou-bound flight to board last November; had helped him in his work a great deal. He was eloquent in French, and rarely had cause to use any dictionary because of his knowledge of linguistics. His training in linguistics and knowledge of Greek and Latin translated into a good grasp of the etymology of countless English language words.

His interest in education had also manifested in a reorganisation of the Nigerian International School Cotonou, where interviews for principal and deputies were thrown open. After what many described as a very rigorous process, a new principal and three vice-principals had been appointed. Furthermore, after years of struggling to have a passport section in Nigerian Embassy Cotonou, it was in Akindele’s time as ambassador that vital equipment for that purpose was finally installed.

Married with children, Akindele was a happy family man; and, he often spoke about his children with infectious affection. However, he could also pass for a workaholic. But, he would be vindicated by the phenomenal success his career turned out to be. From his dedication to work, it was as if he had some premonition that the end was near.   

I had left him in the office at 11pm on 30 December, 2011; while the embassy prepared to receive President Jonathan the following day. On my way out of his office, he had called out to remind me to be at Cotonou international airport before 8.30am on 31 December.

I had managed to make it to the airport in the nick of time and had jokingly expressed surprise that embassy protocol and others had made it there before me, even when I left them at work around 11pm the previous day. To my surprise, I was told that the ambassador actually closed from yesterday’s work at 4am the following morning.

It’s not every time an envoy gets to host his country’s Number One, so no stone was left unturned in preparations for the arrival of Dr. Jonathan. Every one at Nigeria House in Cotonou therefore had to work extra hard to ensure the visit went smoothly. At the end of the day; Ambassador Akindele and his team would be vindicated by the huge success President Jonathan’s trip turned out to be. It could be recalled that Akindele had similarly scored an A in October, 2010; when his mission organised a celebration of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary in Cotonou.

After that New Year’s Eve assignment, I was set to resume my journey to Ivory Coast, my original destination until being informed of the possibility of President Jonathan’s visit to Cotonou; and, had put in a call to Ambassador Akindele to tell him I was on my way. The man had invited me to meet him to bid me farewell; and, guess where that encounter took place? Inside his office at the Nigerian Embassy on New Year Day!

On arrival at the Ghanaian settlement of Elubo, I had been discouraged from entering Ivory Coast because of news of the spiralling crisis then and had begun my return trip to Nigeria. As I approached Nigeria, I had called at the ambassador’s residence on a Saturday only to be told he was at work. I had joined him in the office, where he introduced me to another topflight diplomat described as Coordinator.

The three of us were there till about 8pm; when one of Akindele’s children, a son and an SS2 student, was shown into his father’s office. The lad, apparently unable to bear daddy’s absence any longer; had come to enquire: “Dad, when are you coming home”? “Very soon, very soon”, Ambassador Akindele had replied somewhat apologetically. In a way, this compelled me to leave to enable our affable egbon rejoin his family.

On my way out, Ambassador Akindele had advised me to call him on his Nigerian number from around 28 January; when he would be visiting Abuja for consultations. As we had agreed, I had called him on 1 February. When I couldn’t reach him on his Nigerian number, I had tried the Beninese one all to no avail. After several attempts to reach him on all numbers failed the second day, I had called the General Secretary of Nigerian community, Pa Abdul-Lateef Olujobi, to enquire if he had seen Ambassador Akindele.

This chief scribe had said he just returned to Cotonou after a trip home; and, that he would get in touch with me after visiting the embassy, where a meeting had been scheduled the next day. Sadly, after calling some other Nigerians, I had learnt that His Excellency had been hospitalised; following what seemed to be stress-related ailments. Further probes later revealed his state was critical and that an air ambulance was on hand to fly him abroad for emergency medical treatment.

And, like a bolt out of the blue, news of the man’s passage hit me through a text message the next day. Our beloved guide had gone. I had subsequently rushed to Cotonou, where I met many in tears. In my grief, my heart went out to the late man’s family: If his son couldn’t stand missing him for hours, what now; when daddy was gone forever? Yet, in this funereal moment I was struck by a consoling philosophical muse: Our ultimate father is God Almighty. He gives and He takes; but, so is His kindness that He does not give any one a cross too heavy to carry. At that moment, US President, Mr. Barack Obama, crossed my mind. Truly, God Almighty is our ultimate parent.

This experience is heart-rending: our great friend is gone, but we find solace in the fact that he was a good man; one who left good examples for others to follow. Interestingly, I knew Ambassador Akindele for barely four months; and, like many others, I wish I had known him much earlier in life. Good men will die, but death cannot kill their names. Sun re o

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