By Bashorun JK Randle
I have had to change the title of my tribute to a great man. It was originally entitled:
“CHIEF ALLISON AKENEAYIDA ANOTHER OLD BOY OF KING’S COLLEGE (KCOB) BOWS OUT.”
Social media went on an orgy of frenzy – with reports, reflecting varying embellishments, that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris was sufficientlyalarmed and concerned at the passing away of yet another “KCOB” – following the recent demise of former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme [aged 85 Chief Tunji Gomez aged 90 and Prince Adedapo Adeniran aged 94 (all of whom were KCOBs), that he immediately despatched his trusted Deputy Inspector-General, Chief Taiwo Lakanu to proceed to Lagos and co-opt the Commissioner of Police of Lagos State Mr. Edgal Imohimi to get to the bottom of these serial deaths (all of them,except that of Dr. Ekwueme,in Lagos) involving illustrious old boys of King’s College, Lagos.
Inevitably, the police had to deal with the delicate issue of suspected foul play and the likely suspects!! Additionally, the Police could not ignore the coincidence with my candidacy as the next president of St Gregory’s College Old Boys Association following my very successful campaign in all thirty-six states of the Federation of Zimboda as well as warm reception and overwhelming endorsement by old boys of St. Gregory’s College worldwide (especially in the diaspora)!!
While investigations are proceeding, let us doff our hats to the colossus and legend – Chief Allison Akene Ayida who died in Lagos at the age of 88 years after a protracted illness.
From Google and Facebook, we are offered the following snippet (courtesy of Eric Teniola):
“Chief Allison Akene Ayida was born on June 16, 1930. He attended King’s College, Lagos from 1946-1952; Queen’s College, University of Oxford, England, where he graduated in 1956; London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, England, 1957; Assistant Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance, 1971-1975;Chairman, UN Commission for Africa;Secretary to the Government of the Federation andHead of Civil Service of Nigeria, 1975-1977. He died on October 12, 2018.
He narrated the story of his life in a book entitled “Rise And Fall Of Nigeria” published by Malthouse Press Limited.
“I was brought up as an only son by my late parents. One of the virtues you imbibe early without a Big Brother is the habit of a self-sufficient and independent lone ranger. At 33, I was appointed to act as Permanent Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Economic Development, in 1963. I was the youngest Permanent Secretary in the Federation. It was part of an experiment to try out the then new breed in the civil service as Permanent Secretaries. I had to look up to senior colleagues such as the late Chief Michael Ani for guidance and leadership.”
In my previous capacity as the editor of “The Mermaid” (the college magazineof King’s College), I made the following brief remarks: “I presume that it is well known that Chief Ayida entered King’s College in 1947 and along with Makanju earned double promotion to Form 3 and thereby became a classmate of Izoma Philip Asiodu and Otunba T. Adeoye Tugbobo. It was the Principal (Headmaster), Mr.J.R. Bunting who secured admission for both Asiodu and Ayidato his alma mater Queen’s College, Oxford University to studyPhilosophy, Politics and Economics [PPE] on scholarship.
After graduation both of them returned to Nigeria and joined the civil service.Asiodu was in the Governor’s office briefly before joining the Foreign Service while Ayida was in the Ministry of Education. It was Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh,the Minister of Finance who facilitated the transfer of Ayida to the Ministry of Finance.It was no secret that Ayida was a protege of the Minister.
A whole chapter would have to be devoted to the exceptional courage of top civil servants led by Abdulazziz Attah (Oxford graduate) with Ayida, Asiodu,Ahmed Joda etc in tow who after the disastrous broadcast of Colonel Yakubu Gowon on 29th July 1966 (following the revenge coup d’état by Northern soldiers led by then Lieutenant-Colonel Murtala Mohammed) that there was no longer any basis for the existence of Nigeria as a nation, put their lives at risk by driving to Ikeja cantonment to plead with “fierce and supercharged” soldiers before gaining access to Gowon. All of them could have been shot!!One of the soldiers was sufficiently sober to demand of the intruders:
“Who goes there?
Enemy or foe?
Proceed and be recognised.
Do you have your wife’s permission to embark on this dangerous (suicidal) mission?”
They performed the superlative feat of persuading Gowon to issue a retraction as follows:
“After further deliberations, my colleagues and I have resolved to preserve the unity of Nigeria as one nation.” (not an exact quote).
Northern soldiers had commenced packing their wives and children back to the North on trains, trucks, lorries and motor cars.
Perhaps this is not the right timeto reflect on the lamentation and despair of Chief Olu Falae, Secretary to the Military Government of the Federation (January 1986 to December 1990):
“I did not know I had so many enemies until I became Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF].”
Similarly, Chief Ayida had his fair share of enemies and detractors. Perhaps, that is a subject for another day.
However, we can at least remind ourselves of our nation’s stormy and chequered history which is co-joinedwith the travails of the civil service and the strength of character (or otherwise) of successive SGF’s.
When the military took over on 15th January, 1966 with Major-General Johnson Aguyi-Ironsi as head of State, probably the most powerful civil servant was Ironsi’s kinsman,Chief Francis Nwokedi.
The official list of SGF’s is as follows:
•Dr. S.O. Wey (September 01, 1961 –January 16, 1966)
•Mr. M.A. Ejueyitchie, CFR (August 1966 –December 1970)
•Alhaji Abdulazziz A. Atta (December 1970 –June 1972)
•Mr. C.O. Lawson (August 1972 –March 1975)
•Chief Allison A. Ayida, CFR (April 1975 –March 1977)
•Mr. Ali L. Ciroma, CFR (April 1977 –September 1979)
•Alhaji Shehu A. Musa, CFR (October 1979 –December 1983)
•Mr. G.A. Longe (January 1984 –January 1986)
•Chief Olu Falae, CFR (January 1986 –December 1989)
•Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed (January 1990 –August 1993)
•Alhaji Mustafa Umara (August 1993 –November 1993)
•Alhaji Aminu Saleh, CFR (Nov 1993 –Oct 1995)
•Alhaji Gidado Idris (Oct 1995 –May 1999)
•Chief U.J. Ekaette, CFR (May 1999 –May 2007)
•Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe, CFR (May 2007 –Oct 2008)
•Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, CFR (Oct 2008 – May 2011)
•Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, GCON(May 2011 – May 2015)
•Engr. Babachir David Lawal (Aug 2015 – Oct 2017)
•Boss Gida Mustapha (Nov 2017 – present)
Following the revenge coup of July 29, 1966, Nigeria was without a government for three days. The break-up of the country loomed large on the horizon. It was both the American Ambassador to Nigeria,Mr. Elbert G. Mathews and the U.K. High Commissioner to Nigeria,Sir Francis Cumming-Brucewho first raised the alarm and initiated an aggressive damage control with top civil servants as the arrow head. They warned the Northern military officers that the Northern Region would be entirely land-locked (with no access to the sea).
In the midst of the chaos, the most senior officer in the Army, Brigadier Olufemi Ogundipe a Yoruba man made a feeble attempt to take over as Head of State only to be rebuffed by a subordinate of northern origin who bluntly refused to take orders from anybody other than a northern officer.
It was the British who chaperoned Brigadier Ogundipe to a ship berthed in Apapa and arranged a safe passage to Britain where he was subsequently appointed as the Nigerian high Commissioner to Britain (the Court of St. James) as compensation for his humiliation.
Separately, the soldiers were on a collision course with the civil servants. While 32-year-old Head of State General Yakubu “Jack” Gowon was somewhat in awe of the top civil servants and regarded them with utmost respect, this did not appear to go down well with Brigadier-General Murtala Mohammed who was the strongman of the military government. He was firmly of the view that the soldiers should call the shots without any meddling from civil servants particularly the “SuperPermanent Secretaries” – Chief Allison Ayida; Chief Phillip Asiodu; Alhaji Ahmed Joda;Mr. Ime Ebongetc. Perhaps, it was predictable that when Murtala Muhammed became Head of State on July 30, 1975 it did not take him and his deputy Major-General Olusegun Obasanjo long to embark on the purge of the civil service culminating in the sacking of all “Super Permanent Secretaries”. The only one left standing was ChiefAllison Ayida !!On 26th February, 1984, seventeen Federal Permanent Secretaries were sacked by the Military government in one fell swoop.
It was brutal and capricious. The hurricane was on a mission of destruction and inevitably destroyed many lives (both the guilty and the innocent) – from judges (right up to the Supreme Court), to doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, architects as well as cooks, stewards and drivers. Even military officers were not spared. After the turmoil and dislocation, the public service was never the same again.
Perhaps we should rewind the tape back to a meeting of the Supreme Military Council chaired by General Gowon whoinadvertently referred to his SGF (Secretary to the Governmentof the Federation) as “my secretary” only to be promptly corrected by the then SGF. Alhaji Alhaji Abdulazziz Attah who insisted on clarifying matters:
“I am NOT your Secretary, I am Secretary to the Government of the Federation.”
Anyway, when Chief Ayida retired from the civil service (during the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo) in 1977 he had plenty of time to spend at the Metropolitan Club which was only a short distance from his house at Idowu Martins Street Victoria Island; the Lagos Tennis Club; King’s College Old Boys ‘Association and other pursuits in business – Chairman, CFAO; Chairman, Credit Lyonnais Bank; Chairman, Nidogas Company Limited etc. Virtually every afternoon/evening he would play tennis at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club with the likes of Alhaji Raheem Adejumo; Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas; Chief Philip Asiodu, Senator (Dr.) Olusola Saraki; Mr. Ime Ebong etc.
He was a self-confessed loner but he was endowed with great intellect and consummate cerebralcuriosity. I remain appreciative of his endearing and unfailing friendly disposition to me and our extensive discussion of politics, economics and history. It is common knowledge that he was very soft-spoken. He spoke in whispers. He was especially supportive of the Gold Medal Lectures which I initiated while I was Chairman of Eko Hotels Limited.
He was even kind enough to remind me that the Economic Summit (now known as the Nigerian Economic Summit Group) was my idea!!
The gist of it was that while I was on a visit to the U.S. to attend a meeting with American partners of KPMG, one of their very senior partners was a participant at the retreat for senior government officials, politicians and professionals which was hosted at Camp David by President Bill Clinton. It was a great success and I was eager to persuade the Nigerian government to follow suit by convening a similar meeting to be hosted by the then Nigerian President /Head of State. Anyway, I brought it up at a reception hosted by the British High Commissioner to Nigeriawith several eminent Nigerians in the audience. Our host warmly embraced the idea and encouraged those in the audience (Chief Ayida was right there) to support it.
When the idea eventually took off, I was entirely side-lined and remain so. However, what does it matter regarding who gets the credit?
I cannot but recall that when the Nobel laureate, V.S. Naipul visited the Metropolitan Club as my guest, he was seated at the same table as Chief Ayida along with several Oxford and Cambridge graduates. After the lunch, I escorted my guest to his car. However, before I could bid him farewell, he was thoroughly perplexed (and he remonstrated):
“I have never seen so many Oxford and Cambridge graduates under one roof, outside England. How come your country is in such a mess?”
He then proceeded to deliver his verdict and answer to his own question.
“Because you have conceded leadership to your second eleven while the first eleven remains on the sidelines.”
Something else for which I remain eternally grateful is that on one occasion at the Metropolitan Club, I shared a discussion with Chief Ayida. He protested vehemently that he and his colleagues in the civil service had done all in their power and intellect to steer Nigeria in the right direction by being pro-active and patriotic. A case in point was when there was clamour for General Yakubu Gowon to hand over to a civilian regime.Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the front runner. However, it was the top civil servants (the “Super Permanent Secretaries”) who took the initiative, when there was some semblance of resistance to the choice of Chief Awolowo, to discreetly initiate a “Plan B”. It was not by happenstance that their choice fell on an old boy of King’s College – Alhaji Femi Okunnu SAN!! He was the Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing. Their “Plan C” zeroed in on Chief Anthony Enahoro the Commissioner for Information, who was a KCOB too!!
No tribute to Chief Allison Ayida would be complete without giving due credit to his beloved wife, Mrs. Remi Ayida who preceded him to the grave. She was entirely devoted to her husband in addition to being a formidable “prayer warrior”. Undoubtedly, both Chief & Mrs. Allison Ayida nurtured and groomed many men and women who have achieved greatness in their own right and remain loyal to the couple who inspired them (and whom they still regard as their role models).
May their souls rest in peace.