THE city of Ibadan literally stood still on Friday as the remains of the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, Alhaji Abdul-Azeez Arisekola Alao, were buried amid wailing and crying.
The main bowl of the Lekan Salami Sports Complex where prayers were held for the late Islamic leader was thronged by eminent personalities from across the country, representatives of the Federal Government, politicians, religious leaders, community leaders and the ordinary folks.
The body of the late business mogul and philanthropist, which had arrived in Nigeria from the United Kingdom, was received at the Ibadan toll gate end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by Governor Abiola Ajimobi; his wife, Florence, and other dignitaries, from where it was driven to the Lekan Salami Sports Complex.
Some of the people who thronged the stadium to pay their last respect to the late Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland could not hold back their tears as his corpse arrived the sports complex at exactly 10.05 a.m. in a white Escalade Space Wagon hearse with registration number Ebony 11.
On hand to receive the corpse were his children, some of his associates and religious leaders, including the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Chief Kola Daisi, Dr Oba Otudeko, Chief Ebenezer Obey, Justice Bola Babalakin, General David Jemibewon, General Raji Rasaki, Chief Yekini Adeojo, Senator Teslim Folarin, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, Mr. Musiliu Smith, among others.
Clerics from all the states in the South-West, led by the President-General, League of Imams and Alfas in the Yoruba-speaking states, were also at the stadium, while President Goodluck Jonathan was represented by the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Abdul-Jeleel Adesiyan; the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, and the Chairman of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Mr. Jide Adeniyi.
Shortly after the prayers, the corpse of the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland was moved to his Oluwo Kekere residence at Bashorun Area of Ibadan with a select group of mourners, where it was interred.
Speaking at the occasion, Governor Ajimobi extolled the virtues of the late religious leader, describing him as a philanthropist of philanthropists, who served the poor and also helped the rich during his lifetime.
“Aare was to the Nigerian masses what the late President Nelson Mandela was to the South Africans. He served the poor and helped the rich. He came to serve humanity and served them to his very last.
“He was accommodating, spiritual, religious and intelligent. He had been serving the poor from the age of 19. He was the greatest philanthropist of our time. Aare gave everything he had for the benefit of the people,” he remarked.
Governor Ajimobi said it was the good works done by the late business mogul that motivated his government into declaring seven days of mourning and a public holiday for him, a feat he said was unprecedented in the history of the state.
In his sermon, the National Missioner of Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Ahmad, said that the vacuum created by the death of Alhaji Arisekola would be hard to fill.
“There are so many rich people in Nigeria, and particularly in Oyo State, but not all of them have the philanthropic spirit as Alhaji Arisekola. He was generous to a fault and he lived a purposeful life,” he said.
Against expectations that the crowd would storm the graveside, Saturday Tribune learnt that the family opted for a private interment. He was buried just after a very short prayer near a backyard farm of cattle and birds within his expansive castle manned by stern and fully armed security operatives.
The neighbourhood slid into utter confusion and uproar the moment his body arrived, causing an eruption of tears and wailing among the hundreds of sympathisers and mourners who had besieged his home even two hours earlier. Tearful women rolled on the floor in despair while youths vowed to beat up any security personnel who dared stop them from entering the premises.
Security operatives had a hard time controlling thousands of people who forced their way into the premises to catch a glimpse of the body of their benefactor, with many falling and sustaining minor injuries.
Dignitaries at funeral
Senator Musiliu Obanikoro (Represented President Goodluck Jonathan). Mr. Jelili Adesiyan, Mr Tayo Afolabi, Senator Bola Tinubu, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Justice Bola Babalakin, High Chief Eddy Oyewole, Prof Femi Lana, Archbishop Alaba Job, Mrs Oluwakemi Alao-Akala, Mr Muyiwa Ige, Tunji Alapinni, Elder Wole Oyelese, Mr. Femi Babalola, Alhaji Akewugbagold, King Sunny Ade, Chief Bode George, Chief Olayiwola Olakojo, Chief Bayo Oyero; Oyo Deputy Governor, Chief Moses Alake; Commissioner of Police, Oyo State; Oyo State Director of State Security Services, Alhaji Hazeem Gbolarumi, Mrs Florence Ajimobi, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, Chief Kola Daisi, Alhaji Yekini Adeojo, Archbishop Abegunrin, Colonel Raji Rasaki (retd), Prince Adesokan, Justice Abdukadri Orire (led team from Ilorin), Sheikh Ajisafe, President-General, League of Imam and Alfas South-West and Edo/ Delta, retired Prelate Sunday Ola Makinde, Bayo Shittu; former Police Inspector-General, Mr Musiliu-Smith; Senator Teslim Folarin, among others.
Muslim groups, Ayefele, Adedoja, others mourn
Muslim groups, in their various condolence messages, said Arisekola-Alao’s death had created a big vacuum among Muslims and the entire nation.
The groups include the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Muslim Ummah of South-West Nigeria (MUSWEN), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Muslim Community of Oyo State (MUSCOYS) and Muslim Society of Nigeria (MSSN).
Others are the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN), National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO) and Obafemi Awolowo University Muslims Graduates Association (UNIFEMGA).
In his condolence message, NSCIA Secretary-General, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, who alongside the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, was in Arisekola-Alao’s London house, described his death as shocking.
“Arisekola-Alao arrived in London on Tuesday and till a moment before his sudden death, he was hale and hearty. It is a shock but Ina lillahi wa ina ilayhi rojiun,” he said.
Oloyede, who doubles as the national coordinator of NIREC, said the death of Arisekola-Alao was a blow to the Muslim community not only in Nigeria, but also in Africa.
Alhaji Kunle Sanni, chairman of Muslim Community of Oyo State, said: “We have lost an illustrious son of Africa. As a businessman, philanthropist, religious leader, patron and sponsor of many Islamic programmes and groups, the religious community has lost a rare gem.”
UNIFEMGA’s National President, Professor Abdul Wahab Egbewole, said the death of Arisekola-Alao should be a lesson to everyone that “we need to do our best to serve Allah and leave our footprints in all areas we found ourselves.”
According to him, “As a young boy, Arisekola-Alao invested his youth to champion the course of Islam, hence he became the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland at the age of 25,” Prof. Egbewole said.
In his tribute, MMPN chairman, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, said the death of Arisekola-Alao was a loss because he was a mentor and guardian to many Islamic groups within and outside the country.
“Arisekola-Alao was a focused religious leader, a successful businessman, concerned community leader and a bridge builder,” MMPN said.
NACOMYO said the death of Arisekola-Alao, whom it described as a beacon of hope for younger Muslims, was a loss to the ummah.
NACOMYO’s coordinator in Oyo State, Mas’ud Akintola, said Arisekola-Alao’s death had created a big vacuum for the ummah and prayed Allah to grant him pardon and put him in the best paradise.
In its condolence message, FOMWAN, through its National Public Relations Officer, Alhaja Sururah Oyero, said Arisekola-Alao used his position and achievements in worshiping Allah and service of humanity and the Muslim community.
“We pray that Allah forgives him and grants him the very best part of His Al-jannah and give his family and Muslim community the patience to deal with the loss,” FOMWAN said.
Meanwhile, a former Minister of Sports, Professor Taoheed Adedoja, described the death of Alhaji Arisekola-Alao as a loss to Ibadanland and Nigeria as a whole.
“I put a call to him on Monday when he was still in Switzerland and he said he would be back on Wednesday. It was a big surprise to me that he is dead. Only God knows why He took him away from us. Ibadan and the nation as a whole will miss him for his generosity and good leadership,” Adedoja said.
An Ibadan-based gospel musician, Mr Yinka Ayefele, expressed shock at the death of Arisekola-Alao in London.
“He was one of the people that God used to sustain my life in my trying period. He was a father to me. We have lost a very important person in my life.
“We have lost a rare gem. The Muslim community, especially students and the underprivileged, have lost a father. I condole with the family. May Allah give them the fortitude to bear the loss,” Ayefele said.
Why Arisekola-Alao prepared own grave —Prof. Noibi
The Executive Secretary, Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), Professor Dawud Noibi; Chief Imam of Ibadanland, Sheikh Suara Busari Harunaa III; and the President, Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), Chief Bayo Oyero, shared their close encounters with Alhaji AbdulAzeez Arisekola-Alao. Excerpts:
Why he prepared his own grave —Prof. Noibi
He has left a vacuum that is very difficult to fill because he was a man of many parts. A very large number of people were hooked unto him until his death. The role that he played in the Muslim community was unique. And in spite of his philanthropy and generosity, he was very humble. That humility is something that is unique. It is very difficult to find all these qualities in just one person. We believe that he was sent by Allah to do what he had done and Allah will not leave the community alone without providing somebody who will do something close to what Arisekola-Alao had done.
What his death means is that each and every one of us must be prepared for the day, the coming of which no one knows. So, we should live everyday of our life as though it is the very last one. Prophet Muhammad advised us to look forward to the day we die in order to be able to do more good deeds. The lesson is that we must be prepared at all times. Arisekola-Alao always mentioned his consciousness of the coming of death. That was why he prepared his own grave, which we supervised. Even though he was so rich, yet, he believed he was going to go back to Almighty Allah to give account of his stewardship. We believe that Almighty Allah who raised him for the Ummah will not leave us alone even after his death.
One remarkable thing about him that comes to mind is what happened just less than a month ago in Mecca. We were all there together performing the Umrah (lesser hajj). We went together from the hotel to the mosque. We were all seated but as people were rushing to find a place, they would step on him. But he told his guards not to worry. He gave everybody the chance to pass. He said, ‘we are all here in the house of our Lord, so let everybody come in.’ He was so humble that day and it is something that I will never forget because I was sitting next to him and I saw all that happened there.
The vow he made on the day of his installation as the Aare Musulumi —Sheikh Suara Busari Harunaa III
He was trustworthy, a man of his word. He was not someone who would say something and go back on his word. The day he was made the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, the caliphs in Ibadan told him that this title was too grand to be given to a youth; that it would be hard for him to be contented with it, that he would want more. But Arisekola-Aloa promised that to him, no other thing could be greater than this religious title. He said for him, this was it and so it was till he breathed his last. We find among his contemporaries who have received several traditional titles, but Aare remained just Aare Musulumi since he assumed the title.
And since he took on this important role, he had been up to the task. If there was a good development about Islam, Aare would sustain it and if there were slip-ups, he made sure they were corrected. And God assisted him so much that he was always up for anything that had to do with the propagation of Islam. His forthrightness and eagerness about Islam shot his image beyond Yorubaland and the entire country. His religious activities were recognised in Saudi Arabia. Every year, he always sponsored as many as 200 people on holy pilgrimage. Last year, he sponsored 125 persons on pilgrimage to Mecca.
What he did for a homeless man in my presence —Bayo Oyero
Without really exaggerating, his death is a calamity, a very big loss. The death has created a very wide gulf which, surely, incontrovertibly, will be very difficult to fill. I believe, and that is my consolation, that you don’t have many people like Arisekola-Alao in a generation. He had come, he had seen and he had conquered. He touched many lives. For Ibadan in particular, the shoes he has left are very big. We only pray that we will find somebody who will wear those shoes.
When you look at the political firmament of Oyo State, you will see that all politicians will feel his absence. He was not a political party card carrier but every political party deferred to him. They struggled to have his blessing. He mattered in the political calculus of Oyo State. From 1979, he played a prominent role in the politics of the old west and Oyo State. On the religious scene, his role was more emphasised. We were hoping that Arisekola-Alao woul live long enough that someone would emerge and assist him and then take over at his eventual demise, but that had not happened.
When you look at his philanthropy and the downtrodden, many people will start feeling his death next week when Ramadan will start. By now, he would have stocked his stores with hundreds of bags of grains, hundreds of cartons of milk and sugar, garri, which usually, every year, would be packed in small bags in trucks and driven to his gate, where people who needed these things would have milled around. And everyone would get their share. So, many who depend on such things to start Ramadan will feel his absence right from next week.
I was at his house one day when someone came to his gate. Naturally, the gatemen would hesitate before they let you in, but the moment the Aare was aware that someone was at the gate wanting to see him for one thing or another, he would order the gate opened. So, the man came in. He was crying. He couldn’t pay his rent. His landlord had thrown his belongings outside. Arisekola-Alao asked him what he had already done about his situation. The man said he had already got a place, where they demanded N36, 000 per year. He gave him the money and an additional N50, 000 to take care of himself. He told him to come back as soon as he settled in his house so that they could talk about what he wanted to do for a stable life. That was Arisekola-Alao. I can mention so many instances.
I hawked Gamalin20 for years —Arisekola-Alao
In a chat with Sunday Tribune on a Friday in September 2003, at his palatial Bashorun residence, one of the reserved areas of Ibadan, Alhaji Abdul Azeez Arisekola-Alao said he neither became rich as a result of a ready-made background nor solely through his connections with key functionaries. He was in fact, at a point in his life, a hawker of Gamalin20 and Perenox, two agricultural products of those times.
As he leisurely conducted Sunday Tribune round his mini library of pictures of landmarks in his 50-something years on earth, he stopped in front of a glazed picture of his, taken in the 60s. Grinning with the boyish exuberance, he held a can of Gamalin20 in one hand and another can of Perenox on the other. He took a second look at the picture and then told of how he began his walk into wealth by stooping to become a hawker of those goods on display.
His father, the late Alhaji Alao, a produce merchant, was rich by the standards of those times and was respected among his peers. But when, in 1958, Azeez was set to proceed to secondary school, his father fell ill “and I had gained admission to two secondary schools – Christ School, Ado Ekiti and Lagelu Grammar School in Ibadan.
“My father’s illness was a drawback, so to say, as I was not able to go to either o the schools because the family’s resources got badly depleted as a result of the illness.
Rather than resign to self-pity, Azeez braced up against the odds and decided to join one of his uncles who traded in agricultural materials at old Dugbe in Ibadan where he, under apprenticeship, learnt to trade. Within a short time, Azeez became famous as a marketer of Gamalin20 and Perenox and “by the year 1968, I was already controlling a good naira reserve. I had, by that year, sold 1,400 cartons of Gamalin20 and Perenox and received 1,400 pounds as commission. I became known all over as the little man that received obeisance from taller men.
“That year, I bought my first vehicle, a 404 pick-up van, basically to ease the transportation of my goods to the nooks and crannies of the nation for easier access to farmers who needed them,” he said.
The move itself gave birth to another business concept. “I was beginning to have so much money that I felt it was time I diversified a little. I, therefore, ventured into haulage business, and by 1970, I already had 48 vehicles plying the roads.
With that, he was on to the big kill. His friendship with all manner of men, irrespective of creed or tribe, as time wore on endeared him to some military personnel who were then his acquaintances. “My truthfulness and loyalty at all times were the major qualities that drew me close to those friends. Of course, when they eventually became men of power, they didn’t forget me. Two of those friends were former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and General Sani Abacha, of whom he had fond memories.
Alhaji Arisekola-Alao believed unflinchingly in God as the only One who gives people wealth without measure and, therefore, never joked about prayers. This and his strict adherence to the principles of Islam, which preaches peace and philanthropy, were some of the virtues which earned him the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland.
(This piece was first published on September 28, 2003)