By Ibraheem Abdullateef
It is a special day for me. My beloved man, Lanre Issa-Onilu, is adding a new age. This is a man from whom I have learned a lot, from his personal and professional experience and have grown to respect his convictions and principles, in career and leadership. In commemoration of his birthday, I elected to share some of these lessons with you today:
1. Never be at the mercy of anyone: I still think we are under one person or another. We all have leaders we love and respect. In turn, they support, encourage, or help us grow. This is all fine as long as one is not at their mercy. Only someone who is not at anyone’s mercy can stand on his own, hold beliefs, and fight for causes. To be at the mercy of anyone is to be weak or have no chance or skills to live decently without them. That way, one’s growth is only measured by their favours or lack of it in one’s life. Onilu wants everyone to have things to do for themselves before joining politics, give value in public office, and be able to get back to their job after that, without becoming a mockery of manhood. No one should leave off his leaders or public position.
2. It is okay to stand at the back: “I don’t think any young man would count you as a top politician in this state,” when I just got to know him, I said in awe of how such a remarkable person was less known in the state compared to his associates. He said it was not necessary. He was known for who he wanted to be. So, I decided to do my little research. He was indeed rated highly by everyone I contacted within the city as a patriotic community leader, an accomplished professional, and a principled man.
Some years down the line, I’d eventually understand that he enjoys operating behind the scene. In every room he sits in, he is known as a strategist and idea man. What matters to him is impact or victory as the case may be. Of a truth, there are few people like that. People who prioritise results over individual glory or attention. Yet, that is who he has been since the 90s, charting many great causes including the revolutionary O’to ge 2019 and Renewed Hope 2023, with little attention. He still won’t get people up on their seats today. And he may not be on their lips. But he is definitely in the hearts of his colleagues and associates, as a man to know, a friend to have, and a supporter to win, as he has no problem playing from the back always. That kind is rare.
3. Do what you preach: Apart from his profession, Onilu might have gained a reputation for his brand of opposition politics at the state and national levels. Since the 80s, he was a tireless advocate for a new political system in Kwara. Alongside other, he’d organise walks, write articles, canvass voters to join the movement of change. Many would eventually abandon the ship for the bed of roses. Rather than wavering, he stayed firm and consistent. He rejected appointments from former Governors Muhammad Alabi Lawal and Bukola Saraki at different times to stand by his beliefs and principles. He’d never court contracts or take patronage too. You know how it is now. People will even sell their folks for luxury. 2023 gave us many examples. People like Onilu who stands by their conviction and stay true to principles deserve to be celebrated always.
4. Ambition is an issue: Ambition kills people more than it saves them. And only a few men who get a hold on their ambitions, in fulfilment of a nobler personal or group purpose, are truly great. Great leaders are those who see beyond self to build others or causes for the bigger good. I can say Onilu is one of them. He’d often say something like, “I have aspirations like everyone. But no ambitions will define my person.” No rush for any elective or appointive position ever. No scandal over previously held positions. No beef with anyone on their personal or public exploits. Only a man who can keep his ambitions in check can keep such peace with himself and people around him. A man must conquer his personal ego and greed before he can influence others. Inordinate ambition is an issue always.
5. They are not enemies, you just don’t agree: This would pass for one of his beliefs that I like. “Ibraheem, we are not fighting. I just don’t agree with them.” Onilu doesn’t want me to forget that. You can take that too. Enemies are usually scarce. What we have around are mere friends and associates we failed to convince, manage, align with, and have turned into opponents. How you define people influences how you largely relate with them. I think this enlivens discourse, elevates healthy competition, and strengthens diversity. You see that mindset is golden in this age to manage talent and people. To lay a fine block of disagreement and never close the lines of friendship is a positive art in management. He’d say when discussing issues about players in the political circles within and outside the state. He’d share stories of how you can relate with people socially and disagree with them healthily on matters of politics or beliefs. In Kwara, Onilu is very popular within the opposition circles despite his avowed love for APC. He played a great role in managing bigwigs in the 2019 elections and midwifing the return of many to the party in 2023. He is a manager of talent and people. The other fine man I know like that is Rafiu Ajakaye, my teacher.
As young people, we have to continue to learn and imbibe sound values. Thankfully, we are not short of good role models in our community.