The Tunde Rufai Phenomenon

This is going to be a long post as the intrigues into the political reality of my time at Association of Faculty of Arts Students (AFAS) will be shared. It is important, to me, that I begin to unpack memories of my time in U.I, and one towering personality that defined my time there is the man, Tunde Rufai. Arguably, T.R, as he is fondly called, maybe single-handedly, changed AFAS political landscape, and inevitably the whole university community. He lited a peculiar vigour, and became a face, a brand, a reference for those who would become effusively passionate about leadership; and this was at a time the SUG was in hibernation, Tsunami fear was rife, and people were generally working at their CPGA than contesting for offices.

It all began when Fred Anaeto was going to contest as AFAS president. Fred was a nice looking guy, with obvious charms, not necessarily astonishingly handsome, but with enough attraction to enthral female AFASites to vote for him. I remember it was a big factor for many of them then. But Fred appeared gentle, he appeared tamed, and he was obviously politically naive – for so we thought. But T.R was going to fill those void in abundance. He was going to become his campaign manager, give great speeches, marshal strategic meetings, hatch great ideas in Mellanby hall and make us all, in the campaign trail, comb through the nooks and crannies of U.I. We were just in 100 level then. Let that sink in. T.R was only in 100 level. James Yeku had suggested T.R to Fred, but both’s relationship was going to go sour when he felt a betrayal of trust and confidence. We would get there. Fred won that election and T.R was going to be privy to the realities of that administration as he became a central figure even without being a member of the executive. He was no longer a campaign manager, but Fred’s close friend and ally. For those of us who knew T.R, and his political ambition, this was strategic.

I remember one of the experiences that endeared him to me. The Fred’s administration was planning a distinguished personality lecture in honour of Chief Emeka Anyaoku. We were now in 200 level. Chief Anyaoku had agreed to the lecture, and T.R had sought to invite the then CBN governor, Charles Soludo, to give the lecture. Somehow, that didn’t sail through and we turned to the DG of Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Reseach (NISER), Prof. Akande, to the rescue. My dad worked in NISER but we decided not to go through him. We were going to see the DG on the merit of our proposal. That was the kind of air T.R inspired. He was so self-assured, intelligent and “mouthed”. When Kunle, T.R and I saw the DG, I introduced the group, our mission, and asked T.R, who was the chairman of the planning committee, to round off. It was T.R’s moment. He spoke so glowingly, so beautifully, that I almost felt like hugging him right away. The D.G was obviously blown away too, he sprang up from his seat so dramatically, kept saying wow, shook our hands vigorously, and promised to be there. T.R was that good.

The D.G wasn’t going to forget our meeting so quickly, and had in his speech refrenced us as, “The Three Musketeers”, a name we temporarily bore, worn as a badge with great honour and pride, till I fell apart from the group. Chief Emeka Anayaoku was going to specifically mention “Tunde Rufai”, in a classical, muscial way, a way that fascinated AFASites and aroused an ovation. It was Tunde Rufai’s finest hour that day and we were sure he was going to become the new president. Everything seemed perfect.

Tunde Rufai (Left) and Ayokunle Ojo (Right), the duo from the famed “Three Musketeers”

Nay, we were wrong.

For Fred Anaeto’s troubles began. The legislative arm of the student body, AFAS, had alleged that Fred misappropriated funds, and they were bent on impeaching him. Fred maintained his innoncence, and we saw different hawks and vested interests bent on tearing him down to hurt T.R’s image and legitimacy, and equally rubbish his candidacy. Well, that was the initial assesment of the whole issue to those of us loyal to Fred and T.R. I was particularly miffed by the actions of the FRC (not sure if they were so-called), for that house became too powerful, fuelling what was going to become a routine reality down the line – an unnecessary fued and suspicision between the exceutive and legislative arms of AFAS. I was in one of their seatings as an observer, a privilege opened to all willing AFASites. The level of anger, hatred and bile I saw, for so it seemed to me then, was unbelivable. It was in that meeting I first noticed Amuda Bamidele, popularly called Plato. We all thought the whole tirade would swallow Fred up. I mean, Fred was the easy going, gentle guy, too cool for the murky tendecies shaping AFAS politics too quickly, too scarily. Though Fred was cool in the face, he was a lion at heart, a true Mellanbite, perhaps.

When Fred was going to appear before the house, when he noticed that he had been led like a lamb to the slaughter, when he saw that there was no apparent attempt at seeing reason, he walked out on the “honourable” members. In a dramatic fashion, his co-executive members followed suit. I still dream about that moment. It was a classic show of power, of strength, it was a deliberate move at making a statement, of poking finger at them, and daring them to do their worse. What Fred was saying in essence was that, you guys are bunch of impotent noisemakers who can only bark but not bite. That action annoyed those guys. I deliberately waited behind to hear their debates. The thing pain them, no be small. The times were interesting. It was on the lips of every UIite. It was part of what shaped a debate in our literature class, for even the lecturers were keenly following the development. Faculty of Arts had assumed the gist value of LindaIkeji’s blog, and AFAS press became very popular at that time in the university community. I remember how people, even from other faculties, flocked the press board to catch a glipmse of the unfolding drama. This was the atmosphere building in the faculty, the atmosphere building towards the forthcoming election. It was in the midst of these realities that T.R declared his ambition. But T.R’s problems paled in comparison to this.

T.R’s candidature suffered greatly from two hurdles: his opponent – Alagbe Gbemileke and his primary constituency – department of English. Alagbe was a typical Nigerian politician, brash, not given to rhetorics but very strategic. In addition to this, he had Plato. Plato had the aluta antecedent, had been involved in student leadership, and he brought so much into Alagbe’s campaign that we might have lacked. Alagbe also had Olamiposi, a popular student from the department of History, who was on a joint ticket with Alagbe, vying for the position of general secretary. T.R went for Ugonna, a first class student in the department of Linguistics, to appeal to a wider gender and ethnic base. It proved costly, as many felt she was a snub and only became friendly because of election. I was later going to be close to her and find such popular fears as unfounded, for we all have the tendency to criticise and rubbish what we don’t understand.

The issue at the department of English was about Segun, a 300level student, who had equally signified interest in becoming the president. He felt being in his penultimate level, T.R still had a chance at it at another time. T.R insisted he wasn’t going to run again becuase he doesn’t want to be distracted in his 400level. The department was divided. It was clear T.R stood a better chance, but Segun equally had the right to pursue his dream, to fulfil his passion. An internal voting arrangement was suggested, with representatives from each level, and T.R, again, during the brief opportunity given to both candidates to sell themselves, spoke well. Yet he lost by a vote, and we realised it was from an 100level student. That arrangement opened up a deep level of acrimony in the department of English.

Interestingly, Faith, the president of the department of English at that time, was sympathetic to T.R’s cause. She wasn’t carried along with the arrangement, and declared it void. T.R latched on this, fuelled by his belief in being a better candidate, went ahead to insist he won’t honour that arrangement. And one day, our whole class went in protest to the masterminds of the internal voting, for we realised the organisers had nursed a bias sentiment for Segun based on class solidarity. It was all getting uglier, and as I watched all this unfold, another mix was thrown into this. Few days to the election, there was a rumour that the muslim society had urged all muslim students at the Faculty of Art to support T.R. Alagbe’s camp used this effectively to advance their candidate, and it was down to numbers now. On the election day, with a house divided against itself, and religious and ethnic card played effectively, perhaps due to T.R’s excesses too, he lost to Alagbe woefully.

Tunde Rufai with AFAS Staff Adviser, Prof. Olasope while AFAS president 

Politics is a funny game. T.R was going to come back, against his initial intention, to contest again. But I was now a leader in religious fellowships. I could no longer canvass for support or publicly campaign for him. But you’ve got to love him. I was a little concerned about honour too. He had said he wasn’t going to contest again, why do so? But I have come to realise that passion is what it is. Ambition is what it is. It consumes. It overwhelms. And guess what, T.R’s opponent this time was Ugonna. The same Ugonna he jointly ran together with the previous election. The plot gets even more interesting. Alagbe, T.R’s opponent the previous year, supported him this time. While Plato, Alagbe’s campaign manager, was going to support Ugonna. It was crazy. The skits. The posters. The night crawls. The endless meetings. This time, T.R won. It was very close, but he won. He was going to build the Mike Okiro ICT lab or whatever it is called now. He was also going to renegade on some of his promises, but he was going to be remembered for how he shook the faculty and brought it to a stand still. T.R made an attempt at contesting as SUTC Chairman, but lost to the Tedder Hall Chair, Akande Sanyaolu. T.R’s legacy is split among popular opinions. He was also alleged of fraud and financial misappropriation, but the good thing for him then was that he was solidly backed and supported by the then Dean of Arts. The allegations remain popular sentiments that were never proven as facts. I believe his conscience knows the truth too.

As I cast my mind back to the intrigues of the AFAS era, the microcosm of the wider political realities we witness in Nigeria, I am convinced that T.R played a role that will remain in the annals of history of UI’s student government. The fierce engagement of political tussles in AFAS was going to spread like a wind to several faculties, like Faculty of Law, as it witnessed the battle between Victor Nwajei and Tosin Falaye. It was the beginning of a major reawakening in the political consciousness of U.I students, and down the line, without withering the contributions of the likes of Plato, Kay Bello, Toba Bankole, Timi, Sagacious, and many other names I can’t remember now, to student unionism, T.R equally shook the University of Ibadan.

Posterity will judge if his contributions were for good or bad.

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