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Akintola Fatoyinbo, February 1943–December 2002 – Punch Newspapers

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year 2002 was my annus horribilis. Olukemi, my wife, best friend and companion of a little over 30 years, was killed in a dastardly carjacking in broad daylight (around noon) on a main road in Ibadan, Nigeria on May 4.

Then, about seven months later, Akin Fatoyinbo, a close friend and a confidant of both Kemi and myself, died suddenly in Dar Es Salaam.

The tragedy occurred shortly after he arrived there on Sunday, December 1, to undertake a World Bank assignment.

Akin and my immediate junior sister, Ibidapo, were my main pillars of support during the immediate weeks following Kemi’s tragic death. And until his own sudden and shocking demise, Akin was my unstinting comforter and support.

“Missing Akin, a close friend and confidant: A sense of emptiness following tragic loss of Olukemi in May. Coping with the two losses is a very tough challenge”.

Diary entry, December 16, 2002.

 I met Akin within my first few weeks at the World Bank in January 1987 and we instantly became friends. The fact that we were both fluent in three languages – Yoruba, English and French – was certainly a pull factor. He was also fluent in German and Spanish.

I was also attracted by his warmth and friendliness and by the time my wife (Kemi) and children joined me later in the year, Akin and I had become close friends and confidants.

Strikingly, my wife and Akin became instant friends and would later on become confidants.

Because Akin had already worked in the World Bank for a little over a decade when I arrived, he was an invaluable source of information on the culture of the institution.

A few months before my wife and children joined me in the USA – university teacher and school children respectively waited till the end of the school year – I had a sudden crisis with stomach ulcer that had troubled me occasionally over a decade or so.

Akin was the person I called and he came promptly to my rescue. He drove me to George Washington University Hospital where I received treatment and spent two nights before I was discharged.

This incident made clear to me that Akin had become my virtual next of kin in the absence of my family!

Although I had chosen to seek accommodation in the City of Falls Church in Northern Virginia in the Washington Metropolitan Area because I wanted my children to enrol in its quality public school system, the city was also adjacent to Akin’s residence in McLean. My family benefitted hugely from his assistance during our settling-in period in late 1987.  We exchanged social visits over the years when we were both at work in the Bank’s headquarters in Washington D.C.

Given what Akin had shared with me about his peripatetic pre-World Bank experiences – as a journalist (Senior Editor of Radio Deutsche Welle, Director for Africa at the Inter Press World News Agency) and a two-year stint with the World Health Organisation, based in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso – I was not surprised when he informed me in late 1988 that he was considering taking time off to undertake an international assignment outside the World Bank.

He joined UNESCO in 1990 and served for five years as the Chief Technical Adviser and Coordinator of a project to develop news agencies in West and Central Africa. Although Akin rejoined the World Bank at the end of his stint, he served pro bono as the Secretary General of the non-profit into which the project was transformed: the West African News Media and Development Centre. He was also a pro bono member of WANAD’s Board of Directors.

Akin and I remained in touch during his UNESCO assignment through periodic telephone calls and regular emails. After returning to the World Bank in 1995, he had spent barely one year when he accepted to proceed on external service in the Bank’s Office in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, effective from late 1996.

I must mention my first meeting with Uncle Sam (Sam Amuka, publisher of Vanguard newspapers) at Akin’s residence in July 1996.

During conversations over several days, Uncle Sam teased us for being expatriates; his strong attachment to Nigeria was unmistakable.

(I had only known Uncle Sam through his “Sad Sam” columns in a leading Nigerian newspaper from the late 1960s through the early 1970s).

He was Akin’s “big brother” and a former senior professional colleague during the latter’s earlier years in journalism. After this encounter, a three-person relationship developed and flourished until Akin’s passing.

Uncle Sam and I reminisced about Akin for years. I always remember that it was through Akin that Uncle Sam became a cherished older friend

Akin spent about three years in Abidjan before moving to the Bank’s Office in Cotonou, Benin Republic where he spent his last years.

While in Abidjan, Akin graciously accepted to serve as host and guardian for my older son, Ibitayo, who spent 1997/1998 academic year in the University of Abidjan as part of his undergraduate French Language degree programme at the University of Virginia.

Following my relocation on external service to the Bank’s Office in Nairobi, Kenya, in late 1998, trans-Africa conversations with Akin during the first twelve months were focused on his assistance regarding my proposed establishment of a world-class bilingual postgraduate Business and Management School.

This envisaged post-retirement undertaking was to be based in Porto Novo, Benin Republic. Through Akin, I was able to discuss the proposed project with two key members of Benin’s cabinet, who warmly welcomed the idea.

Sadly, I had to abandon the proposed project by late 1999 because the huge financing implications would be beyond me.

At about the same time Akin informed me that he was combining his regular work as the Bank’s Senior Regional Communication Specialist with coordination of a Communication, Education and Development initiative launched jointly by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and the World Bank.

Akin successfully nurtured COMED and helped to put development communication on the Bank’s agenda.

In early 2001, Akin and I, more or less replicated our McLean/City of Falls Church living arrangement in West Africa when I arrived at the Bank’s Office in Lome, Togo, in March to begin a thirty-month external service.

Thanks to our diplomatic status, the international border that separated us most often caused minimal delay. During our first year as neighbours in West Africa, we exchanged fairly regular social visits and made a few joint visits to Nigeria. It was during one of our visits to Nigeria that we found out our shared commitment to the upliftment of our respective hometowns in Western Nigeria after retirement: he, in Ilesa, Osun State, and I, in Iju, Ondo State.

We also exchanged views on our proposed pet projects in our hometowns: a radio station for him and a public affairs library for me.

Then, on May 4, 2002, tragedy struck: Olukemi, my wife, best friend and companion for over thirty years was carjacked and killed around noon on a major road in Ibadan, Nigeria.

As already mentioned in the opening paragraph, Akin and my immediate junior sister, Ibidapo, were my main pillars of support during the immediate weeks before Olukemi’s funeral.

Thereafter, Akin remained my unstinting comforter and support until his sudden passing on Sunday, December 1, 2002.

He died on the same day he arrived in Dar Es Salaam for a World Bank assignment.

Against the above backdrop, a frontline role in managing all matters related to Akin’s funeral ceremonies was axiomatic for me.

I was in Cotonou with Anne and Lola, Akin’s wife and daughter respectively, within hours of the tragic news on Sunday and spent the night.

Uncle Sam and Akin’s two sisters arrived the next day to console Anne. The following Saturday, I travelled with Anne and Lola, to join Uncle Sam and others to receive Akin’s corpse at the airport on Sunday, December 8.

His corpse was taken to Eko Hospital, Ikeja. Before we left Lagos, it was agreed that Akin’s burial would take place on December 14.

After a solemn funeral ceremony on that day, Akin was buried in his self-selected final resting place in his compound at the ‘Hill Top’, Oke Eso, Ilesa, where he had planned to build a house and install a radio station.

Akin was a gentleman and an accomplished professional who was full of passion for Africa and Nigeria, almost in equal measure.

I’ll forever remember his warm friendliness, charm, joie de vivre, humility, generosity, integrity, and humanity.

 Akin Memorialised.

At his graveside, the president of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, announced that the Africa Education Journalism Award that Akin had helped ADEA to create in 2001, would henceforth be known as the ‘Akintola Fatoyinbo Africa Education Journalism Award’.

The Award seeks to enhance the quality of reporting on education in Africa.

Akin’s memory also lives on through his daughter, Dr Lola Fatoyinbo Agueh, a research scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA.

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