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.