Goodbye Oba Olashore

So Oba Oladele Olashore is gone, gone as every mortal would. He was reported to have died in a London hospital on Saturday June 2. It is sad news for me for he was my egbon and friend.

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The last time I saw him was a couple of months ago in the Governor’s Lodge of the State of Osun while he was waiting to see the governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. It struck me he wasn’t looking as well as I knew him to be. We had our exchange of pleasantries and I assured him I would visit him in his palace before long. I didn’t, and now never would!

“My first knowledge of – then Mr. – Olashore was through the eyes of a crop of brilliant professionals – bankers and economists – that my company, ALFA Communications Ltd., had carefully assembled to form the formidable “Editorial Board” for its pioneering authoritative banking handbook, Nigeria Banking Annual (incorporating Who’s Who in Banking). That was way back in 1985.

To further assert their self-appointed banking-pontiff role, the Editorial Board, in 1986, decided to institute a Banker of the Year Award. It was bold and novel over an industry that was (then) very, very shy.

With a singular voice that was not after repeated, everyone on the team voted for Mr Olashore the MD/CEO of First Bank of Nigeria (FBN), each person scoring his various professional and intellectual attributes which he brought to bear in making the First Bank truly first.

Furthering the rigorous effort of the Board, questionnaires were sent out to poll the top cadre of the banking industry and of the banks’ enlightened publics, giving a list of criteria upon which to score the CEOs of the available banks then. The result came only to confirm the unanimous voice of the Editorial Board: Mr. Oladele Olashore shone head and shoulder above his peers!

Then in an absurd twist of fate, after the media had run the outcome of our survey and before an investiture date was to be announced, came the shocking news on national media networks: Oladele Olashore has been sacked (with immediate effect and “automatic alacrity”) from the exalted position as MD/CEO of FBN. The announcement came from Vice-Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, General Babangida’s vice-president citing “irreconcilable differences” (between Olashore and the military government) over the government’s fiscal and monetary policies!

The shock waves reverberated beyond the shores of Nigeria, as to be expected. It was almost unthinkable. There was no precedence. The most credible banker of the most leading bank in the country sacked overnight and, as the Hausa would say, haka kawai (just like that)?

We at ALFA were more than shocked. All of a sudden, media eyes were on us, now that our Banker of the Year-designate has been sacked, do we go ahead with his investiture or chicken out and, in the manner for hustlers and charlatans, throw the Award at someone else? Doing so would make “business sense” and also keep us out of any “confrontational” stance with the military government – one that could wipe us out, if it could so sack an Olashore.

We resolved to go right ahead! But was Olashore ready to go ahead with a ceremony the military government may frown at?

I went and met Olashore in London where he had gone to lick his wound and re-strategise his life. It was a calm and at-peace-with-self man I met in his modest apartment on Marylebone Road, an upmarket area of West London.

“I’ve come to inform you, Sir, of my company’s decision to still go ahead with the investiture regardless.”

He eyed me cautiously and spoke in measured tone, “Are you guys sure of this? Why would you want to stick your necks out? It may be ill-advised.”

I let him know that the choice was ours. The announcement of his winning the Award had been made public before his sack and we were obligated to go ahead; he won it on his own personal merit as a banker, on account of his banking activities in the preceding year, and has nothing to do with him still occupying the CEO seat or not. The government would be mean and petty to see the investiture as confrontational.

Whatever it was, the investiture went ahead as planned, even though without the elaborate official First Bank backing (or bankrolling) that would have attended it otherwise.

General Babangida probably had weighed in to ensure his security goons spared the occasion as his own Pontius-Pilate absolution from the messy sack which had come to be seen in informed circles as Aikhomu’s own personal grudge against a perceived haughtiness of the banking guru.

The occasion could hardly have been grander. The media went to town on the “dare”. The event held at the then most prestigious NIIA venue in Victoria Island, Lagos, with the crème de la crème of the business and diplomatic circles in attendance. It was Olashore’s crowning glory, his own in-your-face hurray.

It was a glorious re-entry for him – with his head held high, unbowed.

Then began my intense personal knowledge of and relationship with this great Nigerian.

Set in his own ways and convinced in his own inviolability and astuteness, he never turns back once he set his hands on the bow; he ploughs through uncharted course like a Trojan and deploys everything at his command to achieve his set goals.

He turned the ashes of his peremptory sack as MD/CEO of First Bank into gold by steadily and systematically founding his own bank, Lead Merchant Bank, which quickly rose to formidable height under his expertise. But even that pales in comparison to the citadel of learning he single-handedly founded and nurtured to national pre-eminence – Oladele Olashore International School (OIS), Iloko-Ijesha.

Not only has OIS put Iloko on the map of the State of Osun and Nigeria as a whole, it has turned the hitherto shanty hamlet of Ijebu-Jesha into probably the fastest growing community in Nigeria, the international school bringing attendant dramatic social and economic growth to Iloko. Oladele Olashore can take full credit for that; and it could be said that he is the father of today’s Iloko of which he is the Oba with the title Ajagbusi-ekun, Owaloko of Iloko-Ijesha.

I remember when, even when, he was a Federal Secretary (Minister) of Finance in Babangida’s Interim National Government (ING) contraption led by Ernest Shonekan, he came visiting the UK where I was. Mr. Olashore not only refused to lodge in any 5-star hotel at government expense, rather opting to stay in his modest flat in Maida Vale, West London, he carried on with his simple and private life with him and me going to the high street to shop for ingredients to make our soup and amala! Yes, my wife, or any of his relation in London, could have been told to do the chore for us, but he preferred that opportunity to be himself that being in Nigeria had denied him!”

(The above is excerpted from my column of 14/02/10 marking Olashore’s 75th birthday)

Opting to take up the throne of Iloko-Ijesha as its Oba when he did was a courageous and uneasy step that stripped him of what he cherished most – his freedom, privacy, and simplicity. But by it he brought honour and respect to the institution of Obaship and glory to Iloko-Ijesha.

His departure has left a big vacuum and my heart goes to his eldest son, Abimbola, and his siblings, praying they would find the strength and wisdom to continue with the legacy (and burden) Oba Oladele Olashore has left behind.

Adieu, Kabiyesi!



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