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Tribute: My street is drained without Akintola Williams, Chris Ogunbanjo

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I had looked forward to Chief Chris Ogunbanjo’s centenary birthday with relish. And history had much to do with that. I had been so privileged, in 1983 to represent the then Vice-President Dr. Alex Ekwueme at the 60th birthday celebration of the legal luminary, boardroom icon, and business leader, when the VP had to travel in place of President Shehu Shagari. But less than two months to the 40th anniversary of that event, this role model’s role model was called to join the ages. Our world is much diminished by this passing.

His loss adds to my losses in many ways. When people worried about how long I would be around from the many troubles of my ways, I would typically joke that I live on a street where longevity was tradition.

The tradition was anchored at one end by accountancy doyen, Akintola Williams, and at the other end by Chief Chris Ogunbanjo. Mr. Williams lived past 104 years and only a few weeks ago answered the call that invariably comes to all mortals.

The benefit to me of these great lives went beyond the privilege of living on the same street with these extraordinary personages. It included a dose from much earlier times, of getting some mentoring from them, besides holding them up as role models. The tradition of identifying young men perceived to be of talent worth nurturing, which these men carried on, is far less prevalent today.

Long before I was able to move into the neighbourhood I visited for dinner at the homes of these pillars of cultured society. At one of the dinners, shortly after I got married in 1985, I arrived at Chief Ogunbanjo’s wondering how well my young spouse would adapt from just having watched a concert of musical youth at the National Theater to mingling with elder statesmen. But I needed not to have worried. The late Chief Mrs. Hilda Ogunbanjo with a background in media was full of warmth in welcome, offering her useful tips on how to manage busy spouses.

When my wife suggested that the biggest challenge was books, papers, and files competing for space everywhere from Living room to bedroom, Mrs. Ogunbanjo whispered to her, loud enough for me to hear; my husband used to be the same way. One day I opened the bedroom window and threatened to throw out the books and papers. After that, order was restored. My wife learnt well from the tutor.

I learnt from both Mr. Williams and Chief Ogunbanjo about proper order and the social duty of mentoring. This is why at 40, I identified some of the more promising young men and women around and began to make myself available to them. Therein lies the genesis of being associated with the Niyi Adesanyas, Fela Durotoyes, FEB Idahosas, Linus Okories, and Ubong Essiens and the Chude Jideonwos and Debola Wiiliamses.

Chief Ogunbanjo was more conversational testing your responses to his ideas while Mr. Williams was like the old teacher coaching and instructing. Both truly engaging.

I wish more leaders did such. It was benefit that came to me not only from these two men but from Dr. Pius Okigbo and Ajie Ukpabi Asika who I often say I learnt more from, academically, than I did from getting a Ph.D that came with much grit and passionate commitment to study.

Today my street now has more big men than men of culture and reproachable sagacity because we lost them. I pray that their work and impact on their times from their ways find a place in the hearts and minds of men and serve them well with immortality here on earth and with welcome by their creator.

The Centre for Values in Leadership which I founded in 2004 to help the young learn the values that sustain, created a Leader Without Title Tribute Colloquium to honour people whose lives had impact. I am grateful we were able to honour both Mr. Williams and Chief Ogunbanjo during their lifetime. The impact of the work is salutary.

We wish them farewell and hope the country they leave behind learn to have their values so it can march forward.

My street sure is vulnerable without its pillars.

  • Patrick Okedinachi Utomi, Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is Founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.
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