Sir Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu: Celebrating a Lover of Humanity at 85

By Eric Elezuo

He is agile. He is able. He is highly prolific. He is Sir Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu, the Odole of Ife title, and he is 85 years today. It is worthy of note that about a year ago, Adebutu added a glorious great feather to his crown of feathers, becoming the custodian of Yoruba culture, as the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II conferred on him the Odole of Ile Ife, one of the most prestigious titles in Yorubaland, and Ife’s highest title.

The Odole title, reputed to be conferred on prominent individuals, who have distinguished themselves in all areas of human endeavours, is the sure honour for a man of Adebutu’s calibre and status. This is because the betting businessman, has not only excelled in business but has become a rare gem when it comes to looking after the less privileged and sending heartfelt endearments to as many as that cross his path.

A peep to the past reveals that men who had been conferred with the honour were men of integrity, honour and who are blameless to a great extent. It is important to note that the title was originally held by the Yoruba Sage himself, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and was later given to Chief Godwin Olusegun Kolawole Ajayi (SAN). These were men whose antecedents are reference point.

Popularly known as Baba Ijebu and Omo Iya, Sir Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu, with an avanlanche of recognitions including CON, KJW and FISM, was born to late Alhaji karimu Folarin Adebutu aka “Owo-Iya” and late Alhaja Seliat Olasimbo Adebutu of Iperu Remo, Ikenne LGA in Ogun State on October 24, 1935. Sir Kesington completed his primary education in 1950 having attended the Wesley Primary School, Iperu Remo and later Ijero Baptist School, Apapa Road, Ebute-Metta, Lagos.

In January 1951, he was admitted to Baptist Academy School, but he completed his secondary education at the grand Remo Secondary School (RSS), Sagamu, Remo, Ogun State. Baba Ijebu’s career endeavour started at Cable and Wireless Limited, which later became NITEL, as Operations Clerk. He later joined Claffins Chemicals as a salesman, and through dint of hardwork rose to become the Regional Sales Manager for Lagos and the then Midwestern Region. It was his quest to provide employment for teeming Nigerian youths that led to the establishment of Face Millionaires Pool Limited with his bosom friend, Chief Solomon Ayoku in 1969.

A philanthropist par excellence, Sir Kesington abandoned his ambition to become a lawyer, preferring to ‘enjoy’ life, and today, is the proprietor of Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu Foundation (KAAF), and promoter of the popular Premier Lotto, also known as Baba Ijebu – a scheme that has put smiles on the faces of many Nigerians. Adebutu, over the years, has used every opportunity that comes his way to affect lives of everyone he meets, especially during his birthdays and auspicious occasions. During his 80th birthday, Adebutu, whose Foundation was celebrating its 10th anniversary, conducted a free medical outreach programme at Iperu-Remo, Ogun state. In addition, he gave out eight brand new cars and other valuable gifts to loyal customers of Premier Lotto.

Sir kesington’s larger than life image is always in the public view, and he has been honoured on a good number of occasions. He was rewarded as an ICON and celebrated as a man of character, kindness and generosity during the Ogun at 40 celebrations in 2016. Other feathers on the crown of the man of possibilities include the traditional title of Asoju Oba of Lagos, which was conferred on him by the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu. When the man of means celebrated his 81st birthday, he wowed the congregation when instead of demanding gifts, tasked everyone to make a donation to the church, and tagged it “Adebutu Family Harvest”. His dedication to God is legendary.

In his words: “At 81, what work can I do, there is no work I can do at 81 years but the work of God”. That is how dedicated and close to his God he is. In 2018, Adebutu was honored with double chieftaincy titles as the Baba-Oba Akarigbo of Remo by the Lord of Remo, His Royal Highness, Oba Babatunde Adewale Ajayi, and also honoured as Baba-Oba Alaperu of Akesan Land by His Royal Majesty, King Idowu Basibo (Odoru V), Sagamu in Ogun State, at the sprawling palace of the royal father in Sagamu Remo.

He once again said: “At 82, what can one say? You have contributed immensely to worthy causes in the house of God. Even you have contributed to other worthy causes in the state and the society as a whole. People like you are rare to find. “What is now left for you is to continue to walk with God, love God the more, live your life for Him. So that at the end of your race on earth, you will reign with Him in heaven.”

A worthy icon, well known business brand, philanthropist extra-ordinaire, the head fit to wear the prestigious crown of THE ODOLE OF ILE-IFE, Adebutu was at the forefront of helping to stem the tide of the Coronavirus pandemic with a generous donation of N300 million to the Lagos State government while commending ‘the dynamic efforts of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in bringing succour to the sufferers of COVID-19 Pandemic in the state’.

In a letter the billionaire industrialist personally signed, he was quoted as saying “As a token of our support to the victims, myself, family and organisation are donating a modest sum of N300, 000, 000.00 towards which, we have forwarded the necessary instruction and our bankers – Wema Bank Plc has transferred the sum into the dedicated UBA account…”

The front line humanitarian, Adebutu is using his using his wealth of experience, spread and connection to positively affect the youths of Yoruba land, just as his predecessors did in the past.

He said: “With my emergence as Odole Oodua, the Yoruba race will witness new era of sociocultural development, unity and peace,” and he has been living up to expectation one year after.

The grace behind his Odole status clearly summarises his larger than life personality

“Etymologically, Odole is derived from the expression “Odo Ile Oodua,” meaning the youth in the house of Oduduwa. It is a contraction of the expression adopted as a title to perpetuate the ideals of internal cohesion for which Oranmiyan stood in the Oodua family of the ancient days,”

Adebutu, by tradition, is bound to turn down any other traditional title as the Odole title is the last bus stop of chieftaincy titles for the holder.

Adebutu is happily married with a host of very successful children.

Happy birthday great philanthropist and lover of humanity!

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Steadily Creating New Frontiers

By Eric ElezuoHe will never cease to create firsts. That is what he was created to do, and Tony Elumelu never disappoints, and his accolades resonate across the globe. In faraway Belgium on November 15, 2020, the man many referred to as chairman of chairmen was conferred with Belgium’s oldest and most important national honour titled: “The honorary distinction of Officer in the Order of Leopold.”

The award is said to be in recognition of his commitment to the eradication of poverty and the economic empowerment of young Africans.

“…the Kingdom of Belgium conferred on me with the honorary distinction of Officer in the Order of Leopold, the country’s oldest and most important National Honour.

“I am humbled by this recognition of the work @TonyElumeluFDN in catalysing entrepreneurs across Africa and will continue to drive the economic empowerment of our brilliant young #Africanentrepreneurs to propel development in Africa,” the distinguished entrepreneur said.Vintage Tony Elumelu is the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation. A Nigerian national honours holder, the Commander of the Order of Nigeria (CON), and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). It is worth noting that Tony has successfully held various editions of his annual Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurial Forum with not less than 54 African countries participating each time.Adding another glorious feather to his retinue of feathers, Elumelu and his team of dedicated achievers, have been granted licence to operate new group insurance companies, namely Heirs Insurance and Heirs LifeBorn Tony Onyemaechi Elumelu on March 22, 1963, in Jos, Nigeria, the economist by training, visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist, acquired and turned Standard Trust Bank into a top-five player in Nigeria. In 2005, his corporate reputation as an African business leader was sealed when he led the largest merger in the banking sector in Sub-Saharan Africa to acquire United Bank for Africa (UBA). In five years, he transformed it from a single-country bank to a pan-African institution with over seven million customers in nineteen African countries.In 2011, New African magazine listed him as one of the 100 most influential people in Africa, and a year later (2012), he was recognised as one of “Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People” by Forbes Magazine.

Following his retirement from UBA in 2010, Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings, which invests in the financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, agribusiness, and healthcare sectors. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropic organisation dedicated to the promotion of excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship, and to enhancing the competitiveness of the private sector across Africa.His stated objective at the formation of Tony Elumelu Foundation was to “prove that the African private sector can itself be the primary generator of economic development.” The Foundation is charged with the mission of driving Africa’s economic development by enhancing the competitiveness of the African private sector. As a premier pan-African-focused not-for-profit institution, the Tony Elumelu Foundation is dedicated to the promotion and celebration of entrepreneurship and excellence in business leadership across the continent, with initiatives like The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP)In a bid to expand his conglomerate as well as his business horizon, in 2011, through Heirs Holdings, he acquired a controlling interest in the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), a publicly quoted conglomerate that has business interests in the agribusiness, energy, and hospitality sectors. Elumelu was subsequently appointed chairman of the corporation.His enterprise is not limited to self financed enterprises as he serves as an advisor to the USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum. He also sits on the Nigerian President’s Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council (ATIC). He is also vice-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN) whose formation he was a key driver in, and serves as Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security.

Elumelu additionally chairs the Ministerial Committee to establish world-class hospitals and diagnostic centres across Nigeria, at the invitation of the Federal Government and the Presidential Jobs Board, engineered to create 3 million jobs in one year. He also serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL) and USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa Partners Forum.One will not be wrong to address him as a philosopher as well as he is the originator of the term Africapitalism. According to him, Africapitalism is an economic philosophy that embodies the private sector’s commitment to the economic transformation of Africa through long-term investments that create both economic prosperity and social wealth. Elumelu sees Africans taking charge of the value-adding sectors and ensuring that those value-added processes happen in Africa, not through nationalisation or government policies, but because there is a generation of private sector entrepreneurs who have the vision, the tools and the opportunity to shape the destiny of the continent. He insists that Africapitalism is not capitalism with an African twist; it is a rallying cry for empowering the private sector to drive Africa’s economic and social growth.Having studied under Professor Porter at Harvard Business School, Elumelu subscribes to Michael Porter’s concept of Creating Shared Value (CSV). Professor Porter is the Founding Patron of The Tony Elumelu Foundation. In the same vein, CSV refers to the idea that “companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together.” It asserts that “businesses acting as businesses, not as charitable donors, are the most powerful force for addressing the pressing issues (society) face(s).”

Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Heirs Holding

In 2003, the Federal Government of Nigeria granted Tony Elumelu the title of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), a national honour, and in 2006, he was voted African Business Leader of The Year by the Africa Investor magazine and was also recognised as  African Banker of the Year in 2008 by the African Banker magazine. In 2009, the Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’adua honoured him with a place on the Presidential Committee on the Global Financial Crisis.In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious National Honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) for his service in promoting private enterprise. Apart from being recognised as one of “Africa’s 20 Most Powerful People in 2012” by Forbes Magazine as well as being featured in the New African Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential Africans in Business”. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science degree from the Benue State University and an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.In 2013, Elumelu received the Leadership Award in Business and Philanthropy from the Africa-America Institute (AAI) Awards. He was also named African Business Icon at the 2013 African Business Awards.

Dele Momodu with Tony Elumelu

In addition, ESI-Africa, frequently described as “Africa’s power journal”, named Elumelu in its 2015 ‘ESI Most Influential Figures in African Power’ list, in January 2015.Elumelu is not just a financial wizard; he also writes as well as provides incredible inspiration to writers. Some works that involves him include:How to Excel at Work – Proven strategies for achieving superior work performance by Bili A. Odum -a book inspired by Elumelu’s work ethics.Elumelu has contributed to the Nigeria Leadership Initiative White Papers, writing on Leveraging private sector approaches in transforming government delivery.The Power of Vision: Insights on Tony Elumelu is a testimonial compiled on the occasion of his retirement as Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer at the United Bank for Africa. It contains messages from Aliko Dangote, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Professor Michael Porter, former World Bank managing director and Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, President of Sierra Leone; Ernest Bai Koroma, former United States Comptroller of the Currency, Eugene Ludwig and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Tony Elumelu, Chairman

He has written about his philosophy and the economic development of Africa for several publications around the world including The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.The TOE Way: A handbook that offers insights into Elumelu’s philosophies, business practices, values and secrets of success, written by the man himself.Tony Elumelu is happily married to Awele Vivian Elumelu, who he married in 1993, and they are blessed with five wonderful girls; Nneka, Ugo, Ogor, Oge and Onyinye.It will not be worthwhile to end this article without stating the humble philanthropist’s one of most important quotes:“Everything I have today is because of Africa, I was born here, went to school here, I work here and I’m achieving some level of financial comfort here.”Sir, for your steadfastness in business and transformation of lives as well as unleashing the Midas magic to anything you are involved in or touched, you deserve once again to be our Boss of the Week.Congratulations sir and hearty cheers to Heirs Insurance and Heirs Life!

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Let’s Remember the Revolution That Changed Ghana

By Dele Momodu

Fellow Africans, exactly two weeks ago, I started this special tribute to our fallen hero and legend, former President Jerry John Rawlings. This was the man who laid the solid foundation for what the Republic of Ghana has turned out to be, admirably. Before then, that beautiful country had nosedived and was plunging the depths, but JJ Rawlings brought it back from the jaws of death.

Ovation International magazine had the rare privilege of sitting down with the great leader some 16 years ago, on five consecutive days, and got a total of 18 hours of unprecedented interview with him. Please, relax and continue to enjoy the incredible story of Africa’s most remarkable revolution:

SO HOW DID YOU PULL IT OFF?

(Rawlings smiles for a while)

“I had to do things personally. There were not up to half a dozen or eight of us. These are things I had not talked about. The situation was so volatile that you did not need a command structure. All you needed was to ignite it because the situation was ready to erupt. I could have done that, but I decided against it because none of my officer colleagues would have lived. We were ready to strike on the night of May 14 and I had taken care of my side, the Airforce. I had to go and cultivate men from other units. Infantry units, Tank units. I had access to the Calvary Regiment from there to the tanks. What you needed was not a command structure, all we needed was a commando unit. You would see tough macho guys, but when you tell them they become jellies. It was the small-framed ones that had the courage. I learnt a lot of lessons in those years. It took me almost two years because I had to personally do everything. For instance, I had to learn to lay bombs. You could not go and say teach me how to make a bomb. You had to learn bits and pieces. You realize that it’s not the regular thing, it is a clandestine thing. So, one had to tread carefully. I remember that when we finally decided to make a move, you see I did not tell them the date, they could get me nervous and say it ahead of time. Everyone was complaining, something had to be done. So, this guy, I told him to get ready, he started trembling and immediately, I found a face-saving move for him, I diverted from the topic and he regained his composure. Then I realized he cannot work with us, so you then had to begin to cultivate another person and that will definitely take time because you want the best. It’s not easy.

So, May 14, there was a full moon next to it was Venus or Mars. I did not take into account the situation of the moon. You see when we assembled at the Airforce station and I needed to break the armoury, we realized that we had to crawl a long distance because there was a full moon and we could be seen from the dispersal area, if we are not careful. Around 10.00pm, we managed it, broke through and got some arms. We did not need too much. We were ready at about 1-2 o’clock. I said we should take a little rest. They did not quite understand why. Why did I say that? Because, if we moved at such an early part of the night, what needed to be done was so quick and within one hour we would have achieved it. A few shots into the air and that will have been it because everybody was waiting for something to be done. I wanted us to wait to 3.00 am so that when we capture this, capture that, it will be morning and we could isolate them from the weapons and force the generals into what we may call a Durbar. We knew that there were many professional generals who could take over. Clean up the system and then give government back to the civilians. So, I told them to wait and as I laid back that was how I really noticed how full the moon was. The night of the 14th of May 1979, go and check it up in the lunar atlas. I cannot be wrong because I saw it. The interesting thing was that the day before, I was reading something in a book. The book was saying something about the bright star. The book said something like when that shining star is together with a full moon, fishermen don’t like it because it was a negative omen. Having read this a night before, and looked up and saw this moon, I wondered at the coincidence and began to think that this thing will fail. But we had reached the point of no return. There I was torn between two worlds. If I strike that early too many of my colleagues, officers and generals would be killed because the ranks were angry.

When I said go to sleep and let’s move at 4.00am what I wanted was to ensure that the boys were calmer. There would be calm when there is daylight, I believed that the daylight will have a calming effect, a restraining effect that would not be present under the cover of darkness.  All these years from the time of Liman, nobody understood what I have just said. I had not talked about it.

SO HOW WERE YOU ARRESTED

The guys whose regiment we took over, Major Sulamana appeared on the scene. We had captured two trucks from the regiment and the guys who were driving the trucks were not part of what we were doing, but by that morning when we were in position, the officer came down, and the drivers were saying we should arrest him. You have to read the book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (by the Brazilian author, Paulo Freire). You must learn how the oppressed person invariably ends up worshiping the oppressors. They can’t say no when they give them orders. It is only when they are out of the way, that they act. When the oppressors are alive and are looking at them, they are afraid they will obey them. The soldiers were insisting that I arrest Sulamana, I said no. I said no because I did not want any bloody situation. I told him to get into his car and get out. On hindsight maybe I should have. I wanted a peaceful thing. There I was having seized an armoured vehicle, did not want to shed one blood. This was a situation of a guy who had a potential to fight against you, but I let him go because from planning to execution we did not want to shed blood. That was the first mistake, I underestimated the effect of the pedagogy of the oppressed. Then other things went wrong, and we ended up being arrested. And it was Sulamana who led the counter assault. The point is that during the trial I was very confident. I was really feeling sad for those who thought they were trying me because I knew the situation was volatile. When we were being matched to go to face the tribunal, I could feel it. I knew the soldiers. I knew how people were feeling.

SO, YOU HAD NO IOTA OF FEAR DURING THE TRIAL

No. For two reasons. I knew I understood the situation too well, that it was dangerous. It will hurt us if we did not initiate the move. I had no fear because in some of these things you must be ready to die. Within that readiness to die for humanity, for life, for others, you are reborn. Do you understand? People’s souls were dead anyway. So, I had no fear. The other day, during the NRC sitting I made a statement that this government was trying to assassinate me. People were trying to ridicule me in the papers. They were saying Ha! Today you are afraid of death, drawing cartoons and saying all kinds of things on radio. I had not answered them yet. But I will like to tell them that I had overcome the fear of death a long time ago. I was ready to lay my life for Ghana. Things were just so bad. It seemed people had forgotten those days. But someone had to make a sacrifice to break the chain of poverty and suffering. And so, we decided that it was better to do what we did than live like sub- humans.

HOW DID JUNE 4TH HAPPEN? 

It was a question of justice, the people’s justice. Before I even joined the Airforce, when I was in Achimota College, I had begun to have thoughts about joining the priesthood. When I left school, someday I will end up in a taxi and tell the man to take me to the seminary. Halfway, I will tell the man to take me back. You are looking puzzled but it’s true. It was a serious problem for me. I just could not stand the injustice in human relationships. maybe it was a partial escapist thing. But I knew if I was there as a priest I will have been fighting with my cassock. I am not someone who would go down on my knees and say slap the other cheek. I am not advocating violence, but in the Bible when Jesus entered the temple and saw people selling and doing what he considered bad, he picked the whip and chased them out. That is violence for a good purpose. He did not go on his knees like they teach us, to pray that God will deal with it.

As I was saying, at the trial there was nothing to be ashamed of. I remember during the trial they were talking of some technicality of either being tried alone or being tried together. I was the only officer. I got on the microphone and told them that I don’t understand this technicality, but I am taking responsibility for what has happened, leave my men alone. That freaked out the nation. The nation was angry at the military because just when they were about to organize elections for a hand over, who were these military people who wanted to stage a takeover. Naturally, people misconstrued it to mean these people wanted to stay on. Nobody wanted to hear any such thing because the suffering was too much until they heard the points I had written. The prosecutor instead of being defensive was reading my speech with enthusiasm which was a serious indictment on the government. I could have escaped at any time, but I was not going to. Right in the tribunal, I could have upset things. Before that Monday we had thought that we were going to be executed, anyway. There was this man who was going everywhere and was demanding if they were not going to save Rawlings, and no one seemed to be coming out of their barracks. The man went in front of the Airforce commander’s residence one day and shot himself. That maybe caused people to crack and they burst out.

I remember about 5am they were just firing. They had taken over broadcasting house that was the situation that led to June 4th. When you are oppressing people and treating people with indignity, when it explodes, you can offer them all your gold, all your money, they will demand your blood, because that is the extent to which you have humiliated people.

We should never humiliate our fellow man. The kind of humiliation that power inflicts on subordinates was too much. It got to a point that officers and senior ranks only feel confident when they were talking down on subordinates. Yet, the military culture abhors something like that. It teaches you to look at him in the face and tell him. And he must look back at your face and say sir! And say his own.

(To be continued) …

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