Chief Shonibare:Helping the poor in memory of the dead

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•Memories of my father are indellible – Mrs Ashiru, daughter

By Sola Ogundipe

A respected Ijebu indigene,  astute business man and renowned political stalwart of the defunct Action Group,  Chief Samuel Olatubosun Shonibare was one of the major players in Western Nigeria during the transition from British rule to self rule.  As Chairman, Shonny Investments and Properties Limited, he built the famous Shonibare Estate in Lagos –widely acclaimed to be the first mixed race settlement in Nigeria. Although he died in 1964 at the age of 44, Chief Shonibare  achieved so much and is today recognised as a colossus of his time.

Idowu-Ashiru-11On the 50th anniversary of his death today, January 19, 2014, his fifth  daughter, Mrs. Idowu Ashiru, Managing Director, MART-Life Detox Clinic, Lagos, speaks  on the presentation of the book entitled “Memories of My Father” she wrote to eulogise him.  She also speaks about the Samuel Olatubosun Shonibare Charity Foundation the children are launching in his memory. Excerpts of interview:

Our father, Chief Samuel Olatubosun Shonibare, died when the youngest of us was only three years old and the oldest was about 18. We were too young to honour him at that time. Now we are all adults, the youngest of us is over 50, and, by Yoruba custom, it is our duty to honour him. We believe father achieved a lot and we want to remember all the charity works he did in terms of politics, business, and others.

For this reason, we do not believe in just calling people to eat and drink. The man was great enough for us to do more for him in remembrance and, in this regard, we want to launch the Samuel Olatubosun Shonibare Charity Foundation.

This is the first year of the remembrance and we want to get it off the ground. This year we are doing a lot with the Ijebu people.  In this wise, we are working closely with the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction, IDIPR, under the Awujale’s Palace in Ijebu Ode. The initiative is to give interest-free loans to people. We are going to give a grant to this initiative to give a kind of seed fund for the initiative to enable them fund the wonderful poverty reduction initiative.

Some of the ideas they have told us they want to do include buying a keke for small transportation businesses. We are giving them a grant, but they will obtain loans. All we are asking is that anybody that will help the initiative with my father’s name will be recognized.

Every year we will look for other organisations or projects we can fund in this way in memory of my father. The second project is to have university scholarship for brilliant but financially challenged students. This first year, we have organised an essay competition among 11 Ijebu schools, male and female, writing an essay titled “What is my career choice?” and “how is my career going to make me a better person and also help Nigeria to develop.”

Two students who will be selected after being interviewed shall obtain full scholarship pending their acceptance by any of the pioneer universities in Nigeria. These are the University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria and Ahmadu Bello University.
Every year, we want to give one new student a chance for the scholarship. The students must also compete annually and preference will be given to those already in the scholarship.

I have written a book entitled  “Memories of My Father”. I was 10 years old when he died, but writing a book on my father was something I knew I was going to do from a very young age that was why I had a degree in Mass Communication. So when the 50th anniversary of his death came along, I knew this was the time to do it. I gathered lots of memories about him. It is essentially personal talks about his personal life, family, business and the politics of the time. People should have an idea of the type of person my father truly was.

Some are personal encounters I remember about my father, others are accounts I gathered from his personal Secretary about his business. I also went to older members of the family who told me about the family history. So the book is a mixture of accounts of people I acknowledged. The book will be presented at the reception for him on January 19, 2014 after a thanksgiving service at the Church of Ascension, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.

I was very close to my father and was his favorite. I was the 5th daughter out of eight children. It was after me that he got a son, so you can imagine why I am his favourite.
Apparently I looked like his mother. She was supposed to be this tall, fair lady. Obviously my parents were upset at the trauma of not having a son, and when I was born, they said, well look at this beautiful girl.

Anytime somebody was naughty and was to be punished, all I had to do was smile, and the punishment would be forgotten. I have many memories like that about my father and  I feel a lot of bonding towards him.
My father was one of the founding members of the Action Group. He was a close political ally of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and one of the financiers of the party along with Chief Gbadamosi and Chief Rewane.

Between them, they developed a company called the National Investments Company Corporation and this was the company that developed Investment House, Western House, Cocoa House and Bristol Hotel at that time.  They got the construction and put them together. My father was instrumental in putting a lot of finances for the Action Group.  He was also a newspaper man and was initially working for the UAC, but the Action Group pulled him out to work for the Amalgamated Press where he became the head.

My father was the boss.
He was in charge of publicity for the Action Group. He extended newspaper publication to all the geopolitical zones of the country. People like Chief Lateef Jakande, Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olabisi Onabanjo worked for my father. Most of the political heavyweights of the South West were his protégés, and they worked under him. He had a company called the Mobile Films. The company would go to all the rural areas, show Indian films and when they had gathered all the people around, they would show their political adverts. It gave him opportunity to speak about the policies of the Action Group.

By that means they were able to publicise what plans the Action Group had for the people and they were able to win over the whole of the Western and Mid-western states and so on. He was involved in spreading the gospel of the Action Group.
During the 1959 election, the Action Group had so many innovative ideas such as drawing pamphlets with  their logo which was the palm tree and dropping these pamphlets into remote villages from a helicopter.

He was involved in developing the Agora Bank, so the development of the produce farms, cocoa, rubber, used to finance the Action Group projects. My father was instrumental in bringing the present day Awujale to the throne. When the previous Awujale died, the kingmakers looked around in the family to see whose turn it was to rule and found the present day one. At that time, he was studying
Accountancy in London. My father was visited him in London and sponsored him back and made sure a literate Awujale won the heart of the kingmakers.

My father was sick, unfortunately, there was a disagreement between Awolowo and Akintola who alleged the Action Group was trying to take over the government and many of them were arrested. My father was one of those arrested and taken to Ondo. He was very upset about it and during his house arrest, his health failed and he was not able to travel abroad on time to seek medical help. By the time he was found innocent of all charges by the Coker Inquiry and was allowed to go abroad to get medical help, it was too late. He died a few months later. He was not diabetic. He died of high blood pressure and personal pressure.

 

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