By Francis Ewherido
So much has been written about the great one, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, since he passed on 19 days ago that it is impossible now to write about him without being repetitive. I, therefore, decided not to do a tribute, especially since I did not know him personally beyond occasionally seeing him at ceremonies.
That was before I went with my President, Chief Simeon Ohwofa, trustees and other members of the Urhobo Social Club, to pay a condolence visit to the Onosodes.
I have passed by his residence thousands of times in the last 20 years because it was my regular route, but that was my first time of entering the compound.
It is a simple, though well-maintained, storey building like many others along Adelabu Street, Surulere, Lagos. He probably moved in there in the 60s when many other landlords built and moved to that area.
I doubted when I learnt for the first time in the early 90s that the great Onosode lived there, because, at that time, many of his fellow “big men” had moved to Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Lekki was still in its infancy.
Over the years, I have wondered the kind of simplicity that would make Onosode continue to live on Adelabu Street. The street has become heavily commercialized, busy and very noisy, especially for a man who could afford a better alternative accommodation anywhere in Lagos.
When the dualisation of Adelabu started about six years ago, I thought he would run away, but he did not. For the two years or thereabout it took to dualise the road, the traffic was hellish. I was so relieved when I changed my daughter’s school and did not have to take the route regularly.
The inside of Onosode’s residence (at least the sitting room where we were hosted) is even simpler than the outside. The furnishing is simple, no big screen television and no rug, unless it was removed in the wave of heavy human traffic.
There is nothing, may be, except the photographs that adorn the walls, to show that a man of Onosode’s status lived there. The outside boasts of two old-model Toyota Prado Jeeps and a newer Toyota Landcruiser Jeep.
He was apparently a man who lived on his own terms. Till date, if you can afford to live in the Island (Ikoyi, Victoria and Lekki) and you are still resident in the mainland, some people close to you will put pressure on you to move. That is the kind of pressure Onosode resisted for probably 40 years. That takes enormous self assurance and discipline and Onosode had an overdose of both.
He was said to have been chairman/director of over 60 blue chip companies at various times in his life time. Therefore, he must have been very rich, but as intoxicating as wealth is, he was not wealth-drunk. He lived as if the money was not there and that is very difficult, if you know what I mean. His life was simplicity personified.
Onosode was purpose-driven and had an uncommon discipline. He was married to one wife for 54 years and they have seven children. He actually died exactly one month to his 55 wedding anniversary October 29, 1960—September 29, 2015). He was a core family man.
All his life, he remained a “Mr.” when he could have acquired 100s of chieftaincy titles across Nigeria or used the “Dr” title because of his numerous honorary doctorate degrees. This has emboldened many people who want to remain “Mr.” His kind of commitment to his Christian faith was uncommon among “big men” of his kind.
Onosode is a classic case study of “train up a child in the way he should go and when he grows up he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). He was raised by a father who was a Baptist minister and a tough mother who were core disciplinarians. He never departed from the strict discipline that formed his foundation. This is a lesson for all modern-day parents.
In his life time, he won so many battles and succeeded on so many fronts, but politics was a different kettle of fish. He failed in his two attempts at the Nigerian presidency, but it was not much of a personal failing as it was the failure of a system that shuts out our brightest minds. Onosode wanted probity and accountability, something that was alien to Nigerian party politics then.
Nigerian politics is intriguing. A prominent politician once said that it is only in politics you know someone is going to dupe you and you still fall for it. A man whose wife has hit menopause will tell you his wife just delivered and needs money to discharge her and the baby and you oblige, knowing full well he is lying.
Somebody approaches you for money to bury his father who just died and you give him. Five years later, the father will “die” again and you will give him money. Why? The man is politically relevant and you need him.
The Nigerian political terrain was strange to Onosode and he struggled. Some felt he was too rigid and idealistic for Nigerian politics, while people like Frank Kokori felt he was politically naïve. He did make some mistakes. Whatever the case, it was apparent that he was in a wrong place, so he quit.
Former American President, Bill Clinton, said during his inaugural speech in 1993 that “there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” I make bold to say same for Nigeria; Onosode represents what is right with Nigeria that can be used to cure what is wrong with Nigera:
integrity, honesty, discipline, simplicity, orderliness, resourcefulness, hard work, moderation, contentment and genuine service to God and humanity. He might have died, but his legacies live on for the rest of us to emulate in order to make Nigeria great. Adieu, the Great One.