By PETER O OBASEKI
Our uncle, HayfordAlile, was very genuine and true to that word, in the African sense. He was a scion of the legendary Chief Ogbeide Uyo (Inneh) expansive dynasty of the Benin Empire and he became an “uncle” to the many branches of that illustrious dynasty, including: Oviawe, Eghobamien/Ogbomo, Agho/Obaseki, Alile/Eguavoen, Amadasun, Omoregie, Obayuwana, to name a few. He actively looked out for focused, talented and well-behaved members of the extended family, mentored them and provided access to his rich corporate network. This was not a narrow trait, it extended to his maternal family, to Benin professionals, to the members of Saint Joseph Chosen Church of God, his in-laws and all others, irrespective of tribe or religion. He was a humble, honest, humane person; a giver without limit and a well-wisher to all. He was indeed,the quintessential gentleman.
He was the obvious chairman on the occasion of our marriage in 1990; he offered pre-marriage counselling, attended all events, always with his lovely wife, aunty Pat; supported financially and intimately followed up on us subsequently. He readily provided guidance and counselling. I checked all my professional decisions with him and he was always very happy to celebrate successes. In 1993, when I became a Manager in a bank,it was to him, before anyone else, that I took my first official car. He blessed it and felt very happy. He said that he wants many more of such visits from me and others in our extended family. He was large hearted and acted as sponsor or chairman, along with his wife, for very many weddings and other social functions, consistent with him being a rare gem and a role model.
He told me that there is a spark of genius in our lineage, I agreed: he was perfect proof of this. He started school, at the Holy Cross Primary School, Benin City. He attended Loyal College in Ibadan, setting a hard to break academic record, including A1 in all subjects. His sound character showed through at that early stage. He became a senior prefect from form 1, being a pioneer student in the class of 34.In form 2, he was found trust worthy and given the task to grade the papers of those taking the common entrance examination into the school. After his final examination, set to go home and await his results, the school’s management stopped him and offered him a job as a Teacher of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics.He was also made a House Master. This is recorded as his first paid job, the beginning of an illuminating and illustrious career. He earned scholarship into the secondary school, at Loyola College, Ibadan, from the Benin Divisional Council. He also, earned scholarship as a State Scholar, emerging fifth in the whole country, under a scheme reserved for the top ten in the entrance examination, into the University of Ibadan. It was in the United States, specifically, Howard University, Washington DC and Rutgers University, New Jersey, that he laid a solid foundation and honed his Investment Management skills. He was on the Deans Honours List. After various academic and practical experiences in the United States, he returned to Nigeria.
Nigeria was lucky to have in him a cognate and strongtrack-record with smart intellect, vast exposure, experience,focused drive, and above all, character, to pioneer the Nigerian Stock Exchange, which was then small in scope and narrowly called the Lagos Stock Exchange, from 1976 to 1978. He broadened it, gave it international dimension and it was re-named the Nigerian Stock Exchange. He led the reinvigoratedExchange for 20 years, until his retirement in 1999.He provided world-class leadership, contributed to the development and deepening of the Capital Markets. In particular, equity investment as a distinct asset class, became widely used and entrenched by households and institutions in Nigeria. This era, also saw the transformation of the nascent organized private sector, building on the indigenization programme of the Federal Government. He subsequently attracted huge foreign portfolio inflows into the market. He encouraged capacity building and set the ethical standards required of a transparent market. During his tenure, the core of the existing Stock Broking Houses in Nigeria emerged and developed an enviable culture. He spruced up this sub-section of the financial system into a standard, comparable in prestige to other existing professions. He attracted very high profile and accomplished individuals into the council of the exchange including Chief MKO Abiola, Chief Bayo Kuku, and more recently, current captains of industry like AlhajiAlikoDangote. There was no arrogance or smugness in him, despite his uncommon intellect; he got on amicably with Council Chairmen and members as well as operators or dealing members, cutting across tribes and religions, building long-term, life-long, relationships, in the process. It was to the stock broking community that he gave his plum and prime.
The other side of Uncle, was his deep spiritual dimension.He was faithful and fervent. There was always this hard-core, even radical, spiritual conviction, but wrapped up in a calm and gentle physical expression. The evidence of it is that he was never ruffled, agitated or anxious but always at peaceand harmonious. His dear, departed parents, embraced Christianity, not half-heartedly, but surrendered all, and beat a new part different from the mainstream in their own time and locality.This took courage and faith. Uncle is the first of four children from this nuclear, monogamous family, from Benin. He rose steadily within the hierarchy of the church and attained the rank of world-wide Leader and Spiritual Head. It was to work in the Lord’s Vineyard, not business,not wealth accumulation, not politics, that he turned to, full throttle, after retirement as Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. As a vent for his humanist nature, he set up a foundation, The HayfordAlile Foundation(THAF), geared towards alleviating the economic needs of the less privileged through education amongst others.
He was a shining light of the core elites of Benin, although predominantly based in Lagos and a global citizen. He was in touch with the affairs of Edo State and advised many governments that administered the state, from the Military era to date. He also, in their time, advised such elders and high net worth Benin individuals like Chief F Edo-Osagie, Chief AnofiGuobadia and Chief A Y Eke, to name the obvious. Our Father, Oba Erediauwa, conferred on him along with Dr S O Ogbemudia, Dr Abel Guobadia and others, recognition, as pioneers in the list of Benin Achievers. He straddled corporate Nigeria like a colossus, and sat on the boards of several blue-chip companies. He served as Trustee/Treasurer, Lagos State Education Endowment Fund,director of the central bank of Nigeria and was on various panels and committees of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He spent over half of his life building institutions, the Exchange and the Church; it was a huge credit to his depth of character that he remained consistently unblemished to the end. Through THAF, he has defined how his memory should be kept aloft; he served humanity as one of the finest technocrats and did the work of God. He loved Nigeria, believed in its potentials and prayed for its progress and unity.
I commiserate with his very closely knit nuclear family, his amiable wife, MrsPatAlile, his adorable children, his younger brother and sisters; Dr Clement Alile, MrsGloria Konyeshi, and Mrs Clara Aibangbee. At 80, it seems like clock-work, full cycle.He conquered,leaving behind a beautiful family and rich legacies in academics, corporate career and spiritual leadership; but still, a very painful parting blow: clearly,Heaven’s gain.
Adieu Uncle Hayford!
PETER O OBASEKI, former MD/CEO, FCMB Group Plc