Prince Abiodun Opanubi: A personal Tragedy

By Owei Lakemfa.There
are people whose lives may read like fiction. In a world built on
material considerations and self- interest, it is difficult to come across people
who are not engaged in the rat race, live selflesslives and are committed to
serving others. Prince Abiodun Afolajimi Opanubi reminds me of such. Our paths
although initially far apart, seemed destined tocross. He passed out of the
Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos some monthsafter I was born in the Niger Delta;
an area which in those days was almost inaccessible and was a six-day boat journey
from Lagos. I passed out of that same school,seventeen years later. I did notget to
meet him until I was 35. Our old school had a journal; The MAGNETUSwhich I helped to
edit. On a permanent basis at the back, was an advert ofEreke Paints. I had wondered
why a company would pay permanently for an advertin a journal with little
circulation, which in any case was read primarily byold boys of a school. I was told
that the company’s founder, Prince Opanubi merely usedthe advert to fund the
publication. I thought that was a little more than generous. Then, a special
edition ofthe journal was to be printed, andthere was need for extra funds. To my
amazement,it was decided that we approach the same person. I objected arguing that
it wasunfair, but was told that he wouldn’tmind. Reluctantly, I tagged along and
was surprised that he did not just give a large sum of money, butinsisted we settle
down to a sumptuous meal. You can therefore imagine my astonishment whenhe pressed
some money into my hand for transport. I refused and he seemedsurprised.We met a
fewmore times and became friends. But he related to me more like a father. He tookme
into confidence and began to consult me even on some of his business mattersor
decisions. I was to learn that assisting people and groups was his nature. For
instance, although he wasnot a member of the church opposite his factory, he was a
regular donor. When Itold him people were taking undue advantage of his generosity,
he shrugged hisshoulders. He said he had little, butthat since he returned from
the UnitedKingdom in 1978 where he bagged a degreein Chemistry from the
Wolverthampton Polytechnic, was licensed by the Royal Institute of Chemistry and
worked at the New Cross Hospital, God had always been faithful.One day, heinvited me
to his home town, Ikenne where he said he had a little donation tomake. We travelled
with his youngest daughter, Gbemi. Nothing prepared me for the shock that awaited
me; the ‘little’donation he talked about was a beautiful block of offices and
classrooms he hadbuilt for a public school in the town.In 1999, Idecided to make a
public presentation of my book on the textile industry andunion in Nigeria titled
WEAVING INTO HISTORY and approached him to be the ChiefLauncher. He declined on the
basis that we were one family and that it wasbetter I got an outsider. However, he
said he was going to give me in privatewhat he would have donated were he to be the
Chief Launcher. He issued a chequefor a large amount of money which I was reluctant
to accept. He pressed it andlaughed saying that since I reject his gifts, this was
his opportunity for a payback. I then told him to wait untilthe book presentation
which was some twomonths away, and donate the money there. He said I should go cash
the money immediatelyas I would need it for planning the logistics.Once, Ibought a
Mercedes Benz car which at that time, was regarded as exotic, anddrove it to his
factory for him to pray for an accident-free use. He was so excitedas if he had won
a jackpot. He took thekeys, switched on the ignition and then the air condition,
only to find that itwas not functional. He asked how I hoped to drive such a
beautiful car withouta functional air conditioner. He seized the keys, called his
driver to take mehome and told me to return for the car in forty eight hours. When I
did, he had got an effective air conditionfitted into my car. He spentmost of his
time in his Ojodu, Lagos factory working with his engineer to fabricatemachines
used in his factory.A veryhumble man, he called my wife, who was young enough to be
his daughter, Mama!His logic was that a wife who takes careof me, deserves to be so
respected. Whenever we had communication breaks, he apologized arguing that he was
less busy andtherefore should remember to call. He often drove himself mostly in a
car that cannot be associated withhis status. Most were unaware that he was close to
the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his “Jewel of inestimablevalue” Yeye Oba
Hannah Awolowo.Ikenne hadalso produced one of the most famous humanists from
Nigeria, Dr. Augustus Taiwo(Tai) Solarin, the noted social activist and educationist
who in 1956 establishedthe famous Mayflower School, Ikenne. Solarin, relentless
anti-corruption crusader, led street battles against military dictatorship until
he passed away onJune 27, 1994.I lookedforward to seeing Prince Opanubi when I visit
Lagos. I was therefore completelyunprepared for the news I got that hedied suddenly
on July 14. His eldest child,Mrs. Funmilayo Opanubi-Alasholuyi, sent me a message
“Uncle, Daddy ti fimi si le lo (Daddy has left me) It’s so heart
breaking” I lost a friend and a father, aman who was an inspiration to
many, and, Nigeria lost a fine patriot.