Rasheed Gbadamosi: A Life In Living Colours

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Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
Obviously dazed, a dark-goggled and baseball cap-sporting mourner seemed lost in thoughts. He stood on the grounds of Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi’s country home in Ikorodu, Lagos. Other mourners and sympathisers, meanwhile, milled about the meticulously-manicured grounds of the impressive place also called Kunbi Haven.

Rasheed Abiodun Oladosu Gbadamosi may have breathed his last between 5 and 5:30 pm on Wednesday in his Parkview, Ikoyi residence. But his body was carted away to Kunbi Haven, where it was interred the next day (Thursday) after Islamic religious rites.

Back to the dark-goggled mourner: he may have witnessed what could have been the last moments of the departed on earth through his inner eye. He was shown the renowned economist reclining on a wheelchair and being wheeled away in haste. “Where was he being taken to?” he would have wondered.
But the man, whose mortal remains lay in state in one of the outer rooms of the main building, had lived quite an eventful life.

See this eventful life as a sequence of changing scenes. A quick flashback to one of those private moments Chief Gbadamosi shared with me. This could have been at the largest of the three living rooms of his Parkview residence. It was one of those rare evenings he sported a suit. For him, it had been a long day and his dinner time lurked around the corner.
Because there was so much about his life to share, I chose to pick the thread from his literary life. He had already published six plays and a collection of short stories among other literary efforts. This was quite remarkable for a man, who never thought he’d make a name through writing.

He was groped into the inner recesses of his memories for an anecdote he could share with me. Soon, we were teleported back to one Sunday afternoon in 1970. The then Federal Military Government led by Lt. General Yakubu Gowon raised its hackles at an apparently harmless radio play he had written. This play, titled Trees Grow in the Desert, was one of Gbadamosi’s six plays and what he called his “first full-length play”. It was aired on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and revolved around a political change of guards at the helm of affairs and the great expectations of the masses.

Military spooks growled and bared their fangs menacingly. They only needed the orders from their paymasters at the Dodan Barracks to go yelping and snapping at Gbadamosi’s heels. Obviously, a part of the play, which alluded to a coup d’état, had sent ripples of disquiet through the ranks and files of the paranoid military regime.

A quick cut to his activism days as a member of Nigeria Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes. The association, better known by its acronym NAPWA also had the late Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Naiwu Osahon and Wole Bucknor among its members. Gbadamosi recalled that the group used to hold its meetings at the Yaba College of Technology’s football field. Fela would hold a free concert after these meetings.

Talking about Fela, Gbadamosi curiously used to be one of his closest friends thanks to the NAPWA years. In March 1997, Gbadamosi had managed to convince the MUSON (Musical Society of Nigeria) Centre board to allow Fela and the Egypt 80 perform on the MUSON Centre stage. He really “managed” to achieve that feat because that was a hard sell.

The MUSON’s board finally agreed to have Fela. But this was on the condition that the latter would neither smoke marijuana nor spout profanities on stage. So, the concert, tagged “Fela at MUSON” held, the tickets sold for as much as N3000 then worth $1000 and Fela flouted all the agreed conditions. Fast-forward to months later. A dying Fela had woken up from a deep slumber on a hospital bed and had asked for jollof rice. His daughter, Yeni, called Gbadamosi who arranged for his wife to prepare it.

A quick cut to more recent years. His passion for art collection led to his constructing a redbrick edifice close to the gatehouse of his Ikorodu country home to house his prized art works. The building named The Yusuf Grillo Pavilion gave him a reason to hold well-attended annual art fiesta in honour of the greying Zaria “Rebels” like Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke as well as a soirée in honour of David H. Dale.

Gbadamosi’s passion for the visual arts earned him a close friendship with artists, critics and journalists. Thus, a few, like me, became members of his extended non-biological family. Gbadamosi, himself a scion of a successful industrialist, was also an industrialist, an economist, a former commissioner (at 27 in the early 1970s), a former minister and a former chairman of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency.

Above all, he was one of the most illustrious sons of Lagos State. Little wonder he was co-opted to co-chair the Lagos@50 project with the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Indeed one of his early plays, Echoes from the Lagoon, had already been scheduled for the commemorating event. Soyinka in his tribute alluded to the creative side of Gbadamosi.

“In the process of re-acquainting myself with his works, I was reminded of Gbadamosi’s early creative promise,” Soyinka wrote. “I wrote him, lamenting that the Artistic world had lost him to business. It is impossible to quantify the personal consolation I derive from having sent him that note just a fortnight or so before he took his leave of us.

“In strict terms of course, the artistic world never lost Rasheed. That was where his soul was, and he manifested it in the commitment that made him turn his estate into a vast exhibition gallery of Nigerian painters, to which many flock till today. Rasheed – let this be stressed as a public challenge – Rasheed put his money where his heart beat! Both young and old generation artists will testify to this in abundance.”

But the Gbadamosi had wanted to be a doctor. But because he made a weak result in biology, he was not so confident when he shared these thoughts with his father. The latter virtually ordered him to study economics since that was what “the children of industrialists” like him would do. Mystified, the younger Gbadamosi wondered what economics was all about. “When you get there (to the university), you would understand,” the old man told him. “And right away, I’m going to send you to England for it.”

Excited about the prospect of travelling abroad, Gbadamosi the son jettisoned the ambition of becoming a doctor. So by the time his studies ended in 1969, his academic laurels would include a BA in economics, 1966 and a diploma in advanced studies (economic development) in 1967 from University of Manchester, England as well as an MA in economics from the University of New Hampshire, USA.

Upon his graduation, it was an open sesame into a rich career. He first became a Lagos State commissioner before lunging into the corporate world. He was recently the managing director of R.A.G. & Company Limited and the chairman of Ragolis Waters Limited, Thai Farm International Limited, Sparnoon Nigerian Limited, BHN Plc, Syndicated Metal Industries Limited, Lucky Fibres Nigeria Plc and AIICO Pension Managers Limited.

He was also the chairman of Vono Products Plc, having also been the chairman at Secure Electronic Technology Plc since August 16, 2012 where he had served as director. He served as chairman of Nigerian Industrial Development Bank from 1986 to 1994 and chairman of the Governing Council of Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research from 2001 to 2004.
He became the director of Fountain Trust Bank Plc and National Sports Lottery Plc as well as of Cappa & D’Alberto Plc. He was in addition a director of Vono Products Plc, a director at National Electric Power Authority from 1976 to 1979 and a member of Nigerian Debt Rescheduling Team since 1986.

He also served as director of AIICO Insurance Plc since July 17, 1999, as director of Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), Nigeria Industrial Development Bank, Commercial & Scientific Computing Nigeria Ltd., Tolaram Clay Bricks (Nig) Ltd. and Blackwood Hodge Nig. Plc.

Gbadamosi recalled his mother telling him how his grandmother had looked into his eyes and had predicted how great he was going to be. His mother had named him Oladosu (meaning wealth turns to moon). But he didn’t really believe in such things and would rather ascribe his greatness to his privilege of attending good schools.

If he called himself an “Isale-Eko boy”, it was because he was born in Lagos Island. His father had crossed the Lagoon from Ikorodu to Isale-Eko, where he met his mother. They got married there.

For him, life as a child was great fun. Among his peers, he got into the “egungun” (masquerade) cult. Many years later as an adult, he would be appointed the chairman of one of the Eyo groups.
Gbadamosi had in his lifetime bagged several awards, among which was THISDAY Lifetime Achievement Award.