BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, let me say it has been a particularly hectic month for me. I have had to juggle a lot of things including pursuing my Fellowship, dealing with the business affairs of the Ovation Group, private media work, writing columns, charity work and attending a variety of functions and events. This has necessitated my travel between Oxford, Ghana, Rwanda, Germany, Amsterdam and Nigeria. I now totally understand what Chief Moshood Abiola meant by his popular saying “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache…”
To succeed in life, especially if you were accidentally born into a humble family and not a silver-spoon background, you must work like work is going out of fashion. To quote Chief Abiola again, “hard work is prayer in action…” It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a successful man who just sat at home doing nothing! Even winning the pools or lottery requires some effort, albeit a lot of luck.
The story of my life continues to be like a fairytale. I get invited to so many events and places practically every week. I’m hardly able to honor up to 20 percent of requests for my personal attention and presence. For me, it is a great honor and privilege to receive invitations from everyone including certain friends and distinguished personalities, especially those who have also supported my dreams over time. I do not discriminate between my friends. I find each is unique and distinct in his or her own way. I cherish everyone of them irrespective of background, wealth or lifestyle. As they say, to whom much is given, much is also expected, and such was my situation, and dilemma, these past couple of weeks.
Recently, I received a message from my friend’s daughter, Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola, asking if I would be able to join at the launch of her Cuppy Foundation, on November 10, dovetailing into her birthday at midnight, on November 11, 2019. My God, I thought aloud, how could I ever say NO to a young lady I have come to like so much and admire for certain sterling qualities, and several reasons including her humility, warmth and charm.
I was present when she launched her musical career as well as celebrated her birthday and graduation in a gala of triple festivities, five years ago, at The Mandarin, a premium class luxury hotel, in Knightsbridge, London, a stone throw from her dad Femi Otedola’s historic home, where Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana once bonked before their controversial deaths. But that is another story for another day. Femi has always been a man of great charisma and style. Even when he didn’t command and control the kind of stupendous wealth it has pleased God to bless him with today, he was known generally as a man of impeccable taste and sartorial elegance. His adorable wife, Nana, has remained a paragon of beauty since those days, when I used to visit them in Ilupeju, Lagos, before the deluge of cash flooded in, like an angry hurricane. So I was not surprised that their children took after them in the area of exotic lifestyles and vocations. It is remarkable, and a sign of the great spirit that Femi has, that he has supported his children as they take on careers in the arts and entertainment. He is not the typical stereotyped Dad who would frown or smirk at the prospect of his children turning their noses up at formal careers in law, accountancy, medicine or pharmacy. He has not just been financially supportive, he had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the genre they have chosen and assisted and boosted others like them.
On that occasion, five years ago, I saw first hand Ife’s passion for music and entertainment. DJ Cuppy, as her moniker goes, was all set and ready to explode on the music stage and prove cynics wrong about being a spoilt brat, which was never the case. Her humble spirit totally disarms you on first contact, garnished with her infectious smiles. Cuppy smiles so much that you would forever wonder if she ever frowns.
Thus you can imagine why I instinctively said yes, instantly, without even thinking or checking my diary or itinerary. Beyond family ties, Cuppy has been totally supportive of The Ovation Carol annual event we host, for the past few years. She might say “I’m sorry Uncle Dele, I’m likely to come a bit late but I will certainly make it” and she’s never failed to join us and perform in her inimitable style. And she’s grown very big in her trade over the years maturing into her status not only as a much sought after world class DJ but also a delectable, tuneful and soulful musician with a glittering career ahead of her. How on earth would I ever say NO to Cuppy!
Again, to Femi Otedola, the enigmatic but gregarious gentleman himself whom I have known for close to 30 years, starting from our days of rocking the phenomenal music of Sir Shina Peters with many other friends. From those days at Surulere, Femi has grown in leaps and bounds. His has been a meteoric rise to wealth and stardom. But you must give it to him that he never forgot his old friends. Every now and then, he would check on you and even support you in your days of tribulations and triumphs. He has been very kind to me. The easiest way to get me hooked is by supporting my hustle and this Femi has done relentlessly by patronising Ovation International magazine loyally. When I launched my books last year, Femi did not stay with us from the beginning to the end, he bought hundreds of copies and he’s been gifting them to many of our mutual friends. Femi has greatly inspired my affable son, Eniafe Momodu, a photojournalist, speaker and wordsmith, even hosting him at home.
About two weeks ago, Femi sent me a WhatsApp message requesting for our full address, to be doubly sure, since he’s visited me at The Penthouse before. I immediately responded and he told me he was sending me Cuppy’s invitation card. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. For sure, there was no going back on my promise to Cuppy now that her Dad had also reached out personally and frontally. I crossed the Rubicon.
However, I soon discovered one major obstacle. I had assumed the event was going to be in Lagos until I suddenly realised it will take place in Abuja. Cuppy’s event clearly clashed with our Editor, Michael Effiong James’ investiture as a Rotary District President which was at Ikeja Sheraton, as well as his 50th birthday on the 11th of November, just like Cuppy’s. Since I do not own a private jet, how would I get to Abuja same evening? I had no ready answer but I knew I would have to perform the miracle of Jesus Christ by turning water into wine and by developing wings and flying like an Angel towards Abuja.
My confusion was so monumental but I was determined to crack the nuts and bend the irons with bare hands, if need be! Our Editor’s event was billed to start at 2.00pm and Cuppy’s at 7.00pm. Knowing Nigeria reasonably well, I added one to two additional hours to waiting time, meaning the Ikeja event may start at around 4.00pm. I figured that I must immediately find a flight around 6.00pm-7.00pm to Abuja. I left nothing to chance. Everything was meticulously planned and assiduously executed. Neither Michael nor Femi would ever forgive me, if I failed in this mission.
Fortunately, my office said they found a 7.00pm flight on Arik, meaning I could leave Sheraton at 6.00pm and get to Murtala Muhammed Domestic Airport well before my flight departs. That was how God opened his doors of favours and my best friend, Adedamola Aderemi, who as a Director of Ovation would not miss Michael’s event, and who had also been invited to Cuppy’s event, finally boarded the Arik flight and landed in Abuja at some minutes past 8.00pm. We had both booked our dear Transcorp Hilton for our accommodation since the show was taking place there and we are Diamond members (I am a proud lifetime Hilton Diamond member). We just managed to quickly freshen up before rushing down to the venue of the great event.
The whole space at the banquet hall was totally filled up by guests, artistes, government officials, led by The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, State Governors, Ministers, legislators, top journalists, past leaders at both executive and legislative levels, captains of industry and many others. It was such a magnificent and colorful affair. It was televised live by Ayo Animasahun’s wave-making HIP TV. Above all, most of the top echelon of Save the Children, UK, one of the biggest children charities in the world, which has The Princess Royal, Princess Anne as a Patron. Leading the team were Kevin Watkins, the Chief Executuve and Dianna Melrose a member of the Board of Trustees. Cuppy herself is a Save the Children Ambassador and a feature film on her harrowing visit to the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Maiduguri was shown. Cuppy has adopted the camp as her main charitable and philanthropic project with the able support and endorsement of Save the Children, UK.
The high point of the event was when Tolani, Femi’s first daughter, came on stage and announced a donation of an unprecedented sum of 5 billion Naira to Save the Children UK for use in the Maiduguri IDP. His close friend and ally, Aliko Dangote, had earlier weighed in with a donation of N100 million to the same cause. Needless to say, the top brass were gushing and effusive in their praise for Femi and Cuppy as they acknowledged that the stupendous sum had already been transferred to them.
Social media ignited fire with automatic alacrity. Most people were touched by this remarkable act of benevolence, graciousness and Femi got a standing ovation for it…
The grand finale of the night was a rave performance by Cuppy, the singer and DJ. Cuppy gave an amazing account of herself and wowed and dazzled the appreciative audience with her mellifluous voice and slinky dance steps.. She performed two of my favorite tracks “Abena” featuring Kwesi Arthur, Shaydee and Ceeza Milli, as well as “Gelato”, featuring Zlatan. She seemed destined and determined to demonstrate her full maturity on the music scene… And we all had great fun, which continued well after the clock tolled at midnight and Cuppy was serenaded with a wonderful rendition of the happy birthday song and the cutting of the birthday cake!
Adieu, Sir Alexander Opeyemi Akinyele
The news sneaked in, like a thief in the night. A strident call from my wife jolted me out of sleep, while at Oxford two nights ago. I had slept late two nights in a row upon my return to my base at Oxford, in England, sitting for many hours, studying and doing my work. “What’s it o my dear, at this ungodly hour…?” My wife wasted no time in breaking the sad news. “Someone just called that Chief Alex Akinyele has died…” “Wow!” I exclaimed.
My mind instantly raced back to our good and bad times together. I was friends with his children, especially Kayode, now addressed as Constantine Akinfolarin Akinyele and his lovely wife Funmi, from his days at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. Eerily, it was about this time last year that unfounded rumours about his demise surfaced but were quickly quelled.
Only last week, I posted the Ovation International cover we published some 20 years ago after I travelled to Mumbai, India, to cover the wedding of Sir Alex to his second wife, Lady Maria.
Chief Akinyele loved life and lived well. It was always fun sharing bowls of pounded yam and bush meat in vegetable stew with the High Chief of Ondo town. The death of his South African wife, Lady Yvonne Akinyele, a South African, had left him devastated. They were like Siamese twins. Every other wife became a competition to the attributes of Lady Yvonne, a near impossibility.
We had traveled all the way to India to bring home his next wife, but Lady Maria eventually left Nigeria with their son. He subsequently married a third wife, Lady Ella, a Nigerian, but not much was known of her or their relationship.
Alex Akinyele was flamboyant in all ramifications. He was a thoroughbred administrator and politician who once served as a Minister. A keen sports enthusiast, he played numerous roles in the development of sports in Nigeria.
Chief Akinyele was passionate about whatever he believed in. He once told me in an interview that the President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, whom he served as Minister of Information, was so powerful and capable of turning a man into a woman. He was a prominent devotee of the former President.
He was a man of letters and he loved to quote copiously from William Shakespeare, offhandedly.
As he advanced in age, he withdrew from public life and the klieg lights. Age was obviously no respecter of status, an enduring lesson to all of us to live life to the fullest while it lasts.
Chief Akinyele once said in an article: “I won’t be a slave of my conscience. Lady Ella knows I love her, but I love Yvonne more…” Such was the candour of this effervescent soul, this great and noble Nigerian who has ended his sojourn here on earth and begun a permanent one in the great beyond. A worthy testament of the life he led.
May his soul rest in perfect peace…