By Seye Adetunmbi
One is bound to see old age as desirable, beautiful and graceful when you encounter a remarkable Nigerian in person of Prince Babatunde Adedapo Onafowokan (BAO), the founding Chief Executive Officer of Ladgroup Limited. His carriage every Sunday, natural calmness, structured lifetime priorities, well-coordinated and simple disposition to human endeavors over the years point to one fact that he has been truly blessed by God for a distinct purpose among others; so that his life can minister to people around him and the younger generations. For someone of my age who came to settle in Lagos in 1990, I could only see a tiny part of Baba Onafowokan in his Ladgroup days. In order to get a full picture of his amazing profile, it took me some research and facts finding to place Baba Onafowokan in proper perspective in this write-up which I put together to celebrate him on his 95th birthday anniversary.
It is amazing to state that within the past 95 years, BAO has been tested as a teacher, as a multinational company technocrat and as a diligent entrepreneur who is humility and empathy personified, also a selfless philanthropist and a keen man of God worthy of emulation. Through His grace, Baba having committed most of his hard earned financial resources in old age to God’s work, he continues to dedicate his time and every other substance at his disposal as a gracefully aging old man to Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion.
The Prince of Moko Royal Dynasty, Ikenne and Tunwase Royal Family of Ijebu-Ode; was born on 28th February 1925 at Ikenne in Ogun State of Nigeria. His father was Adeyemi Onafowokan and mother was Oke Makiyeti. He had his early education at Wasimi African Primary School, Ijebu-Ode and St Paul’s Anglican School in Sagamu. His secondary education took him to Abeokuta Grammar School and Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. BAO gained admission into the University College Ibadan on scholarship which attested to the fact that he was a brilliant student among his peers which is also evident among his children to the glory of God. He was to train as a surveyor but changed the course of study to Mathematics in 1951. Prince Onafowokan passed the London Matriculation Examination in 1950 and the University of London Special Honours Degree in Mathematics in 1954 when he graduated from the University of Ibadan.
His brief teaching job started at Ogbomosho Grammar School in 1954 and left in 1955 for King’s College, Lagos. On August 6, 1956, he got married to Mrs Victoria Abimbola Onafowokan nee Ogunlesi (1931-2008), a remarkably resourceful wife, a servant of God and a great blessing to the family. He joined Shell Nigeria Limited and as a management trainee in June 1956 and taught part-time at the Federal School of Science, Onikan from 1957 to 1958. He was appointed Head of Marketing Service and Statistical Forecasting of Shell Nigeria Limited in 1958. He was promoted manager in charge of the Mid-Western Region of Nigeria in 1959 and Manager of the Western Region from 1961. In 1963 to 1964, he was sent to London, Norway and Kenya for advanced management training courses and was seconded to British Petroleum to work in the Retail Division of National Petroleum between 1965 and 1966. On return to Nigeria in 1966, he was promoted to the post of Retail Sales Manager, a position he held till his early voluntary pensionable retirement in 1972.
The visionary and perspective prince studied the economic environment and the entrepreneur instinct in him took better part of his decision to go for early voluntary pensionable retirement in 1972. He founded Ladgroup Limited as a commodity trading company in 1971 to essentially focus on international trade based on the economic principle of comparative advantage. Ladgroup was the biggest exporter of cocoa and other agricultural commodities till 1996, the company won national awards and enjoyed immense financial support from local banks. Record has it that Ladgroup was the first indigenous private company that imported rice from Thailand in Nigeria.
The head office of Ladgroup is at 24 Abimbola Street, Isolo. I recall my first visit to the premises in the mid-1990s at the instance of his son, Kunle Onafowokan when Baba gave me an assignment. I was so inspired seeing Mama Onafowokan, the inestimable jewel of Baba Onafowokan and other family members working hard in the office for Ladgroup. It was only a matter of time for the distinguished entrepreneur to be recognized and awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye. BAO in his youthful days was actively involved in sporting activities; he played football, lawn tennis and table tennis. In fact Baba played lawn tennis till middle age and even in old age he took delight in swimming. He is a member of Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, City Club and was a former President of Ikeja Lions Club. He served at the initial stage, as a member of the Board of Governors of Olabisi Onabanjo University in Ogun-State.
Unequivocally, he earned the title of the defacto Baba-Ijo of the Anglican Church of the Ascension, Opebi, Ikeja Lagos, for his exemplary roles in the Church over the years as one of the pioneer members. He is the Patron of the Busy Bees Society and the Grand Patron of the Choir in the church. He is also the Patron of the Elderly Ministry of the Diocese of Lagos West, Ikeja. He is a member of Our Saviour’s Anglican Church, Ikenne and the President of Men’s and Women’s Auxiliary Guild of the Church. He served as the Chairman of the Remo Diocesan Development Committee till 2013. He is the Patriarch of Victoria Abimbola Memorial Anglican Church, Ikenne.
Before I was privileged to associate close to Baba Onafowokan in the Anglican Church of Ascension, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, it was delightful seeing him when he was the chairman at the wedding reception of my older brother, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, when he got married to Dr Mrs Bola Adetunmbi nee Adeniyi at Ilorin in 1990.
As a great planner and excellent coordinator, whenever he was made the Chairman of a committee in the church, he will look out for parishioners with the set skills to support the work of the small group. He drafted me to one of such, a Welfare Committee that was constituted to manage an investment fund initiated to meet the needs of the indigent members of the parish under his chairmanship. It is always a great pleasure being around him. He is a technocrat with a meticulous inclination that will not leave anything to chance. When he was going to commission the church building built in memory of his beloved wife, I served in the committee he constituted. During Christmas, I often receive a gift from him. When I went to thank him in December 2014 and remarked that it is his rice that I usually eat every Christmas, in his characteristic sincere and generous smile, Baba said: “God willing you will continue to eat it for as long as possible”. Baba traveled out of the country just before I marked 50th birthday anniversary in 2012 with a public book presentation. On the last Sunday before his scheduled flight he gave me money in an envelope for a copy of the book which I later delivered to him, and he received it with delight.
Prince Onafowokan was happily married to Mrs Victoria Abimbola Onafowokan nee Ogunlesi for 52 years before she joined the saints triumphant and the marriage was blessed with five children. As a family man, Baba stands out as an exemplar. How Baba has been able to cope with the challenges of life without any visible stress is a study in contentment and lesson in submitting to the will of God, by surrendering all to Jesus Christ.
To say that I love very elderly people a lot, would amount to an understatement because I feel very comfortable with the arugbos. When Baba celebrated his 80th birthday in 2005, I asked his wife, Mama Onafowokan of blessed memory, my encourager and inspirer in the vineyard, for the size of his cap and I made a special gobi native cap for him with aso agba, 1955 etu from the little piece that I have preserved over the years It is the type of vintage fabric that you can’t find around anymore. You must be really special to me and be above 80 years of age before you can get that kind of gift from me. My greatest joy is that the cap became one of his favorites. Now that Baba is a nonagenarian, I couldn’t think of any better gift for an exemplary man of God who has everything, because he has Christ and his focus is on Jesus, than to celebrate him with this token tribute straight from my heart. He has indeed brought forth good fruit in old age; and his beloved family remains fat and flourish. Yes, it is assured in the good book that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in courts of our God”. Ajinde ara a ma je fun Baba l’oruko Jesu, amin.