By Eric Teniola
The South West governors have reconstituted the board of directors of Odua Company Limited. The new board is headed by Dr, Lawrence Olusegun Aina (65), past President of West Africa Bankers Association and former President of Otan-Ayegbaju Development Association in Osun state. Other members of the new board are Chief Segun Ojo, a former Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning in Ondo State; Dr. Tola Kasali who served as Commissioner for Rural Development in Lagos State between 2003 and 2007; Barrister Seni Adio, SAN, the Managing Partner of Copley Partners (Solicitors & Barristers); Mr. Olusegun Olujobi, who is ex-Accenture and Energy Industry player, and Otunba Bimbo Ashiru, a renowned banker and immediate past Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in Ogun State. The Group Managing Director of the Company is Mr. Adewale Abiodun Raji, a former Managing Director of PZ Cussons Nigeria Plc., who was recently reappointed for another term.
The inauguration of the new board is a welcome development, for Odua Investment Company is one of the three regional groupings in the country. The other two bodies are the Interim Common Services Agency for Northern Region and Eastern States Interim Assets and Liabilities Agency (ESIALA), which we don’t hear of, these days. Profitability was achieved by Odua Company between 2014 and 2018, an unprecedented dividend of N1.2billion was paid. The fulcrum of credible strategic partnership is gradually taking shape with the recent strides in the Imeko Tomato to Paste Project and the Westlink Iconic Estate JV at Alakia, Ibadan. These and many more like the Power Generation Project at Ikeja, The Farming Company Limited JV at Oke-Ako Ekiti, the Vitalo Brand Project are initiatives that are unfolding to grow the revenue base of the company.
The Odua Investment Company is an offshoot of an Economic body of the Action Group, which came to power in 1952 in Western Region.
The Action group (Egbe Afenifere) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was formed on March 21, 1951 at the Oke-Bola residence of Chief Awolowo in Ibadan. The house still stands today. I remember with nostalgia when I was a reporter in the Nigerian Tribune in 1972, I used to collect stories on phone in that house on the Oniru land case dispatched by the Nigerian Tribune correspondent in Lagos, Mr Bayo Osiyemi. It was that time I met Chief Awolowo for the first time in my life. I almost fainted seeing the man bearing in mind the myth I grew up with about Chief Awolowo in my home town in Idanre in Ondo state. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, its leader, later stated that the party had been formed by himself and seven others at a meeting in his house in Ibadan on March 26, 1950. The seven others who formed Action Group with Chief Awolowo were Chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare (1920-1964), then manager, UAC (Technical) Ltd, Lagos, later Managing Director of the Amalgamated Press of Nigeria Limited and Federal Publicity Secretary of the Action Group; Chief Abiodun Akerele, a lawyer; S.T. Oredein, Secretary of the British-American Tobacco Company (BATC) Workers’ Union, later Principal organizing Secretary of the Action Group in the Western Region; Olatunji Dosunmu, a journalist, later Administrative Secretary of the Action Group in the Western Region; J. Ola Adigun, a journalist; Adeniga Akinsanya, Manager of the African Press Ltd, Ibadan and Ayo Akinsanya, a chemist and a druggist. At the convention of the party later, the following were elected—Chief Obafemi Awolowo (President), Dr. J.A. Doherty (Vice-President, West), Dr. E.O. Awduche (Vice-President, East), Alhaji Sule Maito (Vice-President, North), Mr. Ayotunde Rosiji (Federal Secretary), Alhaji S. O. Gbadamosi (Federal Treasurer), Mr. S.O. Shonibare (Federal Publicity Secretary), Mr. A.M.O. Akinloye (Legal Adviser, West), Mr. A. Adeoba (Legal Adviser, East), Rev. E.O. Alayande (Party Chaplain), Malam M.S. Yabagi (Party Imam), Dr. Akinola Maja (Father of the Party), Chief S.L. Akintola (Deputy Leader), Mr. S.T. Oredein (Principal Organising Secretary), Mr. O. Agunbiade- Bamishe (Party Manager) and Mr. Olatunji Dosunmu (Administrative Secretary). The other members of the party at the convention were Chief F.R.A. Williams, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief T. A. Odutola, Chief G. Akin Deko, Mr. M.A. Ajasin, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Chief S.A. Tinubu, Mr. S.O. Ighodaro, Mr. Nduka Eze, Mr.O.N. Rewane, Mr. E.O. Eyo, Mr. S.G. Ikoku, Prince R.N. Takon, Mr. A.J.U. Ekong, Mr. S.J. Una, Mr. Okoi Arikpo, Mr. J.A. Agba, Chief Okim Okwa Ahang, Mr. George Lawson, Miss R.T. Brown, Mr. B.E. Mbalu, Mr. J.S. Olawoyin, Chief D.O. Sanyaolu, Mr. D. Adesina, Mr. M.O. Ikongbe, Mr. O.Olu Pinnock, Mr.J.S. Tejuoso, Mr. G.B. Olowu, Alfa K.S. Oba, Mr. D.O. Ogunmade, Mr. Omoniyi Olanipekun, Mr. Peter Onu and Mr. Alex Peters.
The party held its first inauguration in Owo in the present Ondo state on 28 April, 1952 and they were hosted by the legendary Olowo of Owo, Sir James Titus Olateru Olagbegi II (1910-1998). The motto of the party was “freedom for all, life more abundant”. It was the party’s belief that “the people of Western Nigeria in particular, and of Nigeria in general, would have life more abundant when they enjoy freedom from British rule, freedom from ignorance, freedom from disease and freedom from want”.
In setting up the Action Group, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, GCFR, had two broad objectives in mind, one was political, and the other was economical. Chief Awolowo believed at that time that political party funding are the methods that a political party uses to raise money for campaign and routine activities.
As for the political, he enlisted Chief Akintola, Chief Enahoro and others. That political arrangement broke down later. As for the economic, he enlisted Chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare (1920-1964), Chief Sule Oyesola Gbadamosi from Ikorodu and Chief Alfred Ogbeyiwa Erewarone Rewane (1916-1995) alias Osabokolo from Warri, who later became Chairman Western Nigeria Development Company. In terms of managing business, Chief Shonibare, Chief Rewane and Chief Gbadamosi were gifted. They were capable of turning anything to an asset.
It was the same scenario that played out in South Africa in 1994 when President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) encouraged the then Vice President Thambo Mvuyelwa Mbeki (77) to be in charge of government while the present President of South Africa, Mr. Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa (67), then secretary of the National Union of Mine Workers to be in charge of the businesses for the African National Congress. The arrangement worked then in that it reduced rivalry. It paid off for Mr Ramaphosa who has an estimated net worth of $450million as of 2018, with 31poperties and previously-held notable ownership in companies such as McDonald’s South Africa, chair of the board for MTN and member of the board for Lomnin.
Chief Shonibare and his group established the National Investment Company along with Chief Rewane and Chief Gbadamosi. It was this company that built the Western House in Lagos, Cocoa house in Ibadan and Bristol hotel in Lagos. It was the same company that built most of the companies that are under Odua Investment Company today. It was this group that was behind the Western Region partnership in the establishment of worldwide redifusion in Ibadan, Nigerian Plastic Company (1954), Ibadan, Nidogas, Lagos, Nigersol Construction Company (1959), Nigerian Water Resources Development Company (1959), Ibadan, Nigerian Pre-Pressed and Concrete Company, Abeokuta, Crittal Hope Nigerian Ltd., Mushin, Vono (West Africa) Mushin, Tower Aluminium Ltd Ikeja, Asbestos Cement, Ikeja, Nigerian Sugar Company, Apapa, Nigerian Mosaic and Glass Manufacturing Company, Ikeja, Pioneer Biscuit Company, Apapa, West African Portland Company, Ewekoro, Nigerian Textile Mills Ltd., Ikeja
Let’s take Chief Shonibare for example. His career began in 1936 as a clerk for U.A.C in Ibadan where he worked from 1936 to 1942, he was then promoted Chief Clerk and book-keeper at Ijebu-Ode in 1942. He rose to become office manager, technical department before leaving the firm in 1952. Upon leaving UAC, he joined Amalgamated Press, publishers of the Daily Service which was then a political mouth-piece of the Action Group. During his tenure, the company launched the Sunday Express an apolitical weekly magazine and also launched Daily Express in partnership with the Thomson Group. Under his leadership, Amalgamated Press had editors like Chief Victor Olabisi Onabanjo (1927-1990) and Alhaji Lateef Jakande( 90), who later became governors. In 1958, Shonibare became managing director of the National Investment Property Company, he was invited to be the MD by S.O. Gbadamosi, a board member. While working for U.A.C. in Ijebu Ode, his supervisor was Mr Samuel Olukoya. At party in 1942, he was introduced to his daughter Ms Alice Olukoya, they got married in 1946.
He was managing director of National Investment and Properties Corporation, a private company that was linked with AG and the regional government and whose directors were party members. The company was formed in 1958.
When a state of emergency became effective in the Western Region, Chief Shonibare was limited to Ondo town. He died in January 1964. Prior to his death, he founded Shonny Investments which was in the process of developing Maryland Estate in Lagos. He was also involved in a mobile film unit and a printing business.
As for Chief Rewane, he started his career as a manager trainee with UAC and became the beach master, Lagos Customs Wharf for the firm. In the 1940s he left UAC and focused on importing goods, especially cow bones and black pepper and then in the 1950s, he was also into the timber trade and he owned the Rex club in Yaba, Lagos where Chief Olabinjo Bobby Benson (1922-1983) was a regular musician. During the pre-independence era in Nigeria, Rewane was affiliated with the Action Group, he became the chairman of the Western Nigeria Development Company.
Chief Gbadamosi was a household name in Ikorodu, especially in terms of business which is still the centre of commerce in the present Lagos state. The rate at which Chief Obafemi Awolowo was developing the Western Region at that time was unbelievable and at a very short period. His achievements were laudable. Hence the envy. 1962 was the worst year for the Action Group with political landmines planted by the party’s adversaries. In February 1962, the party was engulfed in a serious crises in Jos during its annual congress.
On May 29, 1962, a state of emergency was declared by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The motion was approved by 209 votes to 36 in the House of Representatives and in the Senate by 32 votes to 7 with two abstentions. He then appointed Senator Adekoyejo Moses Majekodunmi (1916-2012), CFR, the Mayegun of Lagos and Otun balogun of Egba Christians, as the administrator of Western Region. The following day he arrived in Ibadan with his ADC, Captain Murtala Mohammed (1938-1976). The first act of Dr. Majekodunmi on arrival was to order the restrictions of the leading political personalities in the Western Region including Chief Obafemi Awolowo, GCFR, (1909-1987), Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (1910-1966), Chief Ayotunde Rosiji (1917-2000), Chief Dauda Soroye Adegbenro (1909-1975), Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (1920-2005) and the leader of opposition at that time, Chief Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunbo Fanikayode (1921-1995).
On June 20, 1962, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister of the Federation, appointed a commission headed by Justice George Baptist Ayodola Coker, to inquire into the financial and investment policies and practices, the management and the business operations of six statutory corporations in Western Nigeria since October 1, 1954.
The affected companies are Western Region Marketing Board, the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the Western Region Finance Corporation and the Western Region Housing Corporation. Other members of the panel were Mr Oladiran Booyamin Kassim, Acting Judge of the High Court of Eastern Nigeria, and Mr. Akintola Williams (100), a Lagos Chartered Accountant. The Commission sat for 92days and had 50witnesses. Chief Awolowo who on November 2, 1962, had been charged again with conspiring to overthrow the Federal Government by force had refused to give evidence before the Coker Commission of Inquiry. From Lagos Prison, when waiting trial, he sent a letter to the Chairman of the inquiry, Dr. Coker saying that he had come to conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by his further participation in the inquiry. The enquiry did not find Chief Awolowo guilty. They made only two recommendations that the Western Nigeria Marketing Board should take over immediately all properties of the National Investment and Properties Company Ltd, that the Board should take steps to recover from the Action Group a sum of N8, 000,000 which Action Group had received from the National Investment and Properties Company between April 18, 1958 and May 31, 1962. In a White Paper issued with the report, the Federal Government endorsed it. In a statement signed by Chief Awolowo, the Action Group rejected the report. The party alleged that it was “produced with unprecedented ruthless speed and wanton disregard for facts.”
Incidentally, the affected companies mentioned at the Coker Commission of enquiry are today the foundation upon which Odua Investment Company was built. They are today the goldmines. The stone that the builders rejected has now become the corner stone.
Odua Investment Company was formally established in 1976 when Ondo and Ogun states were created out of Western state. The company was to take charge of the assets and liabilities of the whole Western Region. As a reporter with THE NIGERIAN HERALD at that time, I covered the inauguration of the new company at Cocoa house in Ibadan with the governor of Oyo state, Colonel David Medayese Jemibewon (79) from Aiyetoro Gbede in Kogi state presiding with two other governors present namely, Colonel Seidu Ayodele Balogun (Ogun) from Ido Ani in Ondo state and Wing Commader David Ita Ikpeme (Ondo). The pioneer Group Managing Director of the Company then was Mr. Christopher Sunday Olatunji Akande. Mr. Akande (1927-2005) from Arigidi, Akoko in Ondo state. The same town that produced Justice Olakunle Joseph Orojo (1923-2009), the first indigenous Director of Law School, Chief Felix Idowu Ayegbusi (1935-2019), former National Chairman, Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, Pastor T.B. Joshua and Aare Ona Kakanfo, Gani Adams. After Chief Akande was Chief Francis Mogaji from Efon-Alaye in Ekiti state, 1979 to 1983, an Accountant from Ekiti State who previously worked with UAC & Food Specialties now Nestle Nigeria Plc,.Chief Iyowu from Ogun State took over from Chief Mogaji and served from 1984 to 1989. He was previously Managing Director of Cocoa Industries Ltd Ikeja, who processed Cocoa beans to Cocoa Butter and Cake and manufactured d VITALO Cocoa beverage that ranked 3rd to Bournvita and Milo in this Category. Chief Olufemi Adewumi also from Ekiti State who served as MD of Wemabod Estates Ltd before becoming Group Managing Director from 1989 to 1993, Alhaji Aruna, a Lawyer from Oyo State was Group Managing Director from 1994 to 1997 while Sir Remi Omotoso, from Ekiti state, ex-Unilever served from 1998 to 2004, Dr Adebayo Jimoh Ex John Holt was Group Managing Director from 2005 to 2014.
The functioning Companies of Odua Group are Wemabod Estates Ltd (Real Estate), Glanvill Enthoven (Insurance Brokers), Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Premier Hotel and Lafia Hotel at Ibadan (Hospitality), E & O Power & Equipment Leasing and Odua Printing & Publishing Co Ltd.
Prominent Companies where Odua Group have Minority interests courtesy of being seed investor are Nigerite Ltd, Lafarge Wapco, Wema Bank Plc, Tower Aluminum Plc, Great Nigeria Insurance Plc, Crittall Hope, Ire Clay Products Ltd, SKG-Pharma etc
The people who flew the flag of Odua Investment Company especially the past and present governors who served in the south west, are appreciated. The flag must not fly half-mast during the era of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN,(Ondo), Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu(Lagos), Mr. Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Mr. Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Prince Dapo Abiodun(Ogun). I also appreciate Otunba Mohammed Jobi-Fele (1940-2011), a cocoa merchant from Ikare in Ondo state, who had earlier served as Chairman of Odua and who stood his ground during his tenure and ensured that the company must survive and be sustained.
I understand that the Odua Investment Company wants to diversify into agriculture which was the main goal of Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he established the farm settlements in the old Western Region. Efforts must be made to save Odua Investment Company and the South West governors must ensure that this regional legacy must not only be sustained but improved upon. As long as Odua Investment Company exists those clamouring for restructuring and regionalism are on solid ground. If other zones of this country are encouraged to develop on their own, there will be less dependence on the centre. And the way we are going now, there may be nothing left to share again in the centre. In short we are heading towards a situation where YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.
*Teniola is a veteran journalist.