BACK PAGE BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Nigerians, it is yet another sad week as Nigeria lost another iconic businessman, Chief Harry Ayoade Akande, The Agbaoye of Ibadanland, in the early hours of Saturday, December 5, 2020. On a personal note, the news hit me like thunderbolt. Chief Akande and I shared a very wonderful relationship. He was one of my childhood heroes. I knew of him while I was as young as nine years old but did not meet him until much later in life. I had followed his trajectory and the many myths around him very keenly. He became one of my childhood fantasies, an icon I wished to meet.
I had heard that Chief Harry Akande and the city of Chicago were synonymous with each other, they were like one inviolable and inseparable entity. His fame resonated beyond the seas. He was called “the capo di tutti capi” (the Boss of all Bosses). He was the stuff of legends. His jet set lifestyle stood him out like American movie stars. He mixed and mingled freely with the rich and famous.
The first time I really witnessed his stupendous Chicago aura was when he once invited me to Chicago about 21 years ago. I saw first-hand his awesome influence in the city, live and direct. As soon as I landed, he had his protocol team waiting to meet me and give me a reception fit for a monarch. I was soon whisked through immigration and custom formalities and thereafter I met his charming Crown Prince, Olumide Akande who was waiting to receive some of the dignitaries landing from different parts of the world for the big fete his Dad was hosting. Olumide drove me to South Michigan Avenue, where he checked me into The Hilton Hotel, before we headed home to meet his Dad and adorable Mum, Mrs Tolulope Akande, the ageless beauty till this day. Chief Akande was playing host to the Head of State, his good friend, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and some NADECO Chieftains, led by Chief Abraham Adesanya. Chicago was literally on fire… I was suitably wowed and awed and our relationship blossomed further.
I was a regular visitor to his beautiful Hyde Park Gardens’ mansion in the heart of London West End where we discussed wide ranging subjects from business to politics. He was extremely passionate about Nigeria and even made fruitless attempts to vie for the presidential race. He was a consummate host who loved to invite friends to lunch or dinner. When not eating at home, he enjoyed taking his guests to Maroush, the popular Lebanese restaurant on Edgware Road, London. He once hosted the television titan, Prince Bisi Olatilo, and I to a sumptuous dinner at the restaurant.
These were some of the memories that flooded back to me as I received the news of his demise with sadness and trepidation. We had spoken twice this year. He called on both occasions. He was such a humble and personable character who mixed readily with his much younger friends. He was young at heart and this reflected in his sartorial taste, aristocratic fashion and bespoke elegance whenever he was not in his resplendent traditional regalia.
Chief Akande fought many battles at home and abroad. He taught me that if you are wealthy and influential, you will always attract powerful enemies, out of jealousy and envy, more often than not.
Our first conversation this year was after he read an article that I wrote in which I mentioned the obstacles he faced while trying to build the first Hilton Hotel at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, after the foundation laying ceremony. I had also mentioned the harrowing experiences of Sam Iwuajoku who finally succeeded in establishing a Curio by Hilton brand hotel, Legend Hilton at the Airport perimeter as part of his building of a formidable business in the aviation sector, against all odds. So, Chief called to thank me, a rarity among many of his peers who only called to fight over reports which their warped minds and associates perceived as negative stories.
Our second and final telephone conversation was less than three months ago. He had actually called on May 16, to congratulate me on my 60th birthday, but I somehow missed his calls. His last call was to tell me he was following my activities on social media and that he was so proud of my creativity. He asked when I will host him at The Penthouse and I said “as soon as COVID allows the world to rest!” I told him how he, and Chief Deinde Fernandez and Chief Oyekunle Alex-Duduyemi had made me fall in love with Penthouses. Little did I realize we were speaking for the last time on planet earth.
Ovation International magazine remains the most important authority on the story of his exciting life, a potpourri of travails and triumphs. Let me give you a glimpse from one of our several covers on the life and times of this great man. This particular story, which was anchored by our Editor, Michael Effiong James, was published in 2003, under the headline, CHICAGO MILLIONAIRE CHIEF HARRY AKANDE GOES INTO SELF EXILE:
“For Chief Harry Ayoade Akande, the Agbaoye of Ibadanland, things have fallen apart, they are no longer at ease between him and a country he loves so much.
The brilliant international businessman who is probably the most popular Nigerian in the United States of America, has chosen to go into voluntary exile after the way his presidential ambition was dramatically truncated by some politicians in Nigeria.
The charming Chicago millionaire, who had lived a jet-set life, is shocked and extremely horrified by the ungentlemanly manner he was dealt with by detractors.
According to impeccable sources, Chief Akande had hoped that politics would be played in Nigeria the way it is played in civilized countries. He knew that if there was one person who could give the incumbent president a run for his office, he was the man. And he was capable and ready. Again, he was banking on the fact that his political party, All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) will pick a man from the same geographical zone to battle the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). He was so sure that the election, though, fierce, will be free and fair.
However, before he could even contest, his party had decided to expel him – and against all political calculations, General Muhammadu Buhari ended up as ANPP’s presidential flag bearer. If he thought it was a huge joke, he soon discovered that his enemies were dead serious about going to any length to diminish his soar away profile. For a man who has exhausted his money in promoting democracy and good governance in Nigeria, this was a very bitter pill to swallow.
Most of his contracts in Nigeria were either cancelled or revoked. Even the money owed him by some government agencies were never paid. When he won cases in Court, the relief awarded were never honoured.
The biggest blow was the cancellation of the proposed world-class Hilton Hotel at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. This terrible deed was done after monumental expenses had gone into the foundation and a lavish ground breaking ceremony was held. Indeed, everything that could go wrong, went wrong! And many are wondering why all these should be happening to a man who is well respected by Nigerians and many celebrities around the world.
Chief Akande’s friends are lamenting that if there is one nan who should be enjoying the dividends of democracy, it should be Chief Harry Ayoade Akande. They mentioned how Chief Akande reconciled the political parties in 1999 when Chief Olu Falae kicked against the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. According to them, Chief Akande campaigned vigorously to get some angry members of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and ANPP to calm frayed nerves and allow democracy to reign. That singular action showed that this was a true nationalist.
Furthermore, Chief Akande who had openly declared that politics for him was not a matter of life and death is one peace-loving man whose commitment to serving the people had been clearly demonstrated over the years with his widespread philosophy. As a man of independent means, he had gone about his campaign like America’s Ross Perot, in a decent manner. For him, service to his people was all that mattered, but he was dead wrong.
When Ovation saw him recently at his Hyde Park Gardens London home, he said jocularly that he was now in self-exile. He confirmed that though his businesses had gone into ruins in Nigeria for political reasons, he had decided to leave his fate in the hands of God.
He stated “I wish my country well and I wish the President and Commander-in-Chief the best of luck. I will continue to pursue political ideals, good governance and accountability at all costs. I believe that Nigeria deserves better leadership, which was what I sought to give them. My vision is to build a virile and prosperous Nigeria where the standard of living will rise regularly.” Chief Akande said he has decided to steer clear of politics and Nigeria, the country of his birth for now. He is hoping to resume active business and projects in some African countries, the Caribbean and the United States.
Born in Ibadan, Western Nigeria on March 3, 1943, to Pa Joseph Afolabi and Chief Mrs Regina Akande, Chief Harry Akande has indeed come a long way. As a student of Olivet Heights in Oyo State, he was not only brilliant in academics, but also excelled in sports.
In 1961, he was admitted to Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, USA on a scholarship bursary, and graduated with a degree in Accounting and Finance in 1967.
In 1969, Chief Akande got his MBA from North Western University Kellogg’s Graduate School of Management. He became the prestigious school’s first black student.
Like a true patriot, despite getting a fantastic salary as financial consultant in KPMG, Peat Marwick and Standard Oil Corporation, USA, he returned home, to establish AIC Limited. His experience and expertise shone brightly in a few years and he was soon made the first President of the New African Technical and Electrical Company (NAFTEC). NAFTEC became a representative company of GE America, which subsequently executed the major gas turbine electricity projects at Ughelli, Ijora and Delta IV.
In 1976, his company in association with Balfour Beatty Engineering of UK was awarded the irrigation studies contract in Bagel-Zungu, Balanga, Kaltango and Katini.
AIC also did the engineering design and supervision of Bauchi Township Water Scheme, Keffi/Akwanga and Doma Water Schemes, Jos Bukuru Water Expansion, Benin City, Warri-Effurun , Northern Ishan, Yola Jimeta, Uyo Metropolitan Water and Oyo-North Water Schemes.
Away from Nigeria, he is associated with the development of the Crystal Place, a 1,000 bedroom hotel in Nassau, Bahamas, Las Quevas Bay Hotel in Trinidad, a marine project in Panama, Aqua Park Resort development in Bahamas, Moruga and at Patrick Water Schemes in Trinidad and Tobago.
In the last ten years, AIC has been involved in projects in excess of $2 billion around the world and his organization is involved in computers, aviation, telecommunications, management and petrochemicals.
The good mixer and excellent dresser, who has been married to Chief (Mrs) Tolulope Akande for the past 29 years, has four children – Olumide, Foluke, Atinuke and Olawunmi…”
Chief Harry Ayoade Akande will be buried in Ibadan on December 23, 2020. May his gentle soul Rest in Peace…