A Brilliant Mind: Still ‘Rocking the Boat’

A Brilliant Mind: Still ‘Rocking the Boat’

guest columnist

Olasupo Shasore

Olabode Agusto (14 September 1955 – October 2023 and still …) Accountant, Economist, Finance professional and great Thinker.

‘People will always behave like human beings …it’s not about the exchange rate but your exchange policy…why would you trust someone who says one thing and does another..(the government) uses 80% of its revenue to pay salaries, between 15 -60% to service interest, it will borrow N2-3Trillion for infrastructure… at interest rate of 15% that’s N300 Billion with revenues of N3Trillion that’s 10% …these are the big issues that need to be addressed.. issues we must resolve if we don’t resolve (them) we will not have development.’

Typical. These were the typical, seasoned words of Olabode Agusto speaking at an economic forum on the 30th of March 2017. These words are even more relevant today as if he were here now to give advice to today’s government.

Agusto believed that ‘we can solve the problems of Nigeria in five years’- if as he often said, we have “sincerity of purpose”.

Today, this gives Nigeria hope, if as he said, “we do the right things” despite, as he said, a concentration of wealth (in the hands a few) and even though “there should be a more even distribution of wealth”.

But no one could be (or is) surprised at Bode’s plain, straight talk then and now. He was renowned for his forthrightness and speaking truth to power, whatever the occasion. ‘Rocking the boat’ was not something he was afraid of.

But then this was hardly surprising. Olabode Agusto was born from a long line of ‘boat rockers.’ His great-grandfather Jao ‘Taiyese’ Agusto was one of the pioneering Brazillian returnees. His grandfather Mohammed Lawal Basil Agusto was born in Lagos in 1880, decades after the first waves of Afro-Brazilians returned ‘home’ to Lagos in the 1830s. A Lagos in which Portuguese was more widely spoken than English, the Agustos were among the Africans of Afro-Brazilian heritage that made the Crown Colony of Lagos and eastern part of Lagos Island, home, dedicated for them by the Oba of Lagos to settle. The area was then named ‘Popo Aguda’, and Bamgbose Street where the Agustos lived – was its nerve centre. There the Afro-Brazilians contributed richly to a distinct Lagos culture, where Roman Catholics lived in neighbourly embrace with Muslims. Both returnees from Brazil and often in the same family.

In the year 1921 a census of Nigerians was conducted in Southern Nigeria with a figure of 8.4 million recorded for Southern Nigeria and 10.4 million for Northern Nigeria . The vibrant colony was in its growing era. At that time, among the Lagos native community, a considerable amount of political capital was made out of the return to Lagos of Amodu Tijani, the Chief Oluwa of Lagos on the conclusion of his successful appeal to the Privy Council (House of Lords) in London against the colonial government. In a celebrated legal battle, he had won rights to land in Lagos for native Africans.

The shipping line Elder Dempster & Co. Ltd., owned the greater part of the shipping trade and maintained regular services between the United Kingdom and Nigeria for passengers, mail and cargo. The 16-day voyage from Liverpool to Lagos covered 4,200 miles.

And so it was in that year, on the 30th of August 1921, that Mohammed Lawal Basil Agusto was admitted as a barrister to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in London and returned to Lagos on the Elder Dempster line – a pioneer. He would pioneer again, founding with others the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam and then Islamic Society of Nigeria and eventually acquiring the title of Chief Imam of Lagos. He had risen in his profession to become Queen’s Counsel and in business he joined others to establish the National Bank of Nigeria. He broke away from the Ahmadiyya movement and became again a pioneer – the founder of Jamat-ul Islamiya.

And then there was Olabode’s father – Basheer Adewale Agusto, born 5th December 1919. He was himself admitted to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple on 9th June 1948, later becoming a councillor in Lagos Town Council under the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) banner while continuing with the Jamat-ul-Islamiya movement and was a foundation member of the prestigious Crescent Bearers’ Society, that pursued the education of children through mission schools amongst other laudable social objectives.

And then there was Olabode Akangbe Agusto, born to Kudirat Olande Ashabi Agusto and Basheer Adewale Agusto on the 14th of September 1955 at Creek Hospital, Lagos, he was named Mubasheer. ‘Mubasheer’ literally meaning the bringer of good tidings. His path of pioneering and greatness was almost already predestined. He imbibed many deep teachings of his faith for instance: ‘in life, let your load be light … giving you peace of mind’. (see his interview with Iconic Persons)

From his own admission, Bode was influenced by the values that his grandfather, the Chief Imam, taught and the values his father espoused. The influence of his primary school – St. Peter’s Faji School; Methodist Boy’s High School; St. Gregory’s College; University of Lagos (MIT & Wharton were just professional courses)

National Youth Service was dutifully served, modestly at UTC Motors, Aba in accordance with the law. Price Waterhouse was his first professional placement in Lagos in 1978. The merger between Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand creating Price Waterhouse Coopers, was not to happen till 1998. He qualified as a chartered accountant in May 1981, winning Third Prize in the Overall Order of Merit. He worked at Citibank, becoming Head of Treasury Operations, returning to Price Waterhouse Coopers in 1990 and taking charge of the Financial Services Group.

Then there was the ultimate, on the 2nd of January 1992, Bode founded Agusto & Co. Ltd as a consulting firm providing training, strategy and financial consulting, industry analysis and research. In a market already dominated by populated by the global company Andersen Consulting and then its offshoot Accenture – this was daunting. Yet Agusto & Co. thrived, creating the pioneer in Nigeria and most of Africa’s – credit rating and reporting service in Nigeria, publishing the first credit ratings of Nigerian banks and corporates in 1993. After being told that this was not possible. Bode had ‘rocked the boat’.

Femi Edun, himself an accountant, a protegee, mentee and founding colleague of Bode Agusto at Agusto & Co. recalls that his leadership style was one of intense coaching for professionalism but was confident of the new firm’s success because above all ‘he loved Nigeria deeply not just its amazing potential but the strength of its human capital’.

By 1998, Agusto & Co. had become a market staple, it was licensed by the Securities & Exchange Commission as the first credit rating agency in Nigeria. Yet it wasn’t till 2019 that African Union’s finance ministers signed a declaration that an African agency was needed.

On any occasion the well-chiseled features of his face would break into a broad smile and then Agusto would say, ‘when I walk into Agusto & Co. seeing people working there, none a relative of mine and seeing people helping others thrive, it is humbling, that gives me a lot of positive vibes…’ He was proud, and rightly so, of Agusto & Co., having built a true professional institution that would stand the test of time. His pioneering work at Agusto & Co. earned him the National Honour of Member of the Federal Republic, MFR in 2002.

In 2003, the Obasanjo Administration drafted Agusto to serve as Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation and Special Adviser on Budget Matters. He was therefore a member of the President’s Economic Management Team and served on the Board of the National Pension Commission (PENCOM). He served the nation in these roles until the end of the Obasanjo administration in 2007.

‘I’m not in government to help my friends’ was his response to pressure from a friend to bend the rules while he was in public service. He was ‘rocking the boat’.

In July 2007 Bode was designated as the Lagos nominee for Minister of the Federal Republic and was constitutionally obliged to be screened by the senate for confirmation. No one in his right mind had any doubts that this was an eminent choice that would serve Nigerians and the new Yar’Adua administration creditably and with distinction. After all, he had just done Lagos State proud with his work in the reduction of the national debt profile with innovation and discipline brought to the national budgeting process.

However, an over assuming senate had other views, his straight talk, his ‘rocking the boat’ and other reasons less than savoury, were responsible for his name being rejected by the Senate. Agusto was pleased that he wouldn’t have to serve on anything less than on his own terms. He had spoken truth to power!

This was why, he must have thought, he was not interested in politics in Nigeria where meritocracy could be rejected in favour of patronage.

Edun recalls, Agusto said that he believed that the budget didn’t work because he and other right- thinking people believed that it was an instrument of finance and planning; whereas the majority in government positions felt that it was actually a political tool.

And then there was golf, his beloved game that would bring him much joy and peace, yet still finding time for professional speaking engagements. For instance, the extensive session on the economy’s trends and the service sector, he gave at my law firms’ (ALP NG & Co) firmwide retreat at my request (this year) on 5th of January 2023. I was and still am a great admirer, he was a mentor and a great friend, this was an honour indeed.

Golf & Portugal were interwoven into his life, he made a second home in the Algarve, a region of southern Portugal, that boasts of being the maritime and tourist destination of the country. The southern Portuguese town ‘Lagos’, after which his hometown, Lagos in the southern region of Nigeria, was named, was not far away. He loved the two Lagos towns, settling in Vilamoura, Portugal, fifty-six minutes’ drive from the Portuguese Lagos.

Bode Agusto was a committed family man. He married his childhood friend Adetoun in 1982, she sadly passed away in December 1985. They had two children.

He once said, ‘I look within my house, the most important thing anybody can leave in this world is good children, I am grateful’.

He is survived by his family that he doted over dearly, his loving and devoted wife Edna, children Olande, Adebowale & Olubusayo, Motunrayo & Omoseni, Oluwalanu and Olubunmi; and grandchildren Amal, Olusemilore and Aarinola. They grieve for him sorely.

Moreover, he will be missed by brothers, sisters and close relatives – Basheer Agusto, Harrisat Agusto, Mudafiat Agusto-Brown, Olufunlola Aderinokun (nee Agusto), Oluwatofarati ‘Papai’ Agusto, Obafunmilayo Agusto, Abdulrahman Agusto, Akin Kekere-Ekun, Bisade Biobaku, Idunnu Oyebolu.

As well as by close friends who are ‘brothers’, close associates and admirers.

His lifelong friends must be mentioned Fola Adeola, Tayo Aderinokun (who sadly passed in June 2011), Nelson Bola Oyesiku, Tosin Shobo, Akin Akintoye, Stan Adeyemi, Aboaba Adeoye, Toks Famoroti, John Martins, Jimi Agbaje, Bode Karunwi, Lekan Belo.

Friends contemporaries and other associates include Yemi Johnson, Femi Akingbe, Soji Awogbade, Tunde Imoyo, Sola Adeeyo, Emeka Emuwa,Segun Agbaje, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Herbert Wigwe, Gbolade Osibodu, Nduka Obiagbena and many more.

Back to the ‘Lagos’ this side of the Atlantic, where he leaves a gaping intellectual void. Above all, he will be missed by Nigeria – she has lost a brilliant, irreplaceable mind.

Let’s hear Bode Agusto again “…don’t draw lines in your life, go wherever you believe you can prosper …I have no regrets …work hard and almighty God will bless the work of your hands”!

•Olasupo Shasore SAN Lagos, November 2023

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