Kayode Aderinokun: Portrait of a Polymath

A man of many parts with an intriguing personality, Chief Kayode Aderinokun has made significant strides across various sectors of the economy. From media and advertising to banking, mining, manufacturing, politics, and creative arts, he has left his mark in each domain. With roles on the boards of numerous companies, both locally and internationally, Chief Aderinokun’s versatility and leadership shine through. In a recent encounter,  Vanessa Obioha delves  into

the intricate layers of his multifaceted persona

Lately, Chief Kayode Aderinokun has been deeply pondering humanity, nature, and the quest for order and survival in our society. These thoughts weigh on him, especially considering our limited space and resources, and how often we seem to overlook this reality.

“We don’t seem to love ourselves enough to preserve the little we have,” he said on a recent morning chat in his abode in Lagos.

“That bothers me a lot. Look at the environment, look at the carnage we inflict on it. And we don’t seem to be alert to any of these.”

More specifically, Chief Aderinokun is concerned about our lost humanity, wondering if anyone would remain if we control life itself.

The present realities differ vastly from Chief Aderinokun’s formative years. The septuagenarian was born in Kano State and raised partly as a northerner. His mother, Madam Rebecca Aderinokun, was a trader and often engaged in businesses with the northerners. This provided Aderinokun access to the people, embracing their beauty and warmth, such that he was bestowed with the Hausa name Balarabe, typically given to Wednesday-born babies.

The Aderinokuns lived in the Sabon Gari area of the state, a hub for non-northerners, where he mingled with diverse tribes.

“I saw the beauty and kindness of humanity. There were no walls demarcating our houses. Most of our neighbours were Igbos and we used to traverse the supposed divide to go and eat in each other’s house. And each of the parents will virtually take ownership of you, including discipline; they don’t need to apologise to anybody.”

This spirit of oneness was further seen during an ill-advised riot in Kano between the northerners and the Igbos. His parents risked their safety to protect the Igbos, hiding them in their home, and refusing to divulge their whereabouts despite threats.

“That act still sticks with me. I wonder how many lives were saved because of that shared humanity. For me now, when we play up division and tribalism, it hurts me. When you start seeing major divisions, starting with colour, which is global, then you come back to your home state, and you see the same, it is baffling.”

While Chief Aderinokun could not provide an immediate answer to the scarcity of humanity in today’s Nigeria, he takes comfort in the nation’s abundant creativity, seeing it as a beacon of hope amidst numerous challenges. He explained his bias for creativity this way:

“Our economy has been in trouble for quite some time now and I always tell people that at the risk of contradicting some economic analysis, I believe creativity is such an inherent part of Nigeria.”

According to him, Nigeria’s creativity is evident in many sectors of the economy.

“We have this amazing capacity to create in all forms of life. And I distinguish Nigeria too because our capacity seems to be limitless. We can actually translate it into an economic agenda. Do you want to talk about sports where we are not especially good but notwithstanding, we still hold our own in our small space? And if you want to talk about the creative arts, can one put a price tag on some of the amazing things that are coming out of here? I don’t even want to limit it to that. Is it by chance that there are so many Nigerian doctors in America in key positions?

“I went to Perth, Australia, 20 years ago. I was amazed when my host told me that there were 70 Nigerian doctors in Perth. I was in Melbourne two years ago and I was amazed at the number of Nigerians doing well there. Those are the remote parts of the world coming from where we are.”

“More recently,” he continued, “I cite technology. I don’t think anything can hold us back in technology. We are going to break bounds despite our setbacks.”

As someone who experienced Nigeria during a time of ease and affordable living, Chief Aderinokun remains optimistic about the country’s future. He reminisced about a time when his salary as a clerk in the Lagos City Council, a little over £16, afforded him a comfortable lifestyle.

“That money was enough to give me a good life. When Pelé (the Brazilian football legend) came to Nigeria, not only did I pay to watch him, but I also paid for my younger brother, Tayo, who is late now. When James Brown came, we did the same thing. It’s hard to tell people that even the transportation system then was organised.”

Yet, Chief Aderinokun is confident that Nigeria will get back its groove with restructuring. Though he commended the present administration of President Bola Tinubu, he believes that more can be done.

A man of many parts with each layer revealing an intriguing personality, Chief Aderinokun has straddled many sectors of the economy; from media and advertising, banking, mining, manufacturing, and politics to creative arts. He sits on the boards of many companies, both local and international. He is also the younger brother of the late famed journalist, Eddie Aderinokun and the older brother of Tayo Aderinokun, the late founder of Guaranty Trust Bank, now GTCO Plc.

Of all his endeavours, Chief Aderinokun’s love for the creative arts is fascinating. The walls of his home are adorned with paintings alongside shelves filled with books. He humorously remarked that he and his daughter playfully competed for space to accommodate their growing collection of books. These literary treasures keep his mind engaged, even during restless nights.

His proclivity towards the arts was inspired by his late brother Eddie who encouraged him to write, even though he knew he had the gift of writing. He traced the creative zest in his family to his mother whom he fondly remembers as a passionate storyteller.

“My mother especially had this incredible knack for storytelling. She would give you a vivid account of where she’s been, who she met, what the weather was like, who wore what, what colour, whether it was matching or not. She would go into detail about the countenance on their faces, what transpired in the place and how she dealt with it in sequence. That was Madam Rebecca Aderinokun. She was extraordinary.”

With his brother’s influence in the media, Chief Aderinokun started contributing entertainment articles to newspapers after high school. His writing prowess continued to impress, and upon moving abroad for studies, he garnered attention for his exceptional skills, ultimately earning the position of editor for the university magazine.

Despite his remarkable writing abilities, Chief Aderinokun grappled with the idea of solely relying on writing for a living. Fortunately, it was during a period of nationalisation in the economy, and opportunities emerged in advertising. With aspirations of pursuing a career in advertising and public relations while still nurturing his passion for writing, he initially began as a copywriter. But his entrepreneurial spirit led him to explore various business ventures.

However, it was his collection of poems ‘Inferno in the Rain’ that thrust him into global spotlight.

Despite being a successful business executive at the time, his enduring passion for the arts remained irresistible. First published in 1995, ‘Inferno in the Rain’ contains timeless poems that resonate with our present-day social and political conflicts. For instance, in ‘Chaos Incognito,’ he poses poignant questions about the consequences of our actions. The closing line “When heroes hawk our faith, who conjures dreams for the foetus,” particularly encapsulates the political leadership dilemma faced by the country today.

“Some of the ideas still resonate, almost prophetic. We did not know that Nigeria was going to get to this point. We didn’t know.”

Oftentimes, people have queried his decision to remain in the country given that he has the resources to relocate to any part of the world. His response remains unchanged.

“If I choose to relocate, in the culture of extended family, how many of my extended family can I carry along? That’s food for thought. I simply think that the word hope again pops up. We have to ensure that we don’t give up. Even in this seemingly intractable condition we found ourselves in, you still found some gems; against plenty of odds.”

Chief Aderinokun is not unaware of the economic hardship, despite his abundant wealth.

“I’m a Nigerian. I might not experience it directly but I’m aware of its existence and I respond to it in my own little way, one of which is the arts.”

Chief Aderinokun is greatly revered in the arts community, having served as the former chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors. He was among those who advocated for writers to shift their mindset from one of deprivation to abundance by creating opportunities for collaboration within the corporate world. His efforts were instrumental in enabling many writers, especially during the early days of Nollywood, to earn a livelihood through training workshops he established in partnership with the late Amaka Igwe and Gabriel Okoye.

He currently chairs the Board of Committee of Relevant Art (CORA) whose projects include the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF). This year, the committee inaugurated its flagship CORA Library and Resource Centre at Freedom Park, in honour of Prof. Wole Soyinka. As part of the committee’s celebrations for the 90th birthday of the literary icon, Chief Aderinokun shared that each weekend in July (the birth month of Wole Soyinka) will be dedicated to celebrating Soyinka’s life and his contributions to society.

“Soyinka is larger than life and God has surprisingly ordained and sustained him in spite of himself. People like him don’t live long but he has dabbled in everything that you think should kill a man. He exemplifies the complexity of nature. All the idioms and metaphors of nature are all ensconced in him in different measures.”

As a multifaceted individual, Chief Aderinokun sees himself deeply intertwined with the arts community, embracing it wholeheartedly as a lifelong mission.

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