Friday, July 5, 2019 9:55 pm
Rather than prolong undue anxiety, let me disclose that the “VQB” sobriquet on the business card of Prince Olu Awogboro stands for “Very Quiet Billionaire”!!
Having cleared that first hurdle (or preliminary), justice demands that we commence the toast by acknowledging the celebrant’s good fortune and the abundant blessings of the Almighty as embodied in his soulmate and devoted wife Tokunbo (nee Oni). She is undoubtedly his secret weapon and spiritual backbone for ensuring that he has not only survivedthe perennial turbulence and devastating intrigues of business life in Nigeria and beyond, he has emerged triumphant in robustly good health, glowing with radiant happiness and serene contentment. Through the storms of life and the vicissitudes of striving for excellence, he has emerged as a worthy Prince. It is no secret that Tokunbo is a formidable prayer–warrior and her profound spiritualism has fortified her beloved husband who has endeared himself to us all by being a consistent advertisement for trustworthiness, generosity of spirit and superlative hospitality whether in Ilesha (from where he hails); Lagos; London; Paris; Cape Town or other exotic locations. He is fondly called Awo for short.
We have already been treated to moving testimonies and incontestable averments by Arc. (Chief) & Dr. (Mrs.) Tony Soetan; Mrs. Toun Adebiyi (Tokunbo’s sister) and late Chief Yomi McGregor who revealed how in their moments of need, it was the celebrant who went far beyond the call of duty or the obligations of friendship to settle the hefty medical bills(while being tormented by life threatening ordeals) which they had incurred in foreign territories (London and beyond) without expecting acknowledgement, gratitude or deification in return.
I must debunk the widely held opinion or unfounded rumour that the Prince’s generosity is exceptionally skewed in favour of his immediate family, his in-laws (he has neither time nor patience for out-laws) and old boys of St. Gregory’s College, Obalende (his Alma Mater). God help you if like me you are an old boy of King’s College, Lagos!!
Perhaps I should confess that the celebrant and I have been friends for almost six decades. I have it on good authority that when he landed in London in 1961, while others declared their immigration status as “student”, without batting an eyelid he insisted on being welcomed to London as a “Landlord” and promptly declared the address of the property at 15 Windsor Road, Willesden Green which his father, a wealthy cocoa merchant had consigned to his care.
Anyway, when he introduced himself to me at a party in Golders Green, London as a Prince, I was somewhat wary and even alarmed. I instantly recalled the strictures and warning of Psalm 146: 3.
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help.”
He has since proved to be an uncommon exception to that prejudicial assertion.
Indeed, Trust and Trustworthiness have been the watchwords that have guided his path to his phenomenal success as an astute and accomplished businessman (insurance guru and property tycoon); and his dealings with his fellow human beings in various spheres of endeavour within Nigeria and beyond its shores, particularly Lloyds of London, the citadel of insurance; re-insurance loss adjusters (they never adjust their profits) and the apostles of all risks covered!!
For his exemplary conduct and unflinching commitment, he has been rewarded with being appointed a Trustee of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association; Trustee of Lagos Motor Boat Club; Knight of the Catholic Church and numerous other accolades. The list is as long as it is intimidating. Regardless, he has remained refreshinglyunassuming, genuinely humble, raucously good humoured and uncommonly spiritual especially in discharging his obligations to the Catholic Church and daily supplication to the Almighty for his beneficence not only for himself but for all his friends, especially old boys of St. Gregory’s College!!
He has turned out to be a Prince and a Knight in shining armour in a country where pedigree has become irrelevant while the trust deficit has ravaged our collective psyche thereby guaranteeing that we are doomed to grope in the dark,further compounded by gross darkness of the soul.
As a family man, he has been truly exceptional. His home is an oasis of peace, serenity and tranquillity. He is the best of friends with all his children and grandchildren and cares deeply for all of them. Every Sunday morning without fail he gathers all his grandchildren (minus their troublesome parents!!) for a hearty breakfast at the Wheatbaker Hotel, in Ikoyi or the Chocolat Royal, Victoria Island. His day commences with a bicycle run around Banana Island, Ikoyi at the crack of dawn, accompanied by his darling wife Tokunbo. Nothing would stop him from turning up daily for early morning mass at the Church Of The Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi or the Catholic church in Regent’s Park, London.
The Prince is not a keen supporter of Manchester United; Manchester City; Arsenal; Chelsea; or Barcelona football clubs. Neither is he an avid follower of Cricket, Athletics,Golf or Horse Racing. His favourite sport is to sit at the Trustee’s table in the far corner of the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Awolowo Road. Ikoyi on Friday nights. Surrounded by fellow old boys of St. Gregory’s College, they lay an ambush to snare any unwary old boy of King’s College who dares to venture into their lair!! One of them is a medical doctor who is always in attendance just in case their quarry prefers to give up the ghost rather than surrender to their unrelenting allegation that old boys of King’s College are to be held responsible for theterrible woes that have befallen Nigeria. No amount of forceful denial will prevent them from repeating the same allegations all over again the following week. Strictly, no ladies are allowed within earshot of the vigorous arguments back and forth – fuelled with vast quantities of champagne, wine and vintage whiskey or mature brandy. For some inexplicable reason “toso”, barbecued chicken, “suya”, and yam chips are delivered in ample quantities by stewards who eagerly savour the jousting perhaps in expectation that it would eventually metamorphose into duelling – with swords drawn.
Anyway, while St. Gregory’s College versus King’s College is the main attraction, the Barewa College boys insist on flouting their moral superiority on account of having produced Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, late Sir Abubakar TafawaBalewa; late Sarduana of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello; late former President UmaruMusa Yar’Adua and former Head of State General YakubuGowon who by all accounts did not enrich themselves by plundering the public treasury. (However, one of the wives is reputed to be less upright than Caesar’s wife and found easy access to the public treasury irresistible). All this in addition to their long list of former Chiefs of Army Staff, Chief Justices, Military Governors, Ambassadors etc.
As for the Igbobi College boys, their own mantra is to advertise their domination of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering in addition to producing the likes of the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo S.A.N.; Justice DuroAdebiyi; late Justice Taslim Elias, Chief (Dr.) Chris Ogunbanjo; Dr. Duro Soleye, Otunba Subomi Balogun; late Chief (Dr.) Michael Ibru etc. Not to be left out are the Old boys of Baptist Academy; Methodist Boys High School and CMS Grammar School who never tire of debunking the allegation that the Christian mission schools forced Christianity on their moslem students. Among the long list of moslems who flourished in Christian schools are the likes of Mashood Akanbi (Igbobi College); Ganiyu Dawodu (St. Gregory’s College); His Royal Highness Lamidi Adeyemi (St. Gregory’s College); Gbajabiamila twins – Kehinde and Taiwo(Methodist Boys High School/CMS Grammar School); Asiwaju (Dr.) Muniru Balogun (Methodist Boys High School).
Without any provocation, the old boys of Government College, Ibadan who are “nomadic” visitors insist on wheeling out their formidable catalogue of exceptional old boys – late Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu; Nobel Laureate Professor WoleSoyinka; Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo (former Governor of Oyo State); Dr. Akintola Omigbodun; Chief AjibolaOgunshola and many more.
Well before you enter the club, you could hear the celebrant’shearty and infectious laughter. Even the gatemen, receptionistsand stewards are only too eager to announce: “The Trustee is waiting for you.” He is truly adored and cherished by all and sundry – both young and old.
Awo’s philanthropy to the Catholic Church; St. Gregory’s College; and various charitable organisations is colossal. It is a measure of his endearing quest for knowledge and excellence that even after establishing himself as a very successful entrepreneur; he proceeded to the Harvard Business School (to lecture them on how to make serious money and what business schools cannot teach you!!). One of his contemporaries at Harvard is Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State.
Apart from his sojourn in Abeokuta, London, and Hull the Prince has lived most of his life in Lagos as a student at St. Paul’s School, Ebute Metta, Lagos followed by St. Gregory’s College, Obalende and a long stint as a senior manager at Royal Exchange Insurance before venturing into business as an insurance broker – Ark Stewart. From a modest beginning,first at Abibu Oki Street, Lagos he scaled up to “Western House”, Broad Street, Lagos and eventually to its own magnificent edifice in Victoria Island, Lagos
He can with some justification claim to be a Lagosian to the core.
In wishing Prince Awogboro many more years of the grace of the Almighty – in good health and prosperity I am willing to overlook a minor flaw. In 2016, just before the American presidential election he was absolutely convinced that Hilary Clinton would trounce Donald Trump. He even goaded me into staking a bet of one million dollars. He lost and I won. That was over two years ago but I am still waiting to be paid. Perhaps, if he was an old boy of King’s College, he would have long ago sent me a cheque or surrendered his swankynew ocean going yatch in lieu thereof!!
Regardless, there is no gainsaying that the Prince has served his long apprenticeship with consummate dignity, veritable honour, impeccable character and unassailable commitment to sharing his good fortune. When he was offered the crown of kingship, he declined. His preferred choice is to retain his status as a prince – always smiling and forever providing hope that even in the midst of gross despair and forlorn angst, there is room for love, faithfulness, steadfastness and joy. Had Awoaccepted the crown, he would have been obliged to acquire more wives. Tokunbo would have none of that. She put her foot down very firmly.
He is a magnet and may his star never dim as he celebrates his 80th birthday. He was born on 25th June 1939 and we are entitled to drink a hearty toast to “VQB” – the Very Quiet Billionaire. Let’s make some noise in recognition of the sterling qualities of a quintessential gentleman, philanthropist extraordinaire and a jolly good fellow of whom we are all so proud. The birthday was kept as a secret until Tokunboalerted us that today we would celebrate Awo’s 80th birthday and he in turn gave us an all risks covered insurance that he will always be our friend.
As an addendum to the toast which I have just proposed members of the Friday night group of Lagos Motor Boat Club have handed over to me a sealed envelope which is to be delivered to Prince Francis Oluwole Ademola Awogboro on 25th June 2039 when he will be celebrating his 100th Birthday. We shall all be there to celebrate with him. I am not privy to the entire contents but I understand that it contains a photograph of the celebrant’s new yatch which he has christened “THE ARK” (derived from the name of his company, Ark Stewart). Like the Biblical Ark, it is an “SPV” (Special Purpose Vehicle). In the event of any calamity or unforeseen circumstances, the celebrant would be at liberty to set sail along with Tokunbo and other members of his family as well as his friends. However, there is a caveat. There will be plenty of room for old boys of St. Gregory’s College. As for old boys of King’s College, it is back to the old days of discrimination in Britain:
“Sorry, no Irish; no blacks; and no dogs.” No room for old boys of King’s College!!
On that journey, in the welcoming embrace of the Atlantic Ocean, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to acknowledge and relish a lifetime of superlative achievements and muscular integrity. It would also be self-evident that the yatch does not have a landing pad for helicopters as is being rumoured (fake news!!). It is merely a testimony to the Prince’s love of beauty and fine taste. What the yatch does have is an advanced satellite communication system which will expeditiously alert Awo when Nigeria is no longer safe for anybody – rich or poor; “Gregorian” or “Floreat” (KCOB’s). He has worked hard and he is fully entitled to the reward for his sweat and labour. It is typical of him, when asked for the secret of his phenomenal success, to respond:
“The Lord is always faithful. The glory belongs toHim. It is not by my own doing.”
Inevitably, he would remind us that amongst his classmates at St. Gregory’s College were late Oluyomi McGregor and Toyan Doherty. Thankfully, another classmate Chief Anthony Soetan is alive and will still be around for the Centenary celebration.
Hopefully, in twenty years’ time we would look back with joyous recollection of Friday nights devoted to the problems of our beloved Nigeria – sometimes, until well after midnight. Indeed, on at least one occasion matters continued on the following Saturday afternoon at a wedding party where the same gang were seated at the same table only to re-assemble on Sunday at the Lekki residence of Dr. Charles Hammond in Lekki Peninsula, Phase I where the St. Gregory’s College versus King’s College “wahala” started all over again.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge here and now (rather than wait for another twenty years) the unflinching support I have received from the celebrant and two other Trustees of St. Gregory’s College plus many distinguished old boys of the college in my campaign to become President of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association (in Nigeria and worldwide!!). Such magnanimity is a rare occurrence in this part of the world. I remain eternally grateful.
I cannot thank them enough, especially as victory is in sight. I am not at liberty to say too much as one of my opponents has taken the matter to court. It is now “sub judice”. Unfortunately, his fellow judges are too pre-occupied with mundane matters such as the removal of the Chief Justice of Nigeria; disputation over the last Presidential election (AtikuAbubakar versus Muhammadu Buhari); Governorship elections in Osun, Kano, and four other States; State Police; Dame Patience Jonathan versus Economic and Financial Crimes Commission etc. to grant accelerated hearing and deliver their judgement on a matter that is clearly of national interest. My candidacy is anchored on the doctrine of necessity!!
I hope that, in twenty years’ time the old boys of St. Gregory’s College would have consigned to distant memory an event they would not let me ever forget. There we were at the Lagos Motor Boat Club and a Minister who happens to be an Old Boy of King’s College came by. He barely said hello to us. After he departed, the St. Gregory College guys descended on me as if I was the one responsible for what they considered to be a clear demonstration of aloofness combined with haughtiness by the Minister. Their gripe was that no Gregorian would ever conduct himself in that manner. He would certainly have exchanged warm salutations of “Up GREGS!!” followed by what they consider to be the “Gregorian hug” – mafia style!!
Indeed, he would have seized the opportunity to avail us of the challenges of the Government and the strategies/options being considered. According to them, a Gregorian would have felt obliged to tarry awhile longer just to connect with his own kith and kin (so to speak) in a genuine endeavour to welcome suggestions and feedback as well as feel the pulse of eminent citizens.
Till today, the Gregorians who witnessed the event keep asking: if the Minister could treat a table overflowing with billionaires with such disdain, what will he do with peasants or jobless youths?
I urge you to start preparing in earnest for the celebrant’s centenary birthday. Tokunbo has already commenced vigorous prayers. Her husband deserves at least twenty more years.
We can all testify that in all the years we have known him, we cannot ever recall him ever losing his temper or uttering an unkind word except when he lashes out at the deplorable state of King’s College, Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos and the tardiness of its old boys in either equalling what the old boys of St. Gregory’s College have done for their college – or even surpassing it.
The celebrant’s son Kayode has just posted the photograph of his dad on instagram with the caption: “The best-dressed 80-year-old I know.” Well son, you ain’t seem nothing yet (asAmericans would say). In twenty years’ time, your dad “Awo” will still be looking dapper and the swagger will still be there!!
Longevity is in the family genes especially on the maternal side. Awo’s mother passed away peacefully two years ago at the ripe old age of 104 years and until the very last, she was still in good nick with all her senses intact. Her own mother was similarly fortunate; she died at the age of 98 years. She did not show any signs of wear and tear.
By every yardstick Awo has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he is a man of destiny.
We have just witnessed Tokunbo lovingly interrupting Awo’slengthy response to a toast that has not even been proposed yet!! Her excuse was, to quote her:
“I just want you to know I love you.”
She did not need to repeat what had been captured on the video which we have just watched:
“My prayer for you is that you will be around when our grandchildren start getting married.”
By my reckoning that should be around 2039. So we are on course.
The Almighty always answers the prayers of those he has chosen and we are entitled to look forward to savouring yet another sublime manifestation of his loving mercies and unlimited glory. Tokunbo has promised Awo that come 2039, she will still be delectable and radiant for him. Those who know Awo would readily confirm that such an offer cannot be resisted regardless of the size of the insurance premium. It is only in Nigeria that insurance companies belch out the mantra: “No payment no cover.”
In any case Awo is more than ready to pay.
Let us conclude matters by reminding Awo that for entirely different reasons the police sealed up the office of Oando Plc, Wings Towers, Ozumba Mbadiwe Street, Victoria Island. Awo’s party was on the ground floor within the same complex on Friday night (28th June 2019). However, here we are on Monday (1st July 2019) morning and the police who came fully armed in riot gear are astounded that amongst those who have just responded to their orders which weredelivered by microphone, megaphone and loud-hailers – to evacuate the building immediately are revellers from Awo’sparty.
When the police demanded their proof of identity, their response was:
“We are old boys of St. Gregory’s College. Prince Francis Oluwole Awogboro VQB is one of us. On the invitation card it was boldly stated: Bar inexhaustible. The only information we are willing to give the police is that at 80 he is a great guy and we are already planning his 100thbirthday on Saturday 25th June 2039. Again, on that occasion, the Bar will be inexhaustible.
In addition we want to publicly declare our support for the candidacy of Bashorun J.K. Randle as the next president of our old boys association. This has nothing to do with the marathon boozing. Drunk or sober, we remain steadfast. It is a matter of principle.”
Right in front of Wings Towers, the leader of the police squad, Assistant Commissioner of Police Arinze Agbim (not to be confused with his famous namesake, the geologist/petroleum engineer) proceeded to launch an impromptu press conference:
“Everybody calls me Yellow. Even when I was a sergeant, I would not see black and call it white; or vice versa. I always tell the truth. I never mince words. We are here to carry out orders from above. (At that point he was interrupted by a scatato message on his walkie-talkie. It was from the Inspector General of Police Mr.Abubakar Adamu Mohammed with Deputy Inspector General, Chief Taiwo Lakanu and theAssistant Inspector General of Police of Zone 2, Mr. Lawal Shehu on the speaker phone. The message was cryptic: All officers remain atalert.)”
Mr. “Yellow” proceeded to explain that on May 31, 2019 the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] released findings from the forensic audit of Oando Plc conducted by a firm of Chartered Accountants (not J.K. Randle Professional Services). SEC imposed sanctions and set up an interim management team and Board of Directors with Eng. Mutiu Sunmonu as the Chairman. That was the point at which the police became involved and sealed the premises.
We have now been given orders to withdraw. However, before we leave let me repeat what I have told my bosses. Nigeria cannot have a worthy police unless you pay policemen and women well enough so that they can afford to send their children to St. Gregory’s College. This was the case in the olden days. The police barracks in Obalende is an eyesore and national embarrassment but it is directly opposite the pristine St. Gregory’s College.
Policemen and women are no different from other parents, be they doctors, lawyers, engineers, chartered accountants, politicians etc. They too want the best education for their children.
Let me add that when I was at the police training school in Jos, my commandant was late Mr. Jenkins Coker, an old boy of King’s College who was frustrated out of the police before he could become the Inspector General. Anyway, it was from him that I learnt the rudiments of investing in stocks and shares. From my meagre savings, I bought shares in Oando Plc largely on account of the Deputy Managing Director who is not only an old boy of King’s College, both his father and his uncle went to the same King’s College before proceeding to Cambridge University where they excelled in medicine. Did I make a mistake? Who are auditors of Oando and why did they not qualify the auditors’ report?
Anyway, Mr. Coker also introduced me to William Shakespeare, especially “Crime and Punishment.” Something else I must add is that “KO” the father of the Chief Executive of Oando Plc was and remains a legend in the Nigeria Police Force for his integrity, discipline, dedication and professionalism. Mr. Jenkins Coker actually followed his footsteps by studying law (at London University/London School of Economics) while serving in the Police. Those who preceded them were the likes of Owelle G.P.O. Chikelu and Chief Joseph Obi. They did the police proud and I felt my investment was in safe hands having regard to the pedigree of the scions of great families who are at the helm of affairs of the company – The Securities and Exchange Commission’s indictment of the company’s management is deeply troubling. It is a huge shock.
While “Yellow” was conducting his press conference, the crowd grew larger and larger – thereby causing an overflow into Ozumba Mbadiwe Road and clogging up traffic all over Victoria Island. He had only enough time to deliver the following parting shot:
“I am tired of dealing with criminals. I want the police to celebrate people like Prince FrancisOluwole Awogboro “VQB” as an inspiration to others.
As for Bashorun J.K. Randle, I have read five of his best-selling books: “The Godfather Never Sleeps?”; “Who Is Fooling Who?”; The Natives Are Friendly?”; “The Duke And The Soul Princess” and “God Does Not Live In Los Angeles Anymore?”.
I understand that there are fifteen others which I am yet to read.
Anyway, what is baffling is why is the Government being so nasty to the J.K. Randle family?”
Chief J.K. Randle Memorial Hall at Onikan, Lagoswas bulldozed. So also was the adjacent Dr. J.K. Randle Swimming Pool in addition to handing grabbing Dr. J.K. Randle’s “Love Garden” and handing it over to the Musical Society of Nigeria [MUSON]. Haba !!
We all know that this year is Bashorun J.K. Randle’s 50th year as an eminent Chartered Accountant who has practised his profession without any blemish. Not only is he a Past President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria [ICAN], he is a former Chairman & Chief Executive of KPMG Nigeria and Past Chairman of KPMG Africa in addition to being a former Pro-Chancellor of Lagos State University and Eko Hotels Limited.
The philanthropy of the Randle family goes back over a hundred years.
The J.K. Randle family has donated N100 million each to CMS Grammar School, Lagos; Holy Cross School, Lagos; Ansarudeen College, Isolo; Ahmaddiya College, Agege and various other institutions. The bequests have not been acknowledged not to talk of rendering account of how the funds were spent.” The government will not even acknowledge that the first political party in Nigeria, the People’s Union was founded in 1908 by Dr. J.K. Randle. Also, the oldest sporting competition in our beloved country is the Dr.J.K. Randle Swimming Competition which commenced in 1928”.
Even at the risk of being sacked, he insisted on displaying page 34 of “God Does Not Live In Los Angeles Anymore?” which quoted General Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s newly elected Military Head of State (31st December 1983):
“We do not have much room to manoeuvre and have therefore adopted some tough measures. No medicine is without pain. You all know that our country’s oil-based economy has faltered dramatically over the past three years as worldwide demand has fallen; but this was further compounded by gross mismanagement during the four years of civilian administration. In spite of the protracted nature of our negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of $2.5 billion, we still hope that a mutually satisfactory compromise on the remaining issues (liberalisation of imports; devaluation of the Nigerian currency, Naira; and reduction of subsidies on petroleum products) can be reached eventually. The Federal Military Government of Nigeria is committed to the restoration of confidence in the naira. We have had to make drastic cuts in capital expenditure, impose a wage freeze, reduce import duties in appropriate cases, raise interest rates and we are confident that the measures which we have introduced to boost agricultural production will succeed provided we all work towards a common goal.”
What has changed ?
He insisted on being invited to Prince Olu Awogboro’s100th birthday – Saturday 25th June 2039.
He was promptly given an invitation to the Chief J.K. Randle annual Thanksgiving and Memorial Service holding at 11 a.m. on Sunday 28th July 2019 at:
The Parish of Chelsea
St. Luke’s and Christ Church
London SW3 5TR.
Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former
President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of
Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa
Region. He is currently the Chairman, J.K. Randle Professional Services.