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When a ‘spirit’ matures

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I had planned to write a general article, as usual, to celebrate all those born in March and April which I normally tag “Felicitations: My (whatever the month) People”…even more so when I realised that today, 29th April is also the birthday of the man I consider the most philanthropic Nigerian alive, and truly the richest African whose span, spirit and splendour in riches, assets, wealth and receivables are unfathomable to the chroniclers of western-styled documented wealth, Forbes magazine. I believe the avalanche of richly deserved tributes and praises, in editorial and advertorial deluge, would make our contribution to that adulatory expanse a drop in the ocean. Thus buttresting my argument for something different, and an angle more panoramic and diverse.

Yet, I could not get it out of my system the itch that this enigmatic man of staggering benevolence and incredible propensity to accomplish and establish economic and strategic alliances, edifices and corporate organisations with almost somnolent rapidity…actually deserves the full throttle of our felicitations…even when he makes no demands on you. This new strain of thought is further electrified by the fact that years ago…about 17 years ago we were a shocked beneficiary of his benevolence – and in all those years he has not permitted an opportunity to say “thank you, sir” for the timely and hugely appreciated kind gesture.

Yoruba would say yinni yinni, kale se mi… (express your gratitude, that you may receive another favour). This aphorism flies in the face of this man’s taciturnity and deliberate disavowal of any preening sap of thanksgiving…a truly strange human being. Nevertheless, we have had to jettison our earlier plan, kowtowing to the urgent need to thank him for his divinely inspired blast of generosity…at a time when it seemed God was no longer in the business of answering prayers.

Over a decade ago, I published my quasi-autobiography titled Lifelines: A Slice of My Life (2011) wherein I wrote on page 57 thus: “… In mid 2006, my wife and I made a vow… that if God turned our misfortune around for the better; that if God reversed the leaking drainages depleting our finances; we would do all in our power to tell others, beg others, explain to others and pool resources with others, so that we all can be Angels of Hope to Nigerian children – irrespective of tribes, tongues, religions, circumstances and backgrounds.

Three months after that vow, my wife’s condition was identified, corrected and maintained effectively – now she’s robust, agile and more beautiful than ever.

Six months after that vow, when all hope seemed lost…when it seemed our dead bones would never rise again… by divine orchestration, God raised two people to help us in our business – to at least have a fighting chance of surviving in the punishing environment of magazine publishing”.

Those “two people” blithely mentioned in that line gave instructions that their philanthropy should be seen and addressed as anonymous – I believe one of them was instigated by our long-time friend, colleague and brother, Dele Momodu. Perhaps, reading our humanitarian efforts and vision for “helpless children”, that was when the big man struck!

Of course, we are ‘talking’ of the man born as Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga whose broad shoulders carry the weight of the continent as he burrowed into crannies, caves and concourses of many nations to dig out wealth for the benefit of not just his immediate or extended families, but across and around Nigeria, and Africa generally.

Surely, several papers of today (and you must have noticed in the many days before now) and days after, would be filled with Adenuga’s impressive and outstanding accomplishments in business, education, manpower development, social interventions, prodigious philanthropy, and his immaculate business acumen and incredible work ethics. Go and read, and be inspired. Here, it is all about how he touched us, our home, vision and business.

Sometime in the middle of the 90s, Adenuga’s top aides, Niyi Adewunmi (now a pastor) and Biodun Azeez would arrange a quarterly parley with publishers of the major general interest magazines thriving then. Their goal was to sustain a level of mutual understanding of the business and humanitarian visions of the man now dubbed the ‘Spirit of Africa’. They wanted a rapprochement that would respect the privacy of the individual and would provide a verifiable window for fair hearing and direct attribution on stories that would ordinarily be tucked under “all efforts to get reaction proved abortive”. We chatted over drinks and restaurant meals, discussing their company’s media relations projections and plans. It ran for a few years until I stopped getting invitations to the parley. I later heard that some of my friends thought that one had started “carrying religion on the head”, and was not disposed to such gatherings any longer. So, that line dithered, and withered.

Until one that day in December of 2006 when Bode Opeseitan, a close aide to the Otunba, called that “the chairman” had something for me. I was at once stunned and thrilled. First, like the spirit Momodu described as many years later, he would only see you if he wanted to, and years of absence or silence does not mean he has forgotten you, or your craft. He is besotted with excellence in any field: apparently, he has a soft spot for those with mastery of the written and spoken art. He is also a consummate storyteller, an avid reader and a meticulous writer. How he achieves and sustains that with the myriad of activities, interventions, supervisions and interjections he has to muster across multiple businesses and companies makes you wonder if he is indeed a human being. Yet he is 70 today…and is still irrepressible!

Well, back to my story: on reaching his Oko Awo office complex, I was promptly and warmly ushered into a large office. A large bag was brought to which contained a short note, a card with a sprawling signature, and an envelope containing a thank you letter (he was thanking me! Amazing.) And a cheque. I asked to sit for a few moments, and then demanded to see the Chairman, so I could express my thanks. I was told, not surprisingly though, that he was not available, but had wished me well…that I should remain strong. I didn’t know how I got home between Oko Awo (Victoria Island) and my makeshift office in Dopemu. Suffice to say the cheque was slightly bigger than all we garnered in starting the three magazines I have directly published in my life).

For many weeks, I pestered his staff to pass my gratitude in well crafted notes, and long missives about the blessings of God for a man abundantly blessed, and who has continued to bless and boost people and businesses all over the continent. It never happened.

Otunba Mike Adenuga…if you get to read this article…we thank you for what you did for us 17 years ago…and (you must be tired of hearing this)…and for what you continue to do for your culture, your state, your nation and your continent…including the monumental and often stupendous generosity you show to friends, acquaintances and complete strangers whose foibles and anguish touch a chord in you…to stretch forth a massive helping hand…again and again. Your years will continue to be a testimony of honour, a tapestry of inspiration and a global index of a uniquely magnificent specie divinely planted in a wan and weary nation…to give life…salve wounds…lift broken spirits…mend crooked systems…and soar over adversity and diversity as the authentic spirit of the African experience. Happy 70th Birthday. Congratulations!

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