I was very shocked to hear about the passing away of Chief Bode Akindele (CBA). I had seen him regularly at social functions and he never looked an inch older than 70 years even though the last time I saw him, he was 87 years old. His carriage was solid and he always responded to my greetings with his trademark smile.
I had greatly debated with myself whether I should write a tribute to Chief Bode Akindele. This is more so, considering that my close relationship with Chief Akindele was for about 5 years. I believe that there are so many people who knew him for a longer period of time and thus are more qualified to write a proper tribute.
I resolved to write this tribute primarily to inform the younger generation about the great vision and strides a confident Nigerian businessman can make on the global stage especially when the individual is focused and determined, rather than being weighed down by perceived disadvantages and other misconceptions.
Four Nigerian businessmen have had great effect on my entrepreneurial interest. Chief Bode Akindele was one of them.
The other individual whom I will mention in this tribute is Mr. Wilberforce Olusegun Odulate. It was Mr. Odulate who made me realise that academic disposition and entrepreneurial activities were not irreconcilable. Having been brought up in a family of professionals, all I was primed to do from youth was to be a successful legal practitioner and be elevated to the Bench or remain as a practitioner in the Bar.
Chief Bode Akindele loathed the idea of fronting for anybody. He felt it was very belittling for anybody to be a front.
Mr. Odulate had studied Physics in a University in England. He had a very good job but opted to reinvent his father’s business in producing Alabukun powder. At some point, Mr. Odulate was writing a textbook on Physics in England whilst also involved in the business of producing Alabukun in Nigeria.
I met Mr Odulate through his son, Koye, who was my contemporary and friend at Cambridge University. Koye used to pick me up from Cambridge to London and we (i.e. Mr. Odulate, Koye and I) would spend an entire evening till the early hours of the morning discussing Greek Philosophy and sometimes business strategy. These interactions with Mr. Odulate were very unique to me. How could a philosopher be a very successful businessman? I remain grateful to Mr. Odulate for opening my eyes to see that scholarship and business are not irreconcilable. May his entrepreneurial spirit continue to rest in peace.
I met Chief Bode Akindele through a banker who had supported most of his industrial projects in Nigeria. Chief Akindele’s primary legal adviser in Nigeria had just passed away and he had so many legal issues that he wanted resolved. The banker nominated me to Chief Akindele. I can still vividly recall the reaction of Chief Akindele when he saw me. He was expecting a man in his middle age and not a 30-year old boy. After the first assignment our firm carried out for Chief Akindele, he stopped seeing me as a young man and we simply got on like a house on fire.
Chief Bode Akindele had so many unique qualities and capacities that cannot be described properly in a short tribute like this. I will only highlight a few. Chief Akindele had enormous self-confidence and never felt overwhelmed by expatriates. He could not be a stooge for anybody no matter how highly placed. I saw this attitude displayed when he decided to pull out of a major construction company. Chief Akindele owned 50% of the company and was not going to kowtow to anybody. The severance was a battle which played out in Lagos, London and Switzerland. His adversaries had a barrage of lawyers from all these jurisdictions.
It also had the support of some high ranking members of Government. I was with Chief Akindele, as his lawyer, at every forum. This was very encouraging to me. On many occasions, Chief Akindele will say to me, “Wale, I can bet that you can take them all together and carry the day”. That was a great encouragement for, and confidence in, a 30-year old man! The Managing Director of the company was so browbeaten by Chief Akindele and his team that he told me at a later stage that in his entire business life, no one had totally dominated him in any sphere of business like Chief Bode Akindele.
Chief Bode Akindele loathed the idea of fronting for anybody. He felt it was very belittling for anybody to be a front. Fronting in Nigeria’s context means that you present yourself as the owner of a business while you are simply a lackey to the real owners. Chief Akindele could not understand why anybody could do such a thing when one could build or acquire the business for one’s self.
In this context I also remember another instance our firm provided legal services for Chief Bode Akindele in the severance transaction of a port inspection agency. In that transaction, the other side paraded very important names in the society. Chief Akindele had complete disdain for these men. Whenever they approached him for discussion, Chief Akindele would say to me, “Wale you know that man is a front. He is not a real man.”
Chief Akindele wanted Nigerians to aspire to any level of business in the world and not play second fiddle to any person(s). Chief Akindele’s group led the acquisition of a Swedish match manufacturing company which at a stage controlled about 60% of the global match market. What a phenomenon Chief Akindele was! He was never willing to play second fiddle. Chief Akindele led from the front.
Chief Akindele’s penchant for hard work was indescribable. On one occasion, I was with him in Switzerland for a transaction and we usually commenced our meetings at 9:00am and would only break at 7:00pm for dinner. There was no lunch. We ate cold sandwiches, biscuits, coffee and tea all day.
Chief Akindele’s partner was Dr. Alfred Hartmann who had retired as General Manager of Union Bank of Switzerland and was then sitting on about seven boards of different banks in Switzerland. Even though I was sometimes uncomfortable with eating the biscuits and sandwiches, I could not complain because my very wealthy and older clients endured this situation with ease. I had no locus standi to protest.
Apart from the very challenging work schedule, being with Chief Akindele abroad was always a pleasure. Chief Akindele’s ability to entertain was on a different level.
After the meeting on a particular day, I had suggested to them that we should take a taxi to the Dolder Grande where we were staying. It was a bitterly cold day in Zurich. The reaction of the duo shocked me. Dr. Hartmann wondered why we should waste about €5 (five euros) when we could enjoy the trek of about two miles to the hotel. I could not understand how two billionaires found it difficult to spend €5 on transport. I later learnt that Chief Akindele was extremely prudent with money and this probably explains why, in addition to his phenomenal intellect, Chief Akindele was able to accumulate so much wealth.
I was also very thrilled, if not bewildered by this ability to define relationships and place each relationship in its own compartment.
The Company Secretary of almost all the companies of Chief was his wife, Mrs. Atema Akindele. She was a very outstanding secretary. At official functions, the relationship was so strictly official that you could not imagine that they had a relationship as husband and wife.
Apart from the very challenging work schedule, being with Chief Akindele abroad was always a pleasure. Chief Akindele’s ability to entertain was on a different level. He was well known in all the exclusive restaurants in England and all other leading European Cities.
Chief Akindele and I had a falling out until around January 1994. I believe it was occasioned by poor communication and I never took it against him. I always enjoyed his company. At his daughter, Iyabo’s wedding; I sat with him and Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi (an outstanding solider, military administrator and gentleman). We bantered for most of the evening. I usually approached him at every public function to extend my regards.
When my company won the concession for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Chief Akindele called me and was ecstatic. In addition to congratulating me, he offered to link me up with the best consultants in the development of toll roads. He also prayed that I should not encounter the typical bureaucratic resistance to any solid project in Nigeria. Evidently, Chief Akindele remained warm to me till his last days.
Nigeria has lost a great entrepreneur and a man of phenomenal courage.
Adieu Chief Bode Akindele, Para Koyi Ibadan, Oba Ibomi, Okunrin Mewa, Omo Alhaja Rabiatu. May your enterprising soul continue to soul rest in peace.
*Dr. Babalakin, SAN, a businessman and lawyer is Chairman of Resort International Ltd.