My father’s formal title is Omo Oba Babasola Okuyemi Thomas (FCCA), but to me, he is just Daddy. Out of my siblings, I am told, I am the one most like him in temperament. His first name Babasola translates to “father makes wealth.” In the context of his life, the name is rather prosaic, but his middle name, now that one packs a punch. In Yoruba culture, names mean a lot. That middle name “Okuyemi” translates to “the dead honor me.” My grandmother, the merchant princess as my father likes to refer to her, had already borne and lost nine pregnancies/children before my dad; Daddy was the first one to make it past the age of ten. My grandmother would later go on to have three more children after my father; I will keep her story for another day.
My dad was born at Maja Hospital, Richard’s Lane, Lagos Island, Nigeria on the 21st of November 1936. He was born to an affluent family. His grandfather, Thomas Odusanya Olufuwa aka Alausa owned many farms. His father, Edward Okuneye Olufuwa Thomas worked as a clerk at the Railway Corporation. His mother, Josephine Olaitan Thomas was a very successful trader. A year after his birth, his father ascended the throne of Agbowa Ikosi to become the Kabiyesi, the Abowa of Agbowa Ikosi. At some point my grandfather had a quarrel with the town’s people and left the throne in 1954. He later came back and resumed his title which he held until his death in 1971.
My father attended St. Paul’s school Breadfruit, Lagos, for his elementary education and then proceeded for his secondary studies to the prestigious Christ Missionary School (CMS), Lagos. He was exceptionally good in his studies.
His mother like most African mothers of that generation wanted her son to be a “doctor.” My father wasn’t keen on it but went along with the plan. While gearing up for the medical path, studying and doing all the thing one does in preparation, he joined the United Africa Company (UAC) as a clerk. While at UAC he discovered that he liked accountancy and wouldn’t mind being an accountant. His late cousin Mrs. Olaperi Shonibare and her husband, the late chief Samuel Olatunbosun Shonibare introduced him to Akintola Williams who later hired him as an audit clerk.
While working with Akintola Williams, he would usually walk across to Kingsway stores during his lunch break for a cup of tea and other refreshments. That Kingsway store was then the novelty of the time because it had escalators and an air-conditioned lift (elevator). This lift was the first of its kind in Nigeria. The restaurant where my father would dine sat on the top floor of the building, overseeing the Apapa Wharf. Even today, the coastal views in Lagos are still something to behold.
While he nursed dreams of accountancy, his mother would not relent on her “my son will be a doctor” thing, so he forced himself to move forward with medicine. On he went seeking admission to the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. He got the admission and passed his preparatory course; however, somehow he missed his visa. I bet that happened because of his reticence towards medicine. Eventually, he got to Dublin and had to repeat the course. Things did not go so smoothly the second time around, he failed and left medicine. There is an apocryphal story surrounding his exit from the Royal College of Surgeons, according to my mother, he failed not because he wasn’t smart, but because he refused to take the exam, being resolute about accountancy.
Still, in Dublin, he decided to join one Mr. Prescott, a lens technician. They both agreed to come back to Nigeria and start their own lens manufacturing company. However the Nigerian factor thwarted their plans; upon arrival, they were greeted with a political crisis. So it was back to square one again. His mother, as you can imagine, wasn’t too pleased to see him back in Nigeria, as neither a surgeon nor a doctor but an unrealized entrepreneur pregnant with dreams of future success.
Through his former classmate, Babatunde Benson (Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)) he got employed by an oil exploring company as an account clerk. After a year, he decided to go back to England again, but this time to study accountancy. Somehow he managed to talk his mother into financing his second trip abroad, she agreed but this time with conditions.
So back to the UK he went. This time to Glasgow where he stayed with his cousin Prince Adewole Olukoya; who was finishing up an engineering degree. My father lived on his allowance from his mother and made up the rest of his keep by being a bus conductor.
My father is that rare breed of humanity born with a capacity to tolerate high risk. Some might even say he courts risk-seeking behavior, living life as if on the edge of a razor.
Upon arriving back in England, he went head long into his favorite past time, gambling. According to him, he promptly gambled away all his allowance from his mother and was now a penniless Prince. He clearly could not reach back out to her, so he did the next best thing and got a job as a bus conductor. One would think he had learned his lesson, that he would face his studies and get on with it. But no, he did no such thing! He kept the job, but still gambled away his earnings. He was quite happy living this slap-dash life. His erstwhile cousin, on the other hand, was horrified and feeling helpless as he watched my father squander his potential.
One day his cousin Dewole had had enough of my father’s roguish lifestyle. He got dressed, resolute in his resolve, he marched up to my dad’s job and asked to see my dad’s boss. Once granted the audience he sought, he told the boss in no uncertain terms that his employee was a Prince who was sent to Britain to accomplish one thing, get an education. The boss baffled, didn’t quite understand what that had to do with him. Cousin Dewole told my father’s boss how he was acting as an enabler by granting my father a job which gave him enough income to play the horses and fund his lifestyle. The boss being truly saddened by what he had unintentionally supported decided to fire my Dad. It was only then that my father finally went to school.
After finishing up his accountancy degree, he returned to Nigeria in 1967 and started work with the Federal Ministry of Finance where he joined the Federal training center as a senior lecturer in Accounts. After lecturing for a while, he moved on to Firgos Nigeria Limited; a holding company for International Packaging Industries (IPI). While at IPI, he served as the chief accountant, from there he rose to become the Managing Director, and then on to be the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) until his retirement in 2008.
My father has an impressive fashion sense. I write this while aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from London back to San Francisco. I spent last night at my family’s London apartment, where I went into my parent’s room. The British winter is unforgiving, and I came straight from Lagos without the appropriate sleepwear for the weather. I riffled through my father’s London closet hoping to find one of those Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class Pajamas that he so often had a few of. While perusing his closet, I smiled as I went through hangers and hangers of Saville Row suits.
Whatever sense of style I have, I got a significant amount from my Dad who relishes the art of dress. As a teenager, I served as my father’s defacto butler. I loved helping him gather all the various pieces that were brought together to create a distinct look. If I had to say what my father’s aesthetic is, it seems to be fashioned after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and husband to Queen Elizabeth.
Whilst in the West, it is always a well-cut suit, often light brown, or grey, paired with a white shirt or at the most extreme a light blue shirt, a gold Rolex (presidential bracelet) on his wrist, a diamond signet ring on his pinkie finished off with a loafer of some kind. He hardly wears monks, wingtips or brogues. In Winter, the loafers are switched for a black napa leather Chelsea boot, a black cashmere top coat and a checkered cream and tan wool scarf.
While in Nigeria, it is always agbada. He doesn’t adhere to conventions at all. Most Nigerian business men and COEs wear the western business uniform, the suit. Not my Dad, for him it was full agbada; not even buba sokoto, full agbada. When it comes to parties, my father often out dresses the celebrant, while most would consider this poor taste, not my father. He honestly doesn’t give two f**ks. He lives life by his rules.
Now at 80, he still wears his agbada, watch, and ring. Age has caught up to him now; his mobility is somewhat impaired, and he has since given up the loafers for shoes with more cushioning and support. But that’s about it. His mind is still as razor sharp as it has ever been.
This past Tuesday, over 800 people showed up to celebrate my father with my family and I. The young man who gambled away his allowance grew up to be a very successful entrepreneur who expanded on his parents’ wealth by growing a company and mastering the stock market. To many of his adoring fans, he is this titan, to my brother, my sister, and I, he is just Daddy. To his grand children, he’s the grandfather that spoils them.
I feel somewhat sorry for the grandkids because they never got to see him in his full element. They never had the privilege of arriving at school smelling of a mixture of Hoyo de Monterrey and Kouros. They never got to experience the horizontal overtake maneuver that my father sometimes did while driving us in London.
Through the years I came to know my father as a man; a man that I found myself often at odds with. Just like him, I also defied my parents in picking my career and in other things. What can I say? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
One thing I can say about my father is this; there is never a dull moment with him. As long as he is around, something larger than life will always be going down. Best to believe it.Share