Ikira for Femi Otedola @ 60: 8 precepts from the colourful adun b’arin – By Kunle Bakare

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FO is warm, kind, and friendly—and it’s difficult not to be fond of him. He reaches out regularly and calls to ask after you and your family. And informs you whenever he changes telephone numbers.”

* Photo: Femi Otedola*

FO gives you reasons to smile! Sometimes you break into a dance, jiggling and wiggling when his face flashes through your mind’s eye.

Beyond his big heart, interacting with the billionaire gentleman of style leaves us warm and aglow. Our bosoms bubble with joy being on the side of the adun b’arin (1) as he recurrently renews our appreciation of friendship.

Peter Olufemi Otedola—whose 60th birthday today (Friday, November 4, 2022) is the subject of prayers, praises and panegyrics—restores confidence. He amplifies ambition and reminds you that the Almighty ‘dispenses’ fortunes (Oluwanisola). The colourful Ibadan, Oyo State-born entrepreneur (from Odoragunsin, near Epe, Lagos State) readily affirms the intervention of God in destinies.

So, even when things appear dark, dreadful and gloomy, FO reminds you of his grass-to-grace, grace-to-grass and grass-to-grace story to drive home the point: never lose hope! No matter the situation, the depth of fall or reversal of fortunes.

When FO weaves through my thoughts, supplications of grace and favour often fly out of my lips. And sometimes, I intensify my petitions to the Almighty when I remember how he’s survived and triumphed whatever hand fate dealt him. He’s an object of inspiration for re-emerging stronger and standing tall.

In more ways than I can enumerate, FO is the source of perpetual wonder and admiration, more than an okunrin meta at’aabo [thrice a man and half—a Yoruba commendation for a man of valour].

He has illuminated some of life’s essential precepts in the last 25 years of knowing him at close quarters:

1. Be warm and kind, friendly and generous

FO is warm, kind, and friendly—and it’s difficult not to be fond of him. He reaches out regularly and calls to ask after you and your family. And informs you whenever he changes telephone numbers.

When he’s not heard from you in a while, he jokes: ‘Don’t you have N20 to call me?’ (kidding about how cheap calls now cost). ‘I’m only N20 away!’

Over breakfast, lunch or dinner, he would talk about his dreams and aspirations and encourage your plans. He’s never far away. At his homes and offices, he’s the warm, ever-patient, attentive, perfect host.

And generosity is buried under his skin; it’s his second nature. He never thinks twice about lifting anyone.

Long before the November 10, 2019, N5 billion donation to Save the Children—one of the largest to the disadvantaged—FO has always been an uncommon philanthropist.

From celebrities to ordinary Nigerians, saving lives and restoring hope, health, and well-being is the mogul’s mission. Just making people cheerful gives FO the utmost joy.

And his family and friends, associates and partners, staff and wards, kith and kin, and those whose plights are brought to his attention treasure his generosity.

With the Femi Otedola Foundation (on Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island), he’s now reaching out more sustainably, ordered and deliberately to legions.

2. Embody good form—respect all, value time

FO lives good form. From his ways and manners, his words and actions, and the respect and thoughtfulness he displays, he’s a quintessential gentleman.

Unlike many big and small men who promote tardiness, FO is finicky about punctuality. He doesn’t sugarcoat the lousy form of lateness as ‘African time.’ He resents time-wasting antics, a trait he learnt from his father, Sir Michael Otedola. Always ready long before any scheduled meeting or appointment, FO will receive or visit you at the agreed time.

Once during a breakfast meeting at his then Victoria Island duplex, I had stepped in a few minutes before 9.

‘Why are you keeping a billionaire waiting? You are almost an hour late,’ he chuckled (he had just been celebrated on Forbes rich list at the time).

And I quickly reminded him that our meeting was for 9, not 8. I had to ‘branch’ at a car wash to avoid arriving too early (from the Mainland).

I can’t remember when FO was late or unavailable for an appointment. He would send a message when plans changed or anything ‘cropped up.’

Courteous and thoughtful, older people are fond of him.

At the public presentation of Basorun Dele Momodu’s books (on July 10, 2018) at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs on Victoria Island, many were pleasantly surprised at FO’s simplicity. And when he vacated his front-row seat for Eleganza’s colossus Alhaji Rasak Akanni Okoya (happily relocating to the middle of the hall), he won more admirers.

I’ve seen him relate with the young and old, and I never once witnessed poor form.

3. No one is too big to fail

No one, nothing, is too big to fail. And Joseph Abboud, the 72-year-old legendary American fashion designer with Lebanese heritage, drives home the point succinctly: ‘No one goes through life undefeated.’

No matter how well-laid and fail-safe your ideas and strategies are, life throws all of us deadly and devastating blows. Like I tell my friends, tragedy comes to all. Nobody is immune from a thorough trouncing.

And the life of FO highlights this predicament we all must face. Often, he’s been kicked in the teeth and lay flat out on his back. And all sorts of insults and embarrassment became his lot after each calamity. Friends, associates, and acquaintances avoided him, and those whose organisations he owed huge debts derided and tormented him.

But FO always counts his blessings and searches for ways to escape the trials and tribulations—usually ‘swallowing his pride’ and walking his way out of plights. The ones he can’t change, he lives with.

FO has shown us that we all fail, whether big or small, successful or struggling. And we must learn to ‘fail forward’ (like John C. Maxwell enjoined).

4. Don’t blow up bridges; no one succeeds all by themselves

No matter the provocation or seeming humiliation, never blow up bridges. Never fight to the finish. Because there’s always tomorrow—and since we cannot escape dealing with people, we must leave room for settlement.

No one can solely succeed (by his efforts alone). We capture it in this profound prayer, ‘k’ari b’atise, k’ar’ona gbegba’ [may we always come across destiny helpers and always find a way].

I’ve seen FO angry and despondent, dealing with misunderstanding and rancour, but he always chooses the legal and decent option of resolving differences. He will take you to court or arbitration—and seek legal redress and resolution if need be.

Many whom he had cause to disagree with, sometimes ‘bitterly’, are back in his corner, or at least, on speaking terms—rekindled their relationship and still doing business together.

And the big lesson remains, no matter what the subject of rancour is, never blow up bridges; always leave the ‘res’ intact. Leave the door of resolution slightly ajar.

5. Live well but simply

Style leaders break into a song when the subject is FO. Aficionados get up and clap anytime they remember how startlingly simple he is. His all-white brocade without embellishment (the plain buba and sokoto now transformed into a fitted kaftan and sokoto) is an identity difficult to ignore or play down. His uniform of over 35 years separates him as a champion of simplicity. Like he always says, less is more.

For shindigs, his white 3-piece ensemble (agbada, kaftan and sokoto, with undecorated aso oke fila), also in brocade, is an ode to subtlety. Like the high-end advert of a luxury brand proclaimed, the language of elegance is ‘inconspicuous subtlety.’

With the introduction of spiff duds by Tom Ford, whenever he steps off our shores, he has us eating from his palms. His sharp suits and casuals are odes to high elegance.

And his table is always clean—with nothing, no sheets of paper, not to talk of files. His calculator is the only thing he keeps handy (but tucked in a drawer). His office and homes? Everything is in order—nothing overwhelming or superfluous.

Once in New York (late September 2019), during one of our interview sessions for his books, I again experienced his extreme orderliness. His hotel suite was always clean, and everything was in the right place. Whenever we (Simon Kolawole, the publisher of the cable.ng, and I) visited, nothing was ever amiss.

And my appreciation of his neatness multiplied when we moved our meeting venue (from his hotel to ours). His hotel was hosting some presidents and heads of state with watertight security that day (during the United Nations’ annual event in the United States). Before we settled down to our task, I had to move shoes and magazines, odds and ends out of the way to create space for three in my room!

But for FO, everywhere he calls home or office is the same: minimalist, clean and organised.

6. Know what counts; identify what’s important to you

Focus makes almost all the difference. We can master anything if we are devoted and dedicated. And this attribute is common among superachievers. They don’t want to know everything. They don’t dissipate energy by multitasking and pursuing myriad objectives.

And this trait of being laser focused and attending to the most important things that fit into dreams and aspirations looms large in FO’s life. The advantages of not running here and there are apparent.

FO’s mastery of financial matters and metrics is out of this world. He can tell you the exchange rate of any year and reel out details about entrepreneurs and men of means—from their exploits to encounters with them, their investments to engagements, and even their net worth—without blinking.

He has long been a student of the diligent and industrious. And as a younger man, he kept tabs on high-flying tycoons, reading and gathering information about the high and mighty worldwide, recalling complex and detailed information from memory.

During one of our sessions in 2019, I mentioned Stephen Schwarzman, whose book, What It Takes, I had just bought. I was shocked when he provided background details and listed the American’s primary business and his ‘misadventure’ in Nigeria.

He’s conversant with many Nigerian entrepreneurs and billionaires I didn’t know. His gift of record-keeping and mental recall of the lifestyles and businesses of the rich, famous and wealthy leave me spellbound.

7. Sharpen your sense of urgency

FO’s sense of urgency is heartwarming. He pursues his interests and assignments with a ‘no-time-to-waste mindset’.

When he begins an assignment, he wants results in the quickest time. Though gentle not to put anyone under pressure (because he understands the value of precision), he will not allow faffing. He can estimate, to the hour, how long a task should take a devoted person.

What’s more, his focus is fantastic. When he calls, he keeps his eye on the ball. He exchanges pleasantries and gists about ‘the weather’ before mentioning the tasks (as if he’s reading from a note). No matter how long you chat about other things, his presence of mind excites me. Without skipping a beat, he details the task and the turnaround period.

And before the assignment is due, he’s back with a gentle reminder.

8. Define what makes you happy, curb excesses

FO preaches a limit to decent enjoyment—and tells you that having a ball and a blast doesn’t cost as much as we sometimes imagine. Once you pursue happiness and contentment, he submits, you can have a wondrously good time with little. All you need do is define your joy (and ensure it never impedes others).

You can rollick within your resources and have a good time once you know what gives you the utmost happiness. When you focus on ‘simple pleasures’ (a desirable aspiration, whether extremely rich or just getting by), you understand cavorting is detrimental to genuine enjoyment. Everything should be in moderation.

So, ladies and gentlemen, people of goodwill and cheer, let’s salute the birthday man.
Please, join me in wishing the colourful man of means who preaches and practises the k’ajola k’ajol’owo (2) ethos many happy returns!
Ikira(3) for FO Baba!
Igba odun, odun kan!!

-Kunle Bakare,
Lagos,
Friday, November 4, 2022

(1) Adun b’arin m’a t’osi is a Yoruba concept of rewarding relationships where friends or partners are happier and more prosperous, lifting and helping one another.
‘Being in your company is beneficial and enriching’ is almost a direct translation.

(2) K’ajola k’ajol’owo [let’s be prosperous together, let’s be rich together] represents the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, which advances and amplifies success for all.

(3) Ikira is an announcement to cheer, to whoop.

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