GAMALIEL ONOSODE (1923 – 2015)
A man of many parts
Deacon Gamaliel Onosode was often described as a boardroom Czar, having traversed several corporate boards and institutions and made tremendous impact. There is no doubt that his passing would create a huge gap in Nigeria’s corporate environment.
Trained in the Classics’ tradition at Ibadan, he went on to become an embodiment of the country’s excellent craftsman in corporate management. In fact, if Onosode wasn’t part of it, then something was certainly missing.
He was born May 22, 1933 to Urhobo parents of Ughelli extraction and raised in Sapele, a city in Delta State formerly known for its famous plywood industry.
He was raised by a disciplined father, from whom Onosode acquired a strict background and practice which he also brought to bear on his corporate management culture that stood him out. He was educated at Government College, Ughelli and later at University College, Ibadan as the University of Ibadan was then known.
Throughout his career, Onosode chaired several private and public sector businesses and initiatives. He was the Chairman of Dunlop Nigeria Plc (1984–2007), a former chairman of Cadbury Nigeria Plc (1977–93), Presidential Commission on Parastatals (1981), Nigeria LNG Working Committee and Nigeria LNG Limited (1985–90) and the Niger Delta Environmental Survey (since 1995). He was also the chairman of the oldest Global System of Mobile (GSM) operator in Nigeria, Zain Nigeria.
The foremost Nigerian technocrat, administrator emerged in the 1970s as one of Nigeria’s leading educated chief executives at NAL Merchant Bank. From there, he rose to become a leading boardroom Czar. He served as a Presidential Adviser to President Shehu Shagari and a former president of the Nigerian Institute of Management.
Dissatisfied with Nigeria’s politics of underdevelopment, Onosode once threw his hat into the ring as a presidential candidate of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He had been a Presidential Adviser on Budget Affairs and Director of Budget in 1983 to Shagari. He was a Fellow of the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank, the Nigerian Institute of Management, of which he was President from 1979 – 82. He was also a Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, having been elected to membership of its Board of Fellows in 1998.
In addition, Onosode was an inaugural president of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers, a former pro-chancellor and chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Uyo and a former and inaugural president and Chairman of Council of the Association of Pension Funds of Nigeria. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and held an Honorary Doctor of Science degree pioneer of Obafemi Awolowo University (1990), University of Benin (1995) and Rivers State University of Science and Technology (2003) as well as Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree of The Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso (2002). He was a former pro-chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of University of Ibadan.
During the Second Republic in 1983, Onosode was brought in to bring a disciplined approach to public finance, to shore up public confidence in the economic direction of the country. He chaired the Nigerian Commission on Public Parastatals. The offshoot of the commission was later tagged the Onosode Report, which tackled comprehensively the industrialisation drive and capital spending which dominated the oil boom of the 1970s and the early 1980s. The report identified five major defects in planning which it believed had become evident by the end of 1983.
Public capital expenditure rose during the oil boom at a much faster rate than Nigeria’s physical, technical or financial abilities; huge expenditure on particular industrial projects did not yield expected returns because of “inappropriate choices in their selection, size, design, location and management”; government policies laid too much emphasis on industrialisation without regard to Nigeria’s resource base and comparative advantage; frequent changes in fiscal and monetary policies created planning problems for the private sector; and exchange rate of the naira was not managed “to reflect the basic strength of the economy and the need to encourage domestic production.
In 1995, he became the chairman of the Niger Delta Environmental Survey, a non-governmental organisation that conducted scientific studies on environmental and social impact assessment of oil exploration in the Niger Delta. The survey was partly financed by Shell. The reports which apportioned responsibilities and blame for much of the environmental degradation in the region on oil operators, the federal government and communities, has not been made public.
He was a devout Christian and started Good News Baptist Church in his sitting room on 1 February 1,1984. Good News Baptist Church is now a large church of over 2000 members. It has become a force in the Nigerian Baptist Convention in terms of missions and evangelism. Gamaliel Onosode was the pioneer chairman of the Global Missions Board of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. In addition, Onosode was the chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Nigeria’s oldest degree-awarding theological institution, which, in 2008, marked 110 years of its existence, while the University of Ibadan was 60 years old.
In a country still in search of good and honest men that are not
compromised, Deacon Onosode surely earned his place in the sands of time. You just don’t get them any straighter than the man who had been thought would end up in the academia because of his sharp intellect and disposition, but who ended up, probably, as the Nigerian with most number of board appointments.
He may not have been a household name in his native Uhroboland, not for lack of popularity, but his cosmopolitan and worldview. However, he was not without recognition at the grassroots. He was a pioneer recipient of the Ughelli Descendants Union Distinguished Service Award in 2000. Even his chosen course of study, between 1954-1957, at the nation’s premier university, the University College, Ibadan(now University of Ibadan), Classics, is a testimony to the class and taste. He was extremely brilliant and topped his class. As attestation to the quality of his mind, he won the Department and Faculty Prizes; he was elected Cambridge University Jebb Scholar in 1957.
From 1960 to the early 1990s, Onosode was the authority of reference in merchant banking, stock broking, development economy and even manufacturing. By the time he was 30 years, he was already Secretary, Nigeria Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) which was known then as Investment Company of Nigeria, and at 40, he was chairman and chief executive oficer, NAL Merchant Bank.
Onosode chaired panels, boards, councils, commissions and committees in both public and private sectors in their dozens. Onosode served as a Director of Vee Networks Limited.
Onosode was a member of the inaugural Provisional Governing Council of Bowen University, Iwo.