Gamaliel Onosode (1933-2015)
AS family members, relatives, friends and well wishers remain stung by the irreparable loss of renowned technocrat and administrator, Mr. Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode, who was committed to mother earth the other day, Nigerians and indeed the global community of morally sound minds shall ever be reminded that, by his demise, the sagely class of senior Nigerian citizens, whom character, history and providence have placed in the firmament of eminence, has been rudely depleted.
Onosode was a giant of industry, a tireless technocrat with great philosophical insight, egalitarian in thought. Apart from being a commentator on public affairs and national development, he was an executive of NAL Merchant Bank of Nigeria before chairing Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Cadbury Nigeria Plc and Zain Nigeria Limited (now Airtel), amongst several private and public concerns including the Niger Delta Environment Survey. He was one-time Presidential Adviser to former President Shehu Shagari on national budget and director of budget. So much trusted was Onosode that he was reputed to be among the first few any foreign establishments would consult on Nigerian affairs.
An avatar of uncommon candour, Onosode’s personality radiated those pristine values and sterling qualities of excellence and character which today’s morally fragmented society has confined to the abyss of oblivion. He was one bright star whose rays encompassed the whole corporate world, and was known for his uncompromising stance on integrity and wholesomeness in corporate governance.
Born in Sapele on May 22, 1933, Onosode was educated at Government College, Ughelli from 1947 to 1952. Thereafter, he proceeded to the then University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics in 1957. Immediately after graduation he found his way into the private sector, and rose to the towering heights for which he was known.
After a successful retirement from the spotlight of commerce and industry, through which he contributed immensely to national development, Onosode brought his Midas touch to community service. He did this privately in his Christian faith as a pillar of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, where he was a deacon, and publicly as Pro-chancellor and chairman of Council of four universities, three federal universities (University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, and University of Uyo) and the church-owned Bowen University.
In every university where he served, he tried to return it to the status it ought to be. He would have concurred with Oxford University’s chancellor Chris Patten, who magisterially argued that the university “should be regarded as part of the infrastructure of an open and plural society, inculcating the values of tolerance, moderation and freedom that help to keep our country more or less civilised.” In the same vein, Onosode regarded the university as a typical Ivory Tower; a self-contained peaceful haven for the supply of well-qualified and well-educated workforce and citizenry, out of which a country draws the capital for its well-being.
During industrial crises between government and its tertiary institutions, he brought to bear on the parties a taciturnity tempered by paternal wisdom. In those turbulent times, when many thought he would invoke his typical vocal frankness to uncritically take side with either lecturers or the government, they were disappointed to find an understanding old man with listening ears than one impatient with the inanities of public administration.
However, of these three federal institutions, Onosode’s contribution to the University of Ibadan was particularly significant. Unbelievably relentless to transform UI into the world class university he graduated from in 1957, Onosode served, sacrificed and attracted like minds to selflessly give back to their alma mater. By his personal engagement with the university’s Endownment Fund for over three decades and singular intervention to address the moribund bureaucracy and parlous infrastructure, he brought inimitable changes in that institution in a manner no government establishment would have done.
For his personal life, Onosode maintained disciplined routine of efficiency. He never went late to occasions or events and would not rush into meetings. His oratorial powers and insightful intellect were as eloquent as his masterly diction, which celebrated his love for the English language.
A jolly good fellow, who was always a photographer’s delight, Onosode nurtured a luxuriantly conservative sartorial sense that was peculiarly his. His pencil trim moustache and the centre parting on his neatly groomed hair complemented his bespectacled urbane visage that remained unruffled either by a smile or grimace. With a trim figure that reflected discipline, it was difficult to understand how a man, who had headed blue chip companies and waded through the murky waters of Nigeria’s commerce and industry, lived a simple life and flourished without a whiff of scandal. All this made Onosode a man of admirable composure and the typical homme de culture.
Although glowing tributes have been paid, and some ornate eulogies still appear in newspapers, there are invaluable lessons to be learnt from the life and times of this giant. To vacuous starters both in politics and business, who are lured by greed and avarice, Onosode’s life is a lesson that nothing really means much if one truly wants to serve.
Onosode was also a quintessential gentleman, whose life embodied the classical culture his intellectual orientation beckoned on him. While his speech or utterance had the appropriate measure of frankness and courtesy, on matters or issues for which he had little or no expertise, Onosode was taciturn. Even when many regarded him as Mr. Integrity, whose penetrating intellect unearthed the maladies of boardroom maladministration, his admonition bore the civility of correction.
Many in the younger generation of boardroom executives, who found him as a model, often admired his prudential vocal nature and, to wit, tried to imitate him wrongly by becoming destructive critics of socio-economic policies they do not understand. The lesson: To become an authority, one needs not only intellectual insight or technical expertise, but also experience garnered from tested ability as well as the cultivated mind and heart to appropriately pass on what one claims one knows.
True, it is fitting to join the Onosode family, the Urhobo nation, the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the academic community and the community of industrialists and technocrats to mourn the departure of one of the world’s most luminous stars. But, it is Nigeria that has lost the most.