Tribute to the The Oracle, Wole Sodipe
It is difficult to match the state of being dead with a towering personality like, Wole Sodipe, one of the founding vice presidents of Platinum Bank, the man we affectionately call The Oracle.
At about 3.05a.m. on November 25, I was working in my study when I received an email from Emmanuel Amatokwu on the news of Wole’s demise after battling an illness, which was later, revealed to be cancer. This detail made the painful news harder to bear. Last year, I lost a dear brother to cancer, after a courageous seven-year battle with the ailment.
I still remember the first day I saw Wole in 2001. He was alighting from his car, arriving for work. He walked with a limp. He was slim and of average height. Nothing about his physical appearance provided a hint of the kind of reaction that would follow his arrival into Platinum Bank’s headquarters.
As he made the long walk to his office, the reaction that trailed him was indicative of a man of authority; a man who commanded respect from his subordinates, peers, and even superiors. That unmistaken aura of power never waned in the 10 years that I worked in the bank with him.
Here was a man of superlatively high standards, complete commitment, and boundless energy for whatever task he undertook. He was the sort of guy who hardly ever called in sick. He never dodged a responsibility, never refused to take on a hard job that needed to be done. What he believed in, he believed with his heart and soul. He was the kind of professional you could take with you to a corporate knife-fight and to a crucial meeting with senior foreign diplomats and he would excel at both.
Sodipe derived his authority from his wealth of knowledge. He was a man of many parts. He knew something about everything, a quality that often got people vexed. “He thinks he knows everything,” his critics scoffed at his back. That was Wole. He knew a whole lot, and it was my privilege to know him through the 10 years that we worked together, and to tap from his enormous reservoir of knowledge.
He was culturally exposed. It was he who first gave me a tutorial on fine wine. We were planning a company Christmas party and he thought that wine would be a good addition to the menu. I am a zero or hero person when it comes to alcohol. I hardly ever drink. So, I don’t know much about wine. He later asked me what kind of wine I ordered, I told him I just chose some from the vendor’s list. He insisted that I needed to know what kind of wine we had ordered in detail, down to the brand names, the colour, and even the age.
That was Wole: a man who paid attention to every detail. Even those you thought would fly in his face, he caught them all. It’s no surprise that he was an award-winning chartered accountant. Indeed, the banking industry in Africa has lost one of the best it had.
One endearing quality Wole had, which was often hidden, was that he invested in people. He had a deep humanity in him. He loved people and he loved the arts. He was a mentor and a financier to a good number of actors and filmmakers in Nollywood. He was also a sportsman; a football enthusiast. I recall the passion with which he championed establishing a football team for our bank and taking us through the Bankers’ Cup Championship. He would attend every practice and threaten to sack anybody who didn’t play well.
He never meant to follow through; it was just for the love of the game. He also made huge donations to the football team and paid them match bonuses.
Wole remembered people in detail, even if he met them once. He was the kind of boss that organised to support his people when they were bereaved or celebrating a milestone, or taking on a new task in life. Two of my Bluechip classmates – who joined the bank as entry-level staff in 2001 – testify that he gifted them money when they were leaving the bank for graduate studies in the United Kingdom, and they weren’t even working directly with him at the time.
There are some people who thought he was a mean person. When confronted with instances when Wole displayed uncommon kindness, some dismissively said, “He was just trying to be nice”. Without invalidating their feelings, I think they got him wrong. I think Wole was a man moulded with a nice and soft charisma, who tried to put on a tough exterior. He had a great deal of empathy that he hardly ever showed, at least, not publicly.
What many people term as “difficult” in the Nigerian workspace, indeed every workspace, is often just a drive to make sure that things are done right. Was Wole a tough boss? Arguably, yes. But his tough exterior was mostly always in the pursuit of results. The other times, he just wanted to be respected. He wanted, much like most of us, to be seen, to be heard, the acknowledgement that he was valuable and his point of view was valid.
Wole Sodipe’s tragic passing is another reminder that tomorrow is not promised and we should urgently be about the business of making a positive difference in the lives of the people we meet.
It is undeniable that Wole made a difference in Platinum Bank, which later became Bank PHB (now Keystone Bank). There are some of my colleagues who would swear with their lives that if Wole was in charge of our internal audit division and had liaised with the Central Bank when the pre-determined and ill-intentioned inspection was carried out on our bank in 2009, that the institution would have been saved. They believe, and to some extent, I agree, that Wole wouldn’t have exposed our bank to external attacks, not by concealment, but because he would have defended every management decision satisfactorily.
Cancer is one of the most devilish diseases on earth. It embodies completely the mission statement of the enemy of mankind – it kills, but before it does, it steals and destroys. It’s the worst nightmare that can hit a person, a family; to watch a loved one suffer the unimaginable pain that comes with cancer and to finally lose them. The heartache goes on for years, and it stays fresh for a long time.
• Uko is a Nigerian publisher who is the Executive Editor of The Trent.