The Life and Times of Gamaliel Onosode
Captain of industry, Mr. Gamaliel Onosode, Passed on last week. The eldest son of the deceased, Ese, in this interview, speaks on the life and times of the man fondly called ‘the boardroom giant’.
Nigerians describe your father as a boardman giant, Mr. Integrity, among others. What earned him such accolades?
At some point in his corporate life, he was sitting on the boards of several companies as Chairman or Director. At last count, he sat on the boards of 60 companies and it came to a point that he had to resign from the boards of some of these companies when he became the Special Adviser to former President Shehu Shagari briefly. But after that regime was truncated by coup, incidentally it was the General Muhammadu Buhari coup, most of those companies re-appointed him as Director or Chairman. So, for him to become boardroom guru, it‘s mainly because of his dexterity at handling boardroom affairs; doing things the way they should be done; his adherence to corporate governance and best practices was legendary. He would not compromise on standard, quality, or service delivery. Rules were to be followed and any attempt to try to convince him to navigate rules just to achieve profit or to achieve some kind of gain is a waste of time to Gamaliel Onosode.
Now tell us about your father. What kind of man was he in terms of discipline, love and care for the family?
At first glance to an outsider, he looked like a hard man because he had this façade of being very firm, but when you get to know him, you will find that he was quite an emotional man; very gentle at heart, kind hearted, sweet in every respect. I mean he was charming. I am not saying this because he is my father; this was somebody who was a gentleman to the core. I would say there are just a few men you will ever meet that have those kinds of qualities.
Elders tell their children stories that help order their lives. Your father must have told you some, which story of his interests you most?
Stories like what?
Stories that inspire
My father was not really a story teller. He was more of a fact teller. I can’t remember him telling us any frivolous story but he joked a lot and he gave you the facts. He always tried to imbibe the importance of hard work, industry and doing things right so that you don’t have to do it again. You have to take time to get it right the first time so that you will avoid unnecessary mistakes that could take time to complete the task. And this is why he abhorred sloppiness; he abhorred people who could not take time to get their grammar, grammatical spelling right or punctuations in the right places. I mean, he was just a perfectionist. So if you send him a document or a letter, make sure you proof read it over and over again because he had the ability to spot an error just within the first ten seconds of reading a document.
Can you tell us one of the beautiful experiences you shared with your late dad that you always remember?
It is a childhood memory and that will be probably when I was eight or nine years old on a Christmas night or the eve? He pretended to be Father Christmas and woke us up around midnight, we beheld this with white hair and white beard wearing a red suit and carrying presents. He disguised his voice like somebody else and we actually thought that it was real Father Christmas; we didn’t know until days later that he was the one because he disguised himself so well. I don’t know how he pulled it off and, I think then, we were just four kids and it was such a sweet thing for him to do for his kids.
How many are you now?
It’s me and seven others
Were you your father’s favorite or he had someone else?
(Pauses) He wasn’t the kind of person that (pauses again). He might have a favorite but he didn’t show it like that, so it is very difficult for me to say he had. But, like most fathers, he tended to favor his last baby daughter. Like most fathers do, daddy’s girl, you know. We used to tease her a lot that it might not have been the case but the last daughter, you know, used to get a lot, being daddy’s girl.
What was his favorite book?
What about his best kind of music?
Classical. Laughs…… No doubt about that, he loved classical music. We tried to play it to the very end to him even when he was drifting away. And he also loved church hymns. In fact, he was a lover of music generally. He liked good music, not noise.
Did your father believe in life after death?
Definitely, like all good Christians do. He believes that once you die and you are a good Christian, you will go and meet the Lord. And, if you die outside the faith, you will go to hell. To that extent, he believed in life after death.
What can you tell us about his religious life?
He was a rare breed. He practised what he preached. You know it is so easy to read the Bible and preach to others to do good and do things the clean and proper way but sometimes it is very difficult to practicalize certain moral dilemmas, especially grey areas. I mean If you are in the corporate world, there are so many ways to make money to succeed but the straight and narrow way is usually the toughest and hardest way to make that extra bulk and the problem is that most corrupt people in Africa tend to follow the crooked way, which is making easy money because it is not outright crime. What am trying to say is that a lot of Nigerians tend to justify some of their moral failings because they border on grey areas. But my dad was so strict morally that a lot of people were scared of doing business with him because they knew he will not be bribed; they knew he would not take a cut; they knew he will not do those things that people get away with and never jailed for. He held several positions in the financial sector that could easily have made him a billionaire but he chose to follow the straight and narrow way.
What were the things he valued most?
In this order: God, family and friends
What do you think was responsible for his ability to effectively manage his numerous office duties alongside family responsibilities?
I guess it was the grace of God and the fact that he was always a disciplined man, right from his early age. He was used to multi tasks. He was able to combine duties with being a leader, being a layman, a kind of a leader in the church, being a corporate leader and a family man. He always had that right balance. He was always able to find the right amount of time to take care of business and do it excellently. I am not trying to say he was a perfect man, but if there were compromises, probably it favored …..the family. Maybe, most times in our early age, he might be absent because of official duties but he always made up for it when he was around with quality time.
What other things would you want to tell us about your late father?
I have talked much about his moral character; I have talked about the fact that he was a man of integrity and all that good stuff but, in practical terms, what I am also impressed about is his pioneering role in the development of the Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Nigeria, the passion he had for development of youths in Nigeria and good education. He also had passion for environmental issues. These are issues that he dedicated most of his energy trying to ensure the best for Nigeria. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Nigeria truly appreciated the man he truly was. I think if he was born in a different country and probably at a different time, he would probably have been ranked among the great leaders of the world. He was greatly under-appreciated. But, he was a happy man, a very fulfilled family man.
When you say he was greatly under-appreciated, could you shed some light on this area?
After all, he offered to be president at some point but professional politicians didn’t give him a chance because clearly he would not fit into their mould. He was not cut from the same cloth as most of them and so they will be uncomfortable with such a person because he will not be manipulated and that would be bad for business and so, you know, dishonest people wouldn’t really appreciate people like that. So, in that context, I feel like Nigerians tend to idolize money bags that they do not even know the source of their wealth. They tend to idolize Nollywood actors or actresses. They tend to idolize musicians and all that kind of stuff but role models that can teach practical living, clean living, straightforward living, simple living seem not to attract that kind of attention. People admire it but they do not want to emulate it because it is a difficult path to follow.
What single word or sentence would you use to describe your late father?
I will rather go for a sentence. He was a man of his word and a quintessential gentleman.