• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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A hearty toast to prince Francis Oluwole Awogboro “VQB” (2)


Without any provocation, the old boys of Government College, Ibadan who are “nomadic” visitors insist on wheeling out their formidable catalogue of exceptional old boys – late Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu; Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka; Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo (former Governor of Oyo State); Dr.Akintola Omigbodun; Chief Ajibola Ogunshola and many more.

Well before you enter the club, you could hear the celebrant’s hearty and infectious laughter. Even the gatemen, receptionists and stewards are only too eager to announce: “The Trustee is waiting for you.” He is truly adored and cherished by all and sundry – both young and old.

Awo’s philanthropy to the Catholic Church; St. Gregory’s College; and various charitable organisations is colossal. It is a measure of his endearing quest for knowledge and excellence that even after establishing himself as a very successful entrepreneur; he proceeded to the Harvard Business School (to lecture them on how to make serious money and what business schools cannot teach you!!). One of his contemporaries at Harvard is MallamNasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State.

Apart from his sojourn in Abeokuta, London, and Hull the Prince has lived most of his life in Lagos as a student at St. Paul’s School, Ebute Metta, Lagos followed by St. Gregory’s College, Obalende and a long stint as a senior manager at Royal Exchange Insurance before venturing into business as an insurance broker – Ark Stewart.  From a modest beginning, first at Abibu Oki Street, Lagos he scaled up to “Western House”, Broad Street, Lagos and eventually to its own magnificent edifice in Victoria Island, Lagos

He can with some justification claim to be a Lagosian to the core.

In wishing Prince Awogboro many more years of the grace of the Almighty – in good health and prosperity I am willing to overlook a minor flaw. In 2016, just before the American presidential election he was absolutely convinced that Hilary Clinton would trounce Donald Trump. He even goaded me into staking a bet of one million dollars.  He lost and I won. That was over two years ago but I am still waiting to be paid. Perhaps, if he was an old boy of King’s College, he would have long ago sent me a cheque or surrendered his swanky new ocean going yatch in lieu thereof!!

Regardless, there is no gainsaying that the Prince has served his long apprenticeship with consummate dignity, veritable honour, impeccable character and unassailable commitment to sharing his good fortune. When he was offered the crown of kingship, he declined. His preferred choice is to retain his status as a prince – always smiling and forever providing hope that even in the midst of gross despair and forlorn angst, there is room for love, faithfulness, steadfastness and joy.  Had Awo accepted the crown, he would have been obliged to acquire more wives.  Tokunbo would have none of that.  She put her foot down very firmly.

He is a magnet and may his star never dim as he celebrates his 80th birthday. He was born on 25th June 1939 and we are entitled to drink a hearty toast to “VQB” – the Very Quiet Billionaire. Let’s make some noise in recognition of the sterling qualities of a quintessential gentleman, philanthropist extraordinaire and a jolly good fellow of whom we are all so proud.  The birthday was kept as a secret until Tokunbo alerted us that today we would celebrate Awo’s 80th birthday and he in turn gave us an all risks covered insurance that he will always be our friend.

As an addendum to the toast which I have just proposed members of the Friday night group of Lagos Motor Boat Club have handed over to me a sealed envelope which is to be delivered to Prince Francis Oluwole Ademola Awogboro on 25th June 2039 when he will be celebrating his 100th Birthday.  We shall all be there to celebrate with him.  I am not privy to the entire contents but I understand that it contains a photograph of the celebrant’s new yatch which he has christened “THE ARK” (derived from the name of his company, Ark Stewart).  Like the Biblical Ark, it is an “SPV” (Special Purpose Vehicle).  In the event of any calamity or unforeseen circumstances, the celebrant would be at liberty to set sail along with Tokunbo and other members of his family as well as his friends.  However, there is a caveat.  There will be plenty of room for old boys of St. Gregory’s College.  As for old boys of King’s College, it is back to the old days of discrimination in Britain:

“Sorry, no Irish; no blacks; and no dogs.”  No room for old boys of King’s College!!

On that journey, in the welcoming embrace of the Atlantic Ocean, there will be plenty of time and opportunity to acknowledge and relish a lifetime of superlative achievements and muscular integrity.  It would also be self-evident that the yatch does not have a landing pad for helicopters as is being rumoured (fake news!!).  It is merely a testimony to the Prince’s love of beauty and fine taste.  What the yatch does have is an advanced satellite communication system which will expeditiously alert Awo when Nigeria is no longer safe for anybody – rich or poor; “Gregorian” or “Floreat” (KCOB’s). He has worked hard and he is fully entitled to the reward for his sweat  and labour.  It is typical of him, when asked for the secret of his phenomenal success, to respond:

“The Lord is always faithful.  The glory belongs to Him.  It is not by my own doing.”

Inevitably, he would remind us that amongst his classmates at St. Gregory’s College were late Oluyomi McGregor and Toyan Doherty.  Thankfully, another classmate Chief Anthony Soetan is alive and will still be around for the Centenary celebration.

Hopefully, in twenty years’ time we would look back with  joyous recollection of Friday nights devoted to the problems of our beloved Nigeria – sometimes, until well after midnight.  Indeed, on at least one occasion matters continued on the following Saturday afternoon at a wedding party where the same gang were seated at the same table only to re-assemble on Sunday at the Lekki residence of Dr. Charles Hammond in Lekki Peninsula, Phase I where the St. Gregory’s College versus King’s College “wahala” started all over again.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge here and now (rather than wait for another twenty years) the unflinching support I have received from the celebrant and two other Trustees of St. Gregory’s College plus many distinguished old boys of the college in my campaign to become President of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association (in Nigeria and worldwide!!).  Such magnanimity is a rare occurrence in this part of the world.  I remain eternally grateful.


Bashorun J.K. Randle