• Saturday, March 02, 2024
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BusinessDay

A hearty toast to prince Francis Oluwole Awogboro “VQB”

King’s_College,_Lagos_Nigeria

Rather than prolong undue anxiety, let me disclose that the “QB” sobriquet on the business card of Prince Olu Awogboro stands for “Very Quiet Billionaire”!!

Having cleared that first hurdle (or preliminary), justice demands that we commence the toast by acknowledging the celebrant’s good fortune and the abundant blessings of the Almighty as embodied in his soulmate and devoted wife Tokunbo (nee Oni). She is undoubtedly his secret weapon for ensuring that he has not only survived the perennial turbulence and devastating intrigues of business life in Nigeria and beyond, he has emerged triumphant in robustly good health, glowing with radiant happiness and serene contentment. Through the storms of life and the vicissitudes of striving for excellence, he has emerged as a worthy Prince. It is no secret that Tokunbo is a formidable prayer-warrior and her profound spiritualism has fortified her beloved husband who has endeared himself to us all by being a consistent advertisement for trustworthiness, generosity of spirit and superlative hospitality whether in Ilesha (from where he hails); Lagos; London; Paris; Cape Town or other exotic locations.

We have already been treated to moving testimonies and incontestable averments by Arc.(Chief) & Dr. (Mrs.) Tony Soetan; Mrs.Toun Adebiyi (Tokunbo’s sister) and late Chief Yomi McGregor how in their moments of need, it was the celebrant who went far beyond the call of duty or the obligations of friendship to settle the hefty medical bills (while being tormented by life threatening ordeals) which they had incurred in foreign territories (London and beyond) without expecting acknowledgement, gratitude or deification in return.

I must debunk the widely held opinion or unfounded rumour that the Prince’s generosity is exceptionally skewed in favour of his immediate family, his in-laws he has neither time or patience for out-laws and old boys of St. Gregory’s College, Obalende (his Alma Mater). God help you if like me you are an old boy of King’s College, Lagos!!

Perhaps I should confess that the celebrant and I have been friends for almost six decades. I have it on good authority that when he landed in London in 1961, while others declared their immigration status as “student”, without batting an eyelid he insisted on being welcomed to London as a “Landlord” and promptly declared the address of the property at 15 Windsor Road, Willesden Green which his father, a wealthy cocoa merchant, had consigned to his care.

Anyway, when he introduced himself to me at a party in Golders Green, London as a Prince, I was somewhat wary and even alarmed. I instantly recalled the strictures and warning of Psalm 146:

“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no help.”

He has since proved to be an uncommon exception to that prejudicial assertion.

Indeed, trust and trustworthiness have been the watchwords that have guided his path to his phenomenal success as an astute and accomplished businessman (insurance guru and property tycoon); and his dealings with his fellow human beings in various spheres of endeavour within Nigeria and beyond its shores, particularly Lloyds of London, the citadel of insurance; re-insurance loss adjusters (they never adjust their profits) and the apostles of all risks covered!!

For his exemplary conduct and unflinching commitment, he has been rewarded with being appointed a Trustee of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association; Trustee of Lagos Motor boat Club; Knight of the Catholic Church and numerous other accolades. The list is as long as it is intimidating. Regardless, he has remained refreshingly unassuming, genuinely humble, raucously good humoured and uncommonly spiritual especially in discharging his obligations to the Catholic Church and daily supplication to the Almighty for his beneficence not only for himself but for all his friends, especially old boys of St. Gregory’s College!!

He has turned out to be a Prince and a Knight in shining armour in a country where pedigree has become irrelevant while the trust deficit has ravaged our collective psyche thereby guaranteeing that we are doomed to grope in the dark further compounded by plus darkness of the soul.

As a family man, he has been truly exceptional. His home is an oasis of peace, serenity and tranquillity. He is the best of friends with all his children and grandchildren and cares deeply for all of them. Every Sunday morning without fail he gathers all his grandchildren (minus their troublesome parents!) for a hearty breakfast at the Wheatbaker Hotel, in Ikoyi or the Chocolat Royal, Victoria Island. His day commences with a bicycle run around Park View/Banana Island, Ikoyi at the crack of dawn, accompanied by his darling wife Tokunbo. Nothing would stop him from turning up for early morning mass at the Church of the Assumption, Falomo, Ikoyi or the Catholic church in Regent’s Park, London.

The Prince is not a keen supporter of Manchester United; Manchester City; Arsenal; Chelsea; or Barcelona football teams. Neither is he an avid follower of Cricket, Athletics or Horse Racing. His favourite sport is to sit at the Trustee’s table in the far corner of the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Awolowo Rd. Ikoyi on Friday nights. Surrounded by fellow old boys of St. Gregory’s College, they lay an ambush to snare any unwary old boy of King’s College who dares to venture into their lair!! One of them is a medical doctor who is always in attendance just in case their quarry prefers to give up the ghost rather than surrender to their unrelenting allegation that old boys of King’s College are to be held responsible for the terrible woes that have befallen Nigeria. No amount of forceful denial will prevent them from repeating the same allegations all over again the following week.  Strictly, no ladies are allowed within earshot of the vigorous arguments back and forth – fuelled with vast quantities of champagne, wine and vintage whiskey or mature brandy.  For some inexplicable reason “to so”, barbecued chicken, “suya”, and yam chips are delivered by stewards who eagerly savour the jousting perhaps in expectation that it would eventually metamorphose into duelling – with swords drawn.

Anyway, while St. Gregory’s College versus King’s College is the main attraction, the Barewa College boys insist on flouting their moral superiority on account of having produced Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; late Sarduana of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, late former President Umaru Yar’Adua, former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon who by all accounts did not enrich themselves by plundering the public treasury.  All this in addition to their long list of former Chiefs of Army Staff, Chief Justices, Military Governors etc.

As for the Igbobi College boys, their own mantra is to advertise their domination of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering.  Not to be left out are the Old boys of Baptist Academy; Methodist Boys High School and CMS Grammar School who never tire of debunking the allegation that the Christian missions schools forced Christianity on their moslem students.

Even 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.

His 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 what business schools cannot teach you). One of his contemporaries at Harvard is Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State.

Apart from his sojourn in Abeokuta and London, 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 modest beginning first at Abibu Oki Street, Lagos 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!

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.

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 quintenssial gentleman, philanthropist extraordinaire and a jolly good fellow of whom we are all so proud but kept it as a secret until Tokunbo announced alerted us that today we would celebrate his 80th birthday and he in turn gave us an all risks covered assurance that he will always be our friend.

 

Bashorun J.K. Randle