An empty seat for Chief (Dr.) Koleade Adeniji Abayomi, SAN; OON
About thirty years ago at the Metropolitan Club, Kofo Abayomi Street (named after Kole’s father, Kofo Adekunle Abayomi) on Victoria Island, Lagos the hugely cerebral artist (Sculptor and Painter) Professor Ben Enwonwu pulled me aside just before the weekly Tuesday lunch to conspiratorially whisper as he surveyed the empty tables which would soon be filled and revert to emptiness in a matter of hours that his next undertaking would be a massive painting of the thirty empty tables at the exclusive club. It would be a magnificent piece of art – a spellbinding reflection of emptiness in all its splendour and majesty!!
I was truly fascinated and almost mesmerized by the electrifying passion of the great artist who was clearly salivating and celebrating a great work of art which was in conception without a firm delivery date. It would be a monumental homage to the transience and emptiness of everything and every life – no matter how powerful or accomplished. Ben Enwonwu’s putative masterpiece would serve as a counterpoint/counter pose to Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) “Last Supper”.
Right from inception, the founding fathers of the Metropolitan Club had a clear vision – the dining room which was overflowing with men of power, brain and brawn would have to serve a higher purpose, namely the uplifting of Nigeria to become a force to be reckoned within the comity of nations.
The artist and I were somewhat in a trance when Kole sauntered in and he could not resist asking why both of us appeared lost in silence. It was the artist’s prerogative to welcome Kole into the conspiracy and share with him the profundity of that moment. He was not mistaken. He made the right call and the perfect choice. Kole was (like the artist himself) DEEP, very deep. Both of them were gentle but had great strength of character.
From time to time, the great artist would remind me and Kole that the great painting was still in contemplation but the concept and sketches were imminent. However, there was a dilemma: would the Dining Room be fully empty (an oxymoron!!) or half empty?
Regrettably, time and space will not permit us to do justice to the seat (and various other seats) which Kole occupied at the Law School, Victoria Island where he served meritoriously from 1970 to 2005
Sadly, Ben Enwonwu died on 5th February, 1994. Thereafter, virtually every Tuesday Kole would be seated resplendent in his native Agbada robes with matching cap (he had given up the Savile Row Suits and pocket square) directly opposite me as he was sandwiched between two old boys of King’s College – Christopher Folarin Williams and Gabriel Olufemi Sowemimo. Kole was himself an old boy of King’s College.
Perhaps, I should add that on the first Tuesday of every month, Kole would be seated opposite me at the monthly dinner of the Lagos Dining Club at the Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi. The third leg was the monthly Luncheon of Lagos Titled Chiefs whereas the Babasale of Lagos, he would be seated next to the President of the Association, Iyabo Foresythe and the Vice-President Kensington Adebutu, The Asoju Oba of Lagos and Odole Oodua of Yorubaland. Kole carried the title he inherited from his father with great dignity and aplomb. Seated next to him were the very senior Chiefs and Elder Statesmen – Folarin Coker (Baba Eto & Baba Oba of Lagos); E. O. Aina (Baba Eko of Lagos) and Bolaji Kuti (Olotu).
With the demise of Kole on 2nd April 2020, his seat at the Metropolitan Club; Lagos Dining Club; and the Association of Lagos Titled Chiefs and other seats which he occupied – at his Church; as the head (Olori Ebi) of the Taiwo Olowo Family and head of his immediate family at Plot 201, Etim Inyang Crescent, Victoria Island (we are neighbours) are all empty.
Of course, at his law firm tucked away at Eric Moore Close, Surulere, Kole occupied the seat of the Principal Partner. Sadly, that seat is now empty – at least until his designated successor turns up to step into the big shoes of the departed Titan of the Law.
At the annual New Year Party of the Lagos Dining Club, Kole’s seat was the epicentre. There he was radiating joy and bonhomie-the complete family man surrounded by his devoted wife Elfrida Apinke (previously his student at the Law School) and his children – Koleade; Kayode and Audrey; Yomi and Clare; Chima and Morenike; Sonny and Kofoworola; and Kolawole and Temi. The extra table was for the grandchildren (a football team of eleven) – Daniel; Mayokun; Kofoworola; Kayode; Kikelomo; Fikayo; Kojusoluwa; Amarachi; Adachi; Daniel (again); and Kofoworola (again). It was a different Kole – there he was in casual wear, the loving husband and indulgent father/grandfather. He was unambiguously in his element. This was Kole Abayomi at his best “beyond reasonable doubt”!! He was like a shepherd guarding his flock.
In his church, Holy Flock of Christ at 45 Okepopo Street, Lagos (a stone throw from Ricca Street, where I was born and within walking distance from my elementary school – Lagos Government School) his seat was at the altar where he carried the title: Venerable Koleade Abayomi with consummate spirituality and humility. Tagged to the seat which is now empty was: “Vicar General”.
Regrettably, time and space will not permit us to do justice to the seat (and various other seats) which Kole occupied at the Law School, Victoria Island where he served meritoriously from 1970 to 2005. He was the Director-General from 2004 to 2005 and he always insisted that he was not there for the money (having inherited a vast estate from his father). According to his Confessional Statement, he just loved teaching law. However, that did not prevent him from accepting as (tax-free) Benefit -in-Kind the well-deserved honour of SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) in addition to an even more invaluable and enduring jewel, his loving wife Apinke at whose last birthday party he read a Sworn Affidavit in which he referred to her in glowing and endearing terms in flawless Latin eulogy as:
“My lover; my best friend; my confidant and soulmate.”
At the Law School, Kole Abayomi taught several generations of graduates of Nigerian and foreign Universities with diligence and dedication – to bring out the best in each one of them. His harvest and reward were many of the household names who now dominate the legal profession — from the Bar to the Inner Bar and the highest echelons of the judiciary (including the Supreme Court).
Also, on the list of those who were his former students are Royal Fathers (including His Royal Highness Oba Rilwan Akiolu I, the Oba of Lagos) and several others – East; West; North; South. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo SAN, as well as Barrister Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation top the list of Kole’s former students who have veered into politics and recorded considerable success. Among the former students of Kole Abayomi is the Speaker of The House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Femi Gbajamiala. Not to be left out are Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Babatunde Raji Fashola S.A.N, Minister of Works and Housing; and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information.
Also, on the Roll Call are Governors, Special Advisers, Permanent Secretaries, Ambassadors, as well as Senior Officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Customs and Excise and the security/intelligence agencies. Others are captains of Industry and Commerce while many more have found refuge in academia and the clergy.
Bashorun J.K. Randle
J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, J.K. Randle Professional Services.