Fernandez: At last ‘the veil is lifted’
Oh my Deinde – Even in death your innermost wishes are being thwarted by human frailties and manipulations – Sun re e
You came, you saw and you conquered! You set the bar for corporate Nigeria, our traditional institutions and wore the badge of Nigeria like a shield of Honour.
You were a Giant as you were a Dove.
You were proud like a King and as humble as a servant.
You were valiant but ruled with a gentle heart.
Most importantly, you accepted the presence of the Almighty; otherwise why your outburst to me in the midst of your pain “You did the work for the wealth for which they all want to kill themselves”
YOU left home at the age of 18, in search of the Golden Fleece. You traded in commodities between Africa and America. We met in 1972 on one of your return journeys with your business proceeds. You constantly used the profit from your business ventures to add value to the lives of families, friends and sundry; examples of your kind hearted generosity abound: you changed dollars at less than 50 per cent value to help them pay their children’s school fees, pay hospital bills and even give their families much needed holidays.
We discovered our families were old friends and after all the initial courtesies and ceremonies, we got married in April 1973. It was with great pomp and pageantry in the palace of the then Oba of Lagos with the wedding reception attended by several dignitaries including the then Governor Lawal. We waited on the Lord for our baby to arrive and in March 1976, our daughter Oyinkan Antoinette Fernandez (whom you named after your mother and first daughter of your mum) was born.
I was in the process of completing the purchase of “Habib Building” on Berkeley Street, Onikan when you exclaimed ‘How can you have a property like that when I do not have a leaf in Nigeria?’ I had it transferred to you at cost to the amazement of the Habib family. For me what ever was mine was yours and whatever was yours was mine. I carried out the renovation of the three office floors, 34 residential flats and built private rooms for us on the 18th floor, while providing jobs to teeming Nigerians. The rooms still stand till today despite the fear of professional engineers.
We were so happy there – I convinced you to come back home and we spent fifteen glorious years together in this Lagos with our children, our new large family. Teju, Gbemi, Tony, Akin, Titi, Koye, Kunle, Dewunmi and later Oyinkan our daughter, who came along in 1976. It was truly the only home you ever had. Oh you used to entertain us with Gelede dance using dustbin as your bum, towel as your masque and bed sheet as your wrapper!
Having succeeded in making you come back to Nigeria, we embarked on the business of creating wealth. Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson (still a living witness) gave us twenty hectares of land on Badagry Road to build our first factory. I reassured him you were not going to be an absentee landlord and as the senior officer to my late husband he gave us every support. As usual I sprung into action and almost pestered the life out of Engineer Segun Jawando to facilitate the sand filling of the land, as it was a swampy area.
You brought the prestigious Gorenje Company to our shores; we set up a factory to assemble the CKD of white goods – cookers, fridges, washing machines etc – our fellow Nigerians were employed and, therefore, empowered as senior and junior staff. As a result of this innovative commercial enterprise, all manner of people, tertiary institutions and communities benefited greatly.
Next was the “Fernandez Food Corporation”. We competed with Uncle Bens Rice by acquiring rice from the same source and packaging it in our factory on Badagry road; we also ventured into the manufacturing and packaging and distribution of other foods. Many illustrious Nigerians were our valued customers and distributors including the revered Mama Awolowo who was very kind to me and a lot more people were empowered through the factory. I was the businessperson and you were the philanthropist with a heart of gold who being almost generous to a fault, gave a lot away without payment!
Then we veered into the oil industry. You were the first private Nigerian to lift crude oil partnering with major oil companies including Tenneco and Texaco. You would have built the first private oil service station with my ‘Head’ as the logo but as a visionary, you were well ahead of your time and the technocrats in the civil service were not ready to see indigenous Nigerians actively involved in the oil industry. Chief Phillip Asiodu a living legend of the Nigerian civil service can corroborate this.
We bought land in other parts of Nigeria to set up rice farms but the Federal Government bureaucracy scuttled all that effort, hence the decision to look to other parts of Africa and the World. We took some of our proceeds from Nigeria to Congo where you already had interest. We sent my Rolls Royce Phantom VI to the President of Mozambique and bought twenty-five cars for the people there, to be used as taxis. Many other philanthropic gestures abound and formed part of your way of doing business in every land you created enterprise; such as Swaziland where you had a beef factory, Angola where you operated oil fields in Cabinda, Geneva where you had a trading company dealing in oil and gemstones from Congo etc.
Africa embraced you, pulled you to her bosom, although Nigeria gave you birth, nurtured and empowered you, Africa gave you wings, made you a world renowned diplomat, a global citizen, a father, mentor and motivator of Nigerians indeed Africans in Business. You never ever stopped wearing the Nigerian shield like a badge of honour. You gave support to the advancement of politics. I can still remember many visits of our great politicians like Papa Adeniran Ogunsanya and the revered Zik of Africa Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; Alhaji Ganiyu Daudu (to name but a few) to our Tower Fernandez home and most leaving with heavy bags of support.
You revolutionized our traditional institutions, you tread where the pseudos feared to venture. Despite your sophistication and exposure to all that is refined in the world, you wined and dined with the grass roots; even I used to marvel at the level of your love and humility, especially when you shared the same ‘IGASI’ to drink gin and schnapps! You made us believe that our tradition and culture, traditional religion etc are our Legacies, which we should cherish, respect, protect and uphold knowing that we look upon the same Almighty and Omnipotent God.
We traversed the length and breath of our traditional palaces together. We gave great gifts and even put some traditional rulers on salaries as there was not an effective local government system then, as we have today. We single handedly furnished and renovated some palaces. The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi was so impressed by your love for tradition. He gave you the title of “Woye-Ileri” of Ife while at the same time gave our one year old daughter, Oyinkan a royal title and royal beads and said to me you are already royalty! The Alaafin of Oyo was our greatest ally; he honoured you greatly as you also honoured him. Oba Lipede, the Alake of Egbaland loved you unconditionally and we were constant guests around his table.
Oba Oyekan was your father, you were the son in whom he was well pleased. You loved him, we took great care of him both at home and abroad. You took care of the entire Royal family. We paid school fees of some Lagos Island families and extended families. We paid school fees of their children, we contributed funds to various indigenous trust funds including Isale-Eko descendants Trust Fund. We built houses for some. Some we gave jobs, some you just empowered to be able to stand on their own feet. Papa honoured you with the title “Bajiri” of Lagos (the Pillar and First Consultant of the king) in 1974 and the family unanimously bestowed on me the title of the Erelu of Lagos. Despite all this, you never left the church. Monsignor Pedro Martin was your spiritual father and we visited him every night when we were in Lagos. We worshipped with him every Sunday in Apapa, he even christened our daughter Oyinkansola in Apapa. When he moved to Dodan barracks, we followed him to worship there, every Sunday. Your last wish was for you to be brought back to Nigeria and to be buried in Lagos as a Catholic, where you were once a choir boy.
Deinde, there is no end to your contributions. I should reserve the rest for the book I am writing in your honour.
In London, Claridge’s hotel lights up when Chief Fernandez is in residence with your array of great business associates and royalty. King Hussien of Jordan loved you like a brother. The Crillon in Paris rolls out the red carpet always for the “Grand Chief” Fernandez. America was your oyster. The world was at your feet. We bought the house in Connecticut in America and the Chateau in France to be our homes away from home, but alas it was not to be. The lawyers pressurized me to claim my right but I told them we don’t take our husbands to court where I come from. I am still an “Isale-Eko” girl at heart.
Nigeria it is time to welcome home your son, a conquering hero, a true proud Nigerian like no other. You used to draw my picture while asleep and when I asked why, you would say that when God made me He used a special mode, which he never used for anyone else. My Deinde it is more true for you than for me. Good night my Darling……..
BY HRH Erelu Abiola Dosumu (Princess Fernandez), Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos.