Before he became the Chairman of Island Club, two years ago, Dipo Okpeseyi had been a long standing member of the club and he had served in some of the major committees of the club. He was also at some point the General Secretary of the club before he contested for the Chairmanship.
He is a distinguished lawyer who has had a successful corporate Legal practice. So good and competent is he that he was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 2008. How did his romance with Law start, City People asked him last week.
“It was something my father developed in me,” he explained. “ I remember when we were quite little, my father had an interest in public issues. My father was like a public orator. He had interest in Public issues and matters. The political issues of the early 60s in particular at least my consciousness took me to all those early 60s. As early as that time my father would pick his newspapers, read it and digest it. And he would be telling me stories. He would tell me about Timi The Law, that is Chief Rotimi Williams. He would talk about all these cases, about the Treasonable Felony case. All these Oredein matter. He would read them and pick interest in them.
When I got a little bit older I would ask him questions. He would answer me. He will take different stands on issues and he would ask me to also take stands and defend it. He would ask me to question him. He would say this is my own stand, you take your own stand. Like joke, I started enjoying this late night advocacy between father and son. We would be at the balcony till very late like 1:am. At times, my mum would come out and drag me in to go and sleep.
So, that time I had a likeness for Timi The Law. The day I had a meeting with Timi The Law in his chambers. I was in Club 9. I went there to represent Island Club on a matter we were dealing with. That was in 2002. I was the Secretary of this club then. When I got to his chambers I made my contributions on that day but I was more of admiring him.
Before that, I had an encounter with Timi The Law. We were on the opposing side. I did all the research. As God would have it I won. I won because the Law took my side. It was at the Special Appeal Tribunal (Failed Back Tribunal) of Abacha days. That was my encounter with my own mentor, my own role model.
That was how my interest in Law developed. I thank God today I am a Senior Advocate. When I met him. When I faced him in court, I wasn’t a Senior Advocate. I was on my own. I ran my chambers. I established my chambers on 24th of August, 1988. I have worked there before God gave me the Grace to establish my chambers”
Where was he born? Where did he grow up? “I grew up in Owo,” he says. “I was born in Edo State. My father is from Edo State. I grew up in Owo. That is where my friends are. That is where my root is. My town is Usen in Edo State. My mother is from Owo. I went to primary school in Benin before my father directed me, and took me to Benin for my secondary school. I went to the University there”
What made him join the Island club? How did he join the club? “ Haaa! Island Club had made a name for decades. As a student of history you would have heard a lot about the Island club. It is this big history of Island Club that dragged me here. And I remember that my seniors like Honourable Justice Adesuyi Olateru, Olagbegi, were here before me and was General Secretary at a particular time, a position I quietly aspired too and I became following the great steps of Justice Olatery Olagbegi.
Through him, I was privileged to interact with some other people. I came in 1993 about 24 years”
And what has kept him going? “I got in here, I didn’t find so much of all I have read about the Island club. But I settled down to study the club. My father used to tell me that when you get to a new place, there are things that if you look dearly you might see. If you don’t look well you might miss the essence of the place. So, I started watching and I looked at the pedigree of the wonderful men that have led this club. The stories seemed to be in sync. I laid low, looking, studying. I now realized that there are some men who I had read about in the papers who are members. They don’t come regularly. But once in a while, you see them appear in the club. They will come in one after the other, gradually. For the young ones then, when I came in, Socials and Entertainment was the vogue. So, you will see the younger ones wanting to enjoying the entertainment aspect.
But the older ones were more relaxed. And they are stupendously rich. They will just sit down and watch young guys. So, I realized that there was something deep going on here.
It was Hillario Babs Akerele, who was Chairman in 1995 to 1998, he gave me a letter appointing me into Social Sub-Committee. I went to him. I thanked him for the honour. I said if he does not mind I think I will be more effective if I can be put in the Business Luncheon Sub Committee. He said ok, you will be put there. The next day the Secretary issued me a letter.
I was in my element. What made me chose that is because I have heard from some elders that they advise governments here. I have also heard that in this club they have done so many great things to enhance the status of the black man, the dignity of man. That in this club they forced racism to a stand still. I said to myself this is where I want to belong.
Members of the committee are Ambassadors, retired Perm. Secs, diplomats, retired general. I was just in the middle. The secretary was a Permanent Secretary in Lagos State with a Ph.D.
I kept quiet. I was following. One day the secretary was not around, they called on me, Dipo, take minutes. I took the minute. The next year, I think the secretary had something to do. So he went abroad and the Chairman then said Dipo, you are the secretary of that committee from now on. That was how I came into focus in the Island Club. I was still following my dream. I because part of the planning of picking eminent Nigerians to come deliver papers. These were great men. I knew I was in the right committee. So, I continued.
As God would have it, from 1996 to 2002 when I became the General Secretary, I remained the secretary of that sub-committee watching the article areas of the club. That was the real Island club. The other side of it is just socials.
Unknown to me, members were also watching. As the secretary you would have to do some presentations and most times the club will be full. So, when time came in 2002 I looked at the situation, I said why not. I ran for elections and I was returned unopposed. We were 3 in the race, 2 of them left. So, I became the General Secretary. The opportunity of being the General Secretary made me read through the entire minutes of the club. I was very inquisitive. I read up all the minutes from 1944. I didn’t see the minutes of 1943. I saw the greatness and the power of this club. I said yes, it means as people and as a club we are not getting a few things right. We have derailed big time into socials and entertainment.
The old men, the founding fathers, the shakers and movers of this country, called their club, The ISLAND Club, the premiers social club. The social in it was not used in the sense of music and organizing parties. It was used in the sociological sense, to maintain the dignity of man anywhere in the world irrespective of your colour, race, religion, Creed, whatever is. It was on this premises that Black and White, met under the same roof, anywhere in West Africa for the very first time. I found out that these days people are quick to interprete the premier social club of Nigeria to mean its enjoyment galore. It was used in the sociological sense. Of course, if you look at the list of founding members here you will see their status and caliber. These are men who have businesses around the world; they have traveled wide and read in different parts of the world. They were not discriminated against. In their own country, there was discrimination. All the clubs that existed before the Island Club were either Europeans only or Africans only. In their own minds they did not see those clubs as Social Clubs.
They were discrimination against you, either in terms of your colour or race.
So, the founding fathers of Island Club created own niche and started the fight against racism. God gave it to them, they were able to upturn the issue of racism in Nigeria. The Governor General will come here and chat with them and commend them. They now started contributing to people through oriented programmes.
This part of the Island Club is almost forgotten. So my duty and responsibility when I had the privilege and honour of great men saying I should come and lead them is to reconnect with our past and rejuvenate this national institution. There are members of the royal family who are on our membership list here. Prime Ministers of different countries have been here, at this same Island Club. No band came here to play until around 1954. You find people sit down to talk. They are thinking and planning how to make things better.
That is why when I became Chairman I introduced what we called Public Interest Lecture Series and have had about 4 now to deal with topical issues, which were things they were dealing with in their days. We have dealt with Boko Haram, Corruption, Education and we would continue to deal with more of such issues. We send our communiqué to different agencies, to the President, the Governors, United Nations Secretary General, because here was a global club within Nigeria.
I will tell you that, Island club was Nigeria’s gift to the world, where men of honour and integrity, of all races, religion political leanings are welcome. That is the position I have taken since I came in here.
By many, I will be 2 years in Office. We run a yearly tenure here. The maximum you can go for anybody by our constitution is 3 years. We run a yearly tenure, one calendar years, after which there is another election for another calendar year. The maximum you can run for any office here, either as an Officer or member of the Management Committee is 3 consecutive years. A tenure is ending in April. We have rules here now. Our elections used to be very, very rancorous with publicity, adverts, making noise all over the country, which has no intellectual content.
And which really does not project the club well. We have now made rules since I came in to fake away all those Lavish and very expensive campaign. Your peers are here. They are the ones to vote for you. Let them appreciate your service. You do not need to go outside the Island club to campaign, or go and buy things and be giving to people. The way the law is now, if you are going to contest election you cannot even go and give somebody Xmas gift. Right now it is against the law.
You can’t. We already have the rules in place now. We have taken away all these printing of post cards. Lets try and see if we can teach the larger society something.
Let them see the substance in you. And not the noise about you. Don’t outspend the other men who can give us something better.
Lets see who you are. We have a channel here how we groom our leaders. I was in the Business/Luncheon Sub-Committee. That is how they saw me. I was also Registrar of a group they call The Chancellors here, that was where they saw me. It’s a gradual process. I have contested before and I lost. I just gave it another shot and won in 2015. Since then, I have been here trying to do my bit. Another election will hold in April”
Would he run again in April? I cannot answer that now because we have electoral rules that says until the ban on election is lifted you do not campaign. You do not. Its just to let everybody be conscious and behave and make them pick the best.