Architect Funmi Bamkole is the current president of the prestigious Lagos Country Club, the foremost family club in Nigeria and indeed, West Africa. He assumed office about eleven months ago and has since settled in to face headlong the challenges that come with wearing such a massive shoe as the one he presently wears as the president of the club. At the first meeting, this brilliant and articulate gentleman might come across as one personality who might turn a blind eye when you trample upon his rights or dismiss his opinion on critical issues. You will be making a grave mistake. Architect Funmi Bamkole does not suffer fools gladly. He is as blunt as they come. He does not compromise on integrity. And what’s more, he is blessed with an intellectual depth that very few can match. Anyone who knows him closely knows he places a high premium on honesty, integrity, hard work and absolute commitment to cause. Little wonder why, despite joining the race for the office of the president of the Lagos Country Club rather late, he still managed to clinch victory after a hard-fought contest, defeating his major opponent by only a handful of votes.
Two weeks ago, the duo of City People Publisher, DR. SEYE KEHINDE and City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) accompanied by a Photo Journalist, ABDULRASHEED SANNI, engaged the young-looking Architect Funmi Bamkole. He is, by the way, 56 years old but he certainly looks nothing like his age. He is looking far more youthful than most men in his age category. Expectedly, he turned out an interviewer’s delight. He took us through his previous accomplishments in the club, his background and what put him in good stead to run a social club as massive as the Lagos Country Club.
How has it been, sir, coming to fill the sort of massive shoes like the one you’re filing right now?
Well, yes, they are big shoes. But you know you don’t put on big shoes in one day. Let’s assume the big shoe is size ten. At a point, you start from size two, move to three, four and then eventually you get to size ten. That will be my own story. I did not drop from the sky, there is a process of training that I’ve undergone in Lagos Country Club that culminated into my ascendency to the position of president. I was Sports Secretary of this club as far back as twenty or twenty years ago. Before then I was Captain of a section maybe about 25 years ago. So, I have been in the position of service for a very long time. And before becoming Captain, I was a member of various committees and was also chairman of about five committees. Along the line, in between my service, I was chairman of the Squash section until about four years ago. So, I didn’t jump into the big shoes, it just happens to be the apex of my service to the club. So, how has it felt? It doesn’t feel uncomfortable to me at all because I had a very fair idea of what to expect having been in the council twice before now.
It’s been how long now that you have been president?
We were sworn in October last year, so it’s almost a year.
So, how has the last eleven months or so been for you?
Well, it’s been very challenging, especially with this scourge that we’re all battling with. Everything we do, we have had to consider it. It has made things very challenging to us. And it’s not peculiar to us, even to other clubs and institutions, businesses, families, everywhere you go, people have to do things differently now. You will recall that we shut down the club for a long time because of Covid, and when we resumed, we had to do so under some conditions that made it difficult to relax because if you’re coming to relax and conditions are so stringent, you start to wonder, what am I coming to do? But by and large, we are learning to live with as much as we try to remember that it’s still very much around. So, we are gradually picking up, we have been able to now begin our cultural renaissance. Our social activities have taken a big hit. We could not hold our annual new year party last year, we are hoping we will be able to have it this year. But when we’re going to have it, if we’re going to have it, it’s going to be outdoor. So, those are the kind of challenges we have on our hands. Apart from our social activities, I think we have started to come back to life. Even the social activities, we are already trying to have them as much as possible under Covid protocols. That’s why if you noticed, we are already renovating our outdoors, bars and the rest to encourage our people to relax more outside than indoors that’s why our main bar still remains closed till now since Covid. Yes, it has been challenging but we have had a lot of support from the membership. We thank God there has been peace. We have been able to sort out all matters amicably as a family.
Let me take you back to the elections last year. Many were surprised when you emerged a winner because you joined the fray quite late. Your major opponent had been campaigning long before you also joined the contest, yet you emerged the eventual winner. How were you able to pull that off? What was your biggest strength at the time?
(Smiles) I don’t know, of course, you always thank God for every success in life but I guess when you throw your hat in the ring, you believe you can win, otherwise, there’s no point putting your hat in the ring. I know that one or two people suggested that maybe I just want to position myself for future elections just for me to be known and I said, no. In Lagos Country Club I am already well known. I have been a club person, my membership transcends many sections. I have been Sports Secretary of the entire club, chairman of a section, Captain of a section, chairman of five committees, so when I put my hat in the ring, people could ask, okay, when he was there, what did he do? You know, our own politics here is very clean, there is no envelope to exchange hands so you have to convince each and every person for his vote. So, I guess we worked hard and we were lucky. I’m sure you know the results were quite close too. I have to doff my hat for my opponent, it was a very close election. As a family club, we’re still very close friends in spite of the elections. So, I think it was our past service to the club that put us in good stead and gave us victory.
Was it part of your strategy to sit back at first and not come out firing on all cylinders initially?
No, not at all. I remember some time ago when we were having a town hall meeting and one of the members said, Banky, your problem is that you’re too blunt. You cannot see something and keep quiet. Your problem is that you say things as they are and that means that people are going to be wary about voting for you. And I said to him, I beg to disagree with you because I think that’s my greatest asset because, over time, people have known me for that. We see that as our strength and as long as we maintain our integrity and sense of purpose we see no problems in saying it as it is. So, it was not a strategy to come out late, I came out late because of em..(pauses for a few seconds) I don’t want to say it like other politicians say, that my people were screaming. And Covid gave us a lot of time to reflect. And I thought that if there was ever going to be a time to come out for the presidency of Lagos Country Club, it had to be now, otherwise, I may not have the drive or energy to come out again. So, for me, it was not a strategy, it was more of a clarion call.
What were the immediate challenges you met on the ground at the time you came in?
You know the last management council left in a disorganised way because of Covid. There was an extension, the baton was not handed over properly like we would normally have done, there was confusion, but we settled in and we were able to organize ourselves. But Covid was and still remains a challenge. In all honesty, settling in was just the issue and we have overcome all those hiccups. We have learnt how to manage the club and our social lives and we are now enjoying ourselves in Lagos Country Club.
What are the benefits of being a member of the Lagos Country Club?
In Lagos Country Club, we have ten sections: tennis, table tennis, swimming, squash, badminton, Aerobics and Taekwando, darts, snooker, other games and scrabble. You know we are like a federation, each of these sections are like states. They have their own chairman and their own committees, so we are like the federal government. They have their own money and bye-laws. So, you will always likely find somewhere you’ll be amenable to in all these sections. And if you’re not a sports person, we have outdoor bars, if you just want to sit down and enjoy your drink. We have a world-class restaurant, we have our African corner, our restaurant for locals like me, then we have our garden bar. So, in terms of amenities, we have a standard size swimming pool, we have six tennis courts, four of them clayed. We are the number one clayed court club in Nigeria. We have hosted many tournaments, including Nigeria open tournament. Same with Squash, we have hosted many tournaments, our facilities are that good. In badminton too, these sporting federations approach us for our facilities, that’s how good our facilities are. But as a member, of course, it’s your own right to use any of these facilities. So, you have that benefit of being fit, of socialising, of generally having a good time under an ambience of serenity and security, that is what we offer. Then, of course, the business opportunities are there. If you talk to somebody beside you, you’ll be surprised to find that that’s the person you have been looking for, or somebody like him for a long time. If you need a barber, we’ll get it for you here. If you need a professor, we’ll get it for you here. If you need a General, he’s here. If you need a Commissioner, he’s here. That is what is called a business network. So, those are some of the benefits. And our children, of course, have their own facilities, such as the children’s swimming pool, playground, basketball court, mini football pitch, etc. So, it’s a family club. That’s what we market. Once you’re a member, your wife and kids automatically become members. They have their own cards and can come in anytime, even when you’re not here in the club.
What does it take to become a member? What’s the process like?
The process is simple enough. You pick a form and fill. But you must’ve been nominated or sponsored by two members who must’ve known you. Of course, somebody must’ve told you about the club before you say you want to join. These two members will recommend you to three Council members to countersign their nominations. You attend a small meeting and that’s it. And of course, you must attend the induction ceremony where you are told the traditions, the guidelines and regulations of the club so you don’t say I didn’t know. You know we have to put in place a lot of regulations for control. Where there is no Law, there is no offence. That’s what it takes to join.
What’s the membership strength like?
In terms of active members, we are about 2,000 strong. But we have a nominal membership of about 50,000, that’s talking about the total membership since the inception of the club, that’s 1949.
What can possibly get a member expelled from the club?
Well, we really don’t want to expel any of our members. Before you are expelled, you must’ve really gone over the wire but if you go through our constitution, any act of gross misdemeanour, things that are generally not acceptable in the larger society, like if you commit a crime for instance, yes, it could lead to expulsion. But we have a disciplinary committee that will determine the offence and recommend appropriate actions for any erring members.
At the time you were coming in, sir, what were the high points of your manifesto?
The first thing I promised was peace. And if we have achieved nothing, we have achieved peace. Like I said earlier, in the last year, we have enjoyed tranquillity, peace and lots of enjoyment. We did promise to rejig some infrastructure, promised rejigging of social activities. The social ones, like we said, were hampered, but that is not to say we have not been able to execute some. Our Social Secretary, very hardworking, has put up some programmes, the only thing is that they have to be outdoor programmes. Our Sports Secretary too, very hard working, we have had some football tournaments and kiddies programmes. So, we have only been delimited by the fact that the main club events have to be done outside as much as possible, but the sections are carrying on. Like I told you, each section is almost autonomous. They have their own activities. I know the table tennis section have had their tournaments. Scrabble tournaments have had their tournaments, so basically, some sections have been trying to be more careful than others, the in house committees decide on what they do. We have agreed that we will continue with life under a new set of rules, and we are very expectant that our sporting activities will pick up this year while we adhere to strict Covid protocols.