•What He Told City People About His Life
In 2011, the sudden death of Lagos businessman, Prince Adegboyega Oladapo Adekunle Ojora a.k.a Gbegi, the first son of Otunba Adekunle Ojora and Erelu Ojuolape Ojora came as a rude shock. This is because no one saw it coming. His death was sudden. Those who saw the deceased on Saturday 9th of April, 2011 would tell you he gave no signs of ill health as he even voted in the National Assembly (NASS) elections which held that day. The next day, Sunday morning, 10th April, he reportedly went to church and even attended the christening of a friend’s child. When he came back from the naming ceremony, close family members said he complained that he was feeling some discomfort and couldn’t quite lay his finger on what was actually troubling him. That was it.
The news of his passing away hit many Lagos celebrities badly. This is because Gbegi Ojora was a very, very, very nice guy who turned 50 the year before. He was a jolly good fellow who naturally attracted a lot of his contemporaries to him. His Ikoyi home was a meeting point for all the big boys in Nigeria, not only Lagos.
Every evening, all the big names in Politics, Business and Corporate Nigeria usually gathered to spend time with him. It was either a big business tycoon like Aliko Dangote or a Governor, or Senator or a House of Reps member will fall in. He knew all these powerful people. And they knew him too. He had friends from across Nigeria. He was also friends with both the old and young. Of course he was at home with royalty. The ladies also loved him because Gbegi was a good cook and he was quite romantic. And he had Chefs and Waiters who attended to all his guests. When he turned 50, he spoke to City People about his life. That was the 1st and only interviewed he granted.
Interestingly, the news of his turning 50 also came to many as a big surprise. This is because Gbegi Ojora, didn’t look that far gone in age. But on Friday 29th August, 2010, he clocked that age.
Not many know that his name Gbegi was simply a nickname given to him by his cousin, when he was just about 7. His cousin, Demola Akinrele (SAN), who could not pronounce Adegboyega well mumbled Gbegi and the name stuck. For those who still can’t catch the drift, Gbegi is the eldest son of Corporate Titan and respected Lagos Chief, Otunba Adekunle Ojora and his lovely wife, Erelu Oodua, Dame Ojuolape Ojora.
As the heir apparent to the Ojora Empire, Gbegi stepped into his father’s shoes quietly, 41 years ago, when he actively took over the running of their numerous businesses as a C.O.O, shortly after his Youth Service at NCR Nigeria in 1985.
Once he finished his NYSC, Gbegi, at an early age was saddled with having to run the Ojora Group from 1987 till he passed on as the Chief Operating Officer. From then on, he began to inch his way on to the board of very many blue chip companies and banks, with the result that at various times, he was a Director of about 20 companies and banks like Ecobank Ghana Limited, Nigerlink Industries Limited (Manufacturers & Manufacturers Representative), Genco Limited (Trading Company), Genco Securities Limited (Finance House), Interstate Securities Limited (Stock Broking & Securities Company), Evans Publishing Group (International Book Publishers), Evans Brothers Nigeria Book Publishers Limited (Book Publishers), Unital Builders Limited (a Construction Company), Lagos Investments Limited (a Property & Investments Holding Company), Drilling Fluids Limited (an Oilfield Supplies Company), Royal Exchange Plc, Royal Exchange General Insurance Company Limited (General Insurance Company), Royal Prudential Life Assurance Company Plc (Life Insurance), Pan African Airlines Limited (Aviation Services), Seven-Up Bottling Company Plc (Soft Drinks Bottling Company), Insurance Brokers of Nigeria (Insurance Broking Company), and Magcobar Nigeria Manufacturing Limited (Oilfield Supply Company), to mention only a few.
Of course, Gbegi started off his career in business by understudying his father, who is a boardroom guru, by representing him at board meetings, but he was soon to add value to what he took over, by setting up his own companies. As a back as 1987, he has been running all the family businesses along with his 2 brothers, Dapo and Yinka. This includes The Ojora Group, Nigerlink Group, Lagos Investments Limited, Unital Builders and Adekunle Ojora & Co. as COO. He also presides over’ AST Property Development Company, and Discovery Resources Limited.
What prepared Gbegi for the role he played was his having had the benefit of good upbringing and good quality education. That he is British in his ways is understandable. He attended all the best schools in the U.K, after starting off from here. He started his primary school at St. Saviour’s School, Ikoyi in Lagos in 1967, spent two years there before he left for Lockers Park School in Hertfordshire in England, a private school in January 1970. He was to come back to St. Saviour’s School in September of that year, then went to the prestigious International School, Ibadan (ISI) in September 1971, then to Kings College, Lagos in 1972 and left in 1977.
After that, he left for Rugby School, Rugby Warwickshire in England in September 1977. From there he proceeded to Eton College, Eton Berkshire, England in 1978, then off to the London University in 1979. He read Law at the prestigious Kings College, London, after which he came back in 1983 to Lagos for his mandatory one year stint at the Nigerian Law School.
In 1984, he went back for his Masters at Magdalene College in Cambridge University, London.
Armed with this intimidating profile, Gbegi went into private business after he graduated. And over the past 4 decades, he had been the rallying point for a lot of the silver spoon kids of his generation. When he was much younger, he lived a silverspoon kid’s life, owning a car at age 17 in England and was one of the few black kids to have attended Eton College at the time he did. So popular was Gbegi when he was a student in London, that he was reputed to have driven the most expensive cars with a customized number then. He had his own fill of the good life. He was also a hot item on the social scene in London, with the membership of all the elite clubs.
But age had mellowed Gbegi by the time he was 50. He was happily married to stunning beauty, Solveigh and both had a handsome son, Tolu. In the comfort of his lovely house in Ikoyi, where he had lived for over 20 years, Gbegi spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about his reflections on life. Below are excerpts of that 8 year interview.
Let’s talk about your reflections on life at 50. How do you take it?
It’s been interesting. It’s a time to reflect on the life you’ve lived, the different phases of life, life has been interesting. I suppose 50 is a watershed and this is a time to start to look at life in a different way, because 50 has taken half of your years.
What came to mind as you turned 50?
I think of the past, the good things I have gone through in the past, some other things one would have done differently and I look forward to the next part of my life.
Can you share these reflections with us?
There are general reflections about the relationships one has built, people who have been very good to one. Once you can go into 50 with more good memories than bad, then you can plan the rest of your life.
Some of those who know you still can’t believe that the bubbly Gbegi of those times is 50. Do you think the same way?
I don’t know, really, because I don’t know how you feel when you are 50. I don’t feel differently. I still do the things I do. I don’t feel anyway different from when I was 40. All I just know is that turning 50 is a landmark, and it’s a period that you just reflect about a lot of things and try and start a new life forward.
You are not known to be someone who celebrates birthdays. Have you been looking forward to this 50th?
I look forward to every birthday, each and every one because with each birthday, God gives you life, health, and relative wealth. That is why I celebrate every birthday usually with small events, with immediate family and few close friends. I am not a jamboree person.
Looking back at your life at 50, how does it make you feel?
I feel very happy, content and I look forward to a new phase of life.
What makes you happy?
I have good friends, a lovely supporting family, a nice immediate family and I have done most of the things I had wanted to do, the way I can do them. I am saddened by the way the country is, how undeveloped we are. We hope that we would see a new generation come that will take over the helm of affairs of this country. Perhaps their values will be different in moving the country forward.
Why had Gbegi been quiet in the last few years now? Has age mellowed him, why the low profile?
It was just a phase that you are bound to go into and get out to the next. Life comes in phases. There is a stage you’ll be hanging out with the boys. Then you will have to move on to marry and take on new responsibilities with work and family. Your values change at different times, what you enjoy changes. For instance, I still go to parties when I can, I still enjoy parties, I still enjoy travelling. I no longer go nite clubbing, but I still enjoy going to social places. I still live a social life, I go to other clubs that I enjoy.
But turning 50 has mellowed you.
I don’tthink so. It is not turning 50 that mellowed me. 50 is a watershed like I said, it was time for reflection. I think you mellow with age, but some people don’t mellow with age. Some people simply go on, they don’t necessarily mellow they grow wild with age.
In your own case, what’s the truth?
In my own case, I still do what I like to do and I try to do what I enjoy doing. Some times it is not by being a social being, it is by being myself, so people don’t understand that. Yes, I like to socialise, I also like to work hard and I like to have time to myself to chill out, be yourself or be with people you consider to be your close friends.
That way you can relax, you can be yourself as distinct from going to every A-list, or B-List party. It’s something I just metamophosed into, it’s not something I consciously went into. Well, I may have semiconsciously gone into it. Most of my friends are married and they have family lives, so the whole idea of everybody getting up everyday and spending Saturdays at weddings, burials, going to a nite club to enjoy slows down. As you get older, the body doesn’t take it any longer, so you change.
How have you coped with being an Ojora? The name connotes wealth, affluence and being a silverspoon. Has it been a big burden or responsibility?
I have been telling people this over and over again. I said it 25 years ago, and it has not changed. Being an Ojora is a key that opens doors and it is a cross you bear. I haven’t changed my views.
What made you say that?
The truth is that Gbegi Ojora just tries to do the best that he can. I don’t look in the mirror and look at myself as Gbegi Ojora. When I look in the mirror, I just see a regular person who has obligations, and sometimes, he has opportunities that the name presents. Sometimes, people hate or despise the name, all you can then do in the circumstance is to try to be yourself, to try and understand that people have different feelings and respect their feelings.
There are those who say Gbegi is too modest or moderate for who he is. Why keep a low profile when you can afford to live life to the fullest?
I try to do what I like. I don’t know what you mean by moderate, or modest or live a low profile life.
Gbegi Ojora is Gbegi Ojora, period. If you buy a big, bold, bulky gold wristwatch that you see in every magazine and another person buys a slim, antique wristwatch that is even more expensive, am I low profile? No, I don’t think so, I go to good restaurants.
I try to travel as well as I can. I don’t need to draw unncessary attention to myself. Why do that?
Let’s talk about your growing up years. You grew up in Lagos and London. Can you share memories of these with us?
I was born here and I didn’t really live abroad for a long time until I was 16. I grew up in Lagos and Ibadan. I was actually born in Ibadan. I went to I.S.I, I came to Kings College, I went abroad. I went to the U.K, while some of my friends went to the U.S.
You also went to Eton, which is considered to be one of Britains most prestigious schools attended by the kids of the rich. How was that experience?
I enjoyed myself. I went there for 5-terms.
What made me enjoy it more was because I had previously attended a school in Europe, which I hated. Its called Rugby. My parents persuaded me to try Eton for 1 term and I enjoyed it.
What’s the significance of attending Eton at that time?
It’s a good school, it’s highly rated, rather large. It takes in young people and tries to mould them into individuals to be confident people and tries to bring the gentleman out of young people. They try to teach you some basic ethics.
So, one would be right to say the training there and in other schools you attended shaped you?
To an extent, yes. It also depends on the house you are in while in school. If you look at some people who came out of a certain House in Kings College some them will tend to come out as having a more low profile nature, some from other Houses are more aggressive, some are more sports loving. It’s a function of the House or House Masters.
Then parents role. It’s a combination of everything. The schools I went to are very competitive schools and 1 passed all their exams. It taught me that you don’t take anything for granted, you have to always try to do your best.
How did you end up reading Law? Who influenced you? Friends or a role model?
Not particularly. I wanted to go to London School of Economics to read Economics, but peer pressure made me feel that those who go there then were very Communist.
(Laughs) But really, I have always liked to be a lawyer. All the subjects I was god in, while in school suggested that I go to read Law and that I will be a good lawyer, which I am not. (Laughs). I read Law at Kings College, London.
Why did you come back to Nigeria after graduation? Why didn’t you stay back?
None of us at that time wanted to stay back, all we wanted to do was to come back and come and help build our family businesses and develop a career of our own. At my time nobody thought about staying back.
How have you been able to keep in contact with all your childhood friends?
Yes, I have been able to keep my good friends. They are only good because they have been tried and tested.
We’ve been through a lot together, very happy moments, bad moments and they are still there. If somebody asks me 10 years ago who were my best friends, they may not be my best friends today. I think my best friends go back maybe 20 to 30 years.
Who are your best friends?
It will be unfair to mention their names. It will equally be unfair to those whose names I leave out.
Years after you left schooling in London, a lot of those who knew you then still talk about how Gbegi Ojora lived large like a star, that you drove very expensive and vintage cars with personalised numbers…
(Laughs) I don’t know about that. I think I know what they are trying to say. Yes, I lived a good life, I think I enjoyed my years when I lived abroad and I was still able to still come back with a Law degree, and after Law School, I went back and was still able to come back with a Masters from Cambridge.
(Laughs) And you know, I went to competitive universities where you don’t get admitted because you are an Ojora. Yes, I was able to combine the academics with socials and a vibrant lifestyle
Vibrant meaning you drove customized cars …
Yes, I have a personalized number that I still have till today, many years after. I got that as a present from my father when I was 18, I started driving at 17. If what you want to know is whether I did enjoy myself, I’ll say yes, I enjoyed myself. I think I lived a good life. I was young and 1 had a lot more vigour, I had few reservations about life, and I was able to go through 2 good universities, attended some of the best schools, 1 never got suspended, or expelled. I think I did pretty well.
How come the same Gbegi Ojora who lived that kind of high profile Lifestyle suddenly took to a Low profile Life when he got back?
You must agree with me that the Gbegi that turned 30 or 40 and the one that is approaching 50, different people, different lifestyle, different goals, aims and different things make you happy.
My life has simply changed. What thrilled me then no longer thrills me now. I don’t enjoy the life of nite clubbing any more.