He is a man of many parts. He is, for starters, an Iperu –Remo High Chief. He is a former banker, a successful business man, a very prominent and respected socialite, a former president of the Lagos Country Club and current president of the Nigerian Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Indeed, Chief Olayinka Ogunmekan is all of these and perhaps many more. Unarguably, he is one of the most popular members of the Lagos Country Club, you are not likely to get bored in the company of this very amiable and ever jovial man, who many can’t believe is already past 70 years of age. CITY PEOPLE’s WALE LAWAL was a guest of the High Chief inside the exclusive lounge reserved for only former presidents of the Lagos Country Club. He took us on a journey into his growing up years and the present where he holds sway as the president of the prestigious Nigerian Swedish Chamber of Commerce.
The Chief Ogunmekan we all know is a former President of Lagos Country Club, the current president of the Nigerian Swedish Chamber of Commerce. But there are other sides of you that people don’t know. Tell us?
I am a Consultant. I also used to be an Agent! I later became the Nigerian Director, of a Swedish company, Elof Hansson AB. And when I got of age, I became the firm’s Senior Consultant. I’m still working for them, but on a consultancy basis.
You were also a banker. Can you share that with us?
I started my career in banking industry. It was when I left banking in 1978 that I went to study marketing because I wanted to improve my knowledge in marketing. And I thank God that it has paid off for me.
What was the experience like for you then as a banker compared to what we have now in the banking institution? How would you compare that time and now?
Banking was very interesting then. You know back then, we used ledgers and manual machines, the one you had to pull in and out and it would be making a whole lot of noise in the process. It was very interesting. Back then when I was in the banking ‘cage’. People used to call me ‘Express’. I was very fast counting money inside the cage then. I remember that when I was removed from the cage to work in the office, some people protested, including Sir Alex Akinyele, who was a customer at my branch, Barclays Bank, Tinubu then. He said, no. Why are you removing this boy from the cage, do you want progress for him at all? My manager then was Mr. K. A. A Hoare, the man said, yes, he wanted progress for me. Sir Alex Akinyele said; ‘then leave him.’ From there, I went to the north. I worked in Kaduna, from Kaduna I came to Ondo state. In fact, I founded Ondo Barclays Bank Social Club, then came back to Lagos. It was after I came back and worked for some time that I said to myself, ‘it’s time to leave and move on.’ I was already a motor dealer before I left the bank and I found that my interests were divided and I didn’t like that. So, I decided to leave and focus on my business. But I’m still very much attached to Union Bank. I have that passion for Union Bank even up till now. Barclays Bank has been good to me. I met my first two wives in Union Bank. We were all working together as staffers of the bank at the time. So, you can understand one of the reasons I am attached to Union Bank and why I still have much passion for the bank. Thank God, they’re celebrating their one hundred years in Nigeria this year and I am alive to witness it. I will be seventy one this year, so Union Bank in Nigeria is just twenty nine years older than me and I’m happy to be part of it.
Where are you from? Where were you born? Your growing up years.
I was born in Ikenne, brought up in Ishagamu. My father was from Iperu-Remo, mother from Ipara-Remo. They brought me to Ishagamu at the age of two, that was in 1948 and we lived in Ishagamu throughout. My father did not leave Ishagamu, he died there at the age of 92. Many people actually think we’re from Ishagamu, but we’re actually from Iperu. I went to Mayflower school, after that I came to Lagos and joined the bank and started doing banking exams. I wanted to study medicine, but my mother refused. I’m grateful to Chief Emmanuel Odunsi Ogunmekan, who took me in when I came to Lagos. I thank God he did that for me.
You are a very sociable person, sir, you relate well with everyone regardless of their age and status. How did that social side of you evolve such that you went on to become one of the most successful presidents of the Lagos Country Club?
There are certain things that are just inborn, that are natural. My social life has always been vibrant. Even when I was with Barclays Bank, Union Bank now, I was a member of the social committee. In those days we held our parties at Federal Palace Hotel, Mainland Hotel, etc. I was part of the committee. And when I moved to Kaduna, I was also part of the social committee. That time, Sunny Ade was the musician reigning in Ondo, Ebenezer Obey was reigning in Abeokuta, so, I was able to bring Ebenezer Obey to Ondo to play for us. It was after that the Ondos and Egbas interchanged, Ondos got Sunny Ade and Abeokuta got Ebenezer Obey. So, my social life has been that way. I remember that when I came back to Lagos, there were some guys, they’re all big guys now, I used to go to College of Tech to take them out, and that’s where the name Baba awon boys came about. We went to places at Ilupeju, and other hot spots in Lagos. I would take them out and we would have fun together. I thank God that they’re all successful men now. Even in my testimonial, because I went to May Flower School, the late Dr. Tai Solarin wrote that I was always seen in the company of both the young and the old. I’m still close to some of the first generation members of the school and even the younger ones. So, that’s how my social life evolved. Here at the Lagos Country Club, some people call me the bridge because I associate with both the young and the old. I even once contested election for the chairmanship of Lagos Mainland local government, that was when Mainland Council was much larger than it is now before some parts of it were taken out to form other smaller local governments. It was really fun and interesting in those days.
When you contested for the presidency of Lagos Country Club, what were the immediate plans you had in mind at the time, things you were hoping to bring to the table and help transform the club then?
I started as the Vice President. I did not really plan for, the vice presidency job. People just felt, ‘you this man, come and assist us.’ I was just five years old in the club, at that time, I was contesting with two other persons then. One was eighteen years old in the club, while the other was sixteen years old. I was just five years old. I won the election by a landslide. The following year, some people ganged up and said, ’this young man, when did he join the club that you are now the Vice President?’ They presented a guy, who contested against me and at the end of the day, I doubled his votes. Later, I came out to contest for President’s seat. On the day of the election, my wife’s immediate elder sister died. That demoralised me and my team during the campaign that day, and I lost with just six votes. Then I bounced back in 2002 and contested and won by a landslide. One of the things I had in mind was to improve the image of the club and I thank God I was able to do that. The era of white beer, when you take out the beer from the fridge and it turns white, we started it. When I came in as president, I went to Chief Adebowale who owned Adebowale Electrical Stores. I said, “Sir, you are also, a trustee of the Lagos Country Club, I need freezers and air conditioners”. The main bar then was not working well, people were always sweating. I spoke with Chief Adebowale and got a good deal from him. We started getting cold drinks to drink in the main bar. I also believe that in life, when God has destined somebody to do something, I can tell you that nobody will do that thing except the person that’s been destined to do it. In my manifesto as Vice President in 1995, I put it there that there must be an anthem for the club. I won, but I was not the president. In 1996 again, I still put it, I won but I couldn’t do it because I was not the president. 2002 came, I won but I left it. 2004, I brought it out and insisted we must have an anthem in the club, that’s the anthem we are all proud of today. For a club that’s been on since 1949, we only got an anthem in 2004. It is because God said it was Ogunmekan who would make it happen.
Let’s talk about your line of business. You are into several things, we’ll like you to tell us more about that, sir.
When I left the bank, I was selling vehicles. In fact, looking back now, if I was as shrewd as the late Chief Alao Arisekola, I would’ve been a multi billionaire today. But I am somewhat conservative in nature. That time, Chief Arisekola would always meet me at the office of the Director of Intra Motors, 130 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. I didn’t know he was Arisekola, I thought he sent people to come and do his transactions for him until a particular transaction brought us together. We were buying Datsun car at N2,100.000 and would sell at N2,375.000 then. He was a very funny man. Typical Ibadanman. Then, afterwards, I ventured into gift items and then, by chance, my brother-in-law, Dayo Duyile, who was in Sketch Newspapers then, said he needed newsprint. I was in U.K. when I was called and that was how I got into the newsprint business. First, I started as an agent for the company supplying the newsprint, before becoming the man in charge of their business in Nigeria. I retired much later, went into gift items and then finally went into digital printing, which we’re still doing. The consultancy job with the newsprint company is still on too.
How did your journey to become president of the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce begin?
We started from Nigerian Nordic Chamber of Commerce. It comprised Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, all the Nordic countries. Then, we started thinking, this thing is big, why couldn’t each country start its own? That was how the Swedish embassy in Nigeria urged us, “let’s start our own”. It was inaugurated at Sheraton Hotel with Sir, Fola Familusi as the pioneer president and I was elected deputy president. We have our constitution, we have our bye-laws. Immediately he completedhis eight years tenure, I took over. I was elected.
Tell us, sir, essentially what is the chamber about?
As all chambers of commerce, it was meant to promote business between Nigeria and the other country. The membership could involve any Nigerian company, but with only Swedish-owned companies based in Nigeria. That’s why a German company or an Austrian company cannot join the Nigerian Swedish Chamber of Commerce, but any Nigerian company can join. We are recognised by the Swedish Embassy, we are recognised by the Nigerian Embassy in Sweden.
And how has it been, sir? You have been president for close to eight years…
Well, almost all of the things I wanted to achieve I have been able to do. We have had our share of the economic downturn because people are not paying their subscriptions, so the embassy is stepping in now. Embassy officials said to me, ‘look, you’re doing a good job, let’s sensitise people and do a workshop to identify problems, so we can re-energise the chamber before I go.