10th Year Memorial: Celebrating The Impactful Life of High Chief Ilemobayo Akinnola (Lisa Ojo Gbogbo Bi Odun)


Monday, March 20, 2023, marked the tenth anniversary of the demise of High Chief Oreoluwa Ilemobayo Akinnola, MFR, KJW. He was one of Nigeria’s most iconic figures, a legendary businessman, an indefatigable entrepeneur, a statesman, and a bon vivant. 

Baba Lisa, as he was fondly called by his loved ones, died on Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at Saint Nicholas Hospital in Lagos. He was aged 78 years. It was a painful loss of one of Africa’s business giants and society patriarchs.

His family, close friends and associates hosted a prayer session in his honour. His first daughter, Yewande Ibidunni Zaccheaus, a corporate Amazon and matriarch of the event management sector in Nigeria, paid a glowing ten-part tributes to him on her social media handles. 

Indeed, if the willpower of man could hold Akinnola back, there was enough love and goodwill to keep him back. His funeral ceremony, which drew thousands of dignitaries, who came to bid him farewell and share in his family’s grief, bore eloquent testimony to this fact.

Akinnola lived an accomplished, impactful and fulfilled life. He was an esteemed journalist par excellence, an actor, a music record label owner, a TV host, marketing manager at NTC, a commissioner in the Oyo state Civil Service, a serial entrepreneur and a traditional

high chief. Akinnola was a business man of repute as obvious from his interest in networth business enterprises, was a colourful and tasteful quantity in social circles and had ample time and resources for philanthropy and charity as many can testify to having drunk from his milk of kindness.

And though he was a vast repository and custodian of Ondo culture, he was one of the most cosmopolitan Nigerians that ever lived. His impeccable dress sense and adept command of the English language was always a beauty to behold and enjoy. He spoke the Queen’s English like a man who was brought up in the inner precincts of Buckingham Palace. He was one of those who inadvertently laid the foundation for whatever Nigeria’s media exploits have become today. His army of mentees was greatly blessed to have such a resourceful man of uncommon pedigree to boost their morale and set them on the path of honour.

Akinnola was born in Ondo Town on August 1, 1934 to the family of Chief Daniel Ladapo Akinnola, the Baba Ijo of All Saints Church, Ogbonkowo, Ondo and Princess Alice Morinola Akinnola of the Leyo Royal Ruling House. 

Having lost his mother at a tender age, his father doted on him, and they were inseparable. He had his early education in Ondo town, attending All Saint primary school, Ondo. He later got admitted into Ondo Boys’ High School before moving to Ibadan Grammar School, Ibadan, Oyo State, where he completed his secondary and advanced level certificate in 1955, and later became the Vice-Principal. His father and the late Venerable Emmanuel Alayande were close friends, and the legendary teacher was entrusted with the responsibility of shaping and moulding the young Akinnola. 

Akinnola grew up to be a very tall, athletic and eloquent young man. He eventually became the Head Boy of Ibadan Grammar School. From there, he attended the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Ibadan for his ‘A’ level in 1955. Later, he attended the University of Ibadan, from where he bagged a bachelor of arts degree in History and English (Upper Division) in 1960. During his undergraduate years at the University of Ibadan, liberal arts students were taught how to write and speak good English. Akinnola spoke Queen’s English with relish and panache. Also, he enrolled at the University of Manchester in England, from where he bagged a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

Upon the completion of his education, Akinnola returned to Ibadan Grammar School, his alma mater. He taught History in Higher School Certificate Class (HSC). He was a very good teacher, and because of his eloquence and good command of the English language, he was highly admired by all the students. However, it was clear to all that teaching was not his turf. Rather than teach history, Akinnola would talk about the Nigerian Youth Movement, which was, at that time, a thorn in the flesh of the Nigerian government. 

Many of the leaders of this movement had socialist or communist inclination, and they wore huge beards in the fashion of Fidel Castro or Che Guevara, the famous Cuban revolutionaries. Akinnola, however, was clean-shaven. The then Minister of Finance Chief Okotie Eboh feared this crop of young revolutionaries, and so also did the then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. 

During any of his lecture periods, which usually lasted one hour, the then young Akinnola would spend half of the time talking about politics and revolution while the other half would be spent on what he was being paid to teach. But his students enjoyed his class until he left to seek greener pastures. 

Later, Akinnola left the teaching profession and joined the Nigerian Tobacco Company as PRO, Marketing Manager. Before long, he became the Personal Assistant to the Chairman between 1964 and 1967. He bloomed in the business environment and it was from there that the Military Governor of the then Western Nigeria, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, who was his classmate, appointed him as the Commissioner for Information and later that of Industries in the Western Nigerian Government between 1967 to 1976. Some of his other appointments include: Member of Council of the then Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti; Chairman, Board of Directors of Oluwa Glass Company Plc; Ondo State Industrialization Committee; Board of Trustees, Ondo State Education Endowment Fund and Metal Packaging Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. He was an elected member of the 1994 Constitutional Conference.

After leaving public office, Akinnola established his company in Ibadan. He had several plantations of citrus and other crops in Ondo and also fisheries business in Lagos. He was hugely successful in all his ventures, and he travelled far and wide, traversing the world while looking for business prospects and opportunities. The climax of his business enterprise was his appointment as Chairman of West African Portland Cement Company (now Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria PLC). This is one of the largest industrial enterprises in Nigeria. His contribution to that company’s growth was substantial.

On the business front, Akinnola served as a director and chairman of many business concerns both within and outside Nigeria. These include Atobi Enterprises Limited; Atobi Metal and Paper Industries Limited; Okegun Farming Enterprises; Cutler-Hammer Nigeria Limited; Gem Limited; Stanmark Cocoa Processing Company Limited and West African Portland Cement Company (WAPCO).

Akinnola held the traditional title of “Lotin of Ondo”. This was apparently in deference to his social standing and his embrace of a philosophy of Joie de Vivre that earned him the sobriquet in Yoruba of “Ojo Gbogbo Bi Odun” (Everyday like Christmas). He loved life and lived it. He used every occasion to throw  big parties both in Ondo and Ibadan, to which he invited his friends, both the young and old. He was never really in politics, but his political inclination leaned towards the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. At a point in time, he served as the chairman of a committee that chose President Yar’adua as a candidate of the PDP in 2007. His role within the PDP was rather marginal. He was not the typical party man as he was very truthful and blunt. However, he felt obliged to support the PDP, especially since Olusegun Obasanjo was the president. According to him, that was the highest position any Yoruba man had attained. He was also committed to instituting unity in Yorubaland, and he worked hard in nurturing an umbrella organisation that could have brought all Yorubas together.

In 2001, Akinnola was installed as the Lisa of Ondo Kingdom, the second in command, also known as Prime Minister of the Traditional Institution of Ondo Kingdom. He was a good Christian who loved to sing and he had a wonderful voice to power his passion. 

His marriage to Chief Olufunmbi Akinnola was blessed with children – Yewande Zaccheaus, Olufunto Roberts, Omobola Johnson, Akinyinka Akinnola, Arinola Kola-Daisi, Akinkunmi Akinnola and Omorinsojo Spaine. He was also a great grandfather and he used to take his grandchildren round the world at one time or the other.

Some of the awards he won include: Wither’s Prize for Professional Teaching of the University of Manchester; Roll of Honour of Ondo State; National Productivity Merit Award; Ondo Town and Community Merit Award; Distinguished Alumnus Merit U.I; Honourary Doctorate Degree in Management Teaching by the Federal University of Technology, Akure and National Award of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). He was appointed a member of RMAFC in 1999. in 2001, he was installed the Lisa of Ondo Kingdom, the second in command also known as Prime Minister of the Traditional Institution of Ondo Kingdom.

May his legacy of hard work, integrity and love for humanity continue throughout many generations.

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