Many years after the surprising victory of Sir Michael Otedola as the winner of the December 1992 Lagos State governorship election on the platform of the National Republican Congress, NRC, the story of how multibillionaire Femi Otedola rallied friends – both old and young – to support his father’s aspiration remains legendary.
The older Otedola was an easy-going businessman who was persuaded and literally blackmailed to contest the election by his ambitious and daring son, Femi. Elections are a money-guzzling venture and the older Otedola’s fears were confirmed when, in the run-up to the 1992 election, the campaign council ran out of funds. It was a crucial time not to have funds. But Femi was undaunted. He tapped into his contacts and connections to raise funds for his father. Otedola was confirmed winner of the election in December 1992.
Femi recalled how a generous intervention from the late Dr Adedapo Onafowokan changed the game. “I remember when my late dear father’s campaign to be governor of Lagos State ran short of funds. You (Onafowokan) gracefully without hesitation gave me a cheque of 250,000 Naira which reignited the campaign and eventually led to a worthy victory. You had a heart of gold, Otedola wrote in the burial programme of Onafowokan who died Friday, December 2022. He was 97.
Chief Onafowokan was the founder of LADGROUP, an agricultural company that engages in the processing and export of shea butter. Ladgroup Limited started as a commodity trading company in 1971 focusing on the export of commodities like ginger, gum, cocoa, shea nuts, etc. For many years, Ladgroup was the biggest exporter of cocoa and other agricultural commodities and was the first indigenous private company that imported rice from Thailand to Nigeria.
From the Ikenne and Tunwase Royal Family of Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, the late nonagerian was born on 28th February 1925 and had his early education at Wasimi African Primary School, Ijebu-Ode and St Paul’s Anglican School in Sagamu. His secondary education took him to Abeokuta Grammar School and Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta. He gained admission into the University College Ibadan on scholarship and went on to study Mathematics in 1951. Prince Onafowokan passed the London Matriculation Examination in 1950 and the University of London Special Honours Degree in Mathematics in 1954 when he graduated from the University of Ibadan.
After a brief stint as a teacher, he joined Shell Nigeria of West Africa (now Conoil Plc) in 1956 and was appointed Head of Marketing Service and Statistical Forecasting of Shell Nigeria Limited in 1958. He was promoted to manager in charge of the Mid-Western Region of Nigeria in 1959 and Manager of the Western Region in 1961. From 1963 to 1964, he was sent to London, Norway, and Kenya for advanced management training courses and was seconded to British Petroleum to work in the Retail Division of National Petroleum between 1965 and 1966. On return to Nigeria in 1966, he was promoted to the post of Retail Sales Manager, a position he held till his voluntary retirement in 1972.
Femi has gone from managing his late father’s printing business in the early ’90s to becoming one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men and biggest philanthropists. Hence, he reckons that the late Onafowokan was one of the greatest Nigerian entrepreneurs, a pacesetter, and one of his admired mentors.
Otedola wrote, “You set up LAD Group of companies, which became one of the largest companies in Africa. What a feat!!! You showed us that with hard work and dedication, great things could be achieved in business.”