By Kunle Bakare
Tick-tock, tick-tock! The clock chimes, and it’s Oluwatoyin ‘Tito’ Okpaise’s turn. It’s one whole week, already seven days, that our Tito––a jolly fellow and a good man––passed on in Lagos in the early hours of Saturday, June 26, 2021. Those wishing it was a rumour have finally accepted that the fashionable gentleman, with a disarming infectious smile and deep-throated laughter, has said his goodbye and goodnight. While many are still inconsolable, we wish the dark and handsome Edo-born man I fondly called ‘elder statesman’ journey mercies. His 59-year sojourn here has ended. Abruptly but with sweet memories.
And it is difficult not to remember Tito fondly. In many ways, his peculiar slangs and mannerism, thoughtfulness and kindness set him apart. Tito stood tall for many reasons:
- He was easy-going, always reached out and built bridges
Our paths crossed in 1978, but we rekindled our friendship around 1989 (when he visited our boss, Mr Muyiwa Adetiba, at Prime People in Ojodu-Abiodun, Ogun State). Since then, he was never far away. From his Rosabel Advertising days (in Glass House by Obafemi Awolowo Way/Kodesoh Street junction in Ikeja), through Riz Rose (a duplex beside his parents’ house on Chilaka Close in Surulere), he was easy-going. ‘Easy does it’ was a phrase never far from his lips.
From Prime People, Vintage People, Classique, Crown Prince to Fame and Encomium Weekly, my bosses and colleagues always said good things about Tito. He made everyone comfortable around him, and he was easy to be friends with and adored.
Tito always reached out, and he enjoyed connecting friends with one another. From Remi Desalu, Fred Okonma, George Chekwas, Tokunbo Williams, Tokunbo Adegun, Austin Anetekhai, Oluwayemisi Fadairo (who treated us ––Tito, Azuh Arinze and I––like kings at his mother’s 80th birthday party on Chilaka Close three years ago), Wale Fadairo to his cousin Amaechi Elumelu, among many.
- He encouraged and patronised his friends’ businesses
He had kind words for everyone; he quickly told you your dream was ‘doable’. From struggling young men to aspiring entrepreneurs, he never belittled or shot down your aspirations. He always looked for ways to make projects come to life.
The interventions of Riz Rose as the advertising agency for the launch of Fame Weekly in July 1991 are unforgettable. I still remember the slogan (‘only a thief will ask for more’) with nostalgia. Tito supported the dreams of three friends (Mayor Akinpelu, Femi Akintunde-Johnson and I). He even brought some businesses our way (we once went to Onitsha by night bus from Lagos to see the legendary transporter Chief G.U. Okeke).
Many of Tito’s friends will easily corroborate his penchant for supporting businesses. Whatever you sell, he never hesitated to be a customer. He was a pillar one could lean on.
- He enjoyed life and loved a good laugh
No place was too far for the pleasant man who enjoyed life and loved a good laugh. He was the sociable event partner that I will surely miss. Was it our trip to Evwreni (Ugheli north, Delta State), the hometown of Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, for an event over a decade ago? Or, the adventure to Isanya Ogbo and Ijebu Ode (for the 90th birthday celebrations and book launch of Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo) where Mr Biodun Azeez was our perfect host in April 2018? Would it be spending hours with me on my birthday at Ikeja City Mall in 2018, along with Prince Adeyemi Aseperi, and my office in 2019, with Tokunbo Adegun)? Or, the 50th birthday thanksgiving service of Mrs Mary Akpobome (wife of the large-hearted comedy king and compere Ali Baba) in July 2018?
Tito never failed to crack you up or set you thinking. Until his WhatsApp messages stopped flowing in on June 10, he forwarded endless jokes and skits and maxims.
- He was an ideas’ man who worked hard
He brimmed with ideas and always pursued his projects with single-mindedness. You couldn’t catch Tito without a dream he’s chasing, a project he’s executing or a grand plan in the making.
Tito worked hard. He worked very hard––and nowhere was too far in pursuit of his daily bread. His focus, especially noticed during his years with Senator Stella Oduah and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, was enviable. He knew how to prioritise and was conversant with what was necessary (you remember Mr Bunmi Oni’s ‘a man need not tell you what’s important to him…’?).
- He was forever stylish
When we didn’t know much about fashion and style, Tito was already on top of the game. He introduced many of us to cravat (what the British labelled ‘ascot’) and democratised the neckwear. We were forever looking for flowery and colourful fabrics to design into cravats (a newspaper print format in silk was our choice for my wedding in 1992).
He taught me to ditch singlets for snug cotton t-shirts. He explained that the whole purpose of the undergarment was to keep sweat from the armpits dripping onto your attire!
I remember our many trips around London, sometimes with Gbeke and Mofe (before their teenage years). We were joined once by the Primetime Africa trio of Dayo Adeneye, Keke and ID Ogungbe in the mid-2000s when we moved from Jermyn Street to Savile Row and further afield.
Tito loved clothes and accessories, and he readily made my best-dressed list.
- He cared for his family and took good care of them
If you knew Tito well, you’d know his parents (before they passed on), his siblings (Brother Rotimi and Sister Sola). You’d have seen or heard him talk about Teniayo (who is now a doctor), Tiwalolu and Toyosi.
He serenaded them with a glint in his eyes and a smile dancing in the corners of his lips. He was a family man who forever invited you to his house (where we enjoyed the delicious meals and pampering of his wife, Odion). He crisscrossed the world to attend to their needs and left no one in doubt that they meant the world to him.
As his family plan the funeral, we wish our friend, the bridge builder, farewell. We pray that God will grant those who cared deeply about him the fortitude to bear the irreplaceable loss.
May Tito find the Almighty’s favour.