Day Shobanjo shocked boss, Adeyemi Lawson

Biodun Shobanjo

Biodun Shobanjo

Biodun Shobanjo

Biodun Shobanjo, is the big boss at Troyka Holdings, an umbrella company for Insight, The Quadrant Company, a public relations firm; MC & A, an advertising company, Klinsite Outdoor Services and Halogen Security. He once shocked his employer, Adeyemi Lawson,the Grail Movement founder in Nigeria, who owns Grant Advertising where Shobanjo started his career. A lady brought a Grail Movement advertisement to be run on credit. Shobanjo refused, despite the involvement of Lawson in Grail.

The story is narrated in Shobanjo’s biography, The Will to Win.

The biography was written by Dotun Adekanmbi, a former editor of Business Times and former Business Editor of TheNEWS magazine.

Mr Ray Ekpu, veteran editor excerpted the story as part of the review at the virtual launch of the book on 26 November:

“The Grail Movement had piled up debts at Grant and one day a lady brought a Grail Movement advert to Grant and Shobanjo rejected it on the ground that the Grail Movement was owing. The lady who brought the advert issued some subtle threats and announced that Lawson said the advert must be run. Shobanjo said he was never told that Grant was established to run adverts on credit for anybody, the Grail Movement included irrespective of its founder and its links with Grant. On hearing this, Lawson issued a cheque to clear the debt. He also paid for the new advert. Shobanjo was allowed to serve out his three-month notice, ending his service to Grant on December 31, 1979. Shobanjo had discreetly discussed his plan to leave with some of his colleagues at Grant. Insight Communications Limited was registered on October 16, 1979, two months before Shobanjo’s exit from Grant. The exit plan leaked to the Grant authorities so Shobanjo and his co-coup plotters including Jimi Awosika had to leave in a hurry, find an office accommodation and start pounding the streets for business.”

Biodun Shobanjo’s biography, written by Dotun Adekanmbi

Below is the full review by Mr Ray Ekpu:

A review by Ray Ekpu, Chief Executive Officer of MayFive Media Limited of the book, The Will to Win, The story of BiodunShobanjo, written by DotunAdekanmbi.


The book, The Will to Win, The story of Biodun Shobanjo is a 542- page affair written by a man who had worked in Troyka Holdings for six years. So you can say, if you like, that the book is written by an insider looking inside from inside. Dr.Yemi Ogunbiyi, a former university teacher, former Managing Director of Daily Times and a public intellectual of note wrote the Foreword to the book. He set the tone by positing that every biography needs balance between the obvious and the not easily discernible to give a fair picture of reality. To him reality is complex and multi-faceted and therefore every biography must strive for balance in order to get to the palace of reality. The author tells us that Biodun Shobanjo’s father was Joseph, a Christian and working class man at the Nigerian Railways and his mother Morin, a moslem and a businesswoman. His father’s job took him to various parts of the country such as Jebba in Kogi State and Zaria in Kaduna State. Shobanjo went to schools in these places and mingled with people from various parts of the country. He attended St Patrick’s Catholic School in Jebba and St George’s Anglican School in Zaria. These interactions shaped his world view. In the book Shobanjo says:”Without being immodest I am totally detribalised. I made friends from diverse cultures because one just saw people as human beings. It never occurred to me that some were Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba.” Shobanjo’s father Joseph was a brilliant and hardworking man whose ambition was to get to the Railway Corporation’s totem pole but he did not get there. He decided to retire prematurely from the service because his boss, an oyibo man, bypassed him during promotion because he was not diplomatic and pliable. The white man thought that Joseph’s bluntness would not serve the corporation well when he gets to the top. Joseph decided to quit. He died on December 29, 1959 at the age of 49. His son Biodun was just 15 years old and had just been promoted to class three at Odogbolu Grammar School in Ogun State when the unfortunate incident took place. Biodun’s father and uncle Okanlawon died one week apart. Fate had delivered to the young man a savage blow. The young man had to depend only on his mother and himself for the purpose of discovering his destiny in life and discovering his destination.

Ray Ekpu

Even though his father had wanted him to be a lawyer he knew that that road was blocked because he had to work to support his mother and his three siblings instead of going to the university. He got a job with the Customs Service but left after six months. He contemplated being a journalist but he was advised to jettison the idea because he lacked the temperament for it. The adviser told him that if he chose to be a journalist he might end up in jail because of his outspokenness. However, he got employed in the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1964 as a Studio Manager because he wanted a career in radio broadcasting.

At the NBC he worked with such famous music buffs as Fela
Ransome\Kuti, Benson Idonije as well as renowned broadcasters such as Dele Adetiba, Bisi Lawrence, Yemi Fadipe, Kehinde Adeosun etc. While at the NBC he did a correspondence course in Public Relations and took the professional examination of the British Institute of Public Relations (IPR) in 1971. He got the third best result in the Commonwealth which earned him a cash prize of twenty one pounds. While at NBC two incidents pointed his way to a profession that would define his essence: advertising.

One day two expatriates came into the NBC studio with two tapes containing a Jingle, and the other an English voice-over to be mixed and translated into Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. The two men flew into Nigeria to produce the St Louis cube sugar commercial. This was in 1969. In 1971 a white man, Allan McClaren-White who was the Deputy General Manager of Grant Advertising Limited got to the NBC to record a commercial for Top beer. Shobanjo was not impressed with the quality of the commercial but the two incidents never left him. He came to the conclusion that there was a gap in quality of advertisement production in Nigeria. When he learnt that there were vacancies at Grant Advertising he took the test and also did the interview. He got employed as an Assistant Account Executive (Trainee) in November 1971 on a salary of seven hundred and twenty pounds a year. This was thirty pounds less than what he was earning at NBC. He asked for an upward review of the salary. He was denied. He still took the job not minding the pay cut.

Grant Advertising was founded by Chief Adeyemi Lawson, the leader of the Grail Movement in Nigeria. Shobanjo learnt the ropes at Grant early and worked his way up assiduously. In 1976 he was made Managing Director of the Advertising giant but early in 1977 the Board, for some inexplicable reason, reversed itself, downgraded him to Deputy Managing Director and made Mr. Festus Akinlade Managing Director. In October 1979, Shobanjo decided to resign from the company because as he put it the agency “had become creatively blunt, had missed its business bearing and had consequently stagnated.” Lawson tried to persuade him to withdraw his resignation letter but Shobanjo refused. Lawson liked Shobanjo’s approach to business transactions. One incident illustrates this point. The Grail Movement had piled up debts at Grant and one day a lady brought a Grail Movement advert to Grant and Shobanjo rejected it on the ground that the Grail Movement was owing. The lady who brought the advert issued some subtle threats and announced that Lawson said the advert must be run. Shobanjo said he was never told that Grant was established to run adverts on credit for anybody the Grail Movement included irrespective of its founder and its links with Grant. On hearing this Lawson issued a cheque to clear the debt. He also paid for the new advert. Shobanjo was allowed to serve out his three month notice, ending his service to Grant on December 31, 1979. Shobanjo had discreetly discussed his plan to leave with some of his colleagues at Grant.

Insight Communications Limited was registered on October 16, 1979, two months before Shobanjo’s exit from Grant. The exit plan leaked to the Grant authorities so Shobanjo and his co-coup plotters including Jimi Awosika had to leave in a hurry, find an office accommodation and start pounding the streets for business.

Insight entered the market on January 2, 1980 with an 18-member workforce and only one client, the International Correspondence School which billed just N15, 000. Insight announced its arrival in the market audaciously with a full page advert using a giraffe and a declarative tagline: “We see farther.” Like most new companies it did not start strong. The company did not have a lot of money or state of the art equipment but it had a lot of determination, some experience and the bravado of an hungry challenger. These young Turks were hungry for success and were ready and willing to fight for it. They combed anywhere and everywhere for business. It started trickling in and they knew that if they showed a consuming passion for excellence, if they focused on their goal like a laser beam, if they continued to learn and adapt, they would scale over the hurdles that always waylay new businesses.

Shobanjo shared with the staff the belief that “advertising primarily helps a rolling ball to roll faster but cannot get a ball to roll uphill.” The company adopted the acronym SOQNOP which meant Selling on Quality Not on Price. The company created some mind-blowing advertisements for blue chip companies such as British Airways, SCOA, Nigerian Breweries, Dunlop, Lever Brothers and Nestle, to mention but a few. The quality of these adverts attracted positive attention to the young company. It went further by doing the unthinkable. It voluntarily submitted itself to annual appraisals by clients so as to ascertain the level of customer satisfaction. Much to the annoyance of the Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (AAPN) now known as the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) the Insight guys knocked on every corporate door they could reach in what some critics described as a “flagrant client solicitation drive.” They were seen as industry deviants, outlaws and rebels by competitors. But no one could deny the fact that their creativity was admirable.

When Newswatch was proscribed by the Ibrahim Babangida Administration in 1987 I told the press in an interview that the proscription was a temporary eclipse, and that the sun would rise again. Six months later when we were to resume publication we asked Insight to create for us a television commercial to herald our return to the market. I was surprised when the guys turned the innocuous statement I made on a metaphorical eclipse into a memorable commercial for us. It was mind-blowing. I also remember the three-man Mirinda Orangemen that paraded the streets of Lagos, all fully dressed in orange gear. A lot of people thought it was a very creative and fascinating spectacle but the Police thought it created fear and brought their jolly trip to a halt. Some of the campaigns received the public’s thumbs-down too. One of such projects was the campaign sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and John Hopkins University Centre for Communication Services. It was criticised for promoting the unNigerian ideal family of a wife, husband and one child. In 1983, Nigeria was getting ready for another round of elections and Shobanjo thought that was an opportunity to explore a new line of business. The Government party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had signed on the British advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi as its advert partner. The next party of note was the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) which did not look in Insight’s direction. All the other parties did not seem to be in serious contention for the Presidential trophy. However, the newly registered Nigeria Advanced Party (NAP) founded by Dr.Tunji Braithwaite, a Lagos lawyer of maverick credentials hired Insight to push its fortune. The party dropped one million naira on the table and Insight thought it could do whatever was possible for the leftist politician who was busy mouthing socialist slogans at campaign venues which did not impress the potential voters who were waiting to collect naira and rice which Braithwaite failed to offer. Of course, Insight knew that NAP was a non-starter and Braithwaite would get nowhere near the Presidential palace. Within the advertising industry some conservative advert chiefs thought politics was not an area they should venture into. They considered it sinful for Shobanjo and his team to venture into that arena. Insight continued to be the target of barbed shafts from its competitors who questioned Insight’s business methods which they described as “sharp practices.” One of the controversial issues was that Insight had snatched the foreign technical partner of another Nigerian advertising company, Promoserve at a time that Shobanjo was the President of the AAPN, the umbrella body for advertising practitioners. It turned out that the partnership idea did not emanate from Insight or Shobanjo but from the American-based Grey Advertising Incorporated which felt unhappy in its marriage with Promoserve and wanted a divorce. It had actually severed its relationship with Promoserve before approaching Insight, according to the book. The transaction left bad blood on its trail.

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The company, Insight, grew in size and a number of subsidiary companies sprouted from the belly of the parent company: The Quadrant Company, a public relations company, MC & A, an advertising company, Klinsite Outdoor Services and Halogen Security etc. They all come under the canopy of a holding company called Troyka Holdings. Eventhough the company had excelled beyond its own projections everything was not cotton candy. Bad news had started dogging the company’s steps and as William Shakespeare would put it “when sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions.” Shobanjo’s marriage to Miss Lanre Folami which was consummated on November 21, 1971 ended in a divorce in 1982. On June 29, 1986 Shobanjo had a motor accident on Opebi Road, Ikeja when he dozed off the steering. He was hospitalised for 10 days. The General Manager of Klinsite, the outdoor company Dr.Nwogu Okere was killed by the Police on May 15, 1991. His successor, Courage Ogbebor was shot by armed robbers on December 2, 1991. He died a week later. In June 2008 Funmi Lufadeju, a senior Account Director was also shot dead.

Shobanjo himself escaped death by the whiskers on January 30, 1992. On that morning he got a phone call from an unknown caller who told him to keep N100, 000 ready for him to collect at midnight that day otherwise he would have his head blown off. Shobanjo alerted the police which sent a team at 12.30 am but they did not stay for long. At 3am the unwanted visitors, four of them, arrived. Shobanjo saw them from the window of his room upstairs. They shot his night guard. Shobanjo fired some shots at them and they returned the favour. The exchange of gunfire must have attracted the police who came in mufti. The hoodlums left in a hurry before the police arrived but Shobanjo did not know they had gone. Neither did the police. So the police started shooting hoping to dislodge the robbers and Shobanjo continued to shoot hoping to dislodge the robbers. Some policemen were injured. That morning Shobanjo was arrested and detained at the Special Investigations and Intelligence Bureau at Panti Street, Yaba. All kinds of false stories were woven by his enemies and the police about the incident. I had to go and explain what happened to the Vice President Admiral Augustus Aikhomu who ordered Shobanjo’s release after about five hours. This incident led to Shobanjo’s decision to establish a security company called Halogen Security.

In this country insecurity has always haunted us like an inscrutable mystery. It has been worse in the last few years. There is hardly a family that does not know someone who has been robbed or raped or kidnapped or killed. Every section of Nigeria is now in search of the best means of self-help since those vested with the responsibility of securing our lives and properties have failed abysmally. But for the arrival of the coronavirus, Amotekun would have been eating up the trouble makers by now.

It must be noted that of the six staff who left Grant to become the foundation staff of Insight, four of them had left over the years to pursue their own desires. Sesan Ogunro and Johnson Adebayo went out and founded their own company, Eminent Communications Limited; Ibiyemi Amogbe, the Financial Controller also departed and set up his own outfit while Richard Ibe decided to retire early. One of the external directors Ayo Idowu decided he would leave because of irreconciliable differences on the board. He asked to be paid his N50, 000 equity participation fee in a lump sum within three months. One of the directors Goddy Amadi rescued the company by surrendering his country home in Imo State as collateral for a N60, 000 loan from the British American Insurance Company. Idowu and Insight parted ways not quite amicably. So of the original six foundation staff of the company two are left standing, Shobanjo and Baale Jimi Awosika, an intellectual power house and a loyal and dedicated companion of his leader and mentor. Awosika and Shobanjo are like gin and tonic. They go well together. Jimi, I salute you.

From the evidence in the book it would be correct to say that Shobanjo has paid his dues; he has gone through hell and survived. He is the cat with nine lives. About the time that Shobanjo was President of the AAPN I was also President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN). One issue that had always been a major bone of contention between the two organisations is debt owed to media owners by AAAN members. This has caused serious friction between the two organisations for decades. The advertising agencies often claim that they are being owed by advertisers. I proposed two mischievous approaches to solving the problem (1) Media owners should go direct to advertisers and ask for their money (2) once an agency defaults on its payment terms the media concerned should ask for interest to be paid at the prevailing bank rate.Shobanjo disagreed with the two proposals. He preferred specific trading terms and if anyone does not abide by those terms the media should desist from doing business with that agency. But because the media owners did not want to damage their relationship with the agencies or lose patronage they embraced neither my directive nor Shobanjo’s. So the problem of agency debt remains the regular staple of conversation in the communications industry. It remains unsolved. However, I must say that Insight is one of the few agencies that did the business fairly and paid their debts almost always on time.

To prepare for the future, Shobanjo and his team started a one year management Trainee programme for brilliant young graduates who had to go through three rounds of screening before being employed. These tests attempted to measure overt intelligence, ability to think outside the box, integrity and loyalty. Shobanjo insisted that the selection must be through due process. One of his nieces, according to the book, went through all the three stages but was not employed. She was inconsolable and could not understand why she couldn’t get a job in her uncle’s company. She didn’t speak to Shobanjo for one year. That marked him out as a true professional. When Shobanjo was chosen in October 2007 as the Chief Executive Officer of The Apprentice Africa, a reality programme for selecting business executives started by Donald Trump, his place as a successful business executive was clearly and firmly cemented. He was about to receive the medal of perfection and the full cup of adulation.

This book, The Will to Win, The Story of Biodun Shobanjo is written by Dotun Adekanmbi, a former editor of Business Times and former Business Editor of The News magazine. He has degrees in English and Literary Studies and in Mass Communication. In 2001 he won the Investigative Journalist of the year Award given by Nigeria Media Merit Awards. The book is 542 pages long. It is published by Havilah Books and was printed by Masar Printing & Publishing LLC, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The book carries 95 photographs in both colour and black and white, photographs of Shobanjo, his wife, Joyce, his children, grand children, business associates and corporate function attendees. The book is broken into 14 chapters with a quotation announcing the theme of each chapter. It has a foreword written by Dr.YemiOgunbiyi. There are four appendices at the end of the book and an index. The acknowledgement by the author lists 111 persons who contributed to the success of the project excluding those who wished to remain anonymous. This is a business biography and business biographies are generally difficult to write in an interesting manner because the language of business is stiff and stilted. But Adekanmbi has been able to soften the narrative and render it interesting without the lollipop credentials of supermarket literature. It is like chewing fresh fish. He uses sobriquets, aliases, nicknames and joke names for Shobanjo and some of his colleagues. He has told us about some of the pranks that his wife Joyce and his children play on him sometimes especially on his birthdays. He tells us that Dolapo, the baby of the house who is a split image of her father is sometimes called her father’s second wife. I am happy with the quality of the writing. It is elegant and matches the performance quality of the man about whom the book is written. The author has a reporter’s eyes for details which go to enrich the narrative and pump the adrenalin of the reader. In the book, there is a huge dose of what communicators call impressionistic reporting, a pen portrait of settings, spaces, persons, moods and manners. I like the deep contextualisation of incidents and happenings which provides abundant flesh to the bones of the story. The book is written with candour and conviction with Shobanjo’s strengths and weaknesses x-rayed. This makes the story a believable, human story. Many authorised biographies set out to eulogise their subjects without corresponding authentication of claims put forward. This book does not belong in that category. It is easy to tell a good story if there is a good story to tell. Insight and Shobanjo are a good story and the author has told their story well. Eventhough I am not in the Marketing Communications business I keep my ears to the ground and listen to the sound of the soil for two reasons (a) Marketing Communications is a younger brother to Journalism which is my operational vineyard (b) Shobanjo is my friend and brother with whom I am very pleased. So I know some of the stories, fair and foul, true and false, of his entrepreneurial exploits and they add to my admiration of him as a true success story. The book has explanatory footnotes at the end of some pages. I don’t like that. This is a distraction and an obstruction to smooth reading flow. They could have been listed at the end of the book as endnotes just before the index or as a bibliography or both. It could also have been woven into the body of the narrative. If you had several references on one page it would be clumsy to list all of them. Besides, each time I went down to the bottom of the page to read the explanation I would come back looking for where I stopped. That could have been avoided; this approach is better suited for academic journals not biographies. However, it does no damage to the book which I rate as excellent.

Insight and Shobanjo won many awards and cornered many businesses in their 40 years of operation because of one thing: excellence, the addiction to excellence. Shobanjo’s philosophy for success was “be excellent, think global, act local.” In his office there is a placard that reads: “It is good to be big. It is better to be good. It is best to be both.” Shobanjo expatiated on this in the book: “With size comes strength. When you have size, you have collaterals that could be used to further actualise your dream. Today, when Insight speaks as the number one marketing communications company in Nigeria, there is hardly any media owner that will not listen. That is because of the size. Besides, the company is better able to negotiate things for its clients which several competitors cannot do. Thirdly, because you are good it makes sense that you attract most of the best talents in the industry. Do not let anybody deceive you; no one sets out to set up a small agency.” Shobanjo’s philosophy is that an agency of relevance “must lead, manage, perform, not follow, respond and conform.” There are a number of success classics in bookshops. Such books include The Habits of Highly Effective People, The One Minute Manager, Who Moved my Cheese? The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Think and Grow Rich. There are also a number of rags – to riches stories such as Warren Buffet’s, Sam Walton’s, Andrew Carnegie’s and leadership lessons of Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Rooseveldt and Nelson Mandela, to mention but a few. I have no idea how many of them, Shobanjo and his co-Insighters have read. But I know from personal experience that the Nigerian environment seems peculiar, peevish, naughty and nasty and capable of defying some of the well known theories of success. For you to succeed in this market you must master its temperament, its peculiar nuances and within that context think outside of the box. If you cower in a corner you may not succeed in this market. Many mythical stories have been built around Shobanjo and Insight. One of them is that Insight is a one-man band, a Shobanjo band. But a one-man band can hardly succeed the way a multi-talented orchestra can succeed. I know that the French leader Louis XIV had arrogantly said “I am the State.” I have not heard Shobanjo say anything close to that. To say so would be to devalue the enormous work done by his colleagues to bring about the Insight magic. In the book, Shobanjo is said to admire such success icons as Bates Carl Spielvogel, Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca and Virgin’s Richard Branson. On the home front, such men as Christopher Kolade, Nestle’s Olusegun Ogunkeye, Nigerian Breweries Felix Ohiwere and PZ’s Kola Jomadu also inspired him. In the book, a lot of people thatShobanjo has interacted with in the last four decades have given us a portrait of him as seen by them. Mr. Sylvester Moemeke, former Chairman of Lintas and Nigeria’s advertising legend says: “I have the highest regard for him, he is a good influence on the advertising scene. He is very much misunderstood probably because of his peers who did not think he should get to where he has got to. Admittedly, not everything he has done will be done by everyone else.” Dele Adetiba, former Managing Director of Lowe Lintas says of him: “He is a man who loves to win. There are few people in other disciplines that can point to higher achievements than he has accomplished in advertising. I think he has not been able to get all the credit due him because he has a fairly sharp personality. Some like him immensely, some do not.” Steve Omojafor the Chairman of STB McCan says that “he does not believe in half measures. He does not care one bit what anybody thinks about him. He does not apologise to anyone. I have heard rumours of his unorthodoxy but I do not believe them. He is simply an aggressive, dynamic, professional advertising person.”

His inseparable business partner, Baale Jimi Awosika gives a definitive view of a man he has worked with for more than 40 years. “He is nice, kind and very fair. He gets emotional and he gets deeply and easily hurt. That is why he puts out a strong exterior. He is a clearheaded thinker whose outstanding quality is the ability to see things through. If he says to you this is where we are going you can be sure he is going to get there with you. If he decides to be on the other side you had better watch it.” The author describes Shobanjo as “a self-made man who with a team of brilliant young minds created his own luck.” I agree. His Personal Assistant Gloria Omoregie says “he is a fair-minded person who likes people to be treated fairly because he hates injustice around him. With him there are no sacred cows.” John Momoh, Chairman of Channels television says: “Shobanjo is passionate about his job, knowledgeable on the industry and he is a go-getter. He has a voracious appetite for success. He is a living legend.” From the testimonials in the book given by friends and competitors let me construct for you what I call The Essential Shobanjo. He is successful because he fights for success with the tool of excellence. Success is said to have many fathers while failure is an orphan, but as he has found out success also has many traducers. Shobanjo’s life is living proof that you cannot get to the Promised Land without going through the Wilderness. He went through several wildernesses before he got to the land of Eldorado. The lesson here is that there is no short cut to success. Short-cutism is fraud. His life is an encapsulation of the expression “who dares wins. Is he a shrewd competitor? Yes. Is he an entrepreneurial dinosaur? Yes. Mrs BiolaAyimoche who is the Principal partner in the firm of Solicitors called BiolaAyimoche& Co as well as Shobanjo’srelation and friend seems to know him like the back of her hand. She says: “He is a perfectly honourable man. His cheque will not bounce. That is something you cannot say of many Nigerians. He does not like to apologise at least not directly. Women tend to like him though I will not call him a womaniser but he is not a saint either. He respects professionalism. He is very tight with money; there have been times I have felt like throwing his files at him. By and large he pays well.” According to the book he taught his children that they must learn to take care of shillings so that they can take care of pounds. So Shobanjo is a careful spender, not necessarily the stereotypical Ijebu man with aradite fingers. As for his relationship with women I know that he has only married two wives, Lanre and Joyce, one at a time. He is a handsome man who dresses very well and has a few coins in his pocket. These three qualities may attract women to him as bees are attracted to honey. So if pretty women choose to turn their necks twice as he passes by what is the problem? They are only trying to prevent their necks from being stiff. One component of the Essential Shobanjo is his certified bluntness. He admits that he shoots straight, “people who know me know that I don’t bullshit. I will eyeball you and say I think you are a bullshitter. I always want to call a spade a spade.” His driver of many years SinaOgundipe attests to that. “He is a nice man but he is too blunt. I believe this is his major weakness.” When SegunOlaleye who used to work at Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation was employed by Insight, there was drama on the day the guy was introduced to Shobanjo as a new staff. Shobanjo blurted out: “How come you went to recruit somebody from the civil service. This guy cannot last six months here.” Olaleye must have asked the floor to open up and swallow him as he stood there dumbfounded by his new employer’s brutal bluntness. He must have received an inconsolable stabbing in the heart. Is bluntness a good attribute or not? Obviously, bluntness has its down side. Blunt people are perceived as either rude or arrogant or both. People tell blunt people something like, you can’t even be diplomatic and save people from embarrassment that may hurt them? But bluntness also has its upside, what I call the advantage of disadvantage. With a blunt man you know where he stands so you can make an appropriate adjustment in your relationship with him. With him his yes is yes and his no is no. Frank people do not bob and weave, or dribble like Maradona. They shoot from the hip. They don’t call a spade a garden fork. They call it a spade. They are straight like an arrow. You can take their words to the bank, even a Nigerian bank and get a loan which in normal times may ask you to bring your mother as collateral.

Finally, would you say that Shobanjo’s story is a rags-to-riches, grass to grace and zero to hero story? He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. As a young man he wasn’t what we call in street lingo aje butter but he was an ajekpako, a boy who lost his father at 15 and whose mother was an illiterate petty trader. That is why he paused his ambition to go to the university so that he could help his mother and younger siblings. So we can say he was only born with a wooden spoon in his mouth which he has by sheer grind, focus, perspicacity and the craving for excellence, turned into a silver spoon. Now it is his five children who can boast – and it won’t be an empty boast – that they were born with silver spoons in their mouths. So the Shobanjo story is an inspirational story of considerable success that can be a beacon for young people who must realise that to achieve success they must pursue the white whale of perfection. Success is not low hanging fruits; you must climb high to pluck it, the way Shobanjo did. That is why his achievements stand out brightly and defiantly like a diamond ring on an ugly finger.


Thank you for listening.


Ray Ekpu

November 26, 2020



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