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TRIBUTE TO FEMI ADEKANYE

By NBF News

February 21, 2012. The only thing I looked forward to that Tuesday evening was the European Champions League match between Spanish giants, Real Madrid, and Russian CSKA Moscow, which was to feature Nigeria's Ahmed Musa. I seeing A beep on my blackberry device as I settled in my company's staff bus few minutes after the 5pm closing time would change my mood. 'Popoola Lekan Saheed wrote on Facebook: We lost one of our great men in Offa. Alhaji Chief Zakariyahu Femi Adekanye. May Allah grant him aljanah firdaus. Amin', thundered the BB message from one of my childhood friends, Olayiwola Oni, who knew right from our secondary school days that I was a great fan of the deceased.

Popoola Lekan Saheed, the original conveyor of the sad news on Facebook, is the current Chairman of Offa Local Government, Kwara state where Dr Femi Adekanye and I hail from. Coming from such personality, I therefore needed no second confirmation to know my childhood hero and mentor was truly gone. It was a sad evening for me, with tears dropping from the eyes as I recalled in few minutes how this man, without knowing, greatly influenced me in my defining years.

For the reader of this article that is either old and literate enough to have witnessed what went on in the Nigerian economy in the 80′s to mid 90′s or has basic knowledge of the history of banking system in Nigeria, Dr Femi Adekanye needs no introduction. But for the uninitiated, Dr Femi Adekanye was the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Commerce Bank Limited, former President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), founding President of West Africa Bankers Association (WABA), an author of many authoritative books on banking and one of the men that redefined banking profession in Nigeria. As a sucker for history, there was no way I would not have come across Dr Femi Adekanye in my readings, but that was not my source of knowing Adekanye I had known him from the time I could barely read.

Growing up in my family house in Gedegbe compound, railway station area, in Offa in the late 1980s, there was only one big man in our neighbourhood. He was Lagos-based, but his family house was separated from ours by just a one-storey building. His mother, whom we all fondly called Alhaja, lived in that modest house and he did come from Lagos to visit at least once in a month. It was easy for us children in the neighbourhood to know our rich neighbour was around, as anytime we saw a clean Daewoo Racer car parked in front of the house, we knew Chief or Daddy Eko, as Dr Adekanye was fondly called by his family members, was around. Like any other typical ilu-oke children would do, the entire neighbourhood would watch from our respective windows and balconies the glamour and paraphernalia that followed our big man visitor. That was the defining moment of my life. At such very tender age of less than 10, one thought would always cross my mind: Suraj, one day you will enter this neighbourhood like Femi Adekanye!

I grew up in the same neighbourhood as Dr Femi Adekanye's extended family, consisting of his mother, sisters, brothers, and his numerous nephews and nieces who were my best friends then. Save for my family, I have never come across a family so closely-knit, with the familial boundaries totally collapsed. Dr Adekanye, whom I believed was the eldest of his mother's surviving children, took everybody in his family like children. He was not your typical Lagos Chief that leaves his family suffering in the village. Despite being extremely busy in Lagos as a bank CEO and president of several professional associations at the time, he was always finding time to come home at least once in every month to see his family. Perhaps Dr Adekanye inherited his large-heartedness from his mother. All children in the neighbourhood, with this writer a prominent member, always looked forward to Thursday evenings then , when Alhaja would share akara(bean cake), agbon(coconut) and sometimes money, for us. Straight from our football fields or Arabic school (ile kewu), we would march to Dr Femi Adekanye's family house to savour Alhaja's sara(charity). It was an experience we would never forget. For such a cheerfully giving woman and son, it was only natural that the success would know no limits, imput to the charity whatever mischief you want to. In fact, one of my prayer points as an innocent boy then was: oh God, please give me the type of wealth of Adekanye – taking care of his family, relatives, community and religion!

Shortly, around early 90s, Dr Adekanye built a more benefitting house for his mother and family around Agun area, Adesoye College road, Offa, and with the new edifice quite distant from our compound, that marked the end of my knowledge of Dr Femi Adekanye from close distance. With the boy now literate enough to follow events in the media, I began to know Adekanye, not as a benevolent neighbour again, but as a public figure.

Oyewale writes from Lagos.