Coming barely two months after the transition to glory of Chief R. O. A. Akinjide (SAN), the death of Chief Muritala Adetunji, OFR, has again robbed Ibadanland of one of its finest businessmen and boardroom gurus. He was 88 years old.
My earliest recollection of him was in 1985 even though his name had loomed large long before then. He was popularly known and called “Baba Adetunji Onisiga”, the man famed to be the brain behind the setting up of the defunct Trans International Bank. There was this Rotary District International Conference at the Trenchard Hall University of Ibadan which I had gatecrashed into to see Engr (now Kabiyesi) Doyin Adelekun with some UI Rotaractors who had visited as observers. Uncle Leeki introduced us to lots of people including Baba Adetunji. Six-footer, handsome, clean-shaven and athletic, you cannot but admire the Chief who carried himself with aristocratic disposition. Baba was not one you would look at once; he commanded a second glace. Once I told him I am from Ibadan, he asked me to see him after the Rotary conference. That was the beginning my closeness to him and I never allowed him a breathing space up until January 22nd of this year when he sent a beautiful SMS to me and thereafter became incommunicado until he passed on the last day of Ramadan, May 23, 2020.
After the 1985 encounter, I became an occasional visitor to his Bashorun residence. One of his best friends that I first knew was Alhaji Shehu Musa, the late Makaman Nupe and Secretary to the Government of the Federation and later Chairman National Population Commission, a great alumnus of UI, and a Noble Bellite. Anytime Alhaji Shehu Musa was in Ibadan and we needed to see him, all you needed to do was find your way to Baba Adetunji’s house in Basorun. Baba Adetunji was a friend to the mighty in the military, the judiciary (the Bench and the Bar), in academic and in the business world. He called many of the bigwigs of his time by their first names and reeled out the circumstances by which they became friends. In his living room were pictures of all the Nigerian heads of state with just few exceptions. He was generous to a fault and had on his fingertips the names of chief executives of major companies. During my tenure as Warden of Sultan Bello Hall, he donated handsomely to the hall and attended all our activities in person. On such occasions, Alhaji Adetunji used to organize private reception for his friends including Alhaji Shehu Musa, the late Sultan Maccido and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi.
The golden period of my relationship with Baba Adetunji was between 2007 and 2015 when I was on the Board of UI Ventures as a Director representing the Governing Council. He was a founding director of the company until he became the Chairman in 2009. It was then that I witnessed his entrepreneurial skills, his business orientation, his humaneness, drive and doggedness at closest range. He transformed UI Ventures admirably; he was highly convinced of the success of the company and he put down his personal resources if the Board was not convinced about his direction for the company.
At one meeting after he had taken what looked to me as an executive decision on behalf of the Board, I gently asked how would that become the Board decision in our minutes. He simply looked at me in a wise but silent manner. To him, if a serious company must expand, it must take credit facilities from banks. He tried to impress it on the MD to take bank loans. He felt that company was not pushful enough to take hard or risky decisions. But the MD chickened out even though he had the support of some of us. Despite that indecision, a lot of things were achieved through the prudent management of the company resources for a number of projects which Baba had in mind, even without taking any loan. When the university was heavily indebted to the company, Baba Adetunji took the fight to the administration and ensured that the university paid up. He would insist that any job that can be done by the company must not be given to outsiders The UI Bakery was his brainchild and I look forward to when activities at the bakery willfully pick up to its original dream. The equipment in the Bakery were facilitated by the arrangements of Baba Adetunji. Also, the goodwill he enjoyed with his relationship with people was one of the reasons for the establishment of “Bashorun Rock”, a gathering of the highly influential and intellectual group including Vice-Chancellors, University Professors and administrators, journalists and legal luminaries.
On a personal note, I had one or two experiences with him that jolted me which at the same time confirmed his kind-heartedness. He had invited me to a discussion ostensibly towards finding a solution to an issue. Hardly had he finished with his brief that I was already taking steps to settle the matter online with the subject of his discussion. When he found out, he flared up and walked me out his house; but I refused to leave. He later offered me food which I ate and he left me to sit down for as long as it pleased me! After that experience, I developed cold feet and I no longer visited him in the house. But on January 12th this year, I got a surprise missed call from him. He returned the call but I also missed his call. So I decided to go to this house that same day. Immediately he saw me, he started praying for and showering encomiums on me. Incredible. I couldn’t believe it. He told me that his mind simply went to me and that I am a good boy. I certainly must be one those that he blessed before he took ill. He also sent Mama to me from his sickbed.
Baba Adetunji was an enigmatic and deeply spiritual man who believed in God as the Alpha and Omega. His autobiography which took him about five years to write finally saw the light of the day in 2017. Titled Struggle to Success, it was a well-narrated story of trials and success of a kind-hearted and discipline man. For me, it was very instructive. He knew that to struggle is one thing, but to succeed is another. Some struggle without success but are successful without struggles. In his own case, Chief Adetunji struggled and became successful not by his own power but through the grace of Almighty Allah. And to his Maker, he returned all the glory and adoration all throughout his lifetime. To God, he returned in early hours of May 23, 2020. May Allah grant him Aljanah Firdaus, forgive the shortcomings of the great philanthropist and console the wife, our Mama Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Adetunji and the children.
Adieu, our Baba. Ire o!
Gani Adeniran is dormer Director UI Ventures Ltd Department of Veterinary Pathology University of Ibadan.