Like Paul, I learnt at Gamaliel Onosode’s feet


AT my family’s maiden participation in the Sunday Worship Service of the UNILAG Staff Fellowship, the Guest Speaker was a man who delivered a highly inspiring message with an impeccable Oxford accent – one Deacon Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode.

By 1972, we moved into University Quarters on Adelabu Street, Surulere and a Baptist colleague and friend invited us to New Estate Baptist Church [NEBC], nearby.

To our delight, Uncle Gamaliel, you were a leader there and we were living some three houses from your home!  We participated in the Tuesday Bible Study in your home.  We became good family friends and I would eat two or more meals with your family each week. Indeed, I was one of the two guests you had for your 45th Birthday Dinner at the ‘Quo Vadis’ Restaurant atop Western House on Broad Street.

When you became the Acting Pastor of the Church, so serving for three years, three months and three weeks, I was elected Church Secretary thus becoming your close assistant.  You delegated to me the design and production of a Church Bulletin which became the pattern and standard followed by many other churches.  Under your tutelage, I was also appointed Chairman of the Church’s Constitution Drafting Committee. You challenged, inspired and mentored younger people in whom you observed definite potential.  Thus it was that you delegated the preaching at the Evening Services to me and got me to lead the Bible Study in your home at various times.

When the Lagos Baptist Conference was raising funds for the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso in the mid 70’s, you were Chairman and I was Secretary of the Fund Raising Committee.  You confidently delegated the arrangements to me and the programme was adjudged very successful.  You were a frequent minister on Radio Nigeria’s ‘Morning Prayers’ in the 70’s and extended the privilege of ministering to me on several occasions.

You were not only my mentor in matters spiritual, you were same in financial and business matters.  I sought your review and advice on the Business Plans for our first Supermarket.  You were highly impressed that an Engineer and IT practitioner had such a good grasp of Business and Financial Matters. You graciously agreed to preside over the Dedication and Opening of our first ‘Value Market’ at Palm Grove in 1974.  Uncle Gam, you delegated to me the preparation of Business Plans for a relation and friend of yours.  Following your example, I started investing in quoted Securities; indeed, you got the law firm that incorporated your own personal investment company to incorporate mine as well.  When you were developing your property in Victoria Island and I was living in that area, you entrusted the oversight of the project to me with confidence.

In the mid-70’s, you wanted me to be Chief Executive of a major Stock Broking firm and later, an Engineering firm with three factories in the country and which would have made me Chairman of a major Industrial Gases company.  For various reasons, I declined the kind offers.

Uncle Gam, you were a man of humour.  On first acquaintance you might give one the pronunciation of your surname as an Ijebu man would – ‘Onoosode’.  The late Deacon N. O. O. Akinola was a mutual friend; you always added two extra O’s to his initials making them N O O O O!  There was another deacon who often prefixed his sentences with the word ‘Normally’.  Each time he opened his mouth to speak, you would say the ‘Normally’ prefix for him!

You could not suffer mediocrity or non-performance.  You were adept at crafting one-sentence ‘stingers’ to convey your displeasure to the persons or organizations concerned.  You had ‘midwived’ the ASUU-FG Agreement whose non-implementation occasioned the prolonged strike.  Your comments were brief: “I cannot imagine why a duly signed Agreement is not being implemented.  Anyone can read and understand the terms; they were not encrypted in Greek!”

You shared with me an occasion when someone remarked that he had never seen Deacon Onosode get so angry.  At a meeting of top Church Leaders in your home State, one leading CAN dignitary proposed that the then President should approach churches for Christians who, in positions of power, would ensure excellent governance. In response, you named many persons in the National Assembly and Government who claimed to be Christians and whose services were, evidently, to the detriment of the government and people. Perhaps such persons should take your comment as a parting charge, knowing that if they fail to repent and make restitution, the Lord to whom they claim allegiance will visit them with far heftier damnation than yours!

By contrast, you traversed the corridors of power with excellence and transparent integrity.  For starters, you resigned your Chairmanship/Directorship of some 25 major companies upon being appointed Adviser on Budget Matters by President Shagari.  It is interesting that when that appointment ended and you were to resume some of the positions, one Lagos socialite sat tight remarking: “What can Onosode do that I cannot do?” That company ran aground under the socialite!   As Budget Adviser, you quipped that “instead of the normal two categories of national expenditure, we have three – Capital, Recurrent and Waste; and Waste was by far the largest!”  Three decades later, Waste, fuelled by unconscionable expropriation and outright thievery, has assumed such mammoth proportion that it dwarfs the traditional two into insignificance.

Uncle Gam, in the 70’s, you expressed a desire to traverse three professions in your lifetime, one of them being medicine.  You did not; how could you with such a heavily loaded plate of essential, high-level responsibilities!  None of your days lasted longer than the normal 24 hours and you did not have a private jet to shuttle between Surulere, Lagos Island and the College of Medicine.  Nevertheless, you distinguished yourself ln at least three leadership vocations – Church, Business/Finance and Public Administration/Politics.

In addition to serving as Pro-Chancellor of three Public Universities and the Baptists’ Bowen University, you were also Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Baptist Seminary which was recognized as the leading Theological Institution in Africa.  I also had the privilege of serving as Chairman of the Board’s Funding Committee.

Uncle Gam, I, nay, we beheld your glory, glory as of the beloved son with whom our heavenly Father was well pleased. Your excellent erudition in spiritual and temporal matters was always with complementary elocution. You manifested sagacity in all matters; ‘meteors’ like you are few and far between.

Of the abundance of greatness that our Lord endowed you with, we, your protégés, have received grace upon grace. Your 82 years confirm to us our Lord’s Word in Psalm 92:  ‘The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courts of our God.  They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green’

Permit me to testify of you that this servant of our Lord was not endowed with just five talents but with more, like ten.
His productivity also exceeded ten additional talents in profit.  Consequently, the heavenly choir of angels clanged their cymbals and raised sonorous applause and thanksgiving as your Master declared: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’

Our Lord has graciously determined that ‘the time of your departure has come. You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for you the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to you on that Day!  as Paul asserted and predicted in 2 Tim 4:6-8.   Paul learnt at the feet of his Gamaliel; I learnt at the feet of this Gamaliel – Deacon Dr Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode.
Adieu, my beloved mentor, my hero; adieu!
• Sola Oduko FNCS, an Engineer, and pastor of the Baptist church, lives in Lagos

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