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Friday, 1 September 2017

First time I slept on water bed was when our Ambassador hosted us in Hong Kong

-  Dr. Babafunmilayo Oredein


Dr. Babafunmilayo with sisters
By virtue of his birth, Dr. Babafunmilayo Oredein is a walking history of Nigeria: At least, the political history right from two decades before the grand independence of Nigeria. He is the first born of Late Samuel Oredein, a one-time neighbor and friend of the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and one with whom they formed the famous Action Group together.
But Dr. Babafunmilayo Oredein is not an activist, nor a politician, or a smooth talker. His usual countenance shows he rarely talks! A medical doctor, who sojourned outside the country for the Golden Fleece at different times while a youth; Dr Oredein in this interview with Paul Ukpabio, takes us down history lane, and reveal how his dad left behind 36 children with 150 grandchildren, and the secret of their successful lives.

You must have been a privileged child while growing up…
Of course I was. But in the early days, it wasn’t that rosy. But as the first son, I am proudly an Oredein. My father was working with British-American Tobacco Company (BATC). Look at this picture (brings out an old photograph), my father used to ride a bicycle of which he used to hawk hats, shoes and other things all over Ibadan. This he was doing after his official work. You can see three of us his eldest children with him, he had just returned from hawking that evening. He was even sweating that day when the photographer appeared. My younger brother was crying, so he put him on his laps as the photographer positioned to take the snapshot. And guess what, the photographer later became Justice Abimbola whose first car I bought for him in West Germany! After the photograph, my dad went off again, still hawking his wares with the bicycle. He was that hard working. My father was a journalist too with Daily Service in those days. He worked with the likes of Bisi Onabanjo. Onabanjo was the Deputy Editor at Daily Service in those days; he was my father’s assistant. Bisi Onabanjo, Ambrose Alli, Bola Ige, Jakande they all used to come to our house then, sat down on stools in my father’s house being lectured in politics. J. S. Olawoyin too. We knew them all. And they were all there at my father’s burial with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Where did you grow up?
My parents moved from Epe to Ibadan and from there to Lagos but we are from Ogere.  

As the first son, the privilege must have come with inheritance, tell us about some of the inheritance you value most?
(Laughs) The inheritance was not all material things. They were also good things that have no material value but have been a blessing not only to me, but also to my siblings. My dad used to force each of his children to learn and memorize Psalms 23, 91 and 125. The only way he taught us was the way of God. In our house by 6 am my dad will ring the bell for prayer. That same bell is still with me today. And I as the first son inherited the bell. The bell has remained one of the greatest things that I inherited from my father.
Late Chief Samuel Oredein

So, at what point did you meet your wife and how did you meet your wife?
This is my second wife. We met in 1975. I had been married abroad to a white lady. That is a story for another day. So here I was with the lady who is my present wife. She used to work with an airline. My father was so popular that, when I was going to marry her that is my wife, in Okitipupa, Ondo state, I met with her uncle. When the uncle heard my name Oredein, he told me to take her and not pay anything! He said there was no need for a dowry payment. He said the name of my father was bigger than the dowry. He further told me that, I should tell my father that anytime he comes around to Ondo state, he should come and stay in his house. My father was actually instrumental in a notable person in their family becoming a parliamentarian.

You said your dad was popular, how popular was he?
(Laughs) My dad became a very popular man around the world. Let me give you an instance, my wife Odunola and I travelled to Hong Kong, she was working with British Airways then. And wherever we travelled, we registered at the High Commission or Nigerian Embassy at our destination point to alert them that we are in town in case something negative happens. Then the Ambassador Alhaji Lapai was there in Hong Kong. He called his secretary to bring us to him. He was reading a newspaper when we entered his office. He dropped the newspaper on the table. He asked me, ‘are you Oredein’s son?’ I answered yes, he continued, ‘are you the boy in Germany?’ I replied ‘yes.’ With open excitement, he stood up in his agbada and hugged me. He asked me where we were staying. In Hong Kong there is the Island and then the mainland. So I replied that we were staying in the mainland. He directed that someone should go and bring our luggages from the hotel in the Island. The luggages were brought to the embassy and he said we are to stay with him.



Why did he do that?
In 1959, when my dad went with Awolowo to campaign in the north, my father recruited them as field secretaries, he gave them cars and learnt Hausa because of them. And their salaries were paid regularly. That night, Alhaji Lapai said to me, ‘your father, he was a good man.’ we stayed with Alhaji Lapai for ten days in Hong Kong. That was the first time that I slept on a water bed. My dad was good to him in 1959 but I reaped that goodness in the 80s. My siblings can give you more stories how our dad’s influence gave us privileges here and then.

When I returned to Nigeria from Europe and I set up my hospital, wherever I went to and mentioned my surname, someone would immediately tell me one good thing or another about my father. And that was how I was able to acquire retainer ships. I got ten retainerships immediately I returned through my father. Big companies like Aswani and others were on the list.

Were they other times that you benefited from your father’s name?
Can I recall all? No, but I remember when we went to NewYork, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative in New York Alhaji Maitama Sule welcomed us into his house because he heard the name Oredein. He said Oredein helped him while he was growing up. There was another time when my wife went to Abuja when Abuja became the Federal Capital. She wanted to see the Accountant General in Abuja. He was holding a meeting with all the Chief accountants from all the states; then, he said ‘look at my sister she is the first born of my paramount king (that is, her father who is the paramount king of their town now; and he said ‘she is a wife to Oredein’ and all of them said ‘ah, Action Group, Oredein, Awolowo, Oredein! That is how popular my dad was. Even in Hausa land, they recognized the name.
Founders of Action Group

What does your family look like?
You have seen my wife, I have children abroad, I have a son who is a journalist in Germany, and I also have children here. As for my late dad, presently he has 150 grandchildren and he left 36 children behind when he died. My father didn’t bury any child. So God has been faithful to us. My father was a Christian and my grandfather Chief Daniel Oredein was the Baba Ijo of Anglican church as a matter of fact, my father was the one that bought the big organ in the church.

What was the relationship between your father and the Awolowos?
We were living together with the Awolowo’s when we came from Epe to Ibadan. We rented the house. They had three rooms while we had the other three. Their children were, Segun, Tola, Wole and then I, Biodun and Segun. That is how close we were. When Awolowo went to England in 1944, before he left, he handed over HID Awolowo his wife to my father. Awolowo said “ST, ma toju mama fun mi.”We used to go to the railway shed in Ibadan, to carry tomato, alubosa, and other items that mama awolowo sent from the north, we carried them home and mama sold them and sent the money to Awolowo abroad. My uncle Baba Kola was a railway fireman. He used to help Mama Segun to bring the goods from Kano and Kaduna. When Awolowo came back from abroad and wanted to use his house as a chamber, we moved out at the place. At that time, Egbe Omo Oduduwa had already started in London. Zik was already popular in NCNC. The Yorubas then came together to form Egbe Afenifere in our sitting room in 1951in Oredein Street in Oke Ado in Ibadan. 

But how about the formation of Action Group?
That is another story. In those days, to form a party, the colonial office needed you to have 200 pounds. Awolowo asked my dad, ‘how do we get the money?’ He then told my father to tell people to donate 25 pounds each, that the first eight to donate the money, will become the founders of the Action Group. And this is the picture of those eight people who paid the initial 25 pounds, to form the Action Group as a party, with the colonial office. (He pointed to the wall in the sitting room, and brought down a framed picture). You can see the date on the photograph in 1950.

And do you know there was a party called Ibadan People’s Party (IPP). That was Akinjide, Akinloye, Adelabu, Adedibu. And do you know how that name Afenifere came? It was Akinloye who called it ‘Afenifere’. He was the one who mentioned the name ‘Afenifere’. Because then, the Yoruba politicians didn’t want to put their eggs in one basket, so they said ‘let us create another party’ and that was how Akinjide & Akinloye came to this side; and they said what name in Yoruba should we give? Then Akinloye said ‘e je a pe ni Egbe Afenifere’-Let us call it Afenifere group’ because the logo was ‘Freedom for all, Life more abundant’. Then Akinloye said ‘E je a pe ni egbe afenifere’.

But your father later ran into troubled waters, and had to be detained by the government
Yes, I recall that my dad was a hard core law abiding man, God loving who craved good for himself and his family name. He was a disciplinarian. But in 1971 when I was abroad, he was framed up in a political case. When I heard, I was puzzled but we all later found out that it was a political thing.

So, how do you feel with allegations that your dad was involved in a robbery case which he was detained by the government and sent to prison?
Honestly, it is quite unfortunate. I find it ridiculous. We grew to know our father as a man of integrity and hard work. I was conceived in Epe, my father was the Secretary to the District Officer in Epe and that was how he started his life as a young man. 

You said it was a political case what do you mean by that?
If you are in politics, there is no way that you won’t make enemies. Unlike now that there is money to throw around in politics it didn’t use to be there. My dad was politically implicated in a robbery of which he served an uncompleted term and of which he was granted an amnesty. I remember him telling us while he was in custody that if he did not commit the offence, he would be released, But that if he committed the offence, he will die in prison. On the day he was released from prison, I was the one that drove him in my car from Abeokuta prison. And he repeated those words to me again that he told us that if he didn’t commit the offence, that he will find favour and be released.

Like I said earlier, I was abroad when he was framed and picked up. That was in 1971. I was already a doctor in 1971, I graduated in 1967, December 7, 1967, and I got my degree in Medicine at the University of Colon, Western Germany. So when we heard about the incidence in 1971, I said how can somebody call my father an armed robber? But we all knew it was a political thing. 
Dr. Babafunmilayo Oredein

So how did he get out of the government prison?
His political opponents did not want him to come out. Yes, they didn’t want him out. But when I returned to the country in1971, my dad’s brother, Chief Biodun Oredein of blessed memory and I wrote a petition to the Federal Government; Gowon was the Head of state and Awolowo was the Finance Commissioner (and De-facto Vice President) then. So when the petition got to Gowon’s office, Odun’s father was the secretary of the commission. It was later that President Shagari granted him amnesty. 

Was it true that he was made to sign an agreement that he will never revenge? 
Yes, It is true, you can even go and research and get the court proceedings. When you see it then you can judge for yourself.

How did your dad feel when he came out of prison, can you recall?
My Dad used to say that the downfall of a man is not the end of his life. Those were his words when he came of out the prison. And when he came out, his lifestyle was not different. He lived big and in a row, he was celebrating marriages for his children. I can recount that he did marriages for five of his children. And they were great celebrations. If you asked him then, he would tell you that, ‘I went down briefly but I am okay and my children are doing well.’ We the children are 36 in number; and we are all doing very well in different spheres of life that we have found ourselves. If my dad was a bad person, nemesis would have caught up with us. But here we are, benefitting from my dad’s goodwill. 

So what lessons have you leant from the experience which your dad had in politics?
A lot! To start with, we can’t marry politicians. My sisters can’t marry them and we men can’t marry female politicians. When my father came out of the prison, he said to us that politics is a dirty and deadly game that we should all stay out of it. That is why today, you can never see me or any of my siblings or their wives or children in politics. My father told us to face our education instead. I recall that when my sister Abuga finished school and went to learn fashion designing, my father asked her to go to the university instead. He was in prison and paying our school fees in Nigeria and abroad. He loved education to the point that all his wives were educated. They were three nurses among them. They were teachers among them. He had five companies that he was running at a time. He was very popular. He was becoming too powerful to be handled and they foresaw his future and politically implicated him in a robbery with condemned criminal. And the one that refused to be part of the plot was done away with.


‘Stay out of politics!’ Is that the secret of the Oredein family success?
I believe so. 

How did you become a Medical Doctor?
When Mandillas came to Nigeria, they brought Volkswagen car ( Ijapa). It was the Action Group that was buying those cars from them. So at Oke Ado, there was a clinic where they treat the German engineers who came with Mandillas. Mandillas was a Greek, Mandillas and Caraberries. So they had a doctor who had a clinic; you know where Odion Cinema is now, Mandillas was near there. So they had a clinic up and the German doctor used to put on white coat, white shirt white trouser, white shoes and I used to admire it, because of his neatness, he was so neat. So I told the German doctor ‘can I come and study in your country?’ he said ‘Yes, no problem. Once you finish your HSC let me know’. That was how I got to Germany in 1961. So, he helped me to get into the language school. From the language school into the university, because I did HSC, we were exempted from first MB. We went straight into the second MB class in Germany because first MB subjects are the same thing like HSC, it was equivalent.




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