As attentive readers of my notes will have noticed it is not our habit to write about people. We even do our best to refrain from naming protagonists when admonishing or approving, as we firmly believe that given where we are today only a few very deserve our mentioning. If you scan newspapers and magazines and you think about the most mentioned individuals, you will quickly realise that only a few people are today famous for their invention, productivity, integrity, labor or altruism.
One of such people is Otunba Mohammed Jobi Fele but we sadly lost him to death last week and his remains were buried on Saturday in his hometown, Ikare, Akoko in Ondo State. The late Otunba Mohammed Jobi Fele possessed a lot of the values and attitude our society desperately needs today; he was best known for his virtues and capabilities as an efficient and honest administrator, successful and resourceful businessman, brave and focused industrialist, and on top of all that he was also known to be generous and humane. On a personal note, one of the things that struck me most was when I discovered that unlike most people with his status and achievements, even his peers liked and admired him.
As a scholar of Management Strategies, Otunba Jobi Fele first got my attention with the role he played whilst on the board of the Odua Investment Company. He was Group Chairman of the conglomerate between 1997 and 1999 and in that period not only did he resist the many temptations and heavy pressure on him to sell the assets he found, he also moved the company from its ailing status to vibrant and vigorous. He went about his mission with a sense of purpose, courage and uncommon integrity. Compare that to the many Nigerian administrators that sell or kill the glorious public companies they have the privilege of serving.
In a society ridden with corruption where many are now tempted to conclude that it is inevitable for leaders and other public holders to be corrupt and where people think it is practically impossible to prosper or even earn a decent living and cater for one’s family without being crooked, Jobi Fele’s life was a glorious example of the contrary. He even had a graphic and fascinating explanation and template for living, serving and leading without corruption. In his own words: “If you find a man in this country today who will go on the television and say, ‘Gentlemen, I am not going to leave here as a poor man, I will take my allowances as governor or president. If I steal your money, God should take all the money I have and put me in hell,‘ such a person will make sure that any minister or officer who steals money will go to jail, and the country will be good.
As an industrialist, he was one of those that embodied what the vision and attitude of the middle class in a developing country should be. His Jobitex sardine has been for long, one of my favourite examples in such direction: he started the canned fish business by being an importer and distributor. By 1979, his company was probably the biggest in the country and just to put this into context and get a feel of how big, I invite you to consider that they were selling to the likes of John Holt and other big corporations in Nigeria. They were importing from a Portuguese supplier and instead of posing and passing as a friend of Portugal in Nigeria and remitting all that funds abroad, Jobi Fele decided to take things to a higher level and venture into manufacturing.
For me, there are two other crucial points to take away from this canned fish experience. Jobi Fele and his company did not go into the business of forging the original goods they were importing; rather they went into genuine, concrete and legitimate business of manufacturing. The man was aware of all the challenges that will pop up in a complex terrain like this but he went ahead and successfully did it. Thank you Otunba for proving my points: it is not about what you have, where you are or who you are, it is about what you want. It is about how you manage your opportunities and challenges.
Interestingly, Jobi Fele recognised and traced a lot of his success to his background and the hard work and rigour his father, the cocoa trader, put him thorough. He often cited the fact that he worked as a labourer with his father’s employees and the latter did not like that because to them his father was rich enough to pay labourers and he was taking away from them. Compare that to our new money middle class that over pamper their children and does not burden them with any moral, physical or intellectual demand
The first time I met Otunba Jobi Fele was in a meeting to discuss a Joint venture and internalization, I was less than an influential part of the parties yet he reached out to me and was very interested in my opinion. I corrected and criticised some of his plans and challenged him to do other things, he kept smiling and kept telling me no probs. Since then I fondly called him “No Probs” and he never objected. I thought and hoped I will see more of him but alas, that will not be so. Our prayers and thoughts go to his family. To him we say you have lived a full and eventful life and we thank you for the legacy you leave behind. To death, with Donne we say, Death do not be proud, though some have called you mighty and dreadful, you are not so. For those whom you think you have overthrown die not…