Touched by an icon: Tribute to Rasheed Gbadamosi
In those heady new frontiers days of the ebbing months of first decade of independence, he was a refreshing star as a knowledgeable young Commissioner for Economic Development in the new Lagos State. We longed to be like him. And he would prove to be a role model for all seasons. His sharp Economics mind, his love of drama and Art made him good company. Our passions crossed on all those counts and for nearly four decades he featured in many high moments of my own journey into manhood, citizenship and simple humanity. Whether it be in working with policy for Nigeria, or promoting Art and Artists we shared many memorable moments.
One of those high moments when he spiced up my being was about a dozen years ago. I was being a citizen, helping the Tinubu administration, probono, on matters of tackling the challenges of administering a rapidly urbanizing Lagos. Yemi Cardoso, then Commissioner for Budget and Planning had been working with a World Bank Team on strategies for managing the development of blighted areas. I had been in Washington on other business and engaged the Team lead on the matter. She was pleasantly surprised as was preparing to suggest that I moderate the workshop in Lagos that Cardoso had come up with same. As Chief Gbadamosi walked into the workshop at the Sheraton he offered that familiar full – tooth hearty smile and said: Aburokonireeo. Roughly translated from Yoruba as Younger brother. More grease to your elbows. You will not know exhaustion. In the full context of that moment it was evidently one of the greatest compliments I had ever been offered.
A few years earlier when as cabinet member responsible for National Planning and was leader of Nigeria’s delegation to OPEC he was equally generous. In the years before we had spent much time together talking about Nigerian economy especially my points of comparison of Nigeria with Asia’s Tiger economies where a good part of my research, since I returned from industry to academia, concentrated. So when he got to the OPEC meeting in 1998, with oil prices down to single digit, he could not but observe closely the Indonesian delegation, watching out for those things I had been saying were responsible for a trading of places between Nigeria and Indonesia regarding development and progress. To his shock he found the Indonesian Oil Minister seemed uninterested, as Nigeria and others squabbled for enhanced quota to make up for price induced revenue losses.
At tea break he went up to the Indonesian Minister and asked why he seemed uninterested and mildly irritated by the struggle for quota review. His Indonesian colleague calmly told him there was no quota on gas and that Indonesia made more revenues from its LNG trains even though Nigeria was in a better position to go ahead on gas. Chief Gbadamosi could not wait to get to Lagos to call me and acknowledge evidence of what I had been saying. A year earlier, I had been in Jarkata as guest of a former Indonesian Oil minister, Professor Mohammed Sadli who sadly lamented how corruption had challenged Nigeria’s prospects.
The irony was that more than a decade earlier when the economy was in another dire strait in Nigeria, a group of us seeking light on where things were, gathered around the Dinning Table at the Victoria Island home of the Gbadamosis, to listen to a presentation by then Chief Economist at the World Bank Mission in Nigeria, Gianni Zanini. Our problems were so self-inflicted that I looked up at our host and said Nigeria against itself. I would get quite self-conscious about that line when shortly after I ran into Samuel Beer’s scathing critique of Britain before the Thatcher rescue: Britain Against itself: The Political Contradictions of Collectivism.
But Rasheed Gbadamosi was more than Economics. I had bought my first painting as an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria in 1975. The Artist whose strokes gave live to that canvas, Tayo Adenaike would go on to international acclaim. I stayed with that love affair. The community that collected artworks was relatively small. From Prince Yemisi Shyllon, to Mr. Sam Olagbaju, Odu Mbanefo and a few others and you had done the rounds. But the place of pilgrimage was the Ikorodu home of Gbadamosi, and I was pleased to go there. Just so were the days in the late 1980s and 1990s when I served as patron and Boards of Theatre Initiatives like Chuk Mike’s Performance Studio Workshop. We knew who the great champions of reviving Theatre were. The playwright Economist Rasheed Gbadamosi was up there.
I am much honored to have known such a huge bundle of talent, energy and pure humanity. Our times are much diminished for not having him around but our time of being was significantly impacted and enriched by having known this remarkable personage. His presence at CVL events placed an imprimatur of high value to our effort to show the next generation that there is a better way than the path we currently travel. But the true gift was the life of selfless service he lived which assures his immortality in the hearts of men. Farewell is so inappropriate to say. Auf Widosein as the Germans say is more like it.
Utomi, Political Economist and founder, Centre for Values in Leadership.