Moulded by an icon: Still on Mabogunje at 90
Not long after, I guided an official visit of Governor Mimiko and his delegation to Maryland, USA, a sister state of Ondo State and also facilitated a request for assistance from the Johns Hopkins University during which I officially represented the university’s Provost for International Affairs on behalf of the university. Our mutual affection and professional association deepened.
Another strategic person that Prof. Mabogunje introduced to me at Abuja in 2006 to mentor was the late Hakeem Olamide Sanusi who was managing partner of Investment and Credit Holdings at the time and later executive chairman of the Infrastructure Bank Plc, formerly Urban Development Bank of Nigeria Plc (UDBN). Mr. Hakeem was in the middle of acquisition of the UDBN and Mabogunje asked me to assist him through the acquisition process that had become bogged down with political and labour union problems, amongst others. I worked with Sanusi to resolve all the conflicting issues and also participated in the creation of an economic modelling structure appropriate for the ideal structure that the investors required for a risk capitalisation of the project.
Similarly, Prof’s trust and confidence in my ability to deliver led him to orchestrate the excellent working relationship I established with another highly intelligent, resourceful, and illustrious daughter of Africa, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then Minister of Finance and currently Director-General of World Trade Organisation (WTO). As the technical lead, I had the privilege of working with her and the national Economic Management Team which she headed on many high-profile assignments on housing and mortgage markets as this had become at the time, a national issue receiving priority attention under the President Obasanjo administration.
With my elevated status facilitated by Mabogunje, and at his invitation, I had cause to return home often, working on several projects on the behest of Prof. They included projects of the Mortgage Banking Association of Nigeria (MBAN), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), Osolo Kingdom Health Care City initiative. Prof also wanted me to return to help transform the Unity Bank into a fully functioning financial intermediary. All these I handled both intellectually and managerially.
Reflecting on these times, I realise that Mabogunje was testing my intellectual capabilities, interrogating me, encouraging me, even as he sought the best solutions and benefits for his country. He pushed me beyond what I thought was my limit to be a better version of myself. Propelled by the confidence he had in my abilities and driven by desire to excel before him, I also pushed myself to achieve greater heights. A successful output of that process was the vast expertise I developed on global financial architecture and counterparty risk management which was an asset for my future professional work and practice.
Mabogunje also expertly mentored me on how to write policy papers for politicians, admonishing me on one occasion when I shared with him a draft policy paper on ‘Affordable Housing’ that I had been invited to prepare for a Political Party Platform. He took his pen and edited it to get rid of all the technical language and vocabulary. What was left captured much of what I wanted for the country in plain and straight forward language. He said to me, ‘Isaac, you must write for policy makers and politicians in their language before you can work effectively for them as their Policy Adviser.’ This also reminded me of a counsel from another mentor that, ‘you must enable others to accept you as a lamb before you can be the Lion of the intellect that you really are.’ Prof. often engaged one in deep intelligent conservation; therefrom one would not but leave in awe of his intelligence. Such valuable encounter deepened one’s knowledge and raised one’s confidence level. Nobody was regarded as too small or beneath him. He gave us all wings to fly higher. Happily for me, I learnt many years later from Professor Mabogunje himself that he was extremely proud of me and my work.
Mabogunje is one of the most amiable and friendly persons I have had the opportunity to meet in my life. He has friends all around the world. Once you encounter him you cannot forget him, he has such a receptive and engaging personality that just envelops you, and imprints on your mind.
I also know him to be a contented man of humility and integrity. I have always admired him for those qualities, but often marvelled that such a gifted and intelligent person can also be so good-natured.
Exchanging notes recently with a colleague in Nigeria who has also closely worked with him at policy and administrative levels on matters of housing and urban development, she shared an anecdote with me about Prof always encouraging everyone to participate during working meetings no matter how trite the contributions might be. Thinking less of yourself, he is accommodating of all and always makes you feel important.
This has made me reflect on my times with him to discern what it is about Prof. or his life that could have built his personality this way. He has built very impactful legacies. Pleasant and amiable at all times, he is easy-going, likeable, empathetic, dependable, and practical. I know Prof. truly likes people, he focuses on people, think less of yourself and he is very generous with his time and attention. So he moves among us with elegance, engages with each of us with courtesy and tremendous goodwill. Above all, he channels divine grace by bestowing on all of everyone who comes in contact with him a generous measure of unmerited favour. This much is evident from his memoirs. Such a complete gentleman! Perhaps, this is because he is so organised both in his work, his mind and his life and is never in a rush.
Prof. believes in every one who passes through him, and he encourages everyone to excel. He is an inspiration to many. He believes in Nigeria too, and he has always done everything in his power and influence to make a difference in the lives of his fellow citizens.
I would simply say that Mabogunje is just a blessed man, no wonder he titled his 2011 two-part autobiography ‘A Measure of Grace’ where he documented all of his life’s works and life lessons. It is a work deserving of attention and study. I feel so blessed that destiny linked me with this human treasure as my teacher, mentor and most importantly, a beloved friend. I am so proud to know him at a deep and personal level. Moulded by this icon, my appreciation is boundless!
As we all celebrate Mabogunje at 90, I send you sir, many greetings and unquantifiable appreciation for the great memories and your generous investments of time, attention and affection in so many lives. You have left your mark as an icon and a sage whose footprints are fully implanted in the sands of time. We treasure your rich legacies which will continue to guide us through the rest of our lives. I pray in Jesus’ name that, beyond 90, God continues to bless you and keep you, renew you in spirit, mind and body, Amen.
Megbolugbe, retired professor at Johns Hopkins University, is a former student, research assistant and friend of Professor Akin Mabogunje. He lives in the U.S.