Ninety cheers for a tireless titan
Sir: What does it take to live a life that has enough impact to fuel relevance for three generations? To know that you have to live to be at least 90 years old if you are to be witness to an account of such relevance. You also have to have a huge cache of character, competence and a heart for caring. One person who sums all of this up and wears it elegant on his elevated frame is 90 years old today.
Arthur Mbanefo, chartered accountant by training, leadership by disposition, a diplomat by appointment and mentor of mentors by inclination and straight as an arrow in the practice of counsel has walked a long road with the determination of a camel in desert. Yet he remains, as his friends often agree stubborn like the mull but amazing still able to sit with the young and the old, the simple and the cunning and refuse still to be swayed by what is outside the boundaries of his time crafted boundaries of his principles.
How does a man serve as a minister in Biafra, is at home in the royal courts of Ife, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council at the University of Lagos and is in warm friendship with the Hamza Zayyads and the “Mafia” in Kaduna and get away with telling them the truth as he sees it without apologies and still be held in high regard by them all.
His common touch came home when as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos presiding at my then finance’s graduation he was quick to leave the procession to celebrate with us.
I was fortunate to be mentored on the path of his ways. When it was time for me to get married 35 years ago he was there as the wedding sponsor at the church of the Assumption in Falomo, a walking distance from his home. When not so long after that I was named to a senior executive position in the industry, he and his wife, Jackie, hosted the cream of the Diplomatic and Business Community at the Metropolitan Club to wish Ifeoma and I well.
But it is in the caring that he excelled. After one dinner to honour visiting Lafarge executives in an upmarket Victoria Island about a quarter-century ago I got a phone call at 4 a.m. It was him. ‘Is Ifeoma okay, he asked? No, I admitted I just left her in a hospital down the road and came home to pick up stuff. But how did he know? He said most of the wives at that dinner were in the hospital within hours of the dinner. Since women go first, they apparently got the seafood that generated terrible food poisoning.
At 90 we salute a man who has sustained strategic philanthropy with an initiative like the Arthur Mbanefo Entrepreneurship Centre at the University of Lagos and numerous others in concert with others through clubs, and alone. As we struggle to find people who can whisper a little truth wrapped in flattery to power and find too few we acknowledge a man ever ready to speak truth to power with no apologies. I feel privileged to have been favoured with this bobbly in tribute to the indefatigable Mbanefo who could still outpace many 60 years old on an exercise walk on the Bar Beach. May your times be remembered much longer than the three generations you have impacted in witness, as an enterprise management professional, educators, community leaders, statesman, economic reformer and diplomat at the highest level as Ambassador to the United Nations.
Pat Utomi, political economist and professor of entrepreneurship serves on the Africa Board of
Deloitte, the firm where Mbanefo was a leader in his professional accountancy years.