The remarkable Joshua Ajibade Egbedi (1880-1965)
VIEWED strictly from the economic dimension of human endeavour, to say someone rose from “grass to grace” is not only to say that the person has achieved greatness from a very humble beginning but that his or her rise has also been a product of honest work. This clarification is important, not least because those who have suddenly become stupendously rich by defrauding the public should rather be shamed than be celebrated as having risen from obscurity to grace.
The new generation of Nigerians are quite familiar with the stories of new rich men and women, most of whom are privileged crooks whose stories do not provide inspiration for anyone who craves honesty and decency in human dealings.
The story that can be celebrated by decent society would be the type of the late Chief Joshua Ojo Ajibade’s, the Egbedi of Ado-Ekiti, who lived and died as one of the wealthiest Nigerians of an era, having experienced a very rough beginning to his life.
The story made the rounds in the “early days”, especially within the Ekiti community, of a man who once hawked chicken from one village to another; he was pitied by some, while mocked by others, not least because he carried his basket full of fowl on his head and walked bare-footed.
Happily, one of the children of this unique human being, Chief Simon Peter Ajibade (SPA), an accomplished barrister of great repute, has attempted to capture the life of his father in a well-presented book in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. The “foreword”, testifying to the authenticity of this documentation, was written by no less a person than the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, His Royal Highness Alayeluwa Oba (Dr) Adeyemo Adejugbe Aladesanni III, CON, JP.
Chief Joshua Ojo Ajibade was born in 1880 and died in October 1965. The book in his memory, In Memoria: A son’s testimony (Bookcraft, 2015) takes a look at various stages of his life and influences. This, however, is preceded by a brief history of the evolution of Ado-Ekiti and its traditional institutions.
The detailed presentation of the family background should be important to the direct descendants of Chief Joshua Ajibade; what, however, is important to us here is what is presented as the catalyst to the transformation of his “grass to grace” adventure. He was said to have enjoyed special attention from his mother, thus provoking the envy of his brothers who took every available opportunity to maltreat him whenever they were on the farm. Not able to endure this maltreatment, he ran away from home and embarked on all sorts of manual labour that took him from one end to another.
He eventually found his feet, becoming a foremost cocoa produce buyer as well as being a trail brazer in diverse commercial ventures. The resultant wealth ensured he drove state of the art cars, while his home was the first in the whole of the then Ekiti Division to benefit from generated electricity.
We are also told that Chief Joshua Ajibade dabbled in politics and hosted quite a number of prominent politicians at his palatial home. The Azikiwes and Awolowos were friends to him. He sought an elective office, albeit at the local level. The one experience he probably took to his grave was that even someone you have supported in life could later be an impediment to your own interests – a relation he had helped to achieve quite a lot stood as his opponent in that election! He never forgot that experience.
Chief Joshua Ojo Ajibade was a devout Christian who contributed immensely to the Anglican Church which he attended. He also ensured that every member of his family gathered together for prayers every morning and at night before going to bed. His passion and commitment to the development of Ado-Ekiti was no less equal. He was a pillar of support to His Royal Highness, Oba Daniel Aladesanmi II, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti from 1937-1983. It was Oba Aladesanmi that conferred Joshua Ajibade with the chieftaincy title of “Egbedi” in 1948 – a title he carried with great dignity and elevated to enviable heights by the sheer power of character and charisma.
Chief Ajibade was kind and generous. According to his biographer, “… he was a philanthropist, humanist and lover of education, a great believer in offering such training that made his dependent relatives eventually become independent … He was a very generous father who had a clear vision for his children. He loved his children and in addition took great interest in his friends’ children. He readily agreed to be guardian to those children whose parents did not live in Ado…”
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Chief Joshua Ojo Ajibade, the remarkable Egbedi of Ado-Ekiti, is his ever-expanding empire of descendants who have excelled in various fields of human endeavour. He managed his home of 10 wives and 22 direct children, and there could hardly have been any perfection here. He was a product of his own generation, a generation in which the aristocrat had no qualms about flaunting favouritism for a wife over the other and still demands respect, loyalty and obedience from all. It would have been somehow surprising if the jealousies, suspicions, and animosities that characterise relations in most gargantuan “conglomerates” had eluded his.
A balanced story in every respect, one has just read a biography that provides great inspiration.
• Dr. Akinola lives in Oxford, United Kingdom.