Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode: Our Father Abraham’s Gone Home
“Now the Lord said unto Abram I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing…Genesis 12:1-2
How does one begin to write a tribute to a person that is so awesome and revered by all? The news of the loss weighed heavily as a huge meteorite dropped down on the heart! His departure (though there was a protracted illness) was a gently drawn curtain that finally closed. A morning star glorious in brilliance rode through the skies homeward bound. A life that was truly magnificent. The loss will be unbearable except we take solace in the shining example, the life of Deacon Onosode epitomized to all and sundry.
He served as Chairman of a wide range of corporate, professional, governmental, and voluntary institutions.
In pursuance of his genuine commitment to serve his nation, he went into politics in 1997 and 1998. His disillusionment with the political system did not dampen his love for his country.
He left his mark in the educational sector. He served as Pro-Chancellor, and Chairman of Council of several institutions of higher learning such as Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Uyo, Bowen, and Member of Council, Bayero University, Kano. He gave his time and resources to various educational institutions at all levels.
To show his love and unwavering passion for education, Gamaliel founded the Gamaliel and Susan Onosode Foundaton (GAMSU) in May, 2013 to contribute to the lives of children, particularly the underprivileged in need of education, funds and access to a better future. His philantropic attitude was exceptional, he was patron of many youth initiatives in Nigeria. He believed that his contributions to education in Nigeria should be continuous and outlive him. His various contributions has indeed touched many lives. He received many awards in his lifetime, some of which were awards of honorary Doctorate degrees from tertiary institutions: Universities of Lagos, Benin, Ibadan, OAU, Ile-Ife, RSUST, Port Harcourt, Bowen, Bingham, Baptist Seminary, Ogbomosho, ECWA seminary, Jos. A grateful nation expressed its appreciation to him for a life of service with the award of the National Honour of Officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in year 2000.
Writing from a child’s perspective, as probably, first among his innumerable ‘children’ an uncountable number that lived with or had the privilege of his mentoring.
In a child’s memory, are many recollections and some in photographs long since lost! The memory of sometimes being brought home to Berkeley, Onikan from Kindergarten Class of Reagan Girls School Yaba, by such a great man no less!
There was the regular visits to 25 Berkeley, I remember, in the late 50s picture of a young man in crisp white shirt carrying always a leather brief bag that could have passed equally as a banker’s business bag or that of an evangelist.
Sometimes with my Dad they’ll stroll to the Baptist Mission on Broad Street to visit.
In an old album was this group photograph of the Dramatic Society of the University College, Ibadan, which included some very famous persons some gone some very much around, the likes of Gamaliel Onosode, R.S.G. Agiobu-Kemmer, Mabel Aig-Imhoukuede (Mrs. Segun), Wole Soyinka (who was wearing a white lace danshiki) Francesca Pereira (Mrs. Emmanuel), Mrs. Anne Akpofure – they were all in the Dramatic Society and Dancing Club at the University of College, Ibadan of the 50’s.
Then we all moved to Surulere as early settlers.
Auntie Susan, very beautiful with the young family growing. The community was growing also. So the Church too. A new Baptist Church was founded for the new community under the auspices of Yaba Baptist Church that first worshipped at the Baptist School, Modupe Johnson Crescent, before moving to its own site at the end of Adisa Bashua Street, off Adelabu Street, in the 60s. Today it is the New Estate Baptist Church of which Deacon Onosode was a founding father. That was the first church planting in Surulere. The Good News Baptist Church was solely founded by him in the 80’s in Suru-lere also.
The families were so intertwined like an extended family. Despite the numerous professional and public involvements, he was a family man who passionately loved his wife and children. Children came to him from all walks and stages of life. There were many who lived in No 44 Adelabu Street. Many attended the regular weekly prayer meetings and bible study classes. The 60’s and 70’s were our formative years. Among my close ‘siblings’ of ‘Deacon Onosode’ were Captain Gbinigie, Tunji Belo, Ibinabo Agiobu-Kemmer. Later day ‘saints’ included Ese Onosode, Soalabo Agiobu-Kemmer, Rugba, Spencer, Boma Agiobu-Kemmer, Osanmede, Emman, Bose and Toyin Adewale, Ufuoma, Hephzibah and the generations just kept increasing and can be found in all corners of the globe. What we all found was a consummate teacher in Church Sunday School class and in the Home Bible study and prayer meetings, he brought alive Biblical principles. He was a life coach who was down to earth, full of life, witty with a real sense of humour. All the young minds that had Deacon Onosode as their “father Abraham” found in him the inspiration for excellence, a virtuous life, and service to God and humanity.
I recollect as a student of Queen’s College, Yaba in the 60’s before the Civil War, Deacon Gamaliel Onosode introducing the Gideon International Fellowship to Nigeria at the Yaba Baptist Church, and distributing free copies of the ‘Good News’ bibles especially the pocket sized New Testaments with the Psalms were novel. He was the first Nigerian “Gideonite”. Today, free copies of the bible are distributed not only to churches, but various institutions and establishments including hotels all over this country. This initiative of Deacon Onosode was a landmark in Christian Evangelism in the nation.
As an environmentalist, an interest he shared with my father from university days long before the word became fashionable, did not start in the 1990s with the Niger Delta Environmental Survey, which report is yet to be implemented! I recollect him going in company of my father Rev. (Chief) RSG Agiobu-Kemmer and Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya in the 60s to give awards to the best garden and gardeners in the low cost housing estate, of Akerele, and Lawanson areas of Surulere. Yes in those days even the low cost housing estate had beautiful gardens.
For a man who was honoured with so many awards: national, international, professional bodies and institutions; there was one award which he cherished and very proud of was from the Surulere Local Government Council, making him the number one citizen of Surulere, where he lived for over 50 years, a truly cosmopolitan and detribalized Nigerian. Now all ‘Deacon Onosode’s children’ don’t have to be told who he was. We knew him not just as “Mr. Integrity” as everyone else knew him to be. He was a ‘King’ in the market place and a ‘Priest’ and teacher to all humanity by his exemplary life. He was a role model to us all, a guiding light, and father of the nation. He was once described as the best president Nigeria never had! He was also our “father Abraham.” We will not let him down. We will keep the lights ignited by this visionary leader, guiding light and father of the nation, shining bright forever!
Auntie Susan loving and supportive wife and mother to all, we love you. God loves you and will give you and the family, strength, joy and peace in the days ahead. Amen.
“And he was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun and his rainment as white as the light….”
Deacon Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode in all his ways showed us, he was a disciple of Jesus Christ!
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