Title: Without Money and Without Price
Author: Dennis Odife
Publisher: Alkestis Books Limited, Lagos
Reviewer: Henry Akubuiro
Success makes many men make a beaten track to your doorstep, but it takes a Spartan courage to thread along tortuous paths that lead to success itself. Not until you hear it from the horse’s mouth, conjecture is just a given about the length and breadth of this bitter-sweet walk across time and space.
The path trodden by late doyen of merchant banking and stocking in Nigeria, Dennis O. Odife, was laborious at a point. It became fast and furious at another point. In the end, he set a pace. Written by Chief Odife himself, the autobiography, Without Money and Without Price, chronicles his life and times, leaving us with many things to reflect on his mercurial rise to the top.
In his foreword to the book, Bukar Usman, a close associate of the deceased stock exchange guru, extols his virtues as “…a brilliant scholar, a competent fellow, and a man who spoke out of personal convictions” (p.xii). And in forty chapters and four appendixes, the author leads the reader into the recesses of a life inhabited by a diligent mind and an exemplar of success who overcame many obstacles.
The first chapter “Better than Gold” foreshadows spectacular recollections. In a judgment delivered in his favour over a libel case with a leading Nigerian newspaper, Justice Adamu Bello on June 12, 2008 in Court 3 of the Abuja High Court, Maitama, echoed: “A good name is better than gold”. It was a judgment that Odife describes in the book as “a befitting conclusion to my professional career in the Nigerian Capital Market”.
Given his endearing personality and a man of accomplishments, the red cap chiefs of Nkwelle Ezunaka, where he came from, decided to install him as the traditional ruler of the community in 2002 following the death of their traditional ruler, which he turned down. Odife explains why: “…I was already immortality privileged; I had been a great agent of social change in my own lifetime. What need, therefore, did I have to become an Igwe in a small town in Eastern Nigeria?” (p.28).
Odife’s childhood recollections, which form the basis of the third chapter, recalls his early days in Jos with his parents – “My… memory of Jos was a sort of paradise in which all I had to do was play, eat and be given a good bath in a tub…” (p.30). He also chronicles the scary incident at River Niger, where, excited by the prospect of a first-time pontoon ride, he let go the grip of his dad, and found himself unaccompanied at the other end of Onitsha. Briefly lost in Onitsha, he was eventually found by his father.
The author, in the fourth chapter, recalls his growing up in Benin, Agbor, Abeokuta and Lagos, while following his father about as a prison warder as he was being transferred. At Edo College, the author remembers how it was greeted by many highs. At King’s College, Lagos, where he transited to thereafter, his debating prowess and dramatic roles made him more visible within Lagos. The fun continued for young Odife at the University of Lagos where he continued his academic pursuit.
The outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 momentarily truncated his university education as he hurried back to the Eastern Region, where, mistaken for a “Nigerian”, that is, a non-Biafran, he was rounded up to be lynched as a spy until he was rescued by the intervention of his in-law, Mr. Anene. He was to join a couple of Biafran paramilitary groups during the war, and was dispatched occasionally to some risky, clandestine operations.
Without Money and Without Price details, also, how Odife returned to Lagos at the end of the civil war. He writes: “My return to Lagos was very eventful. As I got to depart, I did not have a kobo on me”. Worse still, his mother had only four pennies left for the upkeep of the family, and only spared two pennies, with which he left home. He managed to get to Lagos with help from here and there, ending up as a refugee at Unilag.
Columbia University, New York, served as a glorious avenue for further studies. Courtesy of a University of Lagos scholarship, he travelled with his wife, Stella, to the US, where he was admitted to study Marketing and International Business. How did he become a banker? The answer is contained in the twelfth chapter. His stint at Icon Limited, a Lagos merchant bank, was to define his career path after he left his lecturing job at Unilag upon his completion of MBA at Columbia.
Without Money and Without Price recounts Odife’s entry to the stock exchange business where he became an economic czar, bringing intellectual activism to the Nigerian capital market. Some of the speeches presented at different fora within this period (1976-1996) were published in this book. Odife’s illustrious resume included serving as a consultant to the World Bank/IFC, setting agenda for the Nigerian economy through his company, Centre Point Bank, among others.
The most significant lows of his life came with the travails of Centre Point Bank and his unsavoury experience in party politics. Ultimately, Without Money and Price presents us with a rare insight into the making an astute banker, stockbroker and academic. Produced in hard paper back with few errors, it is an autobiography that easily stands out on a shelf.