Chief Dele Fajemirokun is a biographer’s delight. A man who is frank, blunt and honest. In a country where many shy from writing their authentic memoirs because they have so much to hide, Fajemirokun shoots straight from the hips. He is an unusual Nigerian.
Reading his scintillating and titillating autobiography titled THE MAKING OF ME—My Odyssey in Business, he comes out as a man unashamed to unveil his past peccadilloes. In this amazing self-confession, you can’t but form the impression that a man who lets out so much about his past must be a man of integrity. Let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of the book. Here is a man who doesn’t mind ridiculing himself. He never even spared his rich dad, portraying him as a father whose Spartan attitude towards him in particular, hardened and toughened him to be the man he is today. “I never tasted the silver spoon nor the special privileges associated with children of a wealthy father,” he writes. “I never travelled abroad, went on summer holidays or attended elite school; instead, I started school at St. Peters, Ajele. During most school holidays, I was sweeping the floor in my father’s warehouse or working as a tally clerk in his clearing and forwarding company…My dad never believed in giving me pocket money. It was a concept that was alien to him, but only as far as it concerned me.” With the benefit of hindsight, a grateful Dele says: “It was a great lesson that my father taught me, and today, I am grateful for it.”
Following his father’s example, Dele would not allow his children to go to school in any of his cars. “I insisted that they walked to school or use public transport,” he writes. “It was a painful decision because I felt that I was depriving them of what I could afford—I had about seven cars in the garage! I would sometimes watch them leave for school in the morning with tears in my eyes, with my sulking wife considering me brutally hard. But I knew that it was a sacrifice I had to make. I was also cautious of the amount of pocket money I gave them, particularly when they were in secondary school and at university.”
Growing up, Dele tells the world about his “positively deviant” behaviour that earned him the nickname “Dele Times, Dele Trouble.” How at age 13, he took to alcohol. How in Form Four, he led an uprising where junior students planned to hang their seniors upside down from trees, resulting in Dele being expelled and had to take his WASC exams as a day student after a strong intercession of a bishop. Surprisingly he made a Grade 1! He shared anecdotes of alcohol-fueled daredevil acts such as hijacking a ‘bolekaja’ bus with his friends: “To the consternation of onlookers, I jumped into the driver’s seat and proceeded to pilot the virtually uncontrollable vehicle to Ibadan. It was the most extraordinary ride of my life.”
Such was the danger of alcoholic addiction of the past that a sober and wiser Fajemirokun now writes: “The reader might be shocked by what I am about to say, but it is better said because it will serve as an education for the younger generation. For twenty or more hours every day for almost forty years of my entrepreneurial journey, I have battled one foe or another. I learnt early on that a liberal intake of alcohol enabled me not to only work these inhuman hours but also evoked in me that simmering rage that is a prerequisite for all those who must triumph.” Just like alcohol was his religion, so was smoking. “For me, drinking alcohol was not just another habit. If it were so, I would have discontinued it, as I did my smoking habit—I broke a sixty-stick-a-day routine overnight and have never since touched another cigarette, more than twenty years later. No, drinking was a ritual so sacred.” He thought he could not stop drinking, but thank goodness, he soon realized he was endangering his life and had to quit drinking, giving this testimony: “The simple truth is that alcohol acts as poison to liver cells…I am glad that I saw the light in time and stopped. But some (of my friends) have not been so lucky. Tenko Lash was not; neither was my good friend, Akin Fashakin. May their souls rest in peace. The aforementioned is a big lesson for everyone who is still indulging in the excessive imbibing of alcohol.”
Fajemirokun’s book is one big thriller full of eye-popping disclosures. Only Fajemirokun can be sincere and bold enough to tell the world about visiting prostitutes at school: “I led my friends on escapades to Mokola, the notorious red-light district of Ibadan, to ‘taste the forbidden fruits’ and have carnal knowledge of prostitutes. Sometimes, we even operated a ‘book me down’ system, which I paid for. One day, one of my mates reported that he was feeling a strange sensation when he went to urinate. He had caught the popular young man’s ‘clap.’ Gonorrhea…It was a baptism of sorts into adulthood.”
At Loyola College, Dele, a talented drummer formed a band called Vibrations which became so popular that “a female fan, Funmi Adesanya, a student from the International School, Ibadan, latched on to me and, many years later, would become the mother of my first child: Adenike,” Fajemirokun discloses. In another chapter, he revealed a secret which “another man would have kept a secret until after their death. But I refused to keep a hidden agenda which in future could act as an explosive device that would rock the close-knit family I have labored to build.” He narrates: “A young girl of 23 years of age, who had already graduated from university, was brought forward and introduced to me as my daughter. I did not deny ‘knowing’ her mother, but a 23-year-old? Where has she been all these years? I called my ‘war council’ and advised that a DNA test (carried out by my childhood friend, Dele Olufunwa, the godfather of my children and family [although resident in London]) should be carried out to ascertain the veracity of the claim. The DNA returned a verdict of my paternity. Immediately, I informed my wife and all my children of the development, and a renaming ceremony was held in my London home at the Marlows, at which all the children and some of my friends were present: Dr. Dele Olufunwa, Olu Akinyelure and Biodun Shobanjo. The new daughter was named Omosalewa (‘Salewa’), which was the prerogative of my mother, as is customary in Yoruba tradition. She has since been integrated into the larger family; the only difference being that I did not have the opportunity of raising her with the others. This might account for the fact that she has a different set of childhood from the others. But, we thank God that the matter did not wait until after my demise. Salewa is today a media consultant and operates out of Abuja. Today, I can boast of eight children; all with Masters’ degrees and MBAs, and one with a doctorate.”
A typical Nigerian rich man getting his children married would have splashed out the mother of all opulence. Not so with Dele Fajemirokun, the unusual Nigerian. He writes: “Four of my daughters have married without any fanfare or extravagant exhibitionism, in line with my philosophy of privacy when it comes to such matters. Their weddings were in my ‘boardroom’ with the Registrar from Ikoyi Marriage Registry present to administer the oath. These marriages were purely family affairs at which even my closest friends and relations were not present and sometimes with only small treats and light refreshments. My in-laws have been amazed by such shows of simplicity and restraint (which some dregs of society and wastrels have termed madness and eccentricity), that many can still not get over it. Yet, unlike those loud and extravagant weddings, many of which are recipes for marital disasters, all my daughters continue to enjoy blissful marriages and have given me eleven grandchildren.”
Kudos to Dele Fajemirokun, the unusual Nigerian and his riveting autobiography!