By Moshood Ademola Fayemiwo
One of the most illustrious sons of Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria Reverend Cannon Johnson Olajide Fagboygun passed on last week a cough away from his 83rd birthday. He died in London. In a nation where life expectancy is about 44 years according to the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO), it is worth celebrating when a loved one survives past four scores, more so if he/she lived a meritorious life. Fagboyegun was a foremost industrialist, community leader, “born-again” Christian, educator, philanthropist and an international financier. In addition, he was an uncle and a very good one.
In my first book; “Is Muslim’s Allah God Almighty?” published in Florida, USA in 2001, I deliberately dedicated a portion to him because of the influence he had on my faith as a Christian. His life radiated faith, humility, temperance, forgiveness and hard work; virtues that first made impression on me while I was growing up in my native Owo in Ondo State in the 1960s. I came to know this truly man of God in deeds and action while in my teens. I had just lost my parents; he and his wife, Olawunmi who is my maternal sister had come to commiserate with us.
At my mother’s requiem, Rev. Fagboyegun promised to sponsor me through my university education. I was a bit apprehensive of the promise and its fulfillment so I approached his wife to ask for confirmation. The following week, he called me and handed me a letter; “To Whom it May Concern” stating that he would be responsible for seven years of my university education any where in Nigeria or abroad. Later when I was admitted to the University of Lagos in 1981 Rev. Fagboyegun kept his promise.
After my university education, his kindheartedness never abated. Through his generosity, I was able to launch my weekly newspaper; Razor during the turbulent years of General Sani Abacha. He shunned publicity like plague and preferred to operate silently without the usual plaudits craved by rich people in Nigeria. In one of his numerous visits to the United States few years ago, he called to inquire of my well-being and that of my family when I was at the University of Florida, Tampa. Then I informed him of my intention to write his biography. As usual he displayed his humility once again by dissuading me. He said he would love it after he had gone to be with the Lord stressing that book launchings in Nigeria have become modern “owambe” instead of occasions to celebrate honor, creativity and intellectual accomplishment. Now that he’s gone, I will honor him by finishing my manuscript on the Life and Times of J.O. Fagboyegun: A Perfect Gentleman.
Born at Uso near Owo, Ondo State in 1926, Fagboyegun started from a humble beginning after finishing Standard Six in the 1930s. He began as a cocoa produce buyer and later founded J.O. Fagboyegun & Sons known throughout the defunct Western Region for helping cocoa farmers achieved independence by breaking from the Western Region’s Marketing Board. In an interview with The Financial Times of London in 2000, he pleaded with the Nigerian government to revitalize Agriculture so Nigerian farmers would be able to feed the country. According to him, the Nigerian government should put machinery in place so that Nigerian farmers can be re-assured that the nation was indeed ready to stop the importation of food. “. We need N1bn a year - which is nothing compared to the amount spent in the past on white elephants that have never seen the light of day He was one of the financial pillars of the defunct Action Group in the First Republic and was present at Owo on March 21, 1951 when the AG was launched at Owo by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was also one of the brain-trusters and a-go-to man in both the administrations of Papa Adekunle Ajasin and Adebayo Adefarati. He supported several worthy causes; education, health care, community development and social services. He donated money and land to Ondo State Polytechnic, Owo, Federal University of Technology, Akure; instituted scholarships in several tertiary institutions across Nigeria and helped many sons and daughters of Owo, Ondo State nay Nigeria passed through college both at home and abroad.
Fagboyegun lived a fulfilled life. He was a perfect gentleman. He used his stupendous wealth to help the hungry, the fatherless, widows and the underprivileged. In December 1999 shortly after the then governor of Ondo State, late Chief Adebayo Adefarati established Adekunle Ajasin University in Akungba-Akoko, he appointed Rev. Fagboyegun as its pioneer Pro-Chancellor. The state university, barely 6 years old later became the “best state university in academic teaching in Nigeria” according to the Nigerian National University Commission (NUC) in 2004 /2005.” Thanks to the adroit leadership of the late Fagboyegun. The foremost pan-African online newsmagazine Pointblanknews which first broke his demise online described Rev. Fagboyegun as “ reputed to be the largest private cocoa buyer in Africa.” The Financial Times of London referred to him as Nigeria’s foremost cocoa magnate” while Africa Today journal published by Indiana University, USA called him “foremost indigenous produce buyer in Nigeria.” Rev. Fagboyegun was conferred with the honorary Doctor of Agriculture by the Federal University of Technology, Akure in 2002.
As mourners, family friends, relative and well-wishers commiserate with Sisters Olu and Lanre, Bros Tunji and Segun, Pastor Rotimi and Lola on the tragic loss of their father, those of us who had benefited tremendously from the openhandedness of their father are happy of the many lives he touched while he was with us. The inevitability of death is the tragedy of humankind but those who knew the Lord take solace in our resurrection day when we shall part no more.
Adieu Daddy and goodbye to a worthy ambassador of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
* Fayemiwo lives in Chicago, Illinois United States of America.