Humanity, indeed, lost a rare personality on Wednesday, with the death of the Chairman of Punch Nigeria Ltd, Mr Wale Aboderin. He breathed his last after a heart surgery at First Cardiology Consultants, Ikoyi, Lagos. He was 60.
Although he was a big player in the business sphere, which saw him to the height of the management of the Punch, Aboderin straddled the sporting, entertainment and charity arenas where he left marks almost larger than life.
“The other day I saw the Chairman just coming out of his car, walking towards his office, I offered to carry a bag he was carrying,” recalled a Chief Correspondent with SUNDAY PUNCH, Gbenga Adeniji.
“He politely declined the offer. When I pressed further, he said he would only do so on the condition that I too would allow him to help me carry the papers I was holding. I could not thoroughly enjoy the laughter that ensued because I had to dash into the newsroom leaving him to face the lift with his bag.”
Such is the kind of testimonies and memories that the departure of Aboderin is inspiring. While many more are bound to flow for some time to come, many ‘Punchers’ can still not forget in a hurry how, some two years ago, the Chairman streamed into the newsroom and insisted on taking photographs with everyone. The session, which became as novel and dramatic as a Nollywood photo shoot, was the catalyst that many of those present needed to get their spirits renewed to be able to give deadline a good fight.
Like waterfalls, he never starved anyone of transparent laughter. Exuding humility, he dispensed warmth and generosity without bothering about the colour or tribe of the beneficiary. When the news of his death thus broke out, the shock it provoked dashed across the many areas of life he touched.
The experience that another employee of The PUNCH, Dayo Oketola, had with the deceased seems unique. Aboderin intervened in his life when it mattered most. Oketola, who is the Acting News Editor, recalls, “Some personal near-death experiences have taught me some vital life lessons. One of such near-death personal experiences was an accident I had on July 12, 2010. The car I was driving was involved in an accident in the Ikeja area of Lagos State at about 1 am. It somersaulted three times, but I escaped death by a whisker. One of the only two people who can testify to the magnitude of the accident was Mr Wale Aboderin.
“I remember feeling disoriented and dazed after my car had somersaulted and landed on its roof with the four tyres rolling upside-down. I had struggled to disentangle myself from the seat belt that had kept me safe; I had also wriggled my way out of the wrecked car. Shivering and lost, I had to quickly crawl out of the car because I feared it might catch fire. On seeing the wreckage of the car, I painfully muttered to myself, ‘I’m finished.’ Then, there came a voice from behind me: ‘If you survive this kind of an accident, then you are not finished.’
“The voice was that of Mr Aboderin, who had walked towards the accident scene. It is noteworthy that Mr Aboderin didn’t know I was one of his company’s members of staff. He just happened to be the one driving behind my car that day and must have been driven by his innate human kindness to want to help an accident victim. He helped me retrieve what could be recovered from the wreckage, put them in his vehicle and drove me home. By then, I had identified myself as an employee of The PUNCH, where he was at the time the vice chairman. He called the Managing Director, Mr Ademola Osinubi, to ascertain whether he knew me and the MD’s response had been in the affirmative over the telephone.”
Oketola says the experience is so significant that it will form part of his professional memoir.
Aboderin was a colossal figure in the sports world, with basketball his first love. Indeed, he was a phenomenal figure who etched his name in gold in the Nigerian and global games. And because of his exploits in women basketball in Africa, he was affectionately referred to as Up Chair! by the basketball faithful.
In 1997, he set up the Dolphins Basketball Club to become the first individual to privately own a women’s club in Nigeria. Right from when they played their first professional match in the Division 1 of the women’s league in 1998, till date, they’ve been a role model for other clubs in the country.
That pioneering act set the pace for the emergence of the likes of Dodan Amazons, GT 2000 and other women clubs in the Nigerian league, hitherto dominated by government-owned clubs.
Worthy of note is that on emerging on the domestic scene, they gave First Bank, the perennial winners, a run for their money despite playing with mostly rookies and very young players.
Aboderin was famed for discovering talents in the unlikeliest of places. One of the pioneer coaches of the club, Aderemi Adewunmi, gives an insight into the fallen basketball phenomenon’s knack for spotting raw talents.
“We went to the East, Umuahia specifically, to fish for talents. We would go from Lagos by night bus to Umuahia to scout for the talents and return the following day to Lagos by night bus again,” he stated.
“Sometimes the parents of the girls felt we were going to kill their children; but, today, they are the beneficiaries because Aboderin helped some of them to the US.”
Aboderin was a fan’s favourite because he brought entertainment value to women basketball, which was mostly played under an uneasy atmosphere, before his emergence.
Dolphins are known for their entertaining and result-oriented style of play right from their inception.
He steered Dolphins to become a household name in Africa, playing on the continent almost on a yearly basis. The team won the FIBA African Champions Cup for Women Zone 3 qualifiers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in 2015. The same year, they won the Zenith Bank Women’s League.
Dolphins are also reputed as the only club in Nigeria with its own world-class facilities, which include an indoor hall, weight room, fitness room and swimming pool, courtesy of their chairman, Aboderin.
Stakeholders will also remember that when he became the Chairman of the Lagos State Basketball Association, he uplifted the game in Lagos and the country, with his various grassroots initiatives that discovered several future stars of the game.
Meanwhile, it is difficult to track the extent of Aboderin’s involvement in the entertainment industry. The reason is that it cuts across music, film, literature, visual arts, fashion and all. Apart from assisting individual artistes, he was known to have facilitated many projects and programmes in the sector.
But he was more identified with Rapture, the band he formed many years ago and in which he paraded several cool talents, some of who have used the platform to move into wider and higher things. When our correspondent spoke with a leader of the band, Isaac Otokpa, on Thursday, he found it very tough to come to terms with the reality that Aboderin, the umbrella over their heads, has moved on to the ultimate realm. He noted that Aboderin had a deep knowledge of music which not only helped Rapture, but also benefited musicians outside it.
Otokpa said, “From way back, a lot of people took their demos to Chairman. They would urge him to listen to such and give input, because he had a vast knowledge of music. For those of us in Rapture, we cannot even quantify what we benefited from him.
“Apart from regular pay, he loved to be involved in the lives of people working for him. Personally, he gave me an apartment in Onipetesi, Mangoro, Ikeja, where I have lived for free since 10 years ago. He bought a plot of land for every member of Rapture – eight in number. The facility is in Ikorodu. He helped to sponsor weddings and intervened in the areas of school fees and health issues that our parents might have. Of course, it was a privilege working with the band because Mr Aboderin was well-respected everywhere we played. Virtually all artistes knew him. This is apart from the fact that he gave us quality advice and his advice never went wrong.”