Tribute To Otunba Jimi Adebisi Lawal (JAL) @ 63

A birth date is a reminder to celebrate the life as well as to update the life – Indian author Amit Kalantri

As the suave, humble and humane Otunba Jimi Adebisi Lawal (JAL) attains another milestone today in his sojourn on this terrestrial plane, it is a fitting time “to celebrate the life as well as to update the life” as stated in the quote above.

JAL, as he is fondly called, is a man of many parts. He is a thoroughbred professional, an entrepreneur and employer of labour who has founded several companies, including a major real estate development company, an investment banking firm and a thriving educational institution.

The British-trained lawyer is better known as a banker with over three decades of international merchant banking experience across three continents of Africa, Europe and North America.

For anyone meeting this man for the first time, you cannot miss his gait, civility, sincerity, simplicity, brilliance and eloquence. As you relate with him, you would soon know that he is a man of integrity, a stickler for time; one who pays attention to details and above all God-fearing.

I recall a story of how his brilliance struck the expatriates at the then Barclay’s Bank in Lagos. Upon the completion of his secondary school education at the Muslim College, Ijebu Ode, Ogun state, JAL had accompanied one of his cousins to an interview session at Barclay’s Bank (now known as Union Bank) in Lagos. But, as fate and luck would have it, he was offered a job based on his brilliant performance at an impromptu interview session. Within a couple of months, he was sent to the London branch of the bank.

It was in London he became an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and thereafter elected as a fellow of the institute in 1992 when he was 33 years old!

He distinguished himself at his job as a pioneer staffer at the London branch of Barclay’s Bank and had a meteoric rise that came with a mouth-watering package to the boot.

But, like an adventurous man that he has always been, he was not going to let the fat pay and perks of office blur his dream to be a wealth creator and an employer of labour. He resigned his lucrative job in London and returned to Nigeria to set up a bank when he was just 29 years old! Did I hear you say that was audacious? Yes, it was! And this could only have been done by a man of steel, character and conviction.

Perhaps in the days, weeks and months ahead, political analysts and historians will appreciate better the unique qualities in this cosmopolitan Ijebu high chief. I say this advisedly because it takes a man of high exposure, strong faith, courage and conviction to have resigned his role as Senior Advisor to Kaduna State Governor and Chairman of the Kaduna State Economic Development Council to vie for a governorship ticket in a party he joined barely three months to the commencement of party congresses and primary elections.

When JAL joined the Ogun state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in February, this year, not many analysts gave him a chance. They wondered how he would compete with someone who had literally warehoused the party and its structures.

But, what they did not know was that behind the soft-spoken voice and easy-going personality is a man of steely resolve. They also did not know that there was a mumbled yet growing level of discontentment among the leaders, elders and members of the party. The situation they found themselves was more of a master-servant relationship; one in which a man would arrogantly tell them that he already had the party’s governorship ticket in his pocket and that whether they liked it or not, he was already the candidate. So, he treated the leaders, elders and members of the party with scorn and slight.

So, when JAL happened on the scene, it was hurray; a new “kid” was literally on the bloc and a breath of fresh air has come. Pronto, 14 of the 20 LGA Party chairmen joined the JAL train. That was how the good news of his entrance into the race caught on. This was accentuated by his clear-cut five cardinal programmes of Economic Development, Human Capital development (Health and Education), Infrastructure, Security & Justice, and Governance

The first sign that JAL meant business was the grand public declaration for the governorship race that was held at Ake Palace Grounds, Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital, on the 7th of April, 2022. It sent jitters down the spine of the opponents and rumbled them to the marrow!

In his account of the event, Dr. Nath Igbimo, a public affairs analyst, said, “Not in recent times has Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun state, witnessed the gathering of party faithful, chieftains, leaders and elders as was seen last Thursday. It was a carnival of some sort. Dubbed the official declaration of Otunba Jimi Adebisi Lawal (JAL, as he is popularly called) for the Ogun state PDP governorship ticket, the atmosphere from the adjoining roads at Sapon to Isale Ake and its environs was electrifying.”

Then came the three-man Ad-hoc Ward Congress on the 30th of April, 2022 wherein over 500 pro-JAL delegates emerged out of the 728 delegates.

Shocked by the turn of events, the other camp came up with all manner of tricks in the book to save its face. Thankfully and unknown to them, the very smart and strategic JAL had obtained the Certified True Copies (CTCs) of the report and results of the Ward delegates.

The issue again cropped up during the governorship primary election held on the 25th of May, 2022, but not without gathering enough evidence to challenge the sham and chicanery that took place on that day.

Unknown to him, the other camp was baying for blood. They came prepared for violence and bloodletting since they feared they may not have it their way. Many of JAL’s supporters as well as delegates were beaten, bruised and wounded. In fact, one of them denied from injuries sustained from the ugly incident, leaving behind two wives and about eight young children. It was a black Wednesday!

But, like the trained lawyer and gentleman that he is, he sued for peace, knowing that he would have his day in the court of law.

Now, all the issues and the sleight of hand that took place on that fateful day are before the courts in Abeokuta and Abuja, for adjudication. It is hoped that in the next couple of days and weeks, the courts will deliver their judgments and do justice. Then, the good people of Ogun state, nay Nigeria, will know who is the authentic governorship candidate of the PDP in the March 11, 2023 election.

Until then, here is a toast to the good health and well-being of a loving family man, a selfless leader, a trailblazer par excellence, a consummate administrator, a banker’s banker, a jurist extraordinaire, a self-effacing philanthropist, a passionate public servant and an academic of repute. Otunba ‘Jimi Shakir Adebisi Olabosipo Lawal (JAL, for short). 63 Hearty Cheers to you, sir!

Austin Oniyokor, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital

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