Immortalising a business icon and philanthropist par excellence

July 2, 2020

A review of Akindeji Olorunyolemi’s book, Chief Dr. Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun (1926-1978): His Life in Retrospect, by Eniola Olanipekun

IN his foreword to the book, Venerable (Professor) Francis Afolabi Fajemirokun, an emeritus professor and erstwhile deputy vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, gave two vital pieces of information about the book on the late Chief (Dr) Henry Oloyede Fajemirokun, CON.

Firstly, he gave readers a cursory, and yet ample, introduction of the subject matter. According to him, “Chief Henry Fajemirokun was a notable figure, well known by all and sundry in Nigeria. His name was a household word. His premier position as a foremost leader in business, commerce and industry, not only in Nigeria but also in the African region was incontrovertible. Secondly, he clearly articulated why the book is a desideratum at this time of our national history, even almost five decades after the demise of the business magnate.

The book, which is grouped into 11 chapters, has an opening section in which the genealogy of the late Chief is clearly traced. Here, the author succeeds in establishing the relationship which the Chief had with Ile-Oluji, Ifewara, Okeigbo and even Ado-Ekiti, thus putting to rest all the half-truths that have been in the public domain over the years.

This, indeed, is a vital aspect of the book given the unnecessary controversy that ensued after the death of the business magnate as to where he was to be buried.

Another aspect of the chapter is the story of his early life, where effort is made to trace his educational career – from primary to secondary school. It is perhaps remarkable that he schooled both at Ile-Oluji and Okeigbo for his elementary education and also at CMS Grammar School, Lagos and Ondo Boys High School, Ondo (OBHS) for his secondary school. The reasons for these developments are clearly stated and certainly make an interesting reading.

Chapter two is christened: “In the service of his fatherland”. It is a sort of a continuation of chapter one in that it explains why Chief Fajemirokun had to abandon his studies at OBHS in order to get enlisted in the Colonial Armed Forces as a private soldier in April 1944. There, he was eventually drafted to India to serve in the 82nd Division of the Royal West African Frontier Force during the 2nd World War. He returned two years later, got discharged, and subsequently joins the civil service, where he joined the union and became the President-General of the Nigeria Civil Service Union.

Chapter three is fully devoted to the exploits of Chief Fajemirokun as a businessman; one vocation that he made a success of. As it can be deduced from the book, his experience, and the feats he later achieved in the venture, can be figuratively viewed as a decisive emergence of an oak tree from a mustard seed. This is not an exaggeration given the fact that the man actually started business in 1955 with a paltry sum of three hundred and fifty pounds. And by the time of his death in 1978 (merely 23 years after), he had bequeathed to his loved ones a conglomerate – Henry Stephens & Sons Limited, that boasts of more than a dozen subsidiary companies.

Aside from being a successful entrepreneur, the other aspects of Chief Fajemirokun that brought him fame were his activities in various chambers of commerce that he was affiliated to and his many philanthropic gestures both within and outside Nigeria. His active involvement in these two activities is well recorded for posterity in chapters four and five of the book respectively.

Chapter six couldn’t have been given a more fitting title: “His good deeds recompensed” as it gives the account of the many ways that institutions, organisations and communities that are beneficiaries of Chief Fajemirokun’s benevolent gestures try to key in to the popular maxim that a good turn deserves another.

Chapters seven, eight and nine are fully devoted to all the activities that are related to the death and burial of Chief Fajemirokun. No doubt, the news of his demise in 1978 at his prime came as a rude shock to everyone. He was mourned in a way that had never been experienced in the country. This was well recorded in the book, just as the controversy that characterised the decision as to where to have him buried is given a sufficient treatment. The fact that Chief Fajemirokun was eventually accorded a grand burial ceremony at Ile-Oluji is equally noteworthy.

Chapter 10 gives a comprehensive record of the people and organisations that Chief Fajemirokun left behind at the point of his death and the several efforts made thereafter to keep his vision alive.

Like Professor Fajemirokun variously stated, the author of the book, Mr Akindeji Olorunyolemi, a biographer and publisher of note, “deserves to be commended for this effort, no matter its shortcomings, because it (the book) has made very valuable information available to all sundry and perpetuity. Suffice it to add that the book is a must read for all — especially every member of Fajemirokun/Olarerin clan across the globe, sons and daughters of Ile-Oluji, Ifewara, Okeigbo and Ado-Ekiti at home and in the diaspora, as well as industry chiefs, established and budding entrepreneurs.”


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