Within the tense atmosphere that defines the security and political circumstances in Nigeria, almost everyone is looking for means of making sense of life and the possible paths to the future. I am very glad that I could find someone who has lived meaningfully in spite of the terrible existential circumstances that Nigeria presents. This is someone whose life still consists of innumerable lessons for his generation and beyond. I am glad to be celebrating Engr. Abiodun Kehinde Ahmadu, husband, father, friend, astute professional, omolúwàbí, a great Olivetian, and a proud cultural septuagenarian. For my egbon, I have that famous line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” on my mind: “Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.” For someone who has spent seven decades making sense of life and its twists and turns, he deserves not only a poem and a wreath, but also a monument dedicated to his continuing struggle through life. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the Swiss-American psychologist, certainly hits the nail on the head about Engr. Ahmadu when she remarked: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”
In signposting this celebration, I could take the easy way out by outlining a biographical template—the circumstances of his birth, his educational trajectories, as well as the twists and turns of his professional search for livelihood. On the contrary, behind the septuagenarian framework of existence of Engr. Ahmadu lies personal, cultural and professional narratives worthy of the legacy thinking that should frame this life for others to consider. While the drums beat out the staccato of praises to the accomplishments of this titan, we must not fail to be informed about the herculean existential struggles that brought him to this point. “Herculean” of course references Hercules, the famous Roman adaptation of the Greek mythological hero, Heracles. The story of Hercules is the story of an existential agony in surmounting several challenges in life before achieving fulfilment and purpose. The story of Hercules is the story of Engr. Ahmadu, from cradle to a solid seven decades on earth, and counting! When a man is described as a “self-made man,” there is a lot that is left unsaid in the biographical narration. Being self-made speaks about someone left without all the frills and pomp attached to being born in the palace or in wealth.
Seven decades are no mean years. Engr. Ahmadu carries on his septuagenarian shoulders a deep symbolism that resonates through scriptural and cultural contexts. For instance, for the Israelites and in the Holy Book, the number 70 indicates so many remarkable significations. From a combination of seven for perfection and ten for completeness, the number 70 packs sufficient sacredness that represents a perfect spiritual framework for an individual. And this number is scattered as signification in Israel’s and biblical theological and political acts. In Exodus chapter one and verse five, the scripture declares that the Jewish nation began with seventy souls, with God as the seventieth member. Moses appointed seventy elders. The Sanhedrin, Israel’s formidable tribunal, is made up of seventy elders. Israel spent seventy years in captivity, and Jerusalem also kept seventy sabbaths while Judah was in captivity. Jesus sent seventy disciples to preach the gospel. The translation of the Torah into Greek is marked by the symbol LXX, seventy—the Septuagint. In fact, seventy years are the span of political activities from the first Zionist Congress in 1897 to the unification of Jerusalem and the expansion of the Jewish state in 1967. And then, to cap it, the Book of Psalms pegs the nominal span of human life at precisely 70, the age of wholeness when, as the psalmist suggests, we are to number our days, give thoughts to our life and be guided by wisdom from there on.
Once you insert Engr. Ahmadu’s septuagenarian celebration of life into this sacred frame of the scripture, you are all the more awed by how far he has come in life and how the word and symbolism of the spirit sums his trajectory of existence so far. He has providentially been given a lease of wholeness and completeness. That is something to celebrate. We now begin to understand the reason why our brother, colleague, and friend has remained an amiable and unique personality for all those who know him well. And why he was something of an enigma for someone like me who kept wondering about what made him tick. Now I have an idea of what providence can do when it takes hold of a person’s determination to succeed despite and in spite of all odds arraigned against such a person.
At seventy, my egbon has arrived safely at that temporal trough where the agba (adult), agbalagba (elderly) and the arugbo (person in old age) draw wisdom and deeper perspectives. For Alfred Lord Tennyson, old age has honor and toil. For the Yoruba, old age has honor and renown. The old are venerated for their sunken eyes that have seen far and wide, and that brings depth to conversation and existential decisions. With the strings of professional achievements and accomplishments that Engr. Ahmadu has chalked up, he qualifies eminently to be regarded as a “borokini” rather than a “gbajumo”. A gbajumo, for the Yoruba is a prominent person who wields social influence. A gbajumo could or might not also be a wealthy person (an oloro). And the wealthy need not necessarily be a socially influential person. On the other hand, a borokini achieves an even higher level of renown and status by reason of a stature elevated by influence, wealth and fame. He combines the social influence of the gbajumo with the capacitating reach of the oloro. The significance of a borokini is felt beyond the social influence; indeed, such a person wields social influence because of a professional acumen, propertied status and philanthropic lifestyle that continues to affect the direction of the society. The status of a borokini is the ultimate in prestige; the person crowned with it is sought after as a confluence of grace, ideas and ideals, as well as the willingness to bestow the outflow on others within and without the sphere of their reach.
The borokini appellation captures my egbon of many parts and influence. You know a worthy professional not by the mere search for livelihood, but by the public-spiritedness that brings the fruits of competences and skills to bear on the structures that affect lives positively. From engineering to business management and then on to entrepreneurship, Engr. Ahmadu professional trajectory projects someone in search of meaning for all. The Ahmak Group, a conglomerate that comprises engineering, properties, agro-allied businesses and procurements, speaks to an entrepreneurial spirit. And that spirit attests to a foresight that benefits the society, as his idea of the public-private partnership model of the abattoir innovation in Ibadan confirms.
In terms of his stature, intellectual appetite—with a mind that ranges from philosophy and theology, music and the arts, physics and politics—and the continuing search for excellence in all spheres, Engr. Abiodun Kehinde Ahmadu embodies the perfect quality of an English gentleman. That term is not a mere appellation. It represents a distinguished value orientation for the English, someone in good standing with the family and within the society, an honorable fellow who has fellow-feeling, the epitome of the ranti omo eni ti iwo nse corps. The gentleman is the borokini of the English society. And for the Yoruba, the borokini instantiates the moral quality of an omolúwàbí. The omolúwàbí paradigm is a framework for virtues and virtuous living that places the individual within a space of other people in a web of relational reciprocity. The person’s life becomes meaningful if not defined in terms of the moral acceptance derived from how others perceive his or her moral status and social influence. How else should we perceive someone who is proudly an Oyo man to the core?
Egbon is at once frank and charitable. He is careful when making any statements, and when he does, they come out with forthrightness. His critical judgments are unsparing and clinical. This implies that you should expect to get the best and unflattering opinions from him. What virtues could be more commendable among friends? Loyalty stands him out, like his late friend, Otunba Alao-Akala, Engr. Ahmadu retains his friends without any dissimulation. Here is a man of virtue whose moral compass encompasses the lowly and the high; a man whose breath of knowledge and compassion seeks others out for attention; someone who truly loves himself, loves his family, is concerned about the space he shares with others within the society, and ultimately loves Nigeria.
When you think of Engr. A. K. Ahmadu, you think of a gentleman who is distinguished by professional excellence, moral maturity and philanthropic spirit. That is someone you want to call your husband, your father, your friend. That is someone I want to follow as my egbon indeed, whose entirely septuagenarian life is a template of goodness and foresight.
*Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Professor at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Culled from THISDAY