The nation is certainly yet to fully account for the desperate moments that followed the slaying of General Ramat Murtala Mohammed on February 13, 1976 on the road to the mosque.
Already, we heard how a feisty Dimka hijacked the Federal Radio station; his drunken gaffe in mistaking “dusk” for “dawn” while announcing the coup and how he was eventually dislodged by loyal troops.
Elsewhere in Ikoyi, Lagos that fateful Friday, more drama – by far less grim but nonetheless significant – soon unraveled after the dastardly act. At the official residence of the second-in-command (the then Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo), a certain federal contractor and his workmen had continued with some maintenance work, oblivious of the calamity that had just altered the course of Nigerian history forever. (Meanwhile, once the news of the sad incident broke, OBJ had obeyed his instincts: he simply went into hiding.)
Then, a truck-load of battle-clad troops barged into the official quarters of the second citizen, shepherded by some officers in a Landrover. As the vehicle pulled to a halt, they jumped down and spread out ominously, guns at the ready. Their leader was no other than Brigadier Joe Garba (now of blessed memory) who then made for the door and blasted the locks with gunshots to enter the main house.
The foregoing rare eyewitness account was narrated to this writer by Pa Meshack Emiola Ibidapo, the federal contractor on duty at OBJ’s official residence that day.
“Having ransacked inside without any trace of Obasanjo,” Pa Ibidapo recounted vividly, “they entered their vehicles and sped off with anger and disappointment written all over their faces.”
Viewed against the backdrop of the ensuing cold succession calculations over Mohammed’s remains that dark afternoon, no prize for guessing what could have been the mission of Garba and co at OBJ’s abode at that hour…
The referenced anecdote is only one of the trough of fond memories distilled from my years-long interaction with Pa Ibidapo who joined his ancestors on April 3. He would have been 90 on November 7.
Indeed, it is impossible to have lived in the Fashola/Oludipe neighborhood of Surulere, Lagos in the past five decades and not encountered the enigma of Pa Ibidapo. I was his tenant in the 90s; a relationship from which sprouted the intimacy of a father and an adopted son. As his widow (Mummy Jadesola Ibidapo) once said, had they a daughter my age, it would have been impossible for me not to have become their son-in-law.
Given that deep bond nourished in good and bad times over the past quarter of a century, it is, therefore, a bit of a struggle for me to, even as a writer, now find the appropriate words, terms, to capture the enormity of Pa Ibidapo’s mystique: strict yet loving; frugal in taste yet generous to people around; playful yet profound in counsel.
Sunday evening was often the moment we spent together. Though a teetotaler in the past six decades, he would indulge me by treating me to – shall I now admit illegal – “mini OPEC” (few Guinness) behind the back of the “Life President”, while we reviewed national events of the passing week and debated any topic under the sun. (More confessions on “OPEC” later.)
During such fellowship, you could not but feel the depth of his insight, the energy of his patriarchy and the sheer intensity of his humanity.
From his many reminiscences and anecdotes, there were legion lessons to be learnt – the virtues and values of diligence, patience, honesty, discipline, fortitude, faith, charity and modesty.
Count yourself lucky if he ever attended your “Owambe”. He rarely attended social parties. At sun-down, he would certainly be found at home, already rocking his reclining chair, watching the television.
It is perhaps a measure of his personal discipline and flexibility that he was able to manage diabetes for close to 50 years after being diagnosed at mid-life. Noticing the trail of water dripping from the AC unit in my bedroom one early morning then, for instance, he would counsel me against sleeping while the air-conditioned hum – a habit I eventually had to drop.
Indeed, his is a moving story of a boy who rose from lowly circumstances and, by the sheer force of industry, made it big and very early. Once a miserable squatter in Isale-Eko, he later became not only a real estate mogul with a portfolio of choice property scattered across Lagos but also a top stock market player. And in what easily evokes the biblical exhortation that “remember the son of who you are”, he never really forgot his own humble beginnings.
One of his siblings is Chief (Mrs) Olusola Saraki (mother of Senate President Bukola Saraki).
At the completion of Standard Six in his native Owo, Ondo State, he migrated to Lagos in pursuit of the proverbial golden fleece. But he would realize that the streets of Eko were not exactly flowing with milk and honey as any native from the provincialism of Owo with impressionable mind would have anticipated.
He had to squat with an uncle, Pa Justus Okunrinboye.
With the latter’s support, he enrolled at Yaba Technical Institute (now known as Yaba College of Technology) in 1948 for a short engineering course among the pioneering set. He would have loved to further his studies but for finance. It was for this singular reason that he soon formed the resolve to not only ensure his own children get the best education possible, but also to support all educational causes if fortune smiled on him.
After YABATECH, he took up a clerical work with Barclays Bank (now Union Bank Plc). Ever so ambitious, he soon found the lowly bank job inadequate. By 1954, he took a leap of faith by resigning from the bank to set up his own company, M.E. Ibidapo Contracting Services Limited (MEICS) and registered with the Public Works Department (PWD).
Surely, conscientiousness always finds a way. Industry and honesty would soon distinguish him among PWD’s pool of local petty contractors.
In the countdown to the nation’s independence in 1960, Lagos (then the federal capital) was astir with preparations.
Deadlines became the buzz word. A few days to the D-day, there arose an emergency at PWD. There was a need for contractors who could quickly construct the bases of 22 holes for Nigerian flags on the then Cowrie Bridge in front of the iconic Bonny Camp. Among the six local contractors shortlisted, MEICS was the only one that eventually met the target both in time and job integrity when laboratory test was administered.
Spared what would have been a national embarrassment at the historic occasion, the then colonial Senior Works Superintendent of PWD could barely conceal his relief. Publicly, he singled Pa Ibidapo out for commendation, describing him as “one of our best contractors”.
With such sterling testimonial, he naturally became the darling of the PWD authorities and, hence, became the favorite for top-profile jobs to be delivered on time. As years rolled by, so grew his fame. The reason he was still the one contracted to carry out maintenance work at the official residence of the deputy head of state in 1976.
So, by 30, he had become a multimillionaire (when Naira was still mightier than US dollars). Rather than take more wives as was the vogue then, daddy took to philanthropy. On the home front, he was undoubtedly also a role mode. He remained devoted to his childhood sweetheart, Mummy Jadesola who he married on February 15, 1951.
Truly, by their fruits you shall know them. Among their brood is Professor (Mrs) Yemi Tunji-Bello (former acting Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University and wife of present Secretary to Lagos State Government, Tunji Bello), Kunle (a pilot), Tayo (an investment banker), Rogba (visual artist) and Joke (business tycoon).
Though he stopped drinking at 30, Pa Ibidapo nonetheless supported “OPEC” by never failing to host its “summit”, even when denied the courtesy of prior notice, with his son-in-law, Tunji Bello, presiding as “Life President” and this writer as “Life Secretary General”, rapidly putting down bottles of Guinness. Kayode Komolafe (of THISDAY) is the “Life Vice President”. For the un-initiated, OPEC jocularly refers to our exclusive club of Guinness devotees.
Mankind just lost a truly loving and decent man.
RIP, Daddy, our eternal Grandpa.