[OBITUARY] Religious leader, seller of Gammalin 20, philantropist ─ and friend of Abacha

This hilarious story is told of the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu. A devout Muslim, he was observing his ṣalāt al-maġrib (the fourth prayer of the day) when Aare AbdulAzeez Arisekola-Alao came calling. Adedibu, it was said, was visibly divided between completing his prayer and attending to the important personality.

He reportedly decided to cut short his prayer “to be continued” later, saying: “God is not going anywhere. Aare will leave if I don’t attend to him immediately.”

You could argue, therefore, that Arisekola-Alao was a very important personality for Adedibu to have suspended his prayer. You would be right: Arisekola-Alao was one of the major financiers of politics in the south-west, even though he himself was not a politician.

Arisekola-Alao was the unseen hand in the lubrication of amala politics in Ibadan.

A humble and friendly man, Arisekola-Alao was not a favourite son of Yorubaland in the days of General Sani Abacha, the head of state from 1993 to 1998. Businessmen are not known to openly oppose people in power, but Arisekola-Alao’s situation was further helped by the fact that he had known Abacha for a long time and was one of the few Yorubamen who did business with his government.

Ostracised by the Yoruba political elite because of the incarceration of Chief MKO Abiola in 1994, Abacha needed a few friends in the south-west in order to penetrate the zone and dilute opposition against him.Arisekola-Alao was one of the few who was ready to associate with him ─ he even set up a newspaper, Monitor, as part of the enterprise.

The death of Abacha in 1998 saw Arisekola-Alao’s profile drop as a new political elite took over ─ especially those who suffered on the account of the struggle for democracy after the annulment of June 12 and the incarceration of Abiola.

In 1999, and for the first time in nearly 10 years, a party supported by Adedibu and Arisekola-Alao, the All Peoples Party (which later become All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and now fused into All Progressives Congress, APC) did not win an election in Ibadan. Alliance for Democracy (AD) beat them flat, and they promptly shifted loyalty to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Born on Valentine’s Day in 1945, Alao, whose parents were from Ajia in Ona-Ara LGA of Oyo State, attended St. Luke’s School, Adigun, Ibadan, and later ICC Primary School, Igosun, Ibadan. But his education was cut short by lack of means.

In 1961, he started the sale of a pesticide, Gammalin 20, with his Azeez Arisekola Trading Company. His business blossomed and in 1972, he went into sale of motor vehicles, setting up Lister Motor.

If he thought he had struck gold with Gammalin 20, Lister took him to another level in the Nigerian economy, and he wasted no time donating Lister buses to hospitals, schools, the handicapped and Muslim organisations. It was his own way of giving back to his community. Philanthropy was his second nature.

He soon diversified his business, and Lister became a household name: Lister Oil, Lister Flour Mills, Lister Property and Estate Company, Lister Printing Press, Lister Farms and Fishery, Lister Insurance Company ─ and so on.

His charity spoke for him. By 1980, he was installed the Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland, essentially making him the leader of the Yoruba Muslim faithful. He was a major financier of various Muslim organisations and charities, and was patron of over 100 Muslim organisations home and abroad.

Arisekola-Alao, who was a major shareholder in First Bank Plc, was deputy president of Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. He died on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in a European hospital from an undisclosed ailment.