(Address delivered at the 80th Birthday of Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih at the Yoruba Tennis Club on 10th February 2022).
When Oluyomi was delivered on 9th February, 1942 the Second World War was still raging but nothing would dilute the sublime ecstasy that accompanied the arrival of a boy after two beautiful daughters who are now Mrs. Olushola Shogbola and Ambassador (Mrs) Dupe Akintola.
As was the custom in those days, the father (Mr. Bolaji Finnih) instructed Amos the barman at the Island Club to declare the bar open all day and all night – free drinks for all members. Being the gentleman that he was, Mr. Finnih did not hesitate to pay when the celebration extended until the following day with the threat that it would continue all week.
What is probably not well known is that the progenitor of the Finnih family was Alhaji Buraimoh Afinnih, a staunch moslem who lived directly behind the Lagos Central Mosque – on the periphery of Isale Eko.
The traditional rites of “Obalufon” promptly took over. The room of the new mother and baby was bedecked with palm leaves (“Mariwo”) in gratitude and acknowledgement of the bountiful blessings of the Almighty and the “Abales” (local deities). The diviners and soothsayers did not wait to be summoned. The catapult was shot seven times in seven different directions and when it was time to retrieve the messages, the verdict was unanimous. The baby was an “Abebelube” – a precocious child who was destined for greatness as a carer for the sick and infirm. Bingo, he would be an “Onisegun” – a doctor !! When the messages from the seven different directions of the catapult were read, they provided further amplification: The child would achieve “Okiki” (success and fame) in his profession but would be underappreciated by his country. It is the prerogative of the celebrant to confirm or deny the accuracy of the soothsayers. Indeed, he was bestowed with the pet name Gandhi as a warning that he could take nothing for granted. To quote Mahatma Gandhi:
“First they ignore you; then they laugh at you;
then they fight you; and then you win.”
That is precisely why we are here to acknowledge the triumph of Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih against formidable odds which entailed swimming against the tide.
He has nothing to hide. He says what he means and means what he says.
What is profoundly reassuring is that what you see is what you get. Indeed, it is precisely because we have nothing to hide that we must promptly make a correction. The venue of the marathon celebration of the arrival of Oluyomi was a public / open air bar at Dumaresque Square, Okepopo, Lagos and not Island Club which did not come into existence until a year later.
However, what is unassailable is that the baby boy was always special right from infancy. Over the last eight decades Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih’s academic distinctions and professional accolades have been awesome, bordering on the phenominal. If he has remained cool and unperturbed by the lack of appreciation, it is because it is in accordance with the prediction of the soothsayers and diviners at his birth – that his destiny was cast: He would excel but he would remain unsung. That was his fate.
However, that has not deterred him from venturing into the stormy arena of politics (not as a candidate for political office) as an activist and advocate for social justice especially during the turmoil, turbulence, and social dislocation that ensued when the election of Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola as President of Nigeria was annulled in 1993.
President Muhammadu Buhari; Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih and I belong to the same generation.
Perhaps we should wind the tape back to Nigeria eighty years ago or more specifically Lagos. All over Nigeria, peace and harmony prevailed. Security of lives and property was taken for granted. Kidnapping, hostage taking, assassinations and looting of the treasury were unheard of (or very rare).
In the case of Lagos, not only was there nothing to hide there was nowhere to hide. Yomi and I grew up in the same neighbourhood. All over Lagos, the houses were built close to each other and even within the “Agbole” (family compound), the rooms were linked to each other or adjacent. Hence, there was nothing to hide and (and nowhere to hide it) especially when children joyously played the game of “Hide and Seek” which Yomi mastered very early – especially with the girls !! More of that later.
We are entitled to recall that all over Nigeria – the GRA’s [Government Reservation Areas] in Kaduna; Kano; Jos; Enugu; Onitsha; Calabar; Port Harcourt; Ibadan (Bodija); Abeokuta etc each household carried on a wooden signpost the name of the occupant and the spouse as well as the address and the name of the organisation/company or government department/ministry to which the property belonged. For example, at Ikoyi in Lagos it was the standard fare on Bourdillon Road:
“Mr. and Mrs Akintunde Ladenegan
18 Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi
Ministry of Works
Justice and Mrs. Kazeem Umoru
15 Milverton Road, Ikoyi
It was the same pattern in Apapa:
Chief and Mrs. Alfred Maan
27 Marine Road, Apapa
National Shipping Line.
On Marine Road, the residence of
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was boldly marked out
as his private property.
At Onikan, Lagos directly opposite the Island Club,
the notice read:
Residence of the Prime Minister,
Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Next door was the residence of
Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh
The Minister of Finance.
His name and address were on display.
Number 3 Kingsway Road Ikoyi was marked
as the residence of Chief (Dr.) and Mrs. M.A. Majekodunmi.
Rather than read the long list, let us focus on the essence and the real kernel, namely we lived in an environment where there was no identity crisis. Everyone knew each other and there was nothing to hide. Neither was there anywhere to hide it. In the age that preceded air-conditioners (be they split units or central) and armed robbery, windows and gates were nearly always open. Indeed, children wandered in and out of the houses of their neighbours. It was not uncommon for parents to leave the keys to their homes with their next-door neighbours in case their children returned from school before the parents. They would not have done so if they had anything to hide – dollars stashed in the fridge or overhead water tanks !!
Perhaps I should add that when flats emerged for the first time in Lagos, each flat displayed the name and occupation of each occupant.
Hence, it would read: Flat 9. Dr. Bashir Keshinro, Dentist.
Even more fascinating was the national Telephone Directory that would disclose the name (in alphabetical) order and address of the Governor-General; Governor; President; President of the Senate; Speaker of the House; Chief Justice; Chief Medical Adviser; Ministers; Governor of the Central Bank; Ambassadors/High Commissioners; Principals of Colleges; Archbishops; Chief Imams; businessmen/women; military officers; doctors; chartered accountants; lawyers; architects etc. The addresses as well as telephone numbers were there for all to see. Of course, Chief Bolaji Finnih was listed as:
1, Patey Street
Hence, from way back to his secondary school days the girls who took a fancy to Oluyomi Finnih had no difficulty in tracking him down. The only obstacle was Yomi’s Dad who would remonstrate:
“Yomi is busy studying. He has no time for girls. He is going to study medicine.”
The same message was delivered with even greater force to others – the rascals (mostly from King’s College and St. Gregory’s College) who wanted Yomi to join them in doing the round of nightclubs (“Maharani”, “Caban Bamboo”; “Kakadu” etc) or “rambling” with girls at Ikoyi Park.
For his secondary school, Yomi was not allowed to stay in Lagos. Not for him the likes of King’s College; St. Gregory’s College; C.M.S. Grammar School; Baptist Academy or Igbobi College. Instead, he was sent off into exile – Olu-Iwa College, (now known as Adeola Odutola College) Ijebu-Ode. That was where he found his groove without any distractions. His father had firmly and sternly given the order: “Yomi, you must face your studies.” It worked like magic and he flourished.
His examination results provided him with sufficient credentials to choose whichever medical school either in Nigeria or abroad. Chief Finnish, being an accountant knew straightaway that whatever money it would cost him was money well spent. Yomi opted for the University of Ibadan.
Oluyomi lost his mother early but not before she had re-inforced him with four special prayers.
- “Yomi, oni toroje” (You will never be distressed or lack for food)
- “O ni rin nijo ti ebi pono” (You will not be the victim of road mishaps)
- “Ki eru ma run si wewe” (Your fate will not be marred by misfortune)
- “Ki aro san ju owuro lo” (May your morning be better than what you witnessed at daybreak).
As further confirmation that the celebrant has nothing to hide, he launched a book titled: “TREASURES” (The Biography of Dr. Oluyomi Finnih).
It contains everything that you may wish to know – warts and all. It was to celebrate his 70th birthday.
Here are a few nuggets from the book of revelation.
“I dedicate this book to two of the women in my life; My mother, Victoria Adetokunbo who persistently kept me on the safe road of life; and my beloved daughter Oluwakemi Omotayo who was everyone’s darling. May God Almighty grant them eternal rest. Amen.”
When the soothsayers predicted that Oluyomi would excel but would not be appreciated they did not reckon with the supernatural forces at the Yoruba Tennis Club where we are assembled today. Unknown to the celebrant, the Elders of the Club had been watching his superlative achievements in the field of medicine, especially gynaecology.
Gynaecologists are reputed to work in the area where other men play !!
In addition, they could not but marvel at his unassuming carriage; his friendly disposition to all and sundry; his exemplary respect for elders plus the ultimate accolade:
“Like his father, he is a gentleman. Gentleman son of a gentleman.”
His reward was to be elected into the exalted position of Chairman of the Yoruba Tennis Club at a relatively young age. He did not let them down. He carried out his duties diligently, honestly and with uncommon zeal. His performance was truly outstanding.
By choosing the Yoruba Tennis Club as the venue of the celebration of his 80th birthday, Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih has made a peep into our past and the role of the club irresistible.
The history of the Yoruba Tennis Club is truly fascinating. It is a painful throwback to an age when racial discrimination bordering on apartheid was prevalent in Lagos and all over Nigeria.
In a nutshell, under the Colonial Government Creek Hospital, Onikan which is only a short distance from here was known as “European Hospital” – exclusively for Europeans but strangely Greeks were not allowed. Consequently, the likes of Leventis, Mandillas, Coumataros etc. were on the “Black List” !! So also were the Lebanese and Indians.
Ikoyi Club (1938) was exclusively for whites only until Sir Adeyemo Alakija became the first Nigerian to be admitted as a member. Hitherto, blacks only served as stewards in the bar/restaurant or caddies on the golf course.
The Governor-General’s residence on the Marina had a vast garden with plenty of space left for a tennis court which was also exclusively for whites. Directly behind the Governor-General’s residence was the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club which was also exclusively for whites. Blacks were allowed to enter the premises for only one purpose – as ball boys !!
In protest, eminent Nigerians whose names are displayed on the wall of the club launched the Yoruba Tennis Club in on 15th September 1926. The names of the founding fathers are:
F. ADE ADENIJI
V. ADE ALLEN
Y. ST. ARIORI
H. M. BALOGUN
L. DURO EMANUEL
WILLIE O. FAGBO
D. A. FREEMAN
J. A. HAASTRUP
A. A. JOHN
G. C. JOHNSON
H. S. MACAULAY
L. L. MARTINS
FRANK O. ODUMOSU
R. A. RANDLE
T. A. SAVAGE
G. C. A. TAYLOR
C. B. THOMPSON-JOHN
VICTOR O. WILLIAMS
I. A. OGUNLANA
I am not sure that Nigerians fully appreciate how close to becoming a close second to apartheid South Africa our country was in those days.
I hope that the celebrant will grant me permission to reveal that at the Cathedral Church where he worships on Sundays, those of us who are his ardent admirers (late Eng. Olusegun Doherty; Ore Dawodu; Otunba Kunle Ogunade; Eng. Folarin Doherty and me) regard him as the last European left behind by the British in the hope that “…………the natives would behave themselves and conduct their affairs in a manner that would please Her Majesty the Queen.”
Perhaps I should also add that he is sometimes referred to as “The Archbishop” and/or “General Overseer” of the Church on the Marina.
Seriously, there is a deep and profoundly endearing spiritual side to Chief (Dr.) Oluyomi Finnih. It has fortified him and enabled him to swim unperturbed through the turbulence of life while coping valiantly with various personal tragedies, bereavement and grief. He has never faltered or wavered in acknowledging the limitless mercies and abundant blessings of the Almighty in moments of joy and ecstasy.
For now, let us not dwell too much on the celebrant’s participation in politics. He has never contested for political office. That is not his style. However, for the benefit of those who choose to marvel at how he ended up as a chieftain of APC (All Progressive Congress) and a member of GAC [Governor’s Advisory Committee), in Lagos, it behoves us to remind ourselves that Yomi has been neck-deep in the politics of Lagos State for several decades. His main allies were the late Dr. Wahab Dosunmu; late Eng. Funsho Williams (ex-St. Gregory’s College); late Tokunbo Marinho (ex-St. Gregory’s College); and Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu (ex-St. Gregory’s College).
Perhaps I should add that Alhaji Dawodu was my father’s secretary when he represented “H” Ward at the Lagos Town Council and succeeded him when he died on 17th December 1956. Ironically, it was during the funeral of my father that Chief Bolaji Finnih decided that he would become an in-law to the Randle family !! That is a story for another day.
What is far more relevant is that it is up to the celebrant to respond to those who allege that he has not been sufficiently visible and uncompromising in the matter of the marginalization of Lagosians in the scheme of things in Lagos State.
We are not strangers to the politics of Lagos or that of Nigeria. Some of us have a vivid recollections of when politics was fun. When my Dad was contesting for election about seventy years ago, I was his (self-appointed!!) campaign manager. We went all over Lagos in a campaign van with super-charged loudspeakers extolling all and sundry: “Edibo fun J.K. Randle” (Vote for J.K. Randle). To drive the message home, we went from house to house:
“Tani e ma dibo fun ? Edibo fun J.K. Randle.
Etun pe lenkon si. J.K. Randle”
(“For whom are you going to vote? Vote for J.K. Randle. Say it again J.K. Randle).
Thereafter, we would distribute free ice cream to the children who would ensure that their parents voted for their favoured candidate.
The opposition did not take matters lightly. They invaded our house along with drummers as well as thugs and attempted to intimidate my father with the dire warning:
“Ti owo ba te J.K. Randle pipa ni e pa karinwun jeba lola.”
[“If you get hold of J.K. Randle, you should kill him and cook him as stew to be served along with “eba” (garri) tomorrow for lunch/dinner.”