Friday Sermon: Dele at 70: A Living Testimony to Self-Reliance

By Babatunde Jose

“Don’t rely on friends–don’t rely on the name of your ancestors. Thousands have spent the prime of life in the vain hope of help from those whom they called friends, and many thousands have starved because they have rich fathers. Rely upon the good name which is made by your own exertions, and know that better than the best friend you can have is unquestionable determination, united with decision of character.”- The Jericho Road; W. Bion Adkins

Most people have failed in their search for success, and are still restless, anxious, troubled, doubting and fearful because they have been looking outside for that which can only be found within. Happiness, peace, power and satisfaction can rarely be found externally; they are always within.

A Danish proverb says, “Many have good cards in their hands, if only they know how to play them.” The subject of this sermon knows how to play his cards and has made a success of life where others have failed. He has held to his faith in himself and in God. He has demonstrated that “a man can be whatever he resolves to be.”

The skies, they say, are wide enough for all birds to fly  without their wings touching. The Creator has not put vast multitudes of people on this earth to scramble for a limited supply. There is nothing in this world which men desire and struggle for that is not enough for everybody.  It is only those men who have faith in themselves and the self-confidence who go out and get theirs. Allah says: “And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world…”(Q28:77). Islam teaches self-reliance and self-respect, strongly encourages individual struggle to earn a living in order to protect one’s dignity and honour; and strongly frowns at laziness, idleness, being a liability on others and inferiority complex.

Dele ‘asked’ and it was given to him; he ‘sought’, and he found; he ‘knocked’, and all doors were open to him, for the Bible said: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Dele’s life has a reality of purpose and meaning. It contains a deep significance, because he had been able to discover the truth about himself. We cannot help but admire such a character. This is a man who has not relied on others for solutions to the difficulties that surrounded him. When confronted with trials and tribulations, he had a determined mind and belief in God to remove the obstacles in his way. There is no surer sign of an unmanly and cowardly spirit than a vain desire for help, a wish to depend, to lean upon somebody and enjoy the fruits of the industry of others. Men often conquer difficulties because they think they can. This is true of Dele: the man whose self confidence inspires confidence in others.

This is a man of vision; the possessor of manly character and wisdom. Yet, by self-reliance, we do not mean self-conceit:  Self-reliance is recognition of all the odds in life and a rational consciousness to contend with them. He had not relied on the names of his ancestors, like Balagbe and the Orunto nor did he spend the prime of his life in vain hope of help from others. According to Webster, “It is only shallow minded pretenders who make their distinguished origin a matter of personal merit.”

“A man who is not ashamed of himself need not be ashamed of his early conditions.” Dele is not. He will tell anybody who cares to listen about his lowly beginnings seventy years ago on April 16, 1950, in Eletu ‘Wase, in the Isale Eko area of Lagos, where he was born on a bare floor; in a rented one-room, which he shared with his father, mother, three sisters, two uncles and an aunt. Yes, he was born into without a silver spoon, raised amid the flotsam and jetsam of ‘Onola’, but today relies on the good name which he has made for himself through his untiring efforts, perseverance, and an unconquerable spirit, combined with unwavering determination and of course recognition of the company of good men he had along the way; and an unshakable belief and faith in God.

In his own words, he is a “positively deviant” son of his parents. Dele has proved right the sage Dr Randal, who said, “In every soul there is the germ, the unborn capacity, the latent ability, that might, if opportunity and time were afforded, unfold into the philosopher, poet, musician or businessman. Every man is, in embryo, a possible hero, prophet or seer. All that is needed is the opportunity and the time for development.” Dele had this opportunity and seized it. He is living testimony to the saying that, “In his higher nature, man is limitless.” He who begins with crutches will gradually end with crutches. Help from within always strengthens. Self reliance will teach a man to ‘drink from his own well’, and eat bread from his own table, and learn to labor truly to obtain a living.

It is not the men who have been brought up in affluence who have left the most enduring traces on the world. It is not in the sheltered garden but on the thorny road that the toughest plants are reared. Men who are trained to become self-reliant are ready to go out and contend with the sternest conflict. This has been Dele’s upbringing. He worked as a parker in his father’s warehouse, while his friends roamed the streets, playing cowboys and Indians. When financier, Darius Dolgen Mills, was asked to what formative influence he owed his success in life, he replied, “I was taught very early that I would have to depend entirely upon myself; that my future lay in my own hands. I didn’t waste my time bothering about succession to wealth, which so often acts as a drag on young men.” He has not allowed anyone to shake his confidence in himself, for his self-reliance has been the foundation of his life’s achievement.

A father can give his son money, influence and a good position. He can buy him a partnership in a prosperous moneymaking venture, but he cannot make a success of his son. This is very true. The son must do that himself. You cannot buy a horse and buy ‘excuse me make I pass’.

Of all the elements of success, none is more vital than self-reliance; a determination to be one’s own helper. It is the secret of all individual growth and strength; the master key that unlocks all difficulties. The lobster, when left high and dry among the rocks, has no instinct or drive to work its way back to the sea. Instead, it waits for the sea to come to it. And if the sea does not, it dies. Yet the slightest effort could have enabled it to reach the sea, perhaps just a few feet away. Yes, the world is full of human lobsters that, instead of expending their own energies, are waiting for good fortune to smile on them.

Scorning all props and supports, crutches and life preservers, Dele decided to plunge into the sea of life. He strove to become a creator rather than an inheritor; to bequeath rather than to borrow. Instead of wielding the rusted sword of his departed father, he forged his own weapon. He fought his own battle; a living testimony to self reliance and self-methodology.

Today we salute Oladele Fajemirokun on his 70th Birthday and wish him many happy returns.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend


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