By Austin Oniyokor
In spite of our cultural and religious beliefs, a lot has been written and said about the late Senator Buruji Kashamu since his death on the 8th of August, 2020. Some good; others not so good. And yet some others, somewhere in-between. The most intriguing fact about some of the comments was that they came either from those who had spoken glowingly of him in the past when all was well between them and others who knew little or nothing about the late Senator Kashamu apart from information gathered from third party sources who had an axe to grind with him during his lifetime. While this is not an attempt to join issues with them, the fact is: those acting the sanctimonious script are not in any way better than the late Senator Kashamu. But, that is a matter for another day.
As we mark the eighth day fidau (an Islamic prayer for the repose of the soul of the deceased) this Sunday (16th August, 2020), it is only appropriate that I write about the man I worked closely with as his spokesman for 11 years of my life. The irony of life is that even when we know of our mortality and the certainty of death for all human beings, we are nonetheless shocked at how it comes to snatch our loved ones from us when we least expected it. Even as I write this, I am yet to recover from the shock of the suddenness of the death of the one we called “Baba” (father) and “Chairman” depending on the occasion.
Being a great man that he was, the late Senator Kashamu was like the proverbial elephant. People describe him from the prism of what they felt or were told about him. But for those of us who had the rare privilege of working directly with him, he was not just our employer, he was our leader, father, benefactor, counsellor, teacher and defender. And there were many instances when he demonstrated each and all of these qualities not just to me but many others.
In November, 2009, I was ensconced in the newsroom of The Nation newspapers when my phone rang and on the other side was the then Chairman of Ijebu East Local Government Area of Ogun State, Comrade Tunde Oladunjoye, who has been a friend and elder brother since our path crossed in the late 90s at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ). He asked if I would not mind managing the image of a group of companies that was into hospitality, oil and gas, real estate, etc. I answered in the affirmative and he asked me to meet him in Ijebu the next Saturday, which was Sunday, the 8th of November, 2009. From his house in Ijebu-Itele, he took me in his car and we both drove to the Ijebu-Igbo country home of Prince Buruji Kashamu.
We met the late Senator meeting some persons within the compound. Immediately, he finished he asked Comrade Oladunjoye to bring me into his sitting room. He asked a few questions, including what I was earning where I worked and what I would like to earn. Satisfied with my answers, he asked me to meet him at the Lagos office on Monday, 9th of November, 2009. And the rest, as they say, is history.
For 11 years, he taught me useful lessons about life, business, politics and the law.
While those who may not be better than him in character and conduct pontificate, I saw and knew a man who braced all the odds of his humble beginnings to rise to the top, setting up companies that provided jobs for hundreds of men, women and youths.
I had barely spent a week working with him when he called me into his office and brought out tonnes and tonnes of documents, and told me of the sad experience he had with the British government at the instance of their American counterpart. You could see the hurt in his eyes and feel the pain in his voice whenever he recounted his experience all the six odd years. Regardless of what some persons may want us to believe, he was freed by the British authorities on the orders of the court. He practically went through the crucible and he was never convicted of any crime both in Nigeria and abroad. We live in a modern world governed by law and order. Whenever there are issues or a crime is alleged, the proper place to ventilate such is the court. And once the court pronounces the fellow innocent and releases him that remains the position of things until a superior court rules to the contrary.
And where there is none, that ends the matter, regardless of the machinations and wishes of haters and naysayers.
It is by now common knowledge that the act of giving came naturally to the late Senator Buruji Kashamu. Many, including King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall have attested to this. But, beyond this, the mammoth crowd that wailed and welcomed the motorcade that conveyed his remains to Ijebu-Igbo on the 9th of August, 2020, bore eloquent testimony to how much impact he had on the lives of the people. Indeed, what many did not know was that once the news broke that their benefactor was no more, the people trooped to his house and kept vigil until his body arrived the next day.
On a personal note, I have many experiences of his generosity but for time and space constraints, I will cite two examples. On Thursday, the 7th of August, 2014, I was on my way to work around 6a.m. when some dared-devil armed robbers waylaid and robbed me on Oduduwa Street, off Adekunle Fajuyi Way, G.R.A, Ikeja, Lagos. They made away with my official car – a black 2008 Toyota Corolla and everything in it. I went to report at the Area F Headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force and got a friend’s phone to call my boss who was in Osogbo for the election campaign of Senator Iyiola Omisore. As I narrated what happened to him, his concern was my safety and well-being. He asked where I was and I told him the Police Station. He said once I was done making the statement to the Police, I should leave and that he would get me another car immediately. True to his words, in less than 48 hours, my ever-loving and caring boss got me another Toyota Corolla! That was the essential Kashamu that I knew.
In December, 2018, during the Christmas break, I was on my way to Uyo, the Akwa-Ibom State capital to attend the wedding ceremony of one of my sisters-in-law. As I approached Sagamu Interchange, my phone rang. It was my boss on the other side. I greeted him and then he asked where I was. I told him I was going with my in-laws to Uyo for a wedding. He wondered how I would subject myself to a journey of about 10 to 12 hours by road. I told him the weather was bad because of the harmattan season. I tried to convince him but he would not budge. He said if I could not go by air, I should return to Lagos and send a gift to my in-law who was the bride. My boss asked me to meet him at the office for the gift. When I got to the office, he gave me N250,000 to send to my sister-in-law. That was the Kashamu I knew.
On the business front, he would regale us with the stories of how he lived in Makoko-Yaba and worked at the Mainland Local Government. Afterwards, he started travelling to the Kaduna plant of Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) to buy units of Peugeot cars that he sold and turned over with time. He soon veered into the sale of black oil, gold, diamonds, sugar, cement and other commodities to make end meets. At any point in time, he had multiple streams of income. He was always challenging the status quo and seeking new ways of doing things. That accounted for many of the ground-breaking initiatives that he championed in his business endeavours such as the Stamp Duty Act and the sanitisation of the lottery industry.
He did not manoeuvre the law. Rather, he used the law to his advantage and the advancement of the society. Not many knew his role in the huge revenue being generated by the Federal Government from the Stamp Duty. The case which resulted in the judgment the Central Bank of Nigeria relied upon to issue the directive to Money Deposit Banks (MDBs) to start deducting the Stamp Duty fees was initiated by Kashamu. It was not a tea party taking on all the 25 banks. The same thing played out in the lottery business. The quantum leap in the revenue and remittances that the Federal Government now realises from the lottery business since December, 2019 is due to another legal battle that he embarked upon. That was the Kashamu I knew.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying the fact that the late Senator Kashamu has left his imprints on the politics of Ogun State and the South West. He happened on the political terrain like a bolt and raised the bar of party politics. At a time when many politicians were contented with giving handouts to their followers, he came on the scene and empowered the people by helping them to set up their businesses, picking up tuition fees of their children and bought them vehicles, with bundles of naira and dollars to boot.
Of course, this was where he had many enemies. Those who were used to supressing and subjugating the people could not understand why he came to literally liberate their preys. They ganged up against him and sought to undo him. But, as rich and powerful as they were, he roundly defeated them using his matchless grasp of the law and the legal system to outwit them even until he breathed his last.
In 2015, when he was elected as a Senator to represent Ogun East Senatorial District at the National Assembly, he warned all of us who were his aides not to be involved in any shady deals. He said if anyone did, he would not hesitate to hand him over to the law enforcement agencies. That was exactly what he did. His sojourn at the Senate was Spartan and about service to his people.
To those who saw the late Senator Kashamu from afar, he was a tough man. Yet, he was as tender-hearted as a child. For me and most of my colleagues, if not all, we had in him a boss, leader, father, friend and mentor. He was quite energetic and hard-working. He would call you up anytime of the day and night either to give instructions or seek your opinion on issues. We often wondered if he ever slept.
He was very down-to-earth. He would joke and laugh with his employees and their folks as if they were mates. On the 4th of January, 2020, my wife had sent him “Happy New Year” greetings. He replied, saying it came late and that regardless of the greetings I had sent on the 1st of January, 2020, he would have appreciated my wife’s greetings the more. She apologised and promised to do so on the 1st of January, 2021. None of us knew that was not to be. For my boss, the late Senator Kashamu, a great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men. That was the Kashamu I knew.
Imbued with an uncommon level of intelligence, sharp memory and heart of gold, the late Senator Kashamu connected with people and touched many lives in more ways than one. He has played his part and left the stage with a loud ovation. We have seen the kind of emotions and outpouring of love and empathy that his death evoked. It remains to be seen how his detractors and those gloating over his death would leave. Until then, I say rest in perfect peace, my exceptional boss and benefactor!
*Austin Oniyokor was Media Adviser to the late Senator Buruji Kashamu