By Eric Teniola
ON June 20, 1962, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister of the Federation, appointed a Commission headed by Justice George Baptist Ayodola Coker, to inquire into the financial and investment policies and practices, the management and the business operations of six statutory corporations in Western Nigeria since October 1, 1954.
The affected companies are Western Region Marketing Board, the Western Nigeria Development Corporation, the Western Region Finance Corporation and the Western Region Housing Corporation. Other members of the panel were Mr. Oladiran Booyamin Kassim, Acting Judge of the High Court of Eastern Nigeria; and Mr. Akintola Williams (100), a Lagos chartered accountant.
The Commission sat for 92 days and had 50 witnesses. Chief Awolowo who on November 2, 1962, had been charged again with conspiring to overthrow the Federal Government by force had refused to give evidence before the Coker Commission of Inquiry. From Lagos Prison, when awaiting trial, he sent a letter to the Chairman of the inquiry, Dr. Coker, saying that he had come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by his further participation in the inquiry. The inquiry did not find Chief Awolowo guilty.
It made only two recommendations that the Western Nigeria Marketing Board should take over immediately all properties of the National Investment and Properties Company Ltd, that the Board should take steps to recover from the Action Group a sum of N8, 000,000 which Action Group had received from the National Investment and Properties Company between April 18, 1958 and May 31, 1962. In a White Paper issued with the report, the Federal Government endorsed it. In a statement signed by Chief Awolowo, the Action Group rejected the report.
The party alleged that it was “produced with unprecedented ruthless speed and wanton disregard for facts”. Incidentally, the affected companies mentioned at the Coker Commission of Inquiry are today the foundation upon which Odua Investment Company was built. They are today the goldmines. The stone that the builders rejected has now become the corner stone.
Odua Investment Company was formally established in 1976 when Ondo and Ogun states were created out of Western state. The company was to take charge of the assets and liabilities of the whole Western Region. As a reporter with The Nigerian Herald at that time, I covered the inauguration of the new company at Cocoa House in Ibadan with the governor of Oyo State, Colonel David Medayese Jemibewon (79) from Aiyetoro Gbede in Kogi State presiding with two other governors present, namely: Colonel Seidu Ayodele Balogun (Ogun) from Ido Ani in Ondo State and Wing Commader David Ita Ikpeme (Ondo).
The pioneer Group Managing Director of the company then was Mr. Christopher Sunday Olatunji Akande. Mr. Akande (1927-2005) hailed from Arigidi, Akoko in Ondo State, the same town that produced Justice Olakunle Joseph Orojo (1923-2009), the first indigenous Director of Law School, Chief Felix Idowu Ayegbusi (1935-2019), former National Chairman, Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria; Pastor T.B. Joshua and Aare Ona Kakanfo, Gani Adams.
After Chief Akande was Chief Francis Mogaji from Efon-Alaye in Ekiti State, 1979 to 1983, an Accountant from Ekiti State who previously worked with UAC & Food Specialties now Nestle Nigeria Plc. Chief Iyowu from Ogun State took over from Chief Mogaji and served from 1984 to 1989. He was previously Managing Director of Cocoa Industries Ltd, Ikeja, which processed cocoa beans to cocoa butter and cake and manufactured Vitalo Cocoa beverage that ranked third to Bournvita and Milo in this category.
Chief Olufemi Adewumi also from Ekiti State who served as MD of Wemabod Estates Ltd before becoming Group Managing Director from 1989 to 1993, Alhaji Aruna, a Lawyer from Oyo State was Group Managing Director from 1994 to 1997 while Sir Remi Omotoso, from Ekiti State, ex-Unilever served from 1998 to 2004, Dr. Adebayo Jimoh, ex-John Holt was Group Managing Director from 2005 to 2014.
The functioning Companies of Odua Group are Wemabod Estates Ltd (Real Estate), Glanvill Enthoven (Insurance Brokers), Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Premier Hotel and Lafia Hotel at Ibadan(Hospitality), E & O Power & Equipment Leasing and Odua Printing & Publishing Co Ltd. Prominent companies where Odua Group have minority interests courtesy of being seed investor are Nigerite Ltd, Lafarge Wapco, Wema Bank Plc, Tower Aluminum Plc, Great Nigeria Insurance Plc, Crittall Hope, Ire Clay Products Ltd, SKG-Pharma, etc.
The people who flew the flag of Odua Investment Company, especially the past and present governors who served in the SouthWest, are appreciated. The flag must not fly half-mast during the era of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, (Ondo); Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos); Mr. Gboyega Oyetola (Osun); Mr. Seyi Makinde (Oyo); Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti) and Prince Dapo Abiodun (Ogun). I also appreciate Otunba Mohammed Jobi-Fele (1940-2011), a cocoa merchant from Ikare in Ondo State, who had earlier served as Chairman of Odua and who stood his ground during his tenure and ensured that the company must survive and be sustained.
I understand that the Odua Investment Company wants to diversify into agriculture which was the main goal of Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he established the farm settlements in the old Western Region. Efforts must be made to save Odua Investment Company and the South West governors must ensure that this regional legacy must not only be sustained but improved upon.
As long as Odua Investment Company exists those clamouring for restructuring and regionalism are on solid ground. If other zones of this country are encouraged to develop on their own, there will be less dependence on the centre. And the way we are going now, there may be nothing left to share again in the centre. In short we are heading towards a situation where You Are On Your Own.