Gone Too Soon: A Tribute To The Oracle, Wole Sodipe by Aziza Uko

It is difficult to
match the state of being dead with a towering personality like, Wole Sodipe,
one of the founding vice presidents of Platinum Bank, the man we affectionately
call The Oracle.
At about 3.05am on
November 25, I was working in my study when I received an email from Emmanuel
Amatokwu on the news of Wole’s demise after battling an illness, which was
later, revealed to be cancer. This detail made the painful news harder to bear.
Last year, I lost a dear brother to cancer, after a courageous 7-year battle
with the ailment.

I still remember
the first day I saw Wole in 2001. He was alighting from his car, arriving for
work. He walked with a limp. He was slim and of average height. Nothing about
his physical appearance provided a hint of the kind of reaction that would
follow his arrival into Platinum Bank’s headquarters.

As he made the
long walk to his office, the reaction that trailed him was indicative of a man
of authority; a man who commanded respect from his subordinates, peers, and
even superiors. That unmistaken aura of power never waned in the 10 years that
I worked in the bank with him.

Here was a man of
superlatively high standards, complete commitment, and boundless energy for
whatever task he undertook. He was the sort of guy who hardly ever called in
sick. He never dodged a responsibility, never refused to take on a hard job
that needed to be done. What he believed in, he believed with his heart and
soul. He was the kind of professional you could take with you to a corporate
knife-fight and to a crucial meeting with senior foreign diplomats and he would
excel at both.

Mr. Sodipe derived
his authority from his wealth of knowledge. He was a man of many parts. He knew
something about everything, a quality that often got people vexed. “He thinks
he knows everything,” his critics scoffed at his back. That was Wole. He knew a
whole lot, and it was my privilege to know him through the ten years that we
worked together, and to tap from his enormous reservoir of knowledge.

He was culturally
exposed. It was he who first gave me a tutorial on fine wine. We were planning
a company Christmas party and he thought that wine would be a good addition to
the menu. I am a zero or hero person when it comes to alcohol. I hardly ever
drink. So, I don’t know much about wine. He later asked me what kind of wine I
ordered, I told him I just chose some from the vendor’s list. He insisted that
I needed to know what kind of wine we had ordered in detail, down to the brand
names, the colour, and even the age.

That was Wole: a
man who paid attention to every detail. Even those you thought would fly in his
face, he caught them all. It’s no surprise that he was an award winning
chartered accountant. Indeed, the banking industry in Africa has lost one of
the best it had.

One endearing
quality Wole had, which was often hidden, was that he invested in people. He
had a deep humanity in him. He loved people and he loved the arts. He was a
mentor and a financier to a good number of actors and filmmakers in Nollywood.
He was also a sportsman; a football enthusiast. I recall the passion with which
he championed establishing a football team for our bank and taking us through
the Bankers’ Cup Championship. He would attend every practice and threaten to
sack anybody who didn’t play well. He never meant to follow through; it was
just for the love of the game. He also made huge donations to the football team
and paid them match bonuses.

Wole remembered
people in detail, even if he met them once. He was the kind of boss that
organized to support his people when they were bereaved or celebrating a
milestone, or taking on a new task in life. Two of my Bluechip classmates – who
joined the bank as entry-level staff in 2001 – testify that he gifted them
money when they were leaving the bank for graduate studies in the United
Kingdom, and they weren’t even working directly with him at the time.

There are some
people who thought he was a mean person. When confronted with instances when
Wole displayed uncommon kindness, some dismissively said, “He was just trying
to be nice”. Without invalidating their feelings, I think they got him wrong. I
think Wole was a man molded with a nice and soft charisma, who tried to put on
a tough exterior. He had a great deal of empathy that he hardly ever showed, at
least, not publicly.

What many people
term as “difficult” in the Nigerian work space, indeed every workspace, is
often just a drive to make sure that things are done right. Was Wole a tough boss?
Arguably, yes. But his tough exterior was mostly always in the pursuit of
results. The other times, he just wanted to be respected. He wanted, much like
most of us, to be seen, to be heard, the acknowledgement that he was valuable
and his point of view was valid.

Wole Sodipe’s
tragic passing is another reminder that tomorrow is not promised and we should
urgently be about the business of making a positive difference in the lives of
the people we meet.

It is undeniable
that Wole made a difference in Platinum Bank, which later became Bank PHB (now
Keystone Bank). There are some of my colleagues who would swear with their
lives that if Wole was in charge of our internal audit division and had liaised
with the Central Bank when the pre-determined and ill-intentioned inspection
was carried out on our bank in 2009, that the institution would have been
saved. They believe, and to some extent, I agree, that Wole wouldn’t have
exposed our bank to external attacks, not by concealment, but because he would
have defended every management decision satisfactorily.

But, since life is
not a tape recorder so it can’t be paused, rewound, and an alternative
recording made, we can only speculate. Yet, one thing I can say for sure is
that Wole would not have put up the non-committal it-wasn’t-me self-absolving
presentations that the internal audit and financial control leads made when
those crucial regulatory inspections were carried out on our bank.

The point is,
undeniably, Wole was fiercely loyal to what he believed in. When he was on
board with you, you could count on him to fight for you and with you. To the
support staff of our bank, Wole is a hero because he fought for better working
conditions and looked out for their interest like no leader before him.

He couldn’t be pigeon-holed
by anything or anybody. He always reached for better; sometimes he won, other
times, he lost. But, he never stopped trying; fighting for what he believed in.
Wole held positions of trust and died in the full tide of a career, which gave
great promise of future achievements.

To all of us in
the industry, he was and always will be an ideal. The example he set, moving on
to entrepreneurship in banking, will long
continue to influence and inspire us. The place that has been left empty by
Wole’s exit will always be empty.

Wole had cheated
death before. He was shot in a highway robbery attack. It left him with a
scarred leg, the reason for his distinguishing gait. He spoke often of that
experience and how grateful he was to God for saving him.

On December 14,
2016, Oloye Wole Sodipe began his final journey from the United States where he
passed away at the age of 52. On December 16, 3 weeks after he passed, he was
laid to rest in his hometown of Sagamu in southwestern Nigeria.

It wasn’t
surprising that his death would inspire an unprecedented reunion of the PHB
family led by our beloved managing director and chief executive, Francis
Atuche. Wole was someone who brought people together and if anybody could do
it, it was The Oracle. But, it is sad that it
had to be this way.

When all the
struggles of human existence are over, and we arrive at the end of our journey
on earth, the most important thing will be the satisfaction that we were
the best human being that we could be. That we truly loved other people
and that we are surrounded by our family, people who love us unconditionally.
Wole found that comfort in his wife, Chika, also a former colleague, and his
children.

Cancer is one of
the most devilish diseases on earth. It embodies completely the mission
statement of the enemy of mankind – it kills, but before it does, it steals and
destroys. It’s the worst nightmare that can hit a person, a family; to watch a
loved one suffer the unimaginable pain that comes with cancer and to finally
lose them. The heartache goes on for years, and it stays fresh for a long time.

I have a sense of
what Chika is passing through right now and my prayers and those of all of us
in the PHB family are with her and the children. All of us have suffered a
heavy loss in Wole Sodipe’s death. It is difficult to adequately express our
grief and there is little we can say that will comfort her at this hour of
sorrow.

May his soul rest
in everlasting peace and may the Almighty God grant solace to his
grief-stricken wife, their children, aged-mother, and the entire Sodipe family.

God’s grace is
sufficient. It always has been… and will always be.

NB – If you knew
Wole Sodipe, you may visit his memorial website, and leave a condolence or
tribute.

About the Author

Aziza Uko is a
Nigerian publisher who is the Executive Editor of The Trent. She is also Chief Executive of Ziza
Group, a company she founded in 2009. She is an award-winning
graduate of marketing and a marketing communications professional with over 17
years post graduation experience. She is a writer, editor, and music lover. She
can be reached on email HERE
(aziza.uko@thetrentonline.com), on
Twitter at @azizauko, and Facebook HERE. 

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