Dr Abdul-Lateef Oladimeji Adegbite was a distinguished and eminent personality with multiple foci which covered religious, royalty, community, legal, and government, association, professional, sport, commercial, industrial leadership and academia. My relationship with him spanned over two decades with the last one and half decade before his demise as the most robust and intimacy.
As a young man, I had a fantastic relationship with “Seriki and Baba Adinni of Egbaland” as he was fondly called. This relationship extended to some of his children and first wife, late Alhaja Tayyibat Adegbite, the “Iyalode of Egbaland” when Dr Adegbite was still living in Surulere. I had pleasant memories of the highest hospitality from the late Alhaja Tayyibat Adegbite. She was an amazon, a lovely wife to Dr Adegbite, caring mother to her children and associates of her husband. She was a devout Muslimah.
When Dr Adegbite relocated from Surulere to Victoria Island extension, three houses away from the building of Nigeria-Arab Association (NAASS), in Lekki Phase 1, we bonded so much that I was always with him three or four times in a week. It was either I visited him in the house before he left for his engagement or he passed by to check on me in the office. At that time, he had lost “Iyalode of Egbaland.”
Dr Adegbite, was a man of refreshing candour. He was a MENTOR and COACH to several youths including myself. I learnt so much from him especially the skills of verbal and oral communication. He was an INTELLECTUAL SCHOLAR PER EXCELLENCE. No matter a masterpiece write-up, he would still edit it. I later got accustomed to his style of writing and editing. I recall one memorable experience out of several others when he called me at 3am Nigerian time from the United States to do a paper for him within an hour and revert via email. He pleaded and apologised for calling me at such an hour. He said: “Shuaib, I know you are the only person I could trust to respond and carry out this task without procrastination at these wee hours of the night.” I did and Dr Adegbite was pleased and thankful. His second wife whom he married years after the demise of his first wife, Hajiya Madinah Simisola Adegbite, the “Iyalode Adini of Ibarapa, Oyo State and Ameerah Musulumi of Egbaland,” a God-gifted Muslimah, humble, lovely and supportive wife was with him at the time he called me from the USA. She said to me on phone “Imam Shuaib, eyin ati baba yin sha (you and your father). I tried to stop him from calling you at such hour but he insisted and said, you are the only person who would oblige his request.”
Hajiya Madinah Adegbite gave birth to the last scion of Seriki Adegbite, master Fitrah Olaseni Adegbite, who is 12 years old now; a brilliant boy that topped his class in a highly competitive British School in Lagos. The young scholar takes after his older siblings who have created a niche for themselves in their own class and more importantly, from his father who was a brilliant scholar too.
Baba Adinni of Egbaland, was a SELF-CONTENTED and JUST MAN and a NO-NONSENSE PERSON. He did not tolerate high-handedness and abuse of royal privileges. He did not belong to the super-rich club but he was not a poor man. I recall a significant event when one former Managing Director of the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) encroached on the land of NAASS. He got the workers on-site arrested and detained at the Maroko Police Station. Later, the men were released and Dr Adegbite had a conversation with me the same day. He informed me that one influential monarch in Lagos (pardon me for not mentioning the name) was behind the unfortunate incident which gave the former managing director of NITEL the effrontery and audacity to encroach on the land. Dr Adegbite was visibly angry on that day. He said “Shuaib, can you imagine, the monarch called me and said, ‘Lateef, I learnt you are the Chairman of the Arab people. Can you do me a favour? Please allow the man to have the plot of land for my sake’.
Dr Adegbite informed me that he told the monarch the land did not belong to him as a person but belonged to an association of about 20 Arab countries with Nigeria, which he held in trust. Despite all the entreaties extended to him by the monarch, Dr Adegbite was RESOLUTE, FIRM and STOOD FOR JUSTICE. He was called all sorts of names by the recalcitrant monarch who continued in his intransigence of land grabbing. Dr Adegbite refused to be intimidated. He directed me to sue the trespasser on behalf of the Trustees of Nigeria-Arab Association (NAASS) and I did the needful. He worked tirelessly to ensure that NAASS was not cheated by the ‘powerful monarch’. It was the former governor of Lagos State Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF) who eventually invited NAASS for out of court settlement of the case which ended in favour of NAASS. Dr Adegbite ESCHEWED INJUSTICE no matter where it was coming from and who the dramatis personae involved. He PROMOTED, PROPAGATED and DEFENDED JUSTICE throughout his life.
I recall another experience when I had a conversation with him in his office in my capacity as the Coordinator of Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO) in Lagos State after the official coronation of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar. I told Dr Adegbite that I wanted to invite the Sultan to Lagos State for a CIO event. I confided in him that I had a private meeting with the Sultan prior to his official coronation in his house in Lagos which was facilitated by his friend General Abdullahi Umar (retd) and I expressed my intention to invite him after the coronation. The Sultan assured me of his positive response. Dr Adegbite welcomed the idea and advised me to write an official letter to that effect through the Office of the Secretary-General, NSCIA. A few days later, he informed me that the Sultan had received my invite and expressed his willingness to attend.
As a leading and shining star of Islam, he had tremendous respects for community and Islamic leaders. During our conversation on the intended visit of the Sultan, he said to me “Shuaib, I hope you will not be offended if I advise the Sultanate to reply your invitation letter and route it through the emerging umbrella body for Muslims in Lagos State?” I said, “Not at all sir.” The crux of this incident was that when the Sultan eventually came to Lagos on his first official visit during the regime of governor BRF, some of our Muslim leaders wanted to side-line me and few leaders of CIO early in the morning at the house of the Sultan before we moved to the Lagos House at Alausa for the reception organised by the state government in honour of the Sultan. There was a conversation in the living room in the house of the Sultan where Dr Adegbite was with some of our Muslim leaders (some of them late now) and I was also there when at a point, Dr Adegbite interjected the conversation and said “No, no, no, you cannot do that to him (referring to me). He was the one who wrote the official letter inviting the Sultan and I pleaded with him to allow me re-route the reply to the emerging umbrella body. Did any of you write an invitation letter to the Sultan? Let us be just and fair to our younger ones. Whatever arrangement you want to make, factor him and CIO into it…” That was Dr Adegbite in his usual original self. He was respectful to the elders and also merciful to the young ones. On our way to the Lagos House at Alausa, I rode with Dr Adegbite in his car and I was joined by the Mufti of CIO, Sheikh Dhikrullah Shafi. Dr Adegbite shared some other information with me inside the car which I was not privy to and he considered such very wrong on the part of some of those elders. He detested any form of injustice and had zero tolerance for any act that amounted to a travesty of justice not minding whose horse is gored.
Dr Adegbite’s character description will be incomplete if I fail to mention that he was an AMIABLE person, very OPEN-MINDED, APPROACHABLE, HONEST, HUMBLE, And FEARLESS and a MAN OF INTEGRITY. I also recall another sterling virtue of his which has an indelible impression on my mind till date. It was one incident that happened at one of the general meetings of the Co-Heads and NMC (an amalgamation of leaders of some Muslim organisations in Lagos State, chaired by the late Alhaji Bisiriyu Onisarotu, former National President of Ansar-ud-Deen Society, which later metamorphosed into the Muslim Community of Lagos State (MCLS) currently under the leadership of our respected father, Prof Tajudeen Olusanya Gbadamosi. I was at the meeting when one of our fathers, now late, an Imam in one famous mosque in Lagos Island openly accused Dr Adegbite of a financial misdemeanour. I was not comfortable with what I heard. The chairman granted me the floor. I spoke dispassionately by objecting to what I considered as balderdash against a man I knew very well, who had ZERO TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION. I requested that the chairman should invite Dr Adegbite to the next meeting to respond to all the allegations made against him. I also added that the person who made the allegation should also attend the meeting and made to repeat the allegation before Dr Adegbite.
Dr Adegbite attended the next general meeting inside the hall of the Lagos Central Mosque. The Imam that made the allegation could not face him but the Chairman recounted the allegations as captured by the minutes of the meeting. He responded to all the allegations dispassionately such that the one that accused him became humbled. Without any exaggeration, Dr Adegbite’s imperturbable equanimity and serene bonhomie disposition while providing context to the financial malfeasance attributed to him, cleared the doubts in the minds of everybody and his personality again endeared him to everyone.
He was not an ordinary human being. He was a BLESSED MAN from childhood to old age. So many people are unaware of the uniqueness of the advent and departure of Dr Adegbite from this world. He was born on Monday 23 Dhul Qa’dah, 1351AH (20 March 1933). The Prophet of Islam peace be upon him (pbuh) used to fast every Mondays and Thursdays. When asked why? He said, “On that day I was born and on it the Revelation came to me” (Related by Muslim). In another narration, he said “Deeds of people are presented (to Allah) on Mondays and Thursdays. So, I like that my actions be presented while I am fasting.” Was his birth on Monday coincident or purposely designed by Allah? Your guess is as good as mine.
His journey to the world beyond started on Friday 12 Dhul Qa’dah 1433AH (28 September 2012), the best day of the week. According to the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) “The best day in the sight of God is Friday, the day of the congregation.” (Related by Bayhaqi, authenticated by Sheikh al-Bani). In the narration of Abu Dawood and An-Nassai, the Prophet was reported to have said “Friday consists of twelve hours, one of which is the hour where supplications are granted for believers. This hour is sought during the last hour after Asr.” Was this also a coincident or divine by Allah?
Dr Adegbite placed high premium on spirituality than been a religious person. His relationship with Allah was undoubtedly pure and free from contamination. When he fell ill, he was taken to the United Kingdom and United States for treatments. Allah returned him back home to prepare him for his final journey of no return. By default, he was born and died in the same month of Dhul Qa’dah, one of the sacred months in Islam. This is not a coincidence but divine. God is Great!
Few minutes after Asr prayer, I received a call from his wife, Hajiya Madinah Adegbite. Due to the urgency of the message and her tone on phone, I abandoned my vehicle and boarded the popular “Okada” motorbike in order to escape traffic on that axis. I got to the house on time and had a brief conversation with her about the condition of Dr Adegbite. From experience, I suspected that he was about to answer the final call of Allah because I had a similar experience with my dad when he passed away. I noticed that Dr Adegbite’s mouth was a bit opened and I tried thrice to close the mouth, but it returned back to its earlier posture. At that point, I started the recitation of Suratul Yasin, Chapter 36 of the Qur’an repeatedly. I was alone in the room with him. As I raised my voice while reciting, his eyes opened a little and closed again. Meanwhile, his right hand was beside his chest with the index finger pointing upward. I tried thrice to stretch his right hand as the left hand but it returned back to its earlier posture with the index finger pointing upward as a symbol of a declaration of the statement of salvation – La ilaha illa Lahu (There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah).
A little after 6pm while still reciting chapter 36 of the Qur’an, his son-in-law, the scion of Folawiyo, Alhaji Tijani Tunde Folawiyo came into the room. At that point, I observed that Dr Adegbite’s mouth had closed. I had a feeling that his soul had departed his body. I told Alhaji Tunde Folawiyo to get a physician to confirm my thoughts. As he left, Prof T. G. O. Gbadamosi joined me in the room and he too started reciting Suratul Mulk, Chapter 67 of the Qur’an. Less than 20 minutes, two physicians came in and examined him and they confirmed that Dr Abdul-Lateef Oladimeji Adegbite, Seriki and Baba Adini of Egbaland; the Secretary-General, NSCIA; Chairman, Nigeria-Arab Association and Deputy President, Nigeria-Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry was no more. His soul returned back to Allah around 6:35pm or thereabout at the age of 82 years according to Islamic calendar and not 79years with his RIGHT INDEX FINGER BEARING TESTIMONY TO THE ONENESS OF ALLAH on the best day during the hours supplications are granted by Allah before the Maghrib (Sunset) prayer.
Few minutes after, all his children in the country assembled in the house and consoled his wife, Hajiya Madinah Simisola Adegbite, who was seriously grieved. We planned his burial arrangements that night and I left the house around 1:30am Saturday 29, September 2012 and got home a few minutes after 2am. I was given the privilege by the Adegbites to perform the ghusl (spiritual bath) for their father around 7:30am. After bathing and shrouding him with white clothes, we all left in a convoy to Abeokuta for the burial.
Seriki, was not just any person but a strong PILLAR for the country. His death was a great blow to Nigeria in particular and Africa generally. Suffice to examine some nice tributes from non-Muslims about him: Former President Dr Goodluck Jonathan described him as “a bridge-builder and promoter of peace and unity in the country.” To Dr Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State: “The country has lost a bridge-builder between the north and south, who worked tirelessly for the unity and progress of the country.” On his part, the former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and Dr Adegbite was “a pillar of religious moderation, an icon, one of the Titans, a colossus and a pillar of moderate religious leaning and preacher of peace.”
In the words of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, former governor of Ogun State, “Dr Adegbite shone like a star in the field of law and was well known across the world as the mouthpiece of Islam in Nigeria,” while the Registrar of Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and Adegbite’s successor as the Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, wrote: “Nigeria has lost one of the illustrious sons of Africa.” Undoubtedly, Dr Adegbite was an ELDER STATESMAN who used the NSCIA as a fulcrum to unite the country even at the point of provocation. He was a STABILISING FACTOR among Islam, Christianity and Traditional worshippers through his office as the Secretary-General, NSCIA. Amongst his contemporary, he stood out as the most vocal voice that preached peace and harmony to unite the country. Dr Adegbite was a BEACON OF PEACE. Gentleness and benevolence were native to him.
Truly, he was a man with many parts, but ironically, today, many people that pretend to love and eulogies him did not believe in the ideals he struggled for and represented when he was alive. Some vilified him from the point of ignorance, others from the perspectives of envy and outright hatred which could not be explained while several others adored and venerated him because of his paragon of virtues.
He was a committed patriot, a Muslim activist, a community leader, an outstanding legal luminary, an opinion leader, an advocate of peace and peaceful co-existence, a detribalised Nigerian, an illustrious son of Africa and the symbol of Islam.
May Allah, SWT continue to increase His mercy and forgiveness on his soul, grant him bliss in his grave and make Jannat al-Firdaws his final abode on the Day of Reckoning. I also pray Allah continue to strengthen and preserve the family he left behind in good health, faith and path of righteousness.
This write-up was informed by my inability to attend the recent webinar organised by The PEACE (AS-SALAAM) Magazine in memory of ‘The man who lived his life for others’