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.
Aziza Uko is a Nigerian publisher who is the Executive Editor of The Trent.