Onosode, Gamaliel Oforitsenere
Gamaliel Onosode remains a personality that the Nigerian corporate circle and the Nigerian Baptist Convention will not soon forget. Just as Onosode left an indelible mark on the corporate world, especially in Nigeria, so also he could be described as an ecclesiastical icon. Though not a member of the clergy in the real sense of the word, he made significant contributions to the growth of Christianity, in general, and that of the Baptist faith, in particular. Born into a Baptist family, he embraced, upheld, and advanced the Baptist faith until the day he died.
Gamaliel Onosode was born on May 22, 1933 at Sapele, Delta State of Nigeria. He was born into the family of Reverend Pinnock Eyekuonire Onosode and Mrs. Ehrerhebraye Onosode. His father was a Baptist minister who took the time to train his children in the way of the Lord. This training was evident in the life of Gamaliel all through his life, both on the secular and ecclesiastical front. He was fondly referred to as “Mr. Integrity’ because of his life of honesty, forthrightness, and dedication to duty. His attitude to duty exemplified two biblical admonitions. The first was that “whatever your hands finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10), and the other was “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). Gamaliel was an outstanding patriot who personified integrity and a Christian benevolent nature. He established for himself an identity of integrity both in private and public life. 
Gamaliel started his education at the Baptist School, Oginibo (near Ughelli) in 1940. He was one of the pioneer students while his father was the pioneer headmaster. However, his father’s career as a Baptist pastor necessitated frequent transfer. As a result, before Gamaliel could complete Standard Six at Oginibo, his father was transferred to Asagba in Okpe Local Government Area. Gamaliel was expected to complete his primary school education at Baptist School, Eku, but that never worked, owing to certain factors.
However, the young Onosode was fortunate enough to gain admission into the Government Middle School, Warri, now Government College Ughelli (GCU) in 1947, while still in Standard Five. At GCU, he was an exceptionally brilliant student. He was described in his school-leaving testimonial as “easily the most outstanding pupil of his time in the school.” In August 1952, Onosode passed his school’s certificate examination in the grade one division with distinctions in Geography, Latin, Elementary Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, and credit in English. He also took the entrance examinations of the University College, Ibadan, which was then a College of the University of London and the only University in Nigeria at the time. He was admitted to study Classics, with a Nigerian Government State Scholarship. He resumed at the University in October 1952.
At the University College, Ibadan (UCI), Onosode distinguished himself academically and in other areas of human endeavor. It was at the UCI that his leadership qualities started to emerge. He demonstrated these qualities in later years when he presided over many institutions (private and public) during his business career. His biographers related how he mediated between rival groups in the campus as a fresher, and how he helped to calm frayed nerves and brought under control a situation that would have engulfed the university in a serious crisis. According to them, at the time, in addition to giving students qualitative tertiary education, UCI also offered them the opportunity to develop their politic skills, by allowing them to belong to the youth wings of a major politic party of their choice. The politics of the time, especially in the southwest, included, on the one hand, the Action Group (AG), founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and on the other, the national Convention of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. With the majority of students at the UCI coming from the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic group, they usually were integrated into one of these political groups. Naturally, while the Yoruba students preferred the AG, those from the eastern part preferred being a part of the NCNC. Thus, students were divided along political lines. The position of the pro-AG and the pro-NCNC students was characterized by rivalry, mutual distrust, and hostile confrontations. Threats of violence that were likely to plunge the college into chaos if left unchecked were becoming frequent, indicating that some form of mediation was needed.  Onosode stepped into the gap and provided the much needed mediation by bringing the conflicting parties together through appeals and persuasion.
That a fresher on campus could achieve such a feat won the admiration of the UCI community. As a result, he was appointed to positions of influence within the university student population. Soon he became a member of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and was made the Minister of Information for the body. Onosode used his position to influence many good policies. One such policy was influencing the provision of transportation for the students, at a very critical time. The movement of the University to its permanent site during the 1953-54 academic session caused much trauma for the students, because the new site was located then on the outskirts of Ibadan. Consequently, the students experienced considerable transportation problems. Onosode used his position within the SRC to propose a motion for the provision of transportation for the students. The motion was unanimously accepted, well received by the authorities, and the desired relief was provided for the students.
By the end of his fourth year at the UCI, Onosode was visited with a near-disaster that could have terminated his academic career. He suffered from a serious eye disorder that made him seriously consider not returning for the fifth and final year. This would have meant leaving the UCI, without fully realizing his ambition. However, Professor Ferguson, one of the chief men of the University saved the situation. He encouraged the young Onosode who then returned to his studies, which he eventually completed in June 1957, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.
According to his biographers, Onosode’s academic career had profound results. He was on state scholarship throughout his stay at the UCI; he earned a college scholarship in 1954; won departmental and faculty prizes during the same year, and was elected a Cambridge University Jebb Scholar in 1957. This feat was announced in the Daily Times and Daily Service of August 20, 1957. Unfortunately, he did not consider this last honor worth accessing because of the conditions attached, coupled with the problem he was having with his eyesight at the time. 
In 1957, as Onosode was putting the finishing touches to his academic career at the UCI, the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) came to the university to recruit a management trainee. Onosode put up an impressive performance to secure the offer. Consequently, at the completion of his studies, his first place of appointment was the CDC. He began his duties at the CDC in November 1957, to commence a 15-month training at his office in London as a management trainee. Here Onosode tasted the first round of training that prepared him for the corporate world. The training at the CDC was related to desk studies of a variety of CDC projects worldwide and led to deployment to various establishments such as the Abbey National Building Society, the Forestry Commission in North Wales, and some agricultural projects in the Midlands and East Anglia to gain practical experience in the application of mind and machine. 
On his return to Nigeria in February 1959, he worked as Administrative Assistant to the then Regional Controller of CDC, Anthony Wilmot. Here in 1962, after occupying a number of offices, he was appointed Assistant General Manager of the Nigerian Housing Development Society, a subsidiary of CDC. He thus became the most senior Nigerian ever in the history of this organization. But Onosode resigned his appointment with this corporation due to a major difference of opinion with the senior management. He had made a suggestion that the society start accepting deposits from potential house owners in addition to its mortgage financing activities. However, this suggestion was not only turned down, but was viewed with much suspicion. This sparked a crisis of confidence and led to his resignation. He finally left the employment of the society on September 30, 1962.
After leaving CDC, he joined the investment company of Nigeria Limited that was renamed the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank Limited in 1964. He was an investment executive and again the first Nigerian to hold that position. Fifteen months later, he became the first Nigerian Company Secretary. In July 1964, he was appointed the bank’s first indigenous Assistant General Manager (Administration). He would have made it to the position of Deputy General Manager, had it not been for a problem that occurred later.
He left NIDB and joined Philip Hill, a merchant banking organization in October 1965 as investment manager. In this position, he successfully promoted the mobilization of corporate and household savings as well as investment in money and capital market instruments. As a result of his efforts, he was appointed Executive Director of the bank in August 1968. He thus became one of the first Nigerians to sit on the board of directors of a foreign owned-bank. In time, changes were effected in the name of Philip Hill: first, as Financial Holdings (Nigeria) Limited, then as Nigerian Acceptance Limited (NAL) and NAL Merchant Bank Limited, and finally as NAL Bank PLC. This was the first merchant bank in the country and it was within this organization that Onosode was to achieve corporate recognition. In 1969, he was appointed Director of Nigerian Acceptance Limited. He became its sole chief executive and a shareholder in the company, having been offered 10% of its shares. In 1979, he voluntarily retired as Chairman and Chief executive NAL Bank Limited.
Operating in the murky waters of the Nigerian banking industry was an arduous task. It was difficult, if not impossible not to get one’s fingers burnt. Against all odds, Onosode operated within this industry with a high degree of integrity that drew everyone’s attention. With this, he was able to carve for himself an enviable place in the Nigerian business world and he became one of the moving spirits behind it. One reason for this was his Christian upbringing. Also, he was no doubt aware of his position as one of the first Nigerians to be appointed to head an important financial institution in the country. As a pioneer, he was under close scrutiny, by both foreigners and Nigerians alike and he knew that he could not afford to fail.
Onosode’s impressive performance at NAL was open to many within the Nigerian corporate circle. This no doubt earned him the respect of many of the corporate icons of the time. This might have endeared him to Mr. George Hayward, the Managing Director of Cadbury (Nigeria) Limited, who in 1975 invited him to join the board of the company. Cadbury was one of the nation’s leading food processing and marketing outfits, which had, by means of a superbly efficient distribution network, already established itself in the hearts and minds of the citizenry as an icon of a modern, trendy Nigeria.  After leaving NAL, he was appointed as a non-executive chairman with Cadbury (Nigeria) Limited in July 1978. He was with Cadbury until 1993. Around this time and simultaneously too, he held board appointments with other notable establishments. He was Chairman of Commerce Bank from 1989 to 1994, and Chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange Investment Protection Fund from 1995 to 2000. Mr. Onosode also became Chairman of Dunlop Nigeria Plc, at a time when the company was ailing and needed revival. He introduced measures that revived the company and gave it a new lease on life. 
Onosode met the woman who eventually became his wife through Ehi Osemobor, one of his friends, in 1959 and the relationship blossomed into marriage on October 29 1960. The marriage was blessed with seven children. Gamaliel Ogheneruese was born in 1961; Ethel Oghenerugba in 1963, Spencer Oghenerukevwe in 1964; Inerhunwa Christopher in 1965; Osamuede Karen in 1966; Alexis Ufuoma in 1968; and Emmanuel Guosagha in 1970.  He was a dutiful husband and father who never allowed his official schedule to stop him from performing his responsibilities with his family.
Onosode served on the board of many government departments and parastatals.  During the Second Republic he served with President Shehu Shagari as Presidential Adviser on Budget Affairs Director of Budget. However, this appointment was brought to an abrupt end as a result of the military take-over of December 31, 1983.  On retirement from corporate appointments, Onosode established the Intercommerce and Consulting Associates Limited in 1980.
The central focus of Onosode’s life’s philosophy remained his spirituality. He started off as a son of a Baptist pastor; grew up to become a staunch Christian and held on to his Christian conviction until his death. He was a committed Christian, who used everything at his disposal to advance the kingdom of God. His love for his Baptist denomination could not be quantified. In the words of Adeyanju and Pius, he was said to have preached his first sermon when he was eight yeas old at the Antioch Baptist Church, Ogbomoso when his father was at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained a Baptist Deacon in 1966 at the Yaba Baptist Church and acted as its pastor for six months in 1969. He was also Acting Pastor at New Estate Baptist Church, for a period of three and half years. In spite of his tedious responsibilities as a Chief Executive of a Merchant Bank, he was still able to nurture this church to greater heights. He also started the Adelabu Street Baptist Church, which was later renamed Good News Baptist Church, on February, 1, 1984. This church began his living room and today has in the neighborhood of two thousand members. He served on the governing council of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso for over ten years, and the last seven as its Chairman and as Chairman of the Global Missions Board of the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
He played significant roles in the establishment and development of Bowen University, the first Baptist University in Africa. He was a member of its first Governing Council in 2001 and, from May 2011 until his death, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman. He spent his time, wealth, and influence for the progress and development of the university. Shortly before his death, he and some members of his family made a donation of over one million naira to the university towards the development of its Centre for Biomedical and Drug Research. This was just one out of the several donations he made to the development of the University. He made donations towards infrastructural expansion, construction of drainage, research and other financial needs. According to the authorities of the university, “the institution under the leadership of Onosode as the chairman of the Governing Council did not only illustrate the course of commitment to the pursuit of excellence but also accounted, in no small measure to the growth of the human resources for the remarkable achievements recorded by Bowen University.”  Speaking further, the authorities attested to the fact that Onosode cared about every little thing including the health and wellbeing of students.  Apart from serving the Lord through his denomination, the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Onosode was also the First President of the Lagos Camp of the Gideons International between 1964 and 1967.
As a result of his meritorious service to his nation across all fields of human endeavors, Onosode received many awards and honorary degrees. He was awarded the National Honor of the Federal Republic in the year 2000.  In 2002, he was also a recipient of the Platinum Award of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers in recognition of his years of outstanding contributions to the development of the Capital Market. 
To show his love for education and to help alleviate the suffering of the less privileged, Onosode founded the Gamaliel and Susan Onosode Foundation (GAMSU) in May 2013, to contribute to the lives of less fortunate children in the area of skills acquisition, education, and other forms of empowerment to enable them realize their dreams in life. The aim of the foundation is to promote quality education through flexible and innovative learning opportunities.  His contributions in this direction positively touched many lives. As part of his commitment to the educational advancements of the nation, he served on the Board of Governors of many educational institutions, both at the secondary and tertiary level. From 1968 to 1975, he was a member of the Board of Governor of the Reagan Memorial Baptists Girls School, Lagos; from 1979 to 1980, Honorary Treasurer of the King’s College Parent-Teacher Association and he had previously served as a member of the Federal Scholarship Advisory Board. On the tertiary level, he served as Member of Council of Bayero University, Kano; Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; and University of Lagos, Yaba-Lagos.
Foray into Politics
Politics in Nigeria has attracted many labels, due to the manner in which it is practiced in Nigeria. Consequently, the participation of Christians in the political life of the nation has been an issue of much controversy. While there are those who see politics as a dirty game in which Christians should not participate, there are those who see nothing wrong with Christians taking an active part in politics. Those in favor of the argument are of the view that it is not ideal for Christians to distance themselves from politics only to sit down and complain about how the nation is being ran. They reiterate that the best way out of it is for them to be active players in it in order to correct the anomalies that often characterize the practice of politics. If Christians love their country and the welfare of the teeming masses is uppermost in their hearts they believe that the proper thing to do is to be there to put things right.
It was to prove the point of his love for the masses that Onosode made a brief foray into politics in 1997 and 1998, under the respective umbrellas of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) and the All Nigerian Party. Earlier in 1979, several factors, including the strong influence of E. O. Bolarinwa and his surprise at the registrations of political parties as the lifting of the ban on politics worked against his going into partisan politics. He had already made known his intention and was working towards that end. However, when the ban on politics was lifted, he was so surprised at the number of political parties that had been registered, than he honestly admitted his ignorance about the political terrain of the time and he simply bowed out.
His next attempt at partisan politics was towards the end of General Babangida’s regime. At the time, he was not actually keen on vying for any elected office. He became a member of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a party that had Mosood Abiola as its Presidential candidate and who was presumed to win the subsequent election of June 12, 1993. With the conviction of a divine direction, he made another attempt in 1997, with the United Nigerian Congress Party (UNCP). Though he had the support of a majority of his kinsmen and women within the Urhobo community of Delta State, the arrangement technically hit the rocks. Another opportunity came in 1998 at the death of General Sanni Abacha and he was unanimously given the Presidential ticket for the All Nigerian Party. This also ran into a technical hitch because some party members pulled a fast one on Onosode and some of the participating candidates. Therefore he was again denied the opportunity of contesting. However, according to his biographers, as in previous occasions, Onosode remained unruffled and undeterred. It was not his intention to be involved in any lobbying and anti-party activities that characterized the political environment of the time. He returned to Lagos to concentrate on his private and business life. 
Many have eulogized the virtues of Gamaliel Onosode. In a sermon during his funeral service, the erstwhile General Secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Solomon Ademola Ishola described Onosode as God’s (positive) parable for our generation; a gallant soldier of Christ who had fought a good fight of faith; and a special breed whom God had chosen to teach us many lessons. 
Also commenting on the life of Gamaliel Onosode, the incumbent President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Supo Ayokunlke, urged everyone who found himself in any position of authority not to take the position for granted. He urged privileged people in society to see their attainment as a responsibility to help the less privileged. According to him, many people desire to occupy great positions in life and be wealthy but hardly realize that for every opportunity there is a corresponding responsibility. He made allusion to certain people who had wasted their God’s given opportunities to better the lot of the masses and concluded that such people would be held responsible by God for their negligence. However, speaking of Onosode, he testified that while alive he did not take his position for granted, knowing that one day he would give an account to his Creator. 
These testimonies bore witness to the fact that Onosode was a man who performed every duty as unto the Lord. He was a worthy servant of the Lord, who spent his life in the service of God and humanity. He died on September 29, 2015, at the ripe age of 82.
Deji Isaac Ayegboyin and Michael Adeleke Ogunewu
- Ademola Adeyanju and Paul Pius, “Good Night, ‘Mr Integrity’ Gamaliel Onosode!,” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol. 94, No. 10 (October 2015).
- A. E. Eruvbetine, Udu Yakubu, and Harry Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode: A Biography (Surulere-Lagos: Lilybank Property and Trust Limited, 2003), 26
- Eruvbetine, Yakubu and Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode, 25.
- Eruvbetine, Yakubu and Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode, 40.
- Eruvbetine, Yakubu and Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode, 99.
- He also functioned on the board of other companies which included Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, CFAO Nigeria Limited, Nigeria Stockbrokers Limited, and Crusader Insurance Company (Nigeria) Limited to mention a few.
- “Gamaliel…..Lest We Forget….”, The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015), 23.
- Other responsibilities included: Member, Public Service Review Commission (Udoji Commission); Federal Scholarship Advisory Board; Financial System Review Committee; and the Review Panel for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of Proposed Dredging of Lower Niger Waterways. Others are Chairman Presidential Commission of Parastatals (Onosode Commission); Nigerian Institute of Management; Federal Military Government (FMG) Projects Review Committee; The Nigerian Stock Exchange Investors Protection Fund; Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers; the Association of Pension Fund and Investment Managers; Delta State Think Tank on Development; and the Niger Delta Environmental Survey.
- Gamaliel…..Lest We Forget….., 23.
- “Tribute in Honour of Deacon (Dr) Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode,” by Bowen University, Iwo, The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No 11 (November 2015): 20-21.
- Ibid, 20.
- His academic awards include: Doctor of Science Honoris Causa, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, University of Benin, Benin City; Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) Honoris Causa, Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso; Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, Business Administration, Rivers State University of Science and Technology; Doctor of Letters (D.Litts), Honoris Causa, University of Ibadan; Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, Bowen University, Iwo; Doctor of Divinity, Honoris Causa, ECWA Theological Seminary, Jos; Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.), Honoris Causa, Bingham University; and Doctor of Letters (D.Litts.), Honoris Causa, University of Lagos.
- Eruvbetine, Yakubu and Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode: A Biography, 271
- Gamaliel….. Lest We Forget…… 21
- Eruvbetine, Yakubu and Olufunwa, Gamaliel Onosode: A Biography, 288.
- Ademola Ishola described Onosode in these words: “As a gallant soldier of Christ Baba Onosode engaged and fought many good fights which endeared him to the corporate world, political class, technocrats, the academia and even his Urhobo tribe to which he was proudly and magnetically attached. The great Niger Delta region to which he was captivatingly close, and the church to which he was devotedly committed as well as the general public to which he was servant friendly, all because he was indeed God’s parable through who these groups learned lots of lessons. He puts checks on various excesses and fraudulent practices and anyone involved in shady deals could not be a friend of Gamaliel O. Onosode. … In our contemporary world, specially grafted Gmaliel O. Onosode joined the multitude of chosen vessels of God’s parable to teach us lots of lessons. Even though he has passed on yet he is still speaking. He was engaged in adding value to every enterprise he was involved in. Of course, he couldn’t stand anyone handling business shoddily or even tolerating inefficient corporate secretaries.”” Ademola Adeyanju and Sunday Adeleke, “God’s Parable to Our Generation – Ishola” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015).
- “ ‘Your Life Opportunity is a Responsibility’ Ayokunle Declares as Onosode is Finally Laid to Rest” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015).
Adeyanju, Ademola and Pius Paul. “Good Night, ‘Mr Integrity’ Gamaliel Onosode!” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol. 94, No. 10 (October 2015), 35.
Adeyanju Ademola, and Adeleke Sunday. “God’s Parable to Our Generation – Ishola.” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015), 24.
Eruvbetine, A. E., Yakubu Udu, and Olufunwa Harry. Gamaliel Onosode: A Biography. Surulere-Lagos: Lilybank Property and Trust Limited, 2003.
“Gamaliel…..Lest We Forget…..” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015), 21-23.
“Tribute in Honour of Deacon (Dr) Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode,” by Bowen University, Iwo. The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No 11 (November 2015), 20-21.
“ ‘Your Life Opportunity is a Responsibility’ Ayokunle Declares as Onosode is Finally Laid to Rest.” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol 94, No. 11 (November 2015).
This article, received in 2018, was written by Dr. Deji Ayegboyin at the University of Ibadan, DACB Advisor and JACB Contributing Editor, and Dr. Michael Ogunewu, DACB Liaison Coordinator at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso.