-‘I have never and will never send hired killers to anybody’ – Alaba Okupe replies
Following a hugely successful career in journalism, Gbenga Gbadesire decided to conquer new grounds. He embraced sister career in public relations (PR) and advertising.
He joined the famed Ikoyi Club 1938 some 19 years ago in the knowledge that it was a body of men and women of integrity. However, it came as a rude shock when he allegedly realized the club was an extension of the larger Nigerian society – it was filled with corrupt people.
Alas now, his life is at stake to the point he has been targeted by assassins as he, Gbenga Gbadesire tells his story in this chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly…
A lot of water has gone under the bridge on this issue. How did it all start?
The whole issue was borne out of my will to serve, to render selfless service. When I joined the club 19 years ago, the idea was that I was joining a club with men, women and people of integrity. After I joined the club, I chose to serve in 2005, and by 2006, I won election – a landslide victory, on two occasions.
I think my problems started when I had more votes than the chairman of the club. One thing led to the other, and people felt I was too strict, that I was not allowing them to chop. But I never knew the club was like the larger Nigerian society. I thought it was a place you network, you meet people. I expected before one joins the club, you should be comfortable, because it’s not cheap.
To cut the long story short, an incident occurred. I went into public relations, advertising and logistics after I left active journalism, and what we do is we buy advertising sites. One of the sites that we bought led to this problem. We bought a site in the badminton section which chairman of Staco Insurance, Dele Otubu was interested in.
So, he told Tayo Ajibolu to source for it and Tayo, for reasons known to him, decided not to deal with our company which now owns the site after we had bought it. In fact, they were going to deny that we did, but thankfully, the bank captured the person that cashed the money.
The politics got so messy that the administration manager of badminton section who cashed the money was encouraged to resign so as not to become a witness at the probe panel set up to investigate the whole transaction. In a nutshell, since I left office as entertainment chairman in February 2008, before the whole transaction got messy, I was in a position to write.
So, we wrote and challenged what the chairman of the section then, Kole Jagun did with Tayo. But because the chairman, Akin Adesokan, never liked my face, he saw it as an opportunity to actually deal with me. He was the one who turned the whole thing against me. I was the complainant, but they now used a section of the club rules, Rule 38 C & D, against me.
The rule as at then states that a member of the general committee cannot be a contractor to the club, either directly, by proxy or any means. The key question is this: Was I a contractor to Ikoyi Club? I was doing a business I had always done. I got those sites even before I became the entertainment chairman of the club. Mr. Yanju Scott, a past chairman of the club during whose tenure that rule was made, wrote to the trustees of the club that my action did not run foul to the rules. The rule indicts contractors to Ikoyi Club. But in my case, I pay Ikoyi Club, after which the club gives me the right with which I will meet my clients who are all over the country.
Why was this rule even quoted in the probe, is there any link between your action and what the rule says?
No, the rule was just brought out to nail me. Akin Adesokan and a trustee of the club, Mr. Alaba Okupe who is the one after my life now, never liked my face that I was too popular. We challenged it, and I, the complainant, now faced the disciplinary committee as the accused.
I questioned it, but people said I should not worry and just appear. It turned out I was suspended from the club for one year. I was advised not to worry and take it easy, so I wouldn’t be seen as headstrong. The club rule book – which we call the green book – makes provision for appeal within 14 days if the decision of the general or disciplinary committee is not acceptable to you.
So, I appealed. My lawyer, the late Bamidele Aturu (may his soul rest in peace) advised that we should not make it seem like we were fighting the club. That I should write the appeal letter with my letter head, which I did. But to my greatest surprise, the trustees recommended my expulsion. For one of the trustees, Alaba Okupe it was an opportunity to cut me off, he typed the letter in his house.
With that letter, I approached the Lagos High Court and within 20 to 23 days, my membership was restored. So, I was back in the club and continued my membership. After I returned to the club; one of the trustees of the club as we had three – one American and two Nigerians – the American, De Kramer told Alaba Okupe to have a meeting with me.
Like I said, he never liked me and when someone doesn’t like you, there’s no cover up. At that meeting, I went to Mr. Alaba Okupe and prostrated. I said to him ‘Sir, until you ask me to get up, I will remain here’. He said, ‘no, there’s nothing’. Chief Dele Benson, a close friend of his, is a living witness and I know he’s a gentleman, he won’t deny it.
In 2013 when I chose to run for secretary of the club, Mr. Alaba Okupe, through his friend, Alhaji Tunde Oduwole , who was his premises adviser when he was chairman of the Ikoyi Club, told me not to run.
He said Alaba Okupe doesn’t want me to run, because he learnt I said if I become the secretary, I will stop what the top people are eating. I told him I would get back to him. After one week, I went back to him and we held a meeting in his office around Sabo, Yaba. I told him I had to run because I didn’t believe my destiny was in the hands of Alaba Okupe.
But I still ran. In fact, if you had seen the way Mr. Alaba Okupe messed up my form, like the INEC form. He used about three different biros and wrote that I did this; I did that just to disqualify me. I’m sure the other trustees told him this guy must run since the court has restored his membership, so he reluctantly agreed.
On the day of my election, Mr. Alaba Okupe, through the then chairman, Mr. Richard Osagie and the acting GM, Mr. Tokunbo Ekundayo, was circulating letters at the entrance about me.
The letters were discrediting me. That’s to tell you how messy it got. To the point that my group felt bad with everything that was happening so decided to do a kind of expose to reveal the issues behind the issue. So, they sent a text to members revealing everything.
I got a Yoruba couched text message in November 2013 and everybody was scared. We wrote to the police about it in the same month, but you know the Nigeria Police. Then on April 9, 2014, assassins came to my house, I was just lucky otherwise I would have been dead.
The interesting angle to it is that Mr. Alaba Okupe, the trustee, called the dispatch rider of the club, Folubunmi Makinde to confirm my real address, since the dispatch rider knows where everybody lives. But up till now, the police have not done anything about it. I’ve met the commissioner of police, met the officer in charge, still, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Alaba Okupe wrote a cross petition on the same day I did. Obviously, he’s working with an insider in the police.
The police later jettisoned my petition and followed Okupe’s. While my case with Ikoyi Club which was now a N180m case in the Lagos High Court was still going on, the police arrested me sometime in July last year immediately I left Justice Dauda’s court in Igbosere and we went to SIB (State Intelligence Bureau) in Ikeja, Lagos. My lawyer was surprised, but he said I should go with them. But immediately after Aturu, that’s my lawyer, the police started meting out injustice.
So, you mean ever since, the tide has shifted. Instead of you the complainant being heard, the police are backing Alaba Okupe?
Exactly. In fact, it got so bad that I was taken to the Ikeja Magistrate Court before Justice (Mrs.) A. Fabanwo, and the police prosecutor said the charges were wrong and even apologized. But the woman still said I should be detained till I fulfilled some bail conditions. Before I knew what was happening, I was taken to Kirikiri. Today, those charges have been thrown out. Okupe reported defamation of character to the police.
Meanwhile, while the police investigation was ongoing, I threw at them and Okupe that I came to report threat to my life – assassination; he, Okupe, reported defamation and perjury. Is defamation more important than threat to life? Now, the police discovered that Okupe got the same Yoruba couched message from the same phone number which I did. So, is Okupe implying that defamation of his character is more important than threat to his life? Isn’t that enough proof for him to be tried?
The salient point that should be looked into is the message by the assassin. It’s been proved; the police have a print out of the text which Alaba Okupe also received. But he didn’t complain about his life, rather he bothered about the supposed exposé and defamation.
What’s the latest on it now?
The point we are now is since my lawyer, Bamidele Aturu has passed on, the chambers of Fred Agbaje have taken up the matter. We are in court. The way it is now my life is in danger, I live like a gypsy – moving from one place to another.
I have done so much for Ikoyi Club. Nobody has achieved what I did, let alone surpassing it. I made so much money for Ikoyi Club. Members of Ikoyi Club enjoyed so much during my tenure. Today, I am being persecuted for standing for what the forbearers of Ikoyi Club stood for – the rules, regulations, the traditions, the conventions of the club.
And today, I am persecuted with my life at stake. I have been in court with Ikoyi Club since 2008, I have spent millions, sold properties. If because of this cause, I lose my life and my children become fatherless, it will be very bad.