IN SEARCH OF THE REAL ‘FOURSCORE’
By Femi Olugbile
There are several contexts in which a search for ‘Fourscore’ would be considered a valid and legitimate quest for most people in these times. Take four score years, which equates with the conventional age of eighty. In Nigeria, even outside the peculiar scare and ravages of COVID19 and sundry other life-threatening situations, many people would consider themselves blessed indeed to live fourscore years.
The ‘Fourscore’ in question here, sadly, is not about any of these. It is a sobriquet that a vivacious middle aged Nigerian, who recently met an untimely end in the falling rubble of what he thought would be his piece de resistance.
There has been a lot of talk in mainstream press and social media about Femi Osibona, the ambitious international developer whose twenty one story building – one of his troika of towers, came crashing down in a heap, in Ikoyi, Lagos, just the other day.
As usual, even before the facts are out, the swords are slashing at the usual bogeymen. There is a certain deja-vu about many of the assumptions and innuendoes that are flying about.
Your purpose, in seeking to get close to ‘FourScore’, you assured yourself, as you commenced the journey, was not to pillory him, or praise him. It was to know him. Who was this man?
Many of the comments which are flying about out there are as unkind as they are untrue. ‘He’s a 419.’ ‘He was only a front’ Why did he call himself, and his business, ‘Fourscore’, anyway?
Whatever he was, this was no charlatan or mountebank. This was a highly accomplished Nigerian who, at a relatively early age, had penetrated the real estate building market in some of the most hard-to-penetrate parts of the world – in Pretoria, in Central London. To do that required not just savoir-faire, but spunk and brilliance beyond what was available to the common run of humans.
A Whatsapp video from his old school mates from Mayflower School, Ikenne told a story that appeared shed some light. Part of the unique rituals Tai Solarin created among ‘Mays’ to inspire them to high-minded, devil-may-care life-long striving for a good cause, in addition to hard physical labour, was by directing every student to cram the Gettysburg speech of Abraham Lincoln. If any student failed to regurgitate the famous speech when accosted, he would be given several strokes of Tai’s cane. Early on in Femi Osibona’s stay in school, it was Socials night, and he was asked offhandedly to do something to entertain the crowd of his peers and seniors. And then the new boy, totally without fear or care, delved into the speech, which has been enshrined in the minds of many idealistic youths all over the world. ‘Fourscore and seven years ago…’ Femi commenced, referring to the signing of the Declaration of Independence that heralded the birth of the United States of America eighty-seven years before that day of monumental victory. He went on to deliver a Gettysburgh address Lincoln himself would have been proud of.
From then on, or so it is said, Femi Osibona, to those who knew him, was ‘Fourscore’.
He was the scion of the much-venerated Baba Ijo of St Saviours Anglican Church Ikenne, where Obafemi Awolowo used to worship. He turned early to entrepreneurship in the UK when he went to study, travelling to Italy to buy elegant shoes that the ‘fine boys’ he knew liked to wear. He was a lover of good things, and of the good life. Somehow it came to him that his true mission in life might be filling undeveloped spaces with the beautifully designed buildings he could visualise in his head. Fourscore Holdings came into being. Perhaps some luck, mixed with the sheer puzzlement of foreign officials at the derring-do of this handsome, irrepressible Nigerian who was reaching ‘above his station’ contrived to open up the space for him.
And then, suffused with early success, it was time to come home and not only replicate the magic, but execute the feat that would cap it all.
Somewhere there a sense of hubris crept in. He had conquered the world. Nigeria, his home, was the last frontier. He was by now friends with the high and mighty, including famous Pentecostal pastors who could ‘cast and bind’ and prayer warriors of the Celestial Church who could thwart the efforts of ‘enemies of progress’ – real or imaginary.
The sky was the limit. The concept of a ‘7-Star’ skyscraper residential apartment in the swankiest part of Ikoyi, Lagos built to rival perhaps the Burj al Arab in Dubai, the prototypical 7star hotel, is a dream for a committed aesthete to die for. And he had the means.
What he did not have was respect for the system and the laws that would help him accomplish his mission safely in this clime. Those laws, and the inputs of those multifarious Consultants with their ‘expert advice’ could be costly, and could cause frustrating delays. But they were the difference between civilisation and darkness.
Some of the videos he left behind do more violence to his memory that anything ever could. He was disparaging and dismissive of local ‘Consultants’. He scrubbed their names from the information board at the building site, which was a statutory requirement. He KNEW that he could never have even dreamt of acting with such insouciance in South Africa, or the United Kingdom, where they had systems that worked.
In fairness, the local system, given what is coming to light daily now, has a lot to be despised for, and a lot to improve upon.
That system would land on his dream like a ton of bricks, metaphorically and, sadly, literally.
So sad. A jolly good fellow. A good person at heart from all accounts, never mind the lapses of judgement, big and small.
When all the facts are in, it must not be forgotten, that Fourscore was a Nigerian boy who rendered Abe Lincoln’s lofty Gettysburg speech from the bottom of his young heart, apparently believing every word of it at the time. In life, he went on to display courage and a single-minded braggadocio that Tai Solarin might have been proud of. But he came a cropper in the end because he began to think the rules were made for other people. He was going to do it alone, where Tai, his Mayflower School mentor, always advocated working with others, and respecting them.
May his soul, and the souls of all those who died, rest in peace. May God comfort the families that have been impacted by this terrible, terrible tragedy.