By Austin Oniyokor
His birth was providential and profound; so were the events leading to his christening, growth and his entire life. Although his father was doing well as a farmer and businessman, things took a turn for the worse shortly before Senator Buruji Kashamu was born. However, before his christening on the eighth day, there was a turnaround that surprised members of the Kashamu family. The miraculous turn of events informed his being christened “Buruji” which literally means one who came into wealth early in life. This was in line with the Yoruba tradition of taking cognizance of happenings around a family when christening a child.
Born on the 19th of May, 1958, Senator Buruji Kashamu is the second son and the third child of his mother’s four children for Pa Kashamu Sodipe. Like most men of his time, Pa Kashamu was a polygamist. He had five wives who bore him thirteen children.
For those who saw the young Buruji through infancy, his first faltering steps and the events afterwards, they would readily surmise that the name was divinely inspired.
After his early education at the Ansarudeen Primary School in Ijebu Igbo, Ijebu North Local Government Area of Ogun State, he was taken to Lagos where he began to live with an uncle in Surulere, Lagos. The uncle had a hotel known as Lolas Lodge near Tejuosho, Yaba, where he worked as an attendant during the day and then attended evening classes at Igbobi College, Lagos.
Although his early exposure to the work life could be said to have momentarily distracted him from his educational pursuits, his strong desire for knowledge and self-improvement made him to later sit for the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). Thereafter, he took a correspondence course in Business Studies at the Pitman College, London and much later a Diploma in English Language at the University of Lagos.
But, suffice it to say that his early exposure to the work life set him on a path of industry and self-dependence from which he never looked back while many of his peers were still tied to their mother’s apron strings. When he was barely 20 years old in 1978, he found his way into Yaba Local Government Area of Lagos State where he was engaged as an agent for motor vehicle registration and documentation, licenses and the like.
After working for about a year, he made enough savings from which he began his automobile business. Yes, automobile business! How he did it? Here is how: he worked Monday through Friday at the local council. But, on Friday evening, after the close of work, he would leave Lagos for Kaduna where he would arrive the next day. From the park or train station, he would go straight to Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) in Kaduna where he made his purchases and then return to Lagos on Sunday so as to resume work the next day. Whenever he got to Kaduna late, he would make contact with his the sales personnel, make all the necessary arrangements and return to work. He began with one 504 Peugeot car, and then progressed to two, three…
Kashamu later veered into the real estate business. His first was a plot of land he bought in Ikotun Egbe, a Lagos suburb on which he built his first house – a block of four flats. His immediate elder sister lived in one of the flats until recently when she relocated to Lagos Island.
His adventure soon took him to the buying and selling of various goods such as soap, textile materials and cement. This made him to begin to shuttle between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin where he established a cotton ginnery factory that is still in operation till date. He also became the first, if not the sole agent of Sanyong and Daewoo motors in West Africa.
Expectedly, Kashamu became the toast of the powers-that-be and the envy of many in most of the neighbouring French speaking West African countries, especially in the Republic of Benin. He was to become a victim of the internal politics in the Republic of Benin. He was roped into an indictment he knew nothing about which has metaphorically become his cross despite several judicial pronouncements by the effervescent and impregnable British courts and their Nigerian counterparts to the effect that it was a case of mistaken identity. The details are already in the public domain. There is no need to bore you anymore; lest we digress.
Many may know him as a philanthropist; some see him as a strong man and yet others say he is just one of the politicians. But there is more to the Kashamu persona. Beyond his gusto and gait is a heart of gold, full of empathy and flowing with the milk of human kindness. Nothing is too much for him to give. No amount of money or possession is too much for him to part with. He does not hold on tightly to anything; be it money, vehicles, clothings or accessories.
Despite knowing his generous nature, he gives so much that even those that are close to him are stunned at the level of his generosity. His estranged friend and Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose had once publicly declared that even as a governor and politician, he had yet to see a politician as generous as Kashamu.
When you try to caution him, he rebuffs such entreaties. He is quick to remind you that he is not a rich man but only spends like a rich man. His other refrain is that he has committed his life to sharing his resources with the needy and the less privileged because, according to him, the more he gives, the more he receives from the Almighty God. He is down-to-earth. It is a common sight for him to wine and dine with the crowd who visit his Ijebu-Igbo country home for one issue or the other.
Kashamu also possesses an unbelievable amount of strength and energy. He hardly gets up to six hours of sleep every day; not because of insomnia or anything of that sort but because he is a workaholic who likes to be on top of his game. An idea could just drop on his mind anytime of the night; he would call you up and begin a discussion. He would joke with you in-between and then bare his mind. If you think with the passage of time, he would have forgotten some of the things he said, you would be shocked to realise how wrong you were! He would recap everything word-for-word.
Kashamu is endowed with a high degree of native intelligence, a sharp mind and an eye for detail.
Perhaps, as a result of his past experience, he is also a fighter for justice and equity. Instead of resorting to self-help and violence, he believes so much in the use of the law to fight and correct social and personal injustice. It is this belief that has always set him on collision course with some political heavyweights within his political party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and beyond. Hopefully, when the story of the rebirth of the PDP will be written, his contributions will be properly documented.
Beneath the huge and strong persona is a man who fears and acknowledges God in his dealings. A good example was when people came to tell him that some powerful forces in the politics of Ogun State, including the immediate past Governor had said they would ensure he did not win his election into the Senate. His standard response was: “are they God? Whatever God has decreed, no man can change it”.
Although he is now a Senator by the grace of God and the benevolence of the good people of Ogun East Senatorial District, his major preoccupation has been how to use the position to impact on the lives of people, irrespective of their creed, colour or ethnic background. He is a detribalized Nigerian who is always looking for ways to put smile on people’s faces.
Kashamu speaks French fluently, just as he updates himself with technology, trends and current affairs.
No doubt, he is several things to many people. Yet, many – even his most ardent critics – would agree that Kashamu has proven his mettle as a leader, philanthropist, an entrepreneur, an employer of labour, an empowerer and an unusual politician.
As he marks his 59th birthday, there is no better way to appreciate and encourage him to continue to live a life of selfless service than to chronicle some of his rare attributes and activities for humanity and posterity.
Oniyokor is the media aide to Senator Prince Buruji Kashamu.