When a publishing firm bade its hero farewell

akinleyeWhEN the General Olusegun Obasanjo administration, in 1978, came up with the indigenisation and privatisation of public liability companies’ policy in the country, this set off a huge revolution in how businesses operated.

In the publishing sector, most of the firms in the country before this period were outposts or branches of foreign publishing firms. These outposts only distributed books published abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, where they have their headquarters.

However, with the government policy, all these publishing outposts needed to undergo transformation and stand alone as publishing firms, independent of their foreign initiators.

At the Oxford University Press (OUP) in Ibadan, Oyo State, the task of this transformation rested on Chief Michael Olusola Akinleye, who had risen to become the managing director and chief executive of the University Press Limited, the successor company to OUP.

Chief Akinleye, who recently passed on to glory at the age of 92 years, had been employed at the Oxford University Press in 1956, as an Office Assistant. He then rose through the ranks before becoming the managing director and chief executive.

This publishing guru retired in 1993 after 37 years of hard work, dedication and commitment to the growth of the publishing company. However, because of his vast knowledge in publishing, he was appointed as a non-executive member of the Board of Directors of the company upon retirement, a position he occupied till 2010.

It was, therefore, no surprise when the University Press Plc organised a separate Service of Songs in his honour at the company’s premises upon his transition.

The testimony period during the event was an opportunity for those who did not have personal relationship with the late Chief Akinleye tp know who he was while on earth.

Speaking first, the current managing director of the company, Mr Samuel Kolawole, described the late Chief Akinleye as someone who loved publishing, and particularly the University Press Plc, dearly.

Mr Kolawole said this love could be deduced for someone who left the teaching and banking professions for the publishing sector, where he spent 37 years, giving his best to the development of the sector.

“In fact, after the indigenisation policy of 1978, he could have negotiated to buy the company outright from the departing owners of the Oxford University Press, but he didn’t do that.

“He, however, worked tirelessly to ensure the successful transition of the company from foreign ownership to local ownership, and this shows he was not a selfish person.

“Chief Akinleye was also someone who didn’t know how to hide his feelings. He spoke the truth at all times, and for those he loved, he ensured the relationship went from official to personal relationships,” Mr Kolawole said.

One of the most gripping testimonies on the occasion was that of Dr Yemi Agude of the Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State.

Dr Agude narrated how he met Chief Akinleye after the demise of his (Agude) father in 1974.

“I was writing my O’level examination in 1974 when I lost my father. I am the first child and had 12 siblings to take care of upon my father’s demise.

“I was at home one day mourning my father when one of his friends came and gave me a note to go to Ibadan to see Chief Akinleye.

“I travelled from Igede-Ekiti, my hometown to Ibadan, and when I got to the University Press Plc, I met Chief Akinleye, who after reading the note from his friend, asked me to start work immediately.

“It was through him I picked up the pieces of my life after my father’s death, and I can say that he contributed significantly to where I am today,” Dr Agude said.

Another testifier, Mr Femi Oyetayo, described how the late Chief Akinleye taught him the rudiments of publishing.

“I was only a book distributor for another publishing company in Lagos, but Chief Akinleye invited me and gave me an offer which made me leave the other firm.

“I can say that Chief Akinleye was a human developer. After representing the University Press for several years in the Lagos market, I finally set up my own publishing firm, and I learnt everything that is now helping me through Chief Akinleye,” Mr Oyetayo said.

For Mr Lawrence Nwankwo, Chief Akinleye was a detribalised Nigerian, who only cared about someone’s dedication to duty.

“He employed me in 1986, and told me that all he was concerned about was hard work and nothing more.  He was a lover of everybody, especially those doing the right thing,” Mr Nwankwo, an ex-staff member of the company, said.

With all the testimonies, one could simply summarise who the late Chief Akinleye was, and how much the University Press Plc valued him to have held a separate Service of Songs in his honour.

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