Jacob Sogboyega Odulate, the Blessed Jacob, sat at the work table in his laboratory, writing the notes which contained the formula for what would ultimately be known as his famous patented medicine, Alabukun Powder.
This was in the year 1918. It was early in the evening of another hectic day at his place of work, a functional combination of office, consulting room and laboratory-cum workshop. His single minded pursuit of the goal of establishing an indigenous medical/pharmaceutical brand was legendary. He had displayed the same purposeful determination when at the age of 14, he decided to uproot himself from his ancestral town of Ikorodu and he had embarked on an exploratory journey which took him three months on foot to establish a domestic and commercial base in Abeokuta. His very modest, but cherished “headquarters” was built in the Sapon area of Abeokuta, a mere walking distance from the site of his future three-storey landmark home in Ijemo Agbadu.
With the day’s work finished, he supervised the ritualistic tidying-up of the office, a task in which some of his children were willing and excited participants.
Soon it would be time to join his friends for a few games at tennis at the Abeokuta Tennis Club, and then go off to his home to join his wives and children for dinner. His face, which could sometimes bear the disconcertingly combined countenance of both a firm disciplinarian and a mirthful father in equal measure, was today aglow with joy. He, a black man and member of the Yoruba ethnic group had triumphed against the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that the British colonial authorities had placed in the path of ambitious “natives”. He had penetrated the fortress of British-dominated commercial enterprise in nascent Nigeria, to become one of a very small group of Nigerian entrepreneurs in the colony. He had reasons to smile.
From the modest, but gradually escalating proceeds of the sale of Alabukun Powder, Alabukun Mentholine and other locally made products – all produced by him – the Blessed Jacob was able to realize his overarching desire, which was to underwrite all the expenses associated with sending his children to the land of the erstwhile colonial rulers, Britain, to further their education. One after the other, his offspring went off to study at Durham, Newcastle, USA and London to qualify as educationists, medical doctors, lawyers and engineers. They returned to Nigeria to join the pool of highly educated and successful professionals for which Abeokuta has been particularly famed in Nigeria history. Alabukun’s offspring have prospered and have made immense contributions to Yorubaland and to Nigeria in their various professions and spheres of endeavour.
The enduring success of the Alabukun brand is now interwoven into the fabric of modern Nigeria medical history. The Alabukun Powder in particular is displayed and sold in thousands of pharmacies, markets and roadside stalls all over Nigeria. In many states in Nigeria, Alabukun powder is considered to be the obligatory cure-all for almost every ailment. In neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic, Ghana and Cameroon, the eye-catching Alabukun brand is to be seen advertised everywhere. Alabukun products are sold in several towns and cities in the USA, the UK, in Europe, Brazil, Jamaica, and yes, even as far away as China. You can buy Alabukun products on-line, off-line, under-bridges and over-expressways.
Just last year, 2012, the descendants and family of the Blessed Jacob marked and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the passing on of this towering man. In a manner in which he would have been proud, the celebrations were modest and without fanfare. None of the governors of the various states in South West Nigeria in which the Blessed Jacob made huge contributions was present. Both Ogun State and Lagos State were in no way officially represented at this significant anniversary. However, we owe nobody any grudge because for a particular reason the family had decided to make the anniversary a low-key affair.
Happily, his children, his grandchildren, great grand-children and great-great grandchildren as well as the descendants and relations of the multitudes of his beneficiaries, patients, friends and employees, were all there to celebrate the history of this under-appreciated icon.
And so, one year after this 50th anniversary, what are the physical edifices and buildings that can serve as a present and future testimony to his legacy, to his industriousness, to his trailblazing entrepreneurship?
Even then a befitting memorial, indeed, a legacy, solid, towering structure such as a house has severally suffered from uncaring and insensitive official arm.
First to go was the magnificent family residence in Ijemo Agbadu with its unique granite-hued frontage and castle-like grounds which for more than half a century housed living quarters for family and friends alike – DEMOLISHED!
Secondly, in 2013 the building (the first two-level building in Abeokuta, Sapon) the original birthplace and home of the Alabukun brand was – DEMOLISHED!!
Thirdly, the storey-building that the Blessed Jacob built on the east side of Ikorodu Road and which for decades was the most significant landmark on that road before one reached the landmark Ikorodu Roundabout was also pitifully – DEMOLISHED!!!
This sad history of willful disregard and disrespect for the legacies of those who came before us and who contributed so much to the nation that we today call Nigeria is abundantly exemplified in the tragic fate of Alabukun’s properties. We, the descendants of the glorious Blessed Jacob are so grateful and proud of his life. The education that he bestowed upon us, the wonderful example he showed in his personal and business life, his immense generosity and kindness of spirit, these are what we and our own descendants will never forget.
For those who find themselves in power today, and for those who were in power when all of the destructive acts described above were committed, we have only this to say:
The act of destruction of the physical properties of those who did so much to make our nation great can never desecrate their names or their legacies. It is those who permit such destruction who should ask themselves this: “Is this the way to honour the past? Are we proud to announce to the world that we allowed history to be corrupted and eroded like this?”
Finally, sad as we may feel about this story of demolition as chronicled above, we, the descendants, especially his children, are proud and grateful to God that our magnificent Patriarch, Papa Chief Jacob Sogboyega Odulate – ALABUKUN – The Blessed Jacob – left us a legacy that can never be forgotten in the history of Nigeria. In life and in death he stands up in the development of Nigeria.
What a man! What a hero! What a legacy!
For more information on the life of this great man, I refer you to the book “Reaching for the Stars” an autobiography of one of his children – Chief Folake Solanke SAN.