What is the secret to success? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. For Okoya-Thomas, level-headedness, honesty, diligence, and innovation are the virtues that underpin his success. Molade Okoya-Thomas whose reputation rests in equal measure on his enormous wealth and philanthropy led a distinguished life that permanently etched his name in the annals of history. He made wealth from his businesses but devoted a good size of it to interests that benefited a large number of individuals and communities across the length and breadth of the country. That is called philanthropy and altruism.
Birth and Education
Molade was born on 8 June 1935 to Hussam Okoya-Thomas and Alhaja Suwebat Okoya-Thomas (nee Gbajabiamila). His father was the first Baba Adini of the Furabay Mosque, Olowogbowo, Lagos, while his mother was the Otun Iya Adini of Idita Mosque. Both parents were well-respected individuals in the Lagos Muslim community. Notably, his father has a place in history as the first local employee of CFAO, a French conglomerate that he served for about 52 years.
He started his primary school education in 1942 at the Princess School, Lagos, before moving to the Baptist Academy in 1946. There he completed his primary and secondary school education. In 1956, he was the best graduating student at Baptist Academy, a feat that earned him the honour of being included in the school’s prestigious Honours Board. After his secondary school, he proceeded to the Balham and Tooting College to study accountancy between 1956 and 1959. He also furthered his training in accountancy at the Columbia University in New York City in 1981.
At the end of his studies at Balham and Tooting College in 1959, he returned to Nigeria and was immediately employed as an accountant by CFAO. He gave many years of meritorious service to the company in the course of which he headed many of the company’s subsidiaries, rose to director, and eventually chairman of the conglomerate. He was director, Transcap Nigeria Limited, Niger Motors Industries Limited, Chairman, Studio Press Nigeria Limited, all of which are subsidiaries of the CFAO conglomerate in Nigeria. In 1987, he was appointed the Chairman of the company, following the coming into effect of the indigenization policy of the Obasanjo military regime.
Okoya-Thomas was a key player in Nigeria-France business relations, more or less a corporate ambassador for French companies in Nigeria. His relationship with the French had started with his father who was the company’s first employee in 1902. Through hard work, innovation, and smart thinking, Molade warmed the hearts of the French enough to earn him that country’s highest honour for a foreigner, the Chevalier De La Legion D’Honneur.
Between 1989 and 1992, he was the chairman of the Franco-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce. For more than 18 years he was the president of the Alliance Francaise in Lagos and was on the boards of many companies that included the Nigerian Motors Industries Limited, the Nigerian-French Insurance Company, the Commercial Bank (Credit Lynnoias), the Mambilla Farms, and the Franco-Nigeria Insurance Limited. His contribution to the development of Lagos was equally impressive. He served as a member of numerous committees that included among others the Lagos City Council between 1971 and 1975 and the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation. He was also the Chairman, Board of Trustees Glover Memorial Hall and Tom Jones Hall.
Okoya-Thomas was a renowned philanthropist. He contributed a lot to the building of several mosques in Lagos and elsewhere in the country. Being an avid sports lover, he contributed significantly to the development of sports in the country. For over 40 years, he was the sole sponsor of the Asoju Oba Table Tennis Championships and held the record as the only Nigerian to single-handedly sponsor a sports competition for over 40 years. Noteworthy also is the fact that Molade was a great sportsman to boot. At the Baptist Academy, he had been a joint All Nigeria record holder in the 4 x 200yards relay race.
His interest in sports was quite extensive and enduring. He served as vice-chairman, Lagos State Sports Council, President Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Chairman, 3rd All-Africa Games Appeal Fund Committee, Chairman, National Appeal Fund for Sports Development, and chairman, Sports Trust Fund. He built and donated a modern sports hall for students and staff of the Lagos State University (LASU) in 2009.
He was also a prominent member of the fundraising committee for the construction of the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere. To celebrate him on his 75th birthday, the Commissioner for Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development, Prince Ademola Adeniji-Adele, on 8 June 2010, announced the Lagos State government’s decision to name the sports hall of the Teslim Balogun Stadium after Okoya-Thomas. On the same day, a State Dinner was also held in honour of the philanthropist at the City Hall, Lagos Island.
Personal Life and Death
Molade Okoya-Thomas was married to Iyaloye Olivet Abosede Okoya-Thomas. Their marriage was blessed with children, namely: Olajumoke, Tosin, Olayinka, and Ayodeji. Olajumoke Abidemi Okoya-Thomas was once a member of the Federal House of Representatives, representing Lagos Island I. She is currently a member of the All Progressives Congress responsible for piloting women affairs in the party’s Lagos State chapter. On 1 February 2015, Okoya-Thomas died after a brief illness.
“Molade Okoya-Thomas.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molade_Okoya-Thomas . Accessed 18 July 2019.
“Molade Okoya-Thomas (1935-2015).” The Guardian, 5 March 2015. https://guardian.ng/opinion/editorial/molade-okoya-thomas-1935-2015/ Accessed 18 July 2019.