The whole family was here to celebrate Jaiye’s promotion. At the age of 42, he had become the youngest and the first black CEO of PRITON GAS & OIL, the largest oil drilling company in Europe. It was something worth celebrating and it had been celebrated many times over. The company had thrown him a big party; the governor of his state had given another and his wife of eight years, Adesuwa had done the same. But this particular celebration was for the family alone; a private dinner organized by the celebrant himself, to honor the people who had made it possible for him to get to where he was.
There were all gathered in the dining room of the private quarters of Jaiye and Adesuwa, set in the eastern side of their expansive mansion.
Seated at the head of the table was the Patriarch of the family, Otunba Ayodele Ojikutu, the Chairman of Ojikutu Group of Companies. He had started the company selling second hand goods from foreign countries; now, nearly half a century later, it had grown to include everything from petroleum marketing to telecommunications to Banking and Insurance to Real Estate all the way down to boutiques and hotels and spas. Just name it and you can be sure Ojikutu Group of Companies has it.
And at almost seventy, Otunba was not slowing down and had no intention of slowing down. He still presided over the huge corporation even though the day to day running was handled by his CEO.
Seated on his right side, a place she had occupied for almost forty-five years was his wife, Erelu Monisola Ojikutu, a woman regularly named as one the most graceful and fashionable in the world. She had shared his pain and struggles and achievements and successes. She was his wife, the mother of his four children and the rock solid pillar behind her husband. When you talk of the proverbial woman behind every successful man, you are talking of Erelu Monisola Ojikutu. The typical well bred African woman, loyal to her husband, serving him unquestioningly, never challenging his authority. There was no doubt in her mind that her first and only identity was MRS OJIKUTU, any other identity was a very distant second. Exactly the kind of woman Otunba needed in his life.
Facing her across the mahogany table, on her husband’s left side was the other woman in her husband’s life. Their second child and only daughter, Wonuola Ojikutu-Briggs, the CEO of Ojikutu Group of Companies.
Wonuola was the perfect daughter, “the only one of his older children who amounted to anything”, Otunba was fond of saying. There was no doubt in everyone’s mind that Wonuola had worked to earn that. From the time she was old enough to understand conditional love; Wonuola’s sole aim in life was to please her father. And the more she pleased him, the more she worked to please him even more. She lived for her father’s praises. Wonuola had made a lot of enemies in her thirty-nine years of life but she didn’t care. As long as her father was happy, everyone else could go to hell.
Beside her was her husband, Lawrence Okoko-Briggs. The man her father had carefully chosen for her to marry so as to facilitate the merger between Oakland Communications, formerly owned by Lawrence’s family and Ojikutu Companies. Technically, it was a merger, at least on paper, but in reality, it was a well executed hostile takeover. Wonuola marrying Lawrence had made that possible and keeping Lawrence in the company was Otunba’s way of keeping him under watch to be sure there would be no reprisal actions. As if!
Lawrence learned early on which side his bread was buttered and apart from the occasional “Yes, sir” to his father-in-law, kept mute so as not to upset the cart that supplied his living income. There were worse things to be than the only son-in-law of Otunba Ojikutu but he was not prepared to find out what those things were. So he stayed contentedly as the publicly acknowledged husband of Wonuola, hopefully biological father of their three children and confirmed figure head Director of Finance of Ojikutu Group of Companies.
On his left was Adesuwa Soares (she kept her maiden name), the beautiful half-caste wife of Jaiye, the man of the moment. Adesuwa was a lawyer in the International Criminal Court, the Ivy League kind. Yes, she had been born with a silver spoon, no, make that a diamond studded platinum spoon handed down through generations of wealthy Soareses. The kind of wealth that made Otunba’s seem like a Peugeot 406 parked beside a Maybach. A good reason why Otunba did not like her. But she had never allowed the family wealth to dictate her life. Everything she had, she had worked for; built on the solid foundation her parent’s money had provided her and she took her work seriously. Publicly, her father-in-law, Otunba disdained her modern independent woman image but privately, he felt she was too good for his first son.
With Adesuwa’s highflying international career and her husband’s rising profile, it was hard finding them in the same country at the same time, talkless of together in the house they purportedly share, but she had taken time off to celebrate this occasion. It wasn’t everyday a black man was chosen to head such a huge European corporation, and at such a young age. Her husband had worked hard for it and she was proud of him. However, her fingers drummed impatiently on her elegant silk encased lap; she had a flight back to The Hague in three hours and she was eager for this last minute dinner to get underway. Whatever possessed Jaiye to do this?!
Across her was her brother-in-law, the third child of the Ojikutu family. Of all his children, Otunba loathed Demola the most; the success genes had bypassed him. At the age of thirty-four he was yet to do anything with his life. Early on he had wanted to be a drummer but Otunba had swiftly and ruthlessly put an end to that. No son of his would do something so crass! It was a testament to how much Demola feared his father that almost two decades after the confrontation that ended his drumming dreams, he still was unable to summon up enough courage to touch a drum again. Not even when his big brother, Jaiye had taken him out of under his father’s thumb and brought him to live in his house.
Demola had huge grandiose plans but none ever panned out and he didn’t really mind, he was content to live with his big brother away from the fearsome presence of his overbearing father. Just being in the same room with Otunba was so frightening to Demola that he was sweating and fidgeting in the Savile Row suit his brother had made specially for him for this occasion.
On Demola’s left, between him and his mother was the baby of the family, Seyi.
If there was anyone capable of inducing unconditional love in Otunba, it was Seyi. He had been an unexpected baby, conceived more than ten years after Otunba and his wife had stopped having children. From the time he had opened his tiny baby eyes to stare owlishly at his father, Otunba had adored this child of his. No one understood the hold Seyi had on him. The love Otunba had been incapable of giving to his other children, he showered freely on Seyi. Nothing was too good for him to have. He laid no heavy burden of impossible expectations on the young boy as he did on the others but instead allowed him to have his way in practically everything.
Luckily, Seyi didn’t turn out spoiled. He was an intelligent, caring, genuinely nice young man. Now at twenty-three, he was close to graduating from Medical School. His father boasted endlessly about this to all and sundry.
And coming into the room, laden with trays was the man they were all gathered to celebrate, Jaiyeola Ojikutu, the first son and maybe (depending on Otunba’s decision) eventual heir of the Ojikutu dynasty.
Jaiye had also worked hard from an early age for his father’s approval but no matter how hard he tried, his sister, Wonuola was always one step ahead. It had developed into a free-for-all race to see who would earn the old man’s praise. His father’s open contempt for Jaiye and obvious preference for Wonuola had not helped matters but Jaiye had not allowed that to dissuade him. He had persevered, hoping that he would one day earn his father’s respect, if not love.
However, the day Otunba had chosen Wonuola to work in his company and shut out Jaiye, he had finally given up and gone his own way. Twenty years later, that decision had paid off. He was now the first black man and the youngest CEO ever to head PRITON GAS & OIL. More than one member of the family thought this dinner was a show off to his father and sister.