The Passing On Of The Rare Icon Chief Olayinka Simoyan-Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
It is quite common to celebrate Nigerians who are loud on noise but very shallow in sublime achievement. The Nigerians who did groundbreaking work without advertising themselves are hardly ever given pride of place after they are gone. It is incumbent on me to now give deserving highlight to a truly distinguished Nigerian, Chief Olayinka Olasehinde Simoyan, who passed away on October 29, 2019.
Chief Simoyan rose from being a farm boy to becoming a worthy diplomat and capped it all up as a banking pathfinder. He was an accomplished historian, author and columnist. Born on February 1, 1934 in Egbe, in present-day Kogi State to Mr Angus Aremu and Madam Yeyeolu Simoyan, he served as a farm boy until the age of 14 when he began his formal primary education at SIM Central School, Egbe. He later attended Titcombe College, Egbe, for his secondary school education.
His questing drive took him to the Nigerian College of Technology in Zaria. A staunch believer in the power of education, he forged ahead to study public administration at the University of Ife then located at Ibadan. In pursuit of the coveted Golden Fleece of his diplomatic career, he studied at Universite de Montpellier in France and the American University in Washington, DC. The indefatigable Olayinka Simoyan then garnered a Certificate in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Studies. It was after acquitting himself so gloriously in the Foreign Service that he trained as a banker at the BIAO Banking Training School in Paris, France.
He upped the ante by studying at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, near Jos, thus earning the distinguished designation of mni, to wit, Member of the National Institute. Learning was for him a life-long pursuit as he later undertook postgraduate studies at the University of Ibadan and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Yagba history.
Chief Simoyan enjoyed a celebrated career of illustrious triumphs. He blazed the trail as Second Secretary at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC from 1965 to 1968. In the African sphere, he was the Charge d’Affaires of the Nigerian Embassy in Benin Republic from 1971 to 1974.
He then moved on to Europe to serve in Austria between 1974 and 1976. Incidentally, while serving in Vienna, Austria, he doubled up as Nigeria’s alternate Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Panel and the Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). He was a permanent member of the Nigerian delegation to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
A multi-tasking guru from the very beginning, Chief Simoyan served as the Deputy Chief of Protocol for the Ministry of External Affairs during the epochal 2nd Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture staged in Lagos in 1977, that is, FESTAC ’77. For a lad who started schooling somewhat late, after being a farm boy, it’s divinely remarkable that Chief Simoyan became amongst the youngest to head a Nigerian mission abroad. With his landmark work done in the Foreign Service, he veered into the banking industry as the Deputy General Manager of a small bank called International Bank for West Africa (IBWA) which was later known as Afribank. He in the course of time served as the Executive Director until 1986, phenomenally helping to build Afribank into the fourth largest bank in Nigeria, with branches all over the country.
The leadership and service attainments of Chief Simoyan are legion. He was appointed Bashorun (Prime Minister) of Egbe in 1977. The other traditional titles bestowed on him were Omoba ni Ketu (Prince of Ketu, Benin Republic) and Gbokunniyi (up-lifter of the people) of Okunland. A leader steeped in culture and tradition, he was the President-General of the Teachers of Yoruba Language and Culture of Nigeria. He was an eminent member of the Nigerian Historical Society and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Chief Simoyan equally excelled as a member of the Bible Society of Nigeria, the Chartered Institute of Bankers (UK) and the National Geographic Society (US). He was at various times a board member of Egbe Hospital, Titcombe College, Mushin High School, and the Nigerian Heartcare Foundation. A gifted writer, he published historical books such as Egbe Chronicle, Egbe Notes and Oibo Egbe.
His involvement in creative writing bore rich fruits in the fictional works, namely A Life of Life and Rainbow in the Night. His unpublished works include Humour on the World, a book on diplomatic jokes, and his autobiography Here to Stay. He has given the world many quotes like: “No matter their place in life all persons are by nature religious.” Chief Simoyan was quite fond of his hobbies, notably farming, and the collection of rare coins, pebbles, stamps and paintings. It was cool by him to cherish country walks. An avid lover of animals, he had multiform pets over the course of his lifetime, including a deer, a monkey, dogs and birds.
Married to Modupeola Afolabi on November 23, 1963, Chief Simoyan and his beloved wife got blessed with three daughters and three sons. The highly revered icon is survived by his children, eight grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and a host of others to whom he was a father-figure, trusted friend and mentor. According to his daughter Olaboludele Simoyan, author of the uniquely patriotic book, The 8th Wonder of the World –Made in Nigeria, “Papa was a man of conviction and integrity. He was committed to helping and encouraging people, a divine mandate that he fulfilled till his last day. He will be greatly missed.” Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, paid him timeless tribute thus: “Chief Olayinka Simoyan was an accomplished and patriotic civil servant. He was a gentleman, a diplomatic officer whose duty postings from Second Secretary to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (1965-68), to Charge d’Affaires to Dahomey (now Benin Republic) between 1971 and 1974 and then Charge d’Affaires to Austria between 1974 and 1976, often placed him in the brick of history. This was especially so in 1975, when I was scheduled to meet him in Vienna, Austria on a state visit after attending the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Kampala, Uganda. This was not possible because of the 1975 coup that overthrew my government while at the meeting. He was never out of his depth in whatever situation he found himself. That was a mark of greatness.” For former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, “The late Basorun Simoyan was a quintessential diplomat who was very loyal to his profession and who also had a highly dignified life as a leader in the banking industry.” In the riveting words of H.R.H. Oba Ayodele Irukera, the Elegbe of Egbe and Chairman, Yagba West Local Government Traditional Council, “Chief Simoyan was a very patriotic personality. He loved Egbe most passionately and contributed to its development diversely.” Tunde Ipinmisho, a former Editor of Sunday Times where Chief Simoyan maintained a column, penned his tribute thusly: “Chief Simoyan loved Egbe like a mother loves an only child.” A remarkable column written by Chief Simoyan was the October 3, 1999 article entitled “Nigeria at 39: Remembering 1960” that painted Nigeria’s picturesque arrival at independence on October 1, 1960. In a fitting finale, Chief Simoyan’s primary school teacher, Dr. David Ayodele Balogun, offered this lasting tribute: “Yinka was ever grateful to anyone who did him any good and would declare it publicly whenever the opportunity to do so presented itself.” Chief Olayinka Olasehinde Simoyan lived an exemplary fulfilled life that is worthy of eternal celebration.