Captain Emmanuel Sunmola Omotayo died fighting for the development of the Nigerian maritime industry. He pursued his belief till his last breath on earth.
I was at a shopping mall with my family that early afternoon of Saturday 11th March 2013 when a colleague, Godwin Oritse, called to confirm if I’ve heard of the death of Captain Omotayo. I hadn’t heard any such news and it sounded strange to me that Omotayo would die just like that. I quickly made a few calls. I tried to get in touch with the President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM), Captain Adejimi Adu, who worked very closely with Captain Omotayo but his number was switched off. I wanted to call Omotayo’s number but couldn’t bring myself to do so. Instead, I made a few more calls to other people and to my utter shock, Godwin Oriste was right. Captain Omotayo had died that morning.
Omotayo was at work the previous day – Friday 10th May, 2013. Some of his colleagues said he was his usual active, frank and down to earth self. There was no sign of any aliment. He worked till about 7pm and went home to his new abode at Lekki Phase 1, Lagos.
Captain Omotayo’s wife and children live in the United Kingdom so apart from a handful of domestic servants, he lived alone. He had scheduled to preside over the meeting of NAMM the morning he died so I suppose he retired to bed early enough to be able to attend the meeting at Apapa in good time.
He slept alone in the room and it was characteristic of him to lock his bedroom door. When he did not come out at his usual time that Saturday morning, his aides got worried. They knocked at the door. No response. After series of persistent knocks, they rightly guessed that something was amiss. The aides forcefully brought down the door and there he was. The medics were quickly contacted but it was too late. If only someone had sensed that something was amiss early enough; perhaps, Omotayo’s life would have been saved. Perhaps if he hadn’t locked the door from inside, maybe his life would have been saved. Or maybe if someone had shared the room with him…Who knows? Only God knows best. Perhaps it was just time for him to depart this world that is full of grief and turbulence. Perhaps God just wanted him back home for a well deserved rest after 58 years of fighting one battle after the other. Who knows?
His lifeless body was quickly evacuated to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) and it was interred at his home town in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State last Friday.
Before his body departed for Ekiti, there was a commendation service for the late Master Mariner at All Souls Anglican Church, Lekki Phase 1 on Wednesday.
Captain Omotayo lived in Apapa until about six months ago when he moved to his new house in Lekki. What an edifice he left behind. I also saw very nice cars neatly parked in the house when I went there. But then, nobody talked about his earthly possessions during the commendation service which turned out to be a maritime family reunion of sort.
Several maritime industry professionals and stakeholders from all walks of life gathered within the hallowed building to pay their last respect to one of their own whose departure from the scene was considered premature. It was a maritime gathering no doubt; and the church was packed full. And the tears flowed freely. But in all, many spoke glowingly of the late Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners.
His bosom friend, Captain Olugbemiga Abidoye, played his role to the hilt. Omotayo’s soul will surely be at rest whenever he looks down and sees the likes of Abidoye and Adu offering needed support to his wife, Mrs. Adeyinka Omotayo and their children.
Captain Emmanuel Omotayo was frank to a fault. His passion was the maritime industry and he gave all his life to it. He was Managing Director of Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited (ABTL) and Golden Shipping Limited – both subsidiaries of Flour Mills Nigeria Plc. He was also the Vice Chairman of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) and Vice President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM).
I had the opportunity of working with this core professional in all the offices he occupied.
I became very close to Omotayo when I was appointed, in 2007, the Media Adviser of STOAN. We worked very well together. At the onset of port concession when no one saw anything good in private terminal operators, Captain Omotayo, Mr. Michael Hansen, Captain Abidoye, Princess Haastrup and I formulated and implemented strategies that changed the perception of the general public for good. I can attest that he was a courageous and thoroughbred professional.
As Vice President of NAMM, Captain Omotayo always brought me in whenever the association had important events like its maiden edition of the Day of the Seafarer celebration, the NAMM 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2011 and the launch of its permanent secretariat project in February this year.
Omotayo also stood against perceived injustice. In 2006 and in his capacity as Managing Director of Golden Shipping Limited, he dragged the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to court over the imposition of what has come to be known as the imposition of the phantom three percent benchmark rate by the agency.
In November last year, Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court in Lagos declared the three percent charge based on stowage factor and benchmark freight collected by NIMASA as “unlawful and beyond the provisions of the law.” It was a landmark judgment and a victory for Omotayo.
The enthronement of mediocrity in the shipping sector grieved Omotayo greatly. He was a thoroughbred professional who would not suffer fools gladly.
His life and manner of death offer valuable lessons to all of us.
I can understand the pains of his wife and children at this time. My prayer is the classic one – may God give them the fortitude to bear this loss. May God fill the vacuum created by his painful exit. I hope his medical doctor daughter, Dupe, and her siblings will take solace in the fact that their father lived well.
To his friends and colleagues at Flour Mills, ABTL, NAMM and STOAN; I know it will be difficult to fill the void created by Omotayo’s death. The death of a colleague leaves both a personal and professional void in a workplace. We spend many hours of our lives with our co-workers. We form relationships with them, even if those relationships consist of merely saying hello as you pass by someone’s desk each morning. A co-worker’s death can mean the loss of a friend, but also the loss of someone we depend on to help us do our jobs. May you also find the grace to bear this great loss.
Personally, I have lost a dear friend, a fair-minded critic and mentor. The loss of a friend is like the loss of a limb. Time may heal the anguish of the wound but the loss cannot be repaired.
Captain Emmanuel Omotayo, till we meet to part no more; rest in peace.