Prince Debo Gbadebo: Biography of a flamboyant politician, who died a year ago

Ogbomoso in Oyo State of Nigeria is proudly regarded as the land of the valiant, a cognomen that was derived fittingly from the avalanche of men of means in terms of bravely disposition it had produced and continues to produce. From its founding in about 1600 to the present such great men have never been in short supply, each generation produces mighty men of valour, whose strides are marked by daring episodes. Aale Okelerin, Soun Ogunlola, Jogioro, Toyeje Akanni Alebiosu, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Benjamin Maja Adekunle, Sunday Adewusi, Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala and many others constitute some of the names in this eminent list. Another prominent name in the list is Prince Adebowale Ayoola Gbadebo, popularly called ‘Prince Debo Gbadebo’ or fondly as ‘Debo & Debo,’ who transited last year May 27 at the age of 79 and buried on June 12.

The Charming Prince

Prince Debo Gbadebo was most passionate about three things while alive – entrepreneurship, politics and religion. This is aside his undying devotion to his family, humanity and hometown. In these areas he exceedingly made his mark, carving an indelible imprint in his strides. Debo & Debo would also be remembered for his flamboyance cum glitziness. He was the Charming Prince Kempt, the Immaculate. He had a straight and erect stature with imposing gait till his final hours. He was fond of appareling himself in flowing agbada, whose hem reaches to his heels, resplendent and attractive. A smooth, persuasive talker, of very high oratorical prowess!

As chairman Bay Firma Ditting Nig Ltd

As an entrepreneur, he started off when he founded his business empire after working for sometime in the then Western Nigeria Investment Corporation reaching the position of Loan Secretary and at the Victory Builders Nig. Ltd, a construction firm in Lagos belonging to his uncle, Chief (Hon.) Victor Oladipo Olajide, that political gladiator from Ogbomoso, who served as Minister in the First Republic. Prince Debo Gbadebo thereafter blazed the trail in air traveling consultancy by establishing Debo & Debo Travels Agency and Air Chartered Services in Lagos. The company enjoyed huge success. He would go ahead to found other business outfits such as Debo Farms Nig. Ltd in Ogbomoso; Debo Gbadebo & Sons Ltd; International Export Agency Nig. Ltd; Westminster Development Corporation in Abuja; and All Ports Corporation also located in Abuja.

Prince Debo Gbadebo with former Oyo state governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala (left) and then Oyo state Commissioner for Environment,Makanjuola (middle) during the commissioning of waste disposal vehicles in Ibadan supplied by Bau Firma Ditting Nig Ltd
Commissioning of a borehole he donated to Taraa community. Performing the ceremony with him is Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III JP CON CFR Soun of Ogbomosoland
With the then Eleruwa of Eruwa Oba Samuel Adegbola

He had business outlets also in the US and UK, putting up a confectionery company he named America Continental Foods, which produced and sold American Doughnut. In the 2000s, he established Bau Firma Ditting Nig. Ltd with offices in Ogbomoso, Lagos, Abuja and London, a supply and contract company. At the advent of GSM in Nigeria and in Ogbomoso in particular, he founded the All Ports Communication just as he invested in Oodua Tex to aid GSM telecommunications in Ogbomoso and Nigeria as a whole. He made cutting edge decisions and brought to bear the requisite smartness to make it big as a businessman. He might have some grey areas as many people held but his shrewdness could not be doubted and then, what man is totally free of dirt!

With Bayo Lawal who the party chose to contest Oyo North Senatorial district election in his stead, they were together at a campaign rally
With Chief Mrs Bimpe Martins who served as interim chairperson of Ogbomoso North local government

As a political adventurist, his interest in politics was stoked as far back as his secondary school days at Ekiti Parapo College. His principal then, Chief Ade Komolafe was a politician of note, and a disciple of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Chief Komolafe contested the House of Representatives election in 1959 on the platform of the defunct Action Group (AG). This man excited Prince Debo Gbadebo to no end and he it was that made him made a decision ushered him into the path of politics. More so, Awolowo was making waves in the political field then, which was further impetus to Gbadebo. The influence of Chief Victor Oladipo Olajide could not also be overemphasized.

Prince Debo Gbadebo with his wife Chief Mrs Florence (Nee Davies) during the burial ceremony of her mother

With his admission into the Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech) in Lagos, he became more entwined in the web of politics as he plunged headlong first into students’ unionism, later embracing the Nigerian Youths Congress (NYC) led by Tunji Otegbeye. NYC was a communism leaning organization and so was in constant confrontation with government as it was in the forefront of many protests against many ills in the society. Debo Gbadebo was one of its delegates to Sofia in Bulgaria for the World Youth Congress. He would lunge ahead to pitch tent with the Youth Vanguard of the Action Group becoming actively involved in the project. The military intervention of 1966 put paid albeit temporarily to his political advance as it did to so many other politicians in the country. But he spent the period to build his entrepreneurship skills and empire. During the Nigeria Civil War of 1967 to 1970 however, he joined the Nigeria Solidarity Youth Council (NSYC), which had Aliko Yankassi and Ogbonna as members. He emerged as national publicity Secretary. NSYC was involved in humanitarian services to alleviate the plight of the Biafrans, an adventure that however brought the organization against the authorities. He was among its leaders arrested and slammed into detention. They only got their freedom after a challenging court proceeding.
At the return of Second Republic, he naturally joined the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. His dynamism and antecedent saw him emerging as the chairman of the Tribune Group, an important arm of the party, composed of professionals and other vibrant individuals. He made a shot at representing Ogbomoso Central Constituency in 1979, contesting on the platform of UPN but he lost gallantly to Bashorun Yomi Akintola, the scion of late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola family. Temper still ran high in Ogbomoso at the time, against anything Awolowo and so, it was not a surprise that he lost to the son of a principal actor in the crisis of the 1960s in the Western Region. Sticking his neck out was even bravery on his part. He declined commissionership slot in the UPN administration of Chief Bola Ige in the then old Oyo state. But he was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of Airport Hotel, a subsidiary of the Oodua Group of Companies in Lagos. He also got into the Board of the International Export Agency.

With his mother, Mama Foyeke

The military takeover of December 31, 1983, drove him back fully again into business, travelling to and fro overseas countries. In 1998, at the dawn of the current democratic dispensation the Charming Prince Gbadebo allied with others to form the Alliance for Democracy (AD). He easily emerged a leader in Oyo state. In fact, he was the major financier of the party. His suites at the Premier Hotel in Ibadan and elsewhere and other resources were copiously used by the party and later by its governorship candidate, Alhaji Lam Onaolapo Adesina, who went on to win the election. Debo Gbadebo was subsequently rewarded with membership of the Board of Directors of Oodua Group of Companies. The board he was part of, revitalized the company and the outcome is the success that trails the group till today. He helped a lot of Ogbomoso indigenes to secure employments here and elsewhere. During this time also, he spearheaded the building and commissioning of an ultra-modern market in Ogbomoso by Governor Lam Adesina.
In 2003, he aspired for the Senate to represent Oyo North but the party prevailed upon him to relinquish the ticket for Bayo Lawal, an Oke-Ogun-born politician. He contributed a lot to build the party and was an unrepentant progressive. However, his chauvinism for Ogbomoso helped him support Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala when he emerged as governor in 2006, which was a rare occurrence. Indeed, most Ogbomoso politicians rallied round Akala to succeed and Debo Gbadebo was not an exception. That would be the only time he worked for a party that doesn’t carry the tag of progressivism. But by the time of his death he was back in the fold of a reinvigorated AD. His oratory, flamboyance, wealth, antecedent and connections all fused to propel him in politics and to attain positions of eminence in the sphere.
In the Christian circle, he was ever fervent. He might not be totally pious but he passionately served his creator as a Baptist. Right from childhood he had shown flair for matters of God. In primary school in Ido-Ekiti, he was nicknamed, “Olori-Bibeli,” owing to his proficiency in Bible Knowledge. He always took first position in CRK and represented his school in any competition involving the subject in which he was sure to take the first position. This love for the holy book he translated to serving God in his adult life despite his deep involvements in politics and business.
He served in many committees such as building, fund raising etc, in churches, in Lagos, Abuja and Ogbomoso just as he was for many years a Sunday School teacher and served in many other capacities. In Lagos, he worshipped at Shepherd Hill Baptist Church; in Abuja, he was a member of First Baptist Church, Garki and in Ogbomoso Ori-Oke Baptist Church before crisis in the church turned him into a foundation member of Taraa Baptist Church a.k.a. Ibomirin Halleluyah. If it is by service and contributions to the growth of the church alone, it is no doubt “Baba Miracle” as he came to be fondly called would be in heaven now.
His devotion is partly reflected in this submission by Rev’d. Philip Tinuoye, the under-shepherd of Taraa Baptist Church. Rev’d. Tinuoye had told The Insight during the funeral ceremony of Prince Gbadebo on June 12 2020, “Well, it is a pity because if l am to write the history of my ministry, without mentioning Baba Debo Gbadebo the history of my ministry will never be complete. So, it is a great loss to me, my family and to the entire church.
“He contributed immensely to the church, in fact, before my arrival, he drilled a borehole for the church, he was among those that donated about two million naira for the purchase of the land our auditorium is built.
“At the same time, he bought some of the public address systems we use in the church, it was nearly spearheaded by him and at the same time, when I got here, the front view of the church he was the only one responsible for its tiles. So, he did a lot in the church, we can’t forget him in the history of the church.
“I want to console the family most especially mummy in the United Kingdom, the entire children in the United States and Europe, they should continue to live a life of unity, they should continue to serve God even more than their late father served the lord. I pray the lord will uphold them in the mighty name of Jesus.”
There are many testimonies in this regard from several quarters but space and time will not allow their being reproduced here. But let me mention that he has a fairly large chapel in his palatial residence in Ogbomoso. He had dedicated the house in 1985 and at the time in the whole of Ogbomoso zone, it is the most modern, most exquisite. Above all, he could be described as an able soldier of the kingdom, who did his best to advance the kingdom of God.
But he was a mysterious person at times, which made many unsavoury tales to be woven round him. In some quarters, he was seen as a trickster, that he harnessed much of his wealth from dubious means but then most successful individuals carry such baggage one way or the other. He once described the purveyors of such accounts as traducers who are envious of his successes, which he disclosed he attained through the grace of God, indefatigability and astute efforts. He always put on fila mon wobe (I-don’t-care attitude), when confronted with the tale. And to exonerate him he did not carry the tag of a convict or ex-convict at the time of his departure! Perhaps, the axiom, “Big success attracts big jealousy and slander,” holds true in his case too.
Of Ogbomoso heritage, Adadenge compound in Taraa to be specific, his father, Samuel Ojo Akande was a farmer, a timber and later cloth merchant in Ido-Faboro in Ekiti land while his mother, Comfort Foyeke who hailed from Balogun Aguodo compound, Aguodo, Ogbomoso, was a fairly successful trader. He was the first of seven children. The family, according to Prince Gbadebo, claimed descent from Adelu, a prince of Alaafin dynasty in Oyo. Prince Adelu migrated to Ogbomoso after losing in a succession tussle. Debo Gbadebo’s grandfather, who led the family to Taraa area, brewed a much sought after local drink, “Denge,” from which the family derived its name “Adadenge.” His parents were much loved in Ido-Faboro, their base, because of their likeable character, which he also inherited in addition to inheriting the immaculate appearance of his mother. His father being appointed as “Baba Ijo” of the Anglican Church they attended there because of lack of a Baptist Church at the time and his mother being conferred with the chieftaincy title of Yeye Olayeba of Ido-Ekiti by HRH Oba Thomas Adeyemi Olayisade II, JP, the Olojudo of Ido-Ekiti, bore eloquent testimony to the above.
He was the immediate past president of Oyo State Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OYCIMMA), he was a Justice of Peace and a Jerusalem Pilgrim, and bagged the Fellowship Award of the Certified Institute of Management of Nigeria, to further underscore his worth in the society.
Debo Gbadebo attended the Native Authority School and Ekiti Parapo College, both in Ido-Ekiti, for his primary and secondary school education respectively. He proceeded to Yaba Tech, where he studied Building and Architecture, bagging his HND. He later studied Business Administration.
He garnered many awards among which were his bestowal with the Honorary Doctorate Degree of Public Administration by the All Saints University of America in 2008 and the conferment of chieftaincy title of Sobaloju of Ogbomosoland by His Imperial Majesty Oba Oladunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III, JP CON, CFR, the Soun of Ogbomosoland. He was as well Gbobaniyi of Inisaland.
He was father to many irrespective of tribes, backgrounds or religions, as he brought many people under his wing, caring for them like his own. He had a large heart, he was a philanthropist, he instituted many scholarship programmes to propel many youths towards the attainment of higher learning. He saw and experienced it all, he was at the apex of wealth and at the deepest end of poverty but whether fortune or misfortune, he lived his life with equanimity. But one thing is that he was ever agitating to better his lots, always a hustler. His wife, Florence Davies Gbadebo lives mostly in the UK, where she remains now and his children are scattered in the US and Europe.
His exit from Ogbomoso landscape on May 27, 2020 and remains being committed to mother earth on June 12, 2020, were remarkable events that brought an end to the earthly existence of one of the most remarkable politicians and indeed personalities that ever walked the earth. He died on May 27, the Children’s Day and was buried on June 12, Democracy Day, don’t these tell much about his uniqueness? May he continue to rest in peace even though there is no prayer again for the dead!


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