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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Photos From Chief Deinde Fernandez’ Funeral Yesterday In Brussels Belgium As Dele Momodu Pens A Powerful Tributes For His Departed Friend

Late Chief Deinde Fernandez'  who passed on on the 2nd of September 2015 was yesterday interred to mother earth in Far away Brussels Belgium

Present at the burial rites were his daughter   Miss Oyinkan Antoinette Fernandez and wife Baroness Halima and members of the extended family

Also present was  Chief Dele Momodu, publisher of Ovation Magazine who also wrote tributes for his departed friend

The first tribute was the week Ambassador Fernandez gave up ghost and the second tribute was written this morning

See all that and more after the cut 

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Here is the first tribute written a week after the demise of the late chief by his friend Dele Momodu. The second tribute is immediately after this

Fellow Nigerians, it is another sad story. Barely five weeks after we lost our dear beloved royal elephant, The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, another monumental tragedy occurred. The Lion of the diplomatic fraternity has fallen. He is no other than the African icon, Ambassador Chief Antonio Oladeinde Fernandez. It is not that he was too young to die but Chief had traversed this world so much that he appeared larger than life and, as such, not likely to be bullied by any ailment that could take him away so cheekily. But as usual death remains the unbeatable world heavyweight champion and nothing could prevent our own Chief, The Ajinijini Ogun being given a technical knockout.

My only consolation is that I had my last conversation with Chief Fernandez exactly one week ago by sheer providence. I had accompanied The Prince of Ile-Ife, Barrister Adedamola Aderemi to Iga Iduganran, The Palace of The Oba of Lagos, Olowo Eko Oba Rilwan Akiolu, on Friday, August 28, 2015. As we approached the palace, we saw the influential monarch heading out and we quickly made a call to him. He then told us to join him at a function he was attending at Onikan. After the ceremony, we then fixed an appointment for the following evening at the palace. Unknown to us fate was playing its game as usual.

At the appointed time, we landed at the palace and spent quality time chatting with Olowo Eko. We were soon joined by my great mentor, Dr Bode Olajumoke and his darling wife, Princess Remi (nee Oyekan). The discussions were as animated just as they were varied. Somewhere along the line the name of Chief Fernandez came up. I mentioned that I had called him a couple of days before but he did not answer the phone. For the sake of those who may not know the relationship between The Oba of Lagos and Chief Fernandez, they are cousins.

We knew at 86, Chief Fernandez was in a Belgian hospital awaiting whatever miracle could fully restore his health to normalcy. The King decided to call Belgium to check on Chief. Fortunately, he answered the call despite the excruciating pain he must have been going through. Oba Akiolu then announced my presence and handed his phone to me.

The voice at the other end was not the strong booming baritone I was accustomed to. Chief could barely pronounce my name. Wow, I exclaimed silently and I had an instant premonition as to what to expect soon. Immediately I dropped the phone, I told everyone my sad but truthful observation. Three days later, my worst fears were confirmed.

As soon as I received a call that Tuesday evening, on September 1, 2015, from one of Chief’s aides, I knew the worst must have happened. “Chief died about one hour ago…” the voice said calmly but matter-of-factly. This was not funny at all. I was dazed and confused. So that was it. It is over, just like that. So it is true that all good and bad things shall end. Memories of Chief flooded back to me. How we met and bonded endlessly. The few times we shared together in Lagos, Kano and Edinburgh. The lengthy telephone chats, the political lectures, the wisdom of the ancients, the gifts, the father-son relationship, all gone…

I knew I would have to write another tribute this Saturday. No journalist worth his salt would ever ignore the biggest news of the week and possibly the year.

Naturally my phones rang off the hook. The next 24 hours would be nightmarish, answering questions, or simply being consoled by friends. I spoke to a few personalities who knew Chief very well. Chief Harry Akande called. Pastor Tunde Bakare, who shared some of the last moments with Chief, called. Dr Olajumoke called to confirm my earlier observation in the palace during our last meeting.

I called Chief’s widow, Halima, The Baroness of Dudley, in Belgium but was not so lucky to get her. I could picture her sorrowful state from afar knowing how much she had laboured tirelessly to make Chief as comfortable as possible. I called our dear Sister, Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, who had enjoyed a celebrated marriage and whirlwind romance with Chief before their love turned sour. She was in London just as her daughter, Antoinette, was arriving Brussels by train. I spoke to Chief’s eldest child, Mrs Teju Phillips in Lagos and later paid her a visit. I also spoke with another daughter of his, Abimbola, who was in New York, having just returned from Belgium where she had gone to pay last respects to her departed father.

It is very difficult to imagine how big an achiever Chief Fernandez was. Perhaps the stature of the man is best exemplified by the fact that in its almost 20 years of existence, OVATION has not done another cover as iconic as that of Chief Fernandez, a story that was written in English, French and Portuguese.

As he exits this sinful world, Chief Fernandez deserves a standing OVATION from all Black people around the globe for doing us proud, not just as a billionaire jet-setter, but as a proud son of Africa, who has not forgotten his roots, despite his towering personality and achievement. A modified tribute as captured by our Issue 26 now follows:

The story of Ambassador Fernadez is like a fairy tale. I first heard of him in the 1970s as I grew up in the ancient city of Ile-Ife. We were all regaled with stories of this literal and figurative giant of a businessman who had just donated Cadillac Limousines to some of the most powerful Yoruba Monarchs.

When I entered the University of Ife in 1978 we also learnt about how this Business King was assisting in making life tolerable for University students by manufacturing a very small refrigerator, Gorenje, in Nigeria, and selling it to them at very affordable prices.

Much later I heard of the magnificent Tower Fernandez in the heart of Lagos Island. Having heard a lot about this International Icon of Nigerian origin and I was dying to meet him.

I was eager to meet this man who stands six feet and six inches tall, a man of stupendous wealth, a diplomat extraordinaire, a charming African King, a man of sartorial taste and style, a quintessential philanthropist who spreads his wealth to his African brothers and sisters like manure, a man of culture, a man of tradition.

For more than 10 years, I searched everywhere for any lead to this rarefied being. Everytime I got close, it seemed something would go wrong and my elusive target would disappear into thin air. Once I was convinced I had struck gold as someone gave me a multitude of telephone numbers for him in America, France and Switzerland. However, I was to be gravely disappointed as all the lines rang but not a soul bothered to answer any of those stridently consistent calls. I continued to search for this ultimate story, the sort that gives a writer his magnus opus. No matter the amount of disappointments I had to endure, I was determined never to give up and so my quest continued.

One fine day, one of my erstwhile staff suddenly told me he had met someone who claimed that he could link me to Fernandez. I did not really believe him. However, as a reporter you are trained to follow every lead even if as you predicted it ends nowhere. I decided to meet this contact to request that he put in a good word on my behalf to the enigma.

I duly met the contact who told me that “Nigeria has been most unfair to Fernandez. He wanted to do a lot of things for our country and Nigerians but he was discouraged and maligned.” Taking no chances, I left all my telephone numbers worldwide with the contact and hoped that Chief Fernandez would call me one day as the contact earnestly promised.

One evening whilst having a drink with some friends at the Abuja Hilton Hotel my phone rang. I asked one of my reporters in Ovation to answer the call. He beckoned to me to take the phone from him without uttering a word. I did, and the biggest shock of my life up to that day occurred. “Is that Dele? This is Fernandez” a baritone voice boomed into my ears. I had spoken to the high and mighty, but none had been as elusive as this “King”, a self-made man who earned the respect of great people in foreign lands. “Your Excellency, this is a great surprise, Sir,” I said somehow nervously. That was the kind of effect my first contact with Chief Fernandez had on me. I knew in later years that I was not alone in this experience. Even when close to death, his nurses and doctors were intimidated by his avuncular presence as he would order them about and direct commands at them as to what medication he had deemed fit to take or not.

He was the last person I expected to speak with that night. He said he had got my message and he was aware of all the efforts I had made to contact him. He told me that he doesn’t seek publicity but he wanted to thank me for my efforts. “I am told that your magazine is very good and that you are very responsible”, he said. My head was beginning to swell. I told him that I had seen photographs of his private jet, yacht and New York Island in the Nigerian magazine, National Encomium, and would love to visit his home in New York to have a first-hand experience. He told me that he would invite me to visit him in New York and would give me access to his homes on his Island in New York and his Chateau in France to take photographs but that he would not grant an interview.

I informed him that I wanted to do a story that would inspire men and women of my generation to show them that if you dream big and work hard you would make it big like Fernandez. He was quite comfortable with my ideas. He promised to ask one of his personal assistants to discuss modalities with me. True to his word, the following day a call came through from an Algerian guy. The rest is history as Ovation Magazine did a fabulous cover story on Titan.

The arrangements required me to travel to London to secure the services of one of the most accomplished photographers in the world, Colin Ramsay. Ramsay instantly agreed to travel with me to New York for this momentous photo-shoot. Ramsay is one man who knows everything about anything. A former air force pilot, this Scotsman octogenarian has travelled extensively around the world initially with the air force and thereafter following his true love, photography. He has photographed numerous celebrities around the world including the English royal family. Colin was therefore the perfect choice for the job and he did not let me down.

Colin and I travelled together to New York shortly after I contacted him. As soon as we landed at John F Kennedy Airport, we drove straight to the Peninsula, the Premium Point Island outside New York where Chief Fernandez and his then wife, Chief Mrs Aduke Olufunmilayo Fernandez (now of blessed memory) and their two daughters, Abimbola and Atinuke, lived in a paradise on earth.
We went round the Island and the more we looked the more we discovered about the Island and its owner, Chief Fernandez. He was simply an outstanding man living on a magical planet.

Even my photographer, who had photographed many homes of celebrities like Imelda Marcos and Liz Taylor was clearly overwhelmed by the splendour, opulence and sheer luxury of the Fernandez home. It was a beautiful, classy and elegant home and Colin sweetly remarked in open amazement that he could never imagine that anyone, let alone an African, could demonstrate such imagination and creativity in the design of the Island and its appurtenances.

We had been booked to spend five days on the Island but we began to wonder whether we would be able to accomplish as much as we needed to do if we were to properly reflect the grandeur that we had been privileged to experience.

In keeping to form Chief Fernandez had travelled to Beijing and Hong Kong, whilst Colin and I were his guests so there was no chance of us being able to photograph, not to mention interview him. His absence gave us an opportunity to roam the premises freely and do as we liked. Daily, we worked for 12 hours before retiring to our hotel which was just 30 minutes away.

The highly civilised and cerebral Chief granted us access to every room in the house including his bedroom. During our numerous telephone conversations, he maintained that he was a fulfilled man with nothing to hide. He did his business openly and enjoyed his life privately and quietly. He pointed out that he was not a recluse but did not fancy intrusion into his privacy. He expressed delight at the prospect of our story on him inspiring younger people in particular since he was an epitome of the success of dedication, hard work and perseverance. For a man who made his first million US Dollars by seizing an opportunity that opened up for him and working hard at it, Chief Fernandez’s story is the stuff of which dreams are made.

We must note that Nigeria was not kind to Chief Fernandez. As is mostly the case, the country failed to honour this great son of Africa, in his own homeland.

Just watch as crocodile tears are shed now that the legend is gone. That is our style here… END

This is the recent article that he wrote for his departed friend Ambassador Fernandez and the article was written today

See it below

Fellow Africans, it is good to be great. It is great to be accomplished. Ambassador Chief Antonio Oladeinde Fernandez combined both and much more. If there were doubts about the wonderfulness of God in the life of Ambassador Fernandez before now, they were gloriously removed yesterday at the one-of-a-kind funeral service which was powerfully and meticulously planned by his widow, Mrs Halima Fernandez, and members of their extensive and extended families. It won’t be an exaggeration to describe it as the event of this year already. Despite the short notice given to guests considering the suddenness of unfolding events, the occasion still drew a large turnout of caring mourners.

Ambassador Fernandez was clearly a global player and it reflected in his ways and acts. I can confirm that this fact paid off handsomely and resoundingly yesterday as the capital city of Belgium bid farewell to an amazing giant. If the dead could look back and see how he was celebrated in death, Chief Fernandez would have been so proud. His wife was on top of the game. She ensured and executed a burial fit for a quintessential King and revered Statesman. That was the only way to describe the uncommon spectacle that was quickly and efficiently smoothly organised and superbly staged in Brussels by one of Africa’s illustrious families.

Chief Fernandez was not an everyday man and even in death, he was able to demonstrate how much an enigma he was. The funeral turned out to be a reunion for most people. So it was for his children who had lived far apart in the past but were unified and united in grief. They chatted, mingled, consoled and comforted one another. I was struck by the remarkable resemblance between Antonio Fernandez Jnr, the eldest son and Chief.
He quipped to me that when some people saw him at the mortuary before the funeral they took to their heels believing Chief had resurrected.  That was the kind of myth and legend that the Ajinijinni Ogun, Chief Deinde Fernandez engendered in his lifetime and obviously in death.
The maturity displayed by the eldest child, Mrs Teju Phillips was commendable and remarkable. At a stage during the sombre service, she called out her siblings and employed emotional skills to ask them to unite for the sake of their dotting dad. They complied and marched out gingerly towards the altar. Many were touched by this infectious display of camaraderie by children, some of whom had never met before the ceremony. I just prayed silently and just said “God bless these children for honouring their dad.”

The church itself is a popular monument in Brussels. Named the Church of Notre Dame du Sablon in the historic Sablon district of Brussels, the church is a Catholic Church originally built around 1400 as a chapel for crossbowmen. It was enlarged in the 15th and 16th centuries and took more than 100 years to complete all of the buildings.
Further restoration work was done about a 100 years ago. The Church is famous for its Brabantine Gothic architecture and Baroque chapels. It has an engaging long choir and enchanting glass canopies. The church is home to many works of Art and a connoisseur would simply not want to leave. Indeed, it is a glorious edifice and monument to Jesus Christ and a befitting place of worship for Kings, nobility and the wealthy and commoners alike. The service for Chief Fernandez was conducted in English and French. 
And friends and families came from far and near. The programme was brisk and business-like. There was no time for unnecessary rigmarole. Everything moved at a brisk pace once it all started. The welcome words and prayer came from one of his sons, Mr Akin Fernandez, and the fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, a close friend and confidant of the Chief.

The first reading was taken from the book of Acts 2, 25-28 and quickly followed by the book of Psalms 91. Thereafter came another reading from the Gospel according to Matthew 25, 14-30. General intercessions were then read out by the family. It was largely a day of prayers and songs. The music largely came from antiquity and we savoured the experience. The ceremony closed with the popular Frank Sinatra song, “I did it my way.” And it was time for the final journey. The Undertakers moved in expertly to lift the casket on their shoulders followed by the family and the entire congregation.
The family lined up at the entrance to have an opportunity to receive and thank their guests properly and appropriately. After some photo opportunities, off we went to the cemetary. Those in attendance included the family of Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos, Chief Bode Emmanuel , Mr and Mrs Yemi Cardoso, Kojo Annan, Prince Nasiru Ado-Bayero, Wole Omoboriowo, Oz Giwa-Amu. Please watch out for more details later.

This journey made it possible to see the importance attached to the passage of Chief Fernandez. The convoy was accompanied and guided all the way by armed police outriders. There were at least six of them.  We were informed that this was an honour reserved only for royalty and world Statesmen and it is clear that Chief Fernandez was considered as such.  We were able to drive without any hindrance from the church to the cemetery and it was surreal not to have the trouble of obeying traffic lights in a major European city. I’m sure that citizens of our host country knew an elephant had fallen by the sheer magnitude and magnificence of what they saw on their streets.

I was particularly touched by the sheer number of former employees that turned up in Brussels yesterday. They came to bid farewell to their boss. A few of them spoke eloquently about how Chief Fernandez touched and changed their lives for the better. I was happy to see Jack, the former caretaker at the Premium Point Island which was owned by Chief in New York. Jack was the expert who rhapsodised us with endless tales about Chief when I visited the Island about 15 years ago with a renowned photographer from London, Mr Colin Ramsay.

Talking of Colin, you hardly find such selfless human beings these days. My friendship with this amazing man was obviously made in heaven. After New York, we flew to Nigeria to take on additional jobs. Our biggest task after that of Chief Fernandez was the palace of gold in Maiduguri, owned by Alhaji Mai Deribe. The humongous edifice in Maiduguri was an architectural masterpiece. Colin worked without consideration of financial gain. He just loved photography and always gladly and assiduously set about his work. He loved Nigeria and Nigerians and we loved him in return. Before I met him, he was already shooting the Page 3 girls for the Vanguard newspapers. He loved to shoot models and his wife was one.

I had not spoken to Colin in a while and decided to call him about four days ago to inform him about Chief Fernandez but his wife picked the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked after my friend but the wife’s response knocked me out completely: “unfortunately…” she started and I just didn’t want to hear the rest. “Colin passed away about two years ago…” it came at me like thunderbolt. I was instantly dazed. How could Colin have departed this world like that without a chance for me to say goodbye to him. Colin was just too nice to go like that. I expressed my condolence  to the wife and I felt sad all day.

I wonder what would become of Colin Ramsay’s works. It is always tragic when gifted people die. It is always hard if not impossible to find someone who can replicate the work of a genius. We are all guilty of thinking we can live forever and thus forget that every day is a bonus from God. My biggest regret as an African is the lack of documentaries, autobiographies and biographies on our icons. Just imagine that there was no book written on the breath-taking exploits of Chief Fernandez. It was one of my dreams to achieve but it never materialised. I think the trouble usually is that we all get sucked into our daily activities that we forget that the world needs to learn so much about us and the giants God regularly chooses to light up our firmament. We dally until it is too late.

And time never waits for anyone. We often postpone and procrastinate as if we have total control over matters of life and death. The lesson to learn today is that the world deserves to know more than we are currently revealing. We must encourage our great men and women to change their attitude to works of scholarship. We must endeavour to create time out of our busy schedules to write and talk. This is the only way to eliminate the ignorance of those who sit down on social media to attack every successful person without knowing anything about such people.

We have so many hardworking people in our midst but little is known about them and you can’t blame those who think everyone is a rogue based on personal bias and incurable ignorance. Let me conclude by saying it is not too late to write books on departed heroes. This is why I miss and will continue to miss Mr Dimgba Igwe who was my immediate boss at Weekend Concord. He and his own immediate boss, Mike Awoyinfa, caused a publishing revolution in Nigeria but the cruel death of Dimgba has reduced the capacity of the two inseparable friends to entertain and educate the world about great Africans. I hope that my boss for life, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, will continue to challenge himself by writing about dream-makers. His style of narration makes it easy for readers to follow and enjoy. It would be my greatest delight to collaborate with him on a few books, sooner than later. I think a book on Chief Fernandez would be a bestseller any day. It is a work that must be done.

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