Ken-Calebs Olumese: The 38th Governor of Nigeria

Posted on June 7, 2024

If there is one person who has defined avant-garde nightclubbing in Nigeria, it is the one and only Ken-Calebs Olumese, known to his legion of fans and admirers as ‘The Guv’nor’, Nigeria’s unofficial 38th Governor.

Not of a state, no; nor of our apex bank, the CBN. It is his own nom de guerre conferred on him by popular public acclamation and consensus, albeit informally. How did this come about? How did one man transcend the statutory (and indeed, constitutional) strictures to appropriate to himself so effortlessly what so many have deployed life and limb (not to mention financial fortunes) to acquire: the ‘right’ or – more correctly, privilege – of being addressed as a ‘Governor’ (even if, in his case, it is stylised as ‘Guv’nor’)? It is a long and interesting story, but the occasion of his eightieth birthday is as good an opportunity as any for a historical excursion, a trip down memory lane, into the remarkable life and times of Chief Olumese.

Our celebrant made his earthly debut on the 27th day of May 1944. From his relatively humble beginning (his father was a priest) in the sleepy town of Ekpoma, in Edo State, his initial inclination was to follow his father’s footsteps into priesthood. This was sequel to his education, first at Western Primary School, followed by Oxbridge College, both in his home state.

He subsequently worked with the State Ministry of Education, from where he resigned to become the Executive Assistant to a Director in First Bank. Thereafter, he became a Medical Visitor with a Paris-based international pharmaceutical firm. He then transitioned to becoming, first, a Medical Representative of the firm, then its Marketing Co-ordinator; then Manager, Finance and Acquisition, and finally, as an Executive Director.

Having reached the zenith of a reputable corporate organisation (Roussel International), Mr Guv’nor bowed out gracefully and left to pursue his long-held dreams and desire for self-actualisation: to establish his pet project – a nightclub and corporate events centre. This was what prompted him to launch the Nite Shift Club on Opebi Road, Lagos, in 1988. The first of its kind then in Nigeria and the West African sub-region, it boasted of all the facilities and ambience of similar leisure and recreation centres anywhere in the world. This was deliberate, as Chief Olumese set out to target the creme de la creme of the society – the best of the best, and he succeeded. They came in droves, deserting older, more established nightclubs.

The Coliseum (as it was later known) became the nightclub to beat. It set the bar and No 34 Salvation Road, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos became the entertainment capital of Nigeria, not just Lagos. This remained so even after the country’s capital was moved to Abuja in 1991. It was not uncommon to find scores of businessmen (and women) and others trooping in from Abuja on Fridays to spend their weekends in Lagos, just because a non-political, non-institutional Chief Executive, our very own Guv’nor, had a “jam” or two (events or programmes) planned at the Club/Coliseum. So famous was he that he became synonymous with first-rate entertainment, event hosting and nightclubbing. To be sure, Olumese did not invent night life or night clubbing in Lagos; but for over three decades, he reshaped it and accorded it its gravitas.

His Coliseum became the place to see and be seen. Presidents (including Babangida), their Deputies (the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, RIP), state Governors, captains of industry, name it: they all flocked to Niteshift and The Coliseum. Very few of them, however, knew the amount of industry, hard work, dedication, commitment, sacrifice and benevolence (of friends and well-wishes) that contributed to making the club the success it was. From an isolated, lonely, decrepit marshland, the Guv’nor spent a fortune (five times the cost of the land itself) sand-filling it alone. This was followed by the colossal cost of erecting the physical structure and ancillary works, which is the imposing edifice that we all recognise today.

The choice of the name of the club’s make-over (from Niteshift to the Coliseum) was deliberate: a brilliant stroke of the marketing ingenuity of a genius, as it echoed a cavernous structure in Ancient Rome. Even though its Nigerian ‘replica’ does not match its famous namesake in size, it arguably rivals it in style, grandeur, panache and appointment. Standing on a mere six pillars (just like that of Rome), its uniqueness is all-embracing: from the designation of its attendants (called ‘hosts’, not ‘waiters’ or ‘waitresses’), to its patrons (called ‘guests’); to disc jockeys (called ‘music presenters’); to its restrooms (called ‘vanities’); and finally, its door-keepers (normally called bouncers, but which it called ‘first men’).

Talking about appellations, Olumese’s moniker of ‘Guv’nor’ was also deliberate: it was, by his own admission, self-chosen, but with a spin, in terms of spelling, to distinguish it from the 36 state governors in Nigeria and the CBN governor. This is why he is the 38th Governor. Even though a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, however it would be a mistake to think Mr Olumese’s outfit is all about form and not substance – because it is not. There is far more to it than that, as it is more than the sum of its parts. This accounts for its longevity and durability over the years, when its rivals have since folded up and gone into extinction in a field that is notorious for its high mortality rate. So, how did Olumese sustain it, to become, effectively, the Mohican; the last man standing in elite entertainment, exclusively targeting the discerning? The answer must be in Olumese’s sheer organisational wizardry and acumen, which ensured that his club was scrupulously run in line with international best practices, as is obtained in the entertainment capitals of the world. These rules were religiously and uniformly applied to all: guests, staff and even himself – without discrimination.

Olumese was very clear from day one about his target clientele. He set out to establish an outfit that was not an all-comer’s affair. No. It was not for the hoi polloi – for every Tom, Dick and Harry. He was unapologetic about this: his focus was the Upper Middle Class, the Upper Class and the Super Upper Class. This model was so successful that it was followed by other entertainment organisations (such as, Ovation magazine). Finally, he shrewdly ensured that, apart from nightclubbing, other services were also offered by his organisation. These include hosting corporate meetings, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, fashion shows and even children’s parties. The last was particularly a master stroke as its strategy of ‘catch-them-young’ ensured that some of the children who attended those parties, grew up to join the club, and they – in turn – brought their own children to such parties, thereby securing a potentially endless generational stream of loyal customers.

Such satisfied customers are legion, with some bearing customised identifiers called ‘Glamour Cards,’ which were upgradeable to Gold Status. Such is the class and panache which Olumese has come to symbolise and for which he is justly recognised. This came, recently, this year, in the form of a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award conferred on him by organisers of the Silverbird Man of the Year Awards, belying the saying that a prophet has no honour in his homeland (Mark 6:4). This is one prophet honoured in his home. That singular event was a richly deserved reversal of roles of sorts, as it was usually Olumese who habitually celebrated others at his Club’s “Grand House Reception.” On those occasions, he hosted special guests (successful Nigerians, such as captains of industry, opinion leaders, entertainers and sportsmen and women). While those receptions were, strictly speaking, not award ceremonies, they however afforded the guests and his club’s patrons unique opportunities to mix and fraternise, which (for many of the former) were opportunities of a lifetime. Such guests were as illustrious as they came, including the likes of Senate Presidents, Ministers, State Governors and even former Ghanaian Leader Ft Lt (later President) Jerry Rawlings. A special guest was normally put on the hot seat, with Rueben Abati and Taiwo Obileye grilling them. A case of intellectual fisticuffs amidst wining and dining. I was one of such guests; praise God.

Chief Olumese’s success is all the more remarkable because he did not acquire any special proficiency prior to plunging into nightclubbing. He simply learnt on the job and his spartan self-discipline, work ethic and natural inborn flair seem to have done the trick. That’s what made his club tick. The Guv’nor was later to set up a newer version of the Coliseum in the Lekki axis of Lagos. But no good thing lasts forever. In his case, Mother Nature (in the form of age) has taken its toll – which is what we are presently celebrating: all of four scores! Wow! Incredible, because the Guv’nor is still as sprightly as a spring chicken. He does not use prescription glasses, nor a walking stick; not even a cane. He possesses an elephant memory, which is razor-sharp; and so are his wits.

The vagaries of time have however forced him to cede the running of his beloved club to another, equally capable outfit, in order to ensure the confirmation of his legacy. It was, however, merely, leased out, not sold as was popularly rumoured, ensuring that his legacy outlives him for generations unborn. As the one and only 38th Guv’nor in Nigeria who was neither elected nor appointed by the people, Mr Olumese has carved a niche which remains peculiarly his own with his own people. There is no other like him in the entertainment world. He is nullus secondus. In the twilight of his earthly sojourn, here is wishing this unusual man of grace, style, effervescence, class and panache, God’s grace and even more blessings. You are a rare gem, sir. They do not make them like you anymore. We can confidently say that you came, saw and conquered (vini vidi vici) the terrain of nightclubbing and entertainment. You bestrode that field like a colossus and, indeed a titan. You are one of a kind. Congratulations and many happy returns. Nigerians are proud of you!

Mike Ozekhome is a senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

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