It’s been a month and a few days since I had the opportunity to attend Dr Falil Ayo Abina’s 50th birthday celebration in Dubai. It was a close friends and family occasion with the right mix of celebration, prayers and thanksgiving with friends and family flying in from all over the world to celebrate with this achiever.
From an all white private yacht party to a fully formal dinner at the five star Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina to prayers at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi and a visit to Mecca, it was indeed a special affair.
Who is Dr Falil Ayo Abina?
Dr Falil Ayo Abina is a top Nigerian banker and technocrat with over 26 years banking experience, who even with the big shoes of his late father, Justice Sikiru Ayinla Abina, has carved out a 5 star reputation and niche for himself in banking and financial services.
He is a top bank executive and has distinguished himself leading teams and driving profitability across Lagos, North Central Nigeria, Abuja, South-East, South-South and South Western Nigeria.
I had heard about Dr Falil Ayo Abina in passing. A few friends have mentioned him while talking about their work. I had listened politely but my experience at his birthday celebration left me thinking about a lot of things.
He was on the board of the Lagos state and Oyo State Security Trust Funds. He is also the Chairman of the board of Cocoa Product Ile Pluji ( CPIL) one of Nigeria’s biggest cocoa exporting companies.
I had started working on NigeriansInDubai.com the week of his birthday. Attending the birthday made me try to accelerate the platform launch to share pictures and a glamorous post about how Nigerians like to enjoy themselves with luxury celebrations in Dubai. Thinking about it, that angle would not have told the full story. The real story is a story of a coming of age, and is well captured in the theme of the birthday which was “On His Own Terms.” As told by him during a speech on the day of the dinner, this is a man that lost his father as he was about to start a post graduate degree. His father’s death changed his plans, and he decided to join the labour force methodologically advancing in his career, reaching his academic goals and living a disciplined life that has culminated in the man he is today.
And as friends and colleagues from Igbobi College, Ekiti State University, University of Ibadan, Ambrose Ali University, South African Business School, London Business School and INSEAD Business School where he bagged his plethora of certificates- Bsc, MBA, Management Courses Certificates and PhD came out to give their glowing remarks, there were a few things I noticed about this man that I would like to share.
1. Mentor-ship is a very powerful thing : I have never been that into mentor-ship. As a young man I was failed by my mentors and believed in just learning through experience but watching men and women come out to shed tears as they talked about how Dr. Falil Ayo Abina had helped shape their lives made me wonder what I have been missing all these years.
One particular person, a colleague at a bank talked about how Dr. Abina had helped him during some misunderstanding at his bank. He talked about how Dr Ayo Abina told him why he was selected to be part of the team and how no matter what was being said, as long as he was sure and stood his ground, he believed him and would back him to any level. This displayed a man of conviction who was sure about his team. A member of his extended family who had worked with him talked about his style of leadership. The “You can do it and have to do it” style that drives people to think outside the box and reach for a level they would ordinarily not have been able to reach. These two cases among many others showed a man that understood the importance of mentor-ship.
2. Family is your first point of Influence: As a keen observer, I watched how Mrs Taibat Abina’s eyes followed her husband everywhere. This was a woman that even with the many years they had been married still had so much affection and adoration for her husband. She told an interesting story of the first time he came to visit her family in Ilorin and her father and siblings were initially skeptical about why their daughter would go so far to get married. According to them “Ilorin doesn’t go so far away…” unknown to them this was a match their daughter was sure of and sold out to.
Looking at his three children, his 20 year old first son Olasunbomi who has just finished his Bachelors degree in Law from Ashton University, Birmingham, his second son who was in his final year studying Economics at Leicester University and his daughter who has just finished senior secondary school at Lagoon Secondary School, you can tell that this is a man that prioritizes influencing his family beyond others. Listening to his sons and daughter speak, you can tell the reverence and love they have for their father. These are children who have plans and are chasing it with all they desire.
One of the most emotional moments at the event was when his niece Reni stood up to speak, she was in tears before her first words as she described how supportive and impactful her uncle had been in her life. Dr. Abina was off his seat in no time as he hugged her while she spoke about some changes that had happened in her life recently and how his words of encouragement, endowment and constant checkup had impacted her life.
There were cases of other family members who came up to speak, all with similar stories. This is a man that shows up and influences his family.
3. Humility, a strong character and contentment: On the first day of the celebration, I got on the yacht in my white attire and white glasses. I couldn’t find the person that invited me so I sat in a corner pretending to press my phone.
In a few minutes I felt a tap and then a handshake, “I am Ayo, how do you do?” I smiled back, it didn’t register initially who I was talking to because I have never seen a picture of him but then he said “Welcome to my birthday celebration” and then we had a quick chat and took some pictures and that was the beginning of my watch. The ease with which he flowed with the crowd, the surprise at seeing certain people( I found out later that friends from different countries found out about his planned celebration and paid their fares to come surprise him), his playful nature, the way he gazed into the distance sometimes with obviously a lot on his mind and the way he suddenly came back to everyone and became the life of the party again. This was a humble and content man who appreciated the power of friendship and family. His strong character was testified to by friends and colleagues at different times.
Talking about why he decided to hold the birthday in Dubai, he talked about how he didn’t want it to be a big celebration in Lagos. Lagosians love a big party aka Owambe and with the number of people that secretly came for this one I can imagine what the one in Lagos would have looked like.
4. Strong friendships last through thick and thin: The running battle between his classmates at Igbobi College and his friends that attended Baptist Academy, two Nigerian secondary schools with a strong tradition was a running theme throughout the celebration.
It was hilarious to watch and as they recounted stories of their first days at school over 35 years ago and how their friendships have grown over the years, there was a certain ping in my heart as I thought of my secondary school which was a lot more recent and how many of those friendships I still have. Dr. Abina is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of his sets Alma Mater, a position he has held and unanimously kept over the years for his acts of service and innovative ideas.
Everyone had glowing genuine words about Dr. Abina. From ‘Kemi Pinheiro SAN, FCIARB to Mr Olatunji Akinwunmi to Mr Rasheed Yusuf to Dr Bimbo Akorede, Ph.D and numerous other friends that graced the occasion
Dr. Falil Ayo Abina is a friend to everybody. The birthday programme had intimate pictures and words from State governors to traditional rulers to Professors and Ministers. Accomplished Nigerians like Wonu Folami (OON) Alhaji Umaru Saro CFR, Dr Yomi Finnih(Baasegun of Lagos ), Chief Afe Babalola, Kizz Daniel, other top professionals, friends and family all poured encomium on him.
The take away for me from all of that is how friendships are important pillars that should grow but good character is the true nourishment of these friendships.
5. A ti dade kiniun, kosehin Eledumare: This is one of Dr. Abina’s favourite saying and he made reference to it during the event. It took wide consultation to get the meaning of this one. Some of the meanings are “The crowning of a lion never happens without the knowledge of God”; “The enthronement of the Lion is not unbeknownst to the Lord”; The creator (God) has ordained the Lion King; “ The opportunity for a Lion to wear the crown is not done without God’s knowledge”.
*Cue in a song from Beyonce’s #TheGift album for the life action remake of Lion King*
It speaks to his belief in the power of God’s grace and the role of the supernatural in finding purpose and fulfillment. This is a man that has reached the highest levels in academic and professional excellence but his continuous referral to the importance of grace and the belief in a higher power is one that will make even atheists stop and think.
The organisation of the event programme which had more thanksgiving and prayers than partying spoke to the importance of his pursuance of favour and grace for himself, his family and friends.
There were many more lessons but these are the five that most resonated with me. Beyond my serious analysis, it was a truly memorable event. The positive energy and sense of family rubbed off on me in the most lovely way and I look forward to attending other events hosted by this family.
A big thank you to Mr. Kazeem Abina, his elder brother who invited me for the celebration.
If you have an event, celebration, luncheon, educational project, etc that you are hosting in Dubai, please reach out to us for special coverage.
Enjoy some of the pictures from the event.
Ifeanyi Abraham is a creative storyteller, life hacker and Digital Influencer.
He is a Public relations & Digital Marketing executive that helps companies, government agencies & NGOs leverage the power of marketing & communications.
He is the Founder of NigeriansinDubai.com, a knowledge sharing and transfer platform focused on harnessing the lessons, spirit and power of Dubai to the benefit of Nigerians. We tell the stories of Nigerians living, working and visiting Dubai.
He is also the Co-founder of The Beverage Room, a digital community for Beverage Lovers.