TRIBUTE: Muddaththir Olaniyi Sanuth, a humble achiever par excellence

By Tajudeen Ahmed.

NIYI SANUTH: February 13, 1962 – November 4, 2019

At exactly 2:43 pm on Monday, November 4, 2019, my phone rang for a while, but because I was busy, I demurred a bit; yet, I looked at the device and saw that it was my ‘egbon’ (“Olori Ebi” as some of us address him), Taofik Yekini, who rang my line. I quickly picked the call and after usual opening courtesies, he dropped a bombshell: “My brother, it’s sad, we lost brother Niyi Sanuth!”.

I screamed, “subhaanallah”, the same Niyi Sanuth (NS), ex-Zenith Bank, Deen Digest publisher, so, so, and so? He responded with a firm “yes”. I lost my balance immediately. The line went practically dead and he had to ask if I was still on the line.

After what seemed like eternity, I regained my composure and responded that I was still there. I said “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raaji’un” (loosely translated as “Indeed to Allah we belong, and to Him we shall return”, Q2:156). He told me the circumstances of his demise and hung up.

Six minutes after bro Taofik Yekini’s call, at 2:49 pm, while still in a quandary, I instinctively rang the line of another ‘egbon’/senior friend, Niyi Yusuf (ex-Country MD of Accenture, now MD of Verraki Partners) to discuss the ‘bad news’ I just received. His line rang out, unpicked, and I continued to ruminate over the amazingly impactful life that NS lived. Ten minutes later, at 2:59 pm, bro. Niyi Yusuf (NY) rang my line, and apologized for having missed my call, stating that he was just getting into Lagos, from a trip.

When I related the news to him, he stated his shock about the fact that NS did not eventually make it, suggesting that he knew that NS was hospitalized in India. We prayed for NS.

I met NS nineteen years ago, in 2000, in company with Aisha Mijindadi (later known as Mrs. Aisha Ajikobi), my classmate at ABU Zaria. NS and the both of us hit it off at our first meeting as though we had known one another for very long.

He was very passionate about anything and everything Islam. He followed my career, and he was happy that I worked at Arthur Andersen, that year, mainly because he also trained as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). I told him that I actually lived on the same street where PwC was located, and that in fact, my maternal uncle’s (may God bless his dear soul) house where I lived, as at 2000, on Ajani Olujare Street, Alaka Estate, Surulere, was two houses away from PwC’s office! I mentioned that I knew and befriended senior people like Ayo Yoloye and Tunji Olanipekun, who were smart PwC guys between 1993 and 1999, when I was an active member (and later got elected as Vice President Administration) at AIESEC in Zaria.

Those two gentlemen – Ayo Yoloye and Tunji Olanipekun – were facilitators in some of AIESEC’s national and regional trainings during National Training Seminars (NTS) and Regional Training Seminars (RTS) at locations such as University of Ibadan and University of Lagos.

Interestingly, Tunji Olanipekun eventually became my senior colleague at Zenith Bank.

At fairly regular intervals I visited NS at his offices at Montgomery Road, Yaba and off Akinsemoyin Street, off Bode Thomas, in Surulere, where his well-regarded magazines, Deen Digest/An-Naseehah, were published, at different times. Every time I visited, I left with loads of hard facts/truth, guidance and wisdom regarding faith, career, and life in general.

The ‘weight’ of Niyi Sanuth’s worth in my consciousness did not sink, until three years later, in 2003, when I resigned from the firm Arthur Andersen/Andersen/KPMG and joined Zenith Bank, at the Head Office. Interestingly, NS had told me that he worked at Zenith Bank, but he, being the self-effacing gentleman that he was, never told me about his exploits and highly positive reputation in that bank.

As fate would have it, I joined that bank and within a few months, while asking about ‘great men and women’ of Zenith, being in my character, I was told the story of a certain Internal Audit, Credit, and Risk Management guru who the highly-respected JO (the common name we called the MD/CEO & Founder of the bank, Jim Ovia) reluctantly allowed to leave the bank, and who JO gave the very, very rare opportunity to return to the bank anytime he changed his mind within one year after he left! It was reported that JO left NS’ office locked up, untouched, and unoccupied with the hope that he would return to Zenith! He was that competent and well-regarded. No one has debunked that story till today.

When I ‘confronted’ NS about his reputation in the bank as a guru of audit and credit, and told him that my respect for him had just quadrupled, he simply smiled. That was vintage NS- soft-spoken, ‘real’, straight, and ever so humble! A true gentleman!

The last time I physically met NS was before the middle of last year, 2018, after Jumat (Friday prayer) near the gate of Arch Bishop Taylor Memorial Primary School, the primary school opposite Eko Hotel, on Adetokunbo Ademola Street, Victoria Island.

As was the usual practice, we all filed out of the school/prayer ground after prayers, and suddenly someone held me by my waist from behind. As though he was on a cue not to allow me guess who the ‘mystery man’ was, NS, immediately, advanced his stride, caught my gaze, and said ‘Salaamu alaykum’ and I excitedly responded with “Wa alayka salaam, Sir”. Still surprised and excited at the same time, I mildly screamed, as onlookers took in the drama between the both of us: “Ah, egbon, eyin ni!” (Ah, older brother, it is you!)”.

Anyone who knew NS would assert that although he was Yoruba (our dear ethnic group that is so much enamored with respect for an older person, even if the age gap was a single day, laughs), he never liked honorifics of ‘egbon’, ‘booda’, ‘Sir’ etc. He liked you to address him as simply as possible.

On that occasion, we had a fairly good chat; and upon his insistence, we walked almost to the gate of my office, as we talked about diverse issues. He repeated the thing he told me a few months before the day, that he was happy that I eventually left the banking sector like he also did, and as he had ‘prayed’ that I did for so many years. We laughed about it.

Having died at only 57, NS’ life and a lot of the actions he took on earth reminded me about the relatively short, but highly impactful life, my late father (M.A Ahmed, 1939-1998, he would have been 81 next February) lived- and he died at 59- two years more than NS, at 57. Like my father, NS packed a lot into his 57 years. He did so many things and he impacted so many people.

He lived, just like my father, as though he knew that he would not live long. Sometimes, I wonder if NS had more than twenty-four hours in a day, considering the way he had time for almost everything, every cause, and everybody. What a huge loss to humanity!

NS had a stellar professional career, but it is a fitting testimony to his wide impact that majority of the tributes I have read about him have largely been about his almost inimitable capacity to teach, guide, and impact, through faith and non-faith approaches.

NS had a BSc. and MSc. Urban & Regional Planning degrees at University of Ife (OAU Ife), from 1979 to 1985. Interestingly, 1985 was the year I started my secondary education. He worked at:

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC);

Liberty Merchant Bank (as Auditor & Head of Risk Management); and

Zenith Bank, in Internal Control & Credit Risk Management, where he was the pioneer Head/Founder of the Loan Review Unit and later Head of Risk Management Department and Coordinator of Zenith Bank’s Management Credit Committee meetings.

NS was also, among others:

Founder/Management Consultant YS Consulting, the firm he established after his exit from the banking sector

Non-Executive Director, Zedcrest Capital Limited

MD/Founding CEO, Deen Communications Ltd, a not-for-profit publication outfit, publishers of An-Naseehah, which focused on education and charity

Advisory Board member, Kord Capital Limited

Trustee, Nurturing Fitrah Foundation

Niyi Sanuth’s legacies are many; and it on that basis that his name would endure, he will never be forgotten in the hearts of men and women, who will continue to hold aloft the many positively impactful aspects of the good life he lived. These legacies include:

YS Consulting (a firm which focused on four areas of research and advisory services, strategic consultancy, training and capacity building, and project management), which he founded and managed

Feed A Soul Program during Ramadan

Thousands of bankers he trained directly as their supervisor and as facilitator at the training schools of several banks

Knowledge Building Course (KBC), the quarterly knowledge-based session

Deen Comunications Limited, publishers of Deen Digest magazine (which later became An-Naseehah)

The Merciful Hands Fund

Niyi Sanuth was an accomplished auditor, chartered accountant, management consultant, with expansive skills in financial planning, internal control, treasury, credit operations, business strategy, operations and process management, Islamic Finance, etc.

NS was an encyclopedia of credit (for the uninitiated, ‘credit’ simply means ‘loans’ in banking); in fact, someone, in an online tribute, described him as “a moving library of credit”, while another wrote that “Niyi was credit and credit analysis in motion.”

One of the lessons from the life NS lived was that one could be very committed to one’s faith, without being covertly and overtly fanatical and discriminatory; and still be impactful on both people who belong to one’s faith and others who hold other beliefs; an indeed those who do not believe in the existence of God!

Testimonies about his life and tributes to his memory have come from varied quarters, and from diverse groups and persons, yet, he did not live because of accolades and effusive praise from human beings, he lived to serve his Maker and acquit himself well before God.

The only five persons I had called, via the telephone, to ‘discuss’ NS with, following his demise, were bro. Taofik Yekini, bro. Niyi Yusuf, Aisha Ajikobi, bro. Luqman Obileye (my egbon and NS’ close, life-long friend), and Muiz Adegbenro, his nephew. This approach is mainly because I wanted to deliberately reduce my potential emotional pain from discussing him and his demise.

As the world misses (or mourns, as the case may be) Niyi Sanuth, the big picture, for us, still living (I write ‘still living’ because we shall all die), is to return to our Maker in the best possible state and leave a name of which prayers and not curses will trail our memory when we are long gone! The Quran, via 3:185, says: “Every soul shall taste death”, so, are we ready? Or, I dare say, can we truly be ready?

NS drew his last breath in India. He was buried in India. He was a Nigerian. He never envisaged it. When, where, and how will you and I end?

Adieu, my egbon, Niyi Mudaththir Sanuth, a man of many parts!

May Allah forgive NS, discountenance his weaknesses and errors on earth, and admit him into Jannatul-Firdaus (Paradise) as a final recompense.

Amen!

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