Jonathan Babatunde Majiyagbe was a great leader. In 2003, Jon made history by becoming the first African to be appointed as RI President, and becoming Trustee Chair in 2008. A strong believer in the value of history, he was an intellectual, enlightened and knowledgeable Rotary leader.
He joined Rotary in 1967. He was a member of RC Abuja Metro, RID 9125, Nigeria, and a past member of RC Kano. He was also Major Donor and Benefactor of TRF with his wife, Ayo. He received TRF’s Citation for Meritorious Service and the Distinguished Service Award. He served on several polio committees, being dedicated to the global effort to eradicate polio.
When he was RI Director in 1988–90, he came to India to attend District 308 conference in Ambala in Feb 1989. Usha and I met Jon and his wife Ade when they visited Chandigarh. He saw the “Open Hand Monument,” a symbolic structure which symbolises “the hand to give and the hand to take, peace and prosperity and the unity of mankind”. When I became RI President my theme was “Look Beyond Yourself”. Then Jon laughed that he would have a theme on “hands”. Thereafter, he became RI President and chose the theme “Lend a Hand,” where two hands are on the same level and the person receiving is in equal standing with the person giving the aid.
On Dec 13, 2003 Majiyagbe as RI President unveiled the peace monument at Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh, in the presence of Punjab Governor and UT administrator O P Verma. He said, “Rotary is committed to world understanding and peace, which can be achieved only through concerted endeavours to banish poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and disease from the world.” Later, he also visited the slums in the city to check out different Rotary projects.
Jon was a man who “ate, slept and dreamt Rotary and polio”. He believed in service before self.
Jon was a man who “ate, slept and dreamt Rotary and polio”. He believed in service before self. He was in Brisbane, Australia, for the Rotary Convention when he got the news of the passing away of his wife, Ade, in June 2003, only a few days prior to taking office as Rotary President. But this did not deter his zeal for the cause. He was in much grief but he had to take the responsibility. He was regarded as impeccable and a man of peace.
PRIP Mark Maloney was his aide in 2003–04 and during that time he observed Jon giving real meaning to the term, ‘family of Rotary’. He was keen that Rotarians must provide friendship and support to the families of Rotarians who had suffered a loss or illness.
He married Ayo in 2007, has a son, Folorunso and three grandchildren. Usha and I met Ayo and Jon at RI Conventions and International Assemblies. Ayo became part of Rotary family very quickly and four of us were close friends.
Jon was a lawyer by profession. He had earned a law degree from the University of London and was a member of the Bar of England and Wales. He was principal partner in the firm J B Majiyagbe and Co, and also a ‘Senior Advocate of Nigeria,’ a title conferred on those who have distinguished themselves in the practice of law. He was a member of the Body of Benchers, served on the interim judicial service committee of Kano State, was a past vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association and member of the International Bar Association.
Jon was a former chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Kano, chair of the Kano branch of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, and a member of the Kano Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. In 2008, he was awarded the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Jon did not plan to retire that early from his legal profession. But in 2010, by force of circumstance, health challenges due to renal failure, he had to take things easy. He was on dialysis, two or three times a week, which affected his work. In search of the best medical facilities, he relocated to Abuja.
Many times I went to Nigeria for medical missions. In December 2012, the medical mission team went to Abuja, Nigeria. Jon was the mentor of the project to conduct polio corrective surgery. The medical mission activities were coordinated by Dr Girish Gune as team leader, Dr Deepak Purohit as project chairman and Dr Rajiv Pradhan as project counsellor. This was the first time when a speciality surgical team went to Africa with the sole objective of conducting polio corrective surgeries. Jon and his wife Ayo were very generous hosts for an evening. The High Commissioner of India also hosted a reception at the embassy official residence.
PRIP Kalyan Banerjee was there as a volunteer for the medical mission and handed over 20 incubators which were manufactured in Pune to the Nigerian Health Minster. The then RRFC Vinay Kulkarni mobilised the entire quantity from his district.
We were working in two hospitals, University Teaching in Abuja and Federal Medical Centre on the opposite side. The moving experience of the team was when Dr Salma Anas-Kolo, honorary commissioner from Maduguri, Borno State, visited the University Teaching Hospital and stated that 45 children from her state were heading for this hospital for polio surgery but were given wrong impression in the bus that they would be sterilised and the children and their parents ran away. She was able to get 15 of them back and surgery was done on them. She was so thrilled to see them recovering that she promised to go back and carry the positive message.
The children were brought by buses and we always monitored the buses because we were afraid whether the buses would be hijacked by the Boko Haram people. Safe arrival of buses was very important as without them our surgeons and doctors would have no work. The children were kept in a hostel which was about 15 minutes away.
Kalyan, Jon and I met TRF Chair Wilf Wilkinson at the International Assembly to replace Busuyi Onabolu, Chair of Rotary’s Nigeria National PolioPlus Committee, as he was not doing anything under PolioPlus and PDG Dr Tunji Funsho became Chairman in 2013. Thereafter, Nigeria became polio-free in August 2020, thanks to Dr Tunji and due to Jon’s tireless advocacy and efforts.
Jon was an epitome of ethics with astounding wisdom. He was a confidant and an exemplar. We are grateful that Rotary made our paths cross. Jon’s hand now rests in the hands of God.
I salute him.
The writer is a past RI president