Uche Usim; Adewale Sanyaolu The Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Mr. Alex Okoh, has raised the alarm that about 37 percent of privatised firms are non- performing. Okoh, stated this when he received members of the House of Representatives Committee on Privatisation, led by its Chairman, Alhaji Ahmed Yerima, who were on…
ON Tuesday February 6, 2018, I would be 60 by the grace of God. I have every reason to thank God because my father didn’t live to be 60. He died at age 47 when I was 14 and in Form 3. I have survived my father by 13 years. I hope to outgrow my mother who died last year at the ripe age of 90.
My worst day obviously has to be the day my father Sunday Abiodun Obeisun died. For me, it was like the end of the world. The future looked bleak. Dad was everything. He was the breadwinner. He was a successful businessman who was into textiles trade, had a bakery and was a transporter. My mum Grace was simply a housewife. But miraculously, she was able to rise to the occasion by training me up to secondary school level. There were colleagues of mine who similarly lost their dads and had to be withdrawn from school to train as panel beaters, mechanics and what have you. But my case was not like that.
For my birthday, I am donating a church in the memory of my mother in my hometown, Ijebu-Jesha, Osun State. I am donating the new church building to Christ Apostolic Church. It cost me one hundred million naira. It’s an architectural edifice. It will sit side by side with the old church which is already dilapidated. It’s multipurpose. The church will have to decide whether to use it either as a church or a civic centre to generate money for the running of the church. I made that pledge after I buried my mum last year to immortalise her.
My entrepreneurial life story will take a whole book but I will try to summarise it. After secondary school, I worked with the Customs in Apapa. There, my eyes opened to business of clearing and forwarding. With the money I made, I went to Ibadan Polytechnic to study Management. I read up to HND. It was at the Ibadan Polytechnic where I met in 1977 my friend Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of Osun State. He came to do Engineering. We started unionism together. He was a very active union person. Highly fiery, intelligent and very critical of the executive. Our friendship grew with time. We don’t base our friendship on what benefit we would get from each other. But if he has a very challenging programme where he need somebody that he can trust to handle and will involve credit facility, he calls for my assistance.
Initially, I was a civil servant attached to the legislature. There we had rapid promotion but when the military came in, we were demoted but I refused to be demoted. To me, it’s forward ever, backward never. Luckily, I had the support of my wife to go become an entrepreneur. It was a risk in which she was ready to support the family in case anything went wrong. She encouraged me a lot. I will forever be grateful. She is the co-owner of Timsed, a company formed from my name Rotimi and her name Bosede.
Having been in the Customs, I knew so much about clearing and forwarding. I was on the correspondence (and documentation) desk and Atiku Abubakar was our head of department. It was the era of importation boom and clearing agents were making a fortune. If not that I was determined to acquire higher education, maybe I would have ended with only school certificate. I did clearing and forwarding for a long time. But at a point it became so competitive and the returns were reducing. I had to diversify. My biggest break was in 1986 when a lot of manufacturers couldn’t import because there was no import licence. So I saw an opportunity. I now added it as part of my business to help people and companies to get import licence for a commission and also clear the goods for you. I had the contact to get the licence through some military officers in government that I knew very well. Pepsi Cola, Nigerite, Nigerian Wire and Cable were companies I helped to get import licence and clear their goods. That was my major break.
I was also doing military contracts such as drilling boreholes in the house of military officers. That was how I met the late Gen. Sani Abacha. I benefitted a lot because Gen. Abacha was a nice man. To me, he was a nice man. No matter what anybody would say. Abacha by training was an infantry officer. Even in the military they dreaded infantry officers because those are the ones that really face the battle. As an infantry man, he sees opposition as enemy that must be crushed. It is this that Abacha applied when he was in power. You opposed him, he crushed you. That’s why people had problem with him. Apart from that he was a very humane person.
I try to overcome challenges. And with determination, I always get through. As a businessman, you must be ready to squeeze water out of stone. You must be able to make impossible possible. But you can only do that if you have the grace of God and the Midas touch. It is not everyone that achieves it. I thank God for giving me the grace.
Foremost among my businesses is Sunshine Oil and Chemical Development Company. It started because when I was doing clearing, a lot of manufacturing companies run short of raw materials and the chemicals they needed. By virtue of the fact that I was clearing for them, I already had a relationship with suppliers. So I could see when the raw material and the chemicals are always scarce and manufacturers would be looking for them. Because of that I always bring in my own. And the manufacturers would run to me to buy.
Next, I built Timsed Hotel in my hometown because the late Kabiyesi was not happy that a lot of our people and their visitors were going to Iloko to stay at the Royal Park Hotel. I took up the challenge and built a befitting hotel for Ijebu Jesha. I was looking for 120 staff but received 5,000 applications. Come and see people rolling on the floor and weeping because I couldn’t employ them. I concluded that a lot of our youths don’t have jobs and if we don’t do something about it, they will become a security problem. So I decided to be investing in companies in my town to get more people employed. I have opened a Tantalizer fast food restaurant there, set up a civic centre and a cinema. For my 60th birthday, I am opening a beverage and water plant, a rice mill, a fertilizer blending plant and opening a broadcasting station—radio and television. All these amount to billions of naira and employment of 2000 workers directly and 10,000 indirectly.
My advice to youths without their father is this: Don’t see it as a setback or a curse. At the time my father died, I saw it as a curse. Somebody was telling me if he had lived long, maybe I won’t be where I am today. I would be living under his shadow—whereas I had more talents than him. Under him, he would have paid for my house rent, bought me a car, funded my marriage and carried my responsibilities.
There would have been no challenges for me. The talent I have would not have come out. Maybe his early death spurred the talent in me. Dad was playing at the local level but I was able to internationalize the trade. I have taken his type of business up to international level. To God be the glory. Thank you for coming to interview me.