Issau Babatunde Tijani, Managing Director, Samfark Integrated Services Limited, is not an overnight entrepreneur. He has been through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Right from his secondary school days at the prestigious Ibadan Boys High School (IBHS) Tijani envisaged a future in business and had consequently carved a path and a survival credo that made him the entrepreneur he is today.
How did your education contribute to who you are today?
From Victory Nursery and Primary School to Ibadan Boys High School to Osun State Polytechnic and then onward to the University of Ibadan where I studied Philosophy, for my first degree, Peace and Strategic Study as a second degree, the purpose of my education has been to make me independent.
How was growing up for you?
It was very rough, but at a stage, that became a norm that we had to adapt to . At the beginning, it was as if I was not going to get it right, but things fell in place for me.
What are you referring to?
I am referring to when I was hawking pesticides on the streets of Ibadan to augment the family’s financial purse and to settle bills. It started when I was in JSS 3 at IBHS, I began to wonder why my parents had to confine themselves to the business they were doing. The business part of me started then as I began to ask questions when I moved out to hawk pesticides. I started by buying units, then a pack, and then a truck of pesticides. That was the period I made up my mind that I was not going to work for anyone. While my decision was strange to my peers, I could see myself in the future.
What happened after secondary school?
When I got into the Polytechnic, I was restricted by some little challenges (I wish I had not given in to them). It was mostly academic and environmental. At the time, it was the little money I made during my secondary school years that I spent in sustaining myself in the Polytechnic while I could only attend to business only on holidays.
When did you get back into business?
It was after my university education, when the future seemed clouded. The secondary school goal re-ignited. I had to improvise. I met one or two people for help but didn’t get it, so I decided to open a company and started to render services. I opened Samfark Integrated Services Limited.
Was it that easy?
As a graduate going into business, it was an informed decision and I had done my homework. I knew I had to write a proposal and register the company so I would not be taken as a joke. It took me all I had at that time to register my company. I got an office space. I was not able to pay the rent for the subsequent year because of the first-year challenges, but I didn’t give up. I pushed on, making myself available for my clients and making sure I requested for referral on any job done. The first two years was my period of struggle.
What did you do wrongly in that first two years?
I would not say I did anything wrong, rather a challenge emanated from people’s lack of belief in infant companies. Whenever I dropped proposals in companies, what they requested from me were things I could not provide as an infant company. Sometimes, they requested a one-year-old company to provide a four-year tax clearance. In the first year, I was unable to get any major business and I had to sack my only employee––my secretary. I did the secretarial duties myself for that period. I learnt how to reduce my expenditure. Today, I have no less than 20 employees.
What is your company into?
The major part of the business is taking supply, making things easy for people, providing assurance on new ground. I found out that there is a gap between building material manufacturers and end-users. I found a lack of trust in the quality of material. My job is to make sure that the end-users achieve their aim at very low risk. You will say how do I make my gain? I make money from the relationship I create. There is always a friend that knows a friend that would need my services.
How do you survive on little income?
If you believe in what you are doing, you won’t be distracted. If you are into something and you are not having any challenges, it shows that it does not worth your time. As a philosopher, I went into business taking into cognizance the challenges of it. I knew at that time that I would only make it by being focused. I was determined not to work for anybody. I was comfortable with the little gains I was making and I made my plans within my profit. If I want to go to Mokola and I know that my transport would be N100, but if I go with a car it would cost me N2000 worth of fuel, I will rather use a public transport. This was part of the things I was doing to keep my company afloat. When I saw that things were not going to stand soon, I went back to selling pesticides to boost the business and it saved it.
How are government policies helping you?
I would say the policies have not been helpful or rather, the government has not been doing enough. The government is part of the problem of infant companies. Its bureaucratic process cripples the potentials of these young companies. You see a gap in government’s performance and you come up with a plan to bridge the gap, when you file for it, the problem is not attended to because it came from an infant company. Another killer policy is the annual return infant companies are subjected to. Like in my case, for a whole year, there was no major business, yet I had to pay a fixed amount for annual return. The advert rate is also killing. The government is supposed to be protective of infant companies. All these challenges discourage infant companies.