Otunba Peter Obafemi
Convivial; composed; competitive and classy, he exudes the characteristics of an accomplished American business tycoon. A simple smile forms on his face and beneath his bespectacled eyes is a personality that has an eye for detail and success. A hard worker and a firm believer in equity, he understands the pains of the poor and the gains of the great.
Shrewd and benevolent, he is familiar with the intrigues of being successful when the odds are against him. An aviation enthusiast; a socialite and owner of a Gulfstream jet in the United States of America, Otunba Peter Oluwagbenga Obafemi, is unique in more than one way.
The former owner of Ritetime World Airways and one-time governorship aspirant in Ekiti State is one man who knows how to turn failure to success. He has not ruled out running for the highest office in Ekiti – if God wants him to, he said. In this interview with Samuel Ajayi, , Otunba Obafemi talks about his marriage, his business, his governorship aspiration and his relationship with his mother – who will celebrate her 90th birthday on Sunday. A media recluse in the last four years, Obafemi is ready to talk, once again
• I Can Fly a Private Jet, Not a Passenger Plane
• I’ll Get Marriage Right One Day
• My Father Didn’t Send Me to School Because I Was a Boy…
• If God Has Plans for Me I’ll Contest for Ekiti Governorship Poll Again
For four years you’ve stayed away from the media. Why?
It has been a while that I have adopted this posture. You tell people one thing and they publish something else. It got to a point that I did not want to continue to defend myself. I felt the best thing to do is to stop talking to the media. Since then, I have been living a quiet life and I am enjoying that and God has been blessing and enlarging my coast.
But, they say a goldfish has no place to hide.
There is no fish that is golden enough in the sight of God. He is the ultimate maker of every goldfish. If God has put me in that position, I thank him. I did not stop talking because I liked to but because there is nothing to talk about. I don’t like talking about people; I like talking about myself and my success and things I want to get done. That is why I stay away from granting interviews. This is my first in the last four years. I did not intend granting any interview until some of the things I am putting together come to fruition. But because you are my brother, I cannot say no to you.
What is going on in Ekiti State where you come from?
What is going on in the state?
Some people have alleged that it’s Governor Ayodele Fayose that gives the state a bad press.
This man we are talking about, Ayodele Fayose was voted for by the people of the state. Whatever is happening in the state today, they elected him. There is nothing anyone could do about it. They chose him. The best they can do is that they have another two years to replace him with someone they could relate with. I must say this, if the voters are not careful and they continue with the way they are doing, they will not get it right. People must be more conscious of their tomorrow than today; not about what they are going to eat now than what they would eat for life. I think there is a need for voter education in the state; where voters will be educated on not just voting for anybody but an individual that can bring success, growth and expansion to Ekiti.
As a former governorship candidate in Ekiti, do you think you would have been a better option?
(Yes), of course. Every candidate that comes to contest an election has different manifesto. Mine was to industrialise the state and put her on the national rail grid whereby every agricultural product from the state would be put on the rail system and passed through Osogbo to be distributed to the rest of the country. I also planned to create a winery in Ekiti and turned all our rocks and marbles to money. We have been told they are one of the best marble systems in the world and I wanted to commercialise it.
We wanted to showcase the state to the world through Ikogosi Warm Spring, ethanol, cocoa and so on. Look at the Ikun Dairy Milk, the burnt brick in Ire and so on. That was why I wanted to come back. Ekiti cannot go anywhere without reviving these moribund companies in the state; if this does not happen, we cannot go anywhere. The state needs someone that has been paying salaries; and I don’t mean just any salaries. I mean someone who has ensured that he pays salaries every month to his staff.
Will you contest in the next governorship poll in the state?
That is a big question. Power is not given to anyone except by God. David was on the field when called upon to lead Israel. If I say I am not contesting election in Ekiti again because of my experiences with people, may be. But who am I? No matter how much I hide, if God has plans for me in Ekiti, I will find myself running for that position. Jonah was running when sent a message but until he delivered it, he had no peace. As of now, I will say I am not interested; but if God says I will give it a shot, who am I?
Some feel that if Fayose contests for the governorship poll 10 times, he will always win because he knows how to mobilise people in the state. Don’t you think people like you should consider his politics techniques?
Ayo Fayose’s politics is not his exclusive politics; it is the way politics is done worldwide. It is our elites that do their own politics the way they do it here. Politics is about the grass roots. No matter how bad you look at Donald Trump, he is reaching to the grass roots just like Hillary Clinton is doing. Everybody that wants to become anything politically must reach out to the grass roots. If you engage the elites alone, you have failed. The best way I know to practise politics, though you call it Ayo Fayose politics, I call it real politics. If you don’t go to the food seller, the palmwine tapper, the meat seller, the hair weaver, the corn roaster, the car vendor and so on, who are you campaigning to? What is your essence? If you have not experienced it, you cannot do it. So anyone that wants to govern us in Ekiti must adopt the Ayo Fayose style of reaching out to the grassroots. That is the way of normal politics.
You were into aviation…
(Cuts in) I am still into aviation; not that I was.
What is your level of involvement in such an industry considered to be volatile?
You call it volatile; I call it the most interesting industry. The biggest economy of most industrialised countries today is aviation. Even in countries that deal in oil and gas. Look at the USA and what aviation is doing to their economy. Look at Ethiopia and what aviation is giving them or even Singapore. Singapore has the best aviation system in the world and yet it’s a small island. We need to know the importance of aviation and what it can contribute to our economy. That is the best way to move away from oil.
But airline operators say if they are to operate at optimum profitability, many people can’t to afford to fly.
If they are not operating profitably, what are they still doing in the industry? Will you be in a business you are not operating profitably? Yes, it is a tall order to operate any business profitably in Nigeria, not just in aviation alone. Aviation even takes more but when we are not doing it right, we cannot get the desired result.
You cannot be flying a plane and suddenly want to be a pilot and suddenly, you want to be an airline owner. What do you know? You only know about the instrumentation of the aircraft; that is taking off and landing successfully. It is a bonus but you have to be a successful business and human resources manager to make it a success.
Presently, what is your level of involvement in the industry?
I am fully involved in aviation business; both inside and outside the country. I have private jets operating in the USA and they are doing well and we have an aviation consulting firm in Nigeria which is also doing well. So there is no reason for me not to be passionate about aviation.
The rumour is that you have a Gulfstream.
It is not a rumour. I have one.
Are you operating it?
Sure. I am.
Is it for personal use or leasing?
That is what a lot of people want to know. But my business is my business. If you my friend, Samuel, are in the United States and you want to use it and pays me, what is wrong in that? If I am in the US, I have the right to use my jet. Is that not for personal use as well? That is it.
Your airline, Ritetime World Airways, before its collapse, was it for charter or general aviation services?
Ritetime Aviation was born at a time Nigerians needed it but unfortunately my partners then were greedy. What brought the downfall of Ritetime World Airways was the corporate greed of the World Airways people. And today, that same corporate greed that I complained about then has pushed them completely out of business. There is nothing called World Airways anymore. They are bankrupt. But here I am. I am still talking of floating another airline.
Will it be for general aviation services or just charter?
I am in the business. I will do passenger, charter, cargo and general aviation services. Just like my friend, Dele Momodu, he is a journalist. Bring him to aviation; he is like fish out of water. Same thing applicable to me: take me out of aviation, I am lost.
Can you fly a plane?
Yes. I can. I have private licence. I cannot fly a passenger plane but I can fly a private jet.
You are marking your mother’s 90th birthday this weekend. What exactly are you celebrating about her?
I am celebrating the sweetness of my mother. She groomed me. She taught me how to be a man. I am celebrating her old age and a woman who braved all the odds to make me when my father thought only the girls needed to be trained; that the boys could fend for themselves. My mother said no way and said he would send me to school.
Here is the woman who discovered me and made me who I am. That is why I am celebrating her. A woman that would wake up in the early hours of the morning and all she would be doing would be to pray for me and my siblings, or families, friends; those she has met or not met. I am celebrating her. Though she is 90, when you see her, she is strong and fit as a fiddle. She walks around and climbs the stairs.
So you want to give her an inkling of what will happen when leaves the earth?
My mother told me: Peter, don’t bother. During her 80th birthday, she said I should not bother. But I did and I marked it for her. Now, she is 90. Before now, she said she did not want but I insisted. I told her that if she dies today, all my friends would come and say let us celebrate life. But I said I would not celebrate her life in absentia. Let me do it when you she is alive.
What fond childhood memories do you have?
My mother was very loving. When we were at Nigerian Railway compound at Oke Ira, my mother opened an eatery there so she could make money to send us to school. My little sister went to school at Ibara, Abeokuta. My mother was there for her. When my father said he would not send me to school, my mother said no way: ‘My son must go to school.’ I grew up under her love. My father loved me too. But my mother loved me more.
Is your mother educated?
Yes; she has the basic primary education. She is not a college graduate but I don’t know how many college graduates that can stand my mother in the area of business. I am a by-product of her business acumen. She is from Ago-Owu, in Abeokuta (Ogun State). She is from Ikoyi family and my maternal grandfather was one of the founders of African Church Grammar School, Ibara, Abeokuta.
Let’s talk about your marriage…
(Cuts in) There we go again. Everyone has his or her ill luck or good luck. I might be good at some things and not good at other things.
Are you saying you are not good at keeping women?
I am good at keeping a home. But my tolerance level is very low. When I say this is my wife, I expect a ‘wifey thing’ from you. Unfortunately, I am not the best of a man either, but thank God that there is a woman that has been with me since 1980. She knows me in and out. We married July 1, 1984, before we eventually separated. She is the best because she allowed me to be. Unfortunately, I felt I could make it happen in Nigeria when I came down bu that didn’t happen. However, I know I will get it right in that regard some day. I surely will.
Are you planning to remarry?
I did not say I am married or I am not married. I only said I would get it right.
What is your take on the nation’s economic situation?
You see, God told Joseph that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The problem is that we are too impatient. We always want things done now and now. You have to plant the seed, water it, let it grow and then you harvest. But we want to harvest immediately. Buhari is doing his best. Though he said it was our party (Peoples Democratic Party) that brought the country to this level, I like his doggedness – especially in fighting corruption. If we are patient, things will definitely improve. That I know.