You can call him ‘Double O.’ While he doesn’t cut the figure of a man with six packs, his stature smacks of grace, confidence and brilliance. Though taken away from his family at a young age and with little or no hope of having a formal education, he did not allow any unpleasant past to hold him down. Eternally grateful to a schoolteacher who took an interest in him, he would have to struggle to become successful in life. His is a typical from-grass-to-grace narrative. Oladele Olaniyan, Managing Director of Improject Limited, shares with Adedayo Adejobi how he rose from being a dispatcher to becoming an importer and franchise owner. He also talks about his marriage, business and what he would do if he were Nigeria’s president. At 60, he also reflects on youth and good health
What’s your assessment of Nigeria’s current economic situation?
The economy for now is not doing well. We’re not yet there. If I happen to be the president, I think I will handle the economy differently. Well, our contemporaries in other nations are not feeling it badly the way we do here, and simply because we did not plan properly. No shock absorber, nothing to leverage on and its biting us in the wrong place.
Can President Muhammadu Buhari be blamed for this economic crisis?
We cannot really blame the present administration for this misfortune. The problem had been imminent; it just happened that President (Muhammadu) Buhari inherited it. And, any step he tries to take towards any economic progress gets hindered by the shattered glass of our past surrounding him. People or groups that say they can fix the economic problem in no time are liars. The economic progress we want takes time and patience, and to do the right thing we have to consider the works of theoretical economists and the finance experts (data managers) to translate data into meaningful figures that’ll work for us.
This present administration expects the law of demand and supply to help us recover from this recession with the strategy they executed, but that can only apply to developed countries with a working system – our system is still in shambles. We, as citizens, need to do our part in protecting the naira. You will still find people hoarding cash in their houses; who does that? Many materials we can produce locally still get imported, and it is as a result of the cumulative destructive actions by people that claim to need change. We need to adjust to the declining economy to save ourselves, so that we can rise from the rubble of our nation’s restructuring. Management is key while discipline should be our watchword. Most of all, we must respect the diversity in our union; from the rising exchange rate to our lavish spending on celebrations every weekend at event centres, and politicians that loot the nation of billions. What will an individual do with billions stolen from the nation’s coffers? It’s preposterous. Buhari can come with an agenda of change, but the change begins with each Nigerian.
Away from politics, tell us about your childhood. What values did you embrace that guided into becoming who you are today?
I didn’t grow up living with my parents. When I was in Primary Two at St. Ann’s Primary School, I went to live with one of my schoolteachers, Mr. Fakanmbi. Seeing that I was hard-working even at that age, he decided to take me to Lagos to further my education – I was going to be in Primary Four then in 1966. We lived in Lagos Island at Ita Akanni. It wasn’t in my father’s agenda for me to have a formal education. But I loved education. So, I decided to sponsor myself to have an education by working during holidays while in school. By 1972, I was working as a dispatcher for Peter Obe, the photography genius. We delivered exclusively to Daily Times and Nigeria External Communications for overseas reporting. Peter Obe’s photographs were exclusive, as our speed and quality was unrivalled. Anytime I arrived late to work then, I would turn the hands of my wristwatch to show I was on time. Peter Obe was very hard-working, and those were good old times.
When he found out that I started showing keen interest in accounting, Peter Obe then teased me on how I couldn’t become an accountant by reading on duty. With his tease, I decided to prove I could be better. I later worked with Z.O Ososanya and Co., as a copywriter. Even then, I assisted the company’s accountant out of keen interest whenever I came across an error; he would sometimes call me accountant by thievery when he saw my corrections. I took study leave to join Yaba College of Technology, where I graduated as an accountant. Before my Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria final exams, I was already grounded in accountancy. Today I’m proud of myself and thankful for the guidance of great men that I met during my life’s journey.
You seem so fulfilled. What would you have done if you had not ventured into accountancy?
I would have been a trader.
Little wonder you are the sole franchise owner of Primavera Premium Red Wines across West Africa. What influenced the drive into the business?
Asides my professional practice of accountancy, I ventured firstly into floor and wall tiles business. That became unsustainable for me as an investor, majorly because of embargo and import duties. The government takes tile business very seriously as edible products. Besides, the import duty on it is discouraging as if the government wants to run it by themselves. If they don’t encourage home-grown investors, how do they expect the country to grow in its international relations? I had to improvise after a visit to a trade fair in Valencia, Spain, where I met the manufacturer of Primavera Premium red wine. I went back to the hotel to discuss with my wife about it. She loved the idea and we headed to Portugal and we were in business. People love the brand of red wine we market because of its quality. I hate to settle for less. My satisfaction comes from positive reactions I get from the consumers, and that’s my major drive.
What kind of red wines are you talking about here?
We have different variants of Primavera Premium red wine now – up to six distinct flavours. Its acceptance in the wine industry has been very encouraging. Nigerians love quality and that’s what we brought to their table. The Primavera Premium red wine business is one that will always thrive because at one point in time or the other, people will want to relax and catch fun with a bottle of chilled wine – for those who can afford it.
Where are the best wines grown?
The best wines in the world can be found in places like Portugal, Italy, France and some parts of Spain.
Are there potentials for wine business in Nigeria?
Yes. Nigeria has a huge market for wines and the business is a thriving one in the country, especially now. However, the first three months of the year is not usually a favourable period for business people because of the heavy spending of the festive periods in December. Besides, Nigeria of late has not been too good for business because of its hostility in the area of power stability, government policies, and import duties amongst other economic factors militating against businesses. The insecurity is another factor that has affected business generally. Everyone has to provide everything for himself. You have to provide electricity, water, security and everything you can imagine, and as if that is not enough, the tariff you pay on these goods are significantly high. So, if you are not determined to stay in business, you may end up being frustrated out of business.
Are you saying the situation doesn’t stimulate good business or encourage entrepreneurs?
It’s not encouraging at all. So many factors stack up against entrepreneurs – from power to government policies on duties, to loan facilities and so on. On a container of wine, by the time you calculate all the duties and tariffs paid, it is running into almost 50 per cent and the import duty on wine is supposed to be common to all African countries in accordance to the external tariff structure and that was what made a duty on wine 30 per cent. This made the price of wine to skyrocket quite substantially, coupled with the devaluation of the naira. Nigerians would have to pay more to get good wines. We need God’s intervention. Don’t get me wrong; whom God wants to bless can’t be cursed. The ideal entrepreneur needs perseverance, patience and persistence, and he’ll surely make it.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her at Apapa Road, Lagos. She used to pass along my house often, so I tried to woo her by offering her a ride a couple of times. But she declined all the time. I tried to woo her for almost five years. When we finally decided to date, almost everybody discouraged us because they misunderstood her shyness for pride, and there was no way she would explain herself. We decided to forget everyone’s opinion and the union has been heavenly ever since.
At what point did you know you wanted her to be your wife?
After my Higher National Diploma and Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria (ICAN) certification, I initially wanted to have her as a girlfriend. Then, I looked at her pedigree and realised she would be best for me as a wife and not as a girlfriend. I informed my brother of my intention, but he said I was aiming too high for my status. I didn’t listen to him. I can say proudly that I married my Soulmate. We almost never quarrel as a fact. We’ve never got to seek the intervention of a third party to settle our differences. We deal with our problems by ourselves. I married my Soulmate, and in another life, I would still choose her.
Was there ever a point you wished you didn’t get married?
Never! We understand one another well. The only time we would have had a problem was when I wanted to go into business all by myself. She thought at that time it was a bad idea. So, she tried to discourage me. But, I was adamant and I advised her to stay with her parents while I struggle to build my business – telling her that if I became successful she should return. On hearing that, she allowed me to go into business. I started with selling frozen fish with a cold room in Ojota, Lagos. Then, I distributed in the morning, after having taken our kids to school. It wasn’t easy, but with time the business grew and I learnt on the business. Even at that point, I made sure my kids attended good schools. Now they school abroad. It’s all a good story now.
With such a strong bond of love between you and your wife, who is more romantic?
I think I am; mainly because I grew up unbounded. Her parents were strict, so she didn’t have the freedom that would have exposed her to a lot of things. I was exposed to the street life, and I made good use of it in my youth. Basically, we do everything together now. We enjoy each other’s company a lot. Even if I want to go out for a drink, I take her along. We go everywhere together.
You look young. How do you feel at 60?
I feel good. I feel young and healthy at 60.