He believes difficult times prepare one for a happy future. Barrister Rotimi Edu, the promoter of Quicklink Insurance Brokers Limited and President, Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, Onikan, Lagos Island, in this interview with Femi Ogbonnikan, talks about his background, his marriage, among others
Tell us about your background.
My name is Edu Oluwarotimi. Precisely, I will be 60 next year. I am an indigene of Lagos state. I attended Surulere Baptist Primary School. And from there, I went to a training college called Lagos Clerical Training College at Karimu, Surulere. The school is no longer in existence. Then from there, I went to Premier College, Yaba, where I had my secondary school leaving certificate. I finished my secondary school education in 1974 and then, I started work with a private company for one year; just a private contractor to the Federal Ministry of Works. I later went to National Bank to work from 1976 to 1978, after which I gained admission into the Lagos State Polytechnic to read Insurance. After leaving Lagos State Polytechnic, I worked for some years, before I went back to school to read Law. I went to the University of Lagos. And when I finished my first degree in Law at the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, I got chartered as an Insurer and also have my masters degree in Law. In all, I had my LLB and LLM degrees at UNILAG. Now, I started work as an Insurance professional in 1982 precisely. I did my national youth service with a company called, ‘Mulumba Assurance’, owned by the Catholic Mission, but later the name was changed to Security Assurance. And then, from there, I worked for about nine years and left. I was on my own briefly, from 1990 that I left there till 1996 when I joined Industrial and General Insurance (IGI) Company. I rose to the level of an Assistant Manager and to that of the Deputy Director, Marketing, all within the nine years that I spent there. Later, I started my own company, after I resigned in 2005. I started Quicklink Insurance Brokers Limited, and I thank God, the company is 11 years old now and we are doing pretty well. On the legal side, I am also in partnership with a class colleague of mine to form ‘Fountain Court Partners’, a firm of legal practitioners and we have done quite a lot of suits, both in corporate law and litigations. Currently, I am on the board of the Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers (NCRIB), and I have served on the board for about eight years now. The eight-year is going on. And that has been how far I have gone professionally in my chosen industry.
What was your upbringing like?
Growing up was not easy for me, at all, because it was a bit rough, going to school in those days. And I give gratitude to my mother; she is late now. She was responsible for my educational foundation, along with her elder brother who happened to be my uncle. The two of them struggled to make sure that I had a good and sound education. Athough the schools that I went really had no names, but I don’t think it is the school that makes the success of a student, but it is what the student himself or herself wants. Even if I didn’t go to the likes of St. Gregory College or Igbobi College, but I still made sure that I was going to come out in flying colours. I was able to gain admission and to also do my tertiary education, and still got Chartered, wearing two professional caps- that of an Insurer and of a Lawyer.
Who mentored you to go into insurance and law?
Well, mentoring didn’t start until I got to the Polytechnic. Just like I said, it was a very rough period for me so much so that what I had even as my dress code was two pairs of jeans and then three or four white singlets that I washed and changed. Anytime they were getting dirty I would wash one and use another one for two weeks. During those periods, I can recollect that in my Close, Atan, in Surulere, behind Barracks, where I lived with my uncle, I would wake up very early and wash all the cars on the street, without even being asked to do so by the car owners. They would call me and say, “you have done justice to them (cars) again”. And then, they would give me money. From that money, sometimes, in order to get to school, you know, your guardian or parents would pay the school fees and everything, but sometimes, as students, you wanted to live a bit above your income. So, to do that, I would play table tennis and bet. And in doing that, at times, I would first lose and I would make sure I would lose to my opponent and then, take him up again and bet. I had a close friend that we played those pranks together. He would bet on my behalf and a lot of people would bet. His name is Uzor. He is now in the United States. I had Uzor and Patrick Famati, a Togolese. So, I would bet and win. And it was that money that we would use to go to eat Amala and buy some bottles of alcohol. And that was school, and it was very interesting to me, then and very exciting, because I think all those rough times were actually training periods for me. They were learning curves, to let me know that the future was poised to be rosy, but you must work hard. And then, I had a god-brother in a house where I was living, by name, Mr. Lateef Bakare. We called him, “LAB”. He is a Chartered Accountant. He was so young then, and I think, he spent few years at the Yaba College of Technology, before he got qualified as an Accountant. He worked at Deloitte and he later became a partner of one of the Deloitte Groups. During that period, I always marveled. I always looked at him and wondered “what kind of human is this”? He was very young at this high position. When he was living in a rented apartment, he was already using a Volvo 744 Saloon Car, brand new. Then, it occurred to me that to be a professional you would have to make sure that you work hard. So, that really gingered me during my Polytechnic days. Even my pranks then were unprecedented; when I was growing up; of course, yes. When I had some little kind of freedom; when my uncle died, I had to move to the campus in Ikorodu. My own campus was in Isolo. So, I went into politics within the students union government body as Welfare Secretary. And then, I was driving the coastal bus, which was in my care and we were doing a lot of Aluta. When the HND/Bsc dichotomy came, I was very prominent in leading the Aluta. I remember, Fela of blessed memory, we went to him and he really assisted us. He told us what should be happening in the educational sector. And his advice, if you look at it today, are already coming to fruition. And it wasn’t only that, each time we had our Aluta, once it was on the right level, we also got a lot of support. Nothing then, because there was no e-mail and it was this ‘telegram’. I could remember we got a telegram from Chief Obafemi Awolowo, sometime and from other leaders, trying to encourage us, as students not to be violent, that we should see our primary reason for going to school as success, as students. But at the same time, making us realise that we could have peaceful demands of whatever we needed. And during my school days, then I was very, very curious. Let me say, I was an extrovert. Every party, I would attend, every political rally I would be there. Everything happening around, you would see me there. And then, I thank God, I didn’t lose, because it was a kind of freedom for me, but if I hadn’t managed it well, probably I wouldn’t have finished my school. But again, I had a brother called Marcus. I lived with him during my HND programme. He was lecturing at the Lagos State Polytechnic. So, he had an accommodation very close to the school in Isolo. He is my cousin and he also hails from Ibowon. And I used to stay with him then. He was a Bachelor then, and it was like another freedom, but this time curtailed, because brother Marcus was a complete Christian. It is not that I am not a practising Christian, I am also a Christian, but not like an SU. And sometimes, I had some rules, I could not bring bottles of beer into the house and I could not do anything. But in my own room, I had a lot of bottles. Sometimes, when he came back home, if I was drunk, I would ‘re-arrange’ the whole apartment with perfume. You know, for him even as a Christian, I don’t think, he could perceive the odour of alcohol. That was it; growing up in my school days and I thank God, when I graduated, I went to serve in Ibadan. The transit started again. My primary call was for Enugu. And I could remember, I was invited to lecture and I wanted to come back to Lagos, so, I turned that down and decided to come back to my profession. From there, I changed my destiny and I was given Oyo State. Even getting to Oyo State, I discovered that I didn’t fit in too much, because most of the Insurance companies had their head offices in Lagos. They just had small branches in the other state capitals. This is where you might say, well, if you had a vision and you would have a mission and your accomplishment. One way or another, I got myself back to Lagos and I finished my NYSC in Lagos, at that time. And I started work with the company I served with. Having done that, I started work as a manager and I rose to the level of a senior manager, before I left the organisation to go and start on my own. I had a brief stint when a bank called Eagle Bank was started and I was made the head of the Insurance department, but unfortunately we got an approval in principle but eventually the bank was not licensed. So, I had to go and form a company and started trading and then, did an agency job in Insurance business. Now, trading was not also easy, because I had no contacts really and I now had to go back into the industry to join IGI. And that was where I really had a mentor in Insurance, in person of Mr. Remi Olowude of blessed memory. I went to his school and I renewed my intuition and my knowledge. Remi Olowude was an epitome of knowledge in the Insurance industry. He was everything in Insurance in this country, and he taught us everything needed to be successful as a practitioner. He had good ethics and he was somebody that I would forever remember as my mentor in the Insurance industry. I also had one person that really prepared me towards what it takes and that person is Mr. Idowu Sylva, who was the first Managing Director of Mulumba Assurance. And he was a very strict disciplinarian and also a good professional. It was from the two of them I learnt the trade of Insurance. As I am speaking today, I have spent about 34 years in the industry.
How did you meet your wife?
Well, I wouldn’t say I met my wife accidentally, but it was divine. At that time, at the Polytechnic, I was doing truancy, and not lady truancy. I was not involved in girlfriend or boyfriend issue and I didn’t even have time for her, because there was no way I could invite her to the house, because I was staying with my uncle. I will wait until everybody slept before I will pack the couch in the sitting room to sleep. So, where did you want to bring your date? And even when I had, one street brother like that would say, bring your girlfriend to my apartment. When we take them down, he would entertain them, and unknown to us this man would start dating them behind our backs, because we were not as buoyant. All we would realised was that, sometimes, when we wanted to go and see him, he would not open the door for us; only for us to catch him one day, that he was already dating one girlfriend of ours. So, those were very interesting periods, because I had time for politics. I had time for my study and that was it, then. So, at that period, we rallied and even formed a club. We called the club, “jaje” (meaning, eat from the meal), because all we did was that when we were leaving home, we the poor ones would put our spoons and forks in our pockets. Then, if any of us should go to the cafeteria to buy food, we would be hiding; we would allow him to finish buying the food, then we would bring out our spoons and join him. And the rule was that, you could not say no, no matter how hungry you were and no matter the quantity of food that you had, we would eat it together. What we found out was that, after eating, one of us would say bring more rice and before we knew it, we were all well fed. So, that was how the “jaje club” started. Part of my truancy too was fight I had with the ‘kegites’. I could remember the ‘Chief of the Kegites Club’ at the Lagos State Polytechnic. He was telling me to keep filling his calabash with palmwine and when I was doing that, I just took my own turn, which was an abomination; using the calabash of the Chief. So, when he turned the table at that time, I had to pour the palm wine on him and I was ‘de-kegged’. When they ‘de-kegged’ me, other friends just said no, “this is our friend, we have been together”. After the ‘jaje club’, we now formed another club called ‘the bottlers’. As ‘the bottlers’, we were drinking beer. So, we would get drunk before them, and before they finished drinking their palmwine, we would have already gotten drunk. We were problems to them, all the time. And it was interesting and we always had fights with them. So, when I met my wife was when I lost my uncle and I had to move to Ikorodu campus. She was also studying Biochemistry, but her own campus was in Ikosi, Ketu, Lagos. She was staying with her friend in the campus in Ikorodu. So, it was when I went to Ikorodu that I met her; I thank God, she is the love of my life. We courted for about six years and, then we got married. And we thank God today, that we are blessed with two kids, twins after 25 years of marriage. I will not stop, saying that, so as to show the glory of God and His mercies over us and it is only from God, that children can come. We thank God that eventually we got there. If there was no love, I don’t see how a couple would be together for 24 years, without having an issue outside of wedlock. Some people don’t even get up to ten years and they end up divorcing or having issues outside their matrimonial homes. But for us we came together and it eventually came to pass. Nigeria is in recession, how is the insurance business coping? Well, insurance business has come to stay. It has improved far, far beyond what it was before. It has also gone more international, in terms of standard. The best practice is now available in the insurance industry. Customers and consumers’ claims are settled promptly. We have a lot of improvements, but the only problem is that during the period of recession, insurance is always the last choice on the scale of preference. But people forget that it is at that time that they should take up insurance because whatever they have that is left for them is well protected by insurance, such that if there is any claims, they would not feel the recession badly, as it would have been without insurance. So, my advice is that, people should take up insurance now, protect themselves, protect their lives and property, because in a period like this, if you lose anything, you are not likely to gain it back without insurance.
How did you become the president of Lagos Lawn Club?
That is one of the marvelous things that happened to me. Because, number one, in the history of the club, I think, I would be the first President to be elected unopposed. I had the unanimous support of virtually all the members and that was a very great challenge to me. It gave me a challenge of performance, that if these people or members love me this much, then I don’t have to disappoint them. So, I have tried as much as possible, to improve the standard of the club. I have tried my best possible to be a good Ambassador of the club, outside and within the country. I have also tried my best possible to ensure that members enjoy the time spent at the club. I have made the ambience of the club very conducive, by also making their time very safe, because now we have a sick bay. If there is any accident, there is immediate emergency response. Apart from that, there are so many things that I have achieved. The club’s entry door now is biometric. Aside from that, you can also see that we are constructing a new events hall. And I have added one or two things to the club. We have added a swimming pool that would soon be open officially. I have also added pavilions on the side courts which would make people comfortable when they are watching matches. I can say that in the last one and half years that I have been President, I have done nothing less than 36 projects that have made the club a place that is number one choice. It is the oldest club in Nigeria; we celebrated our 120 years last year and it is the biggest tennis arena that we also have in this sub- Sahara region. The club is going international and one thing I must point out is the support that has been given to us by his Excellency, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State Governor, who sponsored the Governor’s cup that is ITF-rated. That has taken the club into the international market. And what we are praying and focusing on now is that the club would one day become international where we would have people like the Williams sisters and all other tennis players, coming to play for the prize money; maybe the money would be 500,000 dollars and you will see all these stars. So, we are also preparing ourselves as a club, with all these improvements. Apart from that, Gov Ambode has also made his intention to make tennis a tourism sport and also an income generating sport for this country. And we are looking seriously into that and we are on the verge of setting up the ‘youths tennis foundation’, which would be an academy to make sure that we teach the young ones in Nigeria to be excellent professional tennis players that would win laurels and bring in a lot of foreign exchange earnings into the country.