Solomon Elusoji writes about the journey of one man to royal stardom
On the first of July, in Owu-Ijebu, Ogun State, three men stood before the Olowu of Owu-Ijebu, Oba Segun Adesina, to be conferred as chiefs of the kingdom. One of the men was Femi Adewunmi, who was to be named Otunba Atunluse of Owu-Ijebu. Dressed in white flowing garment, he looked resplendent at the ceremony amid chants of adulation and glory.
The Owus have a rich history. It is said that they descended from Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba tribe. The first Olowu was a grandchild to Oduduwa, the progenitor of Yoruba-land. When his mother, who was Oduduwa’s first daughter, would bring Olowu to the palace, the child would pull the crown from his grandfather’s head. And each time Oduduwa obliged and place the crown on his head, the little boy would start to chuckle. So the elders reasoned that the child could not live together in the same town with Oduduwa and the latter created a separate kingdom for his grand-son, beginning the Owu lineage.
But, at a point in time, there was a quarrel between Owu and its neighbours and they had to scatter all over to places as diverse as what is now known today as Kwara State, Lagos State and Ogun State. At the annual Owu convention, at least 40 to 50 crowned Owu Obas are usually in attendance. The Owu-Ijebu community happens to be one of those Owu settlements. They’ve been there since 1836.
Adewunmi is a descendant of one of the former kings of the Kingdom, Oba Olugboyega II, who reigned from 1921 to 1956 and who was the first educated Oba in Ijebu-land. His grandfather was the first son of Oba Olugboyega and was renowned for his uncommon generosity, a trait many who were interviewed for this article ascribed to the young Adewunmi. His late father was an elder brother to the present father of the kingdom, Oba Adesina.
“When their father (Adewunmi’s grandfather) died, as far back as 1934, their mother re-married and gave birth to me,” Oba Adesina told THISDAY. “So we’ve been very close. But the man was so nice, so good. And since he didn’t live long enough for him to be given all this honour, his first son ought to be recognised. And Femi has similar behaviour to his father: very generous, anytime you ask him to do something that has to do with the development of the community, he will excel in it, even more than you expect him to. We are just paying a little bit back of what his father has done for the community.”
“My dad had a lot of passion for the town, and I want to continue from that place and see how I can add value,” Adewunmi said. “I want to give back and put Owu on the map.”
The Otunba-ship will provide him a platform to do just that, as he would be expected, as Atunluse, to contribute generously to community projects and anything that has to do with the progress of the society.
Adewunmi’s journey to becoming an Otunba, and a distinguished gentleman, was not straightforward. He grew up privileged, born into opulence. But he was restless as a child, exhibiting traits he, himself, described as “rascally”.
One of his childhood friends, a gentleman who also has blue blood running in his veins and who is into state government consultancy, Bode Oki, confirmed this to THISDAY. “When we were young, he was probably the most rascally,” he said. “if we were a group, he had to lead. While we were in the scout, he was always asking questions and running around. Amongst us, he was the first that started driving, earlier than the most of us. He must have been about 12. While he was in school, he was nicknamed ‘Palaver’.”
This ‘rascality’ affected his education, but it did not stop him. Although he was born in the United Kingdom, he attended Maryland Convent and Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, before attending Kaduna State Polytechnic in the late eighties. After Kaduna, he attended Staffordshire University, studying Marketing, before moving to Switzerland, where he acquired a Masters in Business Administration from Geneva University, specialising in Procurement and Logistics. After his MBA, he worked all over the United Kingdom – Heinze, National Express, First Group, Western House – before returning to Nigeria, after being recruited by Notore Chemicals to handle the company’s procurement division.
The turning point of his life, he told THISDAY, was the death of his mother, which shifted his focus. “Losing my mum when I was in my early 20s was very painful,” he said. “I was very close to her. Even though I was a bit playful, she had a lot of confidence and trust in me. She knew I would turn around one day. It was a tough time for me. But I also used it as an inspiration. The things she had always wanted me to do while she was there, I started doing them. Things like being more serious academically and being more focused with my career. It was like my payback to her.”
A tenacious dreamer
After working at Notore Chemicals for about six years, Adewunmi saw a gap in the logistic chain. Notore was based in Onne, so they usually experienced a lot of logistics challenges because all the deliverables had to be routed through Lagos, before being hauled to the riverine community.
“We felt like we didn’t have control over the process, because it was in remote Lagos,” Adewunmi said. “So, in 2014, I insisted that they had to bring it in through Port Harcourt Airport. They told me they could bring it into Port Harcourt Airport, but couldn’t bring it into Onne, because they don’t have a structure on ground. So I thought ‘if I put a structure, you guys will come’.” So he decided to build a structure, which morphed into a full-fledged company called PrimePort Logistics.
When he started the company, sometime in 2014, he didn’t have huge amounts of money and a lot of people told him that it was an idea that could not work, since logistics was an industry dominated by cartels. But Adewunmi, who had ran a bar business while he was in the United Kingdom, is a tenacious dreamer.
“I never think about obstacles or barriers or why you can’t do things, because those things are always going to be there; the money will never be enough,” he said. “A lot of the things I have achieved were done through this mentality. During my time in the UK, I never used to think because I was a black person I could not succeed; and it was at a time when Nigeria had huge reputational challenges due to our fraud activities that I was progressing rapidly in procurement, which is a position where you have to be trusted with money and resources. I never looked at the barriers. Everyone is always looking at why things are not going to happen, but I look at the opportunities.
“Even when I had my bar business, I never thought I couldn’t do it. It required a lot of financial resources that I didn’t have; but I had a plan, started from scratch, applied for a drinks license rather than buy a licensed premises. And when I came back, I brought the same attitude to Notore and PrimePort.” And it worked for him.
“We’ve been doing very well,” he said, of PrimePort’s state three years after it was started. “We’ve been doubling our volumes and revenue year in, year out, even during the recession. The recession didn’t affect us, because we are offering a unique service and we anticipated all the challenges. The easiest way to stand out, which we have done at PrimePort, is to not be like the typical Nigerian. If majority of people are short-sighted, greedy, inconsistent and dishonest, the easiest way to stand out is not to be those things and people will notice.”