Pa Olusanya: Collapse of our Bottling Company was Lowest Point of My Life

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SATURDAY MEMOIRS STORY

If there is anyone that has enjoyed providence in every facet of life, Pa Gabriel Akanni Olajide Olusanya is that person. An indigene of Abeokuta, Ogun State, he was born on August 3, 1937 into a poor family. He experienced abject poverty at an early age. After his modern three certificate in 1954, he desired an elusive degree in law. Undeterred, Olusanya braved the odds, and with help of friends, joined the Kingsway Store as a supermarket attendant. He later went to PZ where he worked for several years and retired as assistant manager with his Modern School Certificate. His breakthrough came in 1981 when he floated Feroselinar International Agencies Limited, a clearing and forwarding agency. He later co-founded defunct Elvan Bottling Company in Abeokuta. Not done yet, in 2012, he went into oil and gas and set up Feroselinar Filling Station. In an emotion-laden voice filled with gratitude, Olusanya tells Funke Olaode through his life odyssey

• As a Family We Struggled to Exist
• Lack of Fund Derailed My Ambition to be a Lawyer
• I Witnessed the 1947 Women riot Led by Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti

Born into a Poor Family

Looking back at my life’s trajectory it can only be God for me to have become somebody in life because of what I met on the ground when I was born. I was born in Abeokuta in the then Western Region on August 3, 1937 and was named Gabriel Akanni Olajide Olusanya. I was raised in a polygamous home with four wives. Despite the intrigues associated with polygamy, we coped well because both parents were involved in the raising of the children and my mother being the first wife was also capable. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and as a matter of fact I didn’t meet any spoon on the ground because my family struggled to exist. My father was a blacksmith called and my mother was a petty trader. I am the third born of my mother. I have two elder sisters who are still alive. The first is 88 and the other one is 84. The two younger sisters are dead.

Virtues Learnt from My Father
Many factors shaped my life while growing up. As I said earlier, my father was a blacksmith. I remember after school hours in those days, I used to assist him in his workshop and sometimes I would take his wares such as rings, earrings, bangles and so on to the market to sell. The proceeds really helped to offset part of my school fees. Despite what my family was facing at that time, my father believed in upholding life’s virtues. He used to tell me that ‘Akanni, when you grow up, don’t aspire to take chieftaincy title but focus on your work. That I should live within my means and shouldn’t look for money by force. I should always remember the son of whom I am. I adhered to it. But looking back, I think my involvement helping my father in trading in a way spurred the entrepreneurship spirit in me.

I Witnessed the Abeokuta Women’s Riot
Growing up in Abeokuta an ancient city was fun. I was lucky I didn’t grow up in a rural setting. When I was born there was electricity and a few basic social amenities. I learnt electricity had been in existence even before my father was born. The country was okay and all these social vices that are happening now were totally absent. We were under the Colonial master though. The environment and family also molded me. I was a very calm and quiet child and up till today my friends nicknamed me ‘a woman’ because I don’t like trouble. But once in a while I played football but I am not a rascally person. But I still have old memories of that ancient city that remains with me till today. When I was 10 years in 1947 there was a terrible riot led by the matriarch of Rasome-Kuti, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. This woman was fighting that women should not pay tax. She led a protest and the then Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oladapo, had to flee his throne for six months and relocated to Osogbo. It was a trying moment for us because children were not allowed to go to school for fear of being kidnapped. Everybody stayed at home because we were afraid. Oba Oladapo only came back after the matter was settled.

I Went to School at Age Nine
I started school at the age of nine because of the laid-down policy of admission then that before you could be admitted, your right hand must touch your left ear. I was elated the first day I was enrolled at Ebenezer Baptist School in Abeokuta in 1944. I finished from this school and proceeded to a Modern School that was affiliated to that Primary school where I spent another three years.
When I was growing up my ambition was to study law. When I finished the modern school, there was no money to go further and I moved to Ibadan to join my uncle who was a sales manager with the Motors Department. I stayed with him for three years and in a way I was exposed to business. He would buy fairly used cars and put me in charge. I learnt buying and selling from him.

Foray into Kingsway Store and PZ
After sometime my elder sister invited me to Lagos. I returned to Lagos in 1954 and was looking for job. Some of my friends who had joined Kingsway Stores helped me get a job as a supermarket attendant with a salary of 11 pounds. After three years, one of my friends Kareem Kehinde who was working with PZ on a salary of 12 Pounds also invited me. Of course, I was attracted to PZ because of one pound extra. When my father heard that I had left Kingsway Store he wrote a letter that I should stay there. I used to follow his instruction but I still joined PZ where I worked for many years and rose to the position of assistant manager and quit in 1981. It was from PZ that I learnt clearing and forwarding. I was not sacked I retired on my own as a matter of fact; PZ wouldn’t retire you if you are not up to 50.

Becoming my own boss
After my exit from PZ, I floated a clearing and forwarding company, Feroselinar International Agencies Ltd. I am into haulage, Freight forwarder, shipping importer and exporter and wrote several letters to companies looking for services. I got a customer from Tower Galvanising Products, Kaduna who introduced me to Midland Galvanising Abeokuta. That Tower Company still has a branch on Oba Akran Road in Ikeja, Lagos here. From there, I got another offer to come to London. In 1982, I travelled to United Kingdom for the first time to sign some contracts. I started doing business with them. The business is still on till today but not as it used to be due to the state of the economy. I never went beyond Modern School but self-development, exposure helped. In those days, as a sales person, business man or industrialist, they used to invite us for seminars overseas on how to do and run business. I learnt from one the seminars that as an industrialist if you are not ready to retire, never allow your children or close relations to work in your company. If you are ready to retire you can handover the job and don’t go back there. This is impossible as an African. If you are a chairman of a company we are advised not to allow our children that it is better for them to work elsewhere. God prospered the work of my hand and my clearing and forwarding business flourished. In 2012, I diversified into selling petroleum products and established Feroselinar Filling Station in Okota. As I advanced in age I handed it over to somebody to manage.

Providence at work all the way
Considering my life’s trajectory it can only be God in the sense that with little education, it takes providence, perseverance, hard work, determination, to be able to excel. The lesson leant really is that one should trust God Almighty in your endeavours. Again, there is no shortcut to success. As a human being, adversity would come but learn to endure and be patient. For instance, clearing and forwarding is a seasonal business and sometimes we would not get jobs for months and I have to pay salaries. But I embrace contentment. The job is also very delicate and I always warn my apprentices to be satisfied with a little commission and with life.

My only regrets
Looking back, I have one or two regrets. If I could turn back the hand of the clock I aspired to be an industrialist. I established a company with my late friend, Chief Deji Adebimpe in Abeokuta in 1983. We floated a company called Elvan Bottling Nigeria Limited. We acquired hectares of land. I remember we were so determined to succeed that we went to Vienna in Austria where we got technical partners who supported us. They brought some equipment and we thought we had arrived. But before we could break even, government policies didn’t allow us to thrive. We had started production and the company collapsed. It was one of my regrets. I invested heavily on this project. This affected by business partner, Chief Adebimpe. Money was valuable and our investment ran into millions of Naira then. Industrial Bank assisted us. The bank stepped in, sold the equipment to recoup their money.

Becoming a landlord was my best moment
I have had several best moments in my life: getting married, having children and making a head way in a turbulent world, also, when I established my petro station. But my happiest moment was the day I became a landlord. This was in 1992. I was living in a two bedroomed flat before then. My lowest moment was my mother’s death. I wept the day I inaugurated my first building because I was pained that my mother died early and did not eat the fruit of her labour.

Being a family man
By the special grace of God I am blessed with children from two wives. I got married to my first wife, Ebun, an indigene of Ibadan, who I met in Lagos in 1965 when I was 28. Our path crossed when I went to see a friend in Obalende. She said she was living in Government Quarters in Ikoyi with her elder sister. The chemistry gelled and I pursued it further. She later introduced me to her sister. But her sister’s husband was about to retire and he said if I am serious about the relationship I should bring my parents. I was very afraid because I wasn’t ready for marriage and at the same time I didn’t want to lose her. My fear was borne out of my meagre salary that how would I feed my wife and children. But they told me that as soon as her sister’s husband retires they would be leaving Lagos to Owo in Ondo State where the man hails from. I told my senior sister and she encouraged me. She was very happy because my father too had been pestering me. We later visited her parents in Ibadan to seal the deal. And we got married and blessed with children. I later got married to my second wife Taye and also blessed with children. I have played my role well as a father over my children. I tried my best and today some live abroad and my young children are not doing badly in education.

Happy to be 80
I was happy to have attained the age of 80 because of my experience in the past. When I was about 55 years I had an accident that almost ended my life but God stepped in. I went for a ceremony in Ibadan and on my way back my car was involved in a ghastly accident along Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The Peugeot was a write off. And today, I am alive hale and hearty. One thing I learnt is that God is the author and finisher of our faith and I have embraced him totally. I presently worship at Ebenezer Baptist Church Abeokuta and I am excited when I am in the house of God. If one lives for 1,000 years it is by His grace breathing and living. My only prayer to God is to spare my life to be able to see my young children through.