For Segun Adetiba, an accomplished architect and businessman, success is about changing lives. Through various development initiatives, he has invested his resources in raising a new generation of Nigerians equipped to take their future in their hands. He turned 70 recently and in this interview with Olaoluwakitan Babatunde, he discusses a range of issues including what if feels like to be a septuagenarian, business, his many legacies and his expectations for Nigeria

You turned 70 few months back. It’s a landmark celebration, how does it feel being 70?

G reat! Especially when you have the drive to carry on making an impact.

 Now that you are 70, would you say you’re fulfilled at this age; would you say that you’ve achieved all that you set out to achieve in life?

Yes, but not quite. I would say I am maybe seventy per cent fulfilled but thankfully I’ve still got time to round that figure up. There is still time to finish up.

All the years leading up to your 70th must have undoubtedly being eventful. What key events stand out for you as contributing to all you’ve accomplished in life?

 Well, I have been so privileged to have the grace of God to overcome many obstacles in life. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was grace until I turned 50. By the time I was turning 50 I joined Christ Embassy Church and with the lucidity of the sermons preached and by my understanding of the same, I got to know that the grace of God had indeed been seeing me through all along – even without my knowing it. In fact, I got most of the awards and honours that I have ever received before I turned 50 and the one that would have capped it all was the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) Award. However, because of my longstanding principle to never bribe people, more so, as they had informed me that I was qualified for a national award, I stood firm on my decision to not bribe anyone when I was asked for a kickback and my name was excluded from the list. The nomination for the OON award was from Lagos State.

Between the ages of 45 and 50, I was contracted annually to build the state’s exhibition pavilion at Tafawa Balewa Square for the National Trade Fair. And Lagos came first for all the five years in which I was responsible for the design and construction of the pavilion. It was at the fifth year that they came to me in my factory to ask for my thoughts on being awarded the OON and I told them I was okay with it. They inspected my factory and interviewed me and brought so many questionnaires along and when they were done, they requested that I pay for the nomination. I minced no words in telling them to count me out if the only way I could get a national merit award was to pay for it. Then it’s no longer a merit award. I had only just received the Golden Mercury of Africa award for interior decorating shortly before then and that was a British award and I didn’t pay for it. So if an award coming from Africa then would require a payment, I was never going to be interested and they left. Perhaps if I had given to Caesar what belongs to Caesar then, someone would be calling me OON now. However, I am grateful to God because upon turning 50, I realised that true success does not lie in the number of awards you must have received but in how much of an impact you have made on the lives of the people in this world. So that gives me satisfaction because I have impacted so many lives. I have graduated more than 550 artisans on record that are all working all over the country now and abroad in various fields such as carpentry, machine section, spray printing and others.

And my contributions in that regard have been recognized with a Men of Achievement Award – a continental award.  The Nigerian Union of Journalists also conferred a merit award on me. I have in fact received so many merit awards. Having received all of these awards, I still cannot shed the feeling that that there is a lot more work to do. I am not thinking about retirement now especially because I look at the graduates being churned out of our universities and many of them are still unemployable without us having to train them. So at this level, having achieved so much, I think Nigeria still needs me to impact its youth so that we can all arrive at the place we ought to be in the comity of nations.

Do you have any form of skill acquisition programs that you organize for the youths?

 Yes, I have what we call the 7 Star Platform which we started last year and through which we partner regularly with Lagos State to empower youths in with relevant skills. Last year, about 100 beneficiaries participated in the programme. Currently, we have about 45 of them who have got skills and certificates of apprenticeship to practice in various trades – artistry, painting and more. And indeed, we are set to do more.

 It does appear that for you, life is really is not just about prosperity but about posterity

 I have prospered, honestly, in that sense, I am fulfilled; I have enough to take care of needs. If I am not retiring now, it’s because I want to impact Nigerians. So when you talk about prosperity I am on top. I am very wealthy and I believe you know that wealth transcends riche. I am very wealthy. My primary drive is not money but to make an impact on the next generation.

Let’s roll back the years. I would say you grew up in an era we could possibly refer to as Nigeria’s golden age – the early years post-independence – what memories of that time do you have sir?

 Young Nigerians of the time were diligent – diligence in terms of their readiness to learn. People are happy working for their wealth but now people want to take the fast lane to wealth without putting in any work. At that time, Nigerians were more legacy-conscious. Today’s leaders do not encourage diligence anymore. The political leadership of this country has been very selfish. Those days, it took a lot to be a politician. Politicians of those early times had pedigree. Those days, the elite politicians were people with decent education. All of a sudden, things turned around. Now, someone can just rise up from a village somewhere, become a politician and vie for a top office. Federal Character principle also came in and turned things on its head.

Even the Emir of Kano called for mosques to be converted to schools

In the past, who would say such a thing and not stoke the ire of the northern populace? In the past, many northerners didn’t even put their children in school. They just sent them to Islamic schools but now I think with this trend if people continue like this and politicians have a change of heart it can be better.

Let’s talk about your foray into the Quick Service Restaurant business with The Villa Kitchen. What gave rise to this?

We want to standardize Nigerian food. We want to make sure that Nigerian food becomes staple foods in households abroad. This is the overarching vision that birthed The Villa Kitchen. I have found that the catering profession is quite tasking and what we want to do as culinary ambassadors is quite big. It’s just like the Chinese that have popularized Chinese cuisine globally and we now have Chinese Restaurants everywhere in the world, we want to graduate Nigerian cuisine to that level soon. We want to perfect the tradition of making Nigerian dishes like Edikang Ikong, Oha Soup, Efo Riro, Egusi, Ogbono and much more, such that even if you are passing by in your car and you perceive the aroma, you’ll be compelled to come in and feed yourself.

You have your hand in a lot of pies; I am wondering what that entails in terms of management capability.

Well, in terms of management capability, over the years I have learned that when you’re involved in ventures you’re not exactly an expert at, you have to employ professionals, you have to gather skills and you have to make sure that those who possess the requisite skills are working on each product.  That’s my philosophy and that has helped to reduce stress. Whatever I do now I like to do it professionally and I like to go by professionals who are experts in that field.

Let’s talk about Pastor Segun Adetiba, you are a pastor, how has that experience been?

I so much enjoy the pastoring and I think I owe my wealth, experience and my success to a coach, a trainer, a mentor, an all-encompassing gentle man in the person of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome. You know at the age of 50 when I thought I had accomplished, I came to realize that those 50-years had actually been a waste. There was a rebound after the age of 50. My eyes were opened with the word of God. I was trained and I was privileged to be very diligent and I have the grace that pastor was directly involved with us at the time – unlike now that he has gone global. He was able to select few people at various times and train them. I am privileged to have been part of them. So pastoring is a mission accomplished. I found myself on the throne, I found myself on the mountaintop, and I came into reality that I have to train the people still in the valley. I have and will always be grateful to God and grateful to the man of God. I have been able to see that God loves me and directed me into the ministry of the Holy Ghost which is still functioning in me.

 So what do you consider the highpoint of your career so far?

The highpoint for me is that I have been able to impact my world. I can’t count the number of people that I have graduated – the number of people that have become billionaires that trained under me and the number of industries that has been set up by Nigerians that I trained.

I know you were president of the Furniture and Allied Product Manufacturers Association of Nigerian FAPMAN, are you still the president?

Yes I’m still the president, have been telling them for some time now that they would have to start making plans for my retirement from the position. Elections have been suspended since I won the second term because they want me to carry on as president and truth be told I cannot be here forever.

How long have you been the President?

I became the president in 1997.

And elections have been going on?

Yes but I always come out tops but this time around I told them I don’t want to contest but they cornered me and said no election. So I am not enjoying it anymore and I think that during our Annual General Meeting (AGM) that is coming up, somebody else will be appointed.

I know you once spoke in your capacity as FAPMAN President in the favor of the Federal Government enforcing the ban on imported goods

I advocated for ban on furniture but we lost members at the time. That is to show you that the success of this country is not only about leadership. In fact 50 percent of the success comes from followership. If you have quality followership, if you have diligent followership, definitely the leadership must be right if it’s not right it will fade away. So, when I approached the then General Olusegun Obasanjo that we needed to ban this thing and he agreed with me, members were telling me that it’s not right because they all import. Eventually we were able to win the heart of the federal government and they banned the importation of furniture, even up till now. When we make noise about smuggling, Customs will go wild with them and confiscate their goods but guess what, when they confiscate the containers they will still sell the goods to civil servants who will now open it up and sell at cheaper prices. These are the challenges still facing the industry up till now. But it’s getting better.

How do you see local manufacturers faring in this turbulent economic climate?

Under the then President Jonathan, we stated categorically that giving loans to manufacturers without steady power supply was akin to throwing money down the drain. At that time, they were not even considering grants, they were giving bailouts and the bailout went through the banks with collateral and I warned my members that if you use your collateral to get a loan on a very high percentage interest rate a crisis-ridden economy that has no infrastructure to back production, you will soon be back to square one. In fact you will record deficits. The federal minister and President Jonathan were not happy with me and I was warned that if I know that I want to enjoy my old age I should keep quiet. I was able to tell them straight to their eyes that even if I keep quiet and Nigerians are not happy, the youth that are coming won’t be able to keep quiet.  And it will not be opportune for them to warn you. They went ahead to give that bailout to my industry and they put the name of my company as the first beneficiary and I rejected it. They claimed to have given me fifty million naira then – which was of course a lot of money. They gave it to those who were ready to take it in my industry. Today, all of them have lost their collateral. Some of them have become distributors now and for others, their factories became empty warehouses. They sold out and now some of them are on wheelchairs. The stress was too much and they couldn’t pay back – even till now. Even now, you know that the smuggling of imported products is still on all over the place. Electricity is still not here. The interest rates have risen. So my advice for any manufacturer in Nigeria still remains the same. Politicians are still not serious. Manufacturers should do what they can and not take loans that they cannot pay back. The environment will not allow you to pay back and you can see AMCON is locking up and taking over warehouses and companies. And even the companies that they have taken over – can they manage it? No! They can’t. They will just use additional resources and waste it. So those are some of the key issues.

Do you still believe in Nigeria?

Wow! This is a great country. There is a silent revolution going on in agriculture, a lot is happening in skill acquisition and so much more is happening than ever before. Whistleblowing will continue forever and will sanitize this country. I want to tell you that it is no longer business as usual. Watch out – in this coming election you will see that the followership would have learned a lot of lessons and then you will see that the elections would no longer be about 75-year old men or 70-year old men. The youth are coming up. They are training and they are witnessing a lot of things and a lot of people are flowing into the church.