Providence, no doubt, has literally lavished favour on him. But success, greatness and fame were never thrust on his laps on a platter of gold. His, is an intriguing story of a man who was determined to survive. Indeed, if anyone had told Sir Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu that he would someday become one of the gladiators in the nation’s business sector, he would have dismissed it with a wave of the hand. But today, the man famously known as Baba Ijebu is celebrated by all for making hard work, discipline and accountability his watchwords. For him, honour is never in short supply. It comes in torrents. That was why the Iperu Remo, Ogun State-born billionaire was last week conferred with the prestigious chieftaincy title of Odole Oodua by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi. Chief Adebutu was 84 on Thursday. The man that popularised lottery business in Nigeria shares the story of his life, his upbringing, struggle and road to success with Bayo Adeoye. Excerpts:
At 84, I feel good and I thank God
I feel good and I thank God for his mercies on me at 84. As you rightly said, I am an old man, and I am still looking good by the grace of God. I thank God for his infinite mercies on me. Lessons life has thought me are numerous. What I have learnt in my life is that in all positions and conditions, you must be satisfied. At 84, I am satisfied and fulfilled.
I started work as a sales man
If you look deep into my history, I started as a sales man. I rose to the post of a sales manager in charge of Lagos State and the whole of Mid-Western state. I worked for an American chemical manufacturing company located on Lawson Street, Race Course Lagos. While I was working with them, I stumbled into a book. It says “whatever work you do, one day you must leave, either because or retirement or sack.” The book continued: “In any business, even when you leave, you leave it to yourself; that is you leave it to your children.” That encouraged me to go into business. I decided to quit paid job. Today, I don’t have any regret for doing this. However, I will say the beginning was rough. The capital was not there. Working at that time for myself was like not working at all. I enjoyed the job of a sales manager, though, financially, it was nothing to write home about.
To rise to the position of a sales inspector, especially with an American company, translates to Sales Manager. I was a big boy then. I was only determined to stand on my own; that was why I resigned. That book I read triggered me. Whatever job I do, I have to leave it one day either by sack or due to old age. This is true.
The book went further to say that in a small business of my own, when I leave, my children will take over. I leave it there for life. That’s what’s happening now; my business will live for life. Already my children are gradually working for me.
My venture into pool betting business
I started Pool betting business with my late friend, Chief Solomon Adebayo Ayoku. He was from Ede in Osun State and I am from Iperu-Remo in Ogun State. We met in the pool business; he was also a pool agent. We have a common master. We were both selling for the same pool company as pools agent. We came together to form our company. I initiated it. I was doing my mathematics; I was recording my sales and winnings and looking at a fat balance. This was in the 60’s. When I left the American company without capital. I was looking for a business to venture in that won’t require much capital and I discovered that as a pool agent, all you needed was a desk and a pen; then, a little money to rent a shop. That was around three pounds then.
I started the business with three pounds in the early 60’s and today, it is very big. The secret of my rise is honesty. Some pool agent will sell pool and keep some money behind, when there is winning, they are in trouble. I never do that. When we turn pool promoters, we paid winnings promptly. Even when it was difficult to pay the winnings, I made sure we paid.
Foray into politics as a young man
When I was growing up, I wanted to read Law but unfortunately, my parents were unable to sponsor my education. In secondary school, I delved into politics. During my youth as a school boy, I was a member of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC). I can remember several times I was suspended from school because of my political activities. I remember when late Dr. Onabamiro made me an election polling agent, the following day I was suspended from college. When I was suspended, I ran to TOS Benson, the former minister for Information at Turbon Avenue, Yaba, Lagos. He lodged me at an hotel in Sabo, Yaba.
Well, I don’t have any regret whatsoever, for not studying law. I remember, God bless my friend of good memory, Chief Molade Okoya Thomas, my school mate and classmate. When he was going to Europe, I told him before he returned, I would have become a millionaire. God heard my prayers. I have no regret.
When he came back, I was already a millionaire. He calls me ‘delicate millionaire.’ From my formative years, I have always been positive-minded. My stubbornness and never believing in failure helped to sharpen me. During the rough time in the pool business, a lot of companies folded up. There was a time when all pool companies were in trouble. Then, the forecaster forecasted correctly for about 4-5 weeks consecutively. 95 per cent of all the companies folded up. I refused to go under.
Politics is a no go area again
After I became wealthy, I refused to go into politics because in Nigeria, politics is practiced in a dirty way. I am not a politician, but I am a father to politicians. Several politicians come here from several parties and they are welcome. Politics in Nigeria is practiced in a very dirty way; thuggery, killings etc. For what? When my son, Ladi Adebutu delved into politics and wanted to become the Governor of Ogun State, I warned him against dirty politics. I told him to practice clean politics. That is what he is currently practicing. But for me, politics is a no go area again.
Religion mixed with gaming business
I am the Baba Ijo of my church. I have been in the gaming business all my life. From Casino, Pool, lottery etc. let me correct you, I am into gaming; and gaming is the stock exchange of an ordinary man. Stock exchange is where you put your money and expect dividend. How many millionaires do you think we have made in our lives? We have made several millionaires and we are still making them.
I’m never worried about heavy winnings
This is the business I have been doing for years. I am used to it. There are times the winning becomes unbearable, we roughen the weather. We pay the dividend by all means. This has made us stronger. Prompt payment, when there is winning; I pay by every means even if it requires taking bank overdraft I will do it. I have been shaken severally and it can never swallow me. I have a thick skin.
I was introduced to hard work early in life
Right from primary school, I will wake up as early as 5am to carry the wares of my mum to the motor park. I started primary school in 1942. I have been seeing businesses and hard work from day one. My mum used to be an agent to big companies in the good old times. She was a distributor.
It has never been all smooth all my life
I have had lots of good and bad moment. It has never been all smooth all my life. Whichever condition I find myself, believe me, I am contented. I have many good memories. On October 19, I was installed as Odole Oduwa by Ooni of Ife. It was a wonderful moment. The Ooni told me, ‘you don’t just make a cap, you make a crown.’ I told him it’s just a chieftaincy title. He replied and said ‘the title is bigger than many Obas.’ I have had many good moments in life. Is it when I had my first chieftaincy title in Lagos 1972? Is it when Oba Akiolu named me the Asoju Oba of Lagos. I am second in command in the hierarchy of Lagos title chiefs. Is it when the Federal Government of Nigeria honoured me? I was given OON, the following year CON. It has never happened before. I have not seen anybody honoured in two consecutive years. Is it when they win me and I have to run helter-skelter to pay winnings? I have good times and bad times. I hit my first million when I was 37.
I was not born with a silver spoon.
God helping me I will never be tired of helping people. The reason is very simple: I was not born with a silver spoon. Some people work much harder than I do, but they don’t receive ten per cent of the blessing God has given me. To me, the only way to show appreciation to God is by giving a little back to the less privileged. I was in your position before. I did not have thousands of millions in the bank. When I receive February salary, I used it to pay for January debt. The food sellers were taking the larger amount. I know where the shoe pinches. I have been there before. I donated a building to the Olabisi Onabanjo University for a radio Station. I did same at the Lagos State University. I donated a maternity hospital to UNILAG, accident ward hospital to Babcock Univeristy, Old people home to the University of Ibadan and now I am building an Auditorium at the University of Ibadan. I have laid the foundation of Oduduwa House in Ile-Ife.
Odole of Oduwa will be my last chieftaincy title
After taking the title of Odole of Oduwa, I won’t take any chieftaincy title again. It’s not wise to take something lower than what you have. Odole is the climax. Kabiyesi said Odole title is equivalent to a King. This position, Obafemi Awolowo held first, followed by G.O.K Ajayi and I am the third holder. I received a chieftaincy title in Ode Remo before going to Ile Ife. It’s deliberate because the Oba knows that after the Odole title I can’t take any title anymore.
The Odole traditional title was pioneered by the great Oranmiyan while he was still a Prince of Ife and has been retained as part of Ife’s social and political system. It is specially conferred on distinguished Oodua descendant who in present times can replicate the roles played by Oranmiyan. My potential for positive social transformation was a crucial factor considered.
My other chieftaincy titles are the Babalaje of Lagos, Olotu of Lagos, Balogun of Iperu Remo, Baba Oba of Iperu Remo, Akogun of Remoland, Bobaselu of Ondo Kingdom, Baba Oba of Noforija Kingdom, Epe and the Baba Oba Iperuland.
I do everything in this world but with moderation
At my age, I still look good and healthy because I do everything in the world but with moderation. I took agbo (herbal medicine) when I was much younger; my parent gave me. I go for medical checkup abroad once a year. I am a polygamist. I have 12 children in total and they are doing great.
What I still want God to do for me
I still have two ambitions. I will tell you one and leave the second. It’s my wish to witness the nuptial union of my six-year old twins. I won’t say I love luxury, but I love good things. I love every good thing of life. Beautiful cars, beautiful houses and beautiful women. I love music and I love dancing. Everyday I wake, I stay on my bed and call for my newspapers. I read six newspaper everyday.
What style means to me
Style means dressing well but very simple. If you see my attire, it’s always simple. I don’t like machine embroidery designs. I love handmade.
How I celebrated my 84th birthday
Normal celebration, holy communion service in the morning, then good food. God willing, next year, it is going to be a big party and it would take place in Lagos and another one in my home town.