Goodbye Banjul, I Will Be Back Soon
BY DELE MOMODU
Fellow Africans, I was a guest of one of the incredibly visionary sons of Africa, Mustapha Njie, in Banjul, The Gambia, from Monday to Friday last week. Mustapha is one of those quiet but very successful real estate gurus on the continent of Africa. His pan-African company, famously known as TAF, was birthed 30 years ago but the mustard seed he planted then has since grown into a massive oak tree with branches stretching across Africa.
It was celebration time and Mr TAF, as I call my friend and Brother, seriously rolled out the drums as he left no stones unturned to commemorate the landmark and epochal event, where I danced so much in front of legelegendary singer, Youssou Ndour, two nights ago.
For me the journey to Banjul began from Lagos on 29 December 2019 where I had joined my best friend and brother, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, in concluding the nuptials between his daughter, Adesekemi, and her Sweetheart, Anthony Atuche. The church wedding and reception was a grand, superlative event and it was a befitting finale to the start of married life for the lovebirds.
I left Lagos on 29 December for Accra with Prince Adedamola. This was a quick stopover to connect with the Emirates flight from Accra to Dubai en route London. Apart from tremendous cost savings, I wanted to use the opportunity to see my son, Eniafe, and his cousins, Afolabi and TLash, who were all staying in my home in Accra. Accra was the convergence point this festive season for Africans in the diaspora and all lovers of Africa as the Ghanaian Government played hosts to Africans and persons of African descent in what was tagged the Year of Return. Eniafe, who is steadily growing into a consummate entertainment journalist and even did a brief anchor role for CNN Africa on Instagram, was deeply involved with reporting the events and we had not spent enough time together over the Christmas period for this reason. It was his birthday on Christmas day and he had just spent a few hours with his younger brother, Korewa, his cousins, Aunts and myself before jetting out to Accra for his media assignment. We managed to spend a few more hours together in Accra before Prince Adedamola and I boarded our flight to Dubai.
We arrived Dubai in the morning of 30th December and spent one night in Dubai to catch our breath from all the excitement of the wedding over the previous week. We left Dubai on 31 December 2019 because we wanted to be part of the events ushering in the New Year in London and I wanted to spend time with my wife and other two older sons, Olupekan and Enitanyole who had opted to remain in England. The fireworks display in London to celebrate the dawn of the new year is always an awesome, awe inspiring jaw-dropping grand affair. It is a real spectacle and a lovely sight to behold as the renowned London Eye serves as a glittering backdrop to the array of glittering, shimmering, luminous lights and sound that the fireworks herald. In reality, London is famed for its New Year revelry and it is always fun to partake in it with family and friends.
After enjoying the advent of the new year, it was time to return to Accra in order to connect to my trip to Banjul to attend my Brother, Mustapha’s fantastic and fastidiously organised events. I left London for Dubai en route Accra with Emirates Airline on 4th January 2020. Our flight on Emirates Airlines was arranged by the highly efficient and indefatigable Mrs Nike Adesokan, proprietor of Travelright, who attended to our needs regardless of the different time zones that we sometimes were. We were pleasantly surprised to find out not only that she had checked us in on all our flights when we were struggling with such mundane tasks. It was a joy to have such a delightful woman and her pleasant team co-ordinate our trips for us.
After I arrived Accra on 5th January 2020, I spent one night recharging my batteries before setting out for Banjul via Liberia on Asky Airlines, the Togolese airline. I was accompanied on the trip my cameraman and videographer, Ben Osei, a young but very brilliant and efficient gentleman. We arrived Banjul to a spectacular welcome arranged by our host Mustapha. Our hotel, named the African Princess, was spanking new and heavenly. I could never have believed any other Hotel could make me forget the Coco Ocean so easily. I promptly converted my trip to a continuation of my festive holidays. Sorry if this sounds like an advert but I’m happy to inform you that some African countries are truly serious about tourism.
It may seem hyperbolic if I describe TAF as one of the most tenacious and ambitious organisations I ever encountered. Since our paths first crossed in the year 2000, the company has grown so much that I have started seeing Mustapha as a magician. From humble beginnings as a real estate agency in Banjul, Mustapha has grown the business to such an extent that he is now developing estates on a large scale in The Gambia, Nigeria, Senegal and Southern Africa. His prowess and vision remind me of Dubai in some ways, because he not only wants to be the biggest and best in his business in Africa, he wants to build the biggest, largest and the best in Africa.
Mustapha’s passion is in building affordable houses across Africa. Despite his emphasis on affordable housing, he does not stint in the quality of materials that he uses and the high standards that he seeks to attain. Indeed, what Mustapha gives you are luxurious, but affordable homes.
TAF Construction has become a massive business. It now employs hundreds of people in eight different countries namely, The Gambia and Nigeria, where the company is highly dominant, and Rwanda, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Ivory Coast and Mozambique, where the company is rising steadily and strongly.
It has done exceedingly well in the Gambia, the Brufut Gardens Estate and the Dalaba Estate, Banjul, and in the South South of Nigeria, the RIVTAF Golf Estate in Port Harcourt. The Brufut Gardens Estate has 700 homes and was launched in 2006. The Dalaba Estate is a high-end luxury estate launched in 2018 with 374 homes of sheer luxury and great attention to detail. The same can be said of the RIVTAF Golf Estate in Port Harcourt, with over 1000 homes built on more than 40 hectares of land, which is luxury, opulence and new age technology combined. The Estate is complemented by a 9-hole golf course and use solar power to complement its electricity. Mustapha is very proud of his company’s achievements with the RIVTAF Golf Estate but he is always quick to point out that his laudable achievements in Rivers State could not have occurred without the support of successive Governors that have eased all his business concerns and have been pillars of support. He is also grateful for the goodwill and support that he receives from the Rivers people and ensures that annually he fulfils his Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations by spending at least 1% of turnover on social infrastructure within the community, just like he does in the Gambia. Mustapha commends his Nigerian staff for sharing his vision and keying into it. It is interesting to note that although the estate is in the South South, his management team comes from all parts of Nigeria. Indeed, he is an example of how nationalistic a truly Nigerian conglomerate should be.
Mustapha has set himself huge targets and goals. His plan is to build at least 10,000 homes in the Gambia in 10 years at 1000 homes annually. He has been meeting this target and is already more than halfway there after only four years of setting this goal. His vision for Africa is even greater and bolder. His aim is to build at least a million homes across Africa by 2040, which is only 20 years away. Given his work ethic, passion and compassion I have no doubt that these seemingly daunting goals are not mission impossible but vision attainable and I wish Mustapha the very best as he proceeds on another 30-year journey of growth and inspiration.
My visit to The Gambia could not have ended without some form of State Visit to the First Family. I have been visiting the Gambia now for about 20 years and each time I go there has always been an arrangement for me to meet with the leaders of the country or their family. I was in Banjul in last days of the eventual ouster of the former President, Yahya Jammeh, when I accompanied former President John Mahama of Ghana and President Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia to the Gambia as they tried to persuade Jammeh to relinquish power and leave the Gambia, which he eventually did.
This trip was no different as it was arranged for me by my friend, Mrs Rebecca Bensouda, who had been introduced to me by Isha Tejan-Cole in 2000, to meet with the First Lady, the charming, elegant and graceful, Fatoumatta Bah Barrow. It was a special and personal occasion for me as the First Lady gushed about the fact that she had been an avid reader of Ovation magazine and my ardent follower for more than 15 years, since the time when she was sojourning in London. She even told me one of her favorite covers was that of Modupe Ozolua. Naturally, I had been oblivious to this fact and it was such a humbling moment being informed about her love for Ovation by the First lady.
We had a very interesting time with the warm and gracious First Lady. We were made comfortable. She was simple and open, with no airs at all. A truly remarkable woman for whom her position is nothing but a gift from God which she daily gives thanks for and acknowledges must end someday.
I had wished the journey won’t end so soon but Lagos beckoned for the 80th birthday extravaganza of Chief Eleganza Rasak Akanni Okoya. But I promised to be back in The Gambia soon.
What a year already…
Special Tribute to Chief Dr Rasak Akanni Okoya
I feel privileged to know and write about CHIEF ABDULRASAK AKANNI OKOYA, the iconic businessman and industrialist extraordinaire, a perfect gentleman I call Daddy. Our relationship has grown to the extent that I am honoured to have been introduced to, and met on numerous occasions, his beautiful family and made to feel a part of it.
My earliest recollection of Chief Okoya was from a tribute song written in his honour, and contained in an album, by music legend Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey. In the song the Commander extolled the extensive industrial empire of the ELEGANZA GROUP OF COMPANIES and the virtues of its Octopus-like founder and mover, Chief Okoya. Subsequently, I travelled from Ile-Ife to Lagos and saw the sprawling factories in Alausa owned by this famed and fabled business tycoon, with fingers in many pies including manufacturing, real estate and finance.
I soon became a chronicler of people, places and events as a journalist and it was impossible not to feature Chief Okoya as one of Nigeria’s most successful business titans, a man of style, manufacturing and real estate mogul, man of faith and friend of both the rich and the poor.
One notable incident I recall is accompanying Chief MKO Abiola to Chief Okoya’s Penthouse in Ikoyi Crescent, in the heat of the June 12 crisis. I joined them in breaking the Ramadan Fast that evening. Chief Okoya was remarkably hospitable, and the tension that was palpable in everybody eased considerably because of the effusive charm and wit that he oozed which found a matching spirit in the ebullient Chief Abiola.
Then, I fled to exile in London where Ovation International magazine was conceived. Naturally, Chief Okoya became one of our most featured celebrities due to his cosmopolitan nature. We photographed his luxury home on Bishop’s Avenue as one of the choicest properties of rich and famous Nigerians in England.
At Ovation, we followed Chief Okoya’s activities with religious fervour, simply because he is one of our readers favourites, and soon became constant guests at his tasteful and stylish events. On one occasion, we invited in the great Photographer, T. Y Bello, and we were able to capture nearly every part of his vast and varying property estates. Indeed, the Okoyas have been among the most covered in our feel-good magazine.
On a personal note, Chief Okoya stunned me one evening when he requested that a huge sum should be given to me towards my Presidential campaign in 2011. He said it did not matter to him whether I won or not, but that he admired my ability, courage and style. He started addressing me as “my President”. If more of our rich and powerful elderly personages could emulate Chief Rasak Okoya, our country would be a better place. He recognised that it was essential to encourage and inspire the younger generation because you do not know the heights they will attain and more importantly you do not know that leader that would eventually be conceived as a result of that youth’s inspiring story. I am eternally grateful to him.
I had prayed and looked forward to his 80th birthday and I’m happy it has finally arrived. As I promised his adorable wife, Chief Mrs Folashade Okoya, the Ovation Media Group will today launch an unprecedented media operation to commemorate the occasion and honour this great personality, thus ensuring that the world gives a standing ovation to an indefatigable colossus and cheerful Philanthropist.
Happy birthday and many happy returns, Sir.