Turning Palm Oil into The New Crude Oil
Looking dapper in a forest green jacket with matching pants, he exudes confidence, brilliance, and intelligence. For Joshua Idiong, it was a long walk to academic and business attainment but determination has been his driving force. When his name was announced as the winner of the Next Titan Season 7, he was overwhelmed. Joshua was a shining light at the just concluded seventh edition of the Next Titan, defeating 15 other contestants to clinch the coveted prize of N10 million. Funke Olaode writes about his trajectory.
Nigeria’s Poster Boy for Entrepreneurship
The stage was set. The expectation was high but the anxiety from the contestants could be felt. Not even the melodious songs from the De Jay Szee could douse the tension in the air. It was a defining moment. A moment of destiny that would be determined after 10 weeks of intense display of intellectual business acumen under the tutelage of four boardroom gurus and judges comprising of Chris Parkes, Tonye Lillian Olubi, and Kyari Bukar.
Sitting eagerly for the final verdict, four top finalists of Chindima Eriobu of Phronesis Foods, Ifeanyi Nkwonta of Design Date, Ifeoma Benjamin of isabi Deliver, and Joshua Idiong of JOSULT OIL waited in anticipation. The Oriental Hotel located on Lagos Island was agog as well-wishers, family members graced the occasion to witness the grand finale of Season 7, the Unstoppable Edition of Next Titan Nigeria, where a young aspiring entrepreneur will walk off with Ten Million Naira to kick start his or her business.
According to the executive producer of Next Titan, Mide Akinlaja, which is Nigeria’s foremost entrepreneurial reality show was created and designed as a deliberate attempt to provoke the spirit of entrepreneurship of young Nigerians, not only the contestants on the show but other multitudes of aspiring entrepreneurs who can watch the show on TV.
According to him, it has been a challenging year with the COVID-19 outbreak and with a lot of uncertainties that affected the economy, businesses, and individuals. The peculiarity of the year necessitated a few changes on the show including its first online auditions, Top 50 Online Bootcamp, and a situation that the top 16 contestants had to perform all their business tasks within the Titan House.
Tagged unstoppable as the organisers believe “that it is only unstoppable entrepreneurs that can bring the world back to its place.” Sponsored by the Heritage Bank in association with Haven Homes and Sifax Group, the reality TV show has continued to throw up entrepreneurs who have gone out there to achieve greatness.
“Our joy as the organizers of Next Titan Nigeria is that all our previous winners are doing great in their respective businesses. They have created jobs, and they have remained on the journey to building lasting wealth for themselves and for the nation as a whole. And this also applies to most of the participants who did not even win the competition. And with the efforts of our judges, we greatly anticipate that another candidate that will make us proud will emerge as the winner,” said Akinlaja.
After an interlude from Body Language Lagos, a dance art group, and a short speech from the Session 6 Winner, Amife Yakubu who admonished the contestants that whatever happens, they shouldn’t see the competition or the outcome as the end as it goes beyond money, the judges summoned the top finalists to defend their business presentations.
Brimming with ideas and oratory prowess, each contestant dazzled the judges with various skills and tactics on how to be a successful entrepreneur managing people, money, and the environment. But alas! There can only be a winner. In the end, Joshua Idiong of JOSULT OIL was declared the winner and was presented with the coveted prize of N10 million.
Stunned, the Akwa Ibom-born Joshua Idiong was overwhelmed with emotion. The cash prize will support his palm oil processing business. It will also provide job opportunities for graduates and farmers in the agricultural sector. He has the vision that in 2025, his brand, Josult Oil would be a global brand.
Basking in the euphoria of his achievement, he said he saw this coming.
“I feel super excited this evening. I saw it coming as a child of God. I remember I wrote it in my room that ‘I am the Next Titan.’ This is my second time on the show. So I came here prepared by God’s grace and I know I put in a lot of sacrifices physically and spiritually,” said Idiong.
“I was let down in 2019 because I didn’t make it to the house and in 2020, I became a winner because I gave it a push. For me, everything happened for a purpose. As of last year, I hadn’t got my NAFDAC certificate and maybe I wouldn’t have won.”
For Idiong, consistency and hard work have been his winning edge.
He explained, “I have followed the show before now and had a lot of mentors. I was mentored by season two winner and season six winner and those that didn’t make it to the top. I learnt from their mistakes and learnt from their successes.”
And how would he say Next Titan has impacted his life?
“I have followed Next Titan diligently over the years. I got to know about the reality TV show when I went for training at the British Council and the Season Two Winner was there to speak as the guest speaker. I also went for the Young African Leadership Initiative in Ghana and met a friend of mine who once contested but didn’t make it to the final. I started researching. I was an undergraduate then and didn’t apply. I waited until I graduated and did my youth service.
“I can say that Next Titan has shaped my life and moulded me. I attribute my success to the support I got from every contestant. There were tasks I didn’t contribute so much but others contributed to make my team win. Mine was a case of everybody working for my success. I learnt that teamwork is very important and even in building your business the kind of people you employ is important to the success of that project,” he recounted.
A young man of vision and mission whose every move is calculated, stated further, “When I was younger, I was struggling to study electrical engineering or petroleum engineering so I could either work in Shell or Mobil or any of the multinationals having come from the Niger Delta. I later realized there is a limit to what you have but don’t know how to use it. I discovered that we had oil palm. Again, while I was looking for admission, I couldn’t get Petroleum Engineering so I landed in Environmental Technology.
“I started thinking about what to do with that course. In the process, I discovered that oil palm still has the same potential because it is renewable energy. You can convert the waste of palm oil to Biogas which is still an energy. Again, when I think about the challenge my father had as a civil servant. He was working with NITEL and the company was sold off and life became unbearable because there was no money again. Right from my undergraduate days, I made up my mind that I was not going to be a civil servant and to be my own boss, creating jobs and adding value to humanity and society at large.”
Continuing, he noted, “So the idea of looking for a job in an oil company gradually faded away and it was more about what could I start. The easiest way or what aligned with my vision is the palm oil business because I stayed with my aunty after I lost my mum at the age of eight. She was an oil palm processor and I saw the challenges she went through and I decided to solve that problem.”
For Idiong, it has been a long road to academic and business attainments having battled poverty as a child, and moving from penury to becoming a company owner is a feat. His story is an inspiration to those who dream big.
“I grew up in a family of five. I was born in Lagos and later moved to Akwa Ibom where I had my secondary school in a private school after which I went to the University of Technology Owerri where I studied Environmental Technology. My going to Owerri was intentional because I wanted to understand the secret in doing business as an Ibo man and wanted to tap into that spirit. Every of my move has been intentional. Growing up was challenging. My dad lost his job and there were days I had to skip going to school.
“There was time I didn’t go to school for a full term because there was no money. There was a time I used the book I used in my primary school to continue to write in secondary school. It was that bad. I sold shoes and in secondary school, I sold recharge cards just to make money, I sold starch and groundnut in front of my father’s shop just to survive. So, growing up all the early life challenges affected my personality and made me realise that life is full of challenges but if you are determined and focused you will overcome.”
Brimming with ideas, Idiong set out to conquer his world by becoming an entrepreneur. Four years ago, at the age of 23, he floated Josult oil, a palm oil producing company with a slogan, ‘Healthier alternative’ from the seed capital he got from Tony Elumelu Foundation.
“I started it with the seed capital I got from the Tony Elumelu Foundation. I was an undergraduate then. I applied, answered the business questions, and got the funding of N1.25 million. It wasn’t big enough to buy my machinery but I stumbled on another need intervention programme that subsidized the machinery so I was able to acquire it. I didn’t have land I had to approach the proprietor of my secondary school and leased land. But over time we have grown and now we have our land. Today, I have eight people working with me: four are management staff and four are contact staff.”
Idiong believes beyond palm oil; his company has set out to contribute to the GDP. How?
He explained, “We want to scale up. We want to diversify. Apart from producing palm oil, we want to convert that palm oil into different home usage products such as groundnut oil. We also want to start the production of different cosmetics such as soaps, lipsticks, cream from the raw materials from palm oil. We are also looking at opening up improved general species palm plantation which is part of the goals of the federal government to establish 100,000 palm plantations and if we can start by establishing 10 that is one of the ways of contributing our own quota in meeting the goals.
“Another plan is to establish sachet packaging of palm oil so that low-income earners can still have access to healthy palm oil with N50 or 100 you can have access to it. We have been running for four years and we have managed to put things in place. What helped us was that we didn’t have the right funding and we still structured our business to achieve what we have been able to so far. With the funding available now we will be able to put all our plans in action and skill our businesses.”
On a parting note, Idiong gave some tips to other youths.
“It is not what you don’t have that limits you but you have and don’t know how to use it. Look inward and look at those things you can add value to. Look at your skills and see what you can improve on. My journey started four years ago when I was 23. Learn from businesses that have failed and the ones that have succeeded. So, if you have a vision chase it, it might take time but definitely if you are serious about it and willing to learn you will have a breakthrough,” he ad