New Thinking to Power the Prosperity of Ekiti

Niyi Olajide writes on the need for indigenes of Ekiti State at home and in diaspora to support the move of the new Governor, Biodun Oyebanji, to take the state to greater heights

It gives me great pleasure to be granted this esteemed platform to say a few words of goodwill, and to share some thoughts about what I believe the future holds for our homeland Ekiti State after this season of transition. My message today is very simple. To win the future, its time for all of us to A.C.T. ‘A’ for accountability and action; ‘C’ for commitment; ‘T’ is for teamwork.

Before I proceed, I will share a bit of my background. My name is Niyi John Olajide, a proud son of Erinmope-Ekiti. The third of five boys born to my parents. It may also interest you to know that I was born in Ajegunle in Lagos. I grew up and had my primary and secondary education in Nigeria, before going abroad for further studies.

I grew up in a Nigeria where it was the ideal for every child to have a qualitative education in public schools regardless of the economic circumstances of their families – where every child could aspire to a brighter future and be given the chance to fully express his/her God-given potential in life.

I say very often that it is the solid foundation in character and learning that I got from my family and as a Nigerian that accounts for the modest achievements I have attained so far in life. That, in addition to the fact that I have the good fortune of being an Ekiti man.

My parents didn’t get beyond a primary six education, but they were very educated, and they placed a high premium on their children excelling in school and being morally upright.

Indeed, from very early in life my being Ekiti became my very essence and shaped my worldview. I internalized the pristine Ekiti values that have guided me in my life and career so far – selfless service, collaboration, hard work, excellence, and integrity.

To further buttress my point about how highly Ekitis value education and how teachers were revered, I may borrow from the speech so eloquently delivered by our renowned Ekiti poet, Prof. Niyi Osundare, at the inauguration of Governor Fayemi as Governor about this time four years ago.

In his speech, he rendered an old Ekiti song, which goes:

 Elu o e Elu o aaa o, Elu o e Elu o aaa o

Ku ‘ku bati moti p’omo mi lule oko o

(If death does not kill my children in my husband’s house).

Mo ti a p’itan ijo mo je o

(I will one day tell the story of when I had enough to eat.)

Mo ti a p’itan ijo mo mu o

(I will one day tell the story of when I had enough to drink.)

Mo tia s’eye Ologun Tisa o

(I will be the proud mother of the Gallant Teacher.)

As Prof. Osundare noted, the significance in the song of the singer’s aspiration to become ‘Eye Tisa’ – the Teacher’s mother – indicates the high esteem in which the teacher was held in those days. The teacher’s role and impact went beyond the classroom by virtue of his learning and education. The teacher was regarded, among other things, as an embodiment of enlightenment, a community leader, a consultant on many matters, and a disciplinarian of the community’s wayward children. That was the high premium we placed on education, and on those responsible for educating the future generations.

So, for me, there is no debate about the most pressing imperatives our good country must address to win the future – Education and the Restoration of our Values.

In this regard, I thank Governor Kayode Fayemi for taking action and being accountable to prioritise these issues during your tenure and for all you accomplished, including the recent announcement by UNICEF that Ekiti state has the second lowest rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria.

I celebrate Governor Fayemi for his vision, creativity, and diligence that has brought our beloved state this far, and for grooming a worthy successor in the person of  H.E. Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, who is now set to consolidate and build upon the legacy.

The orderliness demonstrated with this transition is a source of pride to all Ekitis at home and abroad and has laid a precedence we must never fall short of in the future.

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the outcome of sustained efforts to improve the quality of education, and the restoration of the primacy of our values in society which we are beginning to see, is a new mindset that is essential for the times we are in – a new way of thinking required to win the future.

We must reorient our hearts and minds with a focus on our youth who are in the majority, to see the opportunities before us as a people and a State who are uniquely positioned to become the most prosperous state in Nigeria within the next 30 years, in line with the Ekiti State Development Plan (2021 – 2050).

Some might wonder if I am talking about the same small landlocked Ekiti State with meagre federal allocations, and immense developmental challenges.

My belief in Ekiti’s opportunity is not unfounded, nor is it wishful thinking.

As an entrepreneur who started Axxess at the age of 26 and grew it into a global corporation disrupting the industries we operate in, I owe my success to spotting business opportunities long before they become obvious. I believe Ekiti’s prosperity is possible. I truly believe with the proper mindset, anything is possible.

I recently led a discussion among our leaders at Axxess globally to encourage all of us to dream about what is possible for our company and at the same time reflect on our respective individual purposes in life. I know my own purpose is to serve others, and I suspect that many of you also feel a similar purpose. I also imagine that right now most of us are giving a lot of thought to what role we are going to play in Ekiti’s future.

One of the strategic outcomes of our discussions was to take position in Ekiti State. You see, I am very clear about the possibilities in Ekiti, as well as the role I believe God would have me play, and I am very excited about it. As we all work together to create a brighter future for Ekiti, I encourage everyone here very strongly to remember that anything is possible, because as we all must have heard, “Whatever our minds can conceive of, and we truly believe – and we work hard – we can achieve”.

As a practical example, our decision to take action and make strategic investments in Ekiti State is not just based on the sentiments that I am an Ekiti man, but because of the meeting of minds with the vision of H.E. Governor Kayode Fayemi and his team who have laid a solid foundation for Ekiti to become the preferred destination to live, work, and invest. Their commitment was clear and remains sustained.

Today, our group of companies is arguably the single largest private investor in Ekiti State, with interests in frontier sectors such as Agriculture, Tourism, and the Knowledge Economy, in addition to massive investments in the civic sector. I am particularly fascinated that our Agbeyewa Farms, an agriculture project in Ekiti State that has seen us invest billions of naira already, is set to create tens of thousands of jobs, and once again restore the idea of Agbeloba – dignity and prosperity in farming.

We have the concession to revamp our flagship tourism destination in the state – Ikogosi Warm Springs, and are set to turn it into a world class golfing and vacation resort destination. We are also strategic partners to the Ekiti Knowledge Zone project, and are bringing to bear our expertise in building Cavista, our technology company here in Nigeria that already employs over 300 engineers and is poised to employ thousands more. Cavista focuses on supporting our global engineering infrastructure and also training and developing young talent here in Nigeria to service clients globally.

I am passionate about economic development and look forward to seeing all our investments make a significant impact in the lives of people in our host communities. Equally important however, is that I want to make sustainable investments, and I know Ekiti is the best bet to take a position in now.

I must also mention that I have clarified my three goals for being in Ekiti – Number One, Jobs! Number Two, Jobs! And I’m sure you know Number Three is Jobs! I am in Ekiti to demonstrate that peace and prosperity is possible when we create jobs and broaden the range of economic opportunities available for our young people to live full and productive lives.

It all started with me and my team observing the integrated approach to the Fayemi administration’s investments in infrastructure across the state strategically aimed at positioning us to leverage our two strongest areas of competitive advantage – Agriculture and the Knowledge Economy.

When the Fayemi administration commenced the Airport and the Ekiti Knowledge Zone projects, I knew it was time. Their actions were clear and their commitment, consistent.

I still get the sense that many of us do not fully understand the game-changers these two projects are to our prospects as a state, and the emerging vista of opportunities that are now unfolding before our eyes. I do.

You see, I was privileged to have had a front row seat observing how a sub-national jurisdiction like Ekiti State leapfrogged within a short period of time. In the context of comparison to other states in their respective countries, Ekiti State and the Dallas region, have a lot of similarities.

Or to put it more correctly, many years ago, the Dallas region in the context of its positioning in the United States of America, was where Ekiti State currently is within the context of our position in Nigeria.

I have been tremendously blessed to be part of the Dallas business community. The Dallas region is welcoming and today is the most prosperous in the United States, and indeed the world. There is no place in the world as focused on business prosperity and economic development as the Dallas region – and it’s paying off.

You may be interested to know that the region by itself has the 23rd largest economy in the world. For context, Nigeria is 24th.

But to achieve this prosperity took vision, action, commitment and teamwork. The success of the Dallas Metroplex was made possible by the sheer force of the will of the people. Won pinu wipe ilu won lati da se, o de da (they resolved that their region must be successful, and they achieved it). I believe the greatest resource any community has it its people.

Like Ekiti, Dallas is landlocked, and is very much in the middle of the country. The Dallas-Fort Worth International airport was a major game-changer in attracting business, world class companies, and tourism to the region. This opportunity is now available with the Ekiti Agro-Allied Airport. The Dallas region’s success story rests on two pillars – the people and the airport. We now have both in Ekiti. The airport is our vital gateway to the rest of the world. Governor Fayemi, I want to congratulate you and your government on this remarkable achievement. History will bear out the wisdom of your vision.

Dallas serves as a great example for all of us here. I am a long-time member of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce’s executive board and served as its chairman in the year 2020. Talk about perfect timing! It was my responsibility to lead the business community through the COVID pandemic. As a result of being proactive in our thinking and aggressive in our actions, the Dallas region is even better positioned for prosperity today than prior to the pandemic.

The Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce took the time a few years ago to establish a 30-year plan for the region, addressing, among other things, infrastructure needs, educational priorities, and legislative priorities to ensure the alignment of laws, policies, and programmes that will support the region’s growth. I am glad that Ekiti has similarly developed a 30-year developmental plan.

The Dallas region understands the incredible value of compounding on its continuing success. I must share that I believe we are all getting either slightly better or slightly worse every day. At Axxess, I comment often that we are either growing or we’re dying. It’s binary. There is no middle ground.

But growth does not have to be dramatic every day. Just making a little progress every day can lead to meaningful improvements. A one percent change is barely noticeable in isolation. But because of the miracle of compounding, it can have dramatic consequences.

If Ekiti can get one percent better every day, how much would it improve in one year? You probably know it is going to be more than 365 percent because of compounding. A lot of people think it could be between five and ten times. Let me tell you: The answer is 37 times! Just by being one percent better every day over the course of one year!

Conversely, if we’re getting one percent worse every day, we are going to be 97 percent worse at the end of the year. Change, in whatever direction, starts to add up over time. Staying committed to our vision matters, and that will require all of us working together as a team and putting our differences aside.

At Axxess, we have more than 50 countries represented in our staff strength of over 1,000 and I have no doubt that embracing this diversity and working together as a team has contributed tremendously to helping us grow. Diversity and inclusion are key to ensuring we benefit from hearing all voices and opinions. It applies to businesses, as much as it applies to communities, organizations, as well as politics and governance.

At Axxess, we say “May the best idea win!” – regardless of where it comes from. Everyone is included and encouraged to offer up their ideas to make us better. Ours is a culture of humility where everyone is valued and their contributions vital to the success of the organization. It is a culture of performance and merit over ego.

Your excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would like to bring my remarks to a close by observing, that for a country like Nigeria, I believe when we are able to harness the power of our diversity and build a nation where young and old, rich or poor, Christian, Muslim or any other religion, people from the north or south, east or west, majority or minority, strong or weak, able or disabled, are fully embraced and included in the journey of nation-building based on values of hard work, merit, honesty, fairness, justice, openness and transparency, then we can realize our fullest potential.

Realizing our fullest potential can only happen when we are all taking accountable “Action” in a “Committed” manner and working “Together” toward this common goal, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our collective efforts to reverse the tide of brain drain and disillusionment among our young people, and getting them to once again believe in a united and prosperous Ekiti in particular, and Nigeria as a whole.

For every single Ekiti person at home and abroad, it is your time to act. We need everyone’s contribution to build the Ekiti of our dreams, so this is my call to action. What will you do for Ekiti to make it the most prosperous state in Nigeria in 30 years? And more broadly what will you do for your country to help attain its pride of place in the comity of nations and leave it a better place for generations to come.

I offer my personal assurances that I will continue to support the new administration and His Excellency, my friend Mr. Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji, in the historic task of advancing our collective aspirations for our dear state. This for me is not only a patriotic decision, but a strategic business one, and I encourage all Ekitis at home and abroad, as well as our friends and well-wishers from across the world, to also be a part of what our dear Ekiti State – the land of honour, Ule Iyi, Ule Eye – is becoming.

Thank you all for listening.

 Ekiti a gbe wa o!

-Olajide writes from Erimope Ekiti

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