Career in Real Estate
IT is an interesting story. I was at the company just to learn. As at then, Nigeria was a commodity-trading nation. Then, we realised that the demand for iron rods and cement was so high and I became very interested.
As we discovered this opportunity, we started importing cement and iron rods, selling for Pacific Holdings, owned by Dr. Deji Adeleke. That also ignited my passion for real estate. My senior brother was in the banking sector, while I was into commodity trading. I went to Lagos to join him for us to work together. From there, I started doing real estate. That was around 1998/99. And eventually, I set up my company, Gran Imperio Group (GIG).
Before I formed mine, I’ve worked with many companies in terms of collaboration. I have worked with a lot of many Indian companies in the area of manufacturing but I discovered my interest lies in construction companies. I decided to train myself through various engagements both locally and internationally. In a bid to equip myself, I’ve had to travel to so many countries, joining some business groups like association for international business.
I also joined trade delegations, made friends with so many people all over the world. I was involved in Jebel Ali Free Zone of Dubai, UAE. I made a lot of contacts. I worked with Spark West, National Steel, UNIGULF, Obajana, which was known as Jakura Mines and I am very happy that I worked there.
I like to do big things; it is one of the ways I challenge myself. I have learnt valuable lessons from several business negotiations. I have learnt how to make seemingly impossible task to work. All of these have given me wider exposure and ever since I developed a tough skin and a slogan ‘Otisese’, meaning, it is possible.
From that moment on, I believe in possibilities; I don’t believe in impossibilities. Once you conceive an idea, believe it, and go for it. You’ll soon realise that it is achievable. For me, failure is not in my dictionary. If you don’t make it, that is not failure; you have attempted it and you must have learnt in the process. So, I became very exposed to large transactions at a very tender age. The exposure actually emboldened me to do big things through partnerships and collaborations. When the time was ripe for me to set up my company, it became very easy to do.
Naturally, I like anything that is grand, big and bogus and that is why I chose the first word Grand. I also like anything imperial, as there is so many auras about something imperial. And that is why most of my projects have the appellation, grand as part of their names. From the time, I started making decisions for myself, I do things that are beyond my age; I take bold steps and ideas, not even minding whether I would get the ideas funded or not. I usually follow my instinct.
So, Grand Imperial emerged. But unfortunately, I could not get that name registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). I was told that, that the name had been approved for some people. Then, I went the Spanish way, which is Gran Imperio Group.
I engage in real estate and manufacturing. I believe in local content so much. Everybody who works with me can attest to this fact. I endeavour to seek Nigerian solution in everything I do. When I became the Ooni, some people brought foreign beads to me but I rejected it. The one I am wearing now was made in Nigeria. I went as far as Benin, Edo State, Nigeria to get this (pointing to the beads). The gold, I am decked with was mined right here in Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.
My dress, at least, some lace materials, I like it. It is as serious as the soap I use to take my birth, which is made in Ife. The furniture, tiles I am using were made in Nigeria. That is the only way I believe we can keep on improving the nation. If you go to the resort that I built, over 90 per cent materials there were all made in Nigeria. I am more geared towards that, and I am glad that I am on the throne now because it would be easier for me to propagate that. That is the only way pressure can come down on dollars. Nigeria over-depends on imported commodities but I have learnt that local content is key.
The truth is, this throne is very demanding, although I am at peace within myself. It is most likely that I will take the company to the stock exchange, once I put everything right. I am very passionate about real estate, providing housing for young, upcoming, middle class. My housing solution is almost about the cheapest in Nigeria. I have houses as cheap as N6/7million and people are living there. I have built nice estates in Lagos, with some of the facilities including air conditioning, assembled in Nigeria. PZ is doing that for us. The house has all the stuff made in Nigeria and it is fine, notwithstanding the challenges.
Concerning housing deficit in Nigeria, it is a major fundamental problem. I will be getting more investors into the company because I like to be on top of what I do. Yes, I agreed that it is a bigger challenge, but I will mix the two together in a way that would be properly moderated. So, concerning housing solution, very likely that we might not do what we originally set out to do when I was at the helm of affairs of the company. However, we won’t do less 80 per cent of what we intended to do. For the housing units, we have the structure in place, though the market is not very good now. But, it would pick, because it is a sellers’ market. The demand is very high and we would ensure that we focus on not doing less 20 per cent off our expected deliverables.
Your Majesty, that means, the throne would hamper the operations of your company.
No! I have never failed in my life. It is not going to affect it at all; rather, it would be better. Like I said, I am going to reduce what I am expected to do. Certainly, there is going to be a trade-off. I work more now on the throne because I have to even provide housing solution for my blood in Ife and take same to other parts of Yoruba land and beyond. Before now, I’d done research that fortifies my position on how to provide basic housing needs for everybody. I would demonstrate this in Ife and spread it across board.
On the Inagbe Grand Resort, there are fears that the throne might negatively impact on this ‘Island City’ project. Can that be correct?
I don’t think so. The project is partitioned in phases and it would rather move faster if we get good investors. Presently, we are talking to a lot of investors. It is the prayer of everybody that, his or her dreams should outlive him. Some people set up ExxonMobil and today it is the biggest corporation in the world. Some people set up GTBank, FirstBank and several other organisations and they are waxing stronger and better. It then makes much sense for me to put the structure in proper shape to ensure it keeps improving. The throne cannot in any way affect it.
I am working towards getting a good management team in place to manage the business and once that is done, the business will run by itself. I am so proud about the resort, where we did much of backwards and forward integration and it is working. So, we can replicate that all over the country by using tourism to boost the GDP of the nation.
As a monarch, in what way do you think royal fathers can galvanise support to boost the housing industry?
First of all, we need to look inward to see what we can produce on our own. We need to forget about importation. For the royal fathers, they are closer to the people than government officials. And government should learn how to engage them more than before. As I see it now, royal fathers are underutilised. Governments need to partner with them to encourage indigenes closer to them on how things can be done. Royal fathers can help on housing solution, taxation solution, community development and many other areas for the gain of all.
One of the issues against housing development in Nigeria is ‘Omo Onile Syndrome’, what role can the royal fathers play at least to checkmate them?
How do you want to checkmate Omo Onile? You can’t checkmate them. They want to eat; they want to make livelihood. They need to have a sense of belonging, but if they are now taking it too far, it then becomes a problem. Don’t push them aside but engage them. Let them buy into the project first. You can go as far as giving them the local content contract. It is about re-orientating their thought process. But, if you don’t do it well, that could lead to another problem. You can’t push them away.
How do you want to do that? Everywhere in the world, we have Omo Onile; in America, New York, they are there, though they do not call theirs by that name. We need to do community development projects that will impact the community, then they will make your project to fly. But if you are fighting them, using government, gun and other coercive measures, that won’t help anything. I have always believed in using dialogue to reach an end in anything I do; I don’t like violence. I know them; I have had a lot of good and bad experiences with them, but at the end of the day, we usually become good friends. How would you use this stool, in practical terms, to boost housing provision in Ile-Ife and beyond?
I will do everything possible to encourage the youths in good way. Youths are in their formative years and they need housing than anybody. I will be telling government and the people that care to listen that youths are doing well in some areas, promote them. For instance, I have friends in Alaba International Market, who are from the East, and very good in what they do. They manufacture lights, switches and sockets and label it made in China on it, and I asked them why labelling China on their own products and they said to me that is what most customers want to see. This is sad. These are people government and researchers should help to develop the nation. I have always assured them that I would buy their products and I have been doing this for years now.
With the economic recession, some real estate firms are failing, what is the way out for these companies to come back to life?
It is always a phase and it is certain that the period would soon fade off. But, I can tell you that Nigerian case is so peculiar as the demand, is far beyond the supply. What is important is the purchasing power. Do people have the power to buy? For now, the mortgage system is not very vibrant. So to bring back the smaller companies, is about having effective mortgage system, which the Federal government is doing through Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC) and revive other financial initiatives.
My growing up was quite interesting. Before I was born, my parents told me something, still strange to me till date that my birth was predicted long ago. They told my parents that they would have a child that would be born on a Thursday at 1pm. My parents had first to fourth but that did not happen. I am the fifth. As predicted, I was born on a Thursday, a day very special to God almighty, at exactly 1pm. Immediately my mother had me, she lost her father, whom she was so close to, and a result, she could not take care of me very well. She had to leave me for about eleven days to attend to her father’s burial. Can you imagine leaving a child for eleven days? Probably, that till date affects my eating habit. But, in all of this, I give all glory to God.
As a child, I was so inquisitive. At age four, I remember some things that happened to me then. My inquisitiveness made me to do strange things. My birth was very peculiar, and very challenging too. I look so much like my paternal grandfather and he loved. He actually named me Adeyeye, meaning, the crown befits the king. My names are very strange and mysterious too. My name, Enitan, which was given to me by my parents, means, a child of history, a child of story, a child of mystery full of stories. The third one is, Babatunde, meaning, a reincarnated child. I am from Ile-Ife and we, Yoruba believe so much in reincarnation and I am deeply convinced that I am a typical reincarnate of our forefathers, our ancestors because I know so much now; they talk to me and I am very close to God now.
I was extremely close to my mother in her life’s time. Throughout my mother’s wonderful life, she respected me so much because we were close. I don’t think I’ll get over her death. In her lifetime, though absurd, she used to call me her own father. Ever since, she shouldered on me fatherly responsibilities at a very tender age. My father, still alive, is a very strong pillar and I thank God for his life. He is very caring and an adorable man. He took his time on all his children and I don’t think I can ask God for any other parents that could be better than the ones He gave me. But my mother’s death is a great loss to me. Like I said, she gave me huge responsibilities.
I could remember at age 19, when I fathered a child, my mother said to me: Look, I know you can take on this responsibility, common, be a man! This was one of the toughest moment of my life. Though, I was so afraid then, but my mother gave me moral support, which has been an encouraging factor in my life. I remember my mother telling me to struggle and not to shy away from taking up a father’s responsibility, and at the same time assuring that I was up to the task. Really, it was tough, but I thank God that I took to her advice and that shaped me to reach where I am today.
As I said earlier, my life has been very interesting. Yes, I studied accountancy and I started studing for my ICAN. I’d already done the accounting technician scheme, and I was one of the first’ set of that programme. But while I was studying, I had a child and I asked myself that if I become an accountant, what would the value be for me? To me, accountants are not necessarily successful business people. And coupled with the responsibility stirring me in the face, I decided to branch out. I started out working for a merchandising company, under Mr. Deji Doherty. In that company, I was selling rice and sugar in large quantities. That was before my youth service.
Interestingly, I did my NYSC under him (Doherty). Afterwards, at a very early stage, I decided to start my own business. While in former company, I’d learnt the rudiments of business in a very tough environment; in Agbeni market, Ibadan, Oyo State, to be precise, selling rice, sugar and I was very active in the market. We sold to a lot of companies like Stallion, Clemco, Dangote and so many others. I remember I had a friend then, who is now a king, the Olofa of Offa. We both serviced in Dangote. Both of us never knew that we would be king now.