Nigerians are the most anxious people in the world

A.P. Ibironke

A.P. Ibironke

Apostle Prophet Israel Olufemi Ibironke is the General Overseer and presiding pastor of the Assembly of the Faithful Worldwide, in this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE and TAI SHOFELA, the Flight Operations Officer with the Nigerian Airways highlights the prospect of Nigerian transforming into an economic giant and the relationship between individual success in business and the ability to remain focused on a business venture

How would you describe your background?

I am by God’s grace the General Overseer of The Faithful Church Worldwide, born exactly 60 years ago, today, February 5, happened to be my birthday, February 5. I was born, bread, and raised in a good Christian home, my family church is the Apostolic Church, and my siblings are nine, eight boys and one girl. All the eight boys, today, are Pastors but I am the only one that administers a ministry outside the Apostolic Church. I am still part and parcel of the Apostolic Church till today, my calling is that of a prophetic apostolic.

In the early days of my life, I used to work with the Nigerian Airways as a Flight Operation Officer [a trained aviation expert for over 20years], I left to go into private business as a Cold Room –frozen food merchant, operating business then under the registered name of Hibbies Nigeria Limited, which was then my company’s name. My cold room then was popularly known as Big Fish Cold Room situated at Surulere, Itire and Ijeshatedo.

But I had to leave the business due to various spiritual attacks. I lost all my businesses in the course of finding solutions to my afflictions until I accepted him. While we were growing up we were all members of the Apostolic Church Choristers at the Inalende Assembly, Ibadan. But while working at the Airport, I decided to become a free thinker so I can do whatever I like and that was the beginning of my troubles, such that wherever I went I always saw the hands of God.

Between 1989 and 1990, I was afflicted with a very terrible sickness that defied all healings, I was bedridden for nine months, and for days, I couldn’t drink nor eat. In that state of health I would have dreams where I would find myself evangelizing, preaching and whenever I woke up the Doctors and the Nurses told me that I was always talking during my sleep. At times they will say I was smiling at some unseen guests.

After the ninth month, I got divine healing and a divine mandate to kick start my ministry I told God where and how, but I was directed to Anthony Village from my residence at Ketu, in Lagos State here. Precisely on 1 January, 1995 I moved to the Adekoya Community open field with myself and children where the lord fulfilled his promised that he will build a cathedral for us called the Cathedral of the Faithful on Ikorodu road.

What are the things that differentiate your ministry from the others?

Since the establishment of this church many transformational and revolutionary activities have been introduced by God through our instrumentality. I am not called for televangelism that is why most people always ask why I am not on air, this is not because of lack of money but it is our divine mandate not to go on air.

The most notable differentiation of our ministry is our annual Feast of the Nobles, celebrating the irrevocable call of God, we always celebrate it, but now it is celebrated according to Gods command Bi-annually with an Award ceremony for distinguished Nigerian who are doing wonderfully in their chosen professions and even those in governance that are doing marvelously well are honored as our own little way of identifying with them. At least, if your child did well, you’ll pat him on the back, so that he would be encouraged to do more and even better.

I am a positive thinker, I have a pact with God that during my time, Nigeria must be the greatest nation in this world. Many Americans, when they wake-up in the morning, before their morning devotion, say, “God Bless America,” why will such nation not be great? How many of us who are even religious leaders pray for our nation and our leaders. Despite the global financial Meltdown hitting the American economy, the people are still hopeful on President Barrack Obama.

But do we in Nigeria have leaders with Obama qualities? Apart from Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, tell me how many present and past leaders have the Obama’s pedigree. God has mandated us from this ministry to preach hope and prophesy about the great future of this nation, it is God desire to still make Nigeria the African capital of the world. Please beware of the evil preachers and prophet of doom within the churches who are always seeing evil. What God is showing us is very different, we see hope and a total rebirth and renewal in the land, some will prophesy death, evil, sorrow and they will pray towards it to come to fruition so that people can hail them that they are seeing visions. But why should any servant of God be seeing vision about death and blood in the land why can they silently pray to ward it off in the land?

Please tell us more about this your Bi-annual Feast of Nobles ?

Yes, the feast is for the nobles, when you feast with the Lord you become a Noble, all the disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ were called Nobles after they dined with Christ at the last supper. For us, our identified leaders too will become Noble men and women when they are feasted in the Cathedral of the Faithful. This event will hold inside the Faithful Cathedral, on Saturday, 28 February, 2009. A lot of Nigerian have been identified and screened by a panel of judges which include many men and women of integrity.

Since the Lord mandated us to start the feast none of the people we’ve honoured here had been indicted of any illegality or abuse of office or charged with corruption and embezzlement while in office. Our panel of Judges is led by one of Nigeria’s most respectable Jurist, Hon. .Justice G.O Kolawole, who is a justice of the Federal High Court, currently sitting on the case of the man with 86 wives. Hon. Justice Kolawole is by His grace a member of this Church and he is an ordained Deacon. The feast is celebrated in grandeur and spiritual ambience as directed by God, the Nobles we select are not necessarily big names but how we perceived their great achievements.

With the gathering of the ominous cloud of economic problems over Nigeria, what do you think is the way out?

The only way out is for us in this country to be patient. Little drops of water, little grains of sand make a mighty ocean. So all of us should join hands together with the government to salvage our economy, we need to learn how to be patient even a seed must have a sowing, grooming, and harvest time so is the situation in the country.

God himself is a God of orderliness, Nigerians are the most anxious people in the world, you see a lot of business men losing focus on their businesses, many marriages are failing and a lot of students are failing out of colleges and University just because they are not focused and patient in the race to success. Success is for the steady not the weary.

Some Christians have turned themselves into religious wanderer while some business men have also turned themselves into business wanderer in the course of looking for risky shortcuts. There is a popular Yoruba adage which I imbibed from my father that goes like “before the yam is transformed into pounded yam, it must be pounded in the mortar and that it is only when you keep looking at a spot that you see things well and deeper, it is also when you continue to urinate on a spot that your urine will foam“ all these form part of the Yoruba’s belief system and they underscore the principle of been focused and dedicated.

For Nigeria to be great, we must all learn that for a business to be regarded as not profitable it must have been operational for not less than three years, before we start to complain. These are part of the things that had led many to be preyed upon by scammers and financial predators in business circles. In advanced countries many of our people there work for hours and in those hours, no room is left for cavorting. Let’s follow the laid down rules of God rather than the laid down precepts of Men. Many failed in business because they build their business on shallow ideas, no feasibility studies,

We should also learn to appreciate government policies; we should try to understand that not all government actions are politically motivated, many are with good intentions like what Governor Fashola is trying to do in his attempt to transform Lagos State.

In our time, Nigeria will be good again, look at all these thieving governors and public office holders, go and look at those of them that had died; they were victims of one terminal ailment or the other. Some you will not have heard of before, so God has his own EFCC, because the other appellation of money is trouble, when you get to acquire too much money it will affect your psyche.

I remember the first day in this ministry when somebody paid a tithe offering of N350,000 then for one week I couldn’t sleep even I was afraid to put it in my room I kept it under the staircases and covered it with some rags and other abandoned items under the step so every morning I will have to check it and took some, and whenever there were any strange noise I will be scared whether somebody was coming to rob us of the money.

Among religious groupings in Nigeria there is this contentious issue over government’s intention to tax certain qualified income, what is your response?

Few years ago when the issue of divine healing and preaching prosperity on the pulpit was generating serious concerns among Christians, I was one of the selected pastors invited by NTA Lagos to come and discuss the issue and throw light on it. For me, my vision, calling and anointing is a mandate to lead a generation of righteous believers and as passionate advocator of divine mandate and apostolic prophetic utterance among church leaders I support the preaching on pulpit of divine healing and prosperity because my own God is God of the rich.

He had promised me that he will not call me to poverty but to prosper in my ministry but Christians must very vigilante so some lions in sheep skin among the Pastorate crowd will not use these things to cajole them into religious servitude to enslave their followers.

On the issue of the government intention to introduce tax, this, to my mind is a baseless rumor, but if it becomes a reality because out of every ten rumours in Nigeria six are always genuine, so if government of the day decided to forge ahead with the plan, good for them, if it is the only avenue that will aid the final transformation of Lagos Pastors must pray for divine wisdom before reacting. I, for one, will support such idea, after, all I am already a dedicated tax payer and a passionate advocate for the transformation of Lagos. We at the Faithfuls’ are ever ready to support any genuine and sincere move to liberate the people of Lagos from the stranglehold of backwardness and hardship.

I am proud to tell you our Church is a socially responsible organisation. If Governor Fashola calls me today, I will show him my tax certificate, this is the laminated plastic id card we are now using in Lagos, like my driving license expires today been my birthday first thing tomorrow I will go and renew it .I will implore other Pastors to pay their taxes as and when due and if tax is eventually imposed on our churches, we must pay, after all Our Lord Jesus’ disciples paid in the bible. What Pastors need to tap into is the divine provisions and the spiritual intervention of the disciples in paying their taxes.

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How NAFDAC Officials Set Our Thoughts On Profitable Expansion

At times, officials of the regulatory agency supervising a particular segment of the productive sector may be instrumental in the growth of a business within that industry. It is so with Abba Bond Corporation and Immense Food Limited. The companies were counselled by officials of NAFDAC to expand their factories to enhance economy of scale, they also counselled the companies’ management to look beyond Lagos for their expansion. GOKE OLUWOLE was there when the new factory of the companies was commissioned and a new range of products launched at the Ibafo factory site of the companies. He spoke with Funmilola Aina, the managing director and chief executive officer of the two companies.

Tell us how you started the journey into the world of food and beverage processing before you arrived at where you are now?

My name is Funmilola Aina. I am the MD/CEO of Abba Bond Corporations and Immense Food Ltd., business conglomerate which was the realization of my husband, Mr. Moyo Aina’s brainchild, and a long time dream that was incorporated in 1991 as a registered food and beverage processing establishment with a vision for excellence in all our production line.

Our goal is to be immensely unique in beverages and food production, providing excellent customer services using a well trained and motivated workforce. Though, we started with the production of sachet water (pure water) which was duly approved by NAFDAC in 1999. It was our pure water that was the official table water during the Junior Olympic Games in Lagos. Thereafter, we pioneered and introduced flavour drinks into our production line with three flavours: Blackcurrant, Pine apple, and Orange.

However, on realization that presentation, taste, and correct pricing are the most essentials in beverage and food manufacturing and marketing, we decided to carve a niche for our brand by introducing the then first ever bottle locking nylon packaging in 2004, knowing full well that we had to attract the children who are our main target consumers. The unique taste of our products endeared us to become one of the active players in the sector within a short time that we entered the market.

In 2007, the company researched and developed a unique creamy yoghurt, branded as O’YEZ Yoghurt. This was approved in February 2008 by NAFDAC, which as of today, has gradually become the most sought after yoghurt in the Nigerian market.

What is your company’s corporate social responsibility philosophy?

Our corporate social responsibility is to be fully involved in the development of our immediate locality by touching the lives of the people through our direct impacts like creating employment opportunities for the people around our factory sites. We have been supportive of the welfare of the people through the maintenance of roads adjoining our factory, our company has provided boreholes to some communities around and within Ibafo in Ogun State. We have also been donating exercise books to all the schools within our community here in Ibafo, We have also been donating to some motherless babies homes and orphanages, We have also been paying all taxes as expected despite the multiplications of taxes by different government agencies.

Has it been smooth sailing through all these?

After every dark cloud on our sky, God has always rewarded us with brighter moments; with determination, focus, and believing in God, we were able to conquer some of these challenges while some still linger. The first challenge we had to contend with was this expansion project that led us to Ibafo. We were formerly in Lagos but for the urgent need that NAFDAC officials advised us to look for a new factory site outside our old factory. NAFDAC officials said it will be cheaper for us to go out of Lagos where land is very cheap. At the end of the day, we were able to get this place in Ibafo, Ogun State. We were also faced with the challenges of power or energy supply like every other manufacturer; the cost of fuelling our generating set is really killing the business. Manufacturers are really groaning under the heavy yoke of alternative power supply, lack of infra-structural amenities like good road network and water supply.

We are even the one sinking boreholes for the people of this community, security of lives and property are at the lowest while some government agencies are burden on us with multiple taxation. Because of the welfare of our workers we have to look for a decent hospital that will care for them and their families, but the people here have no access to good public health care. Our children are all registered in private schools as there is no public school around. Getting funds for some of our projects have been another challenge; we now know that when a company is still growing no bank will be interested in it.

How would you describe your points of achievement in your choice of entrepreneurship?

When you talk of achievement, to me, it is just when I am thanking God for the fulfilment of a dream. This is my own understanding of achievement as a servant of God. In fact, I need to tell you, I am by his grace a pastor with the Mountain Of Fire Ministry [MFM] and one of our achievable dreams so far is the completion of our new factory, the endorsement of our brand as it was picked as the official drink during the Junior World Cup in Nigeria some years ago, the acceptability of our products in the market is another mileage in our journey into manufacturing in Nigeria.

As a child of God I still thank God for his grace and to my lovely and adorable husband who is the Chairman of this company and he is also the main financier of the Abba Bond Corporation and Immense Grace, makers of the top range drinks that include the O’YEZ Yoghurt we are launching today. Without sounding immodest, I would also say that the market men and women too are some of our most priced possessions as they are the faces of all our products round the whole corners of Nigeria wherever you see our product being distributed. When we were awarded the Nigerian Finest Flavoured Drink of The Year 2008 Award by the Institute of Direct Marketing of Nigeria at the Lagos Sheraton Hotel & Towers also hallmarked the attainment of a great height in the life of this organization.

We are the future of television in Nigeria

Tayo Adewusi was right at the heart of the democratic struggle to validate the annulled presidential mandate of Bashorun MKO Abiola after his 1993 presidential election was annulled by the military government of then military president Ibrahim Babangida. But today, he is a wave making TV-preneur, the owner of a TV satellite channel.


In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, Tayo recounts his days in the struggle and how that exposure ultimately attracted him to broadcasting.

What prompted you into becoming a TV-Preneur?

Because of my inclination, influence and motivation from the likes of my big brother, Mr. Niyi Akinsiju, whom I met in my formative years and who was always there to encourage me with all his heart; Mr. Niyi Akinsiju is one of Nigeria’s most articulate journalists, who, today, publishes FORTUNE & CLASS magazines, Nigeria’s most authentic and authoritative business journal, and the likes of Mr. Segun Banjo, who also writes for Fortune & Class and Mr. Femi Davies, who currently manages the White House Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos.

But among all these friends, I have in the entertainment and showbiz world, the man, whom I can call my mentor, Bob Dee [Mr. Dele Momodu] the publisher of Ovation, I can’t forget these people. They were there in my trying periods, their words were energizers that kept me going until I arrived here. You know, having been to most of these TV and radio stations for MAVED programme, I was exposed to the power of television which I realized is the most powerful media tool.

But really, it was my brother in-law who introduced me to mainstream broadcasting, he was the one who called me and told me to come and relief him in presenting his Information Technology focused IT TV programme while he was away for just one month as he was relocating his family to Europe then. Can you believe that that one month had become six years as I’ve been producing, directing and presenting the programme since then and I’ve even elevated it to become ICT WATCH on MITV, and MINAJ and some other stations.

However, in the course of doing some ICT public relations jobs for Engineer Banjo, the Chairman and CEO of DISC Communications Ltd. we became very close because he was one of the pioneers of indigenous TV in Nigeria and, of course, I also aired my programme on the platform.

It was in the middle of a discussion with Femi Davies who called me at MITV and said “Tayo, you are very close to Uncle Banjo, why don’t you tell him you want to have a TV channel on his platform,” I said, ‘fine,’ it was this statement that spurred me into the adventure you all are seeing today as FOCUS TV.

I remember that it was in July, 2006 that I first came to see him (Engr. Banjo) and told him my intension to have my own TV channel. Engr. Banjo’s response was, “my friend, do you know what it takes to have a channel?” I said, ‘yes, I’m prepared.’ He then asked if I had the money; naturally, that question was popular with him. He loved to ask anybody who made such a request on him, if they have the money to manage a cable station.

I responded that I was capable, so, I went to the drawing board and between that July in 2006 and April 2007, when we were given the nod to start, we commenced operations inside a very small cubicle, where we started our test transmission that April ending in 2007. Because I knew that every new station that comes up the first thing that they always do to attract viewing is to have a lot of entertainment programmes like film and musicals.

We just had it behind our minds that we were not going to do what other people were already doing, so we remained FOCUSed just like our name and our plan then was to be the channel to beat on this platform in six months, but in just two months of our operations, we became the channel to beat and that again threw up challenges of remaining on top for us.

Was that really your biggest challenge as TV- preneur ?

I would say no, it was just one of the challenges but because we don’t have any bank to support us. Nigerian banks don’t help small customers grow; they prefer to go and sponsor blue chip companies with billions of naira whereas there are entrepreneurs who need only N50,000 to survive. My brother, just like any other business owner in Nigeria today, I still believe power is one of our biggest problems.

If I tell you how much it is costing us to fuel our three stand-by generators in a month, now, if that same amount is injected into our operations, our production quality will be better and tighter and that means more income for us. Despite the fact that we are in an industrial neighbourhood, we at times, don’t have power from NEPA or PHCN as they call them, for hundreds of hours in a month. It is annoying when they prefer to supply power in the thick of the night while everyone was asleep and then switch it off before day break. If government can listen to me, let them forget other infrastructure and face power supply, every other thing will fall in place.

How have you been able to manage your business related challenges?

Till date I cannot tell you I’ve conquered my challenges because they are still there. There are some I cannot conquer, so what I did was to find a means of living with them like the alternative power supply. These are some of the challenges that as an individual I cannot conquer. We are barely floating, I tell you, since the day we commissioned our live studio in October 2008, if I show you the bill we’ve paid on fuel alone you’ll marvel, but I can tell you we are still not close to our target. The dream is big, we are not even close yet. It is just a dream coming true, but we are not yet there.

How would you describe the impact of regulations in your industry of choice compared to other sectors?

What I can say about the ICT sector of the economy is that we once clapped our hands for increasing telephone subscriber base from NITEL’s 400,000 to the 62 million lines we have now. But looking at it critically, a lot of people carry an average of two to three phones, so don’t let us look at the specific number but the service delivered. It would have been okay if we all carry one phone and we are satisfied with the services. The issue is that I want to call Mr. A and I want to reach him on time and spend my normal time but you’ll see that before I can reach him I will have to spend some additional time and when you even make the calls, they are not going and you have drop them.

Even at that, the GSM service providers are better than the CDMA phone service providers. The moment you started dialing their computer will start counting on your charges between the time you started dialing and the time your receiver picked up his phone, you are already being charged for time spent calling. Why can’t they configure their lines just like the GSM service providers, the quality of services rendered by all the networks are very poor and that had been our campaign for a very long time; the regulators, in fairness to them, one should say they’ve done a good job, but when we look at the quality of services by these providers, it leaves much to be concerned about.

Does this have direct negative or positive impact on your operations?

Yes, because we are still under the same ministry, the current challenges those of us in the broadcast sector are having with the National Communication Commission is that while we are trying to better the quality of our services, the frequency we transmit from, the NCC is planning to auction it. We are talking of people who had secured their licences for the past 15 years; the frequency had been allocated in the past 15 years, why are you now opting to sell it while these people have their renewal in the last five years still in tact.

I think that there are duplications of roles by the regulators; we are under BON [Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria] and if there is any erring broadcaster or operator, he should be disciplined by the NBC [Nigerian Broadcasting Commission] but the NCC is usurping that role of overseeing the frequency band. According to Engr. Banjo, the power of broadcasting cannot be compared to the power of communications, the two are far apart, the industry needs more regulatory framework that will help drive and develop the sector.

How would you compare the impact of the new minister on the sector with that of the former minister?

I think the background of the new Information Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili as a renowned regulator has certain implications. Being in the kind of the country we are, she should be in the real sense of it the Minister of Information and Communications and not the Minister of NCC as she is now inclined to be. I say this because there has been a tendency in Nigeria’s government where ministers appointed to oversee different aspects of a ministry ended up just concentrating on one aspects of the responsibility of the ministry.

We have had sports ministers that performed more or less as ministers for football, while ministers for mines and power have only concerned themselves with electric power, leaving the mines aspect of the ministry. Now, since Prof. Akunyili does her things with passion, we are expecting her to use the same passion to drive the general information sector.

For now it will be unfair for me to start comparing her with her predecessors, all I know is that the sector needs someone who will help nurture and tend it.

What is the capital base or worth of FOCUS TV?

Well, I may not be able to tell you how big we are or how rich we are, but I know we are still acquiring equipment and expanding our frontiers, so the only thing I know is that to have a local channel on our platform, you’ll need to build your own studio from the scratch like I did, costing you millions of naira; but what I know is that you must be a millionaire to run or own a TV station in Nigeria, because we have over head very close to what obtain in banks, because we burn our generators 24/7, so when you add that alone to the cost, it is very heavy. What I’ve learnt over the years, running this business, is that every business has a gestation period and it must be clearly defined at the inception. What we are doing now is to plough back all our returns to the business, and to remain focused.

What are the future expectations of focus TV?

By the special grace of God we know that FOCUS CABLE Channel will be transforming to terrestrial television, but we are also looking at the possibility of kicking off with our own private owned radio station and our area of coverage is Lagos zone though we have our footprints in all the South West states of Nigeria, at times we stray into the Midwestern states.

You know, the Federal Government has declared that by 2011 every broadcast establishment must go digital that means that AIT, GALAXY, MITV,etc; will be satellite stations and you can only watch them via cable network system, that is the future of television broadcasting.

We hope advertisers can see the quality of our programmes, like some of our superb programmes that can stand shoulder to shoulder with some premium TV programmes on our local stations. We have a popular breakfast talk-show running from Monday through Saturday, ICT programme runs from Monday to Saturday, Lalale Friday is an entertainment programme that showcases spots for fun seeking viewers to know what is happening around town and where they are happening. Our presenters are seasoned professionals with track records in the industry.

Our Celebrities Hangout programme over the last three months had showcased and featured top celebrities including the likes of Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Sammie Okposo, Adewale Ayuba, Wale Thompson while we have lined up artistes of the likes of KWAM 1, Lanre Teriba Atorise, Evag. Dunni Olanrewaju Opelope Annointing, as our next set of guests.

We have a review of 10 top movies in English and Yoruba home videos; there are a lot of programmes on the terrestrial TV that are also on our channel, both local and foreign. Really, FOCUS TV is a must watch channel for everyone.

What does it take to get FOCUS TV to our homes?

All you need to do if you reside in Lagos State or its neighbouring towns or cities, is to buy the old antenna and a decoder, this will cost you about N300, but if you preferred the bundle, it is going to cost you N11,500 plus one month free subscription. And you are likely to watch about 60 channels, you are even permitted to watch about 16 foreign channels, and 20 indigenous channels including FOCUS TV when you are not able to pay your monthly subscription. The bundle subscription is family channel including CNN, Al jazerah, Christian Channel, Cartoon Tv, Sports, Music Channel, Movie Channel and many more. You cannot compare FOCUS TV with all these regular TV stations, our programmes are packaged with the niche viewers in mind and the maturity in our production is of world class standard.

Who is Tayo Adewusi?

I was born 40 years ago in Ilorin, Kwara State to Owu parents, which means I’m an Owu person. I started my primary education in Ile-Ife, Osun State, but I completed it in Lagos, I was at the Methodist Boys High School, Lagos and thereafter at the Lagos State School of Basic Studies, on Agidingbi Road, Ikeja, now converted to the Lagos State Technical College, Ikeja.

After my studies at the Lagos State School of Basic Studies, I did not get into a higher institution straight away because I wasn’t able to secure admission for the course of my interest so this delayed me a bit because I told myself that once I did not secure admission for the course of my interest I will not go for any other course. My intention then was to study Computer Science but I invariably went into the Lagos State Polytechnic to study accounting.

Again, though I had the goal to get to the top of my accounting career, to be a Chattered Accountant, due to my inclination for the democratic struggle in Nigeria during the heady days of the military era, I was more or less distracted.

I started out my democratic struggle while in school as a student activist, I was the public relations officer of the Student Union Government – Lagos State Polytechnic, and later, the Director of Travels & Exchange of the National Association of Nigerian Students [NANS] Under Dennis leadership. These were some of the things I engaged in between 1992-1996,and thereafter, by the time I was probably leaving the school, my encounter with the likes of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Ayo Obe, Femi Falana, Festus Keyamo had influenced my decision to go into a full time activism which made me to pitch my tenth with the Civil Liberties Organisations [CLO] I use to have my desk at the CLO’s office.

This was at the height of the June 12 crisis, of course, we formed the Moshood Abiola Vanguard For Democracy [MAVFD] I was the founding and still the Secretary General. It was a trying period for all of us in the struggle between 1993-1999, it was evident that we weren’t looking beyond 1999 when we had democracy. Even Baba Abraham Adesanya, the leader of the Afenifere then, now of blessed memory, was not looking beyond 1999.

We were short sighted in the contemplation of what those that struggled for democracy should do when the military returned power to civilians in 1999. That is why, today, most of us that were in the struggle were not really part of the team running the country now. A lot of us were not just prepared for that, none of us was preparing to become even a councillor or hold any political position.

But in the course of our struggles, two organizations really supported and funded us, they gave financial backing to MAVFD programmes, these were the Democratic Department of the United States Embassy, and the Dutch Embassy. They were very supportive of our advocacy programmes. I can recall that we went into a relationship with MITV, RayPower 100.1FM, and MINAJ TV. We aired a programme called “Democratic Values” on all these stations between 1999 and 2001.

In the course of your activism which singular event would you say influenced you greatly?

One of such event as an activist was that I was privileged to be one of the few people that spoke with late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of the winner of June 12 election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, before she was shot dead. She had a brief meeting with our group, the Moshood Abiola Vanguard For Democracy [MAVFD] which I was the General Secretary at their home before she was shot and killed less than an hour later.

SUNDAY AKINTOLA: HOW MUSHIN HOME BOY GREW MULTI-MILLION NAIRA BUSINESSES IN MUSHIN, LAGOS

SUNDAY AKINTOLA is specially proud of beating all the odds as a home boy growing up in the densely populated Mushin area of Lagos State to become a successful owner of business chains that span micro finance and telecommunications. In this interview with GOKE OLUWOLE, and TAI ADEWALE SHOFELA, Chairman of Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, AKINTOLA shares his journey to conquering the litany of challenges that littered his path to business success.

How would you describe yourself?

Yes, by His grace, I am Sunday Akintola, a gentleman who happens to be one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose company is positively impacting on Nigeria in the area of poverty alleviation. I am the Chairman of the Board of three companies; Covenant Perazim Investment Limited, a multi-facetted company established to operate in the Oil, Gas and Agriculture sectors, Sufi Enterprises Limited, which is a company involved in the sale and distribution of GSM companies recharge cards, and Sovereign Micro-Finance Bank. I am a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. I am also an ex-banker having worked with one of Nigeria’s fastest growing banks Zenith Bank Plc.

Briefly, can you tell us the background to how you grew this multi million naira business empire?

Most big businesses always start in small ways. This multi-million business concern, like you rightly said, is a business that was registered first as Covenant Perazim Investment Limited in November, 2003 while I was still in service with Zenith Bank. It was then the thought occurred to me on what I could do to change my life and touch the lives of other people around me. I thereafter initiated the venture, but we started operation with four staff which included my wife and my brother in-law in a shop here in Mushin from where we sold telecoms recharge cards.

I resigned from my banking job six months after we commenced operations, to be precise, July 1, 2004, two days after securing the NCC dealership licence. In fact, I got my licence on a Sunday and I put in my resignation the following Tuesday, and by August, 2004, I was already able to raise the mandatory N5 million to join the recharge card dealership community of the then V-Mobile Network with Sufi Enterprises Ltd.

All these while, my colleagues, some in the banking halls and some from other companies like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and other multi-nationals, were greatly disturbed about my decision to go into business; they asked if something was wrong with me and how could I leave certainty for uncertainty; leaving the bank to go and sell recharge card. For them, it sounded absurd. But I told them I wanted to go and develop my business.

Things started to crystallize for us because all we were doing then was to get some money to buy and sell recharge cards until we had our breakthrough when in 2006 the V-Mobile Network started seeing us as a serious business entity, and in 2007, we won the best dealers award of the V-Mobile Network. That same 2007, we were among the 25 dealers selected in Lagos and promoted to the status of big dealers. However, as part of the requirements of that new status back then, we were also expected to have our own building as office complex. On the back of this, we decided to build our own building. Thankfully, by the end of 2007 we were able to build our own office complex.

Personally, how had your background influenced the development of your business?

I am a proper Mushin boy, born and bred in this community where people have the notion that nothing good can come out of the community. While we were in the secondary school, those of us from Mushin were seen as boys from homes of hooligans and thugs but to God be the glory, we came out very disciplined, because I am fortunate to have very responsible parents who gave us good up bringing.

Can you believe that as far back as 1963, my Dad refused all discouragement from others not to send my elder sister to school; he sent her to the only private boarding school then in Abeokuta, the Baptist Private School, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. People were laughing at our parents for sending my sister to the boarding school. Ironically, I had to attend a public school, Odo Abore Primary School in Mushin. I guess my brilliance then impressed the school management such that they made me the school’s senior prefect.

After finishing at Odo Abore, my parents preferred that I schooled out of Lagos State, they rejected my preference for the Nigerian Model College at Idi-Oro, a suburb of Mushin. They sent me to Baptist High School, Saki, in Oyo State. From Saki I proceed to the Lagos State College of Education, and later, to the University of Lagos where I studied Accounting. I also taught in a primary school for two years before I joined Zenith Bank in 1993 where I spent 11 years before quitting in 2004.

Though my parents were not rich, I remember that they always struggled to pay our school fees then. They thought us about God and, my mother, especially, taught us the principle of prudence and wealth creation. All these contributed to my success today, but the secret to my business success is God. There is nothing we do in this office that we don’t ask for God’s favour, He is our Alpha and Omega. In this office there is nothing we do that we don’t tell God; we pray in the morning and we pray to close each of our day’s operations.

As a major player in the telecoms recharge card distribution and marketing sub sector, how would you describe the industry?

Yes, the industry is full of illiterate and semi illiterate people, but with the new policies from all the companies, I expect that the situation will finally change. I believe that there will be a lot of changes because it is only in the telecoms sector that some illiterate people will buy something at the rate of N400 and sell it for N250, that is about 80 per cent less than the cost price. But now, the business is getting more exciting, interesting, and rewarding than what it used to be.

What prompted your interest in establishing a microfinance bank, which is seen as very risky commercial engagements, or do we reason that you preferred this because of your banking background?

It wasn’t my background in banking that inspired me to establish Sovereign Micro Finance Bank, rather, it was due to my interaction with the people at the grass-roots of my immediate community here in Mushin while I was operating the telecoms business. The economic plight of these people rekindled my interest in empowering the people in my immediate community. You know when we were doing the telecoms business a lot of people always came to us for financial aids in form of soft loans, but there was no way we could be able to solve all these needs, so we now saw the opportunity to serve and empower our people when the CBN came out with the guideline and licensing procedures for establishing micro finance bank, that was the vision.

Again, there was this experience I once had while I was trying to establish a friend in the recharge card business in Abeokuta. I then realized that what most people need is micro-credit, soft loan, when you don’t help people within your neighborhood they will be the same set of people that will make life difficult for you. Do you know some of those my friends who thought something was wrong with me when I left Zenith Bank today are now begging us to be part of what we are doing. But we shall adopt them provided CBN reviews its policy on the board membership; we are also looking for a way to involve them through our forthcoming private placement.

Don’t you think it is easy for Nigerians to abuse the concept of micro finance banking just like the earlier banking and finances houses of the past?

The establishment of microfinance banks and transformation of community banks is a thought in the right direction by the government, it shows the government knows what the needs of the people are; forget about the bastardization of the earlier finance houses, I can tell you the impact of the micro finance bank vision is already showing on our economy. As I am talking to you now, we are highly regulated, every MFB has a CBN supervisor attached to it and every bank is mandated to do a monthly return to CBN. They will trace and check all the loans you disbursed that month, so there is no way you can give all the loans to your family like in the era of finance houses and commercial banks of the past.

You can log on to the CBN’s website and check the full list of the MFBs as they are arranged alphabetically, this is also part of the effort to showcase them (micro finance banks) and for you to know the ones you can deal with, I can assure you there is no MFB that will like to go under because there are lots of opportunities in the micro financing business

Of all the MFBs in Lagos what do you think stands your Sovereign Micro Finance Bank out from the rest?

We believe so much in God, and this is the anchor of our own business philosophy… to be the fulcrum of creating financial independence for the people. You see, all these area boys, some of them have great talents but what they mainly want is financial empowerment. One of them approached us about three months ago that he wanted to have his own bus and I told him to go and start saving, that if he can save N50,000 out of the N450,000 he needed to buy a Faragon Volkswagen Bus, we will fund it.

He jumped at the offer and each day, he deposited N1500 with us out of the N3000 of his daily income from the transport business. We also work with other professional groups on how to empower their members. All these are parts of the ways to eliminate criminality from their minds because if someone has a wife and kids and a job, his approach to life will be different. He will not be thinking that he wants to die because he already knows he has a stake in this world.

What gave you the impression that Mushin people deserve another micro finance bank despite all the commercial bank branches that populate the roads?

I don’t think there is any other community that I will want to serve than the Mushin community; these are the people that deserve to be uplifted and empowered financially. It is the rural people who need micro-credit or micro-funding; our vision in Sovereign MFB is to empower all these so called area boys, and since I grew up in this area, I understand the economic philosophy and psychology of the people.

We’ve already started some collaboration with the professional groups’ trade and artisan associations on how to serve them better, and even the National Union of Road Transport Workers [NURTW]. We hope to set them up with financial backing of our bank.

Our operations here as telecoms recharge distributor had opened our eyes to many needs of the people. We are now able to understand the need of the people of this area, ask anybody here around Mushin, if they know Sufi Enterprises Limited, they’ll tell you that they know us very well, it is the goodwill we’ve created over time that is rubbing on the bank.

I have also realized that commercial banks are too big to recognize micro financing opportunities, they will not fund or support your business when you are small, it is always the big projects of billions and millions of big establishments that they will always be interested in funding while the man whose business need just N5, 000 to survive is left to wallow in abject poverty.

Which was the riskiest investment venture you had made?

The biggest investment risk I ever took was the outright sale of my entire investment portfolio when I couldn’t secure a loan to finance this MFB project. A friend at FirstBank just told me point blank that since my office complex didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, no bank will give me a loan and the best, he advised I did, was to liquidate my stock portfolio. That was how I sold all my stocks just as if I was been pushed by a spirit but to God be the glory, I was lucky enough to escape the stock market crash now being witnessed by investors. Up till today, my stockbroker still enquire from me how I was able to escape the downturn in the market.

There is no business that doesn’t have its own ups and downs, tell us the challenges being faced by operators of microfinance banks in Nigeria?

Our major challenge is commercial banks, they are becoming jealous of our achievements, which is why you see a lot of the country’s mega banks transforming into micro banks. They see us as threats, because they know we can go for clearing by statutory order and with this the commercial banks always stalemated us. At present, we have a serious battle with a commercial bank over a facility of N110million we got from a company which the company, the bank and us decided was supposed to be given to us but when the money was ready, they sat on it, denied us access to it because of our capital base. We need more money to service the micro needs of our people. What we devised now is that we have contacted about three to four banks for our clearing, one is in charge of the financing of Okada scheme, one for the NURTW scheme, while we also get another to manage our other schemes because it would be too risky to keep all our good eggs in one basket.

We are currently working with a commercial bank to provide us with an ATM which will soon be installed to serve the people of Mushin. We are going to table most of these problems before the Central Bank Governor at the next conference of MFBs in Nigeria. Maybe the Governor can help us caution the commercial banks.

Another major challenge we are facing, like every other business in Nigeria, is the problem of power supply. Large amount of our money goes to fuelling of generating sets, and mind you, we bought our own transformer at about N1.8million while our 100 KVA generator costs a whopping N2.9million and this we fuel with N8, 000 daily. If we plough these back into our business do you know the number of people that will benefit from our micro finance bank? The issue of multiple taxation, too, is another serious challenge to business in Lagos.

As an entrepreneur what will you say is your greatest achievement?

What I personally see as our achievement may not be too fantastic to you but for a company that started in a small shop five years ago on this street, selling recharge cards, now owns an edifice housing the headquarters of all our businesses which include banking, aquaculture, oil and gas, and telecoms; all these we can boast is valued to be above N100million.

We have about 60 well remunerated staff, with at least over eight brand new Toyota cars for our staff, and in the next three months, we are going to take delivery of another set of five new Toyota cars for our middle cadre officers. Some of our staffers who were employed some years ago with school certificates are now graduates while some are about completing their choice of courses in various higher institutions. While studying, we make sure they don’t lack anything. None of our staff has been involved in stealing and none had left us. We are still one united family five years after we started. Last December, we harvested our fish pond and the return from the investment yielded about N1.5miilion because it is safer to diversify to other businesses to expand our capital base and income sources.

What is your management style?

I am a hard working person, and all my staff members know this. I am always the first person to resume here and the last person to leave. Can you believe I live in Alagbado, yet I’m always very punctual at the office? You’ll see me resume here by 7.30a.m. everyday, I mentor my staff, they’ve all imbibed discipline from me. You know, I operate an open door policy here, all my staff are well remunerated. If a CEO is not disciplined, the staff will not be disciplined. Again, let me tell you that yesterday (Friday, 9 January) I was with one of my colleagues way back at Zenith Bank and he was reminding me how disciplined we were then while employed at Zenith Bank. He said it was I who once said that I dreamt that one day I would have my own bank, but we all did not believe it then because of the situation surrounding the licensing of commercial banks. But today, both of us are owners of full fledged micro finance banks; he owns Olive Microfinace Bank on Awolowo Way, Ikeja, Lagos, while my own is Sovereign Microfinance Bank, Mushin, Lagos. What we thought was impossible is now a reality in our lives. God has done it, it is easy now to grow a micro-finance bank into a commercial bank and that is our future because in the nearest future we hope to go public.