Days back, at the Oluwa Ni Sola Estate in Ajah, Lagos, billionaire businessman, Alhaji Rasak Okoya, celebrated his 76th birthday. Well attended by family members and friends, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine’s AZUH LILIAN and TOKUNBO IBIKUNLE were there. They asked questions and also took some photographs. Enjoy…
Instead of staging only a party, you also decided to give to the needy in the society, what prompted it?
Well, I was born a Muslim and I have been a Muslim all my life and I am an industrialist. I have a humble life and I mix with the crowd and I know their feelings. I am now 76. By the grace of God, when I’m 80, I can have an elaborate party. And with the situation of the country, I had to go the way we are. I have about 36 hectares of factory, which is now into production. We have our problem, light, raw materials, the government and foreign exchange, etc. But we are still trying our best. Because we have about 2,000 staff and we are still trying on how to manage them very well. So, it’s not time for an elaborate party.
Looking at the situation of things in the country now, a lot of people are talking about change and there’s a lot of hardship. What will be your advice to the government?
To be honest with you, the young ones, when you have no job, it will be difficult for you. All of us cannot be academics. We have to go practical. Take for instance, I am a factory man, I employ over 2,000 staff. If I place an advertisement today that I want staff, I will get plenty of applications and at the end of the day only few will be chosen. And you find out that children whose parents are into all kinds of businesses will be better off in the interview than the ones sitting down at home and doing nothing. We need a re-orientation so that the children can be useful with their hands. We are lucky to be where we are today because of my father. My own father was a tailor. I will go to school, come back and help him in his business. So, it’s all of that, that prompted me to be doing what I’m doing now. Eleganza was single handedly moulded by me, both the construction and the ideas. In today’s world, nobody is willing to go into practical. We all depend on complete import orientation. How do we get jobs when people are not willing to go practical?
When you take stock of your great achievements in business, what would you say is the unique formula that aided your phenomenal success in business?
I give God the glory for giving me the determination, foresight and focus. I am a very determined person. I hate to fail in whatsoever goal I set to achieve. I thank God that it has always been possible. That’s why even at 76 years I still love to work as it gives me pleasure.
How would you assess the environment for success today, compared to when you started?
When we started, there were lots of business opportunities in Nigeria at that time compared to today, where there are too many business competitions. The mind set of the youth of nowadays is to make quick money. In my time, young individuals were encouraged by setting their goals and achieving them, but now so many products have flooded the Nigerian market which make it very difficult for the local industries to succeed.
Many companies are feeling the pain of the economic policies of the government. As a matter of fact, many have closed down. What has kept Eleganza operating and what cutback did you have to make to survive?
One of the major challenges is the issue of power to run the industries, but we are committed to remain in business with the passion to keep our aims and objectives to offer over 2000 Nigerian youths employment.
Once upon a time, Eleganza had a myriad of products, but today there is a sharp drop, and popularity seems to have waned. Has the competition taken a chunk of your market?
The Eleganza of today is stronger and more stable than the yester years. Today, we have more range of products, from Chairs, Coolers, Luggage, Diapers, Lady’s Sanitary, Beauty Soaps, Laundry Soaps and Multi-Purpose Soaps, Pet Bottles plus Caps, Pre-Form Bottles, Shoes, Hair Threads, Disposable/Reusable Plates and Cups, Waste Disposal Containers (Dust-Bin) and Stainless Water Tank. They are produced locally at our new Eleganza Industrial City layout, located at KM68, Epe-Ibeju, Lekki Expressway, Ibeju, Lagos on 35 hectares of land. We also have real estate investment in prime commercial areas and luxury residential estates in Lagos State. For some years, the real estate business has been very bad. We have lots of vacancies in our estates. The worst hit is our Eleganza Plaza Complex, Apapa, Lagos State.
Also, in terms of property, you do have a unique design, often very huge properties. Would you say you have as much success as a property developer?
At one period in Nigeria, industrialization was becoming frustrating; so we diversified into property investment on a large scale just to keep the staff in employment. Don’t get me wrong, we still continue in industries, but without introducing new items or products like now. But after we had achieved our set goals in the property sector; that was what now led to the new Eleganza Industrial City Limited. Eleganza is back, bigger and better than what it used to be known for.
What are the most important values for a business man, passion or intelligence, and how was it employed in your journey to who you have become today?
Passion with drive takes priority in all my endeavours. I love what I do and as a result I don’t see myself working because when you enjoy your job, it becomes a hobby. But to be successful and be able to maintain market leadership over the years, you must be intelligent on how to diversify as and when necessary.
Looking at Nigeria today, how should government act to encourage industrial growth?
The Federal Government should stop the importation of goods that can be produced locally into the country and increase the customs and excise duties on imported finished goods. They should also ensure that goods are fully monitored at the point of entry, because some importers are involved in sharp practices, denying the government the required revenue and also killing the local manufacturers. Smuggled goods into the country are also killing the manufacturing industries. No country can survive with the similar foreign goods’ invasion, neither will the country survive with allowing smuggled goods into the country.
At 76, are you still actively involved in running the company? Will you ever retire as Chairman and at what age do you think it’s appropriate to say God be praised. I am taking a break?
As I said earlier, I have a passion for what I do and seeing products or items overseas stirs a passion in me to see same or similar products produced in my country. I love to go to Trade Fairs all over the world and when I get ideas, I put them into actualization. I can’t be seen running the day to day activities as I don’t have that patience or time, but I am always on board to give necessary/useful information when needed. Experience cannot be bought, as you grow into it. The day to day running of the manufacturing sector is managed by my wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Shade Okoya and my son, Director, Lanre Okoya with other senior experienced managers and a few expatriates while the property sector is managed by the Group Property Manager, Mrs. Modupe Solanke and other management team.
What makes you happy these days?
I derive happiness through my establishments; that many are able to wear smiles on their faces and also put food on their tables.
How do you keep fit?
I love swimming and going to the gym to keep fit. I also enjoy spending quality time with my wife and the young children.
Finally, look into the future for Nigeria, how do you think she will fare this year?
I believe in this great country, Nigeria and I believe that with good policies, it will be greater than before. Production is my life. I enjoy manufacturing goods. I have travelled to China several times, I get inspiration from what I see in China. Everywhere in China, you see cottage industries scattered around in all their provinces. We should emulate and follow them. Most reasons why the youths are not employed could be based on the fact that they lack technical knowledge and skill. Most of them have no technical background, no research institute or centers where they could learn and become self-independent. The government should help to make the youths focus on having an independent self-employed future by giving the youths the required technical knowledge. The graduates should be technically inclined and therefore fit into any manufacturing industry and reduce the number of foreigners becoming our expatriates. Today, Nigerians depends on imported goods. Even with lots of natural resources in our forest, we still cannot help ourselves in terms of producing furniture and other basic needs, because our youths do not have the required knowledge and skill to produce, which we need to train them on.