Engr. Sam Akinbamijo Adegboyega is the Founder/CEO of the award-winning SOWSCO Well Services Limited, an international oil industry services provider operating in Nigeria and the USA. SOWSCO is one of the only two indigenous companies providing well-cementing services for oil companies in Nigeria. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, Engr. Adegboyega tells Ademola Akinbola the story of his life from the proverbial grass to grace.
“I grew up not having the privilege of being under the same roof with my father and mother. Life was tough and rough. l didn’t know what it meant to enjoy the love of a mother.”
Give us a brief insight into your birth, parentage, and family background.
I was born on Saturday, the 19th of September 1953 at The Lydia Adeparusi House, 29 Ogbontitun Street, Ile-Oluji to the late Mr. Nathaniel Fahinmoyo Adegboyega and Mrs. Beatrice Memojukuola Adegboyega. I grew up under the arms and care of my paternal grandmother, Madam Lydia Adeparusi. Not only was I born in her house at Ogbontitun Street, Ile-Oluji, but I lived with her in that same house, having been left in her care when my mother left my father before I started Primary School and until I left Ile-Oluji in September of 1971 to attend the University of Ibadan.
My parents never had the opportunity of any formal education, and I am the first in the entire family to have College Education. My father was the first child and only son of her mother, and
I am the first child and son of my parents. My parents were very poor to the extent that my mother divorced my father before I even started Primary School in 1960. I was left in the care of Madam Lydia Adeparusi after my mother left my father. Lydia Adeparusi initially was very displeased with having to look after two little kids (my sister and I) alone at that very tender age, but she did not have a choice.
She invariably adjusted to what destiny placed on her and went to work to look after me and my sister. She became, not only my grandmother but mother, mentor, teacher, guide, and friend. The bond between the two of us started from zero level and developed to a height where she could donate her eyes to me so that I could see clearly and not just succeed but become successful. Through the grace of God, she took very good care of me; implanted the spirit of hard work and entrepreneurship in me at a very early age, and inspired me to be the best I can be in life.
Until very recently, a lot of my friends never knew that Lydia Adeparusi was not my biological mother. I also believe that if she had been opportune to have more children, I would have been her last biological child. She loved me and I will never stop loving this great woman. She was a mother-in-a-million; a woman like no other; an entrepreneur per excellence. May she continue to rest perfectly in the bosom of God.
What was growing up like, and what do you remember most about your childhood?
I grew up not having the privilege of being under the same roof as my father and mother. Life was not only tough for me but rough. I had to fetch for myself at a very early age. I had to go the extra mile to survive under a grandmother who had no husband to depend upon but had to take care of her first and only son in addition to two young children abandoned to her care by a run-away daughter-in-law.
My grandmother was a petty trader and I had to assist her in her business, selling fish every day after school hours. I was not treated with kid gloves as a grandchild. I lived under a situation of you rub my back and I rub your back. I got whatever my grandmother gave to me because I have in return helped her. I did not get food without giving in return my best to promote her petty trade business. She gave me the chance to ‘sink’ or “swim”. To her surprise and without my being conscious of it, I chose to swim, and looking back now, I overcame all adversities that came my way while growing up. I will eternally be grateful to God Almighty who used my grandma to hold my hands during those periods of life when I didn’t know the way around and gave me the shoulders to cry upon when times were very challenging for me.
Who were some of the friends that you grew up with?
I attended St. Andrew’s Primary School and Gboluji (Ang.) Grammar School, all in Ile-Oluji. I grew up with the likes of the late John Akinsunlola, Olapade Adeduwon (who was the best man at my wedding), and Isaac Adebayo. Others are Boye Akintola, Adedimeji Adeyonu, Shola Akinsogba, Segun Akinwande, Prince Oluremi Adedugbe, Olusola Akintimehin, and a host of others. I did not have the opportunity of having so many friends while in Primary School because I was always preoccupied with helping my grandma after school hours and did not have too much time to socialize. While in Secondary School, I had to be with my father on the farm during holidays.
Tell us about your educational accomplishments and exploits.
I really cannot say that I accomplished too much in Primary School but was always among the first five throughout my class. But if the amount of time I had to study after school hours was anything to go by, I performed excellently well among my peers. My entire time after school hours was devoted to hawking and selling fish for my grandmother and not to study. I had to learn ‘Times Table” while going around the town to sell something for my grandmother. I gained admission to one of the two Secondary Schools (St. Joseph, Ondo, and Gboluji) where I wrote their entrance exams.
I did not shine and excel in my early years in Gboluji because most of my classmates were older and had attended the then Modern School. I gradually rose from obscurity to become a star towards the end in Gboluji Grammar School, finishing as one of the two students who made Grade One in the WASCE of 1970 with credits in both Maths and English. I followed this accomplishment with admission into the University of Ibadan in September 1971 to study Chemistry. But destiny smiled on me and I ended up studying Petroleum Engineering – thus fulfilling my earlier dream to be an Engineer.
What was your career history like? Are there lessons or unforgettable moments you would like to share with us?
My career as an Engineer is one for which I will eternally be grateful to God. As a small boy in Form 3 in 1968, I made my intention to become an Engineer known publicly when I was asked to choose the subjects for my senior years at Gboluji Grammar School. I decided I was going to be an Engineer even though I did not have any role model who was an Engineer, nor did I even know enough about what being an Engineer entailed. The Holy Spirit revealed to me what God destined me to be and I knew very early in my life that I wanted to be an Engineer. And today, to the glory of God, I am an Engineer.
I started my Engineering career with the then Dowell Schlumberger (now Schlumberger), an International Oil Service Company, as the first Trainee Engineer to be employed by the Company in Nigeria after my National Youth Service in 1977. My first day at work was at the French Training Centre (FTC) in Pau, France in August 1977. After the training in Pau, France I returned to Port Harcourt, Rivers State to continue my employment and training with Dowell Schlumberger.
The type of engineering work of Dowell Schlumberger is mostly that of manual labour. It is instructive to know that I did not get the job in the Company based only on my University Degree in Engineering, but upon my being able to convince the Company that I was used to doing menial/manual labour while growing up. I rose from being a local Trainee Engineer to an international Engineer within two and half years of joining the Company. I went to work in Basrah, Iraq in January 1980 and returned to Warri, Delta State in 1983 as The Company’s Technical Engineer after working in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and the Headquarters of the Company in Paris, France. Thereafter, I became the first Nigerian Station Manager, first in Warri, and later in Port Harcourt before rising to the position of Operations Manager of the Company in El Tigre, Venezuela.
Immediately I became a Manager in Dowell Schlumberger in 1984, the question that came to my mind was “What next?“. I started ruminating in my mind if I wanted to work till retirement in the Company or not. Although it was not very clear to me if I could start a company of my own, the idea of working till retirement age did not appeal to me. My exposure and experiences in Venezuela opened my eyes and I took the plunge to leave Dowell Schlumberger, returned to Nigeria in November 1990, and started my own Engineering Service Company – SOWSCO Well Services (Nig.) Ltd. The journey so far has not only been very exciting but very rewarding. I wished I had left Dowell Schlumberger earlier.
Two unforgettable experiences I had working in Dowell Schlumberger were two occasions when I had accidents.
The first was a motor vehicle accident that I had on the road to an Agip Location to work. I slept off and ended up crashing the Peugeot 404 Pickup that I was driving. I was in the Pickup with two men going to work with me. I sustained very little injury, while the two men with me had no injuries. I thanked God, asked the two men with me to go back to Omoku, Rivers State to their families, abandoned the pickup at the scene of the accident while I took a ride to the Agip location to work, and asked my office to go and recover the accidented Pickup. The decision to proceed to the work Location saved my career and I was given another Pickup when I returned to the office after more than a month on location instead of being sacked.
The second accident happened on an offshore Rig – The Trident. I pumped water against a closed 2” 15,000 psi Hammer Valve during the washing of the equipment after a casing cement job, ruptured the Valve blew up, and hit one of my crew members in the chest. This crew member of mine sustained broken ribs and had to be evacuated from the rig by Helicopter to the Shell hospital in Port Harcourt in the tick of the night. Luckily the man did not die, but I was so frightened to my bone marrow that I planned to resign from the job. Some senior people in the Company encouraged me not to leave and I finally listened to good reasons and stayed. I am eternally grateful to God that I did not die on the job nor kill someone during my career with Dowell Schlumberger.
The most interesting part of my career with Dowell Schlumberger was my posting to work in the headquarters of the Company in Paris. Shortly after I was posted from the field to work in the Office in Abu Dhabi, UAE I was moved to Paris, France. I did not wait to be told my assignment in Paris before I arranged to report to the Head Office.
As a young Engineer and bachelor, I had one of the best times of my life working in the Technical and Marketing Department of Dowell Schlumberger in one of the best Cities in the world. I had freedom, fun, and unforgettable exposure to a different working environment and the topmost people within the Company that helped to enrich my experiences in life.
What were the milestones that signpost your career?
Joining Dowell Schlumberger at the time I did was not only strategic but timely. I joined the Company at the right time and moment. I am convinced that joining Dowell Schlumberger was divine. Although there were tough moments during the over 13 years I spent in Dowell Schlumberger, God was always there to see me through.
When I decided to resign from my employment with Dowell Schlumberger at the end of October 1990, I had no sufficient capital, no God-father but God-the-Father, and my wife who did not disagree with my decision to resign nor discouraged me. I spent almost two years without any form of income to plan, raise money, purchase equipment, and bid for contracts before I got to do the first job. Not only did things take such a long time to materialize, but the June 12 crisis brought SOWSCO to her knees with no jobs and the loss of all the company’s money in a Bank in the Bahamas. I was on the verge of calling it quits when everything turned around. And today the rest is history. May God’s name be praised.
When and why did you retire? What was the motivation to start your own business?
I did not retire, and I have not retired. I simply resigned from Dowell Schlumberger in October 1990 and returned to Nigeria from Venezuela to start an oilfield service company of my own – SOWSCO Well Services. The usual retirement age in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry is 60 years. I did not attain the age of 60 when I left Dowell Schlumberger. I have moved away from the day-to-day running of the Company since 2011, but have not retired. I probably will retire from SOWSCO soon and simply move to other things. I will continue to be active as an entrepreneur in other areas of endeavours because entrepreneurs don’t retire.
The motivation to start my own business came from my nature never to be satisfied with the status quo. I like challenges after challenges. I was not satisfied with just working for a company; I wanted to work for myself. I am not satisfied with being an entrepreneur in the Oil & Gas industry; I am looking forward to other areas of business endeavours.
How would you describe your experience so far as an entrepreneur? How have you surmounted the various challenges?
My experience as an entrepreneur is very exciting. There are no dull moments because a true entrepreneur is always solving one problem after another. Apart from the financial rewards, it is always gratifying at the end to know that you did it because you dared to. Life in itself is full of challenges: it is all about solving one problem after another and so it is with running a business. I approach everything I do from the point of view of a business. I like to take risks, but calculated risks. And even when things don’t work out the way I planned, I simply go back to the drawing board with the new and available information to redesign. That is the Engineer in me.
As a successful international businessman, what success tips would you like to pass on to other entrepreneurs?
You can never be successful in any business if you don’t have integrity. Integrity, not money is the equity you must have to do any business successfully. Most people will tell you that they are not able to start a business due to a lack of funds. Unfortunately, when such people even get the money, they still fail because they do not have the most important equity to start a business which is integrity.
What are your core values and what defines your perspective of life?
Honesty and integrity. I believe in simplicity, hard work, and helping others. My grandmother used to tell me that work does not kill a child, it’s over-enjoyment that kills.
You have continued to support individuals and organizations in various ways, what is the motivation?
Whatever I am today, it is by the grace of God through some human beings. God brings certain human beings across our ways to help us in life. For example, some people built Gboluji Grammar School so that someone like me could have an education. I will be an ingrate if I cannot help others to succeed having received help too from others. To whom much is given, much is expected.
Today, there is this pervasive attitude of “entitlement”.
People believe they are entitled to something from you, even when they have not contributed anything to you, and they have no intention of giving you something in return. People believe in something for nothing. I give and will continue to give while expecting nothing back from no one. In life, giving is receiving. You cannot give without getting something back in return.
Why do Nigerian businesses fail to endure?
Most Nigerian businesses lack either the integrity of the owner(s) or workers. And in most cases both. The other thing is that Nigeria is a very tough place to do business. The business landscape in Nigeria is full of landmines. Assembling a workforce or a team of honest hardworking people for a business in Nigeria is a herculean task. In school, if you cooperate with another person in an exam, that’s cheating, and you will get penalized if caught. But in Business, it’s a Teamwork. And assembling a TEAM for any business in Nigeria is not an easy thing. That explains why many businesses in Nigeria don’t last at all. Most people are only interested in ‘what’s in it for me’ and not “what’s in it for us”
What are your views on how Nigeria can achieve sustainable economic development?
Sustainable economic development will continue to elude Nigeria because there is too much dishonesty and corruption all over the place. Righteousness exalts a nation. I do not see a clear way out of a situation where corruption is a virtue. It does not matter anymore how you make your money. The end justifies the means. It is no longer believed that one can prosper and flourish through honesty and hard work. And if you succeed through a dint of hard work, you are seen as another thief, an arrogant person, and people, even your friends and family members try to run you down and bad mouth you.
How can politicians and political officeholders make a difference?
Every politician must know that the main reason for being in politics is to help the people. The truth of today is that people are in politics to enrich themselves. That explains why things are not going well in the country.
Political officeholders should know that they will not hold office forever. And that the office they occupy is given to them to hold in trust of the people. Whatever post a politician holds belongs to the people.
How do you feel getting to this milestone?
Well, I honestly don’t know. Being 70 is not different from being 60, 50 or 40. Age is just a number. Although I am very grateful to God for sparing my life to reach the seventh floor, I honestly do not regard being 70 as being very special. In all of these, I can identify with the fact that God has been so faithful to me and He has granted me the grace to be able to get to the age of 70. I will be eternally grateful to Him, especially when I know that many never made it to 70. So, I acknowledge Him, and I acknowledge the fact that a lot of water has passed under the bridge during these 70 years of my existence.
You don’t look 70 at all; you can easily pass for someone in his early 60’s (laughs)
Age, like I said is just a number, you know. It’s all in your mindset. If you feel you are old, you are old. If you feel you are young, you are young. I am Seventy but I feel young in my heart. And like a good Wine, the older the better. I pray for God’s grace to continue to be better as I advance in age.
What has life taught you over the last 70 years? Seven decades of being alive, and interacting with people at different levels. What are the various lessons that you want to share with us?
Well, I have learned to be grateful to God for every day of my life as if it is my last. I always explore new ways to be useful to humanity. I like to be very useful in a way because the opposite of useful is useless. I prefer to be useful than to be useless. Life has taught me not to worry about anything because all these things will (not shall) surely pass away. I do not worry about what any man can say, what any man may say about me, because it is impossible to please all men, and I am not afraid of any mere mortal, born of a woman because I know that God has the final say in the affairs of man. God has the final say over my life, and I seek new ways or opportunities to use the talents that God has given me because I know that God has deposited so much in me. I will never be able to completely utilize all that He has given me in my lifetime before I die.
Did you at any time have any fear of not getting to this age? Was there a time you were apprehensive, maybe when you were kidnapped or something?
Well, it never crossed my mind that I would not make it to this time, except for once, about two years ago when I was seriously ill. But beyond that, I never gave it a thought that maybe I could die before 70. At the time I was kidnapped some twelve years ago, the fear of death did not cross my mind even though I must confess that I was really scared. And in a way, I know that my grandparents, my grandmothers, the two of them, they all lived to ripe old ages. My paternal grandmother, nobody knew her age when she died; my maternal grandmother lived to a ripe old age My father too lived beyond 91 years and my mother is still alive.
So, if you want to go by genetics and all that, I have absolute confidence that God who has brought me this far, will not allow me to die in my prime. I will live to declare the glory of God. You know, nobody needs to fear whether they will die or not. People will surely die, and it is cowards that die many times before their death. So, let’s just live our lives and get on with it. There’s no need to be worried about things you don’t have control over. If you have control over it, then you can worry but I don’t have control over when I will die, so my worry does not change anything.
What are some of the unforgettable moments of your life that you want to share with us, with a focus on the lessons inherent in those moments, both positive and negative?
One of the things that I will never forget is the fact that I didn’t know what it meant to enjoy the love of a mother. That wasn’t there during my formative years when I was growing up. She left my father when I was in primary school, and she didn’t come back until I was about to go to the University. All those years when I wanted to be able to hide under the canopy of my mother and enjoy some special things, she wasn’t there. So, I don’t know what it means to enjoy the joy of a mother. Even though I had the privilege of a grandmother who took care of me, you know, they are not the same. That is not to say that I didn’t appreciate the love and care I got from my grandmother.
Looking back, I can confidently say that it is part of God’s design for me that He removed my mother from the scene so that His plan for me could materialize. There was a time when I was young; I think when I was in my first year in University. I was drunk and I told my grandmother that if she had had more children in her life and didn’t stop childbearing when she did, she probably would have had me as her son. So, I just see the divine hand of God that it was probably the design of God that I should come through her, but it didn’t happen biologically.
So, God gave me to the person, the first child/son, and allowed my mother to just step aside, so she could do what He originally planned for me. That’s my interpretation, that’s my understanding. In the whole of Ile-Oluji today, if anybody wants to call me, they will say Omo ‘Parusi. People never really knew my mother. Some people believe today that ‘Parusi was my mother, but she was my grandmother.
Has there been any conscious effort over the years to bridge that gap and to smoothen that relationship between you and your mother?
Of course, we have a very good cordial relationship now. She lives in my house, and I am grateful to God that I can take care of her. Yes, she’s in my house, I look after her as if she’s my daughter.
How old is she now?
She is about 95, plus or minus. In a way, she did for me what I couldn’t have been able to do, even with all the money I had. But for her, my grandmother would have died very wretchedly; she was there to take care of her. I was never around, I was busy trying to do exploits in my career as an engineer, but she was there to take care of me, so she compensated me. Also, if not for my mother, my father would have died earlier than when he passed on.
This is because when my mother returned to my father’s house, she took good care of my father and he never lacked anything before he died. Honestly speaking, I don’t feel bad about it, I’m just expressing a part of what happened. Realizing that God designed it for me that way, you know, I used to listen to CNN in those days and they would say: “It’s part of the I-plan”. It was part of God’s plan in all for me, so, I didn’t see that I missed anything.
Maybe if she was around, she would have spoilt me, and I wouldn’t have become what I am today. It is a possibility. Because, of course, being the first child, the first son, she’s bound to be protective of me, and she wasn’t there, so, I had the privilege of taking off very early. I didn’t wait because I had somebody to take care of me. I woke up very early in my life, I didn’t sleep in the morning, I was alert.
Tell us about your father. We seem to know more about your paternal grandmother. Who was your dad?
My father was a very quiet person who wouldn’t ruffle any feathers. If you step on his leg, he will remove his leg; if you step on him again, he will just leave the place and walk away. He was a peace-loving man; I wish I could be like him in all aspects. He was just a very easy-going person, and he never quarreled with anyone. In a way, although he didn’t have much, you could see that he was willing to do more if he had. I remember some occasions when he went all out to do certain things for me, just to show that he cared.
Another thing is that till he died, he never made any demand of me. He was not the type that would say, oh because I have a son like you, he would do buga all over the place: no. If you didn’t know me, you would never believe that he was my father. If you saw him, you would never believe he had a son like me. He was just a simple, easy-going, and peace-loving man. Even my mother attested to the fact that he was such a very gentle man. He wouldn’t quarrel with you. Not that he was a coward, but he just didn’t see any need for him to quarrel with anyone. So, he did things in his way: the peace-loving way and I am glad that God invariably compensated him through me.
That’s interesting. What are the lessons you learned from your grandmother because you spent your early years with her?
The number one lesson I will never forget is that you can be whatever you want to be if you choose to be. This is a woman that didn’t have any education, and at that age and time, she built a one-storey house in Ile-Oluji. I didn’t even know my grandfather, which means her husband died a long time ago. She was a petty trader, a very good businesswoman. People like her, nowadays, would say they don’t have a husband and they would be jumping from one man to another, having children all over the place. But she didn’t do that. Instead, she took care of her children and built a house before I was born. I was born in her house: the Lydia Adeparusi House, 29 Ogbontitun Street, Ile-Oluji. So, she taught me to be shrewd, purposeful and business-minded.
I learned entrepreneurship from her. She didn’t even know that she was teaching me, and I didn’t know that I was learning. It just happened that we co-existed in the same house. As she was doing her things, I was watching and learning. I am grateful to God that I was able to pay her back by doing the things I have done over the years because all the lessons I learned would have been useless if I hadn’t turned it around for good. So, her labour of love over me was not wasted or misplaced at all.
Would you say that you are fulfilled or accomplished? I know you are still a work in progress, as you would like us to believe. Looking back, would you say that you are fulfilled with the way you have lived your life, and the things that God has enabled you to achieve?
In a way I feel fulfilled, you know, because there are things that I do now that I never knew I would be able to do. But in terms of accomplishment, I still know that I have a lot more to do. I can’t say that I am 100% fulfilled because, in a way, life is a journey. So, if you see it as a journey, then you cannot say you’ve reached the end; it’s still a work in progress. So, on that, I know there are a lot of things I want to do, and I am working towards them. It’s left for God to grant me the grace to accomplish them or not. I don’t know what limit He has set for me.
However, I have a very restless mind, I am never satisfied with little things, and I always believe that there is room for improvement. So, I’m still trying to explore, exploit and do things. When you stop learning or doing new things, that’s when you die; it’s not physical death, you just become stagnant in a place, and you can’t do anything and that’s when you are dead. God gave me a brain and hands; my hands can still move, my legs can still walk, and my ears still hear. So, I’m prepared to continue to do things and I cannot stay in a place. I want to use my God-given talents to do things for myself, my family, my community, and humanity at large.
Ok, let’s be more specific now. Still in that direction, are there things that you wished you did that you have not been able to do, and are there things that you did that you wished you had not done?
Well, I mean, sincerely speaking, I can’t think of anything that I have done that I wished I hadn’t done, not really. I mean when you say that are there things you did that you wished you hadn’t done, there is nobody in life that has it as a straight graph, you know. There are things you would do and you would fail but for me, failure is part of success. Nobody can claim to have been successful without having failed once in life. So, if there are things that I have done and I have failed, I don’t see them as a failure, it’s just a subsection of success. How do you know you are successful anyway if you don’t fail? If you didn’t do certain things wrong? Nobody is perfect, you know. So, the other part of your question:
Yes, you’ve answered it. Life is a journey you said, so you are still in the business of doing exploits. As long as you are alive, you are still very much able to do most of those things
If I’ve gotten to the end of the journey, then I will say ok, I wish I was able to do this and that. Look, who knows how many more years I’m going to live? It’s God who would be able to tell me that I can no longer do anything, maybe because my time is up but I’m still alive.
You are a very successful man by all standards. What are your success principles that you have practiced and that have worked for you over the years?
The thing is that for me, I am very determined to succeed. I have a determination to succeed, I never take no for an answer. I did it and it didn’t work, then I gave up? No. And then, another thing is that, in my heart, I try, although I know as a human being, nobody is infallible. I love all men – even my enemies. I love all men, like myself, because the whole essence of Christianity is love. If you don’t love, you are not a Christian. I have confidence in God and myself because if you don’t have confidence, you can’t do things. You must believe that you can do this thing and succeed, that’s why you go into it, if you know you will fail, why will you do it?
I have confidence in myself and I know that God can never fail. At this stage of my life, I know he has never failed me. I don’t believe in the word impossible. When people say, it’s impossible, I say it can be difficult but not impossible, because impossible, the word itself is I’m possible. And the other thing, I am very adventurous. If you say you cannot do this, I like to see why we should not do it. If I did it, what would happen?
What are the major high and low moments of your life?
The low was when I was growing up. I grew up under circumstances that I pray that I never go through again, or any of my children, family, or anybody I know will go through; it was not fun. Growing up without the love of a mother, growing up, you had to do certain things under certain circumstances that were not very pleasant but now, I look back and I say, hmm, those things were necessary. My grandmother used to tell me that work does not kill a child. No matter how much you work or are subjected to, it doesn’t kill. What kills a child is enjoyment, indulgence, and indolence. That’s why I’m used to working 24 hours. In fact, with my grandmother, when you start a task, until you finish, there’s nothing like resting. Until you finish that task no other one will be assigned.
Let’s look at the Nigerian economic situation. As an operator in the economic space, if you have the opportunity to manage the economy, what are the things you would do differently, and what would be your priorities?
I strongly believe that one of the things that is killing the whole nation, that is everywhere is not just in the government, in the community, in the family, in schools, and in the establishments is corruption. Corruption has become a cancer and it has no cure in Nigeria. We have the human resources, we are the most populous in Africa; we have natural resources, we have land, and our climate is favourable, but just because we are corrupt, we are stocked. It seems that in Nigeria today, if you are not corrupt, you are not a good man; if you can’t give bribes, you are not good, if you can’t steal money, you are a fool.
If I ever find myself in government, the first thing I would do is look for ways to remove corruption. If we can remove corruption from Nigeria, we’ll boom. Why are we not being liked? Corruption. Why is the dollar becoming stronger than the naira? Corruption. Why is there no job? Corruption. You set up a business, just a business of pure water, the person you asked to go and sell the pure water will steal, even poultry, they will steal the eggs. Everywhere, it’s all corruption. It is seen and accepted as a way of life. I mean, you get appointed to a post, and everybody comes to say congratulations because they want to share; they want to register their names so that they can get their share, and if you don’t allow them to have their share, then you become a bad man.
So, how do we minimise it, not eradicate it? Capital punishment? It’s like we need to be very harsh the way they do it in China.
Well, capital punishment, yes. I believe. In my office, if you are caught stealing, it doesn’t matter if it’s one naira, you must go. One lady some years ago was to pay N13,000 into the company’s bank account. For some strange reason, she didn’t. She claimed she paid but there was no evidence that she did. I called her, I locked my door. I said, look, tell me, you can confess to me. She didn’t. Her supervisor said maybe we should ask her to pay back but we have to know if truly she paid or didn’t pay. If she says she didn’t pay then we can say pay back, but she said she paid. At last, when she confessed, the supervisor asked us to tell her to pay back and I said to pay back what? She’s fired.
The way she was able to steal N13,000 is the same way she will misappropriate N13m. It’s the mode of operation. So, when you hear people talking about the government, people stealing millions but what of when you are given only two naira, you steal one naira out of it, is that not 50% of the whole money? Or you steal the whole money.
It’s terrible, even in the private sector, but we seem to focus more on government. A lot is going on there. May God help us.
You know I tell people that things are not looking up for Nigeria, not because there are no businesses, but because they have plundered the economy, simple! For instance, there’s no way a bank can go bankrupt if people don’t steal the money.
You are very passionate about Ile-Oluji and its development. What is your driving force? What motivates you? Because sometimes when you do these things, you do not get appreciated, and some people don’t understand what you are doing. What has kept you going?
The unique part of it, for me, I don’t know about other people. If there was no Gboluji Grammar School in Ile-Oluji, I wouldn’t have gone to school. So, you now look at the two sides of the coin, going to school because there was a school for me to attend or not going to school because there was none. So, I looked at it and said if there had been no Gboluji, I wouldn’t have gone to school, and I wouldn’t have become what I am today. I often wonder, the people who built Gboluji, did they have me in mind? They didn’t know me but they did it without any fear or favour.
So, for me, my concern is that I am that one leper out of the ten, who was healed and realized it, he looked at his body and said, I am no longer a leper, and he thought the correct thing to do was to go back and thank Jesus. So, it’s my little way of thanking God, to say God, I thank you o. I’m not doing things because I want to be appreciated. I enjoy being in Ile-Oluji, I enjoy the place, and I feel happy. And you know, happiness, you can’t buy it in the market, with all the money you have. So, I do things there because it gives me joy and happiness. I will forever be grateful to God for granting me that privilege, it’s not a right.
Several positive things have been happening in Ile-Oluji in recent times. If you have the opportunity, what other ideas or advice would you offer to the Jegun-in-Council, Ile-Oluji Development Council, and other organs of government in Ile-Oluji?
Well, the Kabiyesi and the Jegun in the council, being the apex governing body of the community, are in charge. There is no doubt that they are doing a good job. They should continue to ensure that they do their best to secure lives and properties, and generally make the place peaceful. It’s when the place is peaceful that people can come home and stay. If there’s no peace, if the place is not safe, if there’s one kind of problem or the other, nobody will come there, and commerce and industry will not thrive.
There’s no alternative to peace. Let them continue to work to make sure there is peace, that peace reigns, and that the lives of people are secured. And then, promote means through which commerce and industry can thrive in that place. Because if people don’t have food, and they go hungry, they would start to steal but if there’s commerce, there’s industry, and the economy is booming, nobody would think of going to steal, and nobody would think of causing trouble.
The people in the Niger Delta are causing trouble because many of them have been disenchanted, they don’t have work to do. If they work from morning to night, by the time they come back from work and they are tired, they won’t think of any trouble. Let’s look for ways to provide gainful employment to our people, and it’s not just for graduates because those are a small fraction of the people. Many never made it past primary school, many didn’t go beyond secondary school.
What about Gboluji Grammar School? You’ve done so much to support the school. How do we encourage more old students to show interest? The 70th anniversary that is coming up next year, what do we need to do?
People need to see things in the light of not a one-time affair, it’s a continuous thing. I have been doing things in Gboluji since the 50th anniversary, 20 years ago. You don’t wait till one time in a year, or one time in a decade or century before you do things. In what way are the old students different from the government? We are not different, because the government simply took the school and neglected it we too, as old students, passed through the school and just forgot about the place; we are not different from the government. If we just care to go there, to see things, how the place looks like, we might be able to even offer suggestions, it’s not all about money. Can’t we do it this way? Can’t we do it that way? Ok, I have this, can you take this and use it? Now, we say there’s an anniversary. The anniversary will come and go, and the school’s challenges will remain. After the anniversary, what happens?
We should all be more committed, especially those of us who are from Ile-Oluji. Gboluji is the only University we have because it’s the one that paved the way for a lot of the people ahead of us, who went to universities. Many of them went through Gboluji and when Gboluji was Gboluji, it was one of the prime secondary schools in Nigeria. Prime but we neglected it, we said the government, we see it as theirs not as ours, we should own it.
That was what I was going to talk about. Do you strongly believe that the school should be handed over back to the community?
The thing now is that, if they hand it over, if they hand it back, who is there to take over the school? The School should be handed over to the Community or the Church. After all, the Community through the instrument of the Church built Gboluji. The Government took it over and they have come to realise that they cannot maintain the School. The logical thing is if you don’t know where you are going, you should know where you come from. Let the Government stop playing politics, and return Schools to their original owners but with guidelines and policies that the Government can monitor and control.
Probably the community would have to set up a committee or a management team working with the Anglican Diocese
When you look at it, it’s not like Gboluji is the only secondary school in Ile-Oluji. There are others such as St Francis, Baptist, Holy Saviour’s, etc. So, Gboluji is just one, and ideally, the Local government should be saddled with the responsibility of taking care of these schools. Don’t expect Tinubu to come from Abuja and help us manage the secondary schools in my town, it won’t happen. The Local Government should be responsible for looking after some of these things.
If they just take 10% of the money allocated to the Local government to the schools, wouldn’t there be some difference? They don’t care, they don’t even think it is necessary when some of them even pass through the school. I see the government as being all of us. We are all part of government; you can’t have a good leader if you can’t have good followers. The same government we blame, if we are given the chance to be in that government, can we do things better and differently? I doubt.
You’ve so far refused to accept any Chieftaincy title. I know that you don’t need to be a Chief to contribute to the development of the community, I mean, we’ve all seen what you’ve done, even without being a Chief. Why haven’t you given it a thought?
First of all, we don’t all have to become Chiefs and Politicians. For me, I know the areas where I can function best, surely not in being a Chief. By the way, don’t forget that I’m the Lord Mayor (laughs). How about that? I am much more comfortable being the Lord Mayor and functioning without having to go through any protocol or requirements. It’s not one of the things that catches my fancy, I don’t think it’s necessary.
Tell us about your siblings. Many people don’t know who your siblings are
Oh, I have them both from my stepmother and stepfather. Between my mum and stepmother, we are about 13.
Are you the only child of your mother?
No, my mother has about seven of us, four for my father, and three for other men. My father has about six children from another woman.
Tell us about SOWSCO Well Services Limited What has been your experience and what is the scope of your current and future engagements?
SOWSCO is my brainchild, and I’m glad I was able to put such a company together. I have proved that knowledge is not restricted to certain people. Knowledge has become universal. So the same Maths I learned at Gboluji is what is being taught all over the world, whether it is in America, China, or Russia. Certain knowledge has become commonplace, they are not super-duper, in a way. I have been able to achieve quite a lot in setting up the company. Setting it up gave me some kind of fulfillment in a way that the knowledge that I acquired while working for Schlumberger, I was able to make available for others to be able to benefit from it, otherwise, it would just remain in my brain and I would die with it.
The company has thrived and I have formed other companies after that. Some thrived for a while and didn’t do well again, but it’s all traceable to corruption. Right now, I think I don’t have anything to prove again. I am looking for avenues to get out of the company to do other things while hoping that the company will continue to thrive.
Do you have a succession plan in place?
Oh yes. I used a template that enabled me to have a successor right from day one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to stay away from the company. I left Port-Harcourt about 12 years ago after the incident of my kidnap, and the company is still running. Put someone in charge, let them run it, don’t micromanage them, just guide them. When they make mistakes, I correct them and let them make decisions on their own.
When I started the company, was I taking instructions from anybody? When I was working for Schlumberger, I followed the rules but in SOWSCO, I wrote the rules. Do you want to work here? Be bold, be innovative, be adventurous, take decisions, and go out there, that’s how I challenge them. If this company were to be yours, how would you run it? Or are there no people? When I started the company, was I as old as you? (Laughs) so, why can’t you run the company? Run it, my friend. Don’t call me.
Looking forward Sir, what should we expect from you, in the next 5 years, 10 years?
I want to see if I can contribute to the economic growth of Ile-Oluji if the people will allow it.
Why do you think they won’t allow you?
You need to see some of the intrigues that go on in that place, but it’s not only in Ile-Oluji, it’s everywhere. When they see that you are this or that, they get intimidated, they feel bad, and they even see you as the person who didn’t allow them to reach their goals and it’s not like that. Envy, jealousy, malice, you know, and that is what I see all over the place. But that doesn’t deter me. It’s the people that stand to gain a lot more. I could have just quietly stayed in one corner of the world, and nobody would know that I was there, but that is not my lifestyle. I don’t like to eat alone, I like the more the merrier, let’s be one happy family, not just one happy individual. You see, I tell myself, one thing I’m not short of is ideas.
How do you intend to celebrate your birthday? Big one?
Quietly, with my wife, children, and grandchildren.
Ok, sir, that’s the way it should be anyway. Your final word to young people out there who are aspiring to be like you. What would you advise them to do and not to do?
They should follow my company’s motto or slogan: cutting edges, not corners. People like to cut corners, let’s stay on the cutting edge. Do things in a way that edifies, that is good, morally sound, that you can be proud of. Don’t be in a hurry, make haste but don’t be in a hurry. Do first things first, get a good education, and if you are not one whom God has given so much knowledge, get to learn a trade.
You know, even in places like America, people are making fortunes, just being artisans. Not everybody must have a Bachelor’s degree Master’s or Ph.D. If you know you are not cut out for education, go and learn a trade. Be a carpenter, be a bricklayer, or a painter. There is so much to do. People are just looking for the easy route, they want to go to America, and the same job they cannot do in Nigeria, they do over there.
Let the young ones know that, look, you can make it in Nigeria, if you believe you can’t make it in Nigeria, you won’t make it, because it all starts with the mindset. Sometimes, I challenge people, I say, look at all the people that are in this Ile-Oluji, or even in Nigeria, that have made it; how many of them made it outside Nigeria? They all made it here in Nigeria. That’s to show that there’s so much room, if you choose to supply water, you have 200 million people who want to drink water, so why are you not selling water?
HRM Oba (Dr) Olufaderin Oluwole Adetimehin, the Jegun of Ile-Oluji Kingdom is your very good friend. How will you assess his tenure so far? What has he done right, and what does he need to improve upon?
A lot of things have been done right, and those you might say he has not done right are still works in progress. For me, he’s on the path of success. He should just continue, and should not allow his enthusiasm to be dampened because he needs a lot of encouragement, enthusiasm, and positive energy. He should continue on the path he has outlined with more focus on improving the economy of the community.
When people have, it’s easier to give, if they don’t have, it becomes difficult. He should devise creative ways of propping up the economy. That is a key area for me. If people have, they think less of stealing, but if they cannot earn a good living, they don’t have work, or if they have to run away from Ile-Oluji to go and do menial work in America, that is not helpful because we need to harness and leverage on our human capital to develop. It is not good when you allow your best people to go away and develop other places. More indigenes who have become successful outside Ile-Oluji should come home to develop the town because no one will do it for us.
Tell us about your family life. May we meet your wife?
I am married to Barrister Stella Tolulope Adegboyega (Nee Oni) and blessed with children.
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