My mother (late Mrs Racheal Oluremi Obaleke, nee Igbodipe) took an early retirement from teaching to become a distributor for the likes of G. B. Ollivant, CFAO and Gottschalks in Ibadan (then the most populous city in Africa, south of the Sahara and now Nigeria’s largest city by geographical area).
She had started small, selling bread, cigarettes, sugar, milk and other provisions from a table placed at a corner of our house on Alafia Street, Mokola in the same city. By the way, the primary school I attended – Alafia Institute – was a stone’s throw away. It was as she took it more seriously and grew bigger that she had a shop inside the Mokola Market (a day market which lies north of the city), and many other shops at the Adamasingba area of the city.
I was her first child and the only female of her four children (so it seemed natural that I would take over the management of the business, especially when she fell ill and later when she died) but I was not interested. Besides that I was more interested in reading, writing and journalism (which I practised in the early years of the ‘flagship of the Nigerian press’ – The Guardian) and later public relations (which I practised at, among other places, the United Bank for Africa and the West African Examination Council, WAEC), I did not think that I could ask people for my money. Let me try to explain. After I left The Guardian and I had become married (Mrs Olubunmi Akinkugbe) and I was looking for a new job, I tried selling clothes. I would go to the Aswani (Tuesday) Market (around the corner from The Guardian’s office on Apapa Osodi Expressway), buy offcut Ankara fabrics, gave them to my tailors, and sent to buyers abroad while selling some in Nigeria. Some bought on credit and failed to pay on due date, (I did not have the mind) to ask them to pay, because I did not want any kind of trouble. I remember one person bought two or four items, did not pay and still had the effrontery to ask for more. I just have issues with asking people for money (or chase after debtors). That experience kept me away from buying and selling.
Until late 2016.
Between September 2011 and June 2016, I worked out of Abuja (Nigeria’s capital), first as communication consultant to the Federal Government of Nigeria/World Bank Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) project and secondly as communication and change management consultant to the Nigeria Supply Chain Integration Project, NSCIP (the Global Fund Project in the supply chain management of health commodities in 14 states of Nigeria). I occasionally came to Lagos where I reside with my husband (Mr Kayode Akinkugbe).
While in Abuja, I ate nothing else but rice produced rin Nigeria.
So, when I completed my assignment and returned to Lagos, I asked where I could get the ‘local rice’. No one had a clue.
(This was the catalyst) that led me to be a trader in rice, despite my misgivings (about selling).
Let me stress this: I tell people that I am a trader and not a supplier, so I get paid upfront, no matter the quantity (even if you are my friend). (No ‘go come’ as they say).
I was warned by my friend, Lara Bedu, based in the United States, that I must never sell on credit. She stressed that I should be careful, and not be attracted by persons (or organisations) who would make some requests for large volumes (knowing that they would not pay eventually). She was talking from experience.
I did some testing with the Neighbourhood Discipleship Centre (NDC) of my church (Agape Baptist Church) in Surulere. I had bought a bag from Abuja, distributed it among them. They said they liked it and would be happy to buy it if I sell to them.
So, I bought ten bags and sold them all.
I later bought some seventy bags of rice (from some mills).
I, however, encountered some challenges with the supply, including the rice having sand and stones. Obviously, by then, there were things I did not know.
But I saw the prospects.
I told myself that to succeed in the business, I must understand (the intricacies).
So, I cultivated a friendship in Iddo Market with a Baba, a longtime trader in rice.I was with him all day when I started to learn from him and subsequently went to spend about two hours a day with him, until I was sure I had learnt enough.
The first thing he told me was that the rice business could break or make me.
He also (gave me instructions) on how to identity the species and grades of rice.
I learnt that, as the last stop before the consumer, I had the responsibility to know what I was selling.
That, perhaps, is the most critical lesson.
Baba took me through some processes to help me in that regards including how to ensure that the rice I sell have no insects, sands and stones – after buying from the mills.
With that, my confidence was built and not only that, for quality control, l also built a (database) of all the (reliable) processors in the value chain. There are people whose only duty is opening and sealing of the bags (of the rice from the mill and after the quality control). There are sievers, who blow dirt from the rice. There are those whose occupation is making the rice sandfree. There are those who weigh.
Today, I get rice from Bacita (Kwara State), Bauchi Katsina State, Abuja and Kano.
I get from Abakaliki (Ebonyi State) only when the customer asks specifically for ‘Abakaliki Rice’. Their measurement is different. They sell in bushel. If, for instance, you ask for fifty kilogramme, they will give you two bushels, which is short of fifty kilogrammes by about three or four kilogrammes. When you now bring it to Lagos, people will say it is less than fifty kilogrammes, and I have to make it up to fifty and bear the extra cost. I have people who insist on ‘Abakaliki Rice’ (and they know this peculiarity or are informed about it). I used to get from Kebbi State until their arrangement with Lagos State….
I sell only sell FARO 44 – the species introduced by Dr Akinwunmi Adesina when he was Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture). Sometimes, I buy FARO 52. I think the difference is in the yield; I am not too sure, but I think that FARO 44 does not have as many insects as the others. It is also tasty. It has both long and short grains.
I believe that I am on the right path.
Right now, I use two rooms in (this bungalow at 22 Tafawa Balewa Crescent, Surulere). I would have loved to (operate out of a) market but my husband said ‘No’ because, as he put it, ‘my temperament does not suit the market.’ He noted that if the market (agrees on) something that (does not agree with my ethics, then there would be a problem). I intend to have a shop not in a market – nearer my house.
For now, I promote my sales via the social media particularly on Facebook where I have the EM Organic Rice page, and referrals. I can be reached via +2348033231152 and 08098231152 (WhatsApp).
The sale of rice, as you may already know, is seasonal, during the festivities such as Ileya (Eid el Kabir), Easter and Christmas.
What I have decided to do is to help people who want to go into rice business by organising various workshops on the various aspects. Because of my training in public relations and as a trainer, I am able to put everything I have gone through in the business into training modules. For instance, I know who to bring to talk about rice species and grades. I can teach documentation, record keeping and the like. I can train on the pitfalls in the business. I have learnt the many sides to the rice business, beyond the sale of parboiled rice and I can train on the various specialisations..
Nigeria is a large country and rice won’t disappear from our menu for a long time to come. Even as some people are trying now to reduce their consumption of rice, the demand will still be there.
What I think people want is good quality locally produced rice and that is what I have been selling since the unfortunate incident (in 2017) when I sold some quantities with sand and stones. I can assure you that any rice I sell is free of sand and stone. I tell people that I sell integrity. I cannot also be involved in any sharp practice such as bagging a type of rice and labelling it as another or mixing various grades or species.
I know also that Nigerians love long, medium long and fat grains, not small grains. They also do not like rice which become soggy when cooked. When I first got to Ghana (as a staff of WAEC) and I cooked jollof rice, my children refused to eat it. It was because Ghanaians’ rice is short grain. (Perhaps, this is the secret behind the edge Nigeria’s jollof rice have).
I can identify all the types now.
I am now familiar with the various challenges affecting the business of rice, including the activities of middlemen who buy paddy from the farms, store them and create artificial scarcity, erratic power supply, continued inflow of imported rice and transportation/logistics, largely because of bad roads on the routes where the rice come from and these days the transporters prefer carrying cows to rice or any other food commodity, because they make more money from that. When in 2019, there was (reduced) importation, the sale of Nigerian rice was fantastic. Indeed a lot of people did not even believe that Nigeria had good quality rice. A lot of Nigerian rice is also being exported now; you can go to the rice markets and find out.
What possible solutions to the various challenges?
Government should support the farmers more. There should be the reintroduction of Commodity/Produce Boards which would offtake the produce from the farms, so the farmers concentrate more on production.
If the rails are working, then the transportation challenge becomes resolved.
Duties on imported rice should also be increased.
I am confident that we will get there, because between 2014 and now, there has been a huge improvement in the quality of rice produced in Nigeria.
Yes, I am still into public relations but more of projects than writing proposals. Public relations has helped me in terms of customer relations.
I have no regret at all for getting into the business. I believe that God has also been helper. I have had my challenges but I know that, by His Grace, there will be more wins.
When I turned fifty years old on 1 February 2020, I went to thank God at the Christ Apostolic Church (Mount Ease) located at a corner piece straddling Osolake and Lagos Streets in Ebute Metta, on the mainland of Lagos, Nigeria. But the church claims 83 Lagos Street, because it faces the street. I (had) decided that rather than throw a big party, I should set aside some funds and give the church to assist indigent students as this had been part of its philanthropy. It was a Saturday; fortunately, they had a service that day, and I had already told the (priest) that I was coming.
Why was this (gesture) significant?
I never thought that I would turn fifty; my father, Buraimoh Ajenifuja Badaru, died at a relatively young age. He had been quite ill, and I remember that I was (rounding off) our end-of-term examination at St Jude’s Primary School (on Church Street, Ebute Metta). (Despite his illness), the doting father waited for me to finish before (travelling) to Ijebu-Ode, where he wanted to attend to his health at the General Hospital. He dropped me off at our hometown, Abigi (Ogun Waterside), about an hour’s drive from Ijebu Ode, and (that was the last time I saw him) – he never came back alive. I was barely eight years old.
Why go to church, considering that I have been a Muslim all the days of my life? My Muslim name is Morufudeen. (Many know me as) Shina (shortened from Adeshina). (My other name is) Bamidele. Put together, I am Adeshina Bamidele Morufudeen Badaru.
It was because I was born inside that church, and on a Sunday. My mother, Felicia, has remained a Christian (despite being married to a Muslim). I have not asked my mum why I was born inside a church, but I think it is because the church has a medical facility.
I was an Ebute Metta boy, until my dad’s death.
We lived at 72 Osolake Street, Ebute Metta.
Before St Jude’s Primary School, I had attended Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, on Abeokuta Street, Ebute Metta (East). (After my dad’s death and I had to relocate to stay with his older sister at Ijora), I finished at Anglican School 1, Marine Beach, near Malu Road in Apapa.
I also attended more than one secondary school.
The first was United Christian Secondary School, 34 Bombay Crescent, Apapa (founded in 1959 by the Anglican, Baptist and Methodist Missions with emphasis on commercial and secretarial subjects).
The second one has an interesting background to it. There is a river/stream in Abigi called Ifara River. My uncle – my father’s older brother – a popular goldsmith in Abigi fondly called Baba Red Rose because of his light skin – knowing that, during holidays in the town particularly (Eid el Kabir), I loved going to Ifara, to swim and all that, invited me to come for the festival, so that I would visit Ifara River. Silly me, I jumped at it, not knowing that he (had a plan). It was years later that I found out why he wanted me in Abigi. My aunt, whom I was living with, had told Baba Red Rose that I had been going to cinema in Ebute Metta, to watch movies, an act which back then was considered a taboo for a child from a respectable home. My uncle could not imagine that while he was alive, the son of his departed brother whom he now had guardianship over as the head of the family, would end up being an Omo Ita (urchin). When I got to Abigi, he asked if I would love to stay back, to go more regularly to Ifara River. He later asked if I would love to continue my secondary school there – I had barely finished first or second term at United Christian. I did not object. So, he took me to a secondary school principal whose name, Mr Kalejaiye, I can never forget. All Mr Kalejaiye asked me to do was to speak in English, and I did (impeccably). He told his (subordinates) to go and fix me in a class immediately. That was how I (started afresh) at Abigi Community Grammar School (situated in the town’s Ilutitun Quarters).
As it were, it was here that I developed a voracious appetite for reading, especially about people who had done great exploits. And, also because of my love for photography, I had also read about Ansel Adams (an American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black-and-white images of the American West – Wikipedia). While following the lives of those great people, I developed a love for writing.
In fact, I left a record there: a score of A3 in English in the West African School Certificate Examination. I am not sure if the record has been broken.
Before I completed my secondary education, I knew that journalism was it for me.
The first year I (sat for) JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board), I did not make it because it was the year that the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos (Unilag) introduced credit in mathematics as (a prerequisite for admission). I had a pass in mathematics. I had to retake the examination and had a credit.
When I got into the (department) in 1989, my interest (in reading and writing) had deepened.
So, was my love for photography – nightlife, abstract and all of that – and I was able to raise money to buy a rugged no-brand-name camera. I joined the Unilag Photography Club in my first or second year. It was there that I (encountered) the great photographer called Sunmi Smart-Cole (a disciple of Ansel Adams). In my second/third year, my love for photography was placing me at the competitive edge. I became the public relations officer of the club. I was able to convert it into a trade. We were doing a lot of exhibitions, and anytime they had the Mr Unilag, Mr Macho, Miss Unilag… we were invited to cover (them pictorially). We sold some of the pictures and were making some small, small money. In fact, part of the money I made helped me to do my final year project. Indeed, in my final year, circumstances made me commercialise my photography. I needed some extra money to (supplement) the (sponsorship of my university education) by my ‘sister’ – really, my uncle’s first daughter – Alhaja Risikatu Yusuf.
I enjoyed my years in Unilag (learning from) great lecturers – Drs Adidi Uyo, Delu Ogunade (now late) and Vincent Aiyedun-Aluma, my project supervisor; Prof Ralph Akinfeleye…quite many brilliant minds.
The Photography Club had a natural supporter in Mr Smart-Cole who had a (well-appointed) photographic studio in Yaba. At some weekends we would go to him for assistance with some of our work. Some of my peers had better cameras, yet he always remarked that my shots were more outstanding, and that photography was not about the (sophistication of the) camera but the person behind the camera. Today, ironically, I have some fantastic gadgets for photography, drones and all that, but I have little time to (practise).
Before graduation from the university, the practice was to send us for internship with newspapers (for print major) and radio and TV stations (for broadcast major) and PR and advertising agencies (for those majoring in those disciplines). I (found my way) to Vanguard newspapers where I was posted to the Tourism Desk which then had Ogbeni Tope Awe as editor. I remember that he had asked to know what I could do beyond writing; I told him photography and showed him (my portfolio). Impressed, he said I would go on a nationwide tour packaged by (one of Nigeria’s leading tour operators) Jemi Alade. He noted that rather than him sending a reporter and a photographer he would send me to do both. That was my first week as an intern on the newspaper. One of the places we visited was the Yankari Game Reserve (in Bauchi State). We were fortunate during the safari to have a parade of elephants and I shot and shot. When I returned to the newsroom, Ogbeni Awe was (marvelled) at the pictures I brought back, and he allotted my story and pictures an entire centerspread of the newspaper. It was a major career milestone. When I took the cutting to the Department and pasted it on the wall as other (print major) interns did, I became a star. (Although before the internship), I had been well-known for my photography. I was the photo editor of the Unilag Sun (the departmental newspaper) while Bolaji Abdullahi (a former federal minister) was the editor. Oh, he was also the president of the Mass Communication Students’ Association while I was social secretary. I was more outgoing then than now.
So, really, my journalism started in Vanguard.
I also had an exciting one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Cross River State.
I had gone to the orientation camp in Obubra (north of Cross River and about one hundred and ninety kilometres from Calabar, the state capital) with my collection of R & B cassettes. (After I found the broadcasting service at the camp unexciting), the gentleman in charge gave me a chance (to jazz things up). I played some of my cassettes and did some rap to accompany it, and everyone in camp started calling me “Shy, Shy Shyllon” because there was a disc jockey on the then-wave-making Ray Power radio station who went by the moniker ‘Shy, Shy Shyllon’ (Segun Shyllon, currently based in the United Kingdom).
I had been posted to a village which name I cannot remember. One of the camp officials from the village had told me how I would be well taken care of; that I would be given a house, this and that and even a lamp. Lamp for what? He said the village had no electricity. Ah, no. I quickly jumped into a bus that was taking other corps members to Calabar, where I effected a change to the Ministry of Tourism; but like every other state government agency, too much bureaucracy made the place drab to me. I was hoping for some adventure but (nothing of the sort). I requested for a change to the Federal Government Girls’ College. For two reasons: some of my friends were already serving there, and the Federal Government stipend was much more than the state’s. The gap was indeed wide. Beyond that, something interesting happened. I was still brimming with the fantastic teachings in the use of English Language by Dr Adidi Uyo, and everything I learnt from him, I replicated in the schoo down to the use of biros. When Uyo marked our papers, he used a red biro to highlight every grammatical error, including positions of punctuation marks. I did same with my pupils in my teaching of the English Language and English Literature.
I left Calabar with one lesson: wherever you find yourself, be the best you can be. I may have just been doing my best, but it was also recognised: I got the State Award for the Most Meritorious Corps Member of that year. I found out later that I got the award because of my rare meticulous approach in my teaching. What I did not know was that the daughter of the NYSC State Director was my pupil. Every day, the then young girl named Ijeoma – in later years, she found me out on Facebook, and we are now friends – took her script home, the mum would read through and remark that regular teachers in the school did not treat the subjects so meticulously. Such was not expected of a corps member who are always seen as lazy and (largely) uninterested in (their assignments).
After the service, I sought out Ogbeni Awe. He had moved to the Daily Times and was also in charge of the Tourism Desk. Based on my previous performance during my internship, it was easy for him to get me into the organisation. I worked with the newspaper for only a year or so, as it did not offer the excitement a young man like me wanted.
One day, I decided to seek greener pastures at ThisDay, which had only just launched. It was then on Yunusa Adeniji Street, off Unity Road, Ikeja.
As I was climbing the stars into the building, Uncle Sunmi Smart-Cole was coming out and heading towards his car. He did not see me. For the rest of my life, I always remember that staircase incident, every time I am at a crossroads, trying to take a decision. I had (planned to see both) Eziuche Ubani and Waziri Adio who were my seniors at Unilag, to see how to fix me up on the newspaper. On the staircase, (an inner voice said) ‘just do it.’ I went back. Uncle Sunmi was already in his car, a lovely white Honda Accord, I can’t forget; he had wound up the window and in any moment he would have been gone. I went to the driver’s side – he was driving. Initially, he was hesitant (to give this stranger any attention). Eventually, he wound down, and I told him my name, and reminded him that I was a member of the Unilag Photography Club and that he used to help us back then. I told him that I wanted to say ‘thank you’ for the help he rendered to us then. He said, ‘oh, I remember you, the one with the old camera.’ I said, ‘yes sir.’ He then asked what I was doing there, if I was working with ThisDay. I told him that I was looking for work there. Now, hear this: he came out of his car, held me by the hand, took me to the office of the Publisher, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, on the last floor, and handed me over to him, saying, ‘Nduka, this is my son, take him.’ He left me with the publisher…that is the story of how I got into ThisDay newspaper. That’s it. This was, I think, 1996.
I was on the Tourism Desk, just doing the routine things. Then, at one of our early Monday strategic/visioning/review meetings in the open hall – which served as the newsroom – presided over by Prince Obaigbena, this fantastic manager of ideas looked at me (in a way which indicated that he needed my attention and, by reflex) I stood up. He then asked, ‘young man, what school did you finish from?’ I said, ‘Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos.’ He then faced the entire hall and said: ‘ThisDay is transitioning…information technology is changing the world, bla, bla, bla, and we want to be the leader in that space, and you (pointing at me) are going to be in charge….’ I was scared. I looked to my left, and to my right, and saw people with twenty-something years of experience in journalism (and wondered) why it would be me, who was barely a year or two out of university. Here was I, with no significant experience, being asked to take charge of a sixteen-page pull-out in a major national newspaper (covering) a totally new world. (Essentially), he was asking me to create a totally new industry. He gave a timeline of starting by the end of the month.
I quickly took ownership of the challenge (and promised myself to make the Desk the best that it could ever be). We called it Infotech ThisDay.
I knew that I could find solace in the libraries. I went to our newspapers’ libraries, but there was not much from there. I then joined the Goethe-Institut library, British Council library and the USIS (United States Information Service) library. I was buying relevant journals and books. There was no internet to download information from. The first major feature was on the (so-called) Y2k (phenomenon), and it was well received.
(Sooner than later), Infotech ThisDay became the industry hallmark for what information technology reportage should be. Everyone (in the industry) wanted to be featured in it. It had a dedicated and loyal readership. I also cultivated a many sources and relationships, and this has stood me in good stead till date.
I successfully (steered the ship as a couple of reporters were added to the desk) until August 2000 when I left ThisDay to join another newspaper, National Interest, headed by Ide Eguabor (an acolyte of Obaigbena).
Of course, virtually all the other newspapers soon started their own ICT pages in one form or the other. But we were the ones to start it. We hold that record. And: to beat.
Notably, there were journalists who were (mainly) reporting the (then) Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL) company. They had a powerful beat association. They were not quite receptive to a well-meaning young man who (just wanted to do his work). It so happened that I was (fenced from) the press statements from NITEL. So, while the rest of the newspapers published stories on NITEL, ThisDay did not. That got Prince Obaigbena furious because telecoms was one area he wanted his newspaper to be strong, in terms of reportage.
One day, I sat down and said that rather than go begging the guys, I changed the direction of the sail. At that time, there were private sector players – Linkserve, Hyperia, Multilinks, etc – who had started coming into the market, and who were doing some profound things such as offering email service, yet they were not being reported. I decided to cover them extensively and I was getting major exclusive news out of that space. Indeed, one of the beat journalists came to meet me in the office and asked if I wanted their employers to sack them. I had succeeded in what I set out to do: create an industry out of an industry. The guys had to accept that this young man was here to stay.
And, we indeed are, with our specialised magazine, Technology Times – which started on a free domain called Brinkster (this company stopped free web hosting on 8 February 2015); all I wanted to do was (display to the world) all the stories I had done over the years which were on my computer – and the several other products in our stable, besides several awards in recognition and celebration of our original, ethical reportage of ICT and digital transformation in Nigeria.
It is all thanks to Prince Nduka Obaigbena who not only gave me the wings to fly but gave full support (for my creativity). I would also like to recognise the support given by two techies, Femi George (then working with Microsoft but now at Amazon) and Jimmy Omole, in getting Technology Times properly started, after we had come second in a UN Africa Media Award (in 2004) under the aegis of UNESCO, for promoting local ICT content.
I am the most fulfilled human being today…that the son of a barber from the (Abigi) backwaters have been able to give birth to (transformative) ideas.
Update: The bit about Badaru’s mum remaining a Christian despite being married to a Christian corrected to “despite being married to a Muslim.”