The Chairman of Eleganza Group of Companies, Chief Rasak Akanni Okoya is 78. Okoya who is the Aare of Lagos clocked 78 last Friday, 12th of January, 2018 and he decided to celebrate it big. He has a lot to thank Allah for. So, he didn’t only roll out drums, he gave out clothes, food, and cash after Jumat Service at the Idiat Central Mosque to the less privileged. He also treated many society big wigs to dinner later that evening.
What amazes many is his staying power. He is one of the most favoured billionaires in the country. He is blessed with good health, good children and a supportive wife Dr. Sade Okoya.
He is also one Nigerian industrialist who has remained relevant till date. Ask music lovers and you will told how KSA waxed a full track and album in his honour when he was just 33 in 1985.
Not many will forget in a hurry how he has rocked the Lagos social scene for over 50 years. Many tracks done for him by king of world beat, KSA still rings a bell.
Do you remember tracks like “Bi Omode Lowo lowo eje ka ponle, bi o se agbalagba eje ka mo yi re, iwa irele ti Akanni wu la fi nponle”. What of Eleganza gbami odun de” track or who will forget “Gunugu Ki Ku Lewe, Akanni Rasaki Omo Okoya.
What of king of fuji music’s Consolidation, where K1 sang Otun Are Akanni, Ore Saamu Adedoyin, amino ooo, omo ni o jogun re!
Recently, City People Publisher, Dr. SEYE KEHINDE, Assistant Society Editor, ABIOLA ORISILE and Senior Photo Journalist, JIMMY SANNI had an exclusive interview with him at his sprawling Olorunisola estate at Ajah where he spoke about his life, his business, and the secret of his youthful look at 78.
You are 78 but you don’t look it. How have you been able to maintain it?
Its Gods doing. And the role and help of my wife. When you have a happy home, you come home faithfully, you do your job with happiness, and nothing worries you. And you are honest. I eat well. I sleep well. I am relaxed. I do my exercise. I swim. I take a walk round my estate. I don’t envy anybody. I am okay with the little God has given me. I don’t hustle for what I can’t get. I don’t look for cheap money.
I don’t hustle for contracts. I take life easy. I take each day as it comes. I leave the rest to God to take control. You will be happy. You will live a life free of troubles.
You are 78 now but people have been hearing the Okoya name since you were in your 40’s. How did you achieve this? How did you become that famous?
Day by day, you take each day as it comes. And you take the challenges too. I have very big interest in industry. We just went to China with about 4 of our staff to purchase some machines. We are advancing. The secret of how to be successful at what you do is to love it. Take it as a hobby. Develop passion for it. Feel good with it. Feel happy with it on a day to day basis. Then, you will enjoy doing it.
Many people want to go into manufacturing but the environment in Nigeria can be very frustrating. Many want to be industrialists like Chief Okoya but the cost of running an industry does not come cheap. It scares them. How have you coped, with no light, no funds from the banks?
That is very true. It is not easy being a manufacturer or an industrialist, you have to do a lot yourself. You have to do the borehole yourself, you have to get generators. You have to depend on Diesel. Can you believe that, at the moment, the Eleganza Industry is producing with generator? We spend a lot on diesel.
You can imagine the diesel consumption of the generators that will cover 30 plus hectares is a lot. I don’t even know how many industrial generators that they have. So we are working more or less with diesel.
But this is a country that has a lot of potential to become a highly industrialised country. When you see how the expatriates do it abroad you will know that we too, can do it. Look, let me tell you, people often make mistakes when they say you can make money by playing Politics. No. You can’t compare it to the money you will make in industry, in manufacturing. It is happy money.
There is more money in industry. The market is there, everything is there. When you see the challenges you won’t mind to remain in the industry. You will still be very happy to be in the industry. Even when they call you to come and serve or go into politics, you will say no, leave me alone.
Leave politics for politicians. Let me continue in my business terrain it’s a challenge. Just like you enjoying your newspaper.
You and Justice Oguntade, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK are very close. You are like 5 and 6. How did the relationship start? How did you meet?
We have been friends for a long time before he went to the bench. We are friends; Lagos is a small place, so we know each other. We have a small group, small society. We all belong to one club or the other like Island Club or Yoruba Tennis Club or Metropolitan Club. It is a small group of people where you know yourself.
You have been close to many of your friends for over 40 year, what has been the strategy or secret?
Because I don’t make any request of them. I don’t put pressure on them. I usually leave those who are in government or position of power to do their jobs freely. If most of us can learn to leave those who are in public office to do their jobs freely, things will be much better. But if you put pressure on them, asking for this and that, you will put them in trouble. But when you feel free with them, no demands made, they will be comfortable with you.
Let’s stop asking them for what is impossible. Just do your job and pay your tax and let them do their work accordingly.
At 78 you still go to work. How do you rest?
Its because I enjoy the work. It is not work for me. Its a hobby, a past time. When you see challenges you will face it because your contemporaries abroad also face their own challenges and they come up with solutions to their own challenges.
So, why can’t we resolve our own challenges too? If you see what the foreigners are doing, you will know that you are just beginning. We have a big challenge on our hands. If today, the production of Made In Nigeria Goods is controlled by Nigerians, we would have no problems. See China today, see how rich they are. They are No 2 in the world and Nigeria has a huge opportunity to become big. We have that tendency. We have the population, a rich soil, we don’t have snow. We don’t have earthquakes. We have everything going for us. If you throw any seed on the ground it will grow. We are rich. We are blessed.
You can grow anything at the back of your house within one week it will become big. Lets maintain this policy of leaving those in public office to work. Let them do their job and then you do your job. This is what Nigeria requires. What we need is just for government to give us the enabling environment like the light (power) and the right policies that suit the industry.
Why did you go into real estate years ago when no one knew the industry was going to be this big?
Its foresight. I felt we needed to diversify, I bought land here in Ajah when there was nobody around here. All these places you see around here were a thick bush. So, I bought a lot of lands in Ajah, on the way to Epe and all over Lagos. The only company here then was Chevron and VGC. So we were able to buy a lot of land.
We were able to buy land from the government. Even VGC was freely allocated to those who got it at that time. They didn’t have to pay Omo Onile and others. When you have a foresight and been at the right place at the right time you will be lucky with your investments.
Why did you start RAO Properties?
I started off business by trading, and then I went into manufacturing. When you are in the industrial and manufacturing line, you produce everyday and then you sell. Whatever you sell, the proceeds you should save and invest in properties. You will develop the property and then make money from the sale and rent and you recycle it again and go on to invest in machinery for the industry.
What made Eleganza Group transit from Trading to Manufacturing years ago?
It was because of what I saw in China, Spain, and Germany. If you see how these products are being produced and the quantity you are buying and how much you are paying, you have already paid for their machinery and the factory itself. You will be so enticed that you will begin to think why don’t I do a similar thing in my country?
That is how we moved from trading to manufacturing and industrial area.
One also noticed that in terms of your real estate investments, your investments cuts across Lagos like Lekki, Ajah, Ikoyi, Iganmu, Apapa, Oregun, Isolo etc Why is it widespread?
I am a Lagosian. I am a Lagos boy. We Lagosians like Lagos, we don’t like moving outside Lagos. And all the money is in Lagos. The boost in real estate is in Lagos. Abuja is just coming up. Port Harcourt is just coming up. I am a Lagosian and I like this Ajah area. So why not concentrate in this district. I am a son of the soil.
When you were so much younger you had a group of friends called The Penthouse Boys and you were central to the running of it. What happened to that club? Is it still in existence?
It is a pity when we started we were over 40. Today, we are less than 10. Most of us have passed on. That makes you sad.
When you built the estate, why did you call it Oluwanisola?
Oluwanisola is my father’s name. He wrote it at the back of his business card. He was the one who taught me a lot of things in business like the Button trade, how to do tailoring trade. He and my mum gave me a good start. I learnt from them. That is why I named it after my dad.
Everything you see in this estate, I built myself, I moulded the block, I mixed cement myself, if it wasn’t my wife’s birthday today Tuesday, I would have been in the factory. I don’t joke with my job.
Up till now I still go to the factory everyday in my short knicker walking around the whole block. I design. I mould. I do everything myself. That is the only way you can beat down cost. If you give a big contractor maybe we would not be able to afford it.
It seems you are in semi-retirement? What time do you get to the office every morning?
Yes. I have slowed down a bit. I don’t rush to the office nowadays. I wake up any time I want to wake up and I go at my own pace, no rush, rush. But I can work late. So, I am blessed. It may also interest you that as big as Eleganza Industrial City is, I walk round it. I don’t use car to move around the various department, I walk. It is a form of exercise for me. It is one of the secrets of my youthful look.