Lagos big boy, Ade Adefeko is 50. This tall and handsome guy is the Vice President, Corporate & Government Relations at Olam Nigeria, a big multinational company. He is also in charge of External Communication and Stakeholder Management of the company which is the largest agribusiness and food company in Nigeria. It is a subsidiary of OLAM International of Singapore, the parent company with a presence in 70 countries.
Recently he shared the story of his life at 50. Excerpts
You turned 50 a few weeks back, how do you feel?
I call it being on the 5th floor. I am now on the 5th It is ascension to thinking about life from a different perspective. When I was 20 or 30, we were saying Life begins at 40 and all those things. Life is evolutionary.
I’m on the fifth floor now, I’m 50. I don’t really physically feel too different because you know what? I don’t suffer any major ailment but at the same time, I’m not too much of a deliberate person either, I just live and let live. So I enjoy myself. But I do everything within the limits and confines of decorum.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you at 50?
Life has taught me to be humble, and not to take anything for granted. For me, I just say to myself, ‘I’m lucky’. But again, luck comes with a dint of hard work and I’m very lucky to have goodwill. My goodwill-bank is immeasurable. I’m very selfless. Being selfless doesn’t take me anything
How did your Corporate career start?
I’ve always wanted to be an Ambassador at some point in my life, to represent Nigeria, outside the country positively.
I started by being a lecturer at Alliance Française because I have a degree in Languages: French and Portuguese to be precise. After a while, I said to myself, ‘Do I want to continue lecturing?’ I lectured diplomats and people who wanted to have French as a second language. In my trajectory, I’ve been fairly successful, but I’ve never allowed the success that I have achieved affect me because I’ve always been a grounded person and my parents always told me one thing ‘remember the son of who you are’.
I left Alliance Francaise and went to an oil service company. So, I have a bit of an understanding of Oil and Gas. From there, I went to British American Tobacco (BAT) and also as a graduate trainee at Eko International Bank. After a while, I said to myself ‘six, seven years in one place, not much is happening, I need to explore other vistas’. So, I worked with a few more Banks here and there and found out that it was the same thing.
Then, Societe General Bank (SGBN) came and Laolu Saraki said ‘Ade, come and be our Head of Corporate Communications’. So I moved from managing branches, credit balance sheets and all that to doing what I think came naturally to me, managing image, PR reputational management and all that.
That’s how I started with SGBN. And since then, I’ve been director of Public Affairs and Communication for Multichoice which is DSTV and in between that, I was a pundit for Super Sports, analysing English Football. In between then, I started writing for Complete Sports in ThisDay. So I started with Sports, that was my passion. People who know me, know that I’m an Arsenal supporter, I’ve been supporting Arsenal for almost 30 years.
Moving to BAT, I worked there as Area Head of Communication for Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. I worked there for a couple of years and I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve had it’. I wanted to go to a place where I’ll have high impact and I felt that would be Agriculture.
Agriculture, to a large extent, contributes so much to our GDP and food security is very important. But Nigeria is a country of ‘anything goes’. The budget for agriculture is less than three or four percent. The Maputo Declaration says that nothing less than 10 percent of your budget should be allotted to Agriculture. Nigeria allots under three percent to agriculture and they want to be taken seriously?
How did you join the Olam Group?
I was headhunted for the job. I joined Olam 8 years ago and after the interview, I was employed to head, Communications and Government Relations. I’ve often prided myself as a very good lobbyist. It’s important to give credit to my CEO who allows me to shine. One thing I appreciate about Olam is that we are in 66 countries with 25 in Africa. We started in Nigeria 30 years ago.
Olam makes sure that everything that I do, I do with responsibility, through Corporate Governance and following Ethics. I just recently got appointed onto the board of MobiHealth. So you see, for Olam to allow me to go into that kind of board which is medical and which touches lives, I can tell I made the right choice to be working with them. Olam has been good to me and I think to a large extent we have been both good to ourselves if I must say so. They allow me thrive.
What does your job entail at CLAM Nigeria?
I’m a VP at Olam International. Olam International happens to be the holding company. So I’m an international staff. So I can work anywhere. Being present in 25 African countries, my roles include, but not limited to communication and lobbying.
What role does OLAM play in the Nigerian Economy?
Olam has been in Nigeria for the past 30 years. We play midstream, upstream and downstream. We’re into exports. We’re the largest exporter out of Nigeria after oil and gas. And we’re the second-largest exporter out of Nigeria. What do we export? Cocoa, Cashews, Cotton, Ginger, and the likes. Our export is in the tune of millions of dollars.
We have a huge farm in Nasarawa, but in spite of that, we still supply only 10 percent of Nigeria’s rice needs. You can see how much of a gap. Nigeria consumes 7milllion tons of rice per annum, and we reproduce roundabout maybe 3.5 – 4million. 2.5 million gets smuggled, so you see that we still have a deficit because as a country, we like to plan based on electoral cycle –four years and eight years.
Right now, the borders have been closed, a very good thing. The 2.5 million tons that are coming in don’t come in anymore. But they still find a way to come in somewhere but you know, nothing is full proof.
As the president of NACCIMA, for me, it’s very important that we help secure our future, particularly in the food security sector. Food security is very important. People always talk about health. Yes, health and food go hand-in-hand. A wealthy nation is a healthy nation but a nation that feeds well as well, with the right nutrients will be a wealthy nation. Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava, Nigeria is the largest producer of cocoyam and yam, but you see the derivatives of it, though you produce a lot of it, a lot gets rotten at the source because it doesn’t come to market, access to markets and processing facilities for it is a problem. And again, the yields we have on agricultural products are very low, and that’s because of our agricultural practices. Our agricultural practices are still very hoe and cutlass, instead of making AgriBusiness mechanized.
We need to stop having only rain-fed agriculture. We need to have irrigation. Nigeria’s landmass for agriculture is 4million hectares, of which less than one-third is cultivated. We have 14 to 15 million farming families. But again, in spite of all that, we even forget the fact that Nigeria is not self-sufficient in rice, because rice is a political crop.
Talking about self-sufficiency, Nigeria has a long way to go in some areas. What we need to do is to have what you call strategic grain reserves. Nigeria doesn’t have strategic reserves for anything. You remember in the 70s we used to have groundnut pyramids, where are they today? Trust me, as a nation; we can do a lot better.
How do you see the current border closure?
The border issue is 2 pronged. It was a decision that had to be taken. Beef is smuggled, poultry products are smuggled, everything is smuggled through that border. Look at the Benin Republic, palm oil and rice get imported from the Benin Republic through Thailand and gets into our borders, 2.5million tons of it comes in at night. They go and start selling it and before you know it, no Tax is paid. And you ask yourself why?
So for me, it’s something that is right. Something that should be done, something that the political will worked for. I’m one of those people who believe that you don’t put the cart before the horse. Nigeria always talks about having rice mills, why do you want to have a rice mill when you don’t have a rice farm? The rice departing from the farms is what goes into the mill. So tell me why you should be putting the cart before the horse?
Nevertheless, we do our own bit. Olam Rice has a rice farm which is almost 14,000 hectares. We have a rice mill which has capacity in Kano and in Lagos. So, we do our own bit. Thanks to our use of the latest technology, we are able to do well.
The challenges are also there. It takes 7 days for my container to leave my office in Iganmu to the port. That same 7 days, it takes a ship to leave the port and get to its destination. Meanwhile, my own export has not even started because leaving Iganmu to Nigerian port is a never-ending journey. I mean, if you say you’re supposed to deliver something to us in 30 days, and it’s taking 90days and sometimes even more, and you’re still telling us that you’re not sure it will arrive, there is a problem. These are the kinds of problems we face every day.
Those borders are closed again, not only because of food, there was a proliferation of small arms coming in that was endangering our security. That is in addition. The national security adviser alluded to that, so people should listen to what he said. Actually, it was the national security adviser that advised that the borders should be closed because for them, security is very important.
I’m not one of those who believe that we should subsidize consumption. I believe we should subsidize production but Nigerians seem to always like to subsidize consumption. So the rich always get richer, what happens to the poor? For me, I’m for the border closure.
How do you relax or have time for the family despite the busy schedules?
I’ve been married for 17 years and still counting. I’ve been blessed with three kids –two boys, and a girl. My wife and I, (religiously), we go and watch movies on Fridays. I love to go to watch movies with my wife, then we go disco dancing. My wife likes to dance; she’s very eclectic like me.