•While Giving Birth To 1st Child @ 44 In The U.S
•How Mrs. DIEKOLA OSAAI, Waited On The Lord For 10 Years
+ What She Told City People About Her Life
The whole of Lagos social scene was thrown into a mournful state on Saturday 18th July, 2020 as Mrs. Diekola Ossai, the brain behind “Cedarwood Retails” gave up the ghost during childbirth.
Her death didn’t only shatter those who are close to her, many who also know her story haven’t stopped crying since she died a few days ago. The beautiful Kwara State-born businesswoman who is the 2nd daughter of former Kwara State Governor, Cornelius Oluwasegun Adebayo has been married for over 10 years without a child.
Those who know revealed to this magazine that she tried many IVFs, which failed before she tried the last one at a popular Lagos Hospital and it was a success.
Many of her close friends who she told were happy and full of joy and expecting the arrival of the baby until the news of her death broke.
She was said to have gone abroad before Covid-19 but was stuck abroad due to the pandemic.
She was hale and hearty until her time was right to deliver and she went to a renowned hospital in Virginia, United State. She was said to have given birth to a bouncing baby boy before she died.
The news which first broke on Thursday was kept under wraps until some of her friends posted her picture on their social media handle asking why she had to take a bow after giving birth.
Mrs. Diekola is survived by her husband and friend of many years and her 5 sibblings, Bukola Ajayi, Mosunmola Jegede, Abimbola Dayo Adewoye, Ayobola Toyosi Thomas.
Her presence will also be greatly missed by many of Nigeria’s top event planners and decorators.
Many of them like Zaphaire Event, Funke Bucknor, Banke Meshida of Bmpro couldn’t help but speak so glowingly of her in their posts on their Instagram page.
The boss of Cedarwood Group, Diekola is also the brain behind D Venue Event Centre in Lagos and Abuja. If not for her death, she would have opened 2 big Marquee Event Centres in Lagos. Many haven’t stopped admiring her new marquee at Surulere.
Cedarwood boss is the first importer of Chiavari Chairs in Nigeria. Though young, she is a philanthropist per excellence and a great Christian and a passionate businesswoman. She is also the brain behind the Cedarwood Foundation, which helps to assist with the education of the less privileged.
Despite being so generous, she didn’t like to blow her trumpet.
Late Diekola spent all her growing up years in Ilorin, Kwara State. Her primary, secondary and tertiary institution was in Ilorin. She graduated with a degree in Law (BL). She then went to Abuja Campus of Nigeria Law School.
She later went to Howard University, School of Law, Washington DC, USA for her LLM (Master in Law). She worked as an In-House Lawyer at the Otunba Michael Agbolade Adenuga’s Globacom in 2004 and later moved to Conoil Producing, still owned by same billionaire, also as an in house lawyer.
She later left there to start Cedarwood and built an enviable brand.
Many months ago, Diekola Ossai was contacted by Nigerian billionaire, Chief Adebutu Kesington, to handle their marquee in Ife for the Odole title and City People Assistant Society Editor, ABIOLA ORISILE spoke to her where she spoke extensively about her life, her brand and other issues.
How did you come up with the name Cedarwood?
People ask me that question all the time. It came from the Bible where I had always read about the Cedar trees in Lebanon. I had wanted to set up a store for cards and production. So, I just finished the Cedar with Wood. It was difficult to register then, so we had to add Global Resources Limited, but generally, we are known as Cedarwood since 2008, but I think we were registered in 2003, while I was still working.
Where were you working before you got your present job?
I worked at Conoil Producing, upstream. I was with the legal department.
Were you married then?
No I wasn’t.
What was your parents reaction when you told them you were leaving a big job in an Oil firm?
They had no reaction. Well, the way I left was strange. I had just come back from leave from America and then I sat down to think, then I knew I was done. Everyone called me including my boss to talk to me because they were losing their best lawyer. They knew that in everything I do, I always give my 101%, but I said I was done. If I had continued for a day, it wouldn’t have been me. I was always finishing ahead of time and wanted things to be done perfectly with all my conscience. I wanted to do something that people would want because I knew we had a good taste and if we build houses, people would buy so why wouldn’t I look into that.
You know, when it comes to taste, it isn’t the same with everybody. So, we had to think about the people we are providing for. So, people who share our taste and knew I would not compromise on that and they came to get it. We knew we couldn’t get everybody, so that has been my strategy even when acquiring things. There are some rental companies that have chairs, If I have a 4,000 seating request, and I don’t have 4,000 chairs, I’m going to take from people, who have 4,000 chairs. So, that’s how you grow and help others to grow. I don’t have to have everything or acquire so much, but in making and helping other people to grow.
What comes to my mind when I hear Cedarwood is Real estate and not rentals?
Well, I’m actually suing them. We even have a case in court now with people using Cedarwood Estate, which Is not mine. We started Cedarwood Rentals in 2008 and then we grew to own our event centre in Abuja, which was named The Venue Event Centre. Then, we have another event centre here in Lagos.
How old is The Venue Event Centre in Abuja?
The Venue was set up 7 yrs ago and located in Abuja and Lagos. It was two years after the one in Abuja was set that we started the one in Lagos.
Being there was like the centre of all event centres. Back then when we started, there was Queens Park, Landmark and Dutchess star. But right now, we have so many competitors that have already developed around there. This place was like a dead end even though, there was a Landmark, but people would not usually come this far in search of an event centre. But this place is now much more developed and I can see several buildings that have sprung up in the vicinity. Ligali Ayorinde is now becoming a hub of event centres in Lagos.
How did you get and build the name Cedarwood?
I’m a lawyer by training and I had worked with Conoil Producing in the legal department. I also worked with Glo. Then, we brought in the Chiavari chairs into Nigeria. We were pioneers. I can remember then, I flew in some chairs for my sister’s wedding in Abuja and used that to market the centres, so that people would become aware. We were about introducing something to the market and we didn’t know how people would take it.
Fortunately, there were some Nigerians then who already knew and wanted the chairs, so it was easy for them to look for us. So, we brought it to the country in 2008. We started very small then and rented a warehouse in Oregun. And from there we grew and got wider space. I believe it was God who helped us because we got some jobs then. We did Mr. Bankole Oke’s Funeral, which was a big job and from there we became known.
For me, my motto for my business is that I don’t do every job, I have tried to streamline it to those who would not compromise on standard. So, that’s probably the reason, we turn down jobs because we need like 3 weeks, at least, in between every job to clean and setup then come back to clean up and get ready for the next job.
For example, looking at the jobs we have left for the year, we have, 2000 seatings, 1,500 seatings, which are big jobs, but if we have 500 seatings, 1000 seatings jobs, we can manage to hold 3 of them at a time. We have travelled out of the country for jobs. We have been to Cotonou for inauguration parties and to other West African countries as well.
What is the size of of the largest marquee job you ever done?
Well we have done up to 5000 seatings for the Obadiran Akinloye family last year. They have done it before. Other event planners had done it for them, but they were disappointed. They showed us the invoice and said they knew that those people could not deliver, but they were very happy with our service as we delivered to their satisfaction. It was someone who recommended us to them.
Is it true that you provide the coolest marquee in Nigeria?
Yes we do. Even when I started the business, I thought of what I had a passion for. Someone said why didn’t I do a franchise like Mr. Biggs, that there was so much money in that, but I said I wanted something I had passion for.
So, that is what drove me and that is also the difference between someone, who tries to do what you do. That is why we are able to get jobs from Nigerians who would not compromise on standard.
We did the funeral for Otedola, the late Governor of Lagos State. Chief Omolade Okoya Thoma’s funeral. Even when we did Ogun at 40, the governor had to see us and even gave us extravagant sum because he was that impressed. We also handle small events too. But we took a back seat when we started the events centre because we have built up the business from the business money itself and not from the bank. We get referrals from good jobs and not from marketing.
When we did Chief Ogbemudia’s funeral in Edo State, we were there for three days. I can remember someone telling the planner to call me if they didn’t want any problems. So, I really don’t think it’s by my power, but all God’s. I know that training and upbringing are important as well. I have done jobs and people were interested in knowing my name and my father’s name. They were also interested in knowing where I was from because they have been impressed with our work etiquette.
How do you feel leaving the legal job, which most of us know to be a noble profession for event jobs which could be considered dirty or rough work?
Like Chief Awomolo, who is like my mentor, was telling me, there would be a difference between when a lawyer, who is learned is involved in the setup and somebody who is not is doing same. One can’t say because it’s a rough job, so one who is educated couldn’t go into it. I have some of my colleagues, who are professors and Senior Advocates of Nigeria who represent me. I am a lawyer, so I tend to take a lot of things like documentations seriously.
I don’t see anything wrong in working overnight for setups. In fact, I enjoy it because I’m passionate about it. I have a sister, who is in the medical in a school in Abuja, where people would queue up to be attended to. She has her master’s in Medical Health and it was all about what we wanted and that’s why the company is still in existence and formidable till date. We often do jobs that other people couldn’t do and where people couldn’t go for jobs. We even went to Mugunu in Borno State where Boko Haram rampaging is rampant to execute an event. Some people would never go there.
Were you not afraid to go there for an event?
No, I was not. I didn’t have to be afraid. When we got to Kano, there was an escort for us. I am a Christian, I pay my tithes and pray before we went for the job. Setting up an event in Mugunu surprised a lot of people even the military. Some even asked why we went there and we said for work. We would even hold an event on water if you want. We know that some Nigerians are quiet and I know because I grew up in a politically-savvy environment and I didn’t like to be seen every time, but I enjoy the amazement literally written on people’s faces when we finish and they are like, “Did you just do this?”. Mostly, people now see that it is worth it.
How is it like ruling the market in a male-dominated environment?
We have some women who are doing this and a few men and this shows that we women are very strong. Our strength though is in the fact that we have husbands that are supportive, who understand that at 2 am we are on the phone. But mostly because of the years we’ve put into it, so many things we’ve covered even ahead of time. We’ve made the mistakes already and we know what would happen if they are not done.
Now, it’s not like when we started, you can see the trailer man is there and the head of every unit. We are discussing how we are going to move from one location to another and we couldn’t do this one because we have another meeting and everything is timed. Even for me, it’s overwhelming because it was just a small place at Oregun and I remember the day when the chairs broke and they were about to fall on me so someone shouted it is about to fall! I used to sit in the warehouse, but it has grown beyond that.
Experience has taught me how to manage many things because my first job stopped because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now, we’ve grown over the years. I believe I know my job.
You started with how many members of staff?
Just one and we’ve grown. Permanent staffers are up to 15 or 16, but for a job sometime, we could get up to 60 casual workers because we need many loaders. For example, for this event now, we are going to get up to 60 because we need that number to assist with the job.
So aside marquee, what other things do you do?
We rent out chairs, air conditioners and luxury items. We usually have so many big jobs and don’t have small ones. So, we are trying to have a small-scale section of the company because we’ve registered Cedar as a group (Cedarwood group) and we have the venue under it then we have the convenience. So, we can do that and do other jobs because of our clients who don’t want to compromise on delivery, taste and time. Some people could say they could do it, but mostly we get to cover up because someone has disappointed them in terms of delivery. Mostly, that was what happened to me. So, we work with planners who will give us feedback.
So last year, how many Macqees would you say you’ve set up for the ‘A’ list celebrities?
We have done a lot. Too many to mention. You saw us in Ile-Ife for the Adebutu. We do many big jobs. We are the owner of the biggest Macquee in Lagos. I am saying Lagos because I can’t say of other states. But I can tell you authoritatively that we are the biggest in Lagos.
How do you relax knowing that this job is very stressful?
Sometimes, I really don’t even need to be in the country. The company has grown that big. I have trusted trailer companies that I used. I have my staff lab and I don’t poach, I’ve always trained. I don’t want people who have worked in other rental companies. I want it to be the way I want it. My style and not someone else’s. And that is how it has worked for me and we have grown this big.
How many seating strong is Cedarwood?
A thousand, two hundred.
And do you divide?
Yes, we do. We can do a 250 half seating and even a 500 seating. We can do any seating even like the vendors meetings and people do hold small parties there and we call it Elizabeth foyer. So, we can do 60 people for private parties.
So how happy are you seeing how big it is as it is a blue-collar job that has its risk?
Yes, it does. Well, for me I think it’s just God. Direction is always from God and once He directs you, He will always back you up. And once you don’t neglect your tithing and you give Him glory. I’m always overwhelmed; it is so surreal for me.
It’s always been bigger than what I expect and that showed me how overwhelming His Grace can be. So, once I see that I know that He is in it and that gives me the courage to do most things that people think are crazy. We often do that. We set up a bash for Tinubu’s party the other day. It was near the water and we set up the bash. We had another one in Banana Island because the clients are so private and we don’t even post pictures. We are not the planners though, we just work with them. So we’ve been fortunate enough to have clients, who believe in us, and recommend us when people ask them.
Why are most Event Centres Marquee?
Well, I think it is because Marquee allows us do a lot that a building can’t do.
Can I have your full name?
My name is Dieokolola Osaai. I’m married to a Benin man, but I’m from Ogbomina in Kwara State.