Alhaji Rasaq Akanni Okoya, the Chairman of Eleganza Group, one of the biggest home-grown conglomerates in Nigeria today with more than 6 factories located across Lagos, is 80. But he does not look it. He looks 20years younger.
He is still very agile and fit and he is mentally alert. This Lagos billionaire and foremost industrialist is still very much active in the day-to-day running of his businesses.
Every day, unless he has to wait back to attend to those on appointments, he is usually out of the house by 10 am to go to his new industrial estate called Eleganza Industrial City Layout, near Epe, on the ever-busy Ibeju-Lekki Expressway, Lagos. And he will stay there with his workers conceptualizing new ideas, till about 6 p.m. when he will return home. Though the hard-working industrialist is now in semi-retirement, he is still very active and involved in the running of the Eleganza Group of Companies, which he founded very many years ago.
City People can tell you authoritatively that the life story of Alhaji Okoya is like an open book, akin to the proverbial story of the rags to riches fame. It is remarkable how this 80-year-old Lagos Boy has, by dint of hard work, built for himself a massive and formidable industrial empire called Eleganza Holdings. You only need to visit just one of the 6 huge Eleganza structures all around Lagos to imagine what he sits atop. He has huge structures at Oregun, Apapa, Orile, Iganmu, Alaba, Isolo to mention only a few. Conservatively put, each of the structures is worth billions of naira each.
He also has a residential estate at Ajah on several hectares of land named after his dad Oluwanisola. The estate accommodates so many highrises, including a 6-storey building of 24 flats. quarters for members of his family, directors and senior members of staff, an office complex, a multi-purpose large capacity hall and a mosque named after his late mother.
But one remarkable thing about this man is his simplicity and modesty which is almost to a point of embarrassment. He is also self-effacing. Despite his stupendous wealth, Chief Akanni Okoya is a basic man. He, in fact, calls himself a Lagos boy. He does not like taking credit for the success of Eleganza Industries. He likes to attribute it to his late mother, Alhaja Idiatu Abeke Okoya, who he once described as a mother in a million. And rightly so. She was the brain behind Eleganza, he says.
That was why on Sunday, June 1, 1997, he broke down and wept profusely at the graveside of his late mother, the Onile-Aje Adinni of Lagos. As the remains of his mother was being committed to mother earth, he wept. uncontrollably.
Only those who are close to him knew why he wept: She was his pillar of strength. She was the matriarch of the Okoya family. She, it was, who gave the initial nudge for his business. She, it was, who provided the initial capital with which he started the Eleganza empire in 1978. For years, she had played the role of an adviser. “My mother and I were very close” he once explained to City People. “I lost my father 57 years ago and since then she had been moving all along with me. When I was in Surulere, about 38 years ago, she was with me. At South-West Ikoyi, 48 years ago, she was with me. We moved down to Ikoyi Crescent about 40 years ago and she was with me. So, every minute of her life she spent with me. She is a woman so dear to me.”
Truly so. For the late Alhaja Idiatu Abeke Okoya was the one who lent him the first sum of money with which he started a business. It was a 70-pound loan which he used in importing zip, fasteners from Japan.
The story is an interesting one. It is, in fact, the story of how Rasaq Okoya began big business. What happened was that his late father was a Tailor who started his career at Cow Lane Area, which has been renamed Rasaq Okoya Street. He used to make clothes for prominent Nigerians such as the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late artist Ben Enwonwu. His shop was at the end of Tokunbo Street, near Sandgross. His father then had more than 20 apprentices, one shop and two machines. Being the son of a Tailor, he got interested in the trade and he began to help him every day after returning from school. He did not stop at that. Okoya, because of his special talent for making money, sat down and asked himself, “why can’t I import these things myself?” So instead of buying these items from the importers, he decided to try importing them himself. So, he wrote letters to Japanese companies abroad and many other companies in England. He used to ask them to send catalogues and samples of their products. “In those days, I did not bother about breakfast when I was writing letters to be posted overseas until the letters were written and posted,” he recalls. It was from there he developed an interest in importation. He developed an interest in Zippers, a company in Japan and soon he started placing orders from them.
Each day, at the end of the school session, he would go to his father’s shop to assist him. By the side, he also had a little petty business of turning torn trousers and long sleeves shirts to knickers and short sleeves respectively. It was from there he began to make little money and was saving between five to ten pounds weekly. He was using his little savings to service the orders of Zippers he was placing from Japan. His very first importation from Japan was for zip fasteners.
He used to take orders of between £20 to £50 and serviced them until the big order of £70 came. He was just between the ages of 13 and 14 then. The total cost of the importation was seventy pounds £70, he made a deposit of £7, which he got from his father through the little business he made under him by patching the clothes of some of the workers in the neighbourhood. Since the money required was too much he had to solicit the assistance of his mother. His father lent his voice and his mother gave him the money to clear the goods at the ports. When Koyutomaro the ship that brought the order arrived Marina, Rasaq Okoya was there waiting excitedly. He had gone there on a Raleigh bicycle, which his father bought for him.
And so. it was this 70 pounds loan that gave him the breakthrough that made him. It was the loan that launched him into a big-time importation business. He started by importing at first Buttons in large quantities and from there, he included materials for sewing school children’s uniforms. From importation, Okoya went into production. He began to locally redesign the buttons he imported, with local wires to make earrings and necklaces. And in 1978, the foundation stone of the Eleganza Industries Limited was laid.
The story of the setting up of Eleganza is equally interesting One day, he was in a ship called Oriel, with his wife and also Chief and Mrs Samuel Adedoyin. They were travelling abroad. To kill boredom, he began to flip through some foreign magazines and there he saw the name Eleganza and he instantly picked interest in it. He then decided to name his new venture, Eleganza. And so from a little shop at Dosumu called RECIO where he sold buttons, laces, ribbons and materials, he opened another one called Button Store near Dosunmu and yet another one at) Obun Eko Street, Idumota, where he started with Jewellery and imported shoes for ladies, men and children. From there, he moved into manufacturing slippers. Next, he opened the first Eleganza factory at Iganmu. From there, he moved over to Oregun and opened another factory comp\ex called Site One. From manufacturing slippers he started manufacturing cooler boxes of different shapes and designs. At this point, Okoya noticed a piece of land opposite the complex now called Site Two and acquired it. This is where he started making bigger cooler boxes of all designs. Because of the high demand, he expanded to Alaba where Eleganza produces all ranges of cooler boxes. At a point, he could no longer meet up with the demand from people, who were having parties and weddings and who wanted to use them as gifts.
And then, of course, the exportation demand from Ghana, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and many West African countries grew very rapidly. As a result of this, he decided to expand once again and another branch was soon opened at Isolo. Two more factories opened at Iganmu. In one of the factories, he manufactures feeding bottles and plastic bicycles for children. At the other one, he produces large coolers. One peculiar management style of Alhaji Okoya is that he has not allowed his business empire, which spans plastics, ceramics and property to develop beyond being essentially a family business. This is to allow for easy management by his children and wives.
For effective monitoring of his group. he has involved his pretty wife, Folashade, who oversees more than 2,000 staffers at E1eganza Industrial City and other outlets.
Chief Okoya was born in Lagos on January 12, 1940, to Tiamiyu Ayinde and Idiatu Abeke Okoya, he had his formal education at Ansar-Un-Deen Primary School, Oke Popo, Lagos and other elementary schools. All his growing up was in Lagos.
Under his Chairmanship, the Eleganza Industries produces a wide range of household goods and utensils including Food warmers, Plastic chairs, Plastic tables, Hairthread, Baby diapers, Sanitary pads, Luggage, Cosmetics and Ballpoint pens. His new factory location boasts of an impressive 32-hectare multi-complex site at Ibeju Lekki. The company, now directly employs more than 2,000 Nigerians, including those working in his RAO Investment Property Company Limited.