Tells CityPeople How He Started His Career As A CARPENTER In IBADAN.
It is no longer news that Giwa Bisi Rodipe has passed on to greater glory. He died last Saturday 21st January 2023 at the age of 84. In his lifetime, CityPeople was close to him, on account of his remarkable contributions to Tree planting in Nigeria. He was adjudged AFRICA’S NO 1 TREE PLANTER. CityPeople in fact honoured him years back with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual CityPeople Award For Excellence, held at the Balmoral Hall, Oregun, in Lagos. At that event, Baba was the first guest to arrive and he sat patiently in the car for the awards to start.
In his lifetime, he granted CityPeople the most in-depth interview about his life.
He was to later grant us 2 more interviews, the last being his complaint about how herdsmen brought in cows into his vast acres of farmland to eat up his collections of rare seedlings of trees of different species. Baba was angry that day, as he spoke to CityPeople Magazine Publisher, Seye Kehinde, at Ijebu-Ode’s home.
He granted CityPeople his first interview when he clocked 80.
Although many people never met him in flesh, when he was alive, they knew of BISROD, his furniture company, that rose to become the number one leading furniture company in Ibadan. He is the founder of BISROD Furniture and Africa’s No 1 Tree Planter with vast forestry on several hectares of land spreading over 10km length, in Ijebu-Ode. When CityPeople Magazine Publisher and his team, were taken on a guided tour of his vast forest plantation of trees, on the outskirt of Ijebu Ode, it took close to 3 hours to walk round. That is how massive his plantation is. He is also a legendary and successful carpenter of international repute.
Below are excerpts of one of his interviews.
Papa,tell us about your love for Trees? How did it start?
I am a graduate of Timber Technology, from Yaba Trade Centre. What we did was Timber Technology, not Forestry. My foray into Tree Planting dates back to 1984. How did it happen? Years back, I used to go to some of Ogun State forests and it occurred to me that we can’t be dependent on government forests alone.
So sometime in 1984 I went to the forest for the allocation of Timber (it must be 150 years old) was hacked down and the fruit fell on my laps. I grabbed the seed and I asked the Timber contractor what is this?
He said that is the seed. From education, when you have the seed you can plant. So, I brought the seed home. That was in 1984. I planted 500 of the seed. Even though I am not an expert in afforestation and tree planting.
But by God’s divine blessing the 500 seeds germinated, but because of inexperience only about 25 survived.
I didn’t do much until the year 1999, when I was on the delegation of the Afro-Asian Business Forum to Malaysia. It was organised by the Japanae government and many African countries went to Malaysia. We were attached to industries.
The industry where I was attached, every director, every Engineer there had a plantation of their own.
Whenever we close, I usually join them at their plantation. That is when I realised we were deceiving ourselves in Nigeria. Everybody concentrated on Plantation and Forests, either in Agriculture or Palm Kernel or Rubber.
When I saw this, I then came back and looked at all those trees I planted in 1984 that I did not care for and started caring for them and in the process, I started buying lands within my area because the issue of illegal fellers is a big issue. So I don’t want to go far to go and plant trees in a forest far from me, where illegal fellers will go and cut. So I have forests within my neighbourhood that I can see. It is a 1 hour or 2 hours drive.
When I started this, I never knew I will be appreciated by even those in the Federal Ministry, in Abuja. I also joined Tree Planting at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I have a forest there.
That is what has been happening. The truth is you cannot talk of nature without Forests because the entire globe started focus forestation. The human race started from hamlets and later grew into cities. When you are talking of forests you are talking of renewable resources. It is renewable so we are supposed to develop it.
What we are witnessing today is that people are harvesting without planting. Nigeria has lost more than 60% of its forest land and we continue to lose more yearly because there is no serious reforestation even though most of our universities have Forest departments and you have forest graduates. What amazes me is that Federal College of Forestry was established the year of my birth. 80 years ago, and yet we don’t have forests to show for it. And one of the oldest research institutes in this country is FRIN Federal Research Institute at Ibadan and yet we don’t have forests. So this is a serious issue.
We have shown through our various publications that planting trees could be profitable. The only thing driving everybody off is the long gestation, because everybody now wants immediate cash. Buy land and plant trees.
How do you manage your Furniture company, Bisrod Furniture & your Plantation?
Both are interrelated. Bisrod uses the products from my plantation as raw materials. It is Bisrod that has been funding it, even though some uninformed people thought I am getting foreign funding. That is not true. I don’t get foreign funding, it is my company, BISROD that is funding my investments in Tree Planting. Most of my trees are now mother trees.
They are producing seeds in multiple of hundreds of thousands. If Nigeria is a country where tree planting is taken seriously, I will make a lot of money by selling tree seeds. I have been to a Seed bank in London I have seen how it is done. We can do the same thing here. It is like a Cold Room. It’s like a Refrigerator. All seeds are collected and put through scientific treatment, and chemical treatment before they are put it in the refrigerator seed bank.
When you started planting trees in 1984 how did you fund the process? Or did you take bank loan?
No. Let me be honest with you. It is my company Bisrod Furniture that supported my foray into Tree Planting. Don’t forget that on the other hand, it is its own product. It is the raw material for Bisrod Furniture. It is the company that has been funding it, even though some uninformed people thought I am getting foreign funding. It is my company that is funding my investment in Tree Planting.
What made you set up Bisrod Furniture?
It is my profession. I am a graduate of Yaba Trade Centre, later called. Federal Technical College, and now called College of Science & Tech. I graduated from there in 1961, and while in training, I also enrolled myself in a roadside Carpentry workshop. That gave me an insight into the fact that it is not when you have machinery that you can have an industry.
Immediately after I graduated in 1961, there were 3 jobs waiting for me. 2 in Lagos-Kingsway Stores & Nigeria Railways, and one in Ibadan, called Co-operative woodwork. I chose the one in Ibadan. Immediately after I started work in Ibadan, I opened a workshop in front of my house. It is that small workshop in front of my house, where I was working, that jobs were coming in. Because my finished products were like imported. It is difficult for the local ones. So, I had more customers and that gave me the lead way.
And when James Brown was to visit Nigeria in 1970, preparations started in 1969. I was the lucky man to be chosen to do the stage work. 2 stages work-one permanent in Lagos to be used twice. And then one in Ibadan to be moved to Benin and Kaduna. So, I was fortunate to be the man to do the stage. So, that gave me, my working capital. The money I got there gave me the lead way to create working capital for me. And the company has been growing since then.
Late Steve Rhodes was the Controller of programmes for Television in those days. He was the one that gave me the job and he asked me to go and bring quotation. I can tell you in 1969, I didn’t know what a quotation was. Thats is the truth because we didn’t do, management at Yaba Trade Centre. It’s just basic Technical Subjects. I gave him a part list for N1,200 whereas Gostshalk, a multinational company quoted 40,00 pounds. They were ready to pay 35,000 pounds. That was where they had disagreement and he says my Manager who did design of what you are quoting for can do the job.
And they gave me the job and I gave them 1,200. When I finished the job we now had to get transporter who will take it from Ibadan to Benin and Kaduna. The lucky man was The King of Boys in Ibadan, Majekodunmi. He was living opposite Baba Awolowo. He charged them 600 pounds, plus my charge made everything 1,800 pounds. They were so grateful. They gave me bonus of 800 pounds. That was the capital I used in starting BISROD Furniture in 1970.
I started Bisrod in 1961 as a roadside carpentry workshop. I was just like any carpenter you can see by the side of the road.
Did you specialise in an aspect of carpentry?
No. At that time we were doing all the general furniture. Then later we started specialising.
How do you see the growth of the furniture industry?
Not until the advent of imported furniture, there was serious progress. It was an employment creation industry. A lot of people were employed in the industry. But the advent of imported furniture killed the furniture business in Nigeria. I remember in 1976, when they created additional 6 or 4 states in the Western region, all the furniture of Ogun State, 100 percent, including the Governor’s office. I got the job.
If I could do that in 1976 won’t you now know that it is sad and discouraging that primary school furniture are imported into Nigeria. Local government Chairmen are using imported furniture not to talk of state government furniture or professional furniture. The imported furniture have destroyed the opportunity for employment generation in the wood industry. And that is why we are considering processing our own but it requires some serious capital.