Otunba Alex Onabanjo is an accomplished businessman who has huge investments in key sectors of the economy. He just turned 70 and many still find it hard to believe that this tall, handsome and stylish man, is that far gone in age. Reason? He still looks young and has maintained his good looks over the years.
City People met with him last week to get him to tell us the story of his life @ 70. Below are excerpts of the interview he had with the City People team led by Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE.
As you mark your 70th birthday, what are you thoughts on turning 70?
To give thanks to God. Its been a rough journey from my childhood till now. I thank God for good parenthood, for my family and I thank God for giving me all the grace. A lot of my friends do say I am an extremely hardworking person. But I think it goes beyond hard work. It has a lot to do with God’s blessing, which usually leads to getting good results. All glory and honour belongs to God.
How do you plan to celebrate your 70th birthday?
Because of Covid-19, I won’t be able to celebrate it big. My children have been planning big. They wanted to show Daddy that they have been successful in their own right. Most of them have become big. They all have houses in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, and so on and they wanted to show how grateful they are to daddy having supported them all the way. But Covid-19 stood in the way. I told them to all save their money.
What I decided to do on my own is to build an Academy Staff Complex at Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic at Ijebu-Igbo. All my life, Education has meant so much to me and because education has brought me to where I am today, I have been investing a lot in education.
There is hardly any institution in Ogun State that you will go to and you will not see a building standing in my name. I single-handedly built the Department of Petroleum and Petrochemical, Auditorium at the Tai Solarin University of Education. I also built for them a Senior Staff Canteen. At Olabisi Onabanjo University, I have built for them an Electronic Library with 500 PCs and generators with over N400 million cost to me.
I have also built the Student Union Building because I wanted them to be comfortable. Having been the Pro-Chancellor of that University, they never had a place they could call their own.
So, after building that electronic library, I decided to build the Student Union building with a very big compound where they can have parties and do things.
There are quite a lot of other places I have contributed a lot to their laboratory department, and my area that has to do with my core area in the Oil & Gas sector. The only place I have not touched in Ogun State is Abraham Adesanya University and do you know that Baba Abraham Adesanya was my primary school lesson teacher at Onala. He used to live on Onala. He was a photographer before he went to London to study Law. I just thought that with the University in his name let me honour this great man who was one of those that impacted knowledge into me in my early days.
Why your love for Education? Why invest a lot in education?
When I was growing up I saw Hope. There were changes. There were improvements here and there. These days, we don’t see things like that. Most Nigerians seem to have lost hope. We have had a lot of brain drain. God has endowed us with so many great talents all over the world.
Our people are all over the world. What has brought these people to this level is nothing but Education. The hope for Nigeria is in education. When I see children with their backpack going to school, I believe there is still hope. One day, one of these young people will get up and rescue this nation.
You have invested in many key sectors of the economy, why is that so?
One of the things I learnt very early in my life is that Nigeria is a place where one government policy could change everything that you are doing, so I had to invest in many sectors.
When I came back from the US, I went to work with CFAO and I rose to the position of General Sales Manager. One day, I got to work and I found everybody outside, and I said what is happening? They said they came to fumigate. And I asked: they came to fumigate? Is that why we are outside? They said the thing is terrible ooo. Nobody can stay inside the office. So, I then began to ask all my friends who work in various offices that if they come to fumigate your office, do you stand outside? They said Yes ooo. Some said even the one they do from Friday when they close when they come on Monday, they are all rubbing their eyes. I said there is something wrong. I came from America where they could fumigate your house in about 30 to 40 minutes and you are back inside and you would not even smell anything.
I then resigned. In my office then they used to call me Mr. Magic. I have always been an achiever, a rugged man. I am used to working hard. I worked so hard for my boss and for my company. I always tell people. If you are not a good slave, you will never be a Master.
Some people have this attitude that it is not my own business, so I don’t need to work hard when I have my own I will work hard. It is a lie. It is whatever you do to others that is the way you are going to do your own thing.
So, I went to learn Pest Control. And I must say to you, Pest Control brought me to where I am here today. I started Terminix. When I started TERMINIX, it was like nothing. I put a sign from the beginning of Lagos to Ibadan express road. I wrote TERMINIX Wishes, You Safe Journey.
At first, a lot of people didn’t know what TERMINIX was all about at the time. But when I entered an office and I said I am Mr. Terminix Pest Control they will then begin to look at me. They will say oh, you are the one behind that sign. It was my own simple and cheap way of doing an advert. All I wanted to do at that time was to put that name in the mind of everybody. That strategy was meant to open doors for me. In the beginning, a lot of my friends were laughing at me. They use to make fun of me that I left a good-paying job to kill rats and cockroaches. They used to say it derisively in Yoruba.
But the day I wanted to surprise all of them, 3-years after I started my business, I told my friends that I have just bought a house in Victoria Island in Lagos. At that time, there were not too many people living on Victoria Island. I am talking way back in the ’80s, I bought my first house in Ologun Agbaje in Victoria Island. I moved there. I invited my friends to come and rejoice with me. I had 4 Mercedes Benz cars then. They were looking at me. That was how I made big money from Pest Control.
Many don’t know that Pest Control is like you open a shop for food. It is Pest Control and not Pest Elimination. Anybody you treat has become a customer and he or she will be cutting you a cheque on a monthly basis. In a typical residential estate like this place, you have well over 200 houses. If you have only 100 and everybody is cutting you a check on a monthly basis you can imagine. Even if what they pay is N20,000 in 100 places you know what that amounts to. That was how we started doing work for companies. The brand name is strong. TERMINIX was the No 1 Pest Control Company in America. I went to TERMINIX in Dallas to learn to Pest Control and when I came back I was able to penetrate the American Embassy. I was doing the American Embassy, all their residences, then the British High Commission. I bought about 8 properties with Pest Control money.
My first property at James Robinson in Surulere was $150,000 dollars for 4 flats. I bought another property at Anifowose which is a duplex for 250,000. I could name so many properties I bought at a small amount of money. My first house in Victoria Island was 800,000. When I bought the house where I built a mansion it was 750,000 on 5,000 square metres of land, all from Pest Control money. There is money in Pest Control. And it was that Pest Control that took me into the Oil and Gas Sector. Because I started servicing Shell, Mobil, all of them. Through that, I started interacting with young people who are my classmates who are working there. And I began to ask them what can we do together?
All my life I have always wanted to be in the Oil industry. So, I started with the supply of seismic equipment and all that. From there, I then graduated into getting partnership in America to start doing Pest Control and to the glory of God, I became a Phenomenon in that area. I was the first person that Gen. Abdusalam signed all the Deep Waters of Nigeria to when he became Head of State. I almost got killed during the Abacha era at the time, he said I was a NADECO guy, because at that time, most of the Oil blocks being given out, they just gave it out. The government didn’t know what it was giving out. And the people you are giving it out to also didn’t know what they are having…
(Part 2 Next Edition).