What He Told City People About His Life & Career
The news came to many as a pleasant surprise. It is the news of Otunba (Giwa) Biodun Onanuga turning 60.
This is because Biodun Onanuga who is the Giwa, Egbe Bobakeye Akile Ijebu (Okunrin) has been around for so long that he looks ageless. He is a man of many parts. He is an accomplished construction giant, a big real estate player and a community leader who has promoted his Ijebu heritage all over the world. He is a thoroughbred Ijebuman who spends a lot of time in Ijebu-Ode where he owns a magnificent edifice. A successful Ijebu businessman, Giwa Biodun Onanuga, is well known as the leader of that popular age-grade group, Egbe Bobakeye Akile Ijebu. And he is quite sociable. And stylish in the traditional outfit he wears to function.
He is the MD/CEO of NUGACON, a construction company that has handled housing projects for a lot of bigwigs in Lekki, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, and even in many Ijebu towns. Although many have run into him at functions, not much is known about this easy going man because he seldom talks to the Press. What has further brought him to limelight is his wife, Chief Mrs Yetunde Onanuga who is the deputy governor of Ogun State. Not many know that Onanuga has a very rich royal pedigree. We can tell you.
He was born on the 22nd of June, 1958 at Ijebu-Ode in Ijebu-Ode local government area of Ogun State. His grandfather, Alhaji Mustafa Onanuga of Anikilaya ruling house was the Captain (Giwa) of Obafowora age grade Ijebu-Ode which the immediate past Ogbeni-Oja of Ijebu-land, Chief T.A. Odutola, Alhaji Dongo, Alhaji Alakiu, Alhaji Abdul (Ombo), Chief Ayanbadejo and Alhaji Amoda Giwa Otusanya just to mention a few, were members.
His father, Alhaji L.I. Onanuga is also from Jadiara Royal family through Fetuga his maternal grandfather and Olisa Olukoga of Ijebu-Ode through his maternal grandmother.
Otunba Onanuga’s mother, Alhaja Bisola Onanuga is also from Bubiade Royal family through her maternal grandfather and Obelu Lukan Royal family of Esure through her maternal grandmother, the first Iya Suna of Ijebu-Imushin. Alhaja Bisola Onanuga’s father was also from the Oshuntubo ruling house of Ijebu-Ife.
He started his early education at Emmanuel Anglican Primary School, Italupe in 1963 where his sporting skill was discovered. Between 1968-69, he became the star to beat on the tracks at any inter-house sports competition in all the primary schools in Ijebu-land. It was to his credit that his relay team won the Gold Medal for Yaba College of Technology at the NIPOGA Games in Ilorin in 1980.
He was admitted to the prestigious Ijebu-Ode Grammar School (JOGS) in 1970 and in 1974 where he won the first best student prize in Technical Drawing in the history of the school. He proceeded to the Federal School of Arts and Science, Victoria Island for his A’levels in 1974 and later to the nation’s premier higher institution, Yaba College of Technology in 1976 where he graduated with a Higher National Diploma Certificate (HND) (Building) in 1981.
He had his one-year National Service Corps at the Federal Housing Authority where he demonstrated remarkable skills as an astute professional. He registered and sat for the Nigerian Institute of Building examination and later qualified as a Chartered Builder (MNIOB).
A distinguished Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Building (FNIOB), the dynamic and zealous Abiodun worked briefly with Edit Construction Ltd in 1977 during his industrial attachment where he was exposed to the practical aspect of building construction at the University of Lagos towers under an Italian builder, Mr. Kanazi.
He also worked with Basic Construction Ltd and later with Rotimi & Sons Ltd, where he supervised the construction of Blocks of Flats at FESTAC Town, Dodan Barracks and Ikorodu Housing Scheme in 1978. He was also involved with the setting out and construction of L.S.D.P.C. low and medium cost housing scheme in 1979 at Isolo/Ejigbo Lagos.
After his Youth Service at FHA in 1992, he set up his own business which he called NUGACON Construction Company. NUGACON was incorporated as a limited liability company in January 1984 and registered with the Federal Ministry of Trade and Industry, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (Category D), Lagos State Ministry of Works and Housing, Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, Nigerians National Petroleum Corporation, Central Bank of Nigeria, National Electrical Power Authority and a lot of other private and government companies and parastatals.
NUGACON has contributed immensely to the development of the building industry in Nigeria by providing training to students from our Universities and Polytechnics of learning at various levels.
The company has engaged in the construction of residential, industrial and institutional buildings. NUGACON was given an award of excellency by the Nigerian Institute of Building in the year 2004.
Otunba Onanuga was a member of the Lagos State Transitional Work Group in 1999. He was also a member of the Ogun State Transitional Work Group in year 2003. He also served as a Board Member of Gateway Pharmaceuticals between 1999 and 2003. He is a member of the Ijebu Development Board on Poverty Reduction.
He is a member of the: (a) Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (b) Nigerian Institute of Management (c) Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (d) Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce and Industry (e) Council Member, Nigerian British Chamber of Commerce and Industry (f) The Black Country Chamber of Commerce and Industry, United Kingdom. He is also a member of Ikoyi Club, 1938, Island Club Onikan, Lagos, Obanta Social Club, Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode Club, Heritage Club and Bobakeye Age Group, 1956-1958.
The history of Bobakeye cannot be complete without his name. As one of the founding members of this age group that was formed in 1995, he was elected unopposed as Giwa in 1996. The group under his leadership has produced the current Governor of Ogun State, His Excellency, Otunba Gbenga Daniel who was also a founding member, a distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, two Local Government Chairmen, two State Commissioners and many Special Advisers/Cousultants, members of National and State Assembly and many top government functionaries and successful businessmen.
He is a family man, lover of mankind, amiable and humane personality. Before now, Otunba Onanuga had been honoured as the Otunba Taiyese of Esure Ijebu, by his Royal Highness, Oba (Dr.) K. Sansi (Ph. D), The Obelu of Esure.
Not too long ago, at his sprawling Ijebu country home, he spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about his successful life and career. Below are excerpts of the interview
A lot of people know you as Giwa Bobakeye Akile Ijebu, this age grade society or club in Ijebu. What is it all about?
It is not a club. It is an age-grade society called Regberegbe. It is traditional and it is peculiar with the Ijebus. When you attain a certain age, children born between 2 to 3 years interval would be graded together and given a name by his Royal Majesty, the Awujale of Ijebuland, they are called the Regberegbes. I belong to the group, the children born between 1956 and 1958 we formed the group in 1995. We were given royal blessing and recognition in 1996.
We started meeting at Ijebu Ode Club. We met for almost 1 year, we had an election and it was like a unanimous decision, a one voice thing, the position was to be consulted for. Gov. Gbenga Daniel was there, Dolapo Balogun was there. Those were the pioneer members. We were about 33. Alatishe, Dr. Oduwole, Pro Gbadamosi. I was picked as a consensus candidate because they feel I am the bridge between the Ijebu group and the Lagos group. I was elected unopposed. That is how it started.
I can see it has grown bigger and bigger what are the advantages?
It has grown because we carry everybody along. That is how I operate. What we do is to try as much as possible to help each other. All out members are professionals made up of Engineers, Doctors, Architects, Surveyor, Builders, Welders, Artisans, Businessman. We have all sorts of people that cut across all professions. For example, I am a builder, if I need to do anything I will look inwards, within, and employ the services of the artisans among us. Other members who are wealthy enough to employ my series do so for their construction. So we compliment each other. It is a sort of self empowerment.
That is how we help ourselves. When Gov. Daniel wanted to come out years ago, we started the Gateway Front Foundation from within the group. I started it as the Chairman here. By the grace of God, he has done well.
Why did you decide to take up a career as a builder?
I grew up with Bayo Onanuga, the former Editor-in-Chief of The News, now MD of NANS. He is my Uncle, even though we belong to the same age grade. He was pro English I was a Science person I was good in Mathematics. One of my Uncles was a Quantity Surveyor. He influenced me. When he came back from England he used to visit sites and I was fond of following him. He made me develop interest in building and construction.
He encouraged me as well. I have another Uncle from my mums side called Namaco. He had a block making industry. He was one of the foremost block manufacturers in town. He too encouraged me. So after my ordinary level exams and I left Federal School of Science I decided to go into Building Construction and the only institution that was offering Building apart from the UK and US was Yaba College of Technology. That was why he went there. After I left Yaba Tech I was posted to Federal Housing Authority in Lagos. It was not by design. It was by fate. There I made up my mind to start with some little, little sub contract. That was how I started to be on my own gradually.
What was your big break?
I can’t really say this is my big break. I can’t really pick a job out. All I remember was my first project was a building I did for a customs guy at Gbagada. It was a twin duplex. That was in 1981 and from them all the big jobs have been coming. It has been gradually.
Despite the fact that you live in Lagos, you spend a lot of time in Ijebu. Why?
I have always been an Ijebu man I was born and bred here. I schooled in Ijebu, apart from when I went to Lagos for my higher education. I did my Primary School in Ijebu Ode at Emmanuel Anglican School. Secondary School was in Ijebu Ode Grammar School and later Federal School of Arts and Science and Yaba College of Tech. In 1975, I came back to Ijebu to teach briefly at one Secondary Commercial School in Ijebu Igbo. So, I have always been an Ijebu person. When I was in school there was no weekend I didn’t come to Ijebu Ode.
Both of my parents are here. I love them so much and I like to see them all the time. I love a lot of things about Ijebu, the serenity, how we interact. They are socialites. I am a full fledged Ijebu boy.
I can see that you are quite close to the Awujale. Is it true you are related?
Kabiyesi, His Majesty, the Alayeluwa the Awujale is a wonderful man. He is a lover of children. I started getting close to him from age 3 or 4. He became the Oba in 1960 and I was 2 years then. I used to spend my weekends at the old palace later on in life I realised that I am related to him. Oba Adetona is my Uncle. Apart from that, Oloori, Ade’s mum is my mum’s first cousin too. Since I have grown to know his majesty, he prefers relating to younger generation than his own peers. I have seen him as a very honest straight forward person even if that will get him into trouble he does not mind. He is upright. He does not know how to lie. Whatever he believes in, he believes in. He has raised the standard, and the bar of Obaship. He is one of the oldest monarchs and has shown good leadership example. We saw that during the Abacha period when he was the only Oba who never took anything from the government. He has brought a lot of development into Ijebuland. Whether you are related to him or not, he takes everybody as his children and friend.
That explains why you have a lot of development especially around Ijebu. I wish him more successful years. The best is yet to come from him. We are still learning from him.
At over 50, what has changed about Otunba Biodun Onanuga?
Nothing. I still look at myself as a small boy. I don’t believe or feel I am over 50. But there is nothing I can do about my age. I don’t feel I am over 50.
Are there things you no longer can do now that you are over 50?
Yes. I can’t run again. I used to be a very good athlete. I ran for Yaba College Tech. My record was so high then that if I wanted to pursue sports I would have been one of those people that will have represented Nigeria. I was good in Athletics 100 metres. I started it in primary school. By the time I was in primary 4 I was already a member of the relay team. But I noticed about 2 years ago that I can no longer run. I noticed that when I was invited to my alma mater as the Chairman of the Interhouse Athletics Competition and I decided to do the old student race. That was when I realised I didn’t have the energy to run again. That was when I realised I was not the old Biodun I was. I noticed that again about a year ago when I went to my children school in Lekki and I took part in the parents race and I challenged some parents. We ran and the thing happened again. Then I knew that age was telling on me.
But I don’t feel it. But I still ride my bike all over town, even in Ijebu. I still socialise. But I must confess age is telling.
Biodun Onanuga is a very stylish person. How did you cultivate that?
I learnt that from my mum. She was a sewing mistress. She was one of the best in Ijebu in her days. She is still alive. Then they were called Sewing Mistress. My mum was a very stylish person. We were like models to our peers. So, I developed it from childhood and the culture has never left me.
You have a thing for shoes and accessories, how come?
It is because I am a son of a fashion designer. These are part of the things I learnt from my mum. My grandfather used to be a man of great style. He was Giwa of his own age grade then, children born between 1900 and 1902.
That was the group of the late Ogbeni Oja. The man was very stylish. I nicknamed him as Babayotomi. That was Bayo Onanuga’s father. He would dress in a big regalia and a long chain and nice shoes to match. So I could say it was partly hereditary.
What fabrics do you go for?
The Ijebu or Yoruba fabrics is good. My grandfather was an Aso Oke merchant. He was the leader of the Alaso Oke. They use to call him Captain Alaso Oke. That is Bayo’s father. I have all the series. I sew all my dresses with native tailors. I don’t sew with fashion designers. I saw it traditionally, the Ijebu way, occasionally, I tie wrapper which is the traditional way for an Otunba to dress. I am the Otunba Anikilaya of Ijebu. That is the ruling house of the present Awujale. His Royal Majesty is the Ogbagba Anikilaya.
It was meant to have been given to my grandfather but he gave it to me.
Tell us about your wife and kids?
I have 2 wives. I have a younger wife who is a Lebanese, way pretty lady. My first wife is a very quiet person. We grew up together. She will be 50 in September by the grace of God. A very beautiful lady she is a 9/11 person. She was born on 9/11 in 1960. She is a Civil Servant. She is stylish too. But she is not loud. She is a socialite but not loud. She does things moderately. We all live together under one roof.