What can you recall of your childhood?
I was born in The Apostolic Church in my hometown, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State. According to my mother, she laboured for five days before I was born. I think I was lucky to have come out alive. My father was Chief Solomon Ojo and he died in 1956. My mother was Chief (Mrs.) Beatrice Ademolawe Ojo and she died at the age of 100 in 1991. I am the fifth of six children (five men and a woman). My childhood was rough because I was born to poor parents. I wasn’t meant to go to school but a man who lived in my uncle’s house told my mother to endeavour to send me to school. My mother told him that there was no money to do that but he encouraged her to get me educated. My father had said that he could only sponsor the education of one child each from his three wives and the first born of my mother had taken our slot. My mother then decided to shoulder the responsibility for my education. For my elementary education, I attended St. Michaels Anglican School, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State. My mother was a disciplinarian and I was very obedient to her. I did all the household chores such as sweeping, cooking and fetching water. My mother taught me to be a responsible person and work hard. She used to make pap and I would sell some of it before going to school every morning. I also used to sell kerosene and matchsticks.
In those days, people couldn’t buy a box of matches; so, I used to sell them in pieces. Because of my parents’ poverty, I was intimidated and taken advantage of by some people, and that motivated me to want to change my family’s fortune. I did very well in school and I never went beyond my limits. In my final year in elementary school, I took the entrance examination to Imade College, Owo, Ondo State and Oyemekun Christ School. I was eventually offered admission to Imade College. During the holidays, I used to do menial jobs, so that I could relieve my mother’s financial burden. Till date, I find it difficult to be idle.
At a time, I took a recruitment exam into the army and passed. I then went to the barracks at Yaba, Lagos, for the interview but I was not eventually picked.
I also attended the School of Agriculture in Akure and from there, I was posted to the campus at Ibadan. I later studied Business Administration at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu.
How did you start your career?
In order to appreciate CFAO for the scholarship I was given to the university, I decided to work with the company. I was there for one-and-half years before I left due to some disagreements. I then went to work with Federal Inland Revenue Service but I was there for less than six months. I have never been a lazy person but when I took government job, I discovered that it was the home of laziness. I always completed my tasks within two hours and I had nothing to do with the rest of my time. I then decided to always visit our registry to know people who weren’t insured because I had learnt about insurance at CFAO. I would then go after them to tell them about life insurance and I was very successful at this. It was while doing this that I made some savings which I used to start my business. However, I joined British Petroleum after working with Inland Revenue. I spent four years at BP and I was their best salesperson during that time.
How did you start Elizade Limited?
Shortly before leaving BP, I went on leave for four weeks, and during that time, I was able to sell 40 cars. That was basically how I started my business. After selling the cars, I calculated what I would earn and to my great surprise, it was more than one year’s salary at BP.
RT Briscoe was the company responsible for selling Toyota cars in Nigeria then and they were the ones that gave me the opportunity to sell for them on commission. At a time, I was asked to pay 600 pounds to be able to sell the company’s motorcycles but I didn’t have the cash. Even though I had made some sales, I wasn’t paid yet because the cars had to be delivered first. I then approached a bank for loan and I was turned down because I had no collateral. I had offered to use my intelligence but they rejected that. I was later able to get the money from a cousin. That was how I became an agent and I was paid two-and-half per cent commission.
However, I still needed money to equip my office and home. I was using a Volkswagen beetle when I started the business and I continued using it for some time until I was able to buy a second-hand Cressida. By being frugal and prudent, I was able to build the company very quickly. I made sure that I didn’t waste money on luxuries.
How did you come about the name, Elizade?
During my last year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I decided that I would go into business and I had to come up with a name. The name was a combination of my wife’s name, Elizabeth and mine, Ade.
What is your take on the National Automotive policy concerning indigenous car manufacturing?
I believe that before success can be achieved, we must be able to produce the parts in reasonable quantities. We must also have stable electricity because running business on generators can be very hard. I told former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007 that if stable electricity could be provided in the country, the GDP would rise by 10-15 per cent. I think the policy is being addressed the wrong way. You don’t put the cart before the horse and expect things to work.
If the infrastructure, such as roads, are developed, the industry would be better for it.
What do you think can be done to have more car manufacturing plants in Nigeria?
There is no businessman that would ignore an opportunity to make money. If basic infrastructure are not in place, that would be a disincentive to investment. I have an assembly plant in Lagos but sustainability is the key. There have been many assembly plants in different parts of the country that failed in the past.
Why did you decide to establish Elizade University?
As far as I’m concerned, education is not business. Anybody who sets up a university to make money has missed the road. I didn’t set up the university to make money; it was for charity and development purposes. Since 1988, I had promised myself that I would build a secondary school in my hometown. However, I put a proviso that the land must be given to me for free. However, the authorities said they could not find land to give me. My intention was to build a school of international standard. As the years rolled by, this desire kept burning in me and I later realised that it was God prompting me. I later went back to the authorities and I told them that I would also build a polytechnic. Still, nothing was done until some young boys, under the aegis of Ilara Youths Association, went to meet the king. I was then given two plots of land but that was inadequate for the project. However, I took the land and found out who owned the adjoining plots. I was then able to buy 100 hectares of land.
I have spent about N25bn on that school yet I have not made a penny in return. But thanks to God, the school is growing and its second convocation was held recently. There are presently five faculties at the university and we are doing well.
However, in the course of looking for the best building materials I could find, I fell into the hands of someone who defrauded me of over $2m. The case is actually in court.
Why do you think corruption has been so hard to overcome in Nigeria?
I don’t think we are serious about fighting corruption. It is something that affects everybody. When you give bribes, you are encouraging corruption and vice versa.
What prompted you to set up a golf course in your hometown?
It was primarily for the development of the area. I built a university in the bush, so to speak; and I wanted something that could make people relax and visit the town. I also love golf and I used to play until I had some back problems.
How would you describe your work ethics?
You will always find me working because I hate to be idle. My mother really instilled the habit of working hard in me. I know the son of who I am and I don’t lie. In all my business dealings, I always strive to be transparent and honest. I do everything with God at the back of my mind. Also, I don’t waste money because I feel it is hard to come by. Whatever your hand finds to do, face it squarely, provided it is a clean business.
There was a particular experience I had early in my business. I had imported some cars into the country and I was asked to pay a very expensive amount to clear them from the port. I was then advised to settle a custom official so I could get the cars out at a cheaper rate. The custom officer asked me to pay N250,000, which was a lot of money back then. After paying the man, I was very troubled as my conscience kept pricking me that I had done the wrong thing. For about a year, I was uneasy about that action. Since then, I have always chosen to do the right thing and because of that, my mind is always free.
What’s your advice for young people?
You can make it irrespective of whatever background you come from. You must differentiate between your capital and your spending. Make sure that you do not spend money that you should invest in your business.
How would you describe your relationship with your father?
I was in secondary school when my dad died and nobody told me. It was when I got home during the holiday that I was told my father had passed on and had been buried. They didn’t tell me because they felt I had no role to play during the burial because I was young. I loved my father because he didn’t usually beat me. He was a very kind and hardworking person. He combined farming with carpentry and hunting. However, I was closer to my mother because I lived with her.
What were your childhood ambitions?
My ambition was to become a doctor. Unfortunately, I was not good at physics.
What were the highlights of your time at UNN?
That was where I met my late wife. My first year in the university was a very beautiful one because they forgot to ask for my school fees. However, I paid for subsequent years. Paying my fees was a difficult task for my mother and one of my lecturers noticed and he tried to help me. I worked at the departmental library and I was paid a stipend. I was later awarded a scholarship by CFAO; so, I didn’t have problem paying fees for my last two years in the university.
Did you have any premonition that you would rise to this level?
I was only told by a priest that I would become a great person but I didn’t believe him because he was fetish.
How exactly did you meet your wife?
I actually met her in the church, during evening devotion. I sat next to her and her friend and we didn’t talk to each other. However, I noticed that when we were singing, both of them were laughing at me. In those days, I was popular in school and my nickname was Ade. Ojo Lumumba because I kept my beards like the first president of Congo, Patrice Lumumba. After the songs, both girls ran out and I wanted to go after them but the theatre people were already around, and I wanted to watch them. Surprisingly, I found them waiting for me outside the hall. They apologized for embarrassing me and they told me that it was actually another man that sat close to us that they were making fun of because he was singing the wrong tune.
What qualities attracted you to her?
In the second year, I couldn’t pay my fees. Meanwhile, my wife was on scholarship; so, she didn’t have a problem in that area. However, she surprised me by giving me all her pocket money, which amounted to 40 pounds. I was really touched by that gesture and I made up my mind that I was going to marry her. I finished one year ahead of her and we got married in Enugu. Our wedding was only attended by 14 people. We lived very happily and we were blessed with two children (a boy and girl).
What is Club 38 about?
It is simply an association of those of us born in 1938 and I am currently the chairman. The purpose is for us to interact and do things together.
What is most significant about your 80th birthday?
That God has been so kind to allow me live up to 80.
How do you relax?
I love to dance and there’s no type of music that i don’t dance to.
I really learnt some success principles from this piece but what am taking home from this inspiring piece is never be idle, work hard and don’t ever spend your capital on luxuries if you are a business man.
Share one thing you have learnt from this inspiring success story.