Prince Babatunde Onafowokan, who turned 95 today, February 29, 2020, is the founding Chief Executive Officer of Ladgroup Nigeria Limited and a major cocoa exporter. He talks to DAUD OLATUNJI about his life journey and the effects of border closure on exporting, among other issues
It is on record that you were born on February 29, 1925 but in those days, keeping records was not common as not many people were literate, how was yours kept?

My father was the treasurer of the old Ijebu province which included Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu and environs.  My father was the treasurer and he was educated. So, there was no problem keeping records of such.

It is interesting you were born on Feb 29, a leap day…

It was by God’s design, not mine. I will say it was by the grace of God, and not my parents’ wish that I was born on February 29.

You went to Abeokuta Grammar School and Baptist Boys’ High School, what memories do you still have of those days?

My father was a polygamist and he decided to send us to Abeokuta Grammar School because he believed in discipline. Rev Israel Ransome-Kuti, the father of Fela Kuti, was the Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School. He was a good disciplinarian. Abeokuta Grammar School was a great school, however, my father was responsible for the payment of school fees for four of us at the same time and the fees were very high. The four of us then decided that we would go to what was called ‘penny school’, which was why we went to Baptist Model School, Abeokuta, because they charged peanuts compared to Abeokuta Grammar School.

Abeokuta Grammar School was a great school then because Rev Ransome-Kuti was interested in music and he was the music conductor, so, we learnt to sing there. Also, Rev Ransome-Kuti was interested in games, so, I learnt to play football when I was at Abeokuta Grammar School. I was playing on the left wing and continued with that. I took away good discipline and fun from Abeokuta Grammar School. I continued to play football even when I was at the University of Ibadan.

Looking back now, how would you describe yourself as a young man?

As a young man, what we now have as crime was not common at that time. At that time, there was discipline and there was order, not banditry, kidnapping, and others that we have now.  In the colonial era, there was orderliness, people obeyed laws. Now, we just do what we like.

When you went to the University College, Ibadan, what made you initially choose to become a surveyor?

When my father was a treasurer at Sagamu and was receiving Federal Government teams, a team of surveyors came to Sagamu to survey. They were staying with us and the impression they created then made me fall in love with the profession. That was when I felt I wanted to be a surveyor.  In those days, to be admitted to University of Ibadan, you had to take an entrance examination that was conducted nationwide.  I took the exam in Abeokuta and passed. I was given a scholarship. So, we had a choice to do whatever we liked and because of the impression I already had about surveyors, I chose to become a surveyor. So, they said we would train for six months and when we started practising after everything, I discovered that it was not what I wanted for me life, to be travelling from place to place. So, since we could choose what we wanted, I changed to mathematics.

Why mathematics?

At secondary school, I was good at mathematics. And when I passed the entrance examination to university, mathematics was one of the subjects that I passed very well.  I took mathematics because I was very good at it.

It is interesting that you taught briefly at Ogbomoso Grammar School, what made you go all the way to Ogbomoso to teach?

The University of Ibadan withdrew my scholarship at some point because I didn’t do so well, so I didn’t have a scholarship to continue my university education. It was Ogbomoso that came to my aid. They had just built a school and needed mathematics teacher. So, they gave me a scholarship and that was how I went there to teach.

At what point did you decide to leave the teaching profession?

I left the teaching profession in 1956 because there was another opportunity for me. I was a Master Grade 1 Officer at King’s College and after Master Grade 1; you would become an education officer.  The scheme at the Federal Civil Service decided that I should stay as Master Grade 1 for another year or they would send me to the United Kingdom to get a diploma in Education. At the time, Shell Oil was advertising. They were not advertising to employ people; they were just telling the country about the fortune they had. I looked at the advert and thought the company required somebody like me. I phoned its managing director and told him my name and qualifications. The MD interviewed me. I was the first person to be engaged by Shell from the University of Ibadan.

You retired at a time considered as early, in 1972, how did you come to that decision?

I was fortunate with Shell because I was the first to be recruited from the University of Ibadan. They were more than generous to me with the way they treated me and I had accelerated promotion throughout my time there. They made me the manager in charge of marketing services because of my degree in mathematics. I was once the manager for the whole of Western Region.  They also sent me to the UK for a year for an intensive training and thereafter, they brought me back to Nigeria to become a sales manager. They were exposing me and training me on what I could do on my own. At that time, there was no indiginisation, so all the positions were occupied by Europeans.

I was 47 years old and there was no indiginisation. By the time I would be retiring at 55, the salary would be reduced. And the eldest of my children then was just entering university and I already had five. So, I thought about it; if they reduced my salary, I would not be able to train my children the way I wanted to. So, I thought I should go for voluntary retirement with pension and since I met the two conditions for these – not being less than 45 years old and to have worked in the company for 15 years – I applied for voluntary retirement and was given pension.  The idea was that if I started on my own at 47, by the time I was 55, I would have built something and money would not be my problem in educating my children. After that, I started looking at the area I should venture into and eventually, I considered farm produce.

When you started your company, Ladgroup, you were a major exporter of cocoa, how did you achieve that?

I chose as my role model all the European companies that were into produce. They were all exporting cocoa, palm kernel, and some others.  I decided to do that and in order to achieve that, I divided the company into zones and appointed people to each zones.  The first transaction I did, I lost because I was ignorant. I brought fresh cocoa and the ware house was full of cocoa. But the more the cocoa stayed in the ware house, the more it continued to deteriorate, so I decided to sell it. But when I brought someone to help me check the cocoa, we discovered that two-thirds of the cocoa were not good. So, I lost money but it was not so much and that taught me a lesson.  I divided the whole cocoa belt to seven zones, appointed people and they started buying. That was how I became the biggest exporter.  I also ensured that the loans I took from banks were being paid back and I had about eight banks supporting me

Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Awesome Work

You May Also Like

Chinese (Simplified)EnglishFrenchGermanItalianKoreanRussianSpanishTurkish