‘How I survived after losing my father at age nine’
Prince Toyese Oyinlola is a Lagos-based businessman. He is also the half -brother a former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola. The businessman, who turns 70 today (March 21), recently had an interview session with some journalists where he spoke about his life, his ups and downs and how he made it big in the business world. ISAAC TAIWO was there.
How do you feel clocking 70?
This is something that is awesome. I feel really good and I return all the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. Turning 70 is not an easy thing. My mother had eight children for my father, but I am the only one who lived; others died at infancy. Indeed, I learnt that all the other wives had to rally round my mother for me to stay (live) too. Whenever they heard me cry, they all ran helter-skelter. That is why till today, I recognize all the mothers in the house at that time as my mother. One has gone through so many challenges, so many ups and downs but God has been so faithful to keep one to this moment with lots of blessings – in good health, being able to sleep and eat, providing one with all one needs to grow in one’s life. I feel grateful with all gratitude to the Almighty God.
You were nine years old when you lost your father, what was the experience like and what do you miss about him?
That was a turning point in our journey of life. I can remember myself and my egbon, His Excellency (Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola) roaming about, enjoying ourselves as kids and we did everything together. Little did we know that baba would leave us so soon. Baba left in 1960 when we were in primary school, and the real journey of life started. I had a rough journey. People from my mother’s side in Kwara State came and took me over to Kwara State where I continued my primary education. In that moment, so many things happened. I went to Government Secondary School in Kwara State.
How did you become a businessman?
My mother’s family are predominantly Muslims. They were all Muslims in the village and for me, somebody who came from the Christian side to survive there was a nightmare but I was lucky to adapt to the situation. They were all into business and trading. Education was not in their priority at all but they understood very well things about people going into business and becoming rich. By the time I was in Form 3, I was already the managing director of their company. After class, I had to be at the office straight away. So, there was no chance for me to ask them for more than secondary school education because what they believed in was trading, how to be rich. They trained me on how to be a businessman, and they were very rich. I had to get some people to appeal to them to let me finish secondary school education. The only extra education I had was done there in their shop and in my office where I had to apply to the Resource College in England for correspondence lessons. At that time, we paid school fees through Standard Bank. I did salesmanship course and business management course and you know you cannot get anything more than a Diploma. You see, when you trade with them (my guardians) for a long time, they allowed you to start on your own using the knowledge you have garnered. I then moved on and I started trading on my own. After some years, I started what I will call real business as an importer. I started as an importer bringing in Iron-mould keys. It is used in doors, furniture, glass. From that moment, I started making my gains and everything started falling in place. That is how I became a businessman.
It appeared you became very successful at a very young age…
I was very young when I started. I issued my very first one million naira cheque in 1975. I was not even married yet; I was 24 years old then.
You said you and the former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola were very close right from childhood. Why was that? Your father had 64 children, why him, in particular, and why are you so close?
We had this pairing in the family and they paired us together. Our older siblings were older than us by about two to two and a half years. He (former governor) came in February, I came in March, 1951; so the two of us were naturally paired together. We are also older than those who came after us by about two years. We had nobody in between us. And during this period, our father did make the same type of dress for us, like twins. I remember he made one Ankara for us which had printed on it the inscription Olowotabua. Olowotabua means a very rich man, someone with lots of money. The wife of one of our senior brothers would from that moment not call us by our names again. She started calling us Olowotabua. The woman is still alive. The name stuck on us and has proved prophetic to the glory of God. The woman to this day is also called Iya Olowotabua (mother of rich men).
Your own mother is still alive?
Yes. Mama is still alive and she is about 100 years old. Sometimes you look at her and see someone that you won’t want to let go forever. What can one do?
Is it not surprising that you lived with her family in Ilorin but you did not become a Muslim?
I had my primary education at Ilumejo Community High School, Koko, Ilorin. We happened to be the first set in the school. I met the session underway but they put me with the first set. The same thing happened to me during my secondary education when late Gen. (David) Bamigboye was the military governor in Kwara. We were the first set and didn’t have any seniors in school then. At the beginning, when we (myself and my mother) got to Koko, after the demise of my father, my mother maintained the Christian religion. But there was no church in the community.
So, we did everything in the house, praying, doing service. On Sunday, my mother would lead the service preaching to me. My mother’s baptism name is Ruth. She was converted to Christianity by marriage. We kept ourselves like that. So, her brothers who were Muslims told her that if anything happened to her like that, she would not go to al-Jannah (paradise) because there was no church and she was not going to the mosque to pray. She later agreed and was converted back to Islam. They sent her to Hajj. During this time, one of our senior brothers came to Koko to look for her and he eventually took her away and left me behind there in Koko. While I was still in primary school, I had to join them in going to the mosque and I went for Quranic lessons. I can still read some verses of the Quran; I can pray in Arabic. I understand it a little bit but not too well. Later on, I had to turn back when I became independent on my own after finishing school. But before then, one day, I was at the Quranic school and one of my late brothers – Olapade (we call him Onikoko) – came from Lagos to look for me. You see, I had this Arabic teacher who did not like me because he knew I was a Christian and I was the most brilliant among his pupils. He didn’t like the idea that I, a Christian, was teaching those who were born Muslims the Quran. So, he always beat me like a dog. All the time, he was always beating me. So, this particular day when my brother came, my uncle told him to go and look for me at the Quranic school. When he got there, he met the teacher beating me mercilessly as usual. My brother bust into tears and took me back to the shop. My uncle asked him why he was weeping. He told him that he met me, omo onile, olona (a child of noble birth) being beaten by the Arabic teacher like a slave. That was the last day that I went for Quranic lessons.
Why do people call you Toyestic?
Toyestic is the name of the first company I registered. Chief Wole Olanipekun registered it for me when we were all operating in Ilorin in the 1970s. Chief Gboyega Awowolo later registered Makadam and some others for me. The two legal luminaries really helped to make me grow in business with their wise counsel. I thank them.
What was your immediate reaction when you learnt that your brother, Prince Olagunsoye had joined the Army?
I was scared.
He was the closest person to me in the family and you wouldn’t want to lose anybody like that.
You are very close…
Yes. When we got married, we married ladies that knew each other; they were like friends. He did his own church marriage on July 1, 1978, and I did mine the following weekend, both in Lagos. We later did the traditional marriage on the same day and it was reported as a marriage of twins.
Tell us about your businesses. What are you into now?
Our business lines cut across so many sectors of the economy. The group as a whole has so many companies. PANAT Nigeria Ltd which is the logistics and freighting company started with clearing and forwarding, shipping, inland freighting, sea freighting, air freighting and up till today, we are still one of the agents with the NNPC. Our operations are beyond Nigeria. For instance, when apartheid collapsed and South Africa wanted to start trading with other countries, the first thing we did was to organise a trade fair here in Nigeria and we partnered with the Nigerian-South African Chamber of Commerce to which I happen to be a member. With this, we agreed that some of the products which South Africa brought to the exhibition be warehoused by us and eventually through that kind of an arrangement, Macadams Baking System was given birth to. The manufacturers decided that PANAT should be their Nigerian representative and since that time, and for several years now, Macadams has been the main manufacturer of baking and confectionery equipment in Nigeria. We are known all over the country even in other countries like Ghana, South Africa etc. And that’s how we started out. And from there, we started Intertec Engineering Services. And then we started Safety Centre International where we train people on safety-related matters on oil rigs and oil platforms, aviation and everything that has to do with safety. From there, our trading aspect came up. We later had new companies joining the group. There is the motor company, the property company, the Bureau de Change, and CHP (Charterhouse Pharmaceutics Ltd) – the pharmaceutical company – which is a manufacturing company.
You are also into farming…
That one is less than a year old. We are farming on about 100 acres of land for now. We started with grains but we want to do animal husbandry and we also want to do cropping.
The happiest day of your life and what day would you not want to remember?
There are so many moments that one will not want to remember. So many ups and downs. But I can say the very first day I issued one million naira cheque was a memorable day in my life. At a very young age that time, my house was almost ready. I was happy. I can’t really describe the happiest moment because there were a lot of them. The same thing with the sad moments but the happy moments override all the sad moments and I thank God for that.
What advice will you give the young ones who may want to go into business like you?
They should work hard, be prayerful and be consistent. One thing with our people is that they don’t want to sow before they reap and that is a problem that we have. When they start a business and are not making so much money, they want to stop. I’ll say: be consistent because you will go through ups and downs.
Do not let failure or difficulties discourage or scare you. Life is about challenges, only the courageous and the consistent and who has God on his or her side will be successful in business and in life. The business you started with may not even be the one to take you into the limelight. So, no matter what, never stop until you hit gold. Consistency is key to success.
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