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‘With availability of basic needs, many Nigerians will shun crime’

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Oke

Adeyemi Oke, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, recently distributed over 600 bags of rice to the less-privileged in some parts of Lagos State and paid hospital bills of many as part of what has now become a yearly routine when he marks his birthday. He had also donated about N10 million worth of rice during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. He gives insight into what led him to start lending a helping hand to the needy, into job creation as well as how he is sustaining business despite challenges. He spoke with OLAWUNMI OJO

You recently spent millions of Naira on payment of hospital bills and on food for the less privileged. This is in addition to giving out palliatives to the needy around your communities during the COVID-19 lockdown. Why all these?
I AM very sensitive to what is happening around me. I know that things are hard and a lot of people are finding living difficult. So, if one is blessed, you have to be a blessing to others. Some Non-Governmental Organisations engage in these sorts of activities, but I do not think it should be left for them alone. I also do a lot of interventions in the health sector. I visit hospitals to settle the medical bills of people who are unable to pay their bills and those who are delayed in hospitals on the account of inability to pay for surgeries.

The realities of life are what challenged me into giving and offering helping hands. Today, a few people have moved out of their sorry state because they got a helping hand. For instance, I know that when people have food to eat, they would hardly be pushed to commit a crime. That was what informed our distribution of palliatives during the last Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. The people within our locality like Ikotun, Liasu Road, Council, Ijegun, Igando benefitted from over N10 million worth of rice and Indomie Noodles that were distributed. Also during my birthday, I gave out over 600 bags of rice to the less privileged in my zone and to my church members. This has become a yearly event; I derive satisfaction and pleasure in doing this to celebrate my birthday than throwing lavish parties.

You are a paint manufacturer. What made you venture into the paint industry?
In 1997, I joined a paint company and worked with that company for about six years. Afterward, I joined a new paint company and was made the production manager. In 2006, I left to join Prestige Paints. It was at Prestige Paints that I started to nurse the idea of working for myself. This followed several compliments from people regarding my dedication to work in all the paint companies I had worked. So, I registered my business outfit in December 2008 and immediately secured a place in Egbe in Ikotun area of Lagos to commence paint production.
Did you study anything related to Paint in school? 

No, but I was lucky to be exposed to the practical aspect of the business very early in my career. Today, there is no aspect of paint making that I do not know. Very early, I observed that quality is a priority in the paint business and that has guided me since I started business in 2009.

So, what have you done differently to stay afloat in spite of the challenges in business?
I started out as a production man, which is more or less the engine room of the industry. You know, a good product will always market itself. Production is the key to the survival of any painting business and I have been privileged to know vital production secrets over time. I know what to combine to achieve good results, which invariably gives me an edge over others.

In setting up your firm, you left certainty for uncertainty. What emboldened you for the risk?
Though I knew the road could be rough, my spirit was re-kindled by the popular saying that there is time for everything. My wife also knew my capabilities to take tough decisions and brace the odds to succeed long before we got married. She knew I had always been an engine room for the companies where I had worked. So, when I told her I wanted to be on my own, she offered suggestions on what I should do.

From your experience in some of the places you worked, how do you treat your staff?
We have three categories of staff namely: senior, junior and casual staff and I do tell them that honesty is key in everything they do and that they must be hardworking if they want to succeed in life. From my experience, I can say that honesty and hard work led me to where I am today. I was called a foreman in one of the paint companies. To earn that title in a company, you know what it means – a Jack of all trade. In yet another firm, it was generally believed that I owned it because of the way I carried on and shouldered the business when I got there.   

What are some of the challenges facing the paint industry?
Some of the challenges are occasioned by the current downturn in the economy especially as it relates to sourcing raw materials, whose prices are unstable. Yet, we cannot increase the prices of our products every now and then in line with the unstable prices of raw materials.

How can the government assist the industry to grow?
Government can help us through the provision of infrastructure. For instance, good roads will reduce the damages to our dispatch vehicles because they cost a lot to maintain these vehicles. Electricity is another major area where we need the government’s urgent intervention. This is because running our factories on diesel is at a very prohibitive cost, which increases production and running costs.

The issue of multiple taxations and regulation conflicts from government agencies is also disturbing. We want the government to put all these levies together such that once you make a payment, you can avoid the issue of dealing with many agencies that tend to duplicate these activities. I have lost count of the different regulations the three levels of government, from the local council to the state and the federal, enforce on our operations.

Is the border closure in any way affecting operations in the industry?
The closure of the borders has negative effects on the paint industry because our customers around Kano and Kaduna in the northern part of the country normally do cross border trade. It is the same with our Seme border customers in Lagos and in Ilara in Ogun State who sells our products in the neighboring countries. Whenever we send our products to these neighbouring countries, men of the Nigeria Customs usually give us immense headaches. A journey of one day takes two days to undertake. You know what that means in terms of costs and resources.


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