FACE-TO-FACE WITH ADEBAYO MURITALA AKANDE

Filed in Business by on March 27, 2011

FACE-TO-FACE WITH ADEBAYO MURITALA AKANDE
Splashing the news against a society’s warts, rust and rots
By Yinka Fabowale, Ibadan
Sunday, March 27, 2011

Adebayo Muritala Akande

Although one of Nigeria ’s eminent commercial legal practitioners and entrepreneurs, Chief Adebayo Muritala Akande was never loud about his influence and worth.

But the Ibadan- born industrialist, whose investment spans the entire gamut of the communications industry–telephony, satellite cable television and radio broadcasting, can be rather passionate about affairs and interests relating to his native city, where he holds the chieftaincy title of the Agbaakin Olubadan of Ibadanland and is an active member of the highly influential Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), the umbrella body for the town associations and elite clubs.

This, perhaps, is why after many years in Lagos, where he had his practice and sat on the boards of many companies, he returned to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to establish West Midland Communications, an outfit promoting a satellite cable television service and the first private radio station in the state, Splash FM 105.5, which has been making waves in the metropolis and its environs since it began transmission about four years ago.

The radio station has become extremely popular with the Oyo State audience with its creative and entertaining programming, but more so because of its scathing criticisms of governments and politicians in the state as well as its crusade against corruption in public life, for which it was branded “Integrity Station” by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.

Although not into partisan politics, Akande has been accused of using the medium to propagate sectional agenda especially as it regards the ‘war’ between the state governor, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, and the Ibadan establishment.
At a time, the broadcasting studio formerly located on Mokola Hills was attacked and almost razed by thugs, believed to have been sponsored by Alao-Akala’s late godfather and maverick politician, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, over its controversial broadcasts and perceived hostilities against the regime.
In this encounter, Akande speaks on the controversies, his motive in founding the station, the agitation for Ibadan State, his early life as a local Ibadan boy and his experience on return from England where he studied law.

He also went down memory lane to reveal how he built his business empire as one of the lucky crop of Nigerian professionals who benefited from the contentious Indigenization Decree of then General Olusegun Obasanjo Military Regime, which transferred ownership of foreign-owned firms from expatriates to Nigerians.
Here are excerpts from the interview:

Who is Chief Adebayo Akande?
Chief Adebayo Akande is a local Ibadan boy, born in Ibadan. I started primary school in 1947; we called it Native Authority School, Olubadan School. It’s a government owned school, I was there till 1953. By 1954, I gained admission into Ibadan Grammar School and by 1958; I left Ibadan Grammar School after gaining admission and passing Cambridge. Funny enough, I didn’t get my result before I left for England because immediately I finished in Ibadan Grammar School, I went straight to England.

The exam was conducted by Cambridge University. But when I got to England, I wrote to Cambridge University to say I had done my exams at this centre- Ibadan Grammar School and before the usual result was out in Nigeria, they had sent me my result in England and that was the beginning. So, within that period, it was a non-stop reading for me. I went to North Western Polytechnic to do my A’ Levels which is now the Polytechnic of North London. By the following year, I joined the Lincoln Inn to become a barrister. This gave me permission to enter the School of Legal Studies in London. I got to London at the age 20 going 21, and by 23, I had qualified as a barrister.

Why did you choose to go to England?

Those are the only universities offering Law. We have one university here, University College, Ibadan, but it did not offer Law. Majority of us who studied Law had to go to England.

It would be right to say that you were born with silver spoon then, if you could afford education in England?
I thank God and my parents. My father, Chief Agboola Sanusi Akande, was among the first members who represented Ibadan, the South West Constituency, his constituency, in the days of Action Group. So, I had an enlightened father; he was a member of the Western Regional House of Assembly. He contested election in 1952 and failed. By 1954 when the House was expanded, he contested election and won. He became the official candidate against Adelabu in 1956 election in which all the members of the Action Group failed, including Adisa Akinloye, Lanleyin Group. So, I thank God.

What was the experience in England?
I was a young man, it was later I came home. In fact, we were one of the foundation students who started the Law School. We were like 150 that year, September 1963. Bola Ajibola was enrolled in January 1964 as Barrister/Solicitor of the Supreme Court and by the time I came back to Ibadan to start my practice which I started in the chamber of Chief Akinloye, I met all those big people in practice in Ibadan-the late Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN), Lekan Ademola, as Chief Justice of Western Region, all the icons you can imagine then. After Justice Ademola, there was this man from Ghana, I have forgotten his name. That was before Morgan and the others came. In Ibadan, were the people you could describe as icons of the bar, Justice Craig, Akinloye, Omotosho, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) and Lekan Ademola.

Even the revered Justice Kayode Esho was then in the Ministry of Justice, Lekan Ademola was then the Attorney General. I was young, but I met all these big men. They must have influenced me because it depends on people you move with that mould your character and they usually have an influence compared to these days where all the boys around are running after cocaine.

You described yourself as a local Ibadan boy, how was growing up like?

Growing up in Ibadan, as I have said, meant non-stop reading for me. The two schools I attended, the primary school was just like a government-owned school. Attending Ibadan Grammar School was a privilege in those days because it was one of the first Christian schools we had and the Christians dominated virtually all the schools. I could remember my mama bought me a brand new bicycle, which I rode to school.

Who were your contemporaries?

There were a lot of them. Justice Bayo Sanda, now retired; the Ogunsolas; one Olarohunmu from Ilorin. We gathered together when we did the 50th anniversary the school the other time. There is also Kunle Oni, that insurance broker, the son of that great contractor Kunle Oni and Sons; we were all in the Grammar School together.

And arriving Nigeria…?
There were lots of jobs around me, but I must say that my father, being member of the old Western Assembly, was very close to Chief Akinloye and when I came back in 1963, Akinloye insisted that I must practice in his chamber. So, I went. Olajide was there, he rose to become Chief Justice of Oyo State. Justice Oduwole of Ijebu-Ode was there as the Head of Chamber and I started my practice with him. We, Ibadan lawyers, then were not up to 50 when I came-the Agbajes, the late Sesan, Dr. Adisa, the Akinloyes, Fakayode. You can count them. Akinjide came around 1956.

There were very few Ibadan who were there, because they say Ibadan would prefer to go and dance at Oja-Oba rather than go to school in those days. You know Ibadan didn’t wake up quickly in terms of education. People attribute it to politics. They say that while majority of Ijebus were getting scholarships during Awolowo era, Ibadan, being in the opposition, majority of them didn’t get scholarships. And by the time we were being given scholarships, people like Oloye Alarape were given scholarships to read printing and things like that, until 1956 when majority of us became conscious and that’s why they started going to U.I.

Why your decision to study Law?
By the time Action Group came into power under the leadership of Awolowo, we were all being motivated in 1956. You know we had the independence for Western Region and we were all being encouraged that who would take over from the Oyinbos, the administrators in the secretariat.

Meanwhile, majority of us were just coming out of school and were looking forward to life more abundant, because that was the slogan of Action Group and we believed in those days that the only way to rise quickly in politics was to do law because we saw how Awolowo was treating lawyers. And we all believed that we must be well equipped and become lawyers, so we could do politics. And again how many Ibadan lawyers did we have? They were very few.

Can you give us you experience under Chief Adisa Akinloye?

When I came in 1963 as a young lawyer, that was when the crisis in Action Group started in those days. It started around 1962 and virtually all the lawyers were in politics. It’s like you were either for or against. That was the situation then and majority of cases we had in Western Region were mostly land matters because the economy wasn’t big enough, and you had few banks. That was the situation until 1965 after which I came out and started my own firm-Adebayo Akande and Co.

When the political situation became terrible, the ‘Weti e’ came in and we either belonged to Awolowo or Akintola group. I was in Akintola’s group when the crisis started. All the Ibadan politicians followed Akintola. If Ibadan had failed to back Akintola in those days, he would not have lasted six months because the Ijebu Division, Ekiti Division. Ijesha Division had followed Awolowo. It was only Ibadan and parts of present Osun State that were left. It was only Ibadan that sustained the NNDP government until the coup came in 1966, and it caught all of us unaware, because in my own school days, you would never have thought of joining the army or police. That was the situation.

So, can you give us an insight into you foray into the private sector?

When the military came, I decided to move out of Ibadan to Lagos, because it was a more thriving commercial centre than Ibadan. Between 1969 and1970 when I moved to Lagos, there was an opportunity in which most of us, lawyers and accountants, were mostly beneficiaries, that was the first Indigenisation Decree. It was a brilliant one by Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was then the Minister of Finance. He later suffered blames for it because other regions believed it was calculated for his Yoruba kinsmen to benefit, because the war was on.

The Igbos were there, the northerners were more interested in getting more of the government positions, But the Indigenisation Decree opened the gate for most Nigerians, especially we, Yoruba, to get involved in private sector and take over most of these industries being left by the expatriates. I enjoy describing myself as an industrialist rather than being called a lawyer. By the time some of my other colleagues, who thought going to courts was the only thing that makes you a real lawyer realised it (laughs), we had gone far. That’s why majority of them are without any contracts. The Indigenisation Decree opened the gate for most us. Of course, it was amended again and again, but that was the beginning.

How were you able to cash in on the opportunity?

They (industries) were either your client, all those big companies needed to have lawyers and accountants. As it were, a Yoruba man would either be a lawyer of a company or the accountant and by the time the company was preparing to indigenise, they were the first people to know what to do, and that was why by statistics I was told, 70 to 72 per cent of the companies went to Yorubas.

Do you agree Awolowo did it deliberately to favour Yoruba when the war was on?

In my opinion, it wasn’t true. The country must move forward, we never knew when the war would finish. Chief Awolowo was the Minister of Finance and the deputy to Gowon. What did you expect? If not for Awolowo, the war would have extended far more, far longer than it did. It wasn’t true anyway.

Talking about the percentage of ownership of private sector now, would you say the Yoruba are still dominant?
As it is, the Yorubas are still far more there, but the whole country has changed now. The days of quick money are over. You know Igbos were known to be mercantilist. Ojukwu, the other time, was on the pages of newspapers, crying that the younger Igbos were not going to school, they prefer to start trading in Alaba Market. The northerners have changed too; some believe it is their right to be in the government- owned companies as directors and you see the result. I think that it is true, to an extent, that the Yorubas are more in business than the other sectors.

Shortcomings of the indigenisation policy?
Later on, immediately the indigenisation law was passed, there were mistakes made. If to say in 1970/1972, we had meticulously pursued that decree, I believe Nigeria would have developed more by now. But three or four years after, around 1975 or 1976, the government changed the policy again. It was the inconsistency that has ruined the industry. The federal government had never been consistent about the industrial policy. Let me tell you, the company I took over was a tyre rethreading company.

What’s the name?
It was called Ikeja Rethreading Nigeria Limited. I took over the company and I borrowed heavily from the bank-about N100, 000 then. I went in with Dunlop Industry because I had to buy my Camel Pack, you know how tyres are rethreaded? You buy Camel Pack from Dunlop Industry; the only person in those days who had another rethreading company was the late Adeola Odutola at Oke-Ado since 1964. I believe the industry is still there. That was it. Imagine, I took over N100, 000 from the bank in 1970 /1971. Three or four years later, the government protected the local industry and banned all these tyres coming into the country. And you know the big tyres for buses had to be rethreaded to be more economical for transport companies.

These were so many, we had Trans Arab Company, it was taken over by Shonuga and lot of them. No sooner after three years, the ban was lifted and big licensees like Dunlop that had been trying to produce locally resorted back to importing. I could remember the Marketing Director of Dunlop called me and said “Bayo, let me see you by lunch” and I went to meet him at Ikeja Orientation Club then and he told me: “I’ve just got an import licence for importing tyres that could fill three jumbo jets every week. Look, you can’t make it, because no buyer will buy your rethreaded tyres again.” And I said: “Ha! What can I do?

What offer do you suggest?”
Meanwhile, the solicitors to the bank had started troubling me with threats of starting proceedings or winding up the business or something like that. The guy then told me, if I were you, I’d throw all your machines out and leave your warehouse to me because all the warehouses were full and he was desperate getting a warehouse nearby. He said he would only pay N2 per square feet.

That was big money. I had more than 20,000 square feet of warehouse and he promised to pay me for three years. What do you want me to do? I threw all the machines out and walked confidently to my solicitor. But it was sad. That was a result of the inconsistency of government, result of policy summersault. A lot of other sectors were affected. People manufacturing shoes, lots of companies were just coming up, then…. the bust up!

That was the beginning of penetration of Nigerians into the sector, because all those companies owned by whites were selling their property. Because another law came in, to say a foreign-owned company could not own a land for more than 25 years, most of those companies were selling all their property to Nigerians who were living in them. That was how big Nigerians, working in all these companies, living in Ikoyi, bought the houses over.

How about your other investments?
From then on, I diverted most of my interests into business and later on, Babangida came in, with deregulation. He was the first person to start deregulation. When he started, he didn’t back it up with law. He started with communications. By 1992, he started giving licences to private television stations. I took advantage of that and started a satellite cable television company. I call it West Midland Communications. I brought my own to Ibadan on top of Premier Hotel. If you go there, I have my communications equipment and mast on it. Babangida started with telephony, I came into it, became the first person to get a telephony licence. Later on, I upgraded my Cable Satellite Television to include a radio. That’s how Splash FM was established.

I was going to ask what inspired the establishment of Splash FM…
As I said, I moved into Lagos and I got the licence for cable satellite television as far back as 1991 or 1992 when Babangida deregulated the communications industry. A lot of people were skeptical. They didn’t believe an individual could succeed by having a telephone network. But all that is now history. Even NITEL is now late, while other private networks are booming. Later on, I wrote to NBC (National Broadcasting Corporation) that I intended to upgrade my television to include a radio station. It is the same company that was operating the television licence, and I wrote to Mr. President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and he approved it.

Why your interest in radio?
It’s in communications as a whole, not only radio.

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