Okoya revealed why he shun politics
The Aare of Lagos and Chairman of the Eleganza Group, Chief Rasaq Okoya is 81 this week. He spoke with Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU on why he has refused to participate in politics and what government can do to improve the economy and boost public welfare
HOW do you feel celebrating 81?
I am very happy. I am in good health. I thank God Almighty. Everything is going on fine with me, my family and my business.
Not all the members of your generation are that lucky. But, you are 81 now. What are the secrets of long life?
Hard work is good. You wake up every morning and you have something to do. You are not idle; you move about. That in itself is an exercise. It helps your health. You are energised. You stay on one spot in a week or two and you are sick because you don’t move. But, when you move through your factory, working, inspecting, supervising; it is a good exercise for you.
You are an industrialist. Why are firms and industries collapsing in Nigeria?
Power is one of the most important things. The solution lies in power; electricity. I saw the policy. It has been a little bit amended. Power should be stable.
Is power the only factor?
It is the most important factor. It is the major factor. It is a major factor. I have 35 hectares of factory land. The operations depend on power. If there is power, you can generate over 2,000 employments. With stable power, you have 10 times of that. With power, we can do more. The challenge of power has to be tackled. The level of power now is not encouraging. It should be improved. It is a major challenge. Everyone cannot afford to have his own plant. No. The small and large scale industries need power. The generator you buy, within a year, will wear out. So, we need power.
We also observe that professional artisans are reducing. Why are professional carpenters, welders and bricklayers in short supply?
That is the issue. We didn’t train them. If you have a small scale industry, like 30 by 40, about 1,000 units, yearly in all the states, and you provide accommodation for them nearby, two-bedroom, one-bedroom, and for security reasons, you can have a mini-barrack nearby; you have training schools which focuses on the major materials we need, furniture, pharmaceuticals. You train these people. You contact important countries that have all these machine tools, China, India that have these small machine tools. You give to these people as a loan, at a small price. They will be paying gradually with low interest. Believe me, all these things can be realised.
As an industrialist, you advertise. You can get good wood maker. You are a builder. You cannot get good bricklayer and carpenters. And we have wood. We have everything. They are not trained. We have to depend on neighbouring countries. We need them, but they are not trained. A small school will train them. We give them machines for work. After their first degree, they can be trained. Believe me, you will get what you want.
Many of the youths are not in the right direction. So, it is time now to bring them to what the country really needs. And then plan to finance them. It is not expensive. It does not involve big money. These machines are very small. You loan it to them. They pay back within two or three years. And then become somebody that is important. They can expand big on their own.
In the light of these, are you calling for the establishment of more vocational and technical colleges in the country?
Well, we need more. If you build all these industries, you can come back to them with your first degree? Why? You are an accountant. You are a lawyer. What is the use of your degree, unless you have your law firm. But, these artisans are going to employ most of these graduates; accountants, and lawyers. They will employ them. So, we need these artisans to grow the economy. Therefore, our technical schools and colleges are not enough.
Generally, how can government tackle unemployment?
First, let light be stable. Second, get all these small scale industries; 30 by 40 ready across the states. Provide accommodation for their workers. For security reasons, get a mini barrack nearby. Get the needed country; China. They bring their machines. You loan them. It is not expensive. They will start gradually. One person you train will employ many others. If they exist across the states, the rush to cities will not be there. An idle hand is a devil’s workshop.
If the youths also embrace agriculture, would it not solve the problem of unemployment?
Agriculture is good. But agriculture is not sufficient. Let some people be in agriculture. Let other people be in mini-industries. If you have agriculture progressively the way we have it and we have these mini-industries, of course, our problems will be solved.
What has been the impact of Covid-19, generally, on business and the economy?
It is bringing business down. It has been like that in the last one year. The worst was last year. It was a phase. It has passed now. It has not been the same. We pray this year will be better.
How have you been coping as an industrialist in this Covid-19 period?
We cope. We have a very strong factory and we are determined. We always manage to get ourselves out of challenges. We triumph.
During the period too, there were #EndSARS protests. How can the government prevent a reoccurrence?
I have analysed the solution. Keep them busy. Let them have something doing. Give them hope. The hope is that every state should have this unit of factory. They won’t migrate to Lagos and Abuja. Most of them will like to be in their states, where they are well equipped.
At 81, do you have a succession plan for your group of companies as an industrialist?
I have my family. My wife today as I am telling you, the factory is her life. She goes to the factory six days a week, day and night. The factory is all her life. The children are following her footsteps.
When you were a young man, having got economic power, why did you not enter politics to get political power?
I was always busy with my father in the shop as a tailor. That would not allow me. We were busy. We sewed clothes during Ramadan fasting. From the first six days of Ramadan fasting to the end of Ramadan; we were busy sewing. There was no way.
When you now got independence from your father and you became your own man, a captain of industry and an influential person in the society, why did you not join a political party to acquire political power?
I am not a politician. I don’t know how to do it. What I know to do best is how to produce, how to run an industry. If you are producing, you will not think about any other thing. You will be comfortable there and you will be happy. You family, your children will join you. You will not think about any other thing.
What are those things government can do to serve as incentives to investors and industrialists?
Yes, it is good to have investors. But, our youths will benefit, if you do these small, cottage industries. They will cover a number of products which the foreign investors are coming to do for us. So, we should be less dependent on these foreign investors. Our youths will cover a lot of grounds for us. We should train them. With that, we will depend less on these foreign investors. We have petroleum. We have petro-chemicals. We have the materials. It is a necessity. But, we should build ourselves and depend less on them.
The cottage industry is the only solution. I grew up under my father, a tailor. It was a cottage industry. That is why I sewed, moulded blocks myself. So, the cottage industry is the answer. Let’s create 1,000 units in each state yearly. People will not migrate into Lagos and all these urban centres. That is our problem. It will reduce traffic. It will save many things.
Is the import duty not affecting the price of importation of raw materials for your company?
Most of my raw materials are local materials, petrol-chemicals from Eleme and so on. But, the tariff has to be looked at seriously. Where party of the item, the raw material, is more expensive than the finished product, is worrisome. We shouldn’t encourage high tariffs. You find the material attracting more duties that the finished products. They have to look into this seriously.
In what way have you been ploughing back to society, in terms of philanthropy?
I am doing my best. I am giving what I can. I do my best.
Lagos was destroyed during the #EndSARS protests. What is your advice to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu as he moves to rebuild the state?
Everyone will contribute what he can afford. I am an industrialist. I don’t have billions. Rebuilding is not an easy task. We are contributing our quota in our own little way, to give what we can.
What are other things you want the Federal Government to do, generally, for industrialists?
Once that the cottage industries are in place, most industrialists will be happy. We look at other things; how to register business easily, how to get permits. You don’t make things difficult. You look at problems arising from these local industries and you resolve them immediately. You must give them a priority. They will pay back their loans. They will employ more people. Our problems will be solved. There will be no insecurity and armed robbery. If you have a good job, you will not think of becoming an armed robber.
Now, on your way to 90, what are the targets you have set for yourself?
I pray for long life. I am still taking care of my family and factory. I am taking care of my children, building them right. I am exercising. I am happy.