Chief Adebayo Jimoh, former GMD and CEO, Odua Investment Limited is the Secretary, Osun COVID-19 Food and Relief Committee, a group of eminent Osun sons and daughters constituted by Governor Adegboyega Oyetola to cushion the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the citizens of the State. In this interview with Femi Olanipekun of Rave FM, he answers questions on the activities of the Committee and his experience while in the saddle at Odua Investment Limited. Excerpts:
It’s been a couple of weeks after the inauguration of your committee and you just started distributing palliatives on Tuesday. Why did it take this long?
First, I would like to, on behalf of the chairman of the committee, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, greet all residents of our State. Why did it take this long? It is because we believe in planning and also believe in articulating what we need to do. If you look at the members of the committee, they are very experienced people in varying areas such as business, intellectual capabilities and professions. We were also working with a committee set-up by the government called the Interface Committee. It also took us some time to raise money because we had to reach out, apart from personal donations from members. I want to tell you that a lot of persons and institution that have interest in the State of Osun have supported us with donations both in cash and kind.
We also looked at what our people would want and who we are targeting. We had to look at a data and got working with the Interface committee of government, using a social register that has been attested and proven to be at least reliable, auditable and traceable, for us to identify people who are truly vulnerable and have need for succor. We also had to find out what the people need through a survey. You know, essentially, we have only been talking about rice, but it will interest you to know that when a subcommittee of our committee headed by Prince Tunde Ponle did a survey, he came out to say the people are expecting garri, ewa, elubo, noodles, among others. You see, we are professionals that do research before we set out to do things, so that we could give to a person what will satisfy his needs and what he will appreciate. We then asked ourselves how would mobilise these things and our committee agreed that everything we need should be sourced from the State of Osun, so that we can spend the money that we get within our people. So, we put together garri processors, identify food processors and people who do businesses within the State. This is so that the resources we get revolves and improves the gross domestic product of the State. All these required planning and articulation. But the good news is, when we started the distribution, it was beyond the expectation of the people and they are very happy for it.
How many local governments have you been to?
The 21-man committee of eminent people is not actually involved in the direct distribution because we don’t have the wherewithal, logistics and the people. But we have the Interface committee that briefs us and we align with them. They are managing the distribution with some monitoring going on through a group of well-meaning people in each of the local government. What we have done is to constitute a monitoring team of well-meaning stakeholders at the local government – we have representatives of Christian Association of Nigeria, League of Imams, traditional institutions, Executive Council members, Civil Society Organisations, Community Development Associations and focal persons. We said we wanted to start on a pilot scheme to select one LGA each from the three senatorial districts within the State; we took Odo-Otin for Central Senatorial District, Ede North for West Senatorial District and Ilesa West for East Senatorial District. We have commenced the distribution and the information we got is that the pilot scheme went well and was a success. So, we are going to use that same model in all other local government areas. We will be moving on and within the shortest period we would have covered the first tranche of reaching out to the vulnerable people in our State.
Give us an idea of how much you were able to raise.
I would say that our committee, as at today – because we keep getting money – have raised over N200 million from sons and daughters of the State who are happy with Governor Adegbyega Oyetola’s programmes, because it is the goodwill of the governor and the State that is making people to support us. In addition, we also have lots of companies that are donating tons of food materials. One good thing is that through technology, because the world itself is knowledge-driven, we have set up crowd-funding platforms which are meant for and targeted at every citizen of the State living in Nigeria and even in the diaspora. Through that, people are donating two dollars, five dollars and more that will drop in an Ecobank-designated account. It is a marathon; we will continue to spend as long as we get money.
Can you give us names of donors?
No, I would not want to share that, it’s a personal thing.
But you have received money from individuals and corporate organisations…
And almost every member of the 21-man committee has made reasonable donations.
You are 21 in all; has every member been contributing to the purse or active in contributions to the committee?
Everybody has contributed in terms of resources. When I say resources, the definition goes beyond cash; intellectual resource is a donation and that we appreciate.
Let’s look at the distribution. You said you worked with some data; what is the extent of government’s involvement in the distribution of what you’re giving?
The level of government’s involvement is very little. Government itself is an umpire. We have given this mandate to a group of committed volunteers within each local government. I mentioned the make-up of the group earlier. It is a body of combination of several people such as LGA chairmen, council managers, representatives of CAN, muslim community, traditional rulers and leaders. We also have CDAs who know the beneficiaries, then you have the focal persons who call the beneficiaries to come pick the relief materials after identifying themselves with National Identity Cards, Voter Identity Cards or any ID that can show who they are because that also has to align so that no one can impersonate.
So, how did you come about the social register?
Well, the social register was a document that had some scientific basis for identifying vulnerability in terms of socioeconomic class, age, people with disabilities, people no longer in employment or have no income. It is a programme of the United Nations Development Programme supported by the World Bank. It is a social protection document always reviewed every year since 2014. It has been reviewed this year twice in terms of updating people who have fallen into the poverty line as has been defined by the World Bank.
So, the palliatives are not for everybody?
It is definitely not for everybody. We can’t all be vulnerable. I know that in our State a lot of people have ways of earning income. No civil servant that earns salary is vulnerable, for goodness sake. Nobody that gets paid or earns salary is vulnerable. We have criteria for defining vulnerability.
It means that so far in the last two to three days, you have not had any controversy as regards the distribution of the palliatives.
If anything, we have had accolades. People are so happy because what we have done is beyond their expectations. And mind you, we have also ensured, based on the instruction of Governor Oyetola, that we should be mindful of social distancing. In each LGA, the point of delivery is usually more than six distribution clusters so that the people can have ways of protecting themselves.
The second halve of the lockdown will soon expire; what will happen in the areas you have not reached?
As I said earlier, this is a marathon. We pray that the pandemic goes away as quickly as possible; but mind you, our society will continue to have vulnerable people. Therefore, we are looking beyond COVID-19 to see ways of protecting our people and expand the social net. We don’t want to turn our people to beggars. We want them to have a feel of the political benefit of a democratic society. This is because we can’t all be working or have people who take care of us. The essence of the social register is to capture this segment of our people. In the long run, we may even be sending them money on a monthly basis especially to the elderly and the disabled.
…independent of government plans and projects?
Yes, the committee is providing a lot of programmes that we will be advising the government on. And this, with the relationship we have with the Interface Committee of government, our recommendation will definitely be used. Mind you, we have established crowd-funding platforms; the money will be coming in. The good news is, the government is not interfering in any way with the funds coming into the COVID-19 account which is a dedicated account in UBA. We have a direct access and control in managing the funds.
You said you did a research into what the people really want. Give us an idea of what is in each pack that you are giving to the people.
We looked at the issue of managing crowd. If you want to manage crowd, you have to already prepare a decent pack that is handy. So, we did 10kg packs of rice, 5kg of garri, 3kg of beans, we have spaghetti and even eggs in crates to supply the protein needs of the people. Each person goes home with a combination of products within about N6,000 to N7,000. So, 10kg pack of rice and beans or 3kg of packed beans and garri, plus spaghetti and indomie noodles. We had three packs that were all quantified to ensure there is fairness in terms of the value each person is taking home. The packs are very handy. There is no struggle that ten persons should go and share anything. Each person takes what he has in a handy pack with the sticker of Osun Food and Relief Committee.
That means you have an idea of what each person gets? What if the person is not at home?
If the person is not at home, the focal person will leave a message and then the CDA will let them know. I give you an example of the ones done in Ilesa yesterday. The distribution was done in six different places. Meaning, for that suburb, if no one is around, there will be people who will recognise those who are not available. Mind you, one other requirement which the social register provides is a feedback mechanism. What we have asked is that for every one that gets the packs, he or she has a way of signing or annotating, and they will provide us with the returns of the products that have been given.
However, we have what we call the buffer which is about 30 percent of what goes into each LGA. That if after the distribution, if there are vulnerable persons attested to by the entire community, this group of community will decide to share it among the physically challenged or anyone who has just lost his job and is not in the social register. So, we are providing for thirty percent that will be attested to by members of the monitoring committee.
Are you by chance looking at developing a plan for SMEs in Osun to galvanise the State’s economy?
As I said in the beginning, when we started, the committee had to do a research. We would have probably gone to Lagos or Onitsha, we said let us identify and work through the Osun Chamber of Commerce to see who are those in these areas of food processing. Our focus goes beyond COVID-19. At the end of this process, we will do a report recommending to government to further encourage our SMEs. It would interest you to know that our people are very enterprising. For instance, in terms of food processing, our people in Iwo, Ifon and Ogbaagba areas are doing well. We have very enterprising SMEs across the State.
We also want to do a programme of identifying skills through entrepreneurial building. There is this Life Academy of government; they are making the face masks and the committee will buy from these people and not import from China. We are targeting the development of entrepreneurship after the COVID-19 exercise.
We have two companies here that used to be active – Steel Rolling Mill and the Machine Tools. Are you looking at breathing life back into these companies?
I must stay that it is rather unfortunate that such giants are almost dead. It is a pity because the benefit that could have accrued to the State would have been enormous. I remember we had dreamt that with the Machine Tools, all fabrication and tools required for the automobile industry and spare parts would all come from that place.
Right now, for our committee, our major focus now is the pandemic which is very imperative and urgent. Our major focus now is food and relief materials. Going beyond that, we are looking at how to improve on SMEs in agro-processing which is the area we have comparative advantage on. We have not honestly had any discussion in that regard; it could be something we come back to later.
You spent nine years as the GMD in Odua Investment Limited. You were brought in to do a turn around. The perception out there is that successive GMDs didn’t do much, with some of them regarded as undertakers. How much were able to achieve while in the saddle?
That’s going memory lane. I got into Odua in 2005 at a very trying period. The first thing I did was to, through my Board, set up a task of reviving the conglomerate. As at this time, they couldn’t even pay salaries. We had huge debt. For most of these debts, we had to raise resources to pay back so that we could become a viable company with healthy balance, so that investors could look at us. Having done that, we went into area of human resources and bring in people that could help in the turn-around. We engaged people that had some peculiar skills in energy, agriculture, tourism and real estate which are the core competencies of the conglomerates.
If you look back, we had to take agriculture to train people and that made us have Farmers Academy. We established two in Awe and Ede. This academy was to provide the basic knowledge to do commercial agriculture, not subsistent agriculture that our people are doing. We had people coming in to learn. We had identified that for the Southwest to grow, we must focus on agriculture.
We also got into the area of developing trade. The first mall in the Southwest was built in Ibadan under our administration. It is called the Cocoa and Heritage malls. We built another one in Apapa and Akure. I can’t also count the number of gated estates we also built.
We wanted to privatize the hotels. The negotiations were on before the expiration of my tenure. We identified that leaving our hotels without international branding cannot sustain them because they have the best locations. Look at Premier Hotel, for instance. We started talking to Golden Tulip but because of political interference, we couldn’t do it. I am aware they are trying to provide some kind of freedom for the business organisation to work without any interference now. We had a lot of that during my time also, but we were able to cope because we had good relationship with all of our Boards.
When I came in, most of the buildings were dilapidated. I give the example of the Cocoa House. When I got in, Cocoa House was dead and we took it upon ourselves that we had to go back and make it the pride of the Yorubas. We also invested in Western Hotel, Western House, Unity House and others. It was like going there to adjust things and clean up a lot of mess.
As at that time, we also had Oduatel that was on but with wrong technology. They had taken loans and I had to pay back. After that, we had to look for an investor to say what can the CDMA provide and he said broadband, and we agreed that they should get on with it.
The good news is, when I left Odua, the company had a healthy balance sheet, with good staff, strong infrastructure and laid down policy of management.
What would you say is your biggest achievement in those nine years?
My pride is that I left a very strong balance sheet. I was able to develop legacy projects i.e. the shopping malls manned by Shoprite and a lot of institutions and created lots of jobs. We also ensured that the legacy building built by our founding fathers was revived and made a pride of the Yorubas – I am talking about the Cocoa House. We also put together a strong business plan, a standard operating procedure for the conglomerate which is still in use today with little adaptation.
Do you have any regrets?
The only regret I have is that most of the plans on the agricultural sector have not been followed through. That was supposed to be the main big deal and the icing on the cake. If each State had cooperated to have a Farmer’s Academy, the impact would have been significant. My regret was that the two academies were not supported after my exit.
Judging by activities and the strength of Odua Investment Limited in real estate and tourism, isn’t it unfortunate that the company has been reduced to a service company without a strong industrial side?
The founding fathers’ model of our industrial participation was based on joint partnership. It was public-private sector participation arrangement. For instance, we still have forty percent equity in Nigerite, but we don’t run it. Same applies to Lafarge cement; we have equity, but we don’t run it. We still have equity in Wema Bank. My administration led the merger of National Bank and Wema bank and ensured it was successfully done during the Soludo consolidation. We have directors there, but we don’t run it. We provide them with the environmental support. You are right, we suppose to have done more.
Is politics a big problem in running the Odua Investment Limited?
Government has no hand in business and politics should not be brought into business. Businesses should run on key performance indicators, the Memorandum of Understanding and the Article of Association which every organisation has. Politics should not become a major consideration in business, but it can support it. Politics should be very minimal if it has to exist in any business decision.
Your time was supposed to be for a term of four years, but it was renewed and you eventually spent nine years. Tell us, what was the secret?
One of the best courses I loved during my MBA class was how to manage my boss. I would say, learning about interpersonal relationship. For any leader who does not relate well with the Board, he cannot be a successful CEO. You must have the temperament of listening and a balanced personality. These are some of things I considered in relating with all the chairmen I worked with; I had about seven of them and about four administrators. Always do a SWOT analysis, focus on business and never underestimate the strength of your political leaders.