...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...

I am a Yoruba man, in Asaba since 1996, and I'm at peace here, so it's home

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14 August 2022
16 minutes read
I am a Yoruba man, in Asaba since 1996, and I'm at peace here, so it's home

My name is Ayoola Obafemi Fafowora.

I was born on 24 November 1960 at the Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. The Fafowora Family is a large one from Ilesa in Osun State. Our progenitor was a warrior who was popularly called Ago'ja, and fought alongside Ogedengbe, in the wars to protect Yorubaland. He had ten wives who bore him mainly male children who then formed one line of Fafowora. My father, Bode Fafowora, who was a produce buyer at AG Leventis before joining his older brother, Oladele, aka VIO (he was a police officer in charge of vehicle inspection) in the late seventies, to form Osue Brothers Motors which was into the  import and sale of Dahiatsu and Mitsubishi cars in Ibadan, belonged in the third generation. In that generation is also Ambassador Dapo Fafowora and Akinlolu Fafowora, who coined Wazobia and composed a song around it for highlife musician, Roy Chicago. Uncle Akinlolu and Roy were friends and he composed several other songs for him.

My formative years

I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Ibadan. I believed that everything began and ended in Ibadan, because, all that one needed could be found there. And, there was peace. I never went to Lagos until I was twenty-one. 

I attended Ayodele Nursery and Primary School, Molete, founded by the wife of Senator Jonathan Odebiyi who himself founded Eyinni High School. From there, to United Missionary College (UMC) Demonstration School. I finished primary school at Alafia Institute in Mokola. It was there that I did Primary Five and Six, from 1970 to1972, and I was in the boarding house. 

I was my dad's first child and my mum's fourth - she had had three before marrying my dad - and when he began to bring plenty women to the house, my mum, Mojisola, nee Adeyemi of Ago-Oko, Abeokuta, who had a fabrics shop at Gbagi Market, decided that I should go to the boarding house. I have a younger brother and sister from my mum. 

For secondary education, I attended Christ High School, also in Ibadan.

Making it to college

For college, I first went to Ogun State Polytechnic (Ogun Poly) where I read marketing at the ordinary national diploma level.  But, because I wanted a place with a brand name - Ogun Poly had only been created two years earlier - I went for my higher national diploma at The Polytechnic Ibadan.

Although I had completed secondary school in 1977, I did not go to college until 1982 because I failed mathematics. 

During that period, I worked for about three years at the Cooperative Bank.

I was becoming too comfortable, then  I started seeing my colleagues in secondary school coming for industrial training in the bank and I felt awful. So, I left the bank, stayed home for about a year to work on passing mathematics. I eventually did, got admitted into Ogun Poly, actually, to read business administration but I changed it to my other choice - marketing - which I felt was more suited to me. I felt natural with marketing. Or, let me put it this way: I felt I would excel in marketing. I am an extrovert and I can relate well with people. 

First flight, youth service, employment and marriage 

I had my one-year national youth service in Jos, Plateau State and worked at Punlab Pharmaceuticals. The company was into compressing drugs. It would bring concentrates of drugs such as paracetamol, pour them into machines which then cut them into tablets. The Nigerian Army was its major customer. 

Going to Jos was my first time of flying in an aeroplane. 

I liked my entire experience in Jos. I met a lot of good people.

After my service, I came to Lagos and joined General Oil - which was then like the flagship of private oil companies - as a retail sales representative in charge of six filling stations - two in Abeokuta and four in Lagos. I was part of the pioneering staff.

I left in 1989 to join Nigeria Breweries, also as a sales representative. I was sent to the North. It was actually the condition to give me employment: North or nothing. 

I was attached to the Kaduna Brewery which was in Kakuri. I was posted to Sokoto for training, and I was attached to the sales rep there for nine months. When I was qualified to be in charge of a territory, I was posted to Kano.

I worked in Nigeria Breweries for four years and joined Dangote Group as the Northern regional sales manager where I was for about one and half years.

Moving into, and remaining in Asaba, since 1996

Besides that I was tired of the North - I was there when a trader called Gideon Akaluka was beheaded by Muslim fanatics for allegedly desecrating the Quran - I wanted more growth, so I joined the Doyin Group of Companies headquartered in Apapa, Lagos, and was posted to the East as the regional sales manager; which is how I found myself in Asaba ever since 1996. My office was in Onitsha but I chose to live in Asaba which was closer than Enugu which was the other place I could have lived. 

My coverage area stretched from Benin to Calabar and all the places in between and beyond. Doyin Group of Companies was doing everything Lever Brothers (later Unilever) did, from detergents to tea. And, like Nestle, it had seasoning cubes. In fact, it won a passing-off suit initiated by Nestle over the similarity in colours of Maggi Cube and Doyin Cube. Nestle lost out because it was determined that no one had ownership over colours.

I was in Doyin Group for about five years.

When I was in the Kaduna Brewery, I was hearing more Igbo because the folk who were in the beer business there were mainly Igbo. It was during the short period that I was at Dangote that I was forced to open my ears and hear the Hausa language. My colleagues were all northerners. My driver was Hausa.

I had an open mind when I was transferred to the East, because I knew that there is no language an Igbo person would speak that they would not speak or hear pidgin English.

So, I believed it would be easier for me to relate with them.

I also knew that wherever I was that had peace was my home. I got married in September 1992 while in the North to Ronke, nee Aina, from Otun Ekiti and we already had two children before moving to Asaba where we had another two. My wife was the last and the only femaleb child  of a former deputy governor of Ondo State, Dr Nathaniel Aina.

So, one of the first things I did when I got here was to buy a piece of land to build a house. I got one in the Government Reserved Area, close to the Government House. Because Urhobo people did not accept Asaba as the state capital was how a "foreigner" like me could get land in such an area. That attitude has changed though as Asaba has long come to stay; more Urhobo have moved in, and they are mostly the ones now developing Okpanam.

I was also well received.

The best time that Doyin Group had in the region was evidently when I was there. 

When I was employed, I was the regional manager for Stafford Chemicals and Industries Limited with factory in Agbara on the outskirts of Lagos, and producing, among others, sodium bicarbonate, oleum, sulphuric acid and alum. Within the first three months after taking over from the Area Manager, the volume of sulphuric acid I was selling marvelled the Group Chairman Prince Samuel Adedoyin that he called me to ask me what I was doing with it. I then advised him that we should buy land in Onitsha, so that, instead of using trailers to bring four hundred twenty-litre kegs of acid from Agbara, we could bring it in trucks used to transport petrol and dump it in a surface tank and decant it from there. I said that, on the same trip, we would carry a lot more. He took my advice: I bought the land in Onitsha, built a fifty-thousand litre surface tank.

We recorded more sales.

I grew Doyin Group so well that after about one and half years that I joined and I tendered my resignation letter, because I had an offer from Seven-Up as an Area Manager in Lagos, Prince Adedoyin invited me to the headquarters and asked what the problem was. I told him about the offer I had from Seven-Up which came with more money. He asked whether I would withdraw my resignation letter, if he gave me the exact amount of money Seven-Up offered, I said yes. That is what he did and I did not leave again. He actually called my uncle, Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, on the matter, telling him I was good.

How I got into business and left Doyin Group

One day, my wife and I visited the then Governor of Ekiti State Niyi Adebayo. My brother-in-law was then the State Commissioner for Finance. My father-in-law was the chairman of their political party, Alliance for Democracy. Indeed, he would have been the governor but he gave it up because of his advanced age and onset of Alzheimer's disease. 

While we were with Gov Adebayo, my wife casually said we had not seen the benefits of democracy. That was when the governor asked where we were based and we told him Asaba and he gave me a note to the then Delta State Governor James Ibori to see what he could do for me in terms of business opportunity. 

That was the beginning of my going into business.

I got my first contract to construct a ten-kilometre drainage in Agbor for about eighty million Naira.

I was still in Doyin Group and I did not have the money to immediately move into site. It was a brother in one of the banks who got six of his friends to raise the initial money as debt equity.

When I started, Doyin Group now said they were transferring me to Lagos. I quietly resigned and left to face my business.

I had always wanted to be self-employed.

I have two companies. One is Faforon Nigeria Limited. Faforon is the combination of my surname and my wife's name. It was Faforon that was involved in the drainage construction. Much later, I decided to set up another company which would not readily be traced to me like Faforon. That is how Landhaus Construction Company Nigeria Limited was formed.

Being a Yoruba leader

Through my father-in-law, I got to know that one should be a good community leader wherever one found oneself. 

So, I tried to organise the Yoruba people whom I found around me. I founded a socio-cultural  group called Igbimo Yoruba. There was an organisation before then that was simply called Yoruba Community with someone they called "Oba Yoruba" who made a crown for himself, used a horsetail and even appointed chiefs. I felt such a position was wrong because the Yoruba do not have kings outside Yorubaland. I have had a running misunderstanding with him because of these issues.

Anyhow, some of those in the Community came to me and said that since I was integrated with the government and I know many people in the system and was educated, I should help close the gap between the Yoruba people and the government. I was asked to drop the Igbimo Yoruba and form another group and that was how the Yoruba Progressive Forum (YPF) was born.

I am the President-General and our membership spans through all the local governments in the State. Whereas the "Yoruba Community" operates in only Asaba and Warri.

YPF is set up to, among others, protect the legacy of the Yoruba people in the State. You know there is a Yoruba saying that if all snakes move together, no one would have the audacity to go and kill one of them. So, if all Yoruba people are together in one place, we can always speak with one voice and tell the government how it can benefit us as a people. So, all we have been trying to do is to be recognised by the government.

That was why I sponsored the visit of Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN, using the platform of YPF, to introduce our people as a group to the then Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan.

I was watching television one day after  Uduaghan became the governor and noticed that his first major courtesy call was to Prince Ajibola in Lagos. I knew Prince Ajibola as a neighbour of another uncle of mine, Akinloye Fafowora, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja. He had been at my uncle's for a landlords' meeting. So, I told my uncle that I would like for him to reach out to Prince Ajibola to come to Asaba and introduce Yoruba people to Gov Uduaghan. My uncle and I went to meet Prince Ajibola in Abeokuta and told him what I needed him to do.

Long story short, he came to Asaba to pay a courtesy call on Gov Uduaghan as well as introduce the Yoruba people to him.

We became part of his entourage to the governor. The governor and his commissioners received us. Prince Ajibola introduced us. After the courtesy call, Prince Ajibola now invited the governor to address the Yoruba people at Labour House (an event venue). I organised our people to the place. The governor came. It was an elaborate event and well-publicised.

We have achieved some success.

A special adviser to the governor was appointed from among us and we got some board appointments.

The succeeding government of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, however, formed the Non-indigene Association of Delta State because it did not want to be seeing the various ethnic nationality groups individually. The chairman of the association is one of the 35 Wise Men of the state. I did not want to subsume the YPF into the association but I delegated some people to represent our interests.

The YPF is looking at instituting more enduring benefits beyond appointments of individual members into government or even elective positions and the like. I have been trying, for instance, to get our members to let us start a health insurance scheme, but it has been a bit slow to get it off, but I will keep at it. Along this same line is a life assurance scheme.

We will get there.

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