Today, the father of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Oluwo of Iporo-Ake, Abeokuta, Chief Suara Alani Bankole, celebrates his 75th birthday. In this interview by JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI and OLAYINKA OLUKOYA, he speaks on his growing up days and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
How do you feel at 75?
I thank Almighty Allah for making everything about my life a complete success. What else do I want from God? I started business at the age of 15; today, I am a success in business. I started politics at the age of 36; today my best achievement is the installation of my son as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007 and anywhere in the world, there is no success without succession. I can say I am a success. It is now left for my son to see how far he could go. I am fulfilled.
What was your growing up like?
I was told that I was born on the 17th of September, 1941 to the Bankole family of Iporo-Sodeke, Abeokuta. I was brought up among the extended family of the Bankole family. In those days, we had our own family compound in Iporo-Sodeke and our village at Odeda. The village was founded by Bankole himself. By the time I grew up, everybody that was living in that village were his children. I grew up among the children of Bankole; I had an elder brother and three younger ones. I was born into a Christian-Muslim family. My great grandmother had three children; they were all men. My grandfather was the first son of Bankole himself. Bankole was the Apena of Iporo at that particular time. He was the most senior chief and member in the then Alake’s cabinet. My grandfather, Somuyiwa, actually became a Muslim on arrival of Islam in Egbaland, while my father was the first son and first child of Somuyiwa. I am also the first son of my father who, by name, was Rufai Gbadebo Bankole. That is the atmosphere which I was brought up.
I started elementary school in 1949, because the nearest school to our village was about six miles. I had to trek and I was the only person from that village that went to that school. I was received with great joy at St. Peter’s, Ile-Owu on my first day in school that, at last, one of the Bankoles’ has decided to come to that school. To them, it was a privilege and pleasure because in the whole of the present Odeda Local Government Area, I think we had about three elementary schools, which you people called primary schools nowadays.
I spent four years in that school. I had class one and two, standard one and two and that was the end of education in that school. In 1952, I had to move to Abeokuta and the parent school of that St. Peter School is St. Peter’s School, Ake. That school was a branch of St. Peter’s School, Ake. It was only at that school that you can have your education to standard six. I moved to Ake in 1953, where I had my education till 1956 when I finished the then elementary school. By the time we are about to finish, the free education under Chief ObafemiAwolowo’s government was introduced in 1955. Although we were still under the British Government, but I think the system of Indirect Rule had shifted from the local chiefs to the politicians.
Can you still remember some of your school mates in Baptist Boys High School (BBHS)?
One of my classmates, a fine brilliant younger one, is Engineer FunsoKupolokun, the former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). I joined the school in class two and Funso was such a brilliant chap. In those days, we used to call him, “Jacket”. Some other classmates are R.Ola Bello. He was the librarian of the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, now a Muslim leader in Abeokuta; AdesolaAdelakun who was a General Manager at the Osogbo Rolling Mills and Sunday Shofolahan, a legal practitioner, among others. About 20 of us still meet regularly. We have our class set, in fact, Professor AjaoAdenekan was also one of my classmates.
What was your ambition during your days at BBHS?
By the time I gained admission into BBHS, I was already a business man because I was in charge of two petrol stations in Abeokuta and I was in school. I was already used to business before I left for BBHS. I like business and my family consists mostly of business people. But naturally in those days, the ambition of some of us that attended BBHS was to be an engineer or doctor. So, my choice was Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. What that would be, I didn’t know but I had good grades when I left. I left BBHS in 1965 and moved to Lagos. The person that I was managing his petrol stations here in Abeokuta did not want me to go, but my father will not agree; my father insisted that I should move to Lagos to start my own life. I had a first cousin, John Bankole, who was working in the Nigeria Railways. In those days, people working in the UAC, Railways were the elites. So, my father wanted me to go and stay with him in Lagos and work in any of the big companies.
Incidentally, I got to Lagos and after two weeks, I got three jobs; two in UAC and Railways and the last one at the Federal Office of Statistics. I was attracted to the Federal Ministry of Statistics where I started working on the 1st of February, 1966. I was attached to an American statistician who was seconded by the Federal Government in those days. I had a very good time at the Federal Office of Statistics because, as at that time, the Federal Government wanted to send 25 people to the University of Ghana and I was lucky to be selected. We went for diploma course which lasted for about one month and by time we returned, we became Assistant Statistical Officer (ASO).
Before we left for Ghana, I was doing my A’ Levels which was an alternative for those of us who did not go directly for HSC, so that we can go to the university. By the time I came back, I had my A’ Level examination after three months and, at the same time, I applied to the United Bank for Africa (UBA), but I could only apply with my School Certificate result because if I had told them that I had Diploma in Statistics, it would mean that I have been working with the Federal Office of Statistics and I need to be released from the place. I knew that the salary of people who entered UBA with School Certificate was higher than the salary of ASO and this statistics thing was more of calculation while the banking thing was business. I went for the UBA examination, I passed it. I had the second one and also passed it and I was employed as a clerk. During my interview, I told them that I have been having my A’ Levels for two years and I now had the problem of leaving the Federal Office of Statistics without them knowing, otherwise they will write to the UBA to release me back, having spent so much to train me.
When did you leave UBA?
In 1969, I was invited by a senior officer of the bank who informed me that I had been promoted and asked to be the branch accountant in Port-Harcourt. I rejected it because at that time, there was war. He then said the option was to resign if I don’t want to go. I told him point blank that I will resign. I did not know that the war will end in January 1970. I resigned and my wife was not happy with my decision. She was worried about how I will keep the family together, but I assured her that all will be well.
I had confidence because I have a lot of certificates. In those days, it was easy to get jobs with your certificates. I have made up my mind at the point of resigning my appointment at UBA, that I wasn’t going to apply for any job again; that I was going for business.
How did you start your business?
I decided to go into supply of stationeries. The idea came because of my relationship with some people while I was in the banking sector. Many of them were expatriates and I knew many of them would be using stationeries. All of them patronised me.
Before I left UBA, my salary was 50 pounds. The first month, I made a profit of 40 pounds, the second month, I made a profit of 65 pounds and I knew I was in business for real. Initially, when I resigned, I became a bus conductor of my bus, plying Mushin to Apapa. In the evening, when the bus driver comes to deliver money, he will be telling stories and that was what informed my decision to work as a conductor. The following morning, I became the conductor of my own vehicle. By 10 am, I would have made the money my driver would have brought at the end of the day and I will now get down, go home and allow his conductor to continue with the job.
After I had done this for three weeks, my father sent for me in Abeokuta and he said, ‘Suara, I understand you are now a bus conductor in Lagos. What happened to you?’ I told him the vehicle was mine. I stopped following the vehicle and I started to use bus as a car to transport my goods to my customers. After about a month, I decided to buy a car because the driver was not happy with me, since he was not making much money as he used to while the bus was being used for commercial purpose.
Coincidentally, my second son, Speaker Dimeji, was born the month I bought my car. I continued with my stationeries business. I supplied stationeries to all the big companies on Broad Street, then. In 1971, while I was doing that the Federal Military Government promulgated a law reserving certain businesses to Nigerians only. They called it Nigeria Indigenization Decree. I approached some friends that I wanted to apply for clearing business at the Port. I employed someone that was knowledgeable in the business. I opened an office for my clearing and forwarding business in Lagos. That was how I started my clearing and forwarding businesses. After three years, I was well known in the clearing and forwarding business in Nigeria. By the time I was 34 years old, I was a multi-millionaire.