Chief (Dr) Shakirudeen Olanrewaju Kassim is the chairman of Shokas Textile Industries, the Bobagunwa of Akile-Ijebu in Ogun State and a renowned philanthropist. In this interview, he speaks with TUNDE ADEGBOLA on his 80th birthday anniversary, experiences, state of the nation and sundry issues. Excerpts:
HOW do you feel attaining the age of 80?
I give thanks to Almighty Allah, who spared my life to witness this special day, the 80th of it in my life. Despite the sicknesses I had, God still counted me among the living soul today. I cannot thank Him enough. When I was ill, I was flown abroad, where series of tests were carried out on almost all the parts of my body. the doctors were checking the functionality of those parts which includes liver, lungs, intestine and others. I thought I was going to die, but God, in His infinite mercies, still spared my life till today.
What was your growing up like?
I am the fifth child of my parents; that period, my mother was categorised as one of the most successful business women in town. She was selling textiles at Gbagi Market, Ibadan. Then, most parents did not believe in giving their children education, but believed in exposing them to different businesses. It was because my mother was rich that gave her the courage to train us up to Standard Six. I was born in 1936, when I finish Standard Six, I moved to Ibadan. Then, I was young, very hardworking but people always said I was stubborn. When I got to Ibadan, I got a job with Costain as messenger, I spent some years working there and later promoted to head the junior cadre of staff at Costain.
One day, I went to see my auntie at Dugbe Market, she was selling dried meat (Kundi), I developed interest in the business. I make enquiries about the business and I discovered they were making a lot of money in the business. I resigned from my messenger job at Costain to secure a selling space to start my own dry meat business. I later discovered that I am the only man among lots of women in the business, but I encouraged myself and I was able to make some money through it. In the early 1960s, when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was providing potable water for all communities in the Western region, the water project was handled by an Israeli company which employed me as a driver and I was attached to one of the engineers on the site. I worked there for about a year before I left.
Then, I decided to join my mother in the business of selling textile. All these while, I still had my savings intact and I borrowed 100 pounds from one of my brothers. I used the money to buy different colours of clothing materials and I started selling and God blessed me through it. Since the business is booming, I decided to start importing textiles from abroad, with the view of having different textiles which were not common in the market and of high grades. My first ever travel experience outside the country was my trip to Mecca . At Jeddah, I saw many things I could buy to Nigeria to sell. When I returned to Nigeria, I had to quickly travel back to buy those textile materials and I made lots of profits in it. That was how I started importing from different countries to sell in Nigeria.
At a particular time, I met a friend who introduced me to a white man that asked me to follow him to Austria. The white man told me that in Austria, there were a lot of textiles with high quality and which would not be common in the market. At first, I refused to follow him and he asked why? I told him that whenever I wanted to travel out of the country; I always insured myself and my house in Ibadan, so that if anything happened to me and I did not return, my wife and children would not be dragged out of the house by my debtors. Surprisingly, he agreed to insure me and my house, that was how I followed him to Austria. When we got there, it was as if the whole country was dealing with textiles, I got more than I needed with high qualities and I returned to the country on the fourth day. Due to the trust those partners had in me, they started sending textiles to me on credit basis, which means I would return their money when finished selling. Through that, I was able make so much money that I settled all debts and even had enough money to start buying materials from Austria without credit.
How did you establish your own company?
One day, I was planning to travel to Austria as usual and a friend of mine, Alhaji Shote, whom we are in the same business came to me and said he wanted to follow me to Austria and I took him along. On getting to Austria, my partners welcomed us very well, but at night I was invited alone for a meeting. They told me their plans that they wanted to come and establish a textile company in Nigeria and they wanted me to be their partner. In the long run, we agreed on 50/50 per cent share of the company, since I believed was a good business. That was how I took the textile industry (Sokas Textile Industries) to Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State. And since then, aside from textile business, I never gambled into any other businesses because of the risk associated with running many businesses at a time.
Coming to the limelight in the business, you never mentioned you secure loan from banks, how was that possible?
Yes, I am not the only partner in the business. I told you earlier that I went to Austria with a friend when the deal was struck. Immediately I returned from the meeting with those white men, I told my friend what transpired between us at the meeting and he was so happy with me. But the following morning, my friend called me and asked what I would give him since the good luck came when he accompanied me abroad. Since we love each other so much, I told him, I will give him 10 per cent of my 50 per cent shares. He was so happy. But he said that since we are starting the business together, why can’t we make it 25:25 per cent and I agreed with him. And the business started very well and was growing day by day, and to God be the glory, I never regretted the partnership. But unfortunately he died in 2001.
Who killed the business?
It was the Nigerian government that killed the business. Then we had about 500 textile industries in the country functioning, but unfortunately, now, we cannot find 20 textile industries working effectively. They are all dead and killed by the Nigerian government through their bad and selfish policies. Nigerian government began to destroy this country when they started allowing goods into the country without paying customs duty and forced we (manufacturers) to pay the custom duty. Take it or leave it, if manufacturers continued to pay customs duty and smugglers were allowed to continue to smuggle finished goods into the country without paying Customs duty, the country cannot progress.
When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president, he made attempt to revive textile industries in the country, but the efforts were jeopardised by some selfish people. Up to N10 billion was released by his government to be shared among the owners of those industries, which they did. Most of the industries started producing again, but government’s inability to stop smuggling killed those businesses again, because we, the manufacturers, cannot compete with market price of textile. The price of our produce is higher than the price of those smugglers because they were not paying Customs duty. And that was how textile industries in Nigeria was killed and buried by their government policies.