Abideen Olasupo: Unlocking clean energy for Africans
Abideen Opeyemi Olasupo, a tri-sector business leader is the Chief Executive Officer of Opab Gas, OpabConsults and Soupforme. He has over seven years’ experience in oil and gas, consulting, catering and social enterprise. In this interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, he speaks about his entrepreneurial journey.
What is your business all about?
600 million African households rely daily on charcoal, firewood and kerosene for their cooking needs, and in the last 10 months, the cost of these cooking fuels have gone up by 50 per cent because of increasing urbanisation and deforestation. Also, the lack of efficient cooking stoves has worsened the situation as these families burn more cooking fuels than is necessary. The inefficient combustion from these devices makes them emit tons of toxic smoke that kills 600,000 Africans annually. Opab Gas is the first digital platform for quality and affordable LPG in the North Central part of Nigeria. We are privately owned, valued based, indigenous gas station focused on giving value and quality assurance of healthy gas usage when we serve you. This is part of my obligation as a UNESCO ESD Young Leader, a WEF Global Shaper and a Fellow, Young Africa Leadership Initiative.
What inspired you to start your business?
I watched my mother walk long distances to gather firewood and buy coal to cook for my family as a child. In Ifon, Osun State where I was brought up, this was a common experience among women and was perceived generally as a sign of strength and commitment to the family. But my concern was why must mothers in Ifon exposed themselves daily to so much smoke to cook for their families. Even though I did not know, until recently, that cooking with firewood is equivalent to smoking 400 cigarettes per hour, and is one of the three causes of mortality among women and children; my mother’s red eyes and the wet eyes of other women in our rural community bothered me a lot. I knew there are solutions to all these problems, but I couldn’t figure it out; or better put, I did not have enough education to achieve it. So I watched these women cry to feed their families for many years. I knew there was a solution somewhere and I was going to find it.
Equipped with passion, pity, and hunger, I started working towards University admission to find a solution to that problem. I eventually gained admission to the University of Ilorin to study chemistry, where I was exposed to volunteering through the MDGs (subsequently SDGs) and particularly to clean and renewable energy, that could be used instead of orthodox fuelling options, and one of them was Liquefied Petroleum Gas.
After a long time of advocacy for SDGs, as a University undergraduate, my SDGs advocacy and youth development organization, Brain Builders International, signed an agreement with the Kwara State University’s Community Development and Entrepreneurship Centre to train young Nigerians on the Sustainable Development Goals, their benefits and ways toward actualisation.
From the location of the University of Ilorin to Malete, where Kwara State University is located, is a 50-minute drive, and one thing that kept on amazing me every time I travel on that road is that there are averagely 10 KWASU students on every voyage either going to fill gas in Ilorin or coming back from Ilorin after filling gas. What made this intriguing was the fact that there were two gas stations in Malete that could serve these students, but they do not patronise these stations. In partnership with KWASU’s Community Development Centre, we did a survey to identify the problem and we discovered that gas sellers in Malete sold for ?450, as against ?300 which a Kg of gas is sold in Ilorin. Consequently, buyers complain of being cheated with the analogue scale used by the sellers. This was a dilemma for me. It bothered me that students, after long hours in class, fatigue from tests and assignments, still had to travel long, exhausting distances to get cooking gas and this triggered the same emotions I felt watching my mother gather firewood. This was a problem I needed to solve.
What was your start-up capital?
In 2017, I took a N100,000 soft loan from a friend, added N100,000 to it, and after conducting intense market research, filing necessary papers and satisfying ethical and professional standards, we opened the first OPAB Gas station in Malete, Kwara State. In 2018, I was a beneficiary of Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) $5000 seed capital.
What is the number of your current employee?
We currently have 12 regular members of staff on our pauroll and 26 campus ambassadors.
What are your expansion plans?
A billion households are forced to cook with dirty fuels everyday, which is not only a serious development challenge, but also a significant market opportunity. Our ambitions are to scale this impact across Africa. OPAB Gas’s mission is to unlock clean energy for the next billion, by revolutionising the distribution of cooking gas. Hence, we hope to develop a telemetry-software that will be accepted by the whole continent before the end of 2030. We also hope to have trained over 5000 gasopreneur by 2024 and open additional 10 locations. This will increase the number of our full time staff by 25 per cent.
What are the major challenges you have faced since you started your business?
Trust with Staff: We had issues with some staff who ran away with our money while starting, so we had to tighten our HR process and get guarantors in order for check and balances and monitoring and evaluation in place
Unfavourable government policies are also major problems we are facing, double taxation to both state and federal agencies. Scarcity of gas in the ember period is another issue we often face.
How do you think the government can address these challenges?
Reorientation and changing the mindset of the teeming young population is a key factor in solving the problem. Young people should be committed to any job given to them if they manage to get one. The get-rich-quick mentality should be shunned. The government should continue to carry out awareness campaign on the need for clean energy and fuel. The government should harmonise and assist SMEs with tax holiday for at least five years. The government should address the bureaucratic process involved in getting licenses from her agency and make zero-interest loans available for SMEs with a proven track record.
How many awards and grants have you won so far?
Personally, I have gotten 25 awards. I have two awards credit to my business and two grants to my business as well. Notable in the awards was in 2018 when I was named as one of the 100 Most Influential African, I was recently named as one of the 50 Enterprise for Peace Scholar sponsored by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the One Young World Conference in Netherlands and I’m currently a mentor with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ, German development agency. Also, I was recently selected alongside 10 others as a GoalGate Keepers Accelerator Steering Committee member.
What advice do you have for other young people that are interested in what you do?
The best time for them to have started was yesterday, the next best time is now. I enjoin them to get a good location and be creative about value added services. Getting technical knowledge and understanding the market is also very important in this business