‘How my mom raised 30 pence for my education’

For eight years, he led Africa’s largest gathering of licensed Brokers. Prince Olayiwola Shittu, immediate National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), shares his childhood stories in this interview conducted by TOLA ADENUBI.


How was your growing up like? 

I’m the son of a Sheik, who was also an Imam. I grew up in a very large setting. When I was born, my mother was the first wife. She had three of us for my dad. However, there were more than 20 people living with us who were not related to us. Initially, when I was growing up, I was thinking I was the 21st child because of the people living with us. I initially thought they were my father’s children because of the way he embraced people, sheltered and fed them. It was later in life I realized they were not his children, that he only accommodated and fed them because of his kind-hearted. I am glad I inherited some of his traits in the area of giving to people and embracing people. If I am to come back to this world, I will prefer to come back to this world through the same man. As early as two years old, I was already reading the Quran and by five or six years old, I was already teaching others. I went to Ansar-ud-Deen Primary School at Epe, and after that level, my father said I was through with education. However, my mother had other ideas, and she sent me to Epe Grammar School. My primary and secondary school education was in Epe, and by the time I was through with secondary school, my father had married three wives.


What was the experience like in a polygamous setting?

Due to the polygamous setting, I was used to mixing with a lot of people and learning different characters from different people. When I was barely 17 years old, I left my dad and came to Lagos to stay with an uncle who is deceased now. While with my uncle, I started working with Lever Brothers Nigeria Plc. One lesson I learnt while working with Lever Brothers is not to be careless in whatever I do. One day, I was coming from work at Apapa and had my train ticket in my breast pocket. When the train arrived, we ran and jumped into the train, and in that process, my ticket fell without me knowing. When the train officials came, I was arrested along with those who boarded the train without ticket. We were rounded up and taken to court. However, when the Magistrate listened to me, she discharged me because she said from the way I spoke I didn’t look like someone who would board a train without ticket. I said it was down to carelessness, and she asked me to go and not repeat such. The following day, I came back to Ebute-Meta and saw the ticket on the ground. I took it and went to show the Magistrate, and she patted me on the head, asking me to be more careful. It was God’s benevolence that didn’t make me go to jail with the others.


How valuable was the lesson from that incident?

From that moment, I began to think things through more and ensure I avoid carelessness. From Lever Brothers, I joined Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) and worked in several divisions of the organization, rising to the position of a Supervisor in the sorting section. While I was with NIPOST, I made attempt to go to the university and got admission to the Michigan State University in 1972. I had already got a student visa and everything was set for me to go for my studies. However, as fate would have it, two days to my departure, my late uncle and his wife had a misunderstanding, and the wife parked out of the house, taking away all my travel documents with her to Ibadan without the knowledge of anybody. When my uncle arrived from work and discovered that his wife had taken away my documents, he went after her to Ibadan. But by the time he got there, he met his wife burning all my travel documents. My uncle was in a shock which eventually led to his death.


That must have shaken you very badly.

With Michigan State University no longer feasible because all necessary documents had been burnt, I continued with NIPOST. I was too ashamed to see my friends off to school back then, but today, with all their education, I still assist them financially. At a point, while in NIPOST, I was not too comfortable with sorting letters, so I had to leave. Then, in the early 70s, if you want a future for yourself, you either work with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NNPC or one of the oil companies.

So I left NIPOST and headed to Warri. But rather than joining an oil company, I ended up joining the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). It was while working in the NPA that I met Chief Adebayo Sarumi who was then my immediate boss. Chief Sarumi would later go on to become Managing Director of the NPA. Due to transfers in the NPA, I worked in Warri port, Sapele port, Burutu port and Koko port all in the Niger Delta. While I was in the NPA, I was a trade unionist, and we were the ones confronting NPA on labour-related issues back then.

To further sharpen my trade unionism drive, I enrolled for a certificate course at the University of Ibadan. By the time I finished my certificate course in UI in 1984, I realised some people did not want me to come back to the NPA. I had gone to UI on study leave without pay, and when I finished, the NPA management didn’t want me to come back into the system because of my trade union activity records. So since I could not return to the NPA, I made up my mind to proceed to the university to study for a degree.


Did you achieve that dream?

No, that was not to be because my father called me and reminded me that as the first born, I needed to assist him in training my younger ones who were already yearning to go to school. My father had always wanted me to be an Islamic scholar, but that didn’t happen. So he said I needed to work to assist him in training my siblings from his other wives.

That was why after leaving NPA, and because of the desire to be on my own, I established Skelas Enterprises in 1985. Skelas became a limited liability company in 1992 and also a Customs brokerage company. Due to my experience in NPA operations, I had known much about Customs/importers relation at the ports. In Koko port, I knew a lot of importers bringing in cargoes, so that was how I ended up in Customs brokerage after I left the NPA.

So, because I needed to assist my father to train my siblings, I didn’t get the opportunity to embark on a regular university degree course. All I had were short courses here and there. But today, I am happy that all my siblings, through me, have gone in and out of the universities. This fulfilled my father’s wish, but didn’t fulfill my own wish, but I think that is just how God wants it to be for me. As of today, I have close to 30 people who I don’t know or have never seen by face, but I pay their school fees through my charity organization called ‘KOMAADON FOUNDATION’. My father’s name is Komaadon, so I named my charity organization after him. Even my journey to become National President of ANLCA was by divine grace. I don’t hustle for things.


Between your dad and your mom, who would you trust with a billion-dollar business?

Both. My mother was a marketer while my father was a manager of people. It was through her marketing efforts that my mother was able to raise 30 pence in those days to send me to secondary school because she saw the children of her friends who came home from school. I spent more time with my mom than my dad because he was always busy attending to people. So I will trust the two of them with a billion-dollar business.


What is that memorable punishment that you got and what exactly did you do?

My father sent me on an errand, and on my way back, I met my father’s friend who also wanted to send me on another errand. I told him that my father sent me on an errand, and so I could not carry out his own message until I delivered my father’s message. He went and reported me to my father, telling him that I was rude to him. My father beat me over this issue, and afterwards, I asked my father why he beat me; He said I must learn how to deny somebody’s request with respect. That has stuck with me. I was about 11 or 12 years old when that happened.


Looking back now, do you regret not going to the university for a degree?

Oh yes, and that is why I made sure all my children went to school on time. My first son is an engineer. During my certificate course days at the University of Ibadan, I saw how people struggled to cope with studies and financing. So, because I have a father who wanted me to work and assist in training my siblings, I ensured my children went to school on time. Aside Ibadan, I also did a Diploma in Law at the Ambrose Alli University (AAU) and came out tops. People were urging me to continue, but I said no, I have other responsibilities to attend to.


Did you have the ideal spouse in your head before marriage and would you say you achieved that dream of marrying that peculiar partner?

I have a first wife that gave birth to my first son. We got married but our relationship interrupted her education. Due to hustling, our son was living with my first wife’s mother back then. The love we had for each other fell apart because of the influence of going back to school on her. She wanted to go back to school, and this affected us. By 1977, we both agreed that our relationship could not work. So the marriage broke down in 1977, and I waited for another 10 years before marrying my present wife who gave birth to three children. It took me long to remarry because in 1977, I felt I needed no other woman since I already had a son from my first wife. However, down the line, I knew I would still need a woman in my life because women always impact on you one way or the other. So in 1987, I married my present wife and we had our first child. And that has been it, till today. I can tell you I would not have wished I married somebody else because she has been just too good for me. She is not extravagant, does not like partying, and that is just like me. She has three kids for me and my home has been peaceful.


Did she know about your past?

We dated for five years, between 1982 and 1987. So she already knew everything about me, including my first marriage. Do you know my wife is a Christian while I am a Muslim, an Alhaji for that matter? Some of my children are pastors. In fact, my wife has hosted the relatives of my first wife in my house. She has assisted them in solving one or two issues because she knows their daughter had my first son. My first son spent the greater part of his life with me and my present wife, and we have never had issues.


There isn’t a perfect person. Can you tell us some of your vices?

Apart from youthful exuberance like smoking, drinking, womanising, which onehas to pass through either due to environment or the kind of social friends that one keeps, I find it very difficult to say this is what I am that I should not be. I try not to say I am perfect. Anything that is not worth it is not worth it.


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