FADESOLA ADEDAYO, a CEO of multiple firms, is an uncommon combination of success, grit, and doggedness. He tells LANRE ADEWOLE series of stories packed into his young life as a Nigerian-Canadian.
Nigerians seem to have forgotten you were the man who jogged from Abuja to Lagos for medical charity. Can you relive your experience and the state of the project now?
It’s a sad state of affairs that people admired me more when I bought a Toyota Prado (SUV) than when I had a world record. People don’t seem to realise that it was the discipline and hard work of athletics that led to the Prado. It was an amazing experience; we were shown a lot of love on the road and Nigeria is a very beautiful country with massive potential for tourism, especially the area of Koton-Karfe in Kogi State. I did the run to prove anything is possible in Nigeria. I was able to gain first-hand experience on the state of Nigeria. We’re also working on a documentary of the run to inspire the youth. When I announced the run, people looked at me as if I was crazy. Everyone asked if it was possible because “This is Nigeria”. We must eradicate that mindset among the youth and declare a war against mediocrity and incompetence. Yes, world record can come out of Nigerians. Yes, cutting-edge tech can come out of Nigeria.
Any near death experience while undertaking the journey? Did you stay on because the IGP men were with you and how much did it cost you?
Well the IGP men weren’t with me when I practised for two years beforehand; so that wasn’t the real issue. I was going to do it or die trying. I just didn’t care. Yes, several near-death experiences. There was a point at Day Seven when running opposite a minibus and the tyre popped off and almost hit me. Okene in Kogi State was also something else. By the time we got there, the station had been burnt down two days back. In so many other places before then, they would say “Welcome to our area!!” In Okene they asked “When are you leaving?” We spent close to N20 million. We undertook it to raise awareness for Steven Johnson Syndrome and to prove that anything is possible in Nigeria. My brother died from that disease. We raised more money internationally than in Nigeria.
At a very young age, you were already sitting on a multinational finance house. You own a thriving confectionary business among other entrepreneurial engagements but how helpful was the Elumelu Foundation?
The foundation was very helpful. They believed in me when no one else did and they provided excellent networking opportunities. I met ambassadors and foreign ministers through them. The first million was from the Tony Elumelu Foundation actually. It was N1,525,000 to be precise. I basically wrote a proposal and sent in some drawings and they gave it to me. I didn’t know anyone there.
Can you recollect your childhood years in Canada, being a black person?
As a Canadian, I was exposed to a lot and how a system works and functions. It inspired me to build the same kind of system in my native country. Growing up in Canada was good. It helped position me on what an ideal liberal Western democracy looks like. I decided to start a business in Nigeria because I had a dream that one day it would be like Canada.
Did you experience racism?
Oh, for sure. Lots of white people have a mental illness known as white supremacy. When I was younger, it bothered me a lot when I thought it was based on actual truth. Now, I know it’s just falsehood. I find it morbidly funny and borderline pathetic. They always claim things they never owned or did; this is why I think it silly. They claimed they built the pyramids, but we now know it is false. Now they claim they invented bitcoin. Really, though the inventor’s pseudonym was Satoshi Nakamato. It goes on and on.
Can you be specific?
In particular, I remember when I was 13 in boarding school at Upper Canada College. We went on a camping trip to Norval and something went missing and one of my classmates called me a nigger. That was the first time I ever punched someone in the face. I reported the incident to the school authorities; they claimed they were doing an investigation. Nothing ever came out of it. Then I started using that boy’s card to buy my school lunch. It was my way of getting my justice. But the school found out and I was suspended. That was my first big lesson of white society. The only thing they truly care about is money. The second time it happened was in university with someone in a room opposite mine. Something went missing in the room opposite mine and then people started asking me questions if I knew where it was. I was flabbergasted. It kept being brought up and one of the people that brought it up was a guy I knew from high school, Eric and then he brought my mom into the issue. I gave him a warning which he did not heed. I then punched him in the face. I didn’t care that his dad was the founder of Cineplex, the largest chain of cinemas in Canada. I would rather die than have my honour stripped from me. It was a case of death before dishonour. All of their science luminaries from Aristotle to Newton were studying the Egyptians when they stumbled upon their inventions. It recently came out in the Smithsonian, of all places, that most of his writings were not of gravity but his obsession with the ancient Egyptians. Who were the Egyptians? They were the direct ancestors of the Yoruba tribe. Just look at the Yoruba language it is incredibly rich and old. We had a word for professor – “ojogbon” before we ever met Europeans. Why? Why did we treasure knowledge so much? Why is the oba considered a political and spiritual benevolent leader? Isn’t that very similar to a Pharaoh? How can we look at Europeans who copied our ancestors, black Egyptians, for inspiration? Isn’t that backwardness? Shouldn’t we be looking directly at the ancient Egyptians? The truth is, our ancestors weren’t savages mired in black magic. They invented the calendar, irrigation, taxation, government, women’s rights, community banking, schooling, ships, medicine and so much more. They discovered diabetes, cancer, circulatory system. They invented the syringe, bone cutter, birth control, surgical sutures, algebra, writing, paper, air conditioning, screw pumps, architecture. There is a silver lining though; the internet can help us leapfrog again if we want to. There is so much knowledge in there and with concerted effort, we can make Nigeria great again.
You are one of Lagos most eligible bachelors. How much do women trouble you?
Well, what can I say? Most powerful men who are as inordinately successful as I am know that women will come in droves. It’s deeply humbling, although it was initially overwhelming. I am learning to deal with it while making sure to treat them with respect.
What are your weaknesses and the cost in the past?
I think trusting people too much really. It has cost me a lot of time and money. I now rely solely on systems. When we first started, we signed a deal with a firm to roll out in 50 locations. We opened in one location and afterwards they put up nonsensical roadblocks. About a year later, we started seeing our products on their own menus! Waoh! They thought they could copy what we were doing but they failed because they underestimated. They had scammed their investors and thought they could scam us too. Now, they are in the process of liquidating their stores. I only trust in two things now, God and good contracts.
Can you tell your success story to others out there, especially those of your generation who lament daily?
I really believe that it is a mindset. There’s a pervasive mindset that academic intelligence doesn’t pay in Nigeria. I’m here to prove it’s not true. One of my Nigerian partners and I represented our respective states nationally at JETS (Junior Engineer Technicians Scientists) competitions. I remember going to Enugu when I was 10 and I have very good memories of red sand. We need more engineers and doctors and less politicians and pastors. I decided at a young age that I wasn’t going to commit crime or be a victim, so I really had to hustle. I used to sleep at the back of the first shop I opened on cardboard box when it was too late to go home in Surulere. It was at times a grind but I had already made my mind on what I wasn’t going to do. It is important for the government to create an enabling environment. However I’m not talking about handouts either. I’m talking about light and water really. The power of the mind is not a joke and if the youth will use it, Nigeria will change.
After conquering the business world, is it likely you will unleash equal passion on politics? Do you have political ambitions?
Absolutely not. I do want to help whatever government there is create functional systems that work especially in IT sector and particularly the internet. I think the internet can help Nigeria leapfrog, development-wise. Creating public libraries with free internet for scholars is really the way to go. That’s the biggest thing Canada did for me, gave me access to libraries and internet.
As the CEO of multiple firms, have you experienced failure before?
I have failed before. I started a short-lived fashion venture; adefashion.com, to sell African fashion on a global scale and it failed spectacularly. It was one of many failures. The simple answer in a stable economy is simply a lack of research. Those failures were simply because I didn’t do enough research. I read a lot of books and learned from my failures. Entrepreneurship is an applied science and seeing it that way is a good framework. Learn the universal principles and then practise, practise and practise.
Was there a culture shock doing business in Nigeria?
There was huge culture shock to be honest. We have a Libertarian style of capitalism mixed with elements of communism. In short, there is an oga who’s supposed to battle it out in the jungle with no rules and provide for those working under him while his workers act like he’s doing them a favour. I suppose this is a tenet from the obaship system where the farmers worked the land while he provided leadership and guidance. The farmers however contributed as well, through taxes, i.e isakole, but modern workers don’t believe in doing that because they feel their oga is getting free money (often related to oil) from somewhere.
This is one of the ways oil has bastardised the culture. Another is the way we spend money. A lot of people have no reverence for money which is, in effect, a unit of time, because they feel someone somewhere, is getting free money.
The oil itself is not the problem; it’s the fact that we do almost nothing productive to get this oil. We do not dig it, neither do we refine it. The oil majors simply tell us how much they dug (which we were not sure of) and then hand over the cash to be shared amongst 200 million people. How can that work?
We have ten percent of the reserves of Saudi Arabian with a 1000 percent of the population, yet we compare ourselves to them. How is that possible?
If Saudi Arabia digs one barrel and gives it to one person, Nigeria has to give it to 10 people.
Can you now see why their GDP per capita is 10 times greater than ours?
A country like Norway has even less people. They invest their money in science and their GDP per capita is 40 times, greater than ours. The formula is very simple. We need to stop having so many children, seeing we can’t feed them and focus on science and technology and farming. But that involves work, which no one wants to do, because of cheap oil money. Free money is almost universally a bad thing. The end of expensive oil is here though and we need to tell the truth to ourselves or risk extinction.
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