Foremost industrialist, Chief Rasak Okoya, turned 84 on January 12, 2024. The Aare of Lagos, who is the founder of Eleganza Group of Companies and RAO Investment Properties, in this interview in commemoration of his birthday, speaks on how Nigeria can solve the problem of wealth creation. Using his vast experience as someone who made wealth through hard work and consistency, Okoya speaks on alternatives available to youths across the country.
At 84, you are still active. What is the secret?
Consistency, perseverance, hard work commitment, passion and integrity are the only vehicles that can drive you to success and not by cutting corners. Also, it is by being true to oneself in what one is doing. I am passionate about my business. I am committed to it and I have been consistent over the years by getting involved all the way by not playing the boss. At Eleganza, we try to work within our means particularly by working with the local market. It has helped the business to grow this far.
Unemployment is a major challenge in the country. How can it be addressed through job creation?
I have decided to use this opportunity to propose a recurring vision that has plagued me. My warmest regards and congratulations to President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima for their steady management of the economy. We pray for a peaceful and successful term ahead. From working and monitoring the manufacturing industry for over 60 years, my hope is that the current administration makes the industrialisation of Nigeria a cardinal goal. It should also consider utilising our youths and empowering them through the establishment of cottage industries and factories during their term.
Did you know that a significant percentage of the country’s GDP is derived from MSMEs and it can be said that majority of these enterprises are youth-owned?
Our youths have the potential and can be stronger with greater empowerment. If you open the eyes of a blind man, he will never want to go back to darkness. I ask myself regularly how we can utilise our dominant working population. The picture in my mind places all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as industrial hubs, engaged in speciality where the average Nigerian citizen should be able to live, work, shop, have access to healthcare and other conveniences (e.g. recreational, worship facilities etc.); all without leaving their states of origin within their industrial hubs.
Bringing this into realisation could be initiated through investment in incubation centres in each state based on the requirements and geographical advantages of the state. This can be done by preparing one-unit warehouses of approximately 5,000 sq m per cluster, having 10,000 of each unit/micro industry in each state including Abuja. Similarly, provision can be made for private estate developers to create infrastructural extensions in areas with existing low-income housing to include warehouses.
This will enhance the appeal of opportunities in our rural states, transforming them into vibrant economic zones and serving as significant Industrial infrastructure for each state. Government should also consider leveraging on international connections.
In addition, government can invite specialists and international machine manufacturers from China and India among others to train our graduates in vocational skills and provide crucial technology transfer through the sale of machinery, and equipment for daily need products in exchange for local minerals via the use of a barter trading system. By opting to further facilitate local manufacturing of products, government can consider onward sale of the above mentioned machines to the youths on a long-term basis.
Government should protect our industries by imposing strict prohibitions of imports and policing the markets to enforce the ban on importation. With these, I believe we can conserve our precious foreign exchange, increase GDP, and strengthen our local markets and producers. Making electricity available will turn the economy around.
If small-scale factories could work without generators, it would solve majority of the country’s crippling problems. Requiring each unit to adhere to contemporary demands of sustainability, preservation of natural capital and utilisation of renewable energy will ensure longevity and create backups to the national grid power supply. Incorporating training to pre-empt and prevent environmental degradation as well as learning from the case of China will provide practical experience that would give our youth a strong sense of belonging, and a promise of hope. It is our duty as Nigerian seniors to help our youths.
Ultimately, promoting urbanisation in the rural areas of the country, and stemming rural-urban-migration by wealth creation in our rural communities will prevent overcrowding in urban areas and keep our youths off the streets. We need to instill a sense of pride and dignity through respectable labour in our youth. The creation of varied and sustainable industrial cities will be pivotal in the national stimulation of progress. All these could be financed with government budget with the aid of private sector investment schemes and the youth could be required to pay back within 10 to 25 years, and/or enjoy grants to support them. This will unleash and enable the capital required to catalyse economic growth, jobs and entrepreneurship for our youths. It is better to light the candle than curse the darkness. Give light and the darkness will disappear. This vision enacted would enable us to manufacture a better Nigeria.
To ensure the success of this proposed economic remedy, Nigeria, the economic powerhouse of Africa, should entirely and unitedly embrace a propensity of population utilisation, to supercharge the entire African continent. I believe more technical details and possibilities have to be discussed on these ideas. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a visionary leader who is passionate about Nigeria. I am sure this administration will promote commerce and industry. I pray for the President and Vice President, with the aid of Allah SWT, to consider this and include it in their good programme as a blueprint for the rebirth of our great nation.
Eleganza is still standing six decades after. What’s the secret?
We believe in Nigeria and we have promoted made in Nigeria products over the years. The Eleganza Industrial City Limited is a testament to our vision as an establishment. It is a place where you find various products under one roof. Under the new industry, the company produces luggage/bag that can be branded for companies, pilgrimage, government parastatals and family trips. It also manufactures over 68 different designs of standard chairs for churches, parties, eateries, hotels etc. It also has sets of coolers and food warmers in different shapes and designs. This attests to the fact that consistency, not compromising on standard and quality has been the guiding principles that have kept the company going in the past four decades.
Many of my activities revolve around religion and service to humanity through philanthropy. This cuts across the various sectors of the society. At various times, I have supported medical establishments by donating life-saving equipment. With modesty, Eleganza is one of the biggest employers of labour as we provide employment to thousands of Nigerians. I also believe in quality education and a Foundation under my name in recent years has thrown its weight in support of the educational sector. Several undergraduate students have benefited from Akanni Okoya Scholarship Awards.
Advice for youths
It took me 60 years to build the Eleganza conglomerate through dint of hard work. Nigerian youths are hard working and resilient. If they can embrace hard work, they will be successful because they have what it takes in an enabling environment.