Thursday, January 12, 2023 3:30 pm
Today, Chief Rasaq Akanni Okoya, Chairman of Eleganza Group of Companies, turns 83. The daily newspapers are full of congratulatory adverts for him. Born on 12 January, 1940, his father, Tiamiyu Ayinde Okoya, was a tailor who sewed clothes and sold buttons and zippers. His mother was Idiatu.
After attending primary school at Ansar-un-deen Primary School, Oke Popo, Isale-Eko (Lagos Island), he joined his father’s tailoring workshop.
His father was comfortable and it was in the process of doing business with his father that Akanni Okoya was inspired. He was quoted by The Guardian: “We didn’t wait for people to bring materials; we were making clothes and sewing everything to sell, from shirts to trousers and bicycle seats. My father was very industrious and enterprising.
“As a tailor, he was comfortable and owned a Chrysler car, which he regularly used to move around to see his clients living in Ikoyi and its environs. One of such clients was Chief Ojukwu, the father of the late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
“I used to go with him to see them, and seeing how beautiful and serene the place was, I used to tell myself that one day, I would live in one of those mansions or one like that. My main motivation was to be rich and I knew I had to work very hard to get there.”
Having made up his mind to be comfortable like the Ojukwus, Okoya decided to start something, however little the beginning could be (£20, in the first instance). In the same report, he narrated: “In school, I often saw my teacher in torn and shabby clothes, while I also saw well-dressed businessmen of Dosunmu Street, the heart of business in Lagos then. So, it was easy for me to choose business life.
“After school, I worked with my father at his tailoring shop, where he sewed clothes for people on demand and also ready-made for sale, as well as sold tailoring accessories. After working with him for a while, I started to do a few things on the side on my own.
“I used to mend shirts and trousers for a fee. For instance, I could turn long sleeves to short sleeves or trousers to shorts. I saved every penny I made. When I had saved about £20, I wanted to go into trading. Back then, ordering for goods directly from the manufacturers wasn’t popular, as most people bought goods imported into Lagos.”
He was quoted that after gettingt hold of the catalogue of a manufacturer in Japan, whose products he liked, he started making series of enquires on how to go about the business of importing the products, “which was not popular in Nigeria at that time, he discovered that he needed £70 to be able to order and ship some of the products to Lagos.”
He narrated: “I had £20, which I had saved from the petty jobs I was doing while I worked with my father at his tailoring business. I was short of £50, so I approached my mother for the money and like a good mother would do, she asked what I wanted to do with it. I told her, but as a loyal wife, she advised me to get my father’s permission first, which I did. She gave me the £50.
“By the time my goods arrived, they were not only of better quality, they were also cheaper than what was available in the market. Of course, I sold out quickly and ordered for more.”
How did he get into selling items of jwellery? He revealed as his business began to expand, he travelled far and wide and saw how different things were manufactured. His passion for manufacturing was, as stated in the report, further fueled “after he learnt a new trick from Igbo traders about how ornamented buttons could be converted into earrings.”
He said: “Women love to wear jewellery and the ridiculous amount of money they spend in buying them will surprise you. My first wife, Kuburat, was obsessed with jewellery and would bring jewellery that cost so much. I used to be baffled at how much she said they cost. I felt it was ridiculous.
“These were metals that I felt we could design and at a cheaper price, especially as we had the metals available here in Nigeria. I always felt we could do as good, if not better than what I saw.”
Then he expanded into shoe manufacturing: “I began to import shoes in large quantities. I will pay the factory to manufacture and import to Nigeria. On one of those occasions, after paying, the goods were not delivered. I waited a while and travelled to Italy to see the manufacturer.
“I arrived there and discovered that they had used my money to settle their bills. I was so angry that I decided there and then to begin manufacturing my own shoes, and that was what I did. I imported all the machines and brought in some experts who trained my workers. And that was how we began making shoes.”
He shifted also to gear three, that is manufacturing coolers through Eleganza Industries (at Oregun-Ikeja, Ajao Estate in Isolo, Suru-Alaba and Iganmu) which produce cutlery, collieries, food warmers, ice chest, electric fan, cosmetics and ballpoint pen.
On the secret of his success, he revealed:: “I am a very determined person. I hate to fail in whatever goal I set to achieve, and I thank God that it has always been possible. I always keep myself busy, looking for new opportunities; I like creating things, I like challenges.
“Production is my life; I go to the factory everyday, because I want to keep it great and going. I have done it many times, but the economy today is making it tougher. But we have to go through it to make sure we are successful.
“Government should create enabling environment for industries to thrive again in Nigeria. The level playing ground for industry is not yet there. There is problem of power and unemployment, which is very high in the country, as there are so many people looking for job today.”