…Introduced jewelry business to me as a boy
By Morenike Taire and Ebunoluwa Sessou
Suave and urbane Managing Director of Primero Transport Company, Mr. Fola Tinubu, has come a long way in life.
In this interview, he is not only talking about his transportation business but he is taking us through the world of his constant believer, his mother, who against all odds believed that his rascality will not deter him from achieving his goals in life.
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The story of Fola Tinubu cannot be complete without letting us know the role his mother played, tell us about it.
I do not like talking about myself. I will talking more about Primero. For my mum, I do not know where to start. I will call her a constant believer. She has always believed in me. When I was young and rascal, she is my strength and pillar beach there is nothing, I cannot discuss with her. I always comfortable to talk to her. I can talk about my mum for the next one year.
What’s your earliest memory and when did you become conscious that this is my mother?
My father left for England in 1966 and my mum in 1967. So, I was only about 4 years old when she left. It was my grandmother was taking care of us. My two brothers and I were living with her. It was when she came back in 1972, that the relationship blossom.
Did she have any favourite among her children?
You have to ask her that question. Of course all of us believed, we were her favorite. If you ask my two brothers and sister, they will all tell you the same thing. She is the only one that can answer that question, nobody can answer that for her.
There is a philosophy that the boy child is closer to the mother than the father…
There is a theory that the fathers are their daughters’ first love. I remember my daughter would say, she would marry me that I should not tell anybody and the brother will caution her not to say that again. But, my theory is that for girl, her first love is her dad while boy child, his first love is his mum. Because, that is the first opposite sex that you have.
What were the lessons, you got from her?
My mum is hardworking and industrious. Most of the women that raised do not understand no when it comes to business and hardwood. I got my work ethics from them. My grandma used to have shop in Ereko (Gotta). When my mother came back from England, she worked for Niger Motors for years before she moved to (Gotta) also selling jewelries. I have been telling them that I am going to write a book that anything I learnt in business, was from (Gotta). Those women are very hardworking and industrious.
Most of them are the ones carry the family burden. They are there six days a week; from Monday to Saturday, from 7am to 9pm on a daily basis. Most of them may not have gone to school but they do more than professor. They are natural business women. Failure is not in their lexicon. That was where I got my strength from. They are industrious, hardworking and looking after their family. Ability go provide for one’s family was a virtue I got from my mum.
Have you been able to pass that on to your daughter?
We will have to ask her. When you ask a dad, he will say yes but the child will say differently. But, I believe my kids are doing very well.
Between your wife and mum, what are the similarities?
The role of a mother is totally different from the wife.
Maybe there are some virtues you saw in your wife that reminded you of your mum?
No. I fell in love with my wife for different reasons. The two are completely different. I wasn’t looking for another mum. She is there and always been there. So, I do not need another mum. I needed a wife and they are two separate roles completely.
Your Gotta experience…
I was raised there. Before, my mum came back from England, I was going with my grandma everyday. Even when I go to school, I still have to go to the shop after school. During Dallas period, I will sit in front of grandma’s shop with selling Erepes, we were beckoning on people. When my mum came, she started selling jewelries and she is still selling that in Lagos right now. When I was in England after I finished my Youth Corps.
While, I was looking for what to do, I was going to the shop with her. Although, it is a woman business, I was already contemplating partnership with her. To me, it is a business. People find it strange but to me, you do what is necessary not what is convenient. Gotta to me became an experience when I was three years old.
And it was constantly a daily affair. It was as if you were going to the office with your mum. It was initially with my grandmother and then my mum. Even when my mum traveled, my brothers and I were always in the shop without any issue. We know how to do the business, prices and the rest. My brother is a medical doctor right now, he and I were fully involved in the business.
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Was there different in the way the boys and the girls were raised?
We were three boys and the girl came later. The gap between my sister and I is fourteen years. I was already in secondary school when my mum dad (small); we call her small. One thing she ensured was to instill good characters in us. She taught us how to cook, go to market and be a good man. There is nothing we did not when it comes to cooking. When I got to University in England, most of my friends did not know how to cook, so, I became their chef and I was making money. She raised the boys properly.
…And your rascal attitude, how did she react to them?
My parents reacted differently. I have a brother that is brilliant and he had A1 in all his papers and my father was constantly trying to get me to match up with him but it was not working. And then, my mum would encourage him that all will be fine.
You can’t remember anytime you really offended her?
So many times. In fact, you need to talk to her about that. She probably will tell you more about it. But, I remember an incident. I was ill and she did not go to shop because of me. Unfortunately, when the doctor gave her drug for me to use. I use it with cold water and she sparked and flipped the water from me and started beating me and was crying. I was nine years old. Generally, my mum does not beat. There are ways she will talk to you that is worse than using stick on you. My dad is the only that beat.
Why are you engaging more women in your company?
Primero, in Nigerian setting, the job is a male dominated one. It’s now that we are trying to get women come into the field. Growing up, I can’t remember any female who drove LMTS or other big vehicles in the field. Now, that we are changing the paradigm, we are trying to attract women to drive. We have women drivers right now but we have not had enough. All over the world, it is not strange for women to drive big buses. We are running a campaign trying attract more women to join and become drivers. We have set up a droving school now where people are trained on driving. My goal is to have 30 percent of our drivers to be female because men tend to behave mire civilised wit female drivers and women tend to control the men’s attitude and the aggressive side. We hardly see women get into trouble or have accident. As a company, we believe, it is a good longtime policy for the company to attract more female drivers.
This position, does it have anything to do with the relationship with your mother?
No, all the things I have gone into. My mother is a trader.
I mean your belief in women that they can do extra ordinary things?
Maybe, unconsciously. Even when I was in America, when I was running a mortgage company, I put efforts to attract more women because it was a sales job. Women tend to be better at sales than men. In terms of Primero, the first women that came on board were not planned for but when we saw their track record, we were impressed and since then, we have been trying to engage more women. Although, it was not intentional but when we saw the record of those who have engaged, we were impressed. And we thought it will be a good policy for the company in future. And we are going out of our ways to recruit women not only as drivers but engineers. We have talked to some of the university management to send their students internship especially the female students. So, Primero does not discriminate based on gender. We have equal opportunities for people as long as you know your job and you are competent. We are ready to hire people without discrimination of sex, age and race.
So, you are not worried of the peculiarities of women in terms of maternity leave or menstration period?
There is nothing wrong with that. I do not have a problem.
What is your relationship with your mum like right now?
We still talk almost everyday. She is constantly talking to me on phone and she is a typical Yoruba woman who would want to talk to everybody that is around you whenever she is talking to you on phone. That is my mum for you. I remember when I was in school in England and I am using the payphone to call her, she would want to talk to everybody around me forgetting the fact that I was a student. She will greet for five minutes. Honestly, I do not know what I will do without my mum. She is a constant believer, she never doubted me when people did not believed in me. Until now, she encourages me and tells me the future is bright.
What is the scope of your business right now?
We still en-route Ikorodu do TBS but before the end of the year, we will be routing Ikeja to Lagos Island and in the fist quarter of the year, we will extend to Abule Egba to Oshodi. Our goal is to have 2000 buses picking one million people daily in Lagos. We are trying to change the paradigm of transportation in Nigeria. The amount of money involved is huge and the ability to manager 2000 buses means that we need about 4500 drivers. It is a capital intensive business and the scale at we want to do requires lots of money and management and I believe, we will get there.
What do you think about the prospect of going out of Lagos?
We will do that but there is need to get Lagos right first. Lagos is highly populated and the business is what number. Although, we have been asked to come to Abuja and Oyo state to Ibadan because see what we are doing but I will prefer to get operations of Lagos first.
Transportation business is perceived a work for touts looking at the union among others?
We are trying to change the paradigm in Nigeria. Transportation outside Nigeria is interesting, people do not bother go out with their cars rather, they go through public bus except for weekend. In London most politicians go on public transportation. And if we are able to achieve this, we would have reduced movement of cars on the road. Some of the roads should be well maintained. If we can get right, it will be a good thing for Lagos.
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How do you intend to train your workers to understand customer relation differently from the untrained commercial drivers?
That is a societal problem. And there is no way, those set of people will not be encountered and our projection is between six to seven thousand employees by the time, we get to where we are going. There is no way but the promise is that anyone finds guilty will not go without being punished. It is social problem because how you behave when you relate to customers is a reflection of who are at home. The way out of it isn’t continue to train and retrain workers.
How old is your mum now?
She is 76 years.
So, she has began to slow down?
She is selling her jewellery and goes to her shop everyday. Although, I try to talk to her but let continue as long as she is agile.
Have you thought of when she will no longer be available?
I will not even think about think. Maybe thirty years from now, I will be thinking of that.