Chief(Dr) Michael Ade-Ojo

By Charles Segun Adegbite

Getting this octogenarian business magnate, Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, who clocked 83years old last week, to speak on his life experience and how he started his chain of companies was like a Herculean task. 

He is the Chairman of Toyota Nigeria Limited, Elizade Motors (Nig) Ltd, Founder of Elizade Universityand a host of other companies.
In this “no holds barred” interview however, he speaks on his birth, education, marriage and business adventure.


SPM: How was your childhood like, were you born with a sliver spoon in your mouth ?

Ojo: I was born without spoon in my mouth. I was born on the 14 of June, 1938, in a church in my home town. According to my mother, she laboured for five days before I could come out of the womb alive. My father was Chief Solomon Ojo. He died in 1956.

I was born without spoon in my mouth.

My mother was Chief Mrs Beatrice Ademolare Ojo. She died December 1991 at the age of 100. I was the 5th of six children; five men and one woman.

My childhood was rough. I was born to the parents who were poor. I was not to go to school. But one person, an Akoda (a native police) living in my uncle’s house at that time, was the one who called my mother, as I was told, that she should endeavour to send me to school because I was a fine looking boy. And that it would be good if I go to school.

READ ALSO:  Give us electricity and Nigeria’s GDP will grow fast, says Chief Ade Ojo (Chairman, Elizade Group of Companies)


SPM : Did he succeed in convincing your mother to send you to school?

Ojo: My mother said there was no money to send me to school. Still he encouraged her to try and let me get education. One of the reasons that my father gave, even though the first born went to school, was that out of the children of each of his three wives he could only send one to school. And that the first born of my mother had taken the slot of her own children.
Since my mother was convinced that schooling was good, she decided to shoulder the responsibilities of sending me to school, all alone. And that was St. Michael School, Aramokin.
One thing that was remarkable when I was young was that I was very obedient to my mother. Anything she asked me to do, I did. And one thing about my mother was that she was a good disciplinarian.




SPM: What was your childhood experience like?

Ojo: She won’t take no for yes. My senior brothers would have gone to the farm except the one to go to school. The second person to go to school from another wife,(he is about 83years old now).

I was the one going to fetch fresh water from the brook and doing all sorts of household shores. And my going to school did not stop me from doing all these before going to school.
She taught me to be responsible. So I was quite obedient.

If I happened to misbehave I was never spared. It was from my early life that working was just like my second nature.
So in the morning before I went to school, I would have to go and fetch water. I would sweep, Then I would go round to sell Eko (solid pap ) before going to school.
When I returned in the evening I would go and sell kerosine and matches. In those days people were not able to sell one box of matches. So you tied them either five-five or ten-ten sticks each. And then take them around to sell. That was my own business.
SPM: Any ugly experience that turned things around or caused you to make a serious decision?

Ojo: One thing I cannot forget was that, because of my parents poverty, I was subjected to (what I don’t think is okay to call ) child abuse by one or two of my uncles.
When we were playing in the evening by sitting down to listen to tales by moonlight. (It was always very interesting. It was always very instructive); they told you what you should do in certain circumstances. But when it was time to send anybody on an errand, it was always me they would send.
Therefore they (my maternal uncles) would deprive me of listening to the tales at the time everybody was enjoying it. But I had no option, I had to go. I called it intimidation. I didn’t know why, even when their own children were there it was me they always called to go on errand for them.

So, apart from that I also suffered abuse; that my uncle was in the community of rich persons. There was abuse by him as if I came from heaven with poverty. They would say things like: “Baba e, ile ewe loni, baba awon Ile paanu loni” meaning that my father’s house was roofed with leaves and theirs with iron sheets. And those things meant a lot to me.
These were the things that I gathered together that made me determined that I must change my family dynamics.
SPM: How was your schooling like?

Ojo: I was doing very well in school. In my final year in 1953, I took entrance examinations to Christ School and Oyemekun but I didn’t pass. One night as we were waiting for the result, I was so worried that I didn’t know whether I would pass or would be taken. So I was not sleeping, I was just rolling on the floor where we were sleeping.
There was my auntie who was sleeping in same room with us. She just observed that I wasn’t sleeping. She asked me why I wasn’t sleeping and I explained to her that out of the three entrance examinations I took, two schools have done their admission and I was not taken. And it remained only Emmanuel College and I don’t know whether I would go to secondary school or not.
It happened that for the brief moment that I slept that night, I dreamt that I was I taken in that school. But few minutes after that I woke up to discover that it was a dream. So I felt bad that it was only a dream and not real.

SPM: What happened, did you eventually gained admission?

Ojo: At about 5:30am we went to the farm. And when we were returning from the farm, a classmate of mine who was going to the farm, one Cecilia, asked if I have heard of the result and I said “No!” She said I passed. Because of that, I ran with the load on my head. I got home and quickly run to the school and I was told that I have been offered admission to Emmanuel College.
So I was so happy.

When I was at the Emmanuel College my ambition was to become a doctor. UnfortunatelyI didn’t know that one needed Physics to become a doctor. I was good in other subjects.

Mathematics didn’t allow itself to go into me. So I went to the school, but money was a problem.
SPM: How did you go to school?

Ojo: My brother who was then in Police College; I went to meet him (and that was the the first time to know Lagos. It was 1953). He was the one who bought my clothes and other things that we needed for the school.

My mother was able to raise money for the school for the first term. She spent all the money she had.
During the holiday I engaged in labourer work, like helping people to cut the weeds on their farms or engaging in other farm activities. Another popular thing I did was carrying mud for bricklayers who were building mud houses. From the school they came to do recruitment into the Army. I passed the exams. I came to Yaba (Lagos) for the interview. Again I was not taken.
SPM: Why? What happened?

Ojo: When I passed the army recruitment exams and was going for the interview. I told my mum and she was sad and said “upon all the money I’ve spent on you, you want to go and die.”

It was their belief that time that going into the army was to go and die. Thank God I was not taken and so I did not die

It was their belief that time that going into the army was to go and die. Thank God I was not taken and so I did not die.

Then between 1959 and 1960 I was in the School of Agriculture, Akure. Then from the School of Agriculture I went to Ibadan. Ibadan was like Lagos.

Nobody regarded Lagos as they regarded Ibadan because it was more developed as a city than Lagos. Then, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of the Western Region and he developed it a lot).

SPM: Was it agriculture that you eventually studied?

Ojo: I was in Ibadan between 1960 and September 1961. Then I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where I read Business Administration and graduated with Second Class Upper Division. It was at the university where I met my late friend(wife), Elizabeth.

It was all the money that I saved which was £100 and also two cousins of mine, both females. One gave me one pound and the other one gave me ten shillings. So it was £101 and ten shillings that I had, out of which I boarded the bus and travelled to Nsukka.
SPM: What was your experience like in that university with £101?

Ojo: My first year in the university was a very peaceful year for me, because as I do tell people, they forgot to ask for fees. It was their fault. They didn’t ask us whether you have paid or not. We’re just eating and lying.

The second year unexpectedly they got wise. As we were resuming the first semester, they will ask you “Have you paid your fees?”. If you say no they will tell you that you cannot enter. School fees was a problem to my mum.

So my Head of Department and lecturer saw it and decided to help me. So I was working in the Departmental Library and they were giving me some stipend which kept me on.

The most of my second year was the meeting of my late wife. I met her in the church, during the evening devotion. I was sitting next to her. I knew she was a Yoruba girl. She had a friend. Both of them have passed on.

I was sitting next to her friend and she was sitting next to me. We were not talking to each other. I just noticed that when we were singing the two of them would start laughing. And this happened whenever we were singing.

So my belief was that they were making jest of me. And I said in my mind that these people didn’t know whom they were dealing with.

In my university days my popular name was Ade Ojo Lumubar. Lumubar was the name of the first president of Congo. It was because I looked like him. And I shaved my bear exactly like him. Everybody knew Ade Ojo Lumubar.

As soon as we finished the prayer both of them ran out. I wanted to go after them, but you know the other group had come. So I didn’t get up in time to be able to meet them.
Surprisingly after getting out of the hall they were waiting for me.

They came to me and said “Sir, we want to talk to you” and I said talk. They said they believed that they embarrassed me and that it was not about me but the man sitting next to Elizabeth (she later became my wife). And that when they were singing he was singing in wrong tune entirely.

I said was that the reason? They said yes. Then I said can I know your names? And they both introduced themselves to me. And the same evening I knew other girl was a girlfriend to my friend. But this one who was free, I told her “if you don’t mind if I can be saying hello to you once in a while”. And that was how our relationship began until we later became husband and wife.
SPM: Anything special about your university days apart from getting your wife there?

Ojo: While in the second year when they introduced what we referred to as “Almighty Meal Ticket” It was (UNN) Nsukka which first introduced meal ticket. And they got us at the right place because if you cann’t get food what would you do? So I couldn’t pay my fees. The lady was lucky to have been enjoying scholarship. But something happened and we became friends. And to my greatest surprise she gave me 40 pounds. Forty pounds was her pocket money that time. And she gave me everything. And I was really conquered with that kind of gesture. In fact that was how I made up mind that that was the woman I would marry.

In fact we married at Enugu while she was still in the university. That was because I finished a year before her. So we married at Enugu on February 26, 1966.
There was a crowd of 14 people at the wedding. And we lived happily, blessed with two children. One girl and a boy.

And to my greatest surprise she gave me 40 pounds. Forty pounds was her pocket money that time. And she gave me everything. And I was really conquered with that kind of gesture.

My first born Deola Sego and Demola. So, this is it. And we are living fine.
SPM: How did you come about the name Elizade?

Ojo: Well, my last two years( in the university) was no problem because CFAO decided to give me scholarship. So everything went on fine in my last two years. I decided on my own to work for CFAO to appreciate their kind gesture. I was with CFAO for one and a half years. And I left because there was some disagreement.

In fact they placed me on contract and they didn’t renew the contract by the end of 1966. So I had to go to work at Inland Revenue. I was in Inland Revenue only for six months. From there I joined the BP (British Petroleum, now African Petroleum -AP).

Something happened at the Inland Revenue which I will share because I believe it may be useful to some of you. And that is that at the Inland Revenue, even though I was just there for five and a half months. I was not used to laziness.

When I joined Government work I discovered that it was house of laziness.
Within the first two hours I would have finished the job assigned to me for the whole day.

I then thought how do I make use of the hours left. I then decided to be going to our registry and collect the names of those people who were not insured.

I learnt about insurance in CFAO. So, I would collect the names and go after them: Since there was no work for me to do in the office. I would talk to them and introduce life insurance to them. And I was very successful in this. More successful than those who were doing it full time.
SPM: Why? Or, how did you do it?

Ojo: It was because I was hitting target. I was going to people who I knew were not insured. And this experience was only for me because those insurance people were only going about like blind people by going to everybody. But for me I was going to only those who were not insured. So that amounted to one of the reasons for my success.

So I was able to sell insurance to many people. I have reasons for telling you all these. You can learn a lot from all these. So that was how I was able to make the savings that I later used to start my business.

I have reasons for telling you all these. You can learn a lot from all these.

SPM: What happened at BP and why did you leave the place?
Ojo: When I joined the BP there was no time because my time was fully engaged by the company. So for about one year I could not sell insurance because I was fully facing my job. And I was doing very well at my sales because I’m a very good sales person. And that is where my success lies. If you are not careful I can sell shit to you, thinking that you are buying moin-moin. So I was doing very well in sales.
Within the four years that I spent in BP I was their highest sales person. So I took the business from Shell.
The next year I took also the engine oil and all that from them. In 1970 I was transferred to Benin (Edo State) for three months to relieve somebody. And I did very well within the three months of my being there. I increased the sales by 25%. So I came back to Lagos after that. But to my surprise the man I relieved in Benin was brought to be my direct boss. And this really annoyed me. That was how I made up my mind to leave.

So I then asked for my annual leave. Within that four weeks leave I was able to sell 40 cars. And with that 40cars that was how my business started.

It was because after selling the cars I calculated what I was going to earn and to my greatest surprise I discovered that it was more than one year salary in BP.

So this led to my decision to leave and do my own business. So you can see how I came about my wealth.
SPM: What happened next?

When I started this business , I was asked to pay £600. You know it was RT Briscoe Motors that started Toyota business in Nigeria. And it was the company that gave me the opportunity to be selling for them on commission.

I had earned money but I’d not received the money because we were selling forward. The vehicles were not available, you have to deposit for them. It is only when the vehicle is delivered that you earn your commission. Although I had that money but it was not cash.

I had to approach bank to give me loan which they refused. When they refused this, because they said I had no collateral. The collateral which I had to offer was my brain. And they rejected my brain as collateral.

So I left and I went to a cousin. And the cousin gave me the £600 pounds. And I paid that to start the sales of their motorcycle at that time.

I became an agent after paying the money. And they promised to pay me two and a half percent commission. Then,8i8l they were paying their dealers 10% commission. I took it and started the selling.
SPM: Was 2.5% commission not too small compared with 10%?

Ojo: Well, since bank had refused my head as a collateral, so when I got that money, it was work, work and work. Working is my second nature. I don’t know how to get lazy at all. When I don’t get things to do I feel like I’m useless. So I must always engage myself in something. That’s the result of the lesson that my mother gave me.

Again, not that the money I got was sufficient because I had to get a house, I had to buy some other things to equip our office and home at 71, Awolowo Way. So, I still needed some money. I was using a Volkswagen when I started the business. And I continued to use it until I was able to buy a fairly used Cressida car. And I used it for sometime. Luckily I sold two heavy-duty vehicles and I was able to get some money. So I decided to buy Corolla Panel Van (what you call Shalaake in Yoruba).

I want to make it clear to you that at that time I could buy new car. But, I needed the money to promote my business. So, I did not buy new vehicle, instead opted for that fairly used vehicle. When I sold those two heavy-duty vehicles I realised £720 from it. And I put the money back into the business.

When I was leaving BP I had ordered for a car and I had taken advance from BP. The car came, I sold it because I knew I could not afford to ride it with my own business. If I was working with BP I could use it. But I decided to sell it. And I sold it and I used the money for six months before I returned it to BP. That was it. I’m telling you all these things so that you can learn.

From there on, through cutting my coat according to the size of cloth, I was able to build the company up very quickly. And what I got from it I made sure I didn’t waste them on luxury. I didn’t attempt to do things that I know could kill my capital. And I’m still like that till today, which I want you to really learn from. Knowing the son or daughter of whom you are.

If you are trying to build a business always be careful not to waste this thing they call capital because it can bring many good things to you.
SPM: As a great dancer, what is your best music and who is your best musician?

Ojo: There is no music that I don’t dance to. And King Sunny Ade is my best musician.

Above all, I love dancing. It is my nature. I’ve been dancing from my elementary school days, even up to my university days. I love dancing
SPM: Can you tell us a little about Club 38 of which you are the Chairman?.

Ojo: It is a club of people that were born in 1938. And our own is to enjoy together, do things together. And I’m the current chairman.
And we are winding the thing up because all of us will be 80years old at the end of this year. That is for the remaining members that are alive.

Note: This interview was first published in July 2018 as “How l made my money -Chief Michael Ade Ojo