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Michael Ade Ojo @86: Celebrating the industrialist piloting Elizade University

Michael Ade Ojo means different things to different people. While some see him as a shrewd businessman that sits atop Nigeria’s flourishing auto business, Elizade Motors, a company he co-established with his late wife, Elizabeth in 1971, others based on his viral birthday videos may describe him as the energetic elderly man with adorable dancing steps.

Really, it’s difficult not to be enthralled by Ade Ojo’s dancing ability at over 80 – a gift he ascribes to God. “God gives strength,’’ he stated in a recent interview that preludes his 86th birthday. The business mogul says he does not only love to dance, he sees dancing as a hobby, the same way he loves to play football and does his physical exercises every morning except when he has to be in church early on Sundays. Aside from his love for God, his passion for Yoruba culture is also unmistakable as reflected in his foray into the traditional garment manufacturing business.

Like the proverbial elephant, Ade Ojo is prone to different descriptions depending on the angle that one sees him from. But his most defining characteristic is perhaps his business acumen. Despite life challenges, adversity and poverty, the Ilara Mokin Chief is arguably one of Africa’s most enterprising business moguls. He has successfully built and maintained a business empire that spans decades of years to the admiration of many people across the world.

His exploits are manifested in his business conglomerate that started as Elizade Motors with just one support staff in 1971 which now has several subsidiaries including Mikeade Investment Co. Ltd, and Mikeade Property Development. Co. Ltd, Classic Motors Ltd, Elizade Autoland Nigeria, Okin Travels Ltd, and Oodua Creations Ltd, Toyota Nigeria Limited, RT Briscoe Nigeria, Crow Motors Nigeria Limited, and Elizade University, among others.

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Ade Ojo is currently on the board of directors of several organisations in Nigeria including Eco Bank, First City Monument Bank and SMT Nigeria Limited, the official distributors of Mack trucks, Volvo trucks and Volvo Construction Equipment.

Born on June 14, 1938, to the family of Chief Solomon Ojo of the Lamilohun Lisa Chieftaincy House and Chief (Mrs.) Beatrice Ademolawe Ojo, Chief Ade.Ojo struggled through life as a young child. He shared the story of how he was a street hawker while growing up and selling all sorts of things including charcoal, matches, pap and firewood to make ends meet. Although he had little chance of being educated, somehow, he was able to make it through primary school at St. Michael’s Anglican School, Ilara-Mokin. He attended Imade College in Owo and ended up earning a degree in Business Administration from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Reminiscing on how he got into the automobile industry, Ade Ojo said in a recent interview. “So, CFAO Motors Nigeria Limited offered me a scholarship. With that, the problem of paying my school fees was solved. The scholarship started in my third year. When I graduated, I chose to serve CFAO to show my gratitude, because, if not for them, it wouldn’t have been easy for me to complete my schooling. However, they did not require my service then; but, I forced myself (on them).

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“They said that they gave me a scholarship, and that was all. They told me to go and work somewhere else. But I maintained that I had to show my gratitude to them. In the end, I won the ‘fight’.

“I worked with them for about one and a half years. At that time, I told myself that I had learnt enough, and I proceeded to start my own business. That was how I founded Elizade Nigeria Limited.”

That interview was a succinct summary of Ade Ojo’s foray into the business world. The journey wasn’t that smooth and straightforward. There were many thorns in his way, many hurdles to cross. His accomplishments in business are products of many battles fought and won. His grass-to-grace story holds a lot of lessons for anyone desirous of success in life. It’s a story of resilience, doggedness, focus and faith.

At the initial stage of his career when he was a salesman for CFAO motors, he once sold 20 trucks to the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, but to his dismay, his manager took credit for the sale. He protested but he lost his job for protesting the injustice. He got another job at British Petroleum (BP). Within three months of being signed on, he increased the sales of his local division by 25%. But again, his new boss took credit for the outstanding growth. He got frustrated but never gave up hope.

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He took another daring step. This time around, he approached the RT Brisco Group; an importer and distributor of trucking and automobile equipment. He offered to sell their equipment for a commission. And in just four months, he sold about 40 cars. The commissions earned from the total sales were more than his yearly salary at BP. That was how he took a final detour to the business world. He reasoned that if he could earn his annual salary in less than four months, there was no need to hang on to a paid job. He left his job at BP. That was the beginning of what he has grown to become today. He is the sole importer of Toyota cars with the name Toyota Nigeria Limited. He has also acquired 100 per cent of RT Briscoe in Nigeria and raised his total holdings in Toyota Nigeria Limited up to 74 per cent.

Ade Ojo is a die-hard philanthropist. He is the Patron of the Elizabethan Humanitarian Life (H&H) Foundation, a foundation that caters for the needs of the boy child and men. His reason for focusing on the boy child may be because of his experience as a boy-child who suffered some deprivations growing up. He was the fifth child of his mother who had six children- five boys and one girl in a polygamous setting. His poor carpenter /farmer father had three wives. The agreement with the wives was to send just the first son of each wife to school. His mother’s slot had been used by her elder brother. So, he was only educated because he had a mother who valued education and was ready to make sacrifices for his education.

He must have experienced firsthand the plight of the boy child in an African setting. Unfortunately, the plight of the boy-child is still begging for the attention of global funders and international donor agencies. In a recent interview with the Punch, the philanthropist revealed how he was ‘used’ like a girl. He would carry his mud pot to fetch water from the stream and even tie his wrapper like a girl such that people around thought he was a girl in his bid to help his mother do her business and make money.

Ade Ojo’s scholarship scheme set up in 1991 has helped over 120 students. While giving reasons for his philanthropic activities, he explained that helping the underprivileged is his weakness. “I just can’t ignore them,’’ he said.

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Pioneering Elizade University, Greatest Gift To Humanity

Ade Ojo’s exploits in business notwithstanding, perhaps, his greatest contribution to humanity is the establishment of Elizade University in his home town, Ilara-Mokin, a serene environment in Ondo state. Licensed by Nigeria’s federal government on February 28, 2012, the university opened its doors to its first set of students on January 6, 2013, with 64 students in 13 programmes across two Faculties with a vision to be globally competitive, producing entrepreneurial, innovative and ethical graduates.

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Right from the outset, Ade Ojo’s goal is to support the engagement of high-quality faculty members that will complement goal-driven students to leverage the infrastructural endowment of the university for excellence.

So far, the university has not only built young Nigerian men and women in the academic environment, it has promoted the socio-economic development of the university host community, providing employment opportunities for the young and the old.

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The Ilara-Mokin community itself which is close to Akure, the Ondo state capital, has become a mini-city since the university was established in the town. The community now boasts of asphalt roads and potable water, among other several amenities. Besides, the citing of an 18-hole international golf course in the community has further opened the town to economic development with several indigenes benefiting from the Founder’s scholarship in the university.

The university has also imparted the host community positively with its deployment of biotechnological devices to solve agricultural-related problems both in the town and other neighbouring agrarian communities. These interventions have assisted farmers, who have also benefited from the various agricultural tools fabricated by the university for ease of farming.

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Investing in university education is capital intensive. Education is a social product and not an economic venture. It’s a business that gulps money and fails to produce profit. So, it takes real commitment and determination to make a success of a university project. That is probably why only very few Nigerian businessmen invest in private universities. Yet Nothing can be more rewarding than intentionally nurturing an army of young people intellectually via the promotion of good, quality education.

What is known as Elizade University today was first conceived as Elizade Polytechnic – a skill acquisition centre where technical and entrepreneurial skills could be impacted by youths from all over the country. But the review of government policy coupled with the need to offer the best form and quality higher education inspired by technology gave birth to the current Elizade university.

Elizade University has grown in geometric dimensions since January 2013. Currently, it offers 31 fully accredited academic programmes in the Faculties of Basic and Applied Sciences, Allied Health Sciences, Engineering, Humanities, Social and Management Sciences and Law, with about 3,000 students. It commenced its Postgraduate programmes four years ago and since then, it has produced two sets of Postgraduate Diploma (PGD), Master of Art (MA), Master of Science M.Sc.) and Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) graduates. It has just produced the first set of Ph.D. graduates.

All its programmes are accredited by relevant professional bodies such as the Council of Legal Education (CLE), Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN), Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), under its Mutual Cooperative Agreement with Tertiary Institutions (MCATI), among others.

The university is gradually living up to its mission and vision statement. Within the short period of its existence, it has recorded some feats. Already, the university has produced quality graduates, many of whom are already making waves in their chosen careers. Some of them who went along the line of academics have obtained a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degrees in universities in Canada, America, United Kingdom and Europe. Few of these individuals have been engaged by the university as lecturers and they have risen significantly along the academic career ladder.

Ade Ojo’s investment in the university is huge. He has invested billions of naira in infrastructural development. So far, he has spent over N45 billion on the university project and it shows. The first thing that is likely to catch the attention of a first-time visitor to the institution is its well-equipped classrooms and large lecture halls. All the lecture halls have modern multimedia facilities. The university also runs a partnership with some universities outside Nigeria including the ORT Braude College of Engineering, Israel, where students go for a 3- month intensive practical training in selected programmes.

According to Distinguished Prof. Kayode Ijadunola, the university’s vice-chancellor, the institution prioritises innovativeness and creativity. This probably informs the development of a formal and comprehensive E-Learning policy that integrates e-learning with traditional teaching methods to create a blended learning experience.

The VC stated that the university’s adoption of the iLearn platform, the development of lecture notes and the uploading of same on the university’s website, have simplified teaching and learning in the university. “With this platform, students are afforded the opportunity of reading ahead of their classes. This is a global best practice that has encouraged self-directed learning among our students,’’ the VC further explained on the university’s website.

The university has also been consistent with its engagement of seasoned academics and professionals, who have continued to impart relevant knowledge in the students, using modern teaching and learning facilities provided by the university. This has helped the university to attract grants and win laurels.

With the establishment of Elizade University, Ade Ojo has transcended being a blessing to his family and community, to becoming a generational blessing. If education can give the business mogul a better chance at life, culminating in all the exploits he has recorded today, no one can fully predict what can come out of the army of well-educated young men and women being groomed at Elizade University.

Ade Ojo has no doubt provided an example of industry, philanthropy, sustainable development and quality education landscape that is worthy of emulation and celebration. This is wishing him a happy 86th birthday.

Olabisi Deji-Folutile can be reached via [email protected]



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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