The axiom that a man’s life is defined by the choices he makes, found practical expression in our today’s story. The import of the maxim manifested in Chief Omochiere Aisagbonhi, President/C.E.O. of Omais Investment Nigeria Limited. At periods when he had not attained the age of consent, life left him with mean choices. Rather than sulking when he was sent out of his home at 13, it was taken as a challenge to build a better future for himself. Hence, his journey to Benin, where he rented an apartment at that age while working as a petrol attendant.
With his eyes on the prize (success), he encountered many troubling phases before he struck gold. Today, he heads a multi-million dollar real estate firm in Nigeria. He has qualifications from the North London University, and Amersha College, England. He is an alumnus of Harvard Business School, Lagos Business School, and School of Health Technology, Pankshin, Plateau State.A widely traveled businessman with business interests, in Europe, North America, UK, and Asia, Omo supports several charity causes worldwide.
WITH a suaveness that gave him away as an A-list bank executive, he gestured this reporter to a chair as he discussed what sounded like a corporate matter with a female staff.
A quick gaze around the expansive office while the chat lasted momentarily, created the impression of accomplishment about the host. And that was further affirmed by the exquisiteness of the office.
The spectacle easily created the perception that the owner is actually a high-flying professional. His demeanor denoted a sophisticated man, who is contented and at peace with himself.
Interestingly, these observations about him, shone like stars as he beamed disarming smiles at this writer to herald this chat at his Ilupeju office, Lagos.
Okay, the 25 minutes you requested starts now,” he said jokingly as another female staff came into the office with a paper that required his attention.
Having treated that with dispatch, Chief Omo Aisagbonhi beamed yet another infectious smile at this writer.
On that note, what perhaps turned out as another moving story in this column began.
“I was born 50 years ago in Ubiaja, Edo State. In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my birthday. Life was not smooth for me as some people might think. I attended primary school in the village like every other child,” Aisagbonhi said as he paused to respond to yet another phone call.
My father sent me out of home at 13
Done with the business discussion, he continued his narrative thus: ‘’ I was born at Ubiaja with my father, who had a chemist (pharmaceutical store). My father was the chairman of patent medicine dealers association in Esan Kingdom. My stepmother was a midwife. We had a chemist in our house.
I was helping out at that stage while still attending school but something happened that made me leave home at the age of 13.
My father sent me out of the house at that age and I found myself in Benin the then capital of Bendel State. My mother was not living with my father at that time because she left me with my daddy when I was nine months old.
Sadly, the man she married did not want any burden. It was for that reason that she did not take me along. I remained with my father and my stepmother in the village until I was sent away at 13.”
Asked what could have necessitated his departure from home at a time he was neither a full grown teenager nor adolescent, he explained thus: “My stepmother died while I was still living with my dad. There were things that happened that forced me to leave home. Leaving home for Benin at that age was the beginning of my struggles and independence. I was left to fend for myself at that age.
I found myself working at different fuel stations in Benin. I was a petrol attendant at many fuel stations in Benin. I knew I was alone and had no option than to become resourceful. I rented my first apartment at 14.
On entrepreneurship skill
“My background indirectly prepared me for the challenges I faced in Benin because before leaving Ubiaja then, I used to help out at the chemist shop. So, I will say that it was one of the things that imbibed entrepreneurship skills in me. It will interest you to know that such a background made me to say that I will become a doctor. My dream was to study medicine and become a doctor. But the early challenges I faced did not permit it because I was working at different fuel stations in Benin to ensure that I saved enough money to train myself in school because my father’s children were in school.
Instead of bemoaning my condition, I worked hard to ensure that I go to school to avoid not being left behind. I told myself that I would not want to be called a failure because I left home. I saw it as a challenge to be the best I can. From the little money I was making as a petrol attendant, I was able to enroll for the West Africa School Certificate examination at the Institute of Continuing Education in Benin-City. I knew early in life that without factoring education into my plans, I may not achieve my dreams.
Started life earlier than I thought
‘’Having started life earlier than I thought, I never looked back on the issue of hard work and ideas. I later moved to the north where I established the first chemist at the National Institute of Strategic Studies, NISS, Kuru. I was very young then, but I was just determined to succeed.
So, I didn’t consider my age a hindrance to the things I set out to do. At Kuru we had people from the military who often came for professional courses. I had friends there also. But I was running into problems with the medicine sellers’ union there, who were often disturbing because I didn’t have the license to operate a chemist.
There was a time they even arrested me and took me to the police station. The last call I received when we were starting this interview was someone, who helped me then at NIPPS when I was arrested. He was a military officer then. They assisted me to ensure that I was released. When I realised that the troubles were becoming overwhelming, I decided to sell my shop at the rate of N9000 in 1989. I traveled abroad for greener pastures with the money I realized from the sale of my shop.
‘’The most interesting aspect of my life is that I value people so much and treat them equally. At most stages of my life, there were instances of falling and picking. I never allowed any circumstance to stop me from making the next move. I have always been on the move because of the circumstances of my birth. My choice was Spain but I did not stay long there because of the language barrier. I needed a place I can easily build a better life and London became the alternative. That was how I left Spain for the UK where I later found myself in the mortgage sector. In the UK, I did what every other migrant like me was doing then which were menial jobs. I knew why I left Nigeria, so, I did not feel bad or diminished doing odd jobs to survive.
My breakthrough in the UK
‘’My breakthrough in the UK was also a product of focus and ideas. I met a Nigerian, who had a council flat but did not reside in it. A friend and I stayed there and were paying him the rent. Even when Council officials came, they took us as the owners. Since there was no default in the payment, we were given the right to purchase it, which both of us did. Having done that, we bought it and that was how I started real estate business. I refurbished the flat and sold it and made enough money than I could ever imagine.”
After having a strong presence in the UK capital mortgage market, many would wonder why he decided to relocate to Nigeria where the business climate is volatile and vague.
On mortgage sector
He gave his reasons thus: “In UK, we were firmly established in the mortgage sector.
When the then President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the UK during his numerous visits to woo investors, he talked to us to come home and invest. We believed in his message that Nigeria was witnessing a new beginning. That was why I returned to the country to invest in the real estate sector which is a familiar turf. Initially, things were fair but the economy is so harsh now. The value of my total assets is not what it was in 2014. It has drastically depreciated which is a true reflection of the harsh business climate. All these are the consequences of poor leadership. Our leaders made this country what it is and they have been unfair to this generation.
If our leaders experienced the hardship this generation is experiencing, they would have found it difficult getting to the age of 30.”
With the vision to develop properties that provide long-term value, Aisagbonhi, who is a devout Catholic, has built a multi-million dollar company that has landmark projects to its credit.
One of them is the Trinity Mall Ikeja which was constructed with about N600 million. It is regarded as the flagship commercial project of OMAIS Investment Limited,
He expiated thus: ‘We ensure that we keep our clients’ needs and wants central, and in the process, we deliver long-term relevance of our products and services. We aim to be a world-class Property Development Company that is a benchmark for other organisations in developing and building exquisite homes for both the upper and middle classes. We have done so many big projects for different levels of clientele.
‘’While Omais International is structured to collaborate with Omais Investment on international business ventures, Omais Farms is engaged in mechanized farming in Oria in Edo State. The Farm with over 130,682 Hectares of land cultivates about 50 Hectares of Oil Palm Plantation and produces palm oil on a large scale for wide distribution. In line with the initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria, Omais Farms is also engaged in large-scale cassava farming.”
I am a cancer survivor
Assessing how far he has come in life in the light of his deprived background, Aisagbonhi, who holds the traditional title of Esogban of Ubiaja, said: ‘’It has just been me through the grace of God.”
Continuing, he said: ‘’If not for the God’s grace, I will not be here today discussing because I am a cancer survivor. I don’t smoke but I was later diagnosed with cancer. It was a terrible experience but the same grace of God ensured that I survived it. I am a cancer survivor. My life is one that I believe has so many lessons for the youths of today, whose future has been mortgaged by our leaders. When I was diagnosed with that stage of cancer, I did not allow the situation to overwhelm me because the hand of God had been instrumental to what I am.”