By CHARLES KUMOLU
Dr. Kennedy Okonkwo belongs to the generation of Nigerians, who grew up in a country wempirehere opportunities for growth hardly existed. His early years were marked by deprivations having lost his father at a young age. Through the efforts of his doting mother, and his love for education, Okonkwo rose from a child, whose family once resided under a bridge in Lagos, to become one of the leading real estate magnates in Nigeria. Before establishing Nedcomoaks Ltd, a property development company, he worked at XL group in different portfolios. His journey into entrepreneurship commenced with a missed N18 million deal. Watching the business which involved the provision of accommodation for expatriates fail pushed him into becoming an employer of labour at a young age. Okonkwo, who is adjudged an authority in the property sector on the continent, will be 41 next week. He shares the rules that have kept him on top of his game at a time most of his peers are still struggling to make headway in life.
Before I gained admission into the university, I asked my sister why things were not so smooth. I told her I was worried that I might end up not becoming successful in life because then I used to read about Tai Solarin and his “may your road be rough” philosophy.
I passed my Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, SSCE, with flying colours.
That was before I sat for the West African Examination Council, WAEC, examination which I passed with flying colours also. At that time, because of Solarin’s philosophy, I told myself that I didn’t want a life with rough roads.
I believed the philosophy so much but the first time I sat for Joint Admission Matriculation Board, JAMB, examination, I performed excellently. I was still worried that my road would be rough. As challenges in life started coming forth, my sister asked me if my road had been rough and I said yes. I believed I was going to be a great man because as obstacles came my way every day, they made me a better person. My ability to solve them as they come makes me a better person. Like the saying “the heaviest of fire makes the finest of steel,” I take obstacles as developmental phases. In life, for anyone to be a success, each difficulty that comes should be seen as a way in which God tests his resilience.
I have many childhood memories that I still cherish till date because they helped me become who I am today. They include the privilege of getting admitted into the University of Ibadan, matriculation and graduation. The most important was when I started the journey into entrepreneurship. When I registered my first company was a great moment because I knew I had started a great journey at the time. One of my favourite childhood memories is how we used to trek down to the Marina with the hope that one day we will be privileged enough to live very close to the lagoon. I grew up at Alagomeji, Ebute Metta.
Sights and scenes
At that time, Alagomeji was one of the most developed parts of Lagos because the roads and the drainages were done by the colonialists. We had the ancient steel hand-pump in the area, and we had the Cameroon Embassy on Moleya Street, which was the same street where I was born. I sometimes look back at those days when we used to ride bicycles down the railway line. There was a man we used to hire BMX bicycles from at the railway line. They are good memories, sights, and scenes that contributed to shaping me. Any time I have the opportunity to inspire people, I don’t miss saying that losing my dad at a young age was a turning point.
After I lost my dad, we were evicted from our apartment. My mum and my siblings moved to her shop and lived there for a while before one Pastor David came to our rescue by providing a temporary space at ObafemiAwolowo Glass House, Ikeja where a boys quarter of the church was given to her to stay. These things happened when I was in secondary school and they were transformation experiences for me.
My dad used to look at my school assignments and my mum, a caterer had a restaurant. She didn’t have much time to supervise my academics. My dad did that but he died in 1993. I was barely 16 years when I lost him. I can’t recall a day my mother came to my school, but my dad always came to check what I was doing in school. When I look at life today, the reverse is the case. Today, mothers are the ones who go to school to check what their children are doing but in my own case, I had a dad who believed so much in academics. He believed that even if he didn’t leave anything for us to fall back on, we can rely on education.
My dad saw education as the only critical thing needed for true survival. He used to say education is the only weapon we have against poverty. As far as he was concerned, studying was the only gift we can give to ourselves at the time. He believed paying school fees was his responsibility while studying was our responsibility.
Being on Forbes list
I am not one of those, who believe that one must be a politician to be able to make it in life and I want Nigerians to have that mindset. For instance, Africa’s richest man, AlikoDangote is not a politician. and he is on the Forbes list. I don’t have to be a politician to be successful in life and to be on the Forbes list. Why should I be in politics just to make money? We look up to people like Dangote, who made it without being a politician. One doesn’t have to be in politics to impact lives. There is so much one can do to impact on the society, without being in politics. That takes us to some of the things that we have done to help society. We have awarded scholarships, mentored entrepreneurs by helping them make the best out of their lives. We have supported widows to ensure that they are busy. Across some communities, roads have been constructed. We have constructed quite a number of roads in Lagos State especially in Etiosa Local Government Area where we operate. In the South East, we have done so much in terms of human capital development. We are presently building a school, and also constructing different roads in my hometown, Ojoto. I don’t necessarily have to be in politics to be able to impact the lives of my people. I don’t see politics as a means and that is why I am not interested in politics at the moment.
In the next 10 years, I want to be a better person. I want to be able to impact more in my society. I want to be able to develop more people around me. I want to help them be the best at what they do. In the next 10years, I want to see myself helping to add more value to other people. Those are my goals for the next 10 years and there is so much work to be done. There are so many people out there, who believe that with me around them, they can also excel and become better human beings. I want to see myself mentoring many young people by encouraging them to become entrepreneurs. People need support to achieve their potentials. I want to do that by using my story as a springboard to tell people that they don’t have to engage in illicit activities to become successful in life.
I have used my achievements to help those around me because wealth has to be spread. We have employed msany people so far and they have many people who depend on them. At Nedcomoaks there are different categories of workers, who we are helping to grow in life. It is a dynamic team of skilled people who are also working on a daily basis. They are from every part of the country. Their commitment and zeal also inspire us as employers. Some of them come from as far as Ibadan, they go back on Saturday morning only to come back to Lagos on Monday afternoon to resume. We also have others who come from Ogun State. Some even come from as far as Kwara State. They all come to make a fortune out of Lagos and there is no better thing we could have done than to have created the enabling employment.
If you are an artisan, carpenter or mason, once you are skilled in what you do, we will create an enabling environment to excel. In doing so, the people will be able to impact on their respective families when they go back.
In that way, we contributed to the reduction of crime rate in the country.
Leaving comfort zones
I have said it countless times that the problem of unemployment in Nigeria and Africa at large will reduce if many of us go into diverse sectors of the economy and create our own empire out of it. We have so many opportunities in the agricultural sector. People should leave their comfort zones and embrace the opportunities.