By Darlington Nwobodo
“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
— William James
Time is the unit of life. We are all in transit. Centuries had come and gone. Empires had risen and fallen. Life being a voyage, both powerful and weak individuals had transversed this universe. There were times when we were not here, we are here today. There will be a time when we will no longer be present here, but represented by our legacies. The shades, colors and imaginations of memories that will be held about us, depends solely on how judiciously and impactfully we use our time here while still transiting.
In the equation of life, other variables can change, but time remains eternally constant. This is one of the reasons it is important to be conscious of our time; how we spend it, and what will be remembered of us when we finally take the inevitable flight of death into eternity. This is the philosophy that inspired the noble postulation of Williams James, American philosopher and a historian, that the great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
Birthdays cum anniversaries are opportunities, not only to mark time as unit of life, but windows of introspection to x-ray whether we are truly living or merely existing. In order to make the world a better place, while we urge people to live a life of impact, we are morally obligated to celebrate those already living in that realm of positive legacies—entrenching indelible footprints on the sands of time. And elevate them to olympian height where they will be torchbearers for those coming behind.
Femi Otedola is an exemplar of this ideology; an entrepreneurial maven cum quintessential businessman—a renowned philanthropist, using his legacies to engrave his name with gold on the path of life. As Grandmaster of the Universe, God programmed entrance into this physical realm in times and seasons. On 4th of November, 1962, like a ship on voyage of destiny, Femi anchored on the shores of Sir Michael Otedola’s family—his time on earth began ticking.
59 years – a year shy of 60 years, down this glorious journey, his life has not only been a success but a huge inspiration to younger and up-coming generations. One of the difficulties children born into influential homes usually have, is stepping into the great shoes left by their parents and maintaining the family name. Femi Otedola had neither of these challenges. In fact, he felt uncomfortable existing under his father’s shadows. He started with the fierce zeal like the son of nobody, without any privileged family background.
As the son of ex-Lagos State governor, whose father governed the economic hub of West Africa between 1992 and 1993, Femi Otedola did not only sustain the father’s name, but step out of its cloak to carve a niche for himself in the business world. In his almost 60 years stint in life, so far, every nook and cranny of the Nigeria’s economy cum polity, has had entrepreneurial grit and wit of this shrewd investor and ebullient billionaire written on it, albeit with bold letters.
From oil, gas, maritime, power, real estate, banking, etcetera, Femi Otedola has blazed the trail—and still breaking into new frontiers. I chose to celebrate one of Nigeria’s employers of labour on the occasion of his 59th birthday, not out of highfalutin sycophancy or parochial interest, but as a result of my ideology which resonates with a school of thought—we should magnify the values and personalities we want to see replicated in the society.
Certainly Africa as a developing continent needs to be driving by entrepreneurs with progressive ideals, because extraordinary entrepreneurs rule the world today. They provide jobs; essential services cum products, create opportunities for prosperity, and literally make the world go round. In rich countries, most of the times, entrepreneurs with proven track records get the admirations of their fellow citizens more than politicians, because of the impact their innovations expressed via their business empires have had on the populace.
In the United States, for example, the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, etcetera, are revered as economic behemoths that command a lot of respect from both governments and citizens, not necessarily because of their wealth but as a result of their entrepreneurial exploits which have created opportunities for others. Developing countries like Nigeria should imbibe this culture of eulogizing our entrepreneurs more than politicians, especially those who are setting the pace in the economy.
It will encourage more youths to adopt great entrepreneurs as role models and venture into rocky mountains of entrepreneurship; being mentored by those who had already broken grounds in different endeavors of the economy. These will help to create jobs, reduce unemployment, roll back poverty, fight insecurity, make our youths innovative and create economic prosperity for all. Everyone must not be a politician—one must not be a governor, senator, or even president to touch lives; be rich, powerful and create opportunities for others.
As a paragon of this philosophy, despite being the son of a successful politician—ex-governor, and indigenous to politically conscious state like Lagos, Femi Otedola has refused all attempts to be dragged into murky waters of politics. His own politics is that of private sector—business, investing and entrepreneurship. He has excelled very well in this area to the extent that career politician envy him.
It takes strength of character, deep-rooted ideology and elevated vision, for someone that has been repeatedly recognized as one of the richest men in Africa by prestigious Forbes Magazine, to remain apolitical in Lagos politics, despite having the resources and connections to disrupt current political order in the state. Leadership is shown when someone leads, but true leadership is in choosing where to lead.
As a strategic investor and business titan, like an elephant with gigantic footprints on the Nigeria’s muddy business environment, Femi Otedola is pathfinding a new philosophy in the private sector. He has succeeded not only in business world but in in family life. As an affectionate husband and compassionate father, Femi Otedola has been a great role to his wife and four children. He taught them how to step out of their parents’ legacies and make a name for themselves.
These can be seen in the tremendous waves being made by his children in entertainment industry, fashion world, etcetera. But, to Femi Otedola, life has not been a bed of roses for him. He has been hit by the storms in the past, and was able to weather those turbulent times via dint of dexterity and infinite grace of God upon his life. He was caught in the economic crisis of 2008/2009 that quaked the world economy.
In an explosive article published in Forbes Magazine in 2016, Femi Otedola told an inspiring story of how his business suddenly nosedived. In 2008, he had one million tons of diesel shipment on the sea en route Nigeria’s shores, when the unexpected happened—oil prices crashed. “I had about 93 percent of the diesel market on my fingertips. All of a sudden oil prices collapsed and I had over one million tons of diesel on the high seas and the price dropped from $146 to $34”, Otedola said.
As then chairman of Forte Oil, with over 500 gas stations across the country, Femi Otedola was in for the biggest shock of his life. He found himself inbetween the devil and deep sea. Plunge in oil prices, crash of stocks, devaluation of naira and accrued interests, collectively pushed a dollar-dominated billionaire to seabed of debt, to the tune of $1.2 billion.
Instead of giving up, he remembered that it is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed, apology to Doe Zantamata. Femi Otedola stemmed the tide—staged a comeback from the downfall, to reclaim his place as one of the richest men in Africa. This run has deepened his belief in giving back to the society, as being expressed in his various philanthropic milestones.
Otedola, simple-styled billionaire, is a renowned philanthropist. He has given billions of naira in aid to various groups, organizations and individuals. He shares the philosophy of Albert Pike that what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Happy Birthday, sir; albeit in arrears. 59 cheers to a golden fish that has no hiding place.