Forty-year-old businessman and philanthropist, Dr Oludare Akande, is the owner of Bellagio Air and founder, American Polytechnic of Nigeria, located in Oyo State. He shares his life story with SEGUN KASALI
Given your entrepreneurial track record, can we say you have always been an entrepreneur?
Yes, I have been like that from childhood. In my first year at Olivet Baptist High School, in Oyo, I organised a football competition for the whole school. I printed forms and, in fact, people still talk about it up till date (laughs). I recall that I organised one at home too. So, I was very busy as a youngster. However, my mother did not like my soccer idea. She always discouraged me and I understood that because she wanted me to focus on my academics.
Did you pick this entrepreneurial spirit from your mother?
Yes, my mother might not have the business skills, but she is very enterprising. She likes to sell things and loves school. So, in my house, your best might not be enough. So, I used to walk to school as the son of a teacher. We used to trek about three miles , because there was no car. So, I used to get late to school. We had a particular time one is expected to get to school. Anything contrary to that, the principal and prefects would beat the offender. But I was always angry about that. I mean, how would I walk three miles and still get beaten on getting to school.?
How did you get out of the problem?
I would not go to school at the right time. I would wait till all students were in their classrooms. So, we (latecomers) usually wait for about two hours until they are done with the other latecomers. By that time, it would have been close to break time. But, what I used to do was to sit with the best student in my class in order for me to catch up on notes because on getting home, my mother would still grade your notes. And before your exams, she would set up a mock examinations for you at home. But, there was a turning point.
Which was that?
One day, I went to Baptist Church as a child. So, the reverend father passed through the entrance with his very beautiful family, light-skinned, and a brand new Peugeot with white leather seats. So, while he would ask the driver to pick his children and drop them off at school, we would walk three miles to school. His children would come to school with the US Army bags that was reigning at that time. So, I also saw them on Sunday wearing jacquard, looking beautiful in church and also saw the driver dropping them at the school gate on Monday while I was under the tree. One of the kids was usually the captain when playing soccer. He had his ball and everyone wanted to play with him. He decides who play and who did not play. He would take them to the pavilion to buy rice for them.
Hence, I told myself that any situation that would make me bring a child to this life, I must be super rich. In fact, that statement still resonates anytime I am challenged with anything. Even right after school, we would still be asked to go for tutorials and if you default in payment, teachers would still beat you. Over any little thing, one could get beaten.
Were you also beaten?
Yes. There was a time I was busy talking with one guy during a lesson period and the proprietor was looking at me through the window because those classrooms had no louvres but I did not see him. The proprietor had just bought a new horse whip then (laughs). So, we kept on chatting. All of a sudden, I suspected something was wrong and I saw him coming. So, I had already made up my mind that I won’t be a victim of this horse whip that day (laughs). So, the only option for me was just to escape. So, I tried to muscle my way through. But, there was a guy who held onto my feet while the main part of my body was on the other side of the fence. So, the other guy rushed outside to hold me. And the man came between my legs and started beating me on my toes. He beat me to the extent that I lost sensation. So, for almost two weeks, I was walking with the sides of my legs.
But that didn’t sound too good?
Yes, when I told that story to some people in the United States, they were crying because if I remove my shoes now, you will see that my toes are extra large. Every night, whenever I stretch my legs, you could hear the sound of my toes. So, I did a surgery on the toes in 2016. Just imagine what I went through. Unfortunately, the teacher is late now, I would have loved to have some words with him.
But do you have a word for teachers generally?
Yeah, I don’t support teachers treating students the hard way. This is because at the end of the day, that treatment did not shape my life in anyway. And every morning whenever I am taking my bath, I still remember the scene because I still nurse the pains. So, it is not worth it; hence, I enjoin teachers to deploy better approach for curriculum delivery and not just beating students. Students are not animals. So, human beings should be able to communicate with one another in a better way.
You must have nicknames due to your activities in school?
In high school, I was given the nickname ‘Action’ because of the football competition I usually organise. And this is due to the fact that the theme of the competition was ‘Action 91’ While I was in junior school, some Fulani people used to come around with monkeys and they would ask the monkeys to dance and they would obey their instructions. So, my friends started calling me Fulani because I used to follow them. So, I had been in love with northerners since I was a lad (laughs)
Is that the reason you got married to a Kaduna woman?
Not really. Actually I wanted someone from Somalia because they are dark-skinned, tall and so on. So, my wife and I had been friends for a while on Facebook but we never spoke. And another friend of mine who was in the same University of Ilorin with us, Lekan, is also a mutual friend of my wife as they both attended the same school in Newcastle, United Kingdom. Coincidentally, she said “hi” to me on Facebook. So, when she sent the message, I didn’t know how Somalia came up (laughs). So, I was happy thinking she truly came from there. And she was one funny person. The chemistry was there. So, I asked her one day that ‘when are you taking me to Somalia?’ She was like Somalia? She said she is from Kaduna (laughs). So, I was surprised where I got Somalia from. I felt that was fine ‘because at least, you make me laugh.’ That was how I invited her over and she came to the United States. And I can’t forget the jokes we both shared that day.
When I came to pick her at the airport, she said she saw one fat guy coming (laughs). She said she was saying “Ah! God, don’t let it be him.” So, when she saw the guy that she prayed not to be me, passed by, she thanked God (laughs). When we got home too, I told her what was going through my mind. But our mutual friend told me she is a very good girl on my visit to his place in Newcastle. So, I said ‘thank God you are fine and if you were not, I would have been beating you from the airport till we get home’ (laughs). So, she was laughing and we both laughed over it. Then at 1.00am, she woke me up and I was not used to having people around. So, I was scared. She said “wake up! How can you be sleeping when I am not able to?” I was like ‘who has this audacity to wake me up?’ (Laughs). But, I love people that can challenge me and that was one thing that also propelled my interest in her.
So, I later went back to bed. A few hours later, some aroma woke me up. I was like this thing smells like curry (laughs). So, I never knew this kind of good aroma could wake me up. And I now said to myself that this is a good one. So, that was how we started.
She said you work too much. How have you been managing this?
(Laughs). I have so many businesses in Nigeria and the United States. The tough one is not even the airline, but the accounting practice. Typically, my sleeping schedule is around two to three hours a day. During that time, I don’t even sleep. Even though I have people working for me, it is a very delicate business because I have people’s information – financies and lies. I am still the one that will transmit this information to the government. It is a very tough one and takes a lot of my time and even up till now, I still study. I believe if you don’t do it now, you won’t have the energy to do it again. However, I am trying very hard to reduce my working hours as she has been clamouring for.
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