From construction site labourer, apprentice printer to lawyer – The Sun Nigeria


 

The following are some of the most common questions that people ask themselves. Babajide Tanimowo is a man of many parts – a jack of several trades and a master of all. He is also a lawyer, business administrator, marketing expert, construction expert, printer, and a guru in the field of business administration. Every young man should hear his inspiring story.

This interview is with Saturday Sun he narrates his inspiring story, including his involvement with the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) where he’s National General Secretary.

 

What was it like to grow up?

I was born in 1968. My paternal and my maternal grandparents, both Ifa priests, raised me in a Christian family. My parents got married and met at 65 Odunfa Street in Ebute Metta. It was a popular spot where Babalawos would come and stay. There, Ifa priests would stay from all over the South West. It was built by late Araba Lagos. Odunfa Street was named for this reason. Odunfa means Ifa Festival. My parents got married there as the sons and daughters of babalawos.

My parents were born in Somolu. My parents relocated from Agege to Jakande Housing Estate. There were still construction works going on. Then, I was still a secondary student and my school shared a fence with the estate. After I graduated from school, I worked there as a worker. Then I was able to learn how to tile, how to operate the tarazo machines and how to build buildings. After I fully moved to Agege, a good friend introduced me as a laborer to a construction firm. Later I became staff.

When I had finished my secondary education, I would visit another friend with a printing business. When my father learned that I was working as a bricklayer, he was unhappy, but I told them that I didn’t want to be idle. I wanted independence and to even help my younger family members and parents. They tried to stop me from Esumilongo. I said that I had to learn printing as an alternative, because I didn’t get my WAEC results in one sitting. I did not wish to remain at home. It was a tug-of-war between me and my father. Eventually I began to learn printing at Cosmopolitan Press, in Somolu. The owner was my father’s friend and they attended the same church.  Between 1991 and 1995 I’ve learned a lot.

In 1994 I got admitted to the University of Lagos, to study Business Administration. But I couldn’t register in time and I missed it. It was suggested that I enroled for another UTME and continue my career in printing. I was accepted to UNILAG in 1995 to study Business Administration. I had been learning printing for close to five years at the time. As soon as I was accepted into the Business Administration Department, I introduced myself to the students and some lecturers. I told them that I was a print. Some lecturers gave me printing jobs. At that point, I already had a printing press and a business center in Somolu. While I was in school, I also did printing jobs. After a full year, I opened a second company. After graduation, I was still working in the print business.

Before I was accepted, I attended a tutoring school in Allen. Even though I was still in school, i went back to the tutorial school and taught students.

After my National Youth Service Corps, I started my own printing business. In Somolu I was only the third person who set up a similar business. I have trained many people who are now great artists. Some are now in the US, and others around the globe. Some are still printing in Somolu.

Why are you called Kowope by people?

Kowope means ‘Let the money be complete.’ It was given to me by one of my close friends, Tajudeen of Tisco Graphics when he came to work with me as one of my artists. We worked together all day, and then went out to eat and drink together in the evening. He made sure that all the people who came into my office paid their salaries. All people, including me, are required to pay. He kept wondering why I would collect money even though we were close friends, when he came to my office to do his job. I told him that there is no friend in business, and he said, you are really ‘Kowope.’ Since then, before you knew it, it became a popular name. As I speak to you, most people don’t know my real name, but Kowope.

When did you bag your Masters?

I visited one of my good friends in 2006 at the College of Medicine Idi-Araba (Lagos) and I met one of the students I mentored at the tutorial center. He told me he was about to submit his PhD. On that day, I felt sad because the person I tutored finished his PhD while I was still holding a first-degree. I returned to UNILAG the next day and obtained all of the required forms. I was accepted on the basis of merit to study MSC Marketing. I was one of the top five students. The only Professor of marketing had a disagreement with the faculty. This issue was so overwhelming that he had to resign. This is how the plan was snipped off.

My predicament was brought up in a conversation with a friend of mine who is interested in Law. I decided to pursue Law after the discussion. Literature was a compulsory subject, but I didn’t do it. So I had to retake the JAMB and NECO tests. And I did. My dad always wanted his child to become an attorney in his lifetime. I promised my father I would drop my PhD and instead study law. And I did. My father was ecstatic that his son had become a lawyer within his lifetime.

What drove you to all of these actions?

I love being independent. I love doing my own thing. I love challenges. I don’t believe there is anything difficult to do in life. I have the “I can” spirit. I have the “I can” spirit. God is helping me even in my law firm, where I have to take on difficult cases.

When you were doing menial jobs, was it that your parents couldn’t take care of you?

Even if I came back to this planet again, I’d still want to return to the same house. My parents taught me the value of hard work. My mother was a designer of fashion. She employed several people, but worked harder than they did. My mother would stay with her workers, even when they were working all night, and especially during the festive season, for three days if necessary, because she considered it her business, her livelihood.

My father sold electrical material at Somolu when he worked for the NEPA, then Igbobi and even later. He would go after work. They had these traits. They were making money every day. They weren’t rich, but they lived comfortably. My father has a house both in Lagos and in Ibadan. He’s not poor. He trained six people. I was driven by my passion. I wanted to earn money. I didn’t want to join bad gangs. Since my secondary school years, I’ve wanted to earn money on my own. I didn’t see it as an issue. Even though my father was angry because I was doing so many things, I told them that I was saving to become someone someday. Before I graduated secondary school I had enough money saved to buy 2 motorcycles. It was 30 years back. This was my very first investment. My father had to travel from Lagos to Nnewi in order to purchase the motorcycles. I sold them and was able to make money. My father was the one in charge. So it’s not because they couldn’t take care of us, but I wanted to be independent.

How did you manage to coordinate your business at the same time.

I own a graphic design studio. Babajide Tanimowo Law Firm is mine. I have a full-time law practice. However, I lease my printing business to people that deliver it to me. I did this when I realized that managing both the printing business and the law practice was difficult.

Considering what you’ve been through, what can you tell the present day youths?

God will surely deliver this nation. As a lawyer I have to deal with many cases. The NDLEA had me at their office two days before for a case involving a client that was in custody. I felt like crying. I saw the majority of them in custody. The other day I went to Federal High Court to secure someone’s bail. The boy is around 26 years of age and was allegedly found in possession with Indian Hemp, among other drugs. I’m shocked at how many of our young people are turning to drugs and Yahoo Yahoo.

All those kind of drive we had then, they don’t have it now. They’re there just to make some quick cash. You will see that there are many young men who use Yahoo-Yahoo and Yahoo-Plus. How did I develop myself? Why can’t our youths turn into this kind of lifestyle? It’s a societal issue, but you do know. The government isn’t doing its best. Some are from broken homes, some lack parental care, while some, their parents can’t afford three square meals. Even parents sometimes have to force children to do something bad. Some of our young people have bad manners. While the majority of our young people are not doing so well, some are. They are both creative inside and outside the country.

To our youth, I say to focus. Everyone cannot be an educated person, but everyone can have a good job. Because of the skills I had learned before I got into the university, I could support myself and my siblings. Only God knows what I would have done if I didn’t learn that handwork. To our youths, instead of being idle at home even if you don’t pass your exam at once, learn something. It is not wasteful to learn. Now, the experience I gained in my earlier litigation is helping me. Our youth should be more focused and determined, and avoid all the illegal activities that they are involved in. You can work hard and still make a profit. If you do handwork, go to the school, pray to God and He blesses your work, I think you’re good to go.

What is the leadership style you have?

My leadership style reflects a democratic approach. In my own home, I am always in dialogue with my kids. Even the organisation I belong to today – the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) where I am the National General Secretary, I don’t use my influence or my position there. I try to make all my employees feel welcome in my office. Your workers will be more open to sharing with you if they are close. You are their confidant. My house is also the same. I am their confidant. There is nothing they can’t tell me because I am very close to them. And I don’t treat them like their father. When they step outside their boundaries, I will discipline them. But I also let them do what they want. They need to be able express themselves. That’ how I do in my office too. No one has the monopoly on knowledge. You can gain even from your staff. If I was not given that opportunity, I won’t be who I am today. This is why I also exhibit this trait in all I do. I also share my views with my attorneys. We discuss, analyze issues, and have opinions. We are doing well. If I’m wrong, I apologize to my juniors. It boosts their spirits. No one is perfect.

Has your background as the grandchild of two Ifa Priests had any influence on you?

I would answer yes and no. The influence made me interested in Yoruba tradition and culture. It was this that brought me to OPC. I learned about culture, tradition and Ifa divination. We followed my parents to Odunfa – the annual festival. The Ifa oracle has helped me gain some valuable knowledge. I am Christian and believe that God, the creator of heavens and earth, is the ultimate. But I still have faith in our culture.

OPC is a group I found out about through someone else, but my activities did not allow me to be a member. One day, I went to their meeting in Akute. Then, I fully joined and began participating. Now I am National General Secretary for OPC.  I’ve worked at different levels in the organisation, including as Head Legal Department.  We also promote and defend the interests of the Yoruba people. Even people from different tribes are now attending our programmes. Our contribution to security has also been significant.


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