Eighty-three-year-old Yemi Osobukola tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about his life
When and where were you born?
I was born on January 10, 1932, at Ilesha, Osun State.
How was your childhood like?
I grew up with my parents in the village. They were traders. After school, we usually went to the farm. It was common for young children in our days to go to the farm, especially during weekends.
How would you compare your days to now?
It cannot be compared. Our days were different. The Britons worked for us then and managed Nigeria’s resources to make life comfortable. I relocated to Lagos in the 1950s, and for 10 years, I hardly experienced power outages, as it is common today. Some people didn’t even know what they called power failure then; we thought the light in the bulbs was coming from heaven. Electricity was regular in our days. I pity the young ones because it is as if there is no provision for their future in this country. There is fuel scarcity, power failure, even when one pays for electricity; there would be no power supply. Government is not doing enough to satisfy the needs of the common man.
What do you think is Nigeria’s major problem?
It is corruption. Also, there is no accountability in the leadership system in this country. Government officials steal money from the national treasury with impunity and nothing happens to them. But when such people know that they they are going to pay dearly for such stealing, they will never attempt to steal. But this is not so.
What is your advice to the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I feel he should make it difficult for people to steal money in government. Also, those who have stolen money from government should be made to answer for their deeds. If you know that you would pay for what you steal, you won’t steal it. Politics should be about selfless service, not to enrich oneself with government money. Also, there is the problem of unemployment in the country, many graduates have no jobs. When I first came to Lagos, one could get any job without going through any hassle. And the pay would be comfortable for the person’s daily upkeep and to plan for the future.
Where did you school?
I attended St. Paul’s Primary School at Ipetu-Ilesha in Osun State. I finished in 1948. I also went to Ilesha Grammar School for my secondary education and finished in 1954. Afterwards, I came to Lagos to look for a job.
What kind of job did you do?
I was into insurance. I was involved in retail insurance. Although I did not attend university, I took the challenge of becoming an insurance man. I first started as an employee in the Federal Survey in Lagos, before I changed to insurance. This was in the late 50s too. I left when my employers refused to increase my salary, because I felt the pay did not compensate for the kind of work I was doing then. I worked at the correspondence department of the Federal Survey for about one and a half years. From there, I went straight to an insurance company, Law Union and Rock Insurance company. My manager, who was a Briton, told me they did not have any job there for me. But he said if I could bring in customers to the company, they would be paying me on a commission basis.
The late Johnson, the elder brother to Mobolaji Johnson, was in charge there. When the manager asked me if I had done insurance before, I said no, that I wanted to take it as a challenge. That was how I started. I worked hard until the company gave me a motorcycle. Later, I requested for a car and the company head headquarters in the United Kingdom approved of it. It was in 1960. I was young and energetic. I searched for customers. I did not have anything to lose. I had a breakthrough. What I was making as commission was more than what they would have paid me as salary. I can’t remember off-hand the commission. I worked there for two years. I also enjoyed other benefits. All the insurance companies around knew me because I brought customers. In fact, when a new company, Unity Life Insurance wanted to start, some of my customers who they approached told the owner that if he would employ me, they would buy shares from the company and give him their businesses. The management of the new company came to my house to ask me to work for them, that they would give me an official car. I was a freelance insurance agent. I said I was not interested. But I offered them my services and they gave me good commission. Along the line, the company folded up.
For 10 years, I worked with many insurance companies until three of my friends and I decided to start our own insurance company, Trust Assurance Company. We ran it for about five years. We worked hard to look for customers. I like working hard. When the company folded up, two of my friends and I again went into clearing and forwarding. There is a lot of money there, but it is also risky. I had to leave it because I didn’t want to be part of the corruption there. Later, I became a building contractor. As a building contractor, I worked for over 10 years. I am now retired to my sitting room.
What is your view on the insurance industry in Nigeria today?
It has improved. But the money bags have spoilt it, because once they started investing money they borrowed into the industry, it gave room for shady characters because debts have to be serviced. But, I would say that honesty in any endeavour is important. It is not all about money.
What is your advice to youths?
Most young people nowadays want to live life on the fast lane. If one is making money on the fast lane, he or she would not listen to sound advice. They should be patient, and work hard to achieve in life. They should plan well for the future.
Since did not go to the university, how important is a university degree to success in any endeavour?
I had to learn the hard way and I worked harder than those with degrees. And the good thing about insurance is that one’s degree did not matter as long as one could get customers. But the job required patience, because one has to knock on people’s doors. They did not know I was doing it to earn a commission. But I liked insurance and put my life and passion into it, because I knew God would compensate me. Having a degree is important. I have eight children and many grandchildren. All my children are graduates and they are all doing well in their respective careers. I am a self-made man. With or without a degree, one has to work hard and apply one’s intellect and skills to achieve success in any field. If one cannot apply one’s intellect to do something, then a degree is nothing.
When did you marry and how did you meet your wife?
I married two wives. My first wife was a photographer. It was during one of my outings that we met. She liked me because of my humours nature. We courted for four years before we got married in 1959. I had a beautiful marriage. I lost my wife two years ago and I miss her company a lot. She was a pillar to me. I married her when I was still struggling. She inspired me to work hard and gave me courage to succeed. Together we built a good life and family together. My wife was so dynamic and took good care of the home and raised our children well. I ensured all my children had good education and became graduates. Also, one should teach children well for one to have rest of mind when one is old.
Why did you get married to a second wife despite the qualities of your first wife?
I was a cassanova in my youthful days. I did not want to become a ‘second-chance’ bachelor when I got married. By this, I mean, when the children are all grown and married, the mother would want to spend more time with them, and their families, to take care of her grandchildren, and then I would be left alone. I was trying to help myself for the future and I decided to marry another wife. She supported my decision. If she did not, I would not have married a second wife. I married my second wife in 1976.
Did your two wives live together with you in the same house?
No, they did not. I was clever not to allow that. My second wife stayed somewhere else, while my first wife lived with me. I got married to two beautiful women. I am not saying you should do the same.
What makes a good marriage?
There must be love and understanding between both parties. Some women could be jealous, but the man must also not take her for granted.
What are your hobbies?
I like music. I was the choir director in my church for over 10 years. If I was younger, I would have learnt how to play the keyboard more. I am the oldest in the choir. I like gospel music, like that of Yinka Ayefele.
What is the secret of your youthful looks?
God is the source of my strength. I am contented and I married good women. I have good children, who are doing well and I have peace of mind. I am fulfilled but God would determine how much longer I would live.
What kind of exercise do you do?
I like driving. At times, I also like strolling in my neighbourhood.
What’s your favourite food?
I like eba and okro or egusi soup.
Who are your close friends?
Many of them are dead already.
How do you relax?
I sleep. I used to be a member of Island Club, but I have stopped going there for a long time.