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I learnt my entrepreneurial acumen from my mother –Taiwo Afolabi

Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, SIFAX boss
Dr Taiwo Afolabi, the enigmatic founder and  Group Executive Vice-President of SIFAX Group, is a mercurial entrepreneurial genius.
From the little beginning as a freight forwarding company in 1988, he has nurtured SIFAX into a gigantic conglomerate which has diverse interests in shipping, haulage, oil and gas, financial services, ground handling operations and hospitality.
Dr Afolabi, whose philanthropy is legendary, is 60 years old today, Friday, April 29th, 2022.
In this sit-down interview, Dr Afolabi takes us through his 60 years of eventful and impactful journey, his early life, his business tutorials, his daring venture into the world of business, his philanthropy and his family.
Tell us about yourself:
I am Dr Taiwo Afolabi, the founder and Group Executive Vice Chairman of SIFAX Group.
Obviously, I am an entrepreneur, business leader, mentor and many more.
 I am an indigene of Ogun State and by the grace of God, I am 60 years old.
 I was born in Ondo on April 29, 1962.
As my first name indicates, I am a twin, I have a twin brother. I had my primary school at Ondo and my secondary school education at Baptist Grammar School, Ibadan.
 I hold a Law degree from the University of Lagos as well as Masters in International Law and Diplomacy from the same university.
I have been running my business for over 33 years now. I actually launched my company in 1988 as a freight forwarding firm in Lagos, Nigeria, after working with an uncle, under which I learnt the rudiments of the clearing and forwarding business.
From the little beginning in 1988, SIFAX Group has grown to become one of the leading indigenous corporations in Nigeria with thousands of jobs created, both direct and indirect.
 We have also spread our tentacles to other African countries as well as Europe and America.
Our core business focus is integrated logistics, but over the years, we have diversified to other areas including financial services, oil and gas and hospitality.
Aside from running my business, another thing I am passionate about is societal impact.
As an organization and in my individual capacity, we support causes and individuals who are not privileged in society.
 Our key intervention areas are education, health and youth and women empowerment.
We have a foundation which is devoted to implementing our beliefs in this regard.
I have also been privileged to be a recipient of national honour in Nigeria, a Member of the Order of Niger (MON) while I am also the Honorary Consul General of Djibouti in Nigeria.
I am a family man. I am married to a beautiful and supportive woman, Mrs Folashade Afolabi, and blessed with children, who are all doing well in their different endeavours.
How do you feel turning 60?
Let me start by expressing my appreciation to God Almighty who has remained my source and inspiration over the years.
He has not only kept me alive but has also granted me grace, meets all my needs, and grants me good health, peace of mind and a great family. I am indeed a grateful man as I turn 60.
I am sure some of my peers have died and so many are not as privileged as I am.
 These and many more give me unending joy because of the grace.
 I am probably not the smartest, but God’s grace has found me and beautified my life.
So, as I turn 60, I am grateful to God. I am happy that life has been kind to me. I am grateful for the modest impact God has accomplished through me.
I am grateful for a wonderful family and I am grateful for a greater future.
You started your career with your uncle and later left to float your own business. What was the motivation for this?  
Well from a tender age, I have always been entrepreneurial in my thinking.
 My mother was a trader and through her, I learnt the rudiments of trading and that passion has stayed with me ever since.
So starting my business was a natural progression for me after spending some years learning the ropes from my uncle who owned a clearing and forwarding business in Lagos.
 I rose up to become the Operations Manager in the company. By this time, I was well grounded and ready to take on the next challenge.
Apart from expressing my passion, I also set up the business to take advantage of emerging opportunities and to provide a platform for others to fulfil their dreams through job and wealth creation.
Today, our companies employ about 5,000 staff and you know the implication of such a number of employees, especially the ripple effect on their immediate and extended families as well as the society.
If you also throw in the number of businesses, both large and small, that do business with our various companies, you will see how far we have come in impacting society.
Those are some of the things that motivated me to start my business then.
What are the key lessons life has taught you in the last 60 years?
There are many of them.
One is that you must be strategic in your thinking and planning in order to become outstanding.
An ordinary approach will always deliver ordinary results. If you look at the growth pattern of SIFAX Group, it is a result of well-thought-out plan.
 The integrated approach has helped us.
From running a clearing and forwarding firm to starting inland container depots across Lagos to bidding and winning the concession of a port terminal to setting up a haulage business that conveys goods from these ports to the container depots, to bidding and winning concession of a ground handling company, to launching the Marriott Hotel and a financial services company.
You will see that these businesses are complementary in nature and this has given us some form of advantage over competitors.
I also need to emphasise the place of humility. Let me tell you, before God, we are all equal, whether you are rich or people.
Everybody deserves respect.
 Humility will attract people to you and they can go to any length to support you if they know you are not arrogant.
I have always believed in living a simple and humble life which is scriptural because God admonishes us to live humbly and promised to elevate us.
I have also studied the lives of many successful godly people and you’d see humility in them.
I have many VIPs – ministers, successful businessmen and top government officials as associates, but I always come back to my constituency which is my old time friends and schoolmates and I cherish them greatly.
I won’t abandon them because I now have new friends.  I’ve gone to several places and people doubt if I were the Dr Taiwo Afolabi they have heard so much about.
I always tell them that simplicity owns the world.
Life has also taught me the importance of friendship and relationship building.
It is a skill that is important to get ahead in life. Value friendship. I have some of my friends that have been with me for over 40 years, some since our secondary school days and we are still together today.
Obviously, the need to give back.
 Most of the time, God blesses us more than what we need so we could support and care for others.
 This is a lesson I learnt from a tender age and I haven’t deviated from it till today.
Your company opened Lagos Marriott Hotel about a year ago. What motivated you to launch this business?
I have been privileged to travel around the world in the course of doing business and pleasure and this has exposed me to international standards in the hospitality industry across the globe.
So the major reason for the investment in the hotel is to provide the same level of comfort, class and superior customer experience for Nigerians.
Nigerians are reputed for hard work and relaxation, and enjoyment should naturally follow after working so hard.
The hotel provides the perfect ambience to relax, refresh, connect and celebrate the achievements that follow their hard work.
 In the last one year of operation, the hotel has disrupted Lagos hospitality landscape.
It has become the favourite venue for major individual and corporate events.
Aside from this, as a corporation, we always look for opportunities to impact our country.
I have this vision of creating jobs for as many Nigerians as possible.
 Hundreds of eligible Nigerians are currently employed in the hotel while the indirect employment and other ancillary benefits can’t be quantified.
So, job creation is another key factor in setting up the business.
There is a need to build the next generation of entrepreneurs. What role do established business titans like you should play?
The reason many people don’t succeed in business and careers is due to a lack of mentorship.
They go into business without the guidance and support of mentors who have done successfully what they are trying to do.
 Mentorship is key for young entrepreneurs in Nigeria. By the way, let me say that the future of Africa is entrepreneurship.
Young people must be encouraged and supported to pursue their dreams.
This is going to help in reducing poverty and the high rate of employment on the continent. It is the duty of successful businessmen and women across the continent to mentor and support these budding entrepreneurs.
These young entrepreneurs need to be mentored and guided so that Africa can witness true prosperity.
I have been involved in this both directly and indirectly. My company supports various platforms and initiatives that identify and nurture budding entrepreneurs.
I also have people I personally take under my wings that I support their dreams and mentor as well.
You are noted for your philanthropy. What is the philosophy behind this generous giving?
There is so much poverty in Africa and privileged individuals must be deliberate in helping the poor.
It is part of the core philosophy of my life and business.
We are not in business to make a profit alone. We believe in making an impact. We help individuals and communities as much as we can.
I can say I inherit the trait from my mother who was fond of meeting the needs of needy people around her while I was growing up.
I saw the joy and satisfaction on my mother’s face after supporting these people and I believe I unconsciously imbibe the principle of sharing from her.
 Giving is one key success factor. I wish people realise that giving leads to abundance.
 It has been a way of life for me and has seen its impact over the years.
When people come to me for help and I do it, I am always appreciative of the opportunity God has given me to be a blessing to others.
 Giving comes with a sense of satisfaction and inner joy.
I see giving more as a divine mandate to pull people out of poverty through job creation and philanthropy.
Our company is also involved in this philanthropy and its key focus includes education, health and youth and women empowerment.
 We provide support for public educational and health institutions.
 We make donations to schools and hospitals.
We donated a 1,000 capacity lecture theatre to Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso.
We donated a brand new bus to the medical students association of Obafemi Awolowo University.
 We have a foundation with offices in Lagos, Zaria and Umuahia that provide support to the widows and the less privileged.
 Many indigent students in their hundreds enjoy full scholarships from the foundation.
Women are trained in various skills and then given grants to start their businesses. The list is too long to recall.
How do you balance your busy business schedule and family? 
I am so privileged to have an understanding wife and family who believe in my vision and support me fully in the journey.
When you run a business that is as diverse as SIFAX Group, you are bound to be busy and on the road most time.
I travel often both locally and internationally and this has a way it affects family time.
But as much as I can, I create time for them. I make sure the little time we have together is judiciously used.
We also go on vacation together to maintain our bond.
My wife is very supportive and she is my number one fan. By the way, she is a prayer warrior and you don’t need to be told that I feature prominently in her prayers.
She backs me up spiritually and takes good care of the home front so I could have the presence of mind to pursue my targets.
She has also done well when you look at the way our children have turned out so well.
She understands my schedule and gladly tolerates my absence.
 But she knows that I don’t take her for granted. I respect and honour her.
I create time for her even in the midst of my busy schedule.
Advice for young entrepreneurs
For the young entrepreneurs, I would say first hold on to God, and be honest and patient.
 What is not enough now will eventually become a surplus for you but there are processes you need to take.
There are some factors that help in the journey of entrepreneurship. One is vision. You must have an idea of what you want to do and the impact you want to make.
Two, hard work is very important. All successful people are hard workers. Laziness hinders greatness.
 Three, solve a problem and success will naturally come. Money goes in the direction of value.
Four is persistence. You must develop the courage and resilience to keep going in the face of daunting challenges because the journey is full of different ups and downs.
 Don’t give up easily. If you fall, rise, take a lesson and continue your hustling.
What is your biggest challenge as a businessman?
Risk. Business is a very risky venture. Even after doing all the due diligence, things can still go bad. It remains a big challenge but no gain no pain.
When you lose, you start all over again.
I have done a business in Europe where I lost about €4million within seven months and that hasn’t stopped me from starting again or investing in another one.
Business is a risk and for those who want to make it big, you must be able to calculate your risk well and make an informed decision.
 But the ability and the power to overcome after a loss lies in you.
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Danish court returns guilty verdict on Nigerian pirate —- remands him in prison

The Eyewitness reporter

A Danish court on Monday found a Nigerian guilty of endangering the lives of Danish military personnel in a shooting incident last November involving Denmark’s navy and a crew of suspected Nigerian pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

However, the court declined to sentence the Nigerian, Lucky Frances, 40, despite a call from the prosecutor for a prison sentence of 12 to 15 months.

As part of international anti-piracy efforts, Denmark deployed a frigate to the Gulf of Guinea in October last year.

The following month, it intervened in an alleged attack on a commercial vessel, killing four pirates and capturing four other suspects.

“The court emphasized that the 40-year-old Nigeria, together with the other perpetrators, fulfilled all the signs of piracy and had to be described as a pirate group,” Copenhagen city court said in a statement.

Frances, who was injured during a firefight with Danish navy personnel in the November clash, was taken to Denmark for prosecution in January after being treated at a hospital in Ghana.

 Danish authorities deemed it unsafe to release him in Ghana. His leg was amputated as a result of his injuries.

Frances was exempted from any legal consequences due to his medical condition and the fact that charges against the other three suspected pirates had been dropped, his lawyer Jesper Storm Thygesen told Reuters.

Charges against the three other suspected Nigerian pirates were dropped in January after Denmark failed to find a country in the region to take them.

They were released from detention on the frigate and put to sea in a small dinghy in the Gulf of Guinea.

Frances will remain in custody until both sides have decided whether to appeal against the verdict, Thygesen said.

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Possession of NIN by passengers now requirement for boarding trains—Sambo

 

— as government shifts resumption of Abuja-Kaduna rail services to December
The Eyewitness reporter
As part of the multi-layer security measures put in place on the troubled Abuja-Kaduna train route, the federal government has announced that no passenger will be allowed to buy tickets for train services without a National Identification Number (NIN).
In addition, no minor will be allowed onboard unless registered by an adult with a NIN who cannot register more than four minors per trip.
Reviewing the security measures put in place ahead of the resumption of the Abuja-Kaduna train route, the Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, said these and other security initiatives which the government has taken are necessary to forestall the reoccurrence of the sad event which occurred on March 28th, 2022 on the route when the train was derailed by insurgents who killed and kidnapped passengers.
The minister, who on Sunday at Kaduna expressed satisfaction over the level of security measures in place, also said the steps taken so far will also stop ticket racketeering which has been the order of the day among the railway staff on the route.
The Minister also expressed confidence that the measures put in place are adequate enough for the train service to commence.” There is sensitive equipment that we have deployed that I will not reveal. The other thing I can tell you is that for every journey, the train is monitored every second on the screen.

” The train driver can see from a distance if there are any threats on the tracts that will enable him to match the break long before getting to the threat, and that is why I am telling you confidently,” said the Minister.

The Minister debunked the rumour that train services will resume on Monday, adding that the newly introduced measures will delay the resumption of business along the corridor for a few more days for passengers to get acquainted with the new protocol involved in train boarding before it will resume services.

“We have not said that train services will start tomorrow. I want to be very categorical about that.

“Now, we have introduced a new system before you buy a ticket. The purchase of a ticket requires you to provide a phone number and a national identification number in order to profile you because that is the beginning of the security checks. So at any point in time when a train moves from one station to another, we know who and who are on board.

“If you don’t have a NIN you are not going to board our train, it is as simple as that. If you are a minor, an adult will register for you and an adult can only register for not more than four minors.

“Now, we want to give sufficient time for the Nigerian public to listen to these two requirements, to assimilate this new system.

“So if you go and start tomorrow, a lot of people will be disgruntled. Why didn’t they tell us that this is a new way of doing it? Why didn’t they give us adequate time to do it? So we want to give you adequate time. Definitely between 3,4,5 days, certainly not more than a week.

Sambo assured Nigerians that a smooth and secured train ride is guaranteed while noting that the trains will not travel at night for now, while there is also going to be a review in train fares.

“I can assure you that we are a compassionate government and will consider the masses in the review of the train fare.”

We are not going to tell you what we have done. It is a security matter and I have no apologies for that.

“We’ll be monitoring it on a daily basis and improve on wherever we find some snags”.

“The ticketing called e-ticketing has already been contracted to a company, called secure ID. That concession has gone through the entire concession process under extant laws, including approval by the Federal Executive Council. So that concession remains in place for the duration of the concession period, which I think is 10 years”.

Sambo said that although only God can guarantee maximum security, he assured Nigerians that everything is in place to guarantee a secured and smooth train ride.

“We are not going to tell you what we have done. It is a security matter and I have no apologies for that.

“We’ll be monitoring it on a daily basis and improve on wherever we find some snacks”.

The Minister assured that Secured ID would continue to handle the e-ticketing services.

“The ticketing called e-ticketing has already been contracted to a company called secure ID. That concession has gone through the entire concession process under extant laws, including approval by the Federal Executive Council. So that concession remains in place for the duration of the concession period, which I think is 10 years”.

The Minister was accompanied by the Minster of State for Transportation, Ademola Adegoroye; Minister of Water Resources Eng. Suleiman Adamu; Managing Director, Nigeria Railway Corporation Fidet Okhiria; Chairman Governing Board Nigeria Railway Corporation Ibrahim Musa.

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As Nigerdock recants operational breaches, FG may lift suspension on the facility

The Eyewitness reporter
The Federal Government has expressed its readiness to lift the suspension order on Nigerdock following its willingness to abide by the rules and its contributions to the growth of the National economy.
The Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo, stated this recently when he visited the firm in Lagos in the company of the Minister of State for Transportation, Prince Ademola Adegoroye and some Management Staff of the Ministry.
Addressing the Chief Executive Officer, Nigerdock, Maher Jarmakani and other officials of the company, the Minister pointed out that the reason why they were suspended was as a result of complaints from other Terminal Operators, saying Nigerdock had operating advantages over them.
“What led to your suspension was that I received complaints from Terminal Operators, saying that you are not on the same level with them. In the sense that they pay more to the government than you do. You’re likely to attract freight at a much lower cost to the detriment of businesses”,  the Minister disclosed.
He, therefore, urged them to liaise with Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to work out all the operational licenses needed to enable them to operate and the latter will forward the same to the Minister of Transportation whose prerogative it is to give approvals.
Speaking further, the Minister said: “We will never do anything to undermine the things you are doing here in terms of generating wealth and jobs for Nigerians.  The only thing we are saying is that the law should be followed. We should not encourage lawlessness “.
Responding, the CEO, Nigerdock, Maher Jarmakani, said the firm has taken notable steps in this regard as they have been granted bonded permits by the Nigerian Customs and they are currently working with Nigerian Ports Authority to ensure all processes of getting the needed approvals are followed accordingly.
“We are seeking your support Honourable Minister and that is why we wrote a letter of appeal for your guidance and your support to see that we have followed all processes and procedures” Jarmakani stated.
Furthermore, Jarmakani informed the Minister that in the 30 years of its existence, Nigerdock has employed more Nigerians than its peers, assuring that the company will not undermine the country’s extant rules and regulations.
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