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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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I want to bequeath fully automated ports to Nigerian shipping industry–Bello Koko 

Bello-Koko, NPA MD

Eyewitness reporter

Mohammed Bello-Koko, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has expressed his passion and uncommon commitment to leaving a fully automated port system as his legacy after he bows out of office.

Bello- Koko, whose ascension to the NPA’s highest office was as dramatic as it was eventful, said port automation, which is the latest trend in the world, especially, the Port system, is central to his administration in the NPA.

Koko, who spoke Saturday 14th, May 2022 during his maiden press conference, expressed his belief that a fully automated port system will translate to efficiency, low costs, and improved revenue.

In a no hold- barred interactive session with journalists, the NPA helmsman shared his vision of robust port processes hinged on automation devoid of human interaction.

“When I came in, even though in an acting capacity, I held retreat first with the management staff and then the board during which I had to explain my vision of automated port system to them.
“I did this because I needed to get them to work with me and secured their buy-in.
“And it worked.
“Port system is dynamic so there must be a change in policies and focus.
Talking about the legacy he wished to bequeath to the industry, the banker- turned port administrator, explained that his desire is to fully automate the port system which he believed is the backbone of efficiency.
“I would want to see our ports fully automated. Automation is the backbone of efficiency in our ports.
”  It will achieve improved revenue. It will achieve a lot of things we want to achieve. I am really really interested in getting this done.

“We have so much automation done in isolation and we need to integrate them.

“We need to put up something that everybody will love to log into. We need to copy a system that is being used in other developed countries, something that will add value, something that everyone agrees with and that is the port community system and harbour automation.
“I am looking forward to a legacy of rehabilitated port infrastructures with the right marine equipment and that is something we have started working on already.

“Discussions have started in terms of designs, we have gotten the full design of the Tin Can port, how it is going to be reconstructed, what is the likely cost of reconstructing Tin CAN, what are we going to do with some parts of Apapa port.

“We have approached BUA to start reconstruction. The same process is on in the Rivers ports where some of the infrastructures have collapsed.

“If we are able to do this, then we have achieved quite a lot.

Apart from port automation, Koko beloved that he needs efficient and committed staff who are well motivated to drive the reformation agenda.

So he declared that improved staff welfare is another area he wants to work on while in office.

“Staff welfare is very important to me which I want to pay special attention to. All these things are the legacies I want to leave behind when I exit as the Managing Director of NPA” he declared.

The NPA MD, who gave a blow-by-blow account of the challenges and prospects of bequeathing a reformed port process, believed that the core function of the NPA was trade facilitation.

However, he lamented that since the agency has been turned into a revenue-generating agency, it has lost focus on this vital core function of trade facilitation while pursuing revenue generation

“NPA is about trade facilitation.

“The core responsibility of every port in the world is to facilitate trade.

“Until that is very clear, then there was a problem, and then to facilitate trade, that is when other things came in.

“While the NPA has been turned into a major revenue earner for the federal government of Nigeria, gradually, some of our responsibilities are impossible to carry out because there is more focus on the contribution to the CRF, which is fine.

“What it does for us is it makes us reduce costs and generate more.

He then extensively dwelt on the efforts of his management to reinvent the wheel of making NPA more of a trade facilitator than a revenue earner.

“For you to ensure that this trade facilitation succeeds,  you need to meet with your stakeholders.

“One of the things we did was to start to reach out to the stakeholders that were difficult to relate with.

“The port environment is a conglomerate of so many players.

” You need the Customs, SON, plant quarantine, the shipping companies which we do not regulate but are regulated by the shippers’ council and the terminal operators for you to succeed.

“That was the first thing we did and we set a goal for ourselves, which is what are those things we need to do in order to improve trade facilitation.

“It is only when you do that that you start to have a better flow of traffic, shorter dwell time of cargo, and quick turn around time of ships.

“And we reached out to as far as the Nigerian Navy with whom we are able to resolve some issues that we were not able to resolve for over 20 years.

“We just humbled ourselves and decided that we would reach out to everybody.

“We also realised that the modern ports are all moving toward automation, and automation cannot be in batches but there has to be full automation.

“Once there is manual interference in some of the things you do, then you haven’t fully been automated and because of that, we wrote to the IMO to help us consult. We are about to deploy the port community system.

“The port community system is an avenue which ensures that all stakeholders, all the players in the port processes, log into the system of exchange of data and processes.

“The good thing is that it doesn’t disturb the automation processes of individual agencies or stakeholders, such as e-customs and that was why we got the stakeholders to buy into it.

“We are upgrading our RIMS, you all know the problems of downloading manifest and we are going to deploy harbour automation.

“The IMO has mandated all ports to deploy such IT and soft wares by 2025, our target is 2023, maximum early 2024.

“We reached out to NLG. We have been trying to deploy VTS  for about 10 years now but since we came, it was one of the major challenges.

“You can’t get qualified people to deploy VTS, they are very few.

“We wrote to IMO, they gave us some companies which could not meet our requirements while some of them were not interested in working with NPA.

“However, NLG has a VTR in Bonny, even though it is not robust.

“We do not have a problem in collaborating and in the last few months, we have been meeting with the NLG so that they do the survey and put the moles and the sensors around the country.

“It is one of the most important things in the maritime industry now, worldwide.

“We should be able to have visibility without seeing the ship and it would be a tremendous achievement and I believe we can achieve it within the year.

“Our RIM is also being updated and we ensure that people keep using those applications that we have which have reduced manual processes.

“As a result, things are improving, speed is improving. We have been able to block revenue leakages.

“However, we have old ports, we can all attest to that.  The problem with the Eastern ports is decaying infrastructures while Tin Can island port is practically collapsing.

“We have decided to focus our budget on the rehabilitation of those decaying infrastructures.

“We took a holistic look at these decaying infrastructures and came to the conclusion that we need to rehabilitate Tin can, Apapa, and other ports.

Having reeled out his vision for a new port system, he then dared whoever cared to listen that he should be held responsible and accountable over his vision for the Nigerian ports.

“You can hold me responsible for any of these things ” he declared in a measured tone that betrayed his confidence and determination to succeed.

He promised to collaborate with relevant stakeholders and lending agencies to achieve his set objectives

“I will work with the relevant agencies, investors, and lending agencies who are interested in lending, either directly or indirectly.

” Some of them just need a guarantee from the NPA  to hold us responsible for any default,” he stated.
Bello-Koko was named Acting Managing Director of NPA in May 2021 following the suspension of the erstwhile Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman while he was made a substantive MD in February 2022.
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EFCC  discovers  academy where Yahoo boys are trained

Suspected Yahoo academy students
—arrests proprietor, 16 trainees in Abuja
Owolola Adebola 

Operatives of the Abuja Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), have arrested one Afolabi Samad, owner of a Yahoo Yahoo Academy in Abuja.

The 24-year-old was arrested Thursday, May 12, 2022, in a sting operation alongside 16 of his students.

 The youngsters between the ages of 18 and 27 years were arrested at their hideout located in Peace Court Estate, Lokogoma, a suburb of Abuja.

The owner of the alleged Academy rented the 3 bedroom flat for Three Million Naira to impact the tricks of cyber-frauds on his apprentices for undisclosed fees.

Item recovered from the suspects include laptops, phones, charms and two vehicles: a Lexus RX350 and Toyota Highlander.

The suspects will be charged to court as soon as investigations are concluded.

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PSTT seeks partnership with NARTO, MWUN to end traffic gridlock

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