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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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IMO tasks Mobereola to sustain NIMASA’s leadership role in regional maritime industry

—– hails his appointment as DG
The Eyewitness Reporter
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has lauded the leadership role of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in the maritime industry within the West African sub-region which it said has stabilized maritime administration in the region.
In his congratulatory letter to Dr. Dayo Mobereola, the new NIMASA DG, the Secretary General of IMO Arsenio Dominguez, observed with satisfaction the collaborative efforts of NIMASA that have brought relative peace to the troubled Gulf of Guinea (GoG).
He therefore charged Mobereola to sustain the tempo of activities that will keep the momentum going in the areas of safety, security and building of strong maritime institutions.
In a conveyance letter personally signed by him, the IMO Secretary-General recognized the strides of the Agency in building a robust maritime sector in Nigeria, adding that the IMO commends the significant effort, initiatives, and investment that Nigeria has made in strengthening its maritime institutions.

In the words of Dominguez, “The focus on strengthening maritime law enforcement and security architecture has been welcomed by seafarers and flag States.

“The Deep Blue project and the C4i Centre as well as maritime piracy laws under the SPOMO Act are just some of the many investments that have set a new gold standard in the region in maritime security capacity building”.

“IMO has long supported the regional role of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and its Member States in strengthening maritime security and law enforcement.

” In this respect, we have been greatly encouraged with the continuation of this regional ownership with the formation and work of the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum and Shared Awareness and De-confliction (GoG-MCF/SHADE) in 2021”.

He commended the Agency’s partnership with the various regional bodies and expressed the readiness of the IMO to work with Nigeria and other member states on many maritime issues with the aim of jointly tackling these issues.

“NIMASA’s partnership with the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) and the collaboration with the shipping industry, navies and the Yaoundé architecture has been instrumental in suppressing the threat of piracy to merchant vessels and seafarers in line with UN Security Council resolution 2634 (2022) on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea and IMO Assembly resolution A.1159 (32)”.

” I look forward to working with you and your colleagues on many of the maritime issues that we are jointly tackling and hope to welcome you in person at the IMO, he said.

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Eastern shippers, freight forwarders on collision course with Shippers’ Council over increase in haulage rate

Akutah Pius Ukeyima, ES, NSC
The Eyewitness Reporter
Importers, Exporters and freight forwarders playing their trade in the South East region of the country have rejected the recent 200 percent hike in haulage rate by the Nigerian Shippers’Council.
They described the increase as “outrageous, arbitrary, and unacceptable.”
In a press conference called by the aggrieved shippers in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, they claimed that if the hike was not reversed, it would bring them on a collision course with the Shippers’ Council.
Addressing journalists on behalf of the aggrieved group, Joshua Ahuama, Zonal Coordinator of the Association of Nigerian Customs Licenced Agents (ANLCA), claimed that the rate will not only lead to spiral inflation but also in contravention of the provisions of the NSC Act.
He disclosed that the group shall give the Shippers’Council a seven-day ultimatum to reverse to status quo or face withdrawal of their services at the Eastern ports.
He accused the council of not consulting concerned stakeholders before arriving at the decision, saying consultations are an integral part of the NSC Act.
 “Recently, the NSC approved a 200 percent increment in haulage rate for transport owners and drivers operating under the Maritime Union of Nigeria.
“To this end, importers and freight forwarders associations in the eastern zone have unanimously disputed the new rate because it is outrageous, arbitrary, and unacceptable to all stakeholders in the zone.
“We have, however, resolved to adopt all peaceful efforts. We started this move on March 14 by calling on the NSC to ensure proper stakeholder engagement and renegotiation.

” These measures are also expected to help all parties to reach a benchmark that would be in the interest of all stakeholders in the maritime value chain,” Ahuama noted.

 “We also urge the NSC to return to the status quo by suspending the implementation of the disputed rate, pending proper renegotiation covering the interest of all stakeholders.

“We are not on a selfish course. Our demands are in the interest of Nigerians because any slight increase in the haulage rate will reflect on the prices of goods in the open market.

“A businessman incorporates total logistic costs into the prices of goods.”

However, the group said they might be constrained to take drastic measures, including suspending all declarations of goods and payments of customs duties, which could negatively affect national revenue and economic output.

Some members of the import and export associations present at the meeting included the Nigeria Shippers Association, the Aba International Traders Association, the Ultimate Importers Association, the POP Importers Association, the Nnewi Importers Association, and the Onitsha Importers Association.

However, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council has said that the new approved rate took into consideration the cost, moderation and other cargo transport issues.
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Performance of Apapa Customs scanning officers excites Comptroller Jaiyeoba

The Eyewitness Reporter
The Area Controller of Apapa command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba has lauded the uncompromising attitude of the officers of the Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology Unit (NIITU) which he said has been invaluable to the overall success of the command.
Comptroller Jaiyeoba, who was on an unscheduled visit to the scanner site, reminded the officers of the importance of teamwork as a strong basis to sustain the gains of compliance and revenue collection recently recorded by the command.
He thanked Deputy Comptroller Salamatu Atuluku, the Officer in charge of the scanning site and encouraged the unit not to be deterred by complaints coming from persons who were made to pay accurate duties to the government after issuance of demand notices
According to him, no business person who is made to part with money will be happy with officers who refused to compromise the ethics of their job
” The main reason for me coming here is to appreciate you. I may not see you but I have seen your work and I won’t keep quiet about what I have seen about your work.
“You are doing very well. I just want to encourage you to work as a team. If you don’t work as a team, you give room for outsiders to come in and when they come in, they divide you and when they divide you,  achieving success will be very difficult
” Do your work without blemish. Once you keep your arm straight, you can stand before anybody. Your work as a customs officer is to ensure that you do the correct thing
” For those of you doing an intervention in the form of Demand Notice(DN), there is no body who part with money that will be happy with you.
“They will want to play intelligent by hiding somewhere. When you fetch them from their hiding place, they become your enemy. Whatever they write about anybody here will still come down to me and if anybody works well, the onus on me is to defend such a person.
“Just have it at the back of your mind that you owe yourself the duty of doing your work diligently whether anyone comes around as a friend or enemy.
“It is not enough for you to rest. The reward for hard work is more work. These demands require sacrifice so that you can maintain the status” he said.
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