Chief Lanre Rasaq, the Balogun of Epeland in this interview with SYLVESTER OKORUWA, TUNDE ALAO and SEGUN KASALI discusses his life journey, background, religion and what life has taught him.
Is your childhood story just like everyone else’s?
Well, one thing is very clear about life, even the plant has a beginning, starting out as a small flower and eventually turning to a big tree. Along the line, there must be challenges. I grew up as a normal young person and not the one you expected with a silver spoon or a golden spoon. I struggled seriously to build a career and I thank God for that. I’m a self-made person. But what makes me a person that I so much like is my resolve to be the best.
If I am a cleaner, I want to be the best cleaner, and if I am lucky to be the captain, I want to be sure I am the best of all captains you would ever have. And this is as a result of my passion. Nobody succeeds unless there’s a plan. Not only putting the plan on the ground but ensuring you monitor and pursue vigorously that plan to succeed and I thank God for that. I was a freelancer. I worked for the firm of RT Briscoe.
I went to Nigerian Breweries as a pipe-fitter. I was one of the people that started the production line for Gulder and I thank God I left to join the firm of British international insurance and rose from debit manager to staff manager and later district manager and I thank God that I left my mark. For more than two successive years, I was the best manager for Nigerian operations and once you are lucky to be the best in Nigeria, you are the best in Africa because Nigerian has the largest concentration of the activities. So, having achieved this, I started my own business because I had worked too hard on other people’s businesses. It was not difficult for me to increase in folds my activities in my company and we have been growing.
Your academic sojourn sir?
My primary school days were great. I went to Abomiti Local Authority Primary School in Epe. I was the school prefect. I was there between 1951 and I left around 1956. When I left, I came to Local Education Authority Modern School in Epe. I left the place in 1965 for Anglican Commercial College in Ijebu-Ode. When I left, I came to Lagos and I enrolled at Yaba College of Technology to do part-time in Insurance, at the same time, working as a freelancer at RT Briscoe.
What is that memory of your youth that you still feel strongly about?
I was the best student, both in the primary and in my secondary schools. In those days, the best student would be the school prefect. I was the school prefect in the primary school. When I was in the secondary school, the most brilliant would be the school Librarian and I was the school Librarian. I was the most brilliant chap in the school. I had a peculiar interest in history and that’s why the teachers then used to call me Herodotus. Herodotus, in history, is the father of history, and there’s no aspect of history that I went through that I cannot recite off-hand anytime, any day, be it African history or history of foreign land. When I left, all other courses including my Advanced Diploma in Public Affairs Management in UNILAG, were all on part-time basis. I was busy working and studying and did not regret all these, because they tell me a lot. As soon as I discovered that I had a leap in my standard, I applied for something better and I was always getting that done until I got to the level of a district manager of a company.
Why the love for history?
I am from the royal house on both my father and mother sides and if you are from royal house, you must know the history and background so that when you take actions on one thing or the other, you could be guided by record of the past, history of the past and how you leave such thing for the sake of the future. Those were the things that guided me so much.
Was your brilliance inherited or acquired?
My parents were illiterates who did not attend any school, but in my own case, I believe that once I put my hand on something, I want the best out of it and I do not turn back. It’s my philosophy of life, to be the best in whatever I’m involved in and I know too well that this guiding principle has been propelling me to really study more than my colleagues. While they were playing, I would not get involved.
Such resolve at such a tender age sir?
The reason was that I looked at others who were blessed with parents who were able to pay their school fees and looked at myself whose parents could barely afford to pay mine and I resolved that the little they struggled to pay I would not want anything to happen that would make me to repeat a class. So, with that at the back of my mind, I was forced to do extraordinary lessons after school hours to be sure I didn›t fail and the fear that I didn›t want anybody to flog me was also driving me. You know in those days, if you failed or there was a test you didn›t pass, there was tendency the teachers would award strokes of cane and the fact that I didn›t want anybody to give me a mark on my body further helped me to concentrate and do my best in my studies.
So, paying school fees was tasking?
No, it was easy because of the way I went about it. During the weekend, I would go for farming, cutting raffia (the one they used to make sac bags) to sell and at times on weekends, I would go fishing. I had money and so I did not have problem paying because I knew where to go and how to make the money to pay. But I had fears of repeating any classes and having to pay again. So, the only way, was to be ahead of everybody in the class.
How much are we talking about now?
It was very small but a lot then. We are talking of 5 shillings. You know, we changed to Naira in 1973 and we are talking of early 50s and 60s.
How much of these childhood experiences made today’s Lanre Razaq?
When I looked at where I’m coming from, I decided that none of my children would go through what I went through and I was really preparing them for that. I concluded that the least educated, of my children would be a first degree holder. Three of them are lawyers. I have one of them a chartered engineer and I have some public administrators and business administrators. It’s really gratifying that God has crowned these efforts with a huge success. I had set my mind on a goal that what I was not able to achieve educationally. Definitely, my children would surpass it.
Who passed entrepreneurial ability to you between your dad and mom?
I don’t want to be biased. Both of them have passed on. My mother could sell anything during her lifetime to support me, but my father’s commitment was beyond description. I usually discussed whatever I wanted to do with him before I began such venture and he would closely monitor the progress and I enjoyed this so much with him. I was part of his life and business until his death, so you can imagine how cordial the relationship we had, but my mother was a great mother. I love both them.
Really, how could you not draw comparison between them?
I cannot because they represented different issues, different values and there’s no one I would throw out and be happy. Definitely, they occupied very key positions in my life and my prayer to God is that my own children should see me the way I saw my own parents. I looked after them. I ensured that they lived in their various houses and I built befitting houses for them. More importantly, when my father became the Odofin of Epe, I looked after him seriously and I made sure that he enjoyed his life. We come to this world to play a role and that role must become history and my history and that of my father will be interesting for my children to read because I love putting down records and the records will turn out to be books very soon. May God spare my life, I have launched a book at 70; I plan to launch another one at 80 if God permits. Both of them are jewels of inestimable value and I cannot say this is better than that. They are all very important to me and my life.
Considering your closeness to your parents, there must have been some father-son, mother-son, moments.
Well, I would take my mother for instance. She’s from a very large family, who owns landed property and all. My mother would tell me you will be great but never get involved in family landed property. You will be rich enough to meet asking value of any land that you want to buy. Don’t go and join anyone to say this land belongs to my father or to my mother or to my mother’s family or my father’s family and I consider it a golden advice because land matter is the greatest agent of destruction in this part of the world. I know how many families that have been engulfed in land matters and got destroyed in the process. Some would remain in court for a very long time and I thank God I respect their advice and I take to their advice.
Did you ask her why landed property?
I wouldn’t know. Maybe her experience of life. You know that you don’t query your mother by saying why did you tell me this. She must have a reason for saying it. In those days, we were not asking questions. Once your parents called you to tell say, don’t do this, you said yes sir and you obeyed it religiously. But if you tell a young person now that he shouldn’t get involved, he would ask you why did you say so. You should convince why I shouldn’t get involved in those things you asked me not to do, but we were not asking questions. Once they said it, we took it they had reasons and their reason must be genuine and important and we obeyed them. In the case of my father, his father guided both of us. When my grandfather was sick and I was there, he said to me, ‘Olajuwon tell your father that for you both, the greatest asset I have, I have given both of you and I didn’t understand the meaning. When I met my father, I told him that baba said that after his demise, both of us shouldn’t be part of those sharing the property he left behind and I know that you are the first son and I’m your first son, and both of us occupy a special position in the family, so why is the elderly person saying so? My father said I should go back and ask him. I went back to baba and asked him and he laughed, saying the prayer from him was the greatest asset he had and gave to my father and I because you joined hands to care very well for him. He said ‘It is more valuable than the gold I have, than the land I have, than the clothes I have. Leave them, let them share the gold I have. The one I have that I have given you is greater than the gold they will share’. He also said ‘Look, I can assure you that you will be great and you children will be great because your father still ensures he enslaved himself to me, (pointing his fingers to himself), throughout my lifetime. When I became weak and I cannot do those jobs I used to do as a young person, he forced me to stay in the house and whatever work he does, he’s sharing the profit with me as if we are joint owners and I never lack anything. Your father is not the only one doing that, you joined him in doing the business from which he gives me money every time. So, the two of you will share this glory arising from this grey hair’. I believe that the prayers of the old man had come to pass.
Did you parents leave any flogging marks on you?
No, they never flogged me
Because I was afraid of flogging and I ensured I didn’t do anything that would earn me flogging. I don’t like being inflicted with injury. So, the fear alone made me not to do anything that would warrant them flogging me.
How did you meet your wife sir?
By providence of life. I was with a friend, who just told me his sister over there was doing her 21st birthday and asked if we could be there together. And I was there. Surprisingly, the lady considered me too old and she did not even talk to me throughout the ceremony but I took special interest in her. I kept on visiting their home and she kept on ignoring me. One way or the other, I became so close to the father and I always visited him but my mother-in-law would not want to see me for two reasons: one, she’s a Catholic and I’m a Muslim, and she didn’t want any relationship that would take her child from the Catholic fold to any Muslim home. So, to stop that, she developed strong attitude toward me.
And the second reason?
The second reason was that she was a very important member of the Catholic Church and she thought they would abuse her that she was careless by allowing her daughter to follow a Muslim. So, she was ready to fight. But, I discovered that my regularity in the house was yielding result because I took special interest in her younger ones in the house with baba. I would go there once or twice a week and I would do things that she would not be able to refuse to acknowledge. I might start playing with the children in the house or send one of them something good to share and we would be sharing either Coca-Cola or Fanta, at times with roasted plantain and she would be asking ‘Why is this man coming here every time and why is he sharing things?’ At times, I would play Ludo with the children, stay there for two or three hours and leave and those who should look for her were running anyway from her and when I noticed this, I was happy. Some of them were bold enough to tell me ‘why do you come to our adugbo [area] to steal the girl we should marry?’ and I would tell them, ‘don’t worry’. Eventually, she picked interest and when she did, the fight with the mother started, with her saying it would not happen. But I went to a colleague of the mother, who was a teacher, to complain my plight and she said ‹don’t worry, continue the game›. Surprisingly, the catholic priest heard of it and blessed it. When he did, there was nothing the mother could do, and that’s why I did not impose religion on my children. Almost all of them are Christians today because if I was able to break through the barrier of religion to marry, there should be no hold back. I strongly believe that the ideology between Christianity and Islam is the belief in one God and that’s the strong linkage. And if it’s to believe in one God, why should I say because A is serving through Mohammed or B is serving God through Jesus, we shouldn’t see him. My own thing is that you must not be without being committed to one type of religion or the other. Be it Christianity or Islam, you must read the scripture; you must believe in one God. And it has worked a lot in my home.
Was your wedding conducted in Islamic way?
Yes, she went with me because the community leaders went to her with a claim that my wife’s father was a staunch Muslim but the wife took her (my wife) to Catholic church and they considered it a revenge game (Laughs). And before they knew it, the family of my wife’s father teamed up in support, saying Mama Jumoke, Olorun ti mu e. Bi o se mu omo wa lo se kiriyo, akobi e ti wa si le Musulumi (Mama Jumoke, the table is now turned against you. Despite your husband being a Muslim, you converted our child to Christianity and now your first child is getting married to a Muslim). They now turned that to a fight. And at that level, because my mother-in-law respected her own in-laws very much, she succumbed. She told my wife that it was you that chose to go and whatever happened to you would be your business.
It is obvious you have made it count for madam. But how frequent do you disagree?
Disagreement cannot be taken away from human beings. We were disagreeing more on the timely presentation of my meal because I cherish my meal timing. Regularly or at times, she failed. Instead of fighting, I just walked out and ate whatever I could get. Luckily, there were restaurants and by the time I would come back to the house, my annoyance would have disappeared. Nobody settles our matter. We do disagree but we disagree to agree quickly.
How do you resolve dispute?
I think marriage of that time was good because whenever she offended me and I wanted to take action, I would remember where we were coming from. I would then look back and say to myself that this girl defied her mother to marry me and she’s a woman, she can misbehave. Now, she has misbehaved, what do I do to compensate her so that they won’t say that’s it. So, I would just look and smile and that worked a lot to keep the marriage. So, I ensure a lot of dialogue goes on among my wife, children and I. We let information flow. If any of them offends me, I let go. The scripture says if you quarrel, it must end the same day, not the following day. So, there’s no way we won’t offend each other.
Which of your children is increasingly taking after you?
They are all fantastic children. They love me and I love them. They believe in my philosophy and I always tell them stories that could lead them right. They are all good children. More importantly, the female ones would call me in the morning before I leave my bed, and they call me in the night when I’m about to sleep.
Any regrets at all?
Why should I have regret when God has been sufficiently kind and I have done things that I never expected? Why should I have regrets? Life is not about bed of roses; there are ups and downs. When I have a plan and it doesn’t succeed, I sit down and look back at the factors responsible for me not meeting my set goal. I study those things and make corrections. So, no regrets.
Have you ever had any near- death experience?
I have had two. I had one vehicular accident and I had one mishap in the lagoon when my father and I went for fishing. My father was in the lagoon trying to catch fish in the water and I was in the boat. Suddenly, I lost my balance and I fell into the lagoon. By the time my father discovered that I had fallen off the boat and the wind was taking away the boat and both of us might not catch up because of the distance, he rushed after me as an experienced elderly person. He took the pole with him first and ensure that he caught up with me. He put the pole down and both of us were holding the pole that he had been able to erect. After about two hours, a fishing boat saw both of us and we were rescued and it took us about six hours before we could discover where our boat had gone. We missed death by inches. The other one was when I was at the British American insurance. I had a brand new Toyota Corolla and I was going to Epe for the weekend and I had an accident. The car was a write-off. My childhood friend Layi Olokun was with me in the vehicle that day and mysteriously, nothing happened to any of us. It was mysterious because after the accident, both of us slept off. It was after about one hour that Layi was feeling the weight on him and said Lanre, why did you sleep on me and started complaining. We were in a big ditch. You can’t believe it. This must have happened around 11 in the night. That time, you travelled through Sagamu, Ijebu-Ode. There was no road from Lagos to Ikorodu to Epe. So, those are the two major incidents that happened, but we thank God for everything.
What’s that thing that gives you so much joy, but not plenty of money?
I derive happiness in doing the type of job I do because I set out plans every week that by Friday this is what I want to achieve on this job and, by Friday, I sit down to look at it. If it is yes, I give glory to God. If otherwise, I try to search for factors responsible for it and that’s what I do weekly, monthly etc
Why do you give so much?
Well, I will tell you. You know I have told you where I started from and I know some people would be there today. I’m no longer there, but I can feel being there because I was there. And If you remember the story of Awolowo, he was a self-made person and that’s the man I took after. He wanted education and he wanted money to go out to read. The only person he believed had the money was the Odutolas. He wrote them a letter to borrow money so that after his education, he would work to pay back. But they did not. He resorted to cutting firewood and he eventually got himself educated through correspondence college, tutorial and all that. I had done something similar and where I am today, I can still peep from the window and see several people there without a helper. If I amass all these wealth, and I pass on without assisting, how would they use that money? Who will spend that money after me? That is the reason why I must spend within 50 and 60 per cent of my earnings on charity. If you don’t render it, it makes no difference. Some of them will survive it, but if you do it, you will be happy that you have assisted somebody. There lies my joy and happiness.
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