I was once blind for five months, regained sight after prayer – Businesswoman, Toyin Kolade
Businesswoman, socialite and the new Iyalaje Oodua, Princess Toyin Kolade, speaks with TOFARATI IGE about her new title, business, lifestyle and other issues
You were recently made the Iyalaje Oodua by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. How did you feel when you heard the news? Firstly, I give glory to God almighty. I never expected it. It was God that ordained me. I really appreciate our royal father, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, because this is my first chieftaincy title. There have been so many letters (offering chieftaincy titles) everywhere but I rejected them. But, for this title, I believe it is what God wants in my life, and I will do my best not to disappoint the Ooni.
What plans do you have for your new title?
I have many plans for my new title. I will do my best for Yoruba women in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. There are many forms of empowerment programme I want to do for women in society, especially those that were abandoned by their husbands and are now the ones catering for their children. Many of them do not even have money to take care of their children. Also, there are many brilliant children in Nigeria who cannot afford school fees. I would go to different schools to enquire about their brilliant students, whose parents cannot pay their school fees. From there, we would take care of the school fees of such children. Nobody knows what those children can become in the future. Some of them could turn out to be doctors, engineers or other professionals.
There is a lot of hardship in Nigeria and people are really suffering. There’s nothing in this world because we would all leave the world without taking anything with us. There are many children who have bright destinies but their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them. That is why many people travel to countries like Libya and Lebanon where they practically become slaves. They are ready to spend whatever amount to get out of this country, even if they have to go by road. Some of them die on the road without getting to their destinations. I am really passionate about helping indigent people. My goal is to touch as many lives as I possibly can. I was not aware when I was born and I don’t know when I am going to pass on. However, I would do whatever I can to impact on the lives of underprivileged children and widows. Many widows have nobody caring for them. For some of them, their husbands’ families did not allow them have access to their spouse’s houses, cars and other properties. Many of them are just left alone to suffer.
Also, there are many programmes I plan to do in places such as Brazil and Cuba.
What services does your company, Fisolak Global Resources, offer?
We are into different things such as shipping, clearing and forwarding, importation of food items, such as oatmeal. We also import oil from Canada. The things we import are organic items. We are also into oil and gas, building and construction, as well as real estate. Last December, we started a trade fair and it would be done twice yearly. We make sure the prices are affordable so that underprivileged people can buy from us.
What are some of the challenges you face in the maritime business?
Last year (2020), there were lots of problems at the port. The roads are not good. When one has hundreds of containers at the port, one would have to pay a lot in demurrage. We thank God the government is doing their best to make the Apapa and Tin Can roads (which lead to the port) motorable.
Towards the end of 2020 and the beginning of this year, things were very tough. We were paying as much as N1.5m to clear just one container at the port. Meanwhile, that is the same amount that is paid for freight from China to Nigeria. How is one supposed to sell such goods at a competitive price? At the end of the day, it is the end user that would bear the brunt. In the next three months, I envisage that the roads would have been repaired.
Meanwhile, I want to urge the Federal Government to create a new port. Our population has grown exponentially and the existing Lagos port is too small for the volume of import activities that take place there. A new port can be built in Badagry. At the moment, the Lagos State government is constructing a road from Badagry. The government is trying but they should ensure that the roads are fixed.
What changes would you like to see in the maritime industry?
The only change I would like to see is for the government to create a new port because the present one is too small. The government makes a lot of money from the port, so they should concentrate on it.
What attracted you to the maritime industry?
It is a long story but I would tell you about it. From a young age, I have been interested in the business. My brothers and sisters are into clearing and forwarding. Two of my brothers are also Customs officers. I thank God for where I am today. He has always been faithful to me and I will continue to give him glory.
You also have a stake in the oil and gas business which is believed to be very risky. How have you been able to cope?
God has always been faithful to me. It was only when I tried to open a pharmacy that it failed because I did not pray about it. I liked the business but it failed.
Apart from your failed investment in pharmacy, have you lost any other major business investment?
I have lost many of them. But, I thank God. As a prophetess, if I venture in any business without praying about it, it usually fails. However, it has been over five years since I last had that experience because I always pray before going into any business.
You are also the Iyalaje of Apapa. What responsibilities come with that title?
Right from when I started working in Apapa as a clearing and forwarding agent, and as a businesswoman, I have always been helping people. I do not discriminate. My doors are always open to everybody because I believe we are all one in the eyes of God. Any money that one has belongs to God. I always try to make sure everyone around me is happy. If anybody comes to me for favours and I have what they need, I would definitely give it to them. That is why everybody loves me in Apapa, and they call me ‘Iyalaje of Apapa land’.
Do you still hold that title? How did you start your business career?
When I was in primary school, I was selling milk. I would pour it in nylons and sell to my schoolmates because they all loved milk. I have always loved to do business. I became a millionaire at the age of 21. Business and humility are in my blood. I don’t like to see people suffering. We only have limited time to spend on earth. In the next 60 years, I am sure I would not be alive. Prince Phillip (the husband of the Queen of England) was recently buried. Despite his royalty, he did not take anything with him. I have resolved that part of what God has blessed me with would be used for the betterment of society.
What personal qualities helped you get to this height?
The most important quality that has helped me to get this far is humility.
The country’s economy is not in good shape at the moment. How can youths be empowered?
I would like to see a situation where we export more items such as sesame seeds, cashew nuts and cocoa. It is things like that that made some countries wealthy today. I want our young ones to start doing agriculture and focus on things like cashew nuts, ginger, charcoal and timber. There are lots of raw materials in Nigeria that can be exported. We should train our university graduates and open their eyes to certain things. These are some of the things government can do. I believe there are many opportunities in the country that can make us self-sufficient and happy.
I export a lot of things to China, Dubai and India. But, foreigners are even doing that more than Nigerians. The President, (Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.),) wants more people to go into agriculture and I appreciate him for that. The government has given some people money to support their businesses in that sector and for farming implements, there is zero import duty.
However, it seems people prefer to import things than to manufacture.
That is part of my duty as Iyalaje of Oodua because I am in partnership with the Brazilian government. Recall that many years ago, palm kernels were taken from Nigeria to Malaysia, and it’s still thriving there till today.
Very soon, I am going to start producing red oil in Nigeria. I have the machines and there is a lot of oil in Osun State. There are so many things that can be produced in Nigeria, including tiles and marbles. Yet, we import them. There are many graduates out there without jobs. By the time I would have spent five years in this position I would have done more for the people. I want people to be happy and give glory to God. I am going to bring in investors from Brazil, China and Italy to train our youths to be independent. Some graduates earn as little as N30,000. How are they supposed to take care of their family with that? I will continue to thank the almighty God and the Ooni of Ife for giving me the opportunity and I will never let them down.
Considering your busy schedule, how are you able to make out time for your family?
I believe there is time for business and there is time for family. I know the time my husband eats and I make the necessary arrangements. His food must be ready on time. My husband is the head of the family and I try to always make him happy. I love, obey and adore him. If I don’t take care of my home, there would be no Iyalaje.
You are a popular socialite who is often invited to parties. On the average, how many events do you attend on weekends?
I don’t just go to any party. I only attend selected events. If a party is not ‘important’, I would not go. I have class and standard. It is not anybody that can invite me to a party and I would attend. If a party is not classy, I would not attend because I am exclusive and special.
How did you feel when you could not attend parties amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
There was no way I could attend parties when the entire nation was suffering. During that time, I gave out things to the underprivileged. I distributed about 1,000 cartons of fish and more than 50,000 loaves of bread, as well as cash gifts to people. I spent a lot of money during that period.
You seem to be very close to your husband. How would you describe the relationship you share?
My husband is ‘my everything’. I love him so much and if I come to this world again, I would marry him. He is a very good, understanding and supportive man. He is never jealous of me.
Do you still cook for him?
I am the one that cooks for my husband. I would even go on my knees to serve his food.
What are the fondest memories you have of your childhood?
When I was younger, they used to call me many names, including ‘prophetess’, because of many things. I lost my sight on three different occasions. At a time, I went blind for five months and I was taken to a prayer mountain. My mother prayed so hard and my sight was restored. Also, I used to plait hair for people. I used to knit cardigans and caps as well. When I was in secondary school, I had a large cassava farm. Both of my parents were from royal families but I have always liked to do business. I was the last born of the family and my parents loved me so much.
How do you like to dress?
When I was young, I used to wear white. But after some time, I told my mother I did not want to wear white again. There was a time I went to pray at the beach and a mentally unstable man kept asking me where my white clothe was.