He owns one of Nigeria’s biggest business empires, a hefty property portfolio, a dishy-looking wife, good family, and an intimidating personality. Life, to a great extent, has been kind to Razaq Akanni Okoya, the legendary businessman and the Aare of Lagos.
Okoya, who is the Chairman, Eleganza Group of Companies, turns 78 today, 12 January. The celebration featured a prayer session in the afternoon and a classy reception party, held at his expansive estate, Oluwa Ni N Sola, on Lekki/Ajah Expressway.
Okoya’s life has been fruitful and colourful. His story is eminently romantic.
His childhood dream was to become a lawyer. That dream, however, was killed by his father’s decision to bring him into his tailoring business as an apprentice. While assisting his father, Okoya set up his own business, turning trousers into knickers, long sleeve shirts into short sleeve to sell. That way, he earned enough to save for the future.
At the beginning, he combined apprenticeship at his father’s shop with schooling. Soon though, Okoya would quit schooling. What convinced him to quit was the sharp difference in the way teachers and businessmen dressed. “In school, I could see my teacher in worn and often shabby clothes and at the same time, I could see the well-dressed businessmen of Dosunmu Street, the heart of business in Lagos then. It was easy for me to choose business life,” he said in an interview.
At 14, he made up his mind to become a businessman. And he did not have to think hard to arrive at the line of business he wanted to do. His father sold sewing materials and the young Okoya wanted to know the makers of those materials. “I spent sleepless nights writing letters all over the world, making enquiries about the manufacturers of buttons and zippers,” he said. Soon, he started importing the products with orders of between £20 to £50. When the goods arrived and he could not raise the £70 he required to clear them, his mother came to his aid.
In no time, he began importing ornamented buttons. The reaction of the market surprised him. He followed it up with the importation of earrings and other jewellery items, which sold out fast. “What we sold was what the masses could afford to buy. In business, you have to ensure that the masses are able to afford the cost of your products,” he lectured.
Next up was the business of shoemaking. That marked the start of Eleganza shoes, Eleganza slippers and bags. Okoya adopted the same low-pricing strategy, aiming for volume rather than high profit margin. The success recorded in bags and slippers gave him the confidence to try other things. Okoya came up with the idea of producing food warmers and drink coolers. The fact that Nigerians are party-loving people ensured that it was an instant success. He added small food flasks for those who want food on the go. The products were also well received around the West African sub-region.
Okoya developed the property arm of his business as an insurance against fluctuations his other businesses may experience. He built his first house at the age of 21. Many more would follow. Notable among these are the shopping plazas in Ikeja, Apapa and Alaba in Lagos. There is also the vast Oluwa Ni Sola Estate in Lekki/ Ajah axis.
Currently, Okoya is married to Sade and Kuburat Olayinka.
On attaining the age of 78, Okoya said: “God has been very kind to me. He has blessed me with a good and happy life. It is one thing to work hard, but it is the blessing of God that adds value to the work of your hand. At 78, I have no reason not to be grateful to God for what he has done for me.”
By Kemi Akinyemi