Your establishments have a common history. Tell us about it
The need to give to the society, to get whatever we are giving across to the common man. It arose out of a need to make a statement, like the schools for instance, that it does not have to be expensive to get good quality. When we were into production of Super Story, our prices were quite low, and without adverts either. We always believed in reaching the grassroots, giving it at a price that anyone would be able to afford- affordability backed with quality, that you can give quality at low prices. That is a common denominator to all of them.
All these companies started from somewhere. Tell us about how these whole ventures started.
With the Ikebe Super, my husband is a very humourous person, and in school, Unilag, he was the cartoonist for the campus magazine. He attended KC for his HSC, two year A level, we met in 1971. He wanted to translate that into jokes that everyone would enjoy and have access to. But again, we have always wanted to reach the grassroots, which, when we started selling, our prices were very low. But we made our money on sales volume, high turnover. At the height of Super Story Magazine, we were producing up to 500, 000 copies per month. We were making money on sales volume, the mark up was very low but the volume more than made up for the low mark up.
That was how Ikebe Super started. He of course was a story teller, apart from humour. There are two sides of him- he is a very focused man, but very humourous. The serious part of him is into stories, serious-minded stories with humour here and there. The success of Ikebe Super brought in Super Story, Lover, Binta Magazine, and then, there was a turn-around in the economy. There was drop in sales, as the economy nose-dived. So, he had to temporarily stop, and started compiling everything he had. Until we went to TV, and the first company that gave us audience was AIT. That was how the electronic took over from the print.
The school came up before the electronic. We wanted choice school, but to make it affordable, it doesn’t have to hit the roof. The magazine provided capital for the school, and the school provided for the electronic. Now we provide capital for each other. For the film school, there were too many children interested in acting. There was no way everyone could be absorbed, so we decided to give them professionalism, before you finish learning you would have appeared on TV, and to God be the glory, most of the people at PEFTI are doing very well, with different TV houses and radio stations. Some are even on their own. Before they are through, they would have appeared on TV, and they receive a diploma after 3 months. They do presentation, entrepreneurship, a lot of things. It has already been approved with NID, it’s now a polytechnic. We now have different courses- National Innovative Diploma, that one is two years, but we have 3 months, six months, and we have some short courses. Some schools, particularly ABU Zaria come here for short courses.
What roles did you play as a member of the Ikebe Super crew, and how were you able to make it a success?
As soon as I finished my MBA, my father-in-law said I should work with my husband. So we were always there. He was the MD, I was the DMD- our offices were opposite each other. I was in charge of recruitment, collection of money, and I usually travelled round Nigeria to meet distributors, to bring back our money. I was directly in charge of production, the collating. I worked at trying to get our credits in order. We also had a printing press at a time. We were formerly printing with National Concord, there was a time we used Punch too, but Concord was the last place, before we started our own press. I was working in all the places, like a GM.
We have always worked together. Even the school, he is the chairman and I am the proprietor. We have always had that link, and in all the companies I am a major shareholder, and so are the kids.
Does it mean you have never worked outside your own establishments?
I have, when I did my NYSC, I was lecturing in a polytechnic at Ife. After that, I got absorbed into OAU where i was a graduate assistant and was doing my MBA. It was after the MBA I came to Lagos and joined the company. But I also had a brief stint with the Federal Audit Department, as an auditor. It was only for three years, and I was back again. Then there was a time I operated an outfit for kid’s books, gifts and stationeries. I was catering for kids from the womb to 18 years. I also had a cinema house, and I was using two flats for my business. But that one again gave way to the school. When the school started, they all had to go. It is not easy combining school with anything else, it’s not even easy to cope with the hours required, let alone bugging your life with other issues. There is no time, because most of the things you want to do out there are within the school. Other businesses you might be interested in, you can do in the school-like if we are talking of uniform, we intended selling clothes, books, we have stationeries, and then if you are interested in catering, we have catering department. So there are only a few businesses out there you can’t run within the school. When I hear school owners going into business, I always wonder how they do it. Do they want to kill themselves? Because it’s really time-consuming, unless they are not sincere. If you are sincere to yourself, God and the children, you don’t even have enough time to yourself. Yesterday we were at the National Theatre for Nnenna and Friends. My husband said he is not going, but I said, ‘I am going o’, because Binta Children will be going there. I just have to be there. My spirit is not complete unless I am there. There are people to look after them, but I just have to there with them. Your body and mind are there. When they are gone I would still ask whether anybody is left. Once they say no, it’s only then you have your peace.
With the love people had for the comics, don’t you think it will be a great idea to have a Wale Adenuga Library?
We have never thought along that line. I will mention it to my husband. I know he has a very big library, but that is a good idea.
Do you have any intention of reviving the comics?
We have been begging the chairman. He is a sort of a perfectionist. Binta would have been in Ajao Estate about eight years ago. The only reason we did not come was because he wanted something complete. We had a house and I kept telling him ‘let’s use that house’, but he said that the house is too small, and the beauty of it all is that somebody bought that house and used it for school. When he was telling me they wanted to use it for school, I just laughed. He is a perfectionist. With all that is going on, with most of his former cartoonists coming around to ask him for it to be revived, he keeps saying, ‘Not yet’. It’s not easy coordinating. Much as he is trying to be at the background, the sons are gradually coming in, some for up to three years now, but you don’t impact so much knowledge in such a short period. You can’t be there and just keep quiet, you have to be there to see. For instance, for me, its only when I travel I know the true capability of the personnel I have on ground in the two schools. But each time I am around, I can’t take my eyes away for a second. Now, we have a TV license, so he is going to start that one. I don’t want him to take too many things at a time, I still need him. So, now when you are talking to him, all he says is, ‘the TV’. That is the latest baby now, which he is nursing now. The others are stabilized now. Am sure if we had 20 children, they won’t be able to cope. I think he is just taking it easy. With time, I think, he will go into it. The TV has to start on a good footing, and that requires a lot of creativity. We have quite a lot of quality programmes, thankfully.
When are we expecting that?
By the grace of God, October. It’s quite close.
In what ways would you say you have played that role of ‘behind every successful man is a woman?’
I don’t even believe in behind anymore, it’s beside kpom kpom kpom. I have paid my dues, and I am happy he appreciates it. He says it loud. I don’t think you can interview him without him bringing it in. I have always been there, I have always believed in whatever he believed in, and have always thrown my weight behind him. I have been supportive, giving advice, even up till now in Super Story, I can take as many gele, as many as 15 and give it to the crew. My personal clothes were being used when we started newly. When they finish, they go and dry-clean and bring back. So I know I have always been there. Anyone that knows us will attest to that. I am happy he knows and appreciates it. So its beside, not behind o. we women don’t accept that beside again.
Also, I have played my role in the home front. My husband is a busy man, so definitely, you don’t expect a busy man to have time for a lot of things at home. So someone was doing that, which is me. No matter how much money you have, money cannot give the care; it only helps to pay for the bills for caring. Officially too, I have always given my advice and supported him. At a point in time, the cast and crew used our house. Even as I am seated here, if they give me a call they want to use our bedroom, I will say ‘go ahead’. Some wives will not allow that readily. I also give my finances. We started on a very low key, we did not start with so much, our parents were not poor-both of us luckily. We are from above-average family in Nigeria, rich. My father was a commissioner of police, his own father was a big time businessman, so, we had parents that were rich, but we did not take any capital from them. We built our capital- he was earning N350and I was earning N250, which is N600. That was how our lives started. But we enjoyed something, which is that our parents never needed our financial support. Neither his or mine ever came for any financial support. We did not need to support them. But we did not collect any capital. Whatever we have today is from the grace of God, dint of hard work and prudence. Then of course, living almost below your income, which is the truth. It’s the only way to save. Only way to save, if you are worth one million, live like a man having three hundred thousand, so that incase there is an emergency, there is a back up. That way you will be able to save and invest. Whatever we are doing, we don’t go to banks, we don’t owe. If we need any money to do anything, we take money from everywhere, put together and buy. That’s still part of the support am talking about. I don’t ever say no, when he calls me that he needs some money from the school’s account. He too has never disappointed. Whatever money he collects, you will see what it’s been used for.
What is your advice for young people struggling to succeed in their goals in life?
The first basic thing is, what do you want? What is that natural flair? For every human being, God has put natural flair to make you live and survive in life. You must go inwards. Me, I knew from the time I was young that I was going to be doing something that has to do with children and lives. Because as a growing up child, I will tell you I want 1 thousand children. If you call me on Monday I will tell you 100, Tuesday, 200, if you call me Wednesday, I will tell you 300 and like that. I will be increasing it every day you call me. As a growing up child, I loved to teach. I will gather people older than me, take a cane, and tell them all to sit down. Parents will be telling them go meet me so that I can teach them. After teaching them, I will even give them assignments. I have always loved imparting knowledge in people. That is why when I became born again, I knew my ministry- teaching. Everything I have done in church and outside was to make me a teacher. That is the first thing, not capital. I tell people that capital is not the first thing. We started with N600. Out of that six hundred, we still ate. We were having our kids- clothes, shoes all out of N600. But lie I told you, my husband have always been a humorist. Like I told you, when I met him, and by the time when he was proposing, I always told him “you are not serious. You are not a serious-minded person.” People always gather around him and he just keeps them laughing. You know I am coming from a serious background. For my people of Edo, it’s odd for someone to be laughing just like that.
But I have always known that behind that humour is a serious minded and focused man. In actual fact, the humour and personality complement each other. He said his father used to beat him as a child. He used to draw all over their walls with charcoal. Even when I met him, he will draw in all his textbooks, in all his notebook, everywhere. On every available space, he must draw. Each person should sit down, check those things which is in them, which they do with ease. I can stand and teach for four hours, and my legs will not ache me. But I cannot do ushering in the church for thirty minutes. But I cannot do ushering in the church for 30 minutes, and I will start looking for a seat. So, each person should sit back, find out what they enjoy doing. What do you do with ease? The money will come later. But there must be a natural flair for it. When these children (Binta) are preparing for WAEC, I normally give them lectures on how to answer questions. Those things I do with ease. When we started PEFTI, there was a time I was teaching there. But I gave it up to someone who needed the money. When you are now convinced that it is what you have to do, and you need money, go to God in prayers, you pray. If you have inner peace, and start on a small scale. The Bible says, ‘do not be weary of the days of little beginnings. Put all your power and strength behind it. The Bible also says, ‘whatever your hands find to do, do with all your might’. When we started the magazine- I was a catholic then- the week we want to supply, I will rush to seven o’clock mass, and by eight am back home. That’s when the workers will come for collating. If I don’t have help, I will put rice on fire and low it, then I will go to work. Once in a while I will go and check whether it’s done. So you do it with all your might. It’s your effort God blesses. The money will come. Besides, what is God going to bless? It’s what you are doing. You must throw your diligence- body, soul and spirit into whatever you are doing. When we married newly, we were sharing one room. But, inspirations can come to him anytime. It’s not now you have all these bed lamps and so on. He would get up and put the light on, and I can’t sleep with light on. Before we would quarrel, we stared using different rooms. I can’t kill the inspiration in him. I get pissed off when people say, ‘I should have started but I don’t have money.’ The capital has to be gradual, at least today, nobody can believe that we started with just N600. We did not take any money from either my parents or his, neither did we borrow. We built up gradually. We exercised prudence, avoided extravagance.
You start on a small note, and start ploughing back. You keep on ploughing back, even when we got here, it wasn’t lie this. Those tiles you saw out there wasn’t there before. It’s not up to one year. The roof is not too long we did it. That has always been our style, gradual additions- change here today, change here tomorrow. Before you know it, everywhere is okay.
How will you define success?
Success mean making a mark in whatever you are doing, leaving a footprint wherever you go. Success will mean- you come, you see, you conquer. To me, that is success. But if you are talking of being rich, when you are able to eat what you want to eat, put on what you want to put on, you are rich. It’s not necessarily millions. How many people were you able to impact their lives? God defines it that you will be a channel of blessing to others. Whatever money you have that has no impact on others, you have not yet made it. That is why I give my respect more to employers of labour. For instance, the businessman who goes to the wharf and clears his bags of cement, he is not impacting any lives. I will give my respect more to that guy who is into fabrication, may be of iron and has two or three apprentices, or clerks working. This is because the number of are many. You can imagine how many families are fed.
If you were to travel back and start life again, what and what would you want changed in your life?
May be I should have stared school business earlier. In the 80s, I was already into school-related things. I was already organizing Father Christmas for schools. I was doing exercise books for schools. They pay me and I am off. But I didn’t have a school. That’s what I should have done. Also, I would have gone into real estate. Am telling you this because when we got to Ejigbo, whatever money we had then was enough to buy the whole street. But we went into printing press. The money for one machine was about N80,000 and they were selling one machine for N2,000. If we had bought those lands, we may have developed them and start reselling. But if there is a second life, I will still marry this man. I will marry him over and over again.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you?
Not to be too trusting. The greatest I have learnt in life- I am a pastor, I parish the Light Parish, Surulere. There is only one person to trust, God. Even the Bible says ‘woe to him that trusts in the flesh’. Trusts God. Don’t have a permanent enemy, don’t have a permanent friend. Another lesson- believe in your partner, uphold whatever he believes in, and learn to cry to god for issues you cannot resolve, enduring what you cannot change, living with what you can cope with. Whatever you cannot change, live with it, don’t complain.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as the lady who believed that with God all things are possible. My staff know that you don’t come to my presence and tell me that you can do it. It can be done. I don’t believe in impossibility. Even when I am confronted with total darkness- if a doctor is saying, this is what it is, I will still say, ‘there is a way out. So, I am that lady that lived and believed that with God, all things are possible.