I recognized very early in life that I have a good nose for business.
In 1974 I applied for and obtained a Federal Staff Housing Loan.
The loan, which amounted to 31,000 Naira, was the equivalent of
my salary for five years. I was granted a plot of land by the
Gongola State Government at Yola Government Reserved Area
(GRA). I hired a foreman and began building my first house. With
close personal supervision, the bungalow was completed on time
and to my taste. I rented it out immediately.
The rent I collected in advance on the house was substantial
enough for me to purchase a second plot. I built my second house
there and rented it out. I continued to plow back the rent into the
building of new houses and within a few years I had built eight
houses in choice areas of Yola. I also built a new house for my
mother and rebuilt the old mud house I bought for her in Ganye
when I was a 15-year-old student.
Property investment can be very rewarding. It is safe and the
returns are high depending on the location. Kaduna, for instance,
was a good place to invest in property before the emergence of
Abuja. I built my first house in Kaduna with rent from other
property. I bought six more plots and built residential houses and
rented them out to individuals and institutions.
I was nominated in 1978 for a three-month senior officers’ course
in Finland. Innocent
Okoye and O. O. Bassey and I joined participants from other
developing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and
Kenya. While in Finland, we visited neighboring Sweden and
I was still in Maiduguri when the historic peaceful transfer of power
from the military to an elected civilian administration took place on
October 1, 1979. Military ruler Obasanjo handed over power to
elected President Shehu Shagari.
I returned to Kaduna in 1980 as an Assistant Area Administrator of
a much bigger
command. With a growing family and increasing responsibilities, I
decided to set up a commercial farm.
I started the Gesse Derdirabe Farm in 1981 on 2,500 hectres of
land off Yola – Numan Road with a bank loan. I grew maize and
cotton. The farm did very well initially. I became the largest maize
farmer in the whole of Gongola State, producing over 10,000 bags
of maize a year for sale within the country. But changes in
government policies led to a sharp increase in the cost of
production. A number of large farms closed down, including Gesse
Derdirabe Farms in 1986.
Of all the businesses into which I would venture, the most
successful and the most lucrative would be a small oil services
company I established with an Italian business man in the early
1980s. I met Gabriel Volpi when he was working at Apapa Ports in
1982. The Genoa, Italy-born Volpi was a director in MED Africa, a
Volpi suggested we go into oil and gas logistics. He knew Nigeria’s
future was in oil and gas.
We registered the Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), operating
from a container office at Apapa Ports. I was not involved in the
running of the company. NICOTES relocated later to the Federal
Lighter Terminal in Port Harcourt when the business began to
grow. The company, now known as INTELS (Integrated and
Logistics Services), has grown into a multi-billion Naira business
providing over 15,000 jobs in Nigeria and other African countries
and paying hefty dividends to its shareholders.