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Friday, November 9, 2012

Akinruntan’s 3 years of transforming Ugboland


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The multi-purpose hall under construction. Inset: Oba Akinruntan
Wale Emosu, in this report, tells of the untiring efforts of the Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Frederick Obateru Akinruntan, to transform the lives of his people.IT is a popular saying among the Yoruba: one is always engrossed in whatever is one’s ultimate aspiration. This explains the lifestyle of the proverbial slave merchant, whose death revealed that, while he was alive, he had a score of slaves, but just one change of cloth. This is needless to say that he valued his merchandise more than anything else.
However, to the Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Fredrick Obateru Akinruntan, who views his people not as slaves, but sees them, literally, as his changes of cloth, his preoccupation remains how his subjects must live life to the full. And a way by which he believes they can enjoy life is by helping to provide the comforts of life, as much as money can provide.
As part of activities marking his third anniversary on the throne of his forebears last week, Oba Akinruntan highlighted his plans for the Ugbo kingdom. These include the development of 140 hectares of land into a modern mega city that will contain all the necessary features and facilities; the construction of a palace, the first of its kind for the town since the people migrated from Ile-Ife about 3,000 years ago; the construction of a multi-purpose modern hall, the construction of a refinery, among others. Some of these projects, all of which will be sited in Ode-Ugbo, the ancestral home of the Ilaje people, are already under construction. In fact the thanksgiving service to mark Oba Akinruntan’s third year on the throne took place in the multi-purpose hall, which has a capacity of 2,500 seats on Sunday.
These are apart from the humble achievements the traditional ruler has made within the short three-year period he has spent on the throne. On the proposed and ongoing projects, Oba Akinruntan is looking at a total cost of N25billion, which does not include the cost of rehabilitation of roads, construction of health centres and stadium, which he had facilitated for his people beforehand. Such project would be challenging to any institution or government, let alone an individual. Little wonder Oba Akinruntan disclosed in an earlier interview that, though achievable, providing such noble facilities for his people has remained his greatest challenge since ascending the throne in 2009.
For the man whose love for his people has become so deep rooted in him so much that he is willing to invest his fortune in them, the road to wealth was not in itself smooth; it was a path bridled with hurdles. But sustained by sheer determination, the Olugbo was able to break all barriers to the alluring world of the oil and gas industry which had defined his status long before his ‘retirement’ into the service of his people.
In the interview with journalists at Igbotako, Oba Akinruntan recalled how at 13, he travelled to Ibadan, in search of the proverbial golden fleece. After some years in the Oyo State capital, he moved to Lagos to better his lot. While in Lagos, Akinruntan, a frequent visitor to nightclubs, including Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, got the lead from a fellow prince and socialite that the (military) government of the day, headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo, was about to start issuing oil licence to Nigerians.
Despite being warned by a knowledgeable friend that getting oil licence could be cumbersome, a naive Prince Akinruntan, without any form of formality, approached the authorities for a licence to do business in oil. Of course, he was turned back as he was told that he must fulfill certain conditions, one of which was that he must own a petrol station before he could be given the licence.  To find a way round this, he approached a certain Mr Adekoya, an Ijebu man who had a petrol station at Okitipupa. Though he could not raise the amount demanded by the man to acquire the petrol station, they struck a deal at the end of the day to get the licence.
Even with the licence secured by Prince Akinruntan, problem was not yet over; he had no money to do the business. The quest for fund took him, yet in his naivety, to FirstBank office at Japan House, Lagos - for a talk with the managing director on the possibility of raising a loan-without any prior appointment. Then, according to  Akinruntan, notice for an appointment with the managing director must be, at least, two weeks to the date. This, Prince Akinruntan did not undertake.
Despite barging in on the then managing director of the bank, Sam Asabia (FirstBank’s first indigenous managing director), he found favour with him and the sum of N40, 000 was approved for him to start off his oil business which has blossomed to a vast empire today. Oba Akinruntan recalled a “touching”statement made by Asabia that day. After the business transaction, Akinruntan was on his way out of the bank premises when Asabia sent one his officers after him to call him back. Back in the managing director’s office, Akinruntan said Asabia told him:  “I want to tell you something today. You are going to become a millionaire and by the time you become a millionaire, remember me.”
Though Prince Akinruntan said he dismissed that statement after considering his condition then, the millions started rolling in from the oil business not long after. The Obat Oil chairman’s first million came in 1983 with an attendant drama. According to Oba Akinruntan, he found it difficult to believe it the day he made his first million so much that he kept the money in his room for the first two weeks, without even telling his wife, neither was he immediately convinced that he should take it to the bank, as he expressed the fear that the money might be stolen even in his account!
And did he remember Asabia who had told him to remember him when the millions started coming in? He said he did, but by the time he would go back looking for Asabia, the banker had passed on.

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