Why I explored real estate as a journalist — CEO Pellican-Valley Nigeria Ltd, Amb (Dr) Babatunde Adeyemo

In this interview by Bankole Taiwo, award winning Chief Executive Officer of Pelican Valley, Nigeria Limited, Abeokuta and a one time practising journalist, Amb (Dr) Babatunde Adeyemo speaks on his foray into real estate business, passion for supporting the vulnerable, particularly widows among other topical issues. Excerpts: 

Let’s know a bit of who you are

I am Ambassador (Dr) Babatunde Adeyemo, I am an Ambassador of anti-corruption and the latest one is the ECOWAS Youth Ambassador. I am from Ibadan, Oyo State capital but I was born in Lagos. I had my primary and secondary schools in Ikorodu, Lagos State after which I went to Federal Cooperative College, Eleyele Ibadan and from there I was at University of Lagos (UniLag) where I studied Industrial Relations and Personnel Management. I went back to UniLag for a Master’s degree in Public and International Affairs. I have always been very ambitious and business conscious, so to say. The University of Lagos that I attended inspired me a lot. It is a melting pot for great potentials, the creme de la creme, some of our very best in the society. Right in your class you will see some of your mates featuring on television, newspapers for MTN commercials, I mean people making money genuinely, using cars. You see people like Tejubabyface in Diamond Ring, Funke Akindele in “I used to know” you see RMD coming back for his law programme, so all of these inspired me. I have always thought of what I could do to create jobs. And the mother of all the inspiration was our Late Vice Chancellor, Professor Jeleel  Adebisi Omotola. As at then the university of Lagos, led by Omotola paid the staff monthly salaries and other emoluments before the subvention of the Federal government arrived. He was able to do all this due to  his creativity. There was UniLag Bread, UniLag Pure Water, UniLag Consult, a lot of diversification bringing in money for the university. So, for those who have eyes to see, it was a great inspiration From that time I always believed that you can really do so much with little or nothing in your hands. And that is exactly the story behind Pelican Valley which I started with little or nothing, though to the glory of God it is now a multi billion naira investment.

I can be bold to say that I have never defrauded anyone in my entire life, I don’t know any DPO, and despite having at least four lawyers under our company’s retainership, none has ever gone to court to defend us because we have always done things with the fear of God, goodwill and integrity. We started small and began growing, we don’t bite more than we can chew, we are contented with our ‘slow and steady win the race’ approach. We are not greedy and we don’t make ourselves vulnerable. I have been doing this real estate business for close to 13 years alongside my career in journalism but I have always maintained a very low profile with it. Some will think I am just making it, no, God has been helping us for some time now but despite that, I was only using a car that I changed its engine five times before getting another one. Patience is the word. Real estate is like a cumulative grade point just like it is in the university. The foundation is very essential in real estate business, there are some things one has got to do before you begin to sell land according to government rules but if you fail to do them and after collecting people’s money you started gallivanting and spending the money as it pleases you, a time will come when a government will come and force you to do what you have failed to do and those things are usually capital intensive. At that time, such real estate merchants will be in trouble, they will think any way is a way, they will want to defraud their clients, cut corners, do anything to survive.

At what point did you decide to diversify from journalism to real estate?

I have always been someone who wants his integrity intact but I realised most Nigerian journalists are always struggling with the brown envelope syndrome, you know what I mean. Journalists will sometimes see terrible things but keep quiet because they have collected money. So, in a bid to guide against all of these, I started thinking of having a second address, something that will make me to be more financially stable and independent, that was how I got into real estate. It’s something that I have always loved doing because I have passion for unusual homes. The land at Pelican Valley inspired me too. Incidentally, the genesis of my real estate business has two sides to it. When my immediate elder brother was in the university, he had a barbershop and he employed a stylist to run it. However, about the time that I finished my certificate programme from the Federal Cooperative College and I was supposed to observe one year internship, the stylist said he was no longer working for my brother. In fact, he stopped working while barbing one of our customers, I had to pick up the clipper and finished up the barbing. Without ever being trained as a barber, that was how I took up the job and operated the shop throughout my university days. So, it was through barbing that I sponsored my education. Our barbing shop then became an household name such that even when I was in the school, people would wait for me to come home during the weekend to barb their hairs. To cut the story short, after my university education and I was posted to Niger State for service, the business went down, when I came back from the service, I wanted to resuscitate the business but my brother said that we should step up to transportation business. I invested about N1.8m into this business, however things didn’t go the way we envisaged, the business died because neither of us could drive, so I told my brother to let me have one of the cars so that at least I would know that I have not wasted all the money, that peradventure I could dispose the car and use the money for something that I could always make reference to. At Abeokuta here while working as the Ogun State Correspondent for MITV, I met a man, Mr Akanni Taiwo now late, may God rest his soul, who proposed to buying the car while giving me two plots of land in return. One of us, Kunle Olayeni now with Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) Ago Iwoye is a living witness to this epoch-making incident. So, the man took us to where the land is and after showing us the two plots of land I asked if he has more land that I could buy and be paying on instalment, he said he had three acres, so I paid. My original intention of buying the land was to have something to fall back on.  My wife was pregnant with our first daughter then, my calculation was that in the next six years my daughter would have been in school and I can always dispose off parts of the land to sponsor her education, I never knew I was buying my future, like I became a realtor by divine intervention.That was how Pelican Valley began. I started rejigging the land because of its topography until it becames what it is today.

What is the story behind this Oko Opo Foundation you have just successfully registered and which you will be launching in September?

It is just my own little way of giving back to the society. It’s out of my personal conviction to build enduring institution. I don’t really need so much to survive, so I have passion for the less privileged. I have always told my children not to rely on my assets but that I will definitely give them that sound education that will make them stand shoulder high anywhere in the world, give them the platform to fly higher. If you fit into what we are doing in Pelican Valley, then you are free to continue from wherever I stop, but for you to now want to inherit the assets is a no. No for me because I believe that there is no amount of assets that you can inherit that will secure your future. So my emphasis is on building people and institutions that will stand the test of time. The rich goodwill we have garnered over the years in the real estate business has provided us with the springboard to take off with this noble idea.

How can we overcome the challenge of housing in this country?

Well, the bad economy is the major culprit here, once the economy is in shambles as it is now, the housing challenge which requires a bit of capital will suffer. The only thing government can afford to subsidise is land because land is technically said to be owned by the government and even at that, you will still have to pay or compensate the original owners and custodians of the land. Can the government subsidise the cost of the iron, the roofing sheets, cement, cost of labour? For example, if you want to build a standard three bedroom house, I mean those houses that will stand the test of time you will be talking of about N35m or N40m.

What can be done?

The government must fix the economy and also ensure that we have the right people at the helm of affairs to ensure that resources for each sector are not diverted or stolen. Look at the fantastic job the Registrar of Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Isiaq Oloyede is doing. Who will ever believe JAMB could be making as much as N8billion, N9billion, so we have to tackle corruption upfront in the country if we ever care to make any meaningful progress. There was a time I was having some amount of money in my account, I used everything to provide electricity for all our estates and up till date I have not charged the people for anything. I could have spent the money as it pleases me because the people only bought the land which I have given them but I thought that I could add further value to their lives and my business. Today, if I want to embark on such projects, I will be talking of over half a billion naira. So, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should really be ready to fight corruption and work with people who are less greedy, it is the bane of our underdevelopment and outright stagnation.

Will you do politics in no distant future?

Never, I have been a journalist for about fourteen years, I have seen a lot, I have seen people crashing from the highest point to the lowest, it is extremely difficult to want to do politics in the country and still have your integrity intact. Even if you are careful, some will do it on your behalf. And to worsen things, Nigerians are another wonderful set of people. How do you win an election if you don’t have the money to throw around? The whole thing is too complex for me. If you go out of your way to give these people money during campaign definitely once you are elected you too will want to see how to recoup your investment one way or the other, or start compensating people with juicy appointments. It is appalling.  One can always touch people’s lives without venturing into politics. This is the reason behind the establishment of Oko Opo Foundation. I am willing, however, to serve my country in any capacity if it comes in the form of appointment.

What’s making Pelican the most outstanding of all?

We don’t bite more than what we can chew. Also, the leadership. We always want to do things right no matter how challenging and costly it is, and we always put first the comfort and safety of the investment of our clients. Sincerely, leadership and goodwill that we have built over time is the key. Unfortunately, many youth of nowadays don’t want to buy time at all. I remember one of them that God used me to  pick up from the gutter about three years ago that nearly took the business over from me, a business I have been building for close to 15 years, It is that bad. They always act as if they will die the next day, likewise, our politicians… assuming I have the whole of Abeokutato to sell, I can do that today, get all the money, ride my G-Wagon Benz and still go broke later but if I decide to sell say three plots now, add value to it, wait for another five years to sell again, the properties would have appreciated the more by that time. I will definitely make more money and even buy five G-Wagons at a time to ride. That’s how things work in real estate.Time and patience are of the essence in real estate business. I am not always in a hurry to sell my properties. I am a value driven person. I am always scared of collecting money from people because delivery is very crucial for me. That is why we don’t advertise our lands in the media, you won’t hear us on radio, yes, you can see one or two of our billboards in some places and that is just to establish our presence, just to say that we are also existing.

I intend bringing Dubai into Ogun State. It is not about building slums everywhere in the name of having estates, what goes into an estate is more than the building. What about the infrastructure like roads, electricity and the likes. Even sometimes it is difficult for some state governments to manage five estates due to the fact that it is a capital intensive business, and that’s why they usually give them to private developers most often. For instance, Pelican Valley used to be a very difficult terrain, it used to be a mountain as high as four storey building but for seven good years, I was busy cutting the hill and landscaping it to different levels, in the whole of Southwest you can’t get a place like the Pelican Valley. Go to Pelican Valley and see things for yourself. After Pelican Valley, we moved to Pelican Brief, since we have been able to do something substantial in Pelican Valley which is like a mini estate. It is our success story there that we are now leveraging on to sell Pelican Brief, which is going to be a smart city. We also have Greenish Acres Farm Estate and Ecostay Apartments where we sell unusual houses too.

Still talking about your philanthropic gesture, how easy is it dole out cash?

Well, I want to thank God for his grace because it is not as if the resources are that much, but we should always learn to spare a thought for one another, that’s just the basic truth. I just built a hall at Pelican Valley that we shall be using for the Oko Opo Foundation. You know I keep emphasising on goodwill, I know that if I talk to some people they will also be ready to be part of this noble idea because they are quite sure I won’t mismanage or embezzle such funds. We even have intention to donate lands and build houses for some of our widows, we shall do all within our reach to make life more comfortable for them as soon as we launch the foundation in September.

You have received over 40 awards this year and still counting, how do you feel?

To Almighty Allah be the glory because I will just be sitting here and I will receive the call that they are coming to honour me, sometimes all the way from Ghana. It makes me feel fulfilled. Few days ago, after that of ECOWAS Youth Ambassador, the Yoruba Youth Assembly all the way from Osun State called to say they have another honour for me. I sincerely thank the Almighty God for everything.

Well, some are quick to say that majority of these real estate merchants are only fronts for some corrupt politicians, how true is this in your own case, who is bankrolling you? (Laughter)

I just told you how I started practically from nothing, and we were building on it, and with the grace of God, here we are. The Almighty God has been faithful, no godfather anywhere, though we have mentors, people that we look up to like the former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Late Chief MKO Abiola and others. It has really been the grace of God all the way.

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