Mrs. Abiola Olanrewaju Awosika-Fapetu is a professor of business in the United States. She rose through the ranks to become Vice-president and Dean of academics at Montreat College, North Carolina, U.S.A. and currently lectures in three other universities in the U.S.
Presently in Nigeria to contribute her quota to national development through her wealth of experience in business and entrepreneurial studies. In this interview with Church Times’ Gbenga Aladesanmi, Professor Awosika-Fapetu bares her mind on her life, plans, business challenges facing the country and solutions. An interviewer’s delight, she answered all questions in a very lively manner with her American accent.
What was your childhood experience like?
I was born in Ondo town to Chief Festus Olawoyin Awosika who was a honourable minister in the first republic. He held various offices in education, cocoa marketing board, finance ministry; he was a director of the central bank and actually signed a currency which we his children cherish so much. My mother was Caroline Idowu Awosika, a fashion designer per excellence. I grew up in Ibadan because my father was based there as a minister in the western region and this made me quite close to him. We were quite comfortable but nothing lavish about our life style. He took us overseas when I was ten years old; this would probably be one major experience of affluence I could recall. My other eight siblings were my close friends so I didn’t have too many friends outside our family. When papa died, we were poor but didn’t know it because we were happy. We went from silver spoon in our mouths to no spoon at all. My mother is still my number one role model after Jesus; she raised nine of us even though she died at forty four years old.
Does that mean your Dad did not amass wealth as a minister?
Not to my knowledge!
What was your educational journey like?
I had my primary education at Ibadan city council school, which was a public school and then my dad had to put me in boarding school for very personal reasons at Alafia Institute at Mokola in Ibadan . When he died, we couldn’t afford the fees and concluded my primary education at Local Authority school 2 in Ondo town. My secondary education was at Saint Louis secondary school in Ondo. After which I proceeded to Yaba College of Technology in Lagos for my Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in company administration. I concluded my HND in the United Kingdom because I got married and had to travel. At the same time, I was doing the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators professional exams. I then proceeded to do my masters in business administration in a U.S. based university with a satellite campus in England . The urge to keep going made me put in for my doctorate program. This took me to the universities main campus in San Diego in the U.S. This was due to a policy from the Nigerian government that they won’t recognise any degree from a satellite campus, even though we were not receiving any support whatsoever from them. I then concluded my MBA and doctorate in business administration.
When you concluded your program, were you based in U.S. or England?
I actually came back to Nigeria because we were given only a year’s grace to stay behind by the law. We had a choice to go back to our country or simply just disappear into the system. I returned to U.S. four years later having applied for a visa. I normalized my stay moving from a visiting visa to a professional visa to a green card and eventually U.S. citizenship all in about fifteen years! I am glad I made the policy not to be illegal in the U.S. If my papers ran out and they were not renewed, I would have returned to Nigeria .
What would you say made you adopt such a policy, unlike some Nigerians who would just blended into the system illegally?
The bible makes me understand we are to obey constituted authority and the authorities say you cannot stay without their permission beyond a certain time. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. If He wants me to stay, He would make a legal way for me rather than having me break the law.
What are the major differences you see between the business climate in the U.S. and in Nigeria?
Nigerians are very hard working, very tenacious and very resilient. If the business conditions prevalent in Nigeria were prevalent in the U.S, there won’t be any successful businesses. The difference is enablement; the business person in the U.S is enabled. Government gives them all the support and infrastructure. There are amenities to tap into. The average Nigerian person is pulling themselves up by their boot straps with their hands tied behind their backs and still managing to fly! I’m not talking about people who had mega fortunes as start up capital. It is probably harder doing business in Nigeria than any part of the world. I see a lot of ingenuity in problem solving amongst individuals but little or no help from government.
What do you think government should do to help Nigerian businesses?
There are three basic things I would suggest. First, I would say power. Its multiplier effects are numerous. It would help people save on extra fuel costs for generators, create a safer environment as street lights, security gadgets and lights would keep nocturnal creatures at bay. Businesses can run three or four shifts a day, there by producing more jobs etc. Second point would be to fix the roads. Transportation is huge in any economy all over the world. I see goods bought with money abandoned at road sides because of bad roads. The money used to purchase those goods which are working capital, ought to find their way back into the economy with multiplier effects. Bad roads are not good for business, life, produce and the vehicle themselves. Then corruption, I don’t know how we would tackle that. I would call it a ’biggey’. It artificially inflates the cost of doing business. If something costs me about N300, 000 to make, but I know I would have to settle people with about N100, 000, then I would add it to my cost making it N400, 000. The extra N100, 000 is not adding value.
Making financial support available is another point which I’m hesitant to add. Creating a small business administration type that helps small businesses as obtains in the U.S. They help with consulting and counselling as well as guarantying loans for them. I’m not sure if corruption would make the individual on the street benefit from it.
The kind of financial support you are suggesting here, is it different from what microfinance banks are doing?
Obviously, the microfinance banks which have approached me do not have terms that can help my business ideas to grow. They want me to deposit money and pay me 9% per year and when I borrow from them, I’m paying 25%. This just helps some money bags get richer. I’m told I have to have an account with a bank for about five years before I can get facilities from them to start my school. These kind of facilities are not helpful for growing businesses. Even though it is not always about money.
You talked about a school, what do you intend to accomplish through it?
It is in honour of my father and we are naming it Olawoyin Awosika School of Innovative Studies(O.A.S.I.S). The ultimate vision is to take it round Africa , even though we are starting quite small. We are starting at the National diploma level and ultimately become a polytechnic-university. There is a difference between a polytechnic, a university and a polytechnic-university. It’s a combination of both where theory meets practical. Our model is unique, it requires students coming to school four hours a week, so they can keep their jobs. Then they meet in small support groups for another four hours a week of campus. The groups called ‘cohorts’ would be about twenty five to thirty members, which would then have sub groups of about three to five people. Each cohort would run a business together from their admission to graduation. The smaller sub groups would now act like business units of a company; handling accounting, marketing, manufacturing etc. Funds would be sourced for them and they should at least cover cost if they don’t make profit. If they do make profit there would be a sharing formula and the proceeds accruing to the school would be put in a trust and serve as start up capital for incoming students. So students would learn how to source financing, plan and run a business from scratch to finish.Cash would not necessarily be given to an individual, they could source for the goods and a cheque issued to the company for products. This is one of the measures to check abuse.
This model can be replicated all over and it is different from the way satellite campuses are run around here. The classes are small which allows the lecturer to know all the students.
Which institutions have you worked with in the U.S.?
I’ve worked mainly with Montreat College , North Carolina for fifteen years. After leaving Montreat, I came back to Nigeria . However, I applied for online teaching jobs; so currently I’m still teaching at Montreat College, Liberty University in Virginia, Lynchburg and University of Wisconsin, Stout, Cornerstone University in Detroit, Michigan, although they are all on-line teaching jobs. Some of my students are in Iraq at the war front, Iran , Afghanistan and even as far as Japan . But most of them are in the U.S. even though I have some Nigerian students who do not know I’m in the country. I’ve actually employed a couple of assistants to help me with the mundane aspects of the job such as uploading and downloading materials. I can say I have started helping the Nigerian economy in my own little way.
What has the transition been like from U.S. to Nigeria.
I believe it was God’s timing to relocate. I resigned without a very clear picture of what lay ahead. Interestingly, I came back with $2,500 out of which $2,000 was meant to pay back a loan. Of the $500 dollars left, I had to pay for a relations school fees that I have been supporting all the while. God however has been amazing and started opening opportunities which are getting bigger and bigger. I actually got the online jobs after coming back.
When I was transiting from England to Nigeria some years back, the shipping agent was dubious. Instead of putting our stuff in one container, he put them in two and stuffed the back with tyres which were contraband then. When we went to clear our goods, everyone wanted a bribe and we refused. It took almost a year to sort things out. If you helped voluntarily, I can come back to say thank you but don’t coerce me to give you something I won’t. After clearing the goods, all the security agents at the ports gate wanted a envelopes and they threatened me that if I don’t pay they would inspect the whole container. When they saw I was ready to climb the container and start offloading for inspection, they told me to go! Bribery is against the law of man and of God.
When did you come to know the Lord?
I came from a church going family and spent about five days a week in church as a kid. So when I got to England and saw the lethargic attitude of people who brought Christianity to us, I was discouraged. A Christmas Eve service had only five old women in attendance. So as I climbed higher academically I went farther from God rationalizing everything in scriptures. It took my son who was eight asking me who Jesus was to jolt me back into reality. Eventually at a Full Gospel Businessmen meeting, I gave my life to Christ with tears. Everything I did after was with a sense of mission for kingdom purpose.
Any profound testimonies?
My life’s story is a testimony. A classic example was when I was going back to the U.S. , I asked God to give a place I could share my faith in. And He did just that by leading me to the job at Montreat College . I had looked for full time work for about a year and sent out about 200 resumes, which was unusual, because less than 4% of the population had doctorates in finance and better still a Christian. So I came across an advert that had elapsed by two weeks, but fitted me. I went back feeling dissapointed to my car and a voice told me with clarity to go back and apply. I thought this is U.S, not Nigeria where you can beg someone. What happened was, they were about to repost the advert since the post was still vacant and my resume came in. It got undivided attention; needless to say the rest is history. I rose to become Vice president and dean of academics next in line to the president of the college; that was God. I actually became boss over my colleagues.
Do you see different challenges for Christians in business?
I see a lot of challenges. I started a series, the Christian entrepreneur and other programs which can also be used in secular environments. But whenever I use them in Christian environments they are always backed up with scriptures, because there is a whole lot that can derail you as a Christian entrepreneur. Things as little as your measurements; If you say your package is 2kg, is it really 2kg or actually 1.8kg and you label it as 2kg? Is your product of the standard you say it is? I know of a Christian lady who would sell her own frames instead of her boss’ frames who is an optometrist to her boss’ customer while at work. How we treat people is also important. God is not mocked, what you sow you shall reap. I would rather go hungry than touch my staff’s salary. I won’t tell you I’ll pay you tomorrow if I know I won’t. There are many things to tempt the Christian businessman out there and integrity is very important. Unless you know you are answerable to God, you are not liable to do the right thing
Trainings and seminars?
I’ve run a couple for both secular and church based organisations such as Mutual Benefit amongst others. Even in secular environments I declare my stand and who I am and my bias that I am nothing without Jesus and whatever platform I get to operate on would always be for Him.