By Eric Elezuo
The Computer Village is practically one of the largest markets in Lagos, if not the largest. It also boasts of being one the biggest revenue source for the nation, Lagos State and Ikeja Local Government. It is managed by a team of professionals led by someone who is well defined as the youngest market leader west of Nigeria, Ahmed Ojikutu.
In his office at the Computer and Allied Products Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN) building, he revealed the qualities that made him thick as well as his investments in sundry businesses. Excerpts:
Please introduce yourself to us
I am known as Ahmed Adeniyi Ojikutu. I’ve been the president of the CAPDAN association since 2016. CAPDAN is the umbrella body of all the associations in Computer Village and my duty as the head is to oversee the day to day running of the various businesses and its environment to ensure smooth operation and order.
Can you give us details on how you started your business?
I started my own business by buying a fairly used Nokia 3310 for 4000 naira at the time but I sold it for 8000 almost immediately. The thing about business in computer village is that you have to be straightforward and trustworthy. For example, if a buyer asks if you have 100 units of a particular product, you tell them it’s available. Then you go to a big store and get it on credit. When you get it, you add your own gain and sell it off. You then deduct your own gain from the original money you owe the big store and hand them their share then they begin to trust you. Your business begins to grow slowly but steadily. Once they trust you, you’ve gotten all you need. Then you start importing and contracting products and become a major businessman. But, if you start your business based on mistrust and doubt, you won’t go far because this is a village and we have each other’s back. We know who isn’t worthy of partnership and we know who is. This is why we don’t want to lose each other during the move.
Leading these businessmen and businesswomen in the village requires some sort of education. Can you tell us about your educational background?
I attended Prestigious School College after which I went for a course in Business Studies which comprises of Business Management, Business Administration, Cooperative Society. All these were tagged under a major course called Business Studies. After obtaining my National Diploma in Business Studies, I went to the University of Lagos where I was a student under the Faculty of Administration. I then went to Lagos State University for my Master’s Degree and since then I have been a businessman in Computer Village. I am also a member of some notable associations like the Institute of Business Strategists. I have a long line of business affiliations both in the educational and business field so that has sharpened my skills for leadership and that is why it has been easy for me to work with anyone.
You never mentioned your work experience from previous jobs. Haven’t you worked anywhere before now?
From the offset, I’ve always been an entrepreneur so I’ve never really worked for anyone else but myself. After my time at the University of Lagos, I went into Computer Village to do an understudy of a business which was established by my cousin and his colleague. About a year later, I started my own business, got it registered and the rest is history. I’ve never worked for anyone and yet I am one of the leading investors in the palm kernel business in Nigeria. I have so many people on pay roll so I have my tentacles in other places other than ICT. I also produce cassava in a very large quantity.
Between agriculture and ICT, which are you more interested in?
I am a member of the Nigerian Investment Society for palm oil investors. I want anything I touch to be turned to gold. I came into Computer Village without an investment backing so the money I’ve made from here, I have diversified it into other industries. I can’t really pick because they are both important industries for me and my country.
Computer village is known for genuine products as well as fake products. How have you been able to tackle this issue of fake products?
We are working seriously on that. All these also have to do with security but it will be resolved soon and that’s what we are working on.
How does it feel being the youngest president of CAPDAN so far?
I am not just the youngest president of CAPDAN so far, I am the youngest person leading any market of this proportion in the whole of Lagos to the best of my knowledge. The feeling is that of joy because it’s a call to service and I love to serve others. I am really thankful to God but it really isn’t something to roll out the drums for. The real joy will come from how many solutions can be provided during the time I’m in office. That is, how many people are able to benefit. My team and I are ready to work with anyone and everyone to achieve our common goals.
You’ve been in your office for about a year now. How will you describe your achievements so far?
We have been able to secure loans of 5 million naira at an interest rate of 5% for some up and coming entrepreneurs. We have also been able to work with the Federal Government to implement some new regulations for the business people in this village. Then, we have also been able to organize and build business development schemes for the members of this association. The major development we want to make now is to ensure that people who have about three employees are able to expand their business to employ more people. It is a kind of business development training we do every month and we are planning to do more. We are also working on health insurance for our members. Again, we hope to enforce a closing time for the market. We don’t want market after market. We are doing this to ensure maximum security in the village.
So how has the feedback from the people been like?
People are ready to work with us despite the challenges. Together with people of this market, we have been able to manage this place without any form of crisis or chaos in the past year. We try to manage and suppress any form of trouble that might pop up from nowhere.
How do you certify traders into your association?
We must make sure that you are an active trader in the market. We check out your sales and nature of relations with other traders.
Computer Village is the largest ICT hub in Nigeria. What is the economic value of the market to the national economy?
Computer village rakes in over 1.5 billion naira on a daily basis. Its contribution to the economy of the state is unquantifiable. The reason why its impact isn’t felt so strongly is because of the nature of our sector. It is a semi-formal market that’s why all the major figures and impacts aren’t captured on the economic index of the nation unlike the banking or telecommunications industry who have clearly defined numbers. If it was as formal as these other industries, our contributions to the GDP of this nation will not be less than 5%-7%.
Let’s go back to the location/movement issue rocking Computer Village. Currently, what is the stand of the state government on the issue?
The state government wants to move the market and we can’t stop them because they own the state based on the powers that the citizenry has converged on them. As business people, our interest is our businesses and how government policies will not affect it negatively. The state government has a long term plan to relocate the market and all these have been communicated across to us. We are keeping our fingers crossed and waiting on them. The movement isn’t something that will take one or two years so it needn’t be rushed. We are watching and working. So far so good, everything is going according to plan. The proposed destination point of Computer Village hasn’t even been developed and even if it has been developed, it will take a while to move everyone successfully so I can’t say anything on it right now. What we won’t take is for the government to start confusing us or removing us from their plans and that hasn’t happened yet so the public can be rest assured.
As a member of the ICT community, what role do you think ICT can make in the development of the company’s economy?
By the year 2020, ICT will be the second contributor to the nation’s GDP. The first will be Agriculture. The world is moving away from resource economy to knowledge based economy. That is, people are now interested in the solutions you can provide through your knowledge and not necessarily the knowledge itself. If the government can come and tap into the knowledge that resides in the Computer Village, then we will begin to make progress. They need to invest in the young ones so they can become better. The government should also try to secure the best brains in the village for the development of the nation. This is because young people come here and learn skills then go abroad and get a better life because there’s nothing good to offer them. If they can secure everyone with exceptional brilliance then they can teach others and all will be well. The best IT people here go abroad and start earning dollars so they don’t want to stay. If we can keep our own then we can build our own.
In the midst of all this, how do you carve out time for relaxation?
I spend time with my wife and children. I also belong to a lot of social clubs and associations and we hold parties and get-togethers every once in a while so that helps me.