- If I had not married my wife, maybe it would have been a different story today.
- I love and play golf…. Golf is very addictive.
His story is hinged on character, conviction, decency, devotion, grace. Over the years, he has learned never to bubble under pressure or take the easy way out. As a steady, measured and well-informed business man, his life-long devotion to struggle has seen him rise to great heights in Life. The smart, tough, and tenacious Chairman of Chelsea Group, speaks to Bnlpulse Team……….
What is your story?
My name is Patrick Tobechukwu Chidolue. In igbo name my title nnagbueyin, meaning God is large. I am a businessman, father of 7 children and married to Evelyn Chidolue.
I have in business for long. At the age of 12 I went for apprenticeship when I finished my primary six and leant the trade on patent medical store. I left my master at 16 years old, to start a record business in Aba. Other issues made me quit the patent medicine store. I decided not to do the same business as my master because most people would want to come to me,as I served him in that business. He was afraid that if I was in the same business, he’s would suffer. He commanded me that I would not for any reason do the same business. I then switched to selling records and music cassettes. I was doing that in Aba till I was able to move down to Lagos, following my uncles invite to see the back of his shop in Lagos where his brother is. He asked me if I liked it, I answered yes without seeing it. I stayed there and rented a shop. At that time, the economy of Nigeria was booming in 1980. Within a period of six mnths, I was able to buy a shop of mine for 14,000. Those shops now sell for more than N25 million now. On my birthday, I also bought a car, and a land which I started developing. My philosophy for buying that land was that it was affordable at N43,000 and its proximity to the market. I built a bungalow on the land within three months. My reason was siply on the impulse that if for any reason, I had any accident in business; I would not have to be sent home. I would at least be able to stay in my own house until the problem is resolved. Even though it’s to get a menial job, pending when I bounce back to life, should it happen. You must understand that an Igbo man can do any kind of job to feed his family, asides stealing. I managed, and I was blessed to have enjoyed a rapid growth economically. And shortly after that, I decided to start manufacturing video cassettes.
The first thing I found was the Nollywood we now have today. I started paying people to act films. We recorded and mass produced same for distribution and sales to dealers and street hawkers. The very first film we sponsored was the Biafra- Nigerian war in 1981 or 1982. It sold very well. Most of the people acting in Nollywood today, are and offspring of my business. Andy best, Iwomas venture and most of the Actors are the ones we sponsored.
Along the line, I also went into properties where we built houses, developed shops, markets. This was what I was doing until I was having some setback in business. I sent one of our staff to bring in cassetss because the demand was mind-blowing. Unfortunately the cassettes they brought was not good. I then decided to go into properties by selling one of the buildings I had developed –corporative and commerce bank in Alaba for 8.5 m and used the proceeds to solve the pending problem, thus using the remaining sum to come to Abuja with a view to investing in properties. At that time, Babangida was asking people to come help in the development of Abuja. Besides, we analysed the future of Abuja based on value, it being a virgin land and the fact tha the government was moving to Abuja. With that in mind, within a short time, the property value in Abuja would be like Ikoyi and Victoria Island where the government was residing at Bonny Camp.
We now called a meeting og igbo people, shared the postulatiosn with them and all moved to Abuja that year. We got here and developed the National Assembly Estate Quarters, subsequently Solid Minerals quarters, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and more. All these we did until 1991 when we wrote the President on the privatisation of Telecommunications. But, even at that, the sector wasn’t privatized until 1995 when decree 75 that established NCC. We tried getting license because most of our business depended on imports and long international phone calls. And at that time, it was a herculean task going to make phone calls with long and endless queues at NITEL. We luckily got the license in 1999 with the name Cell Communications, sold to Jim Ovia with a changed name Visafone, now MTN.
We then moved on to Hotels because they employs up to 800 staff in one location, because they have shifts with a minimum of 7 floors.
After the, we looked at the Construction of the Chelsea University. What informed same is that Nigeria as a country has land and human resources which are the biggest assets. Turning these into real results, we discovered that we need a university, as it’s only a privileged few that can afford to send children to school abroad, where you must pay your school fees, an average of $20,000 per annum. Not many people can afford same going by today’s rate, it’s N7m. With that in view, we sought to bring to Nigeria, the same quality of Ivy league class of education and lecturers to lecture in Nigeria. We figure we had to partner with Texas A&M University; a coeducational public research university located in College Station, Texas, United State. They focus on Agriculture and Mechanics. We are partnering with the university which is nearing completion. For the IT section, we are partnering with the Indian Institute of Technology, whilst the library comes with a partnership with Oxford University and Amazon. Entrepreneurial studies would be compulsory, as the first ten years of the institution would see and bring almost all the would-be captains of industries there.
By the time we take off, our target is to develop them so that they’ll in turn develop others. And our policy would be one-year theory and one-year practical. So, by the time you are graduating, you are practically trained in your field of influence. We can now partner with you get a credit line so that you can set up a thriving business to practice what you have learnt over the years. This is entrepreneurship which the Igbo people have practiced all their lives, and the success rate for the apprenticeship is 98%.
The university has acquired 10,000 hectares of land in Kogi State for agriculture, and 11,000 hectares in Imo State for Industrial park. We have a roadmap and we would do it in phases. All the students would be working in the factory learning keeping records, accounts. Our target is not to train people who will end up looking for jobs, but people who will create jobs. I f we succeed, I believe that before I died in my lifetime, I will sit down and thank God for a fulfilled life.
Looking back at the economy in 1980’s and now. Juxtaposing side by side, what has changed?
Nigeria is a very rich country. People often wonder why we are not developed as opposed to the whites who are technologically advanced. Necessity is the mother of invention. Why is it that children of the rich don’t develop? but the children of the poor excel in everything. They are simply complacent. The black man is in paradise. Economy of Nigeria today is not very good, but for an entrepreneur, there is an opportunity, a golden opportunity. I have had people to see people in governance who are deliberately blind to human resources; meanwhile these are the people they need to create wealth. Let it be that Agriculture is the major source of wealth for this country; you will see public office holders begging people to come and see them in the office. They will dignify and value people whom they serve.
With the vast array of your business interests and investments, why are you seemingly still so humble?
I wish I am. On the contrary I don’t know if I am humble because the good book says the meek and humble shall inherit the earth. How I wish I am. It is though a compliment. Thank you.
What would you say is the major challenge of running the kind of business you are into in Nigeria?
Laziness and greed. Most of our people are physically lazy, and they want everything money can buy. I used to mentor my workers. I advise them to share their salary into two halves, by managing the first half and using the remaining to invest in properties which would appreciate in value. Many of them have done it and are happy for it. Nigerians are equally mentally lazy. They don’t want to think out solutions. There is dignity in labour. When we started the telecommunication business in 20, wireless telephony, the first thing my friends did went to buy plastic the telephones, tables and chairs and umbrella, recruiting school leavers awaiting admission into the university. One man could own as much as 300 of these spots. That’s how business centres started. Everyone wanted to make the call, but could not afford the phone. It was until GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) came in that the barrier broke. A lot of people made a huge living from that ingenuity, and grew to an unbelievable level. A know some who started the business and ended up far richer than I am. Opportunity abounds, but people should be disciplined enough to harness this opportunity, thus being faithful and upright.
What is your assessment of the mobile telephone space in Nigeria?
The industry has done very well. I subscribe we do proper privatisation of electricity. Ernest Ndukwe did a great job whilst he was at the helms of affairs in Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) by championing the auctioning of GSM licensing operation in Nigeria under Obasanjo. Everybody took it for granted; now they have done electricity. Is anybody benefitting from it? We are worse off than where we were. If this were the same way telecommunications was done, we wouldn’t have telephones today. When privatising, we expect people to inject money. Electricity wasn’t properly privatized. If I were the President, I would call a meeting of all stakeholders, and re-privatise electricity because it’s the engine of growth, and without it Nigeria would be in one spot. The only solution to electricity problem, is to call stakeholders to show the capacity of what they can do.
When Soludo came in, there were plenty struggling banks in Nigeria. He quickly asked them for a minimum capital base of N25 billion, and they merged, went to stock market to raise money. The rest went, leaving banks that have N3 trillion in assets and more, as opposed to N14bn they had. Now, they can fund businesses.
In power, we do not need more than 3 companies to distribute.
Away from the business front, let’s get a bit more personal. Talk us through Fatherhood and being a husband?
It’s a beautiful feeling. My wife is a God-given wife to me. She is from my time. Although I wanted to marry another person outside my town, Nneni, and I did not tell the person. Although I had told the parents of the lady who were local parents for me. When I went to Lagos, I was still very young and I saw myself doing well. One of my senior brothers had married from that family, and so I attached myself to the family and I needed a Guardian so that if and when I derail, I have people to fear and respect. By then I was 21 years old with 256 workers, and so I had grown to love their children, particularly the 16 year old girl I told them I would marry. When I got home and told my mother I had seen someone I wanted to marry, on hearing where is from, my mother told me I could not marry her. She then offered to get me a wife.
Did she give reasons?
She did. But not the kind of reasons I’ll want to share with anyone. So I accepted. When I came back later in the year, for yearly Bazaar in the village, there I was made the Chairman although young. I went to the harvest, my mother had spoken to their parents, but I had not met her. I eventually saw the girl’s mother when she came to greet me. On seeing her mother, I thought she would be equally as dark in complexion as her mother, she then pointed to some ladies saying my wife is amongst them. I nodded in agreement that all the girls looked good. After the bazaar, I followed to know the house which was pointed to me at a distance and left. I went there the next day with my car, and saw her picking beans. I joined her. Prior to meeting her, I was informed that many men have come to ask for her hand in marriage, and the common message was the she is still schooling. Afte picking the beans, she followed me to the new house I was building, and that’s how we cemented the marriage. And so I married her before I saw her.
The fourth commandment says honour your Mother and Father so that your days may be long on the land of the living. And I have found out that it’s easy for a child to rebel against his father and Mother. If I had not married my wife, maybe it would have been a different story today. And indeed it would have been a different story. I later found out that it would have been a different story.
Because I listened to her, my mother loves my wife and vice versa. There is harmony in the family, and everyone loves each other. My mother is my angel. I grew up under her and she mentored me because she is a very difficult petty trader. What she suffered at the age of 8, I prayed to God to give me money so I can take good care of her. I asked for God for money so I could buy bags of rice that would fill my parlour, such that my mother would eat and never be hungry again. In fact, I finished that prayer feeling he had answered.
I reckon that when you pray and they are not answered, it means you don’t know how to pray.
One year after that, a day in the evening, I took shovel with energy, packed the sands by the side so vehicles could drive past. By the time I finished, I had heaped about 5 trips of sand, and tired by 2am. The nexy day I woke up late to an unknown man’s shout ‘’ who owns this sand’’. I was hearing it in my dream and woke up to see the man. I told him I am the one. While struggling to tell him why I packed the sand out, he asked how much, and I asked him to pay whatever he had. The man paid be, tippers came in to take the sand away, and that’s where I got money to buy my first bicycle in 1971. There were few people riding bicycles, amongst which were old people. I had money remaining after buying the bicycle. I continued to give my mother money, and she never lacked till she died four years ago.
Sharing the experience as a Father and Husband
As a father, I am doing my best to train my children. But ultimately, it’s God that trains them. As a father, I make sure I show good examples to my children; get them to do the right things at the right time, urge them to study when they have to, and study, to play when they have to play. I teach them to be respectful, take charge of their lives and decisions they make. I feel fulfilled because I am a multiple Grandfather, and I am proud of my children.
Relationship with you and your wife?
My wife and I are very close.
Who offends who the most?
By her nature she is quiet, so I offend her more. I apologise though. I am afraid of offending her because she will not tell me I offend her and she will take it to heart and suffer in silence. I avoid offending her. But we are mutually mature.
Do you take time out to treat her?
Why not? From my background, Yes. My recommendations to people who want to get married, I say to the woman, look at how the relationship between both parents of whom you want to marry and the ma. If he cares for and respects his mother, he will definitely respect you. If it’s the reverse, it’ll in turn be the same for you. You might be enticed by love, as he showers you with temporary gifts. Once you say I do, he will just treat you the way he treats his mother. If he is not proud of his mother, he will not be proud of you, because within few months you will become like his mother.
And if it’s a man who wants to marry the lady, look at the way she treats her father. If she doesn’t honour and respect her father, the man is in for trouble because he will never be honoured by her. These are triggers one should watch out for.
I see you have a mini-golf course here. You sure have a penchant for Golf. What’s behind the love?
I love and play golf. I thought Tennis was addictive, until I started playing Golf. It is an interesting game. In golf, you see a man they way he is. In fact in Japan, if you are being interviewed to assume the responsibility as a departmental head of an organization, your employer will go to play golf with you. And the employer playing golf with you will show them who you are. You can hide when playing other sports, but not golf, because it if played over 4-5 hours. And in those hours, you are unconscious of what you are doing, because you are focused on the game. If you are conscious of what you are doing, you will not play golf. All your character traits will show in those hours of game play on the golf course. If you are generous, honest, a liar, sociable, hot-tempered person it ‘ll show. Golf is a living game.
So, what handicap are you?
I play off nine. It could be better. As you know the game depends a lot on your state of mind. If you are in difficulties, it would be hard to play a 9.
So how do you feel as a Grandpa?
Good, fulfilled and happy. My grandchildren are good looking, intelligent and healthy. I believe they will be very successful too.
You have a rosary; you come across as a man with some spiritual lining. Are you?
Yes. God is awesome, slow in anger and rich in compassion. Sometimes I feel like God is my direct father. When things get difficult and I remember God, I feel relieved. I most often do not feel the need to worry him in prayers, the way I should worry him. Because I feel that if I ask him once, it’s done. Sometimes I struggle to ask, until I am pressed, God then comes handy. We are all beggars. It depends on the kind of beggar you are. I’ll rather beg God than beg man.