Azeez Oladapo Yusuf – Life of a serial entrepreneur @50
By Yemisi Suleiman
Born in Ofin, Lagos Island area of Lagos State and armed with a determination to succeed, Azeez Oladapo Yusuf moved to the Gambia at a very young age, where he started off as a refrigerator salesman.
Many years later, the Lawyer and Bussiness man has excelled in running a number of businesses successfully, including the very popular Big Apple Executive Lounge, the foremost centre of luxurious fine dining and relaxation spot in the Gambia.
Azeez is the CEO of SHAIDA and Sons International: a consortium of companies that are into a lot of profitable ventures including hospitality, oil and gas, real estate and entertainment amongst others.
As he clocks 50 March 3rd this year, the dedicated husband and father shares his success story, business ideology, a dive into politics, marriage and life as an international entrepreneur amongst others. Enjoy.
When did you leave Nigeria for The Gambia?
I left Nigeria in 1999/2000, I was in school studying Computer Science but I left without concluding the course then, I was also into refrigerator business which was lucrative that time. When I got to The Gambia, the call to study Law came from a particular problem. Apparently there was an issue with my son that had to do with the Law, that was when I had the calling to study Law to defend myself and help people.
Where exactly is your base, Nigeria or Gambia?
I have a Chamber here in Nigeria called YUSUF AND YUSUF CHAMBERS. The first YUSUF is my name and the second is my son who is also a lawyer. In Gambia, I’m contemplating and cooking something about a Law firm, before the year runs out, hopefully something will happen, it’s going to be a big Law firm which will be set with other Lawyers.
As someone who has experienced both Nigeria and Gambia, what’s the ease of doing business in the two countries?
It’s a big challenge, especially in Nigeria. Gambia is peaceful for me. For more than twenty years that I’ve been in Gambia, I’ve not witnessed a single gunshot, you won’t see anyone in The Gambia hungry. They are very cheerful and so loving. The system is working even though the earnings can’t be compared to Nigeria. Thank God we are not only in Gambia; we spread across other nations like Dubai, TURKEY, ENGLAND and looking to go into Amsterdam as well. Gambia is conducive for business; there is peace, no riots or academic strike.
How does it feel turning 50?
No special feeling as regards the age, it’s all about numbers, one should be grateful for health. There is a special feeling though, joining the league of the half millennials, what that’s telling you is that, you have crossed the Rubicon sort of.
What would you say you have learnt over the years?
A lot of lessons, you can imagine someone starting from a year old to fifty years you must have gone through huddles, ups and downs.
Who’s Azeez in a single breath?
I am a businessman, a Barrister, husband, a family man and CEO of several companies. In Nigeria, I am the CEO of SHAIDA & SONS INTERNATIONAL LIMITED. I am the grand patron of the Yoruba Community in The Gambia. Most of my businesses are in The Gambia. I schooled and married from The Gambia. I studied Law at the Gambia premier University before proceeded to the Nigerian Law school where I got called to the Bar. After my LLB, I proceeded to the Florida States University where I studied International Human Rights. I also did lots of small courses in Energy and so on. I’m married with kids and a grandson; I’m a grandfather (laughs).
As someone who has experienced life in the Gambia and Nigeria, what would you say about leadership between the two countries?
We have leadership problem in Africa generally, not just Nigeria, the problem is that the old goons must have to take the backseat for the youths and new generations to come with innovative ideas and take Nigeria forward. We can’t keep doing what we have been doing in the 60s to get new results. Gambia has been in dictatorship for 22 years and just got their democracy, but the freedom of speech in Gambia can’t be compared to that in Nigeria where there is no freedom. This itself is enshrining our constitution, the UN Charter unlike Gambia, they respect all these treaties and there is freedom before and after expression especially if you are saying the right thing.
How were you able to cope or integrate into the society as a young foreigner in Gambia?
The relationship between Nigeria and Gambia has gone a long way, far back pre-independence. My father was a diplomat and was in Gambia in the late sixties to seventies, so it’s not new for me. I have a brother of same parent who can’t speak Yoruba because he has been there since 1976. Gambia is a friendly country called the Smiling Coast, not sure there’s anyone who’s homeless and they are hospitable. It’s easy for business to thrive if you have a good business plan and you know what you are doing because people there are not innovative but when they see you doing something they will do it too. I remember days back when I started with solar equipment from the US, I sold it in Gambia I was well known and a lot of people started doing it. That’s when I took a break to go back to school to get more knowledge and leverage over certain things.
Can you tell us about your wife?
She’s Mariam Morenike Yusuf. Morenike came from my dad and she’s from Gambia. She was my employee, after high school she came to work for me, though, there was nothing attached then, it was purely professional, until after she left for England for her studies. So when I got divorced, I was looking for a woman to marry because I love to be married and I knew her as a young hardworking school girl then. So we met on Facebook during her MBA days and I proposed to her, that was how it all started and it has been from grace to grace. She’s the pillar and Managing Director of all my companies both in Nigeria and Gambia.
Tell us about your background and Origin?
My father, Alhaji Shafii Yusuf hailed from Ilorin, Kwara State. My mum is from Lagos Island. My parents had four children together; I’m the last from my mum. I was born and bred in Lagos Island. I don’t know much about Ilorin. My mum is from the Amodu family, Ofin area of Lagos Island. She’s late and she was the best mother ever.
How often do you visit Nigeria?
I am resident in Gambia where my family is. I still have a home in Nigeria; I am in Nigeria like almost every two months except for the pandemic. I bank in Nigeria, have businesses and partners. I was also a Chairman of a political party here in Nigeria, which was when I tested the Nigerian politics, it was not easy as a newcomer but now I’m a card carrier of a very popular and biggest party in Africa. We are working towards 2023; I have a candidate in mind.
Are you interested in elective position?
Honestly, I don’t know, for now I have no ambition. I just want to be behind the scene following the person that has same ideology as mine and be supportive.
How would you describe your first experience in politics?
Well, politics in Nigeria is very expensive. It is a business where they have to sell their properties just to contest and when they win they take their money back without helping the masses. I think politics should not be made attractive; we should go back to the old times of our ancestors, education and good name should be the hallmark of politics. There should be a threshold of wealth/money to get before you can join politics, that will discourage money mongers. I’m not rich but okay. I’m not enticed by wealth, I want a good name and to help my constituency, not to enrich myself as most politicians do when they get there. We have hooliganism in Nigeria, such is not found in Gambia, so I don’t think is safe for now.
If you are going to take a political shot, where are you going from, Ilorin or Lagos?
Lagos has been home for me for 50 years and definitely if I am coming out it will be from Lagos Island or Alimosho Local government where I lived most of my life or Ikeja. But also, I can’t rule out my fatherland, I am a son of the soil in Kwara, I might take my shot from there too, it’s just a matter of moving down and start doing the needful.
What’s your belief about life?
My belief about life is do good and get good.
What would you like to be remembered for?
The Humanity side of me and Humility.
Tell us about your passion for humanity?
I don’t have a registered charity organization yet, I have chosen to remain anonymous for now. Humanity first, invest in people and it will get back to you one way or the other. Though, we are trying to register one, it’s in the pipeline right now. Because of my mother, I want to look into single old women because in Gambia, it’s the single women that make the economy works, like involving in small-scale businesses and also because I was raised singlehandedly by a struggling mother.
For now do you have people you’re taking care of?
For now I have made 7 lawyers under my scholarship grant-in-aid, I still have some others now at the University of Gambia studying Law. We still help a lot of people for medical assistance abroad.
What inspires you in life generally?
People. When I see people doing great things like Rochas Okorocha, his humanity side.
Is Sen. Rochas your mentor?
Yes he is.
What are your hobbies?
I love playing golf, I love playing with animals and going to the beach.
What has been your winning factor in life?
There is this watchword I don’t joke with, “that you should be resilient, steadfast, and believe in whatever you are doing. You should not do things to impress people but do something that makes you feel good and I believe as you grow, your zeal to achieve your goals, if you’re the determined type increases with time. For me, It has been persistency that has helped me to grow.
How do you relax?
I love to spend time with my wife or at my lounge (Big Apple) in Gambia; I like to be there to watch the services rendered by the employees and correct what needs to be corrected. I love meeting people too.
We know you’re such a fashion connoisseur?
Yes true, I’m particular about fashion. My brands are Stefano Ricci, Kurti, Gianni, Louis Vuitton. I’m trendy and don’t joke with fashion. I’m more of a casual person though, I’m learning how to wear more of traditional attires now.
What will make you fulfilled in life?
When am able to help my people and go to the grassroots to impact and touch lives.
Your advice for upcoming youths?
Whatever you are doing be persistent, don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, just believe in yourself and keep doing it.