Everything in the 51 years of Ade Adefeko’s life would appear to have come together to prepare him for where he is today and the man he is has become – a quintessential bridge-builder in whom people, nations and businesses have found a point of convergence. “I am a man of many parts. I am 51, I am not very old. But I have been around for a long time. I am the son of a Diplomat. I have been travelling since the age of 4. I am widely travelled. I have done 51 countries and still counting. On November 14th, I will be 52, I will probably be going to my 52nd country before my 52nd Birthday”, he says.
Indeed, Adefeko has a rich history, a journey across many nations, just as his career has been one across different sectors. Starting out at Alliance Francaise, his service as a Communications Expert has taken him from the Oil and Gas industry to British American Tobacco (BAT), Societe Generale Bank (SGBN) and Multichoice, before he finally settled at Olam International, ten years ago. For Adefeko, son of a Diplomat, his journey across 51 nations around the world started quite early at the age of four. With that, he picked up his love for languages, which led him into studying French and Portuguese at the University of Port Harcourt. Love for country, which had been instilled in him at an early age would be energised by his experience at Federal Government College, Odogbolu, one of Nigeria’s unity schools.
Adefeko is a polyglot, a man of many languages. Officially, he speaks ten, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa inclusive. But he speaks other languages, as well, and fluently too. He speaks the languages of Commerce, Agrobusiness, Governance, Travel, Communications, Diplomacy and Pan-Africanism, with considerable ease. Highly regarded as a Commercial Diplomat, he wears three different caps, navigating around Agriculture, Trade and Diplomacy, which he says are highly intertwined. He is the Vice President, Corporate and Government Relations at Olam International, Chairman, NACCIMA (Export Advocacy Group) and the Honorary Consul of Botswana to Nigeria (Lagos).
Even though it was only ten years ago that Adefeko joined Olam International, which is thirty years old, anyone would be forgiven for thinking the story of Olam started with him, for he is not only the face of Olam in Nigeria, he it was who brought the name into public consciousness. In a way, there is a semblance in the way the stories of the man and that of the company have played out, to eventually intertwine. While Adefeko’s competencies, skills and gifting have catapulted him beyond his background in communications, Olam which started out in 1989 in Nigeria with an initial focus on the procurement of primary commodities like cashews, cocoa and shea nut has considerably transformed, expanded and refined its operational scope into exports, imports, and branded packaged food products.
Olam, which started with little or nothing, has grown to become one of Nigeria’s largest players in Agro business in Nigeria and one of the largest earners of foreign exchange for Nigeria. It now operates in 60 countries, supplying food and industrial raw materials to over 19,800 customers worldwide, as one of the world’s largest suppliers of cocoa beans and products, coffee, cotton and rice. In Nigeria, Olam has offices and operational units across all the geopolitical zones. With over 3,000 staff spread throughout the country, Olam has a wide network, comprising of what it approximates as 500,000 farmers, by its estimate, who have created tens of thousands of jobs in indirect employment, as well as a larger network of suppliers, wholesalers, local buying agents (LBAs), customers and service providers across the country, involved in the process of managing the chain of activities by the company, from sourcing, processing and marketing to the distribution of its products.
Beyond commodity trading, which sees Olam sourcing, procuring, grading, processing and exporting agricultural products, such as cocoa, cashew, and sesame, in demonstration of its belief in Nigeria and a commitment to the economic development of the country and achieving the objective of boosting self-sufficiency. Olam has diversified into other areas, which include local farming, milling and distribution of rice; Wheat milling and Pasta (Crown Flour Mills); Biscuits, Candy and confectionery (OK Foods Ltd); Noodles (Olam Sanyo); Dairy beverages (Caraway Africa Nigeria Ltd.); Culinary ingredients (Caraway Africa Nigeria Ltd), and Animal Feeds and Hatchery (Olam Hatcheries Limited).
In 2013, Olam invested over N19 billion Naira in a 10,000-hectare farm in Nasarrawa, with integrated mill which directly employs 950 people from the surrounding communities, producing 36,000 metric tonnes of rice for the Nigerian markets, with its brands- Mama’s Pride and Mama’s Choice. The farm supports an ‘outgrower programme’, with rice-growing communities in the area supported by the Olam farm with training, pre-finance, fertiliser and seeds in order to improve their paddy yields. With 7,000 farmers currently engaged in the programme. This programme was internationally recognised by The Rockefeller Foundation as a ‘catalytic innovation in African Agriculture’ and identified in 2018 as one of 3 high impact success stories for Global Recognition by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Olam also invested in a Fish feed in Ilorin and an integrated animal feed mill, poultry breeding farms and hatchery in Chikpiri Gabas Village, Gwagwada in Kaduna State. According to Olam, through these facilities, it was able to stimulate “the entire Nigerian poultry and fish farming sector by providing local farmers and distributors with high-quality feed and chicks at competitive prices, offering training for farmers on best poultry practices and creating thousands of direct and indirect rural employment opportunities”.
With state-of-the-art processing facilities in Lagos and Ogun states, which employ close to 1000 workers, Olam pioneereed domestic sesame hulling and sesame exports. In 2016, Olam had acquired the wheat milling and pasta manufacturing assets of the BUA Group for 230 million dollars, following that up in 2019 with the acquisition Dangote Flour Mills Plc for N120 billion.
Olam has, over the years, proved its mettle with its track record as a pro-Nigeria enterprise, which often makes Adefeko wonder about murmur from some quarters, as if Olam is not Nigerian enough.” When it is convenient, the narrative changes”, he says. He, however, remains a firm believer in the Nigeria project. He is to be found, behind the scene, working with those who call the shots, to ensure that the nuts and bolts of governance running and the engine of nationhood intact. “Politics is about public good and a bit of self-preservation”, he says. His concern is that the Nigerian elite need to do more in its own interest to ensure that things go well for the country. “This country should ordinarily be a beacon of hope, but unfortunately we are going through a sorry pass. Whatever it is, we will continue to do the best we can. We can’t give up. My resolve is to do my bit from my sphere of influence. I do not get involved in the war of elite, my mantra is, ‘We shall not die in their war’. For me, there is hope, but for that hope to be kept alive, we need to do our bit.”
He does not share in the apprehension about the AFCTA. An advocate of a single African market, he believes that Nigeria has so much to benefit from the AFCTA, as the largest African market.” The challenge we have is about securing our borders. We produce a lot of things already. All we need to do is export those products and bring in the ones we do not have from within the continent, rather than source them from outside. Access to a larger market must be the overriding consideration. We must never lose sight of the larger picture.”
In Adefeko’s new role as the Honorary Consul of Botswana to Nigeria, with Lagos as his area of jurisdiction, his skills as a Communications Expert, ability to speak different languages and his experience in Trade and Agriculture, are being called upon in fulfilment of his mandate as Diplomat on behalf of the Southern African country.
He is already at work, actively pursuing plans and programmes to build bridges between Botswana and Nigeria across different sectors, Agriculture, Tourism, and Aviation being top of the line. Following the presentation of his letter of credence to Nigeria’s, Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama and receiving a letter of commission in turn, he outlined different areas of possible collaboration and cooperation between Nigeria and Botswana, to the mutual benefit of both countries. Among his plans is to lead a delegation of top Nigerian businessmen to Botswana, and those from Botswana to Nigeria, again bringing to bear his experience in international trade and tapping on his role as Chairman, Export Advocacy Group for NACCIMA.
The son of a Diplomat has come full circle. As a commercial Diplomat, he has gone around the world. But now beyond that, the government of Botswana has found him worthy of being its Representative. It is a responsibility he takes seriously, not only for the mutual benefit of both countries, but as a steppingstone in fulfilling his dream as a Pan-Africanist who has been to 25 African countries, that Africa will come together and fulfil his promise and destiny. There are not many people better placed to engineer the realisation of the dream of a united Africa, with the work he has done quietly, behind the scenes, than Ade Adefeko.
Adefeko sure has his hands full, with three official caps and many more on the head, but he is not overwhelmed, he is well prepared, he believes that the very essence of his life is that of service for the common good. That he does, building bridges among people, businesses and nations.
By Simbo Olorunfemi