Prince Adesegun Oniru, former Lagos State commissioner for waterfront and infrastructure development lived most of his formative years apart from his parents. The civil engineer and founder, Made in Nigeria, recently spoke with Sunday Sun about his childhood, his love for cruising and his new baby, Made in Nigeria Foundation which hosts an economic summit annually and sundry issues.
What should we expect at the Made in Nigeria festival?
Made in Nigeria is a private sector initiative whose purpose is to nurture the true Nigerian spirit.The objective is to discover new markets for our products in order to sustain growth generally. This year, what you should expect is a summit, exhibition and a concert to commemorate our independence on October 1st.
What have you been doing since you are no longer in active politics and the Lagos State civil service?
I served my state for 12 years and I think that’s long enough and now it’s time to move on to other things. I am a civil engineer and mainly into property development and I served Lagos State with my expertise. Right now, I am a private person, I am back to what I do best which is construction and development and so that is what I am doing basically now. You see, this project is based on my knowledge of government and motivated by my desire to let people know that government cannot do it alone and that we still need the private sector to move our nation forward.
What inspired the concept of Made in Nigeria?
This is what my team and I have been working on for over a year now and as you know in Nigeria today, it’s not business as usual. So, we felt that something needs to be done in the private sector side.We all know that government can’t do it alone and so we came together to put this idea together to move our nation forward and it’s our way of contributing to the development of the nation too.
How does this affect the average Nigerian in the street?
You can rest assured that this not another talk show. Like I said earlier, people in the private sector and government officials will be attending this summit. The thing is that people that matter in this case will have something to take back home and ruminate over because, for instance, the Senate President will be there and questions will be thrown at him. After the programme, I am sure he will have something to work on towards doing something about it. For instance, as a developer, I know the industry is facing major challenges right now.
One of the biggest challenges we are facing is the exchange rate of the naira to major foreign currencies. If you had been buying something for a thousand dollars, today, you will be spending close to three or four thousand dollars to buy the same product. So, really, the recession has slowed down the construction industry. When people are uncertain about where the economy is heading and they have cash, what they tend to do is to put their cash in property and then hold on till when the economy starts picking up again. Then, they will start selling and new construction starts but right now to start construction work is very difficult and to sell homes to people is very difficult too because of the exchange rate.
What’s your assessment of this government?
So far, I believe this government will get there eventually but my assessment is that every normal person on the street can’t really understand what the main objectives of the government are. Like they say, it’s good to talk and if you don’t get the right information right there to the people on the street, they will never understand what you are trying to achieve. I was once told by a foreign commentator that if the previous government had come back to power, probably we wouldn’t even have anything to eat on the shelves because things were really bad at that time. President Buhari is doing his best to fight corruption and wrest the country from people who looted the country and trying to recover looted public funds. If he succeeds, the only thing he can do with the money is to plough it back into the economy and that’s when things will start getting better for the average Nigerian. But as it is now, we have to be very patient to see this happen, because in the long run, you can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Is Made in Nigeria a Lagos State initiative or a federal project?
It’s not a Lagos State project but a Nigerian thing. It’s called Made in Nigeria, so it cuts across all states in Nigeria. It’s not just Lagosians you will see at the summit and exhibition, it involves everyone and everyone is invited. You take a shed and come exhibit what you have whether you are a Lagosian or not.
What’s your vision for the Made in Nigeria project?
Yes, we intend taking it round the country. The reason the first festival is being held in Lagos is that we are hosting it at Eko Atlantic City. There is nothing more made in Nigeria than that city and that’s why we are using the location for the maiden festival. By 2017, we’ll find ourselves struggling for location because what we normally do is we will take samples where we will generate traffic, where people will come to attend the event. If it is possible that people still want us to do it in Lagos we will, otherwise we will move it around.
How do you unwind as a Lagos socialite?
Well, my life is a lot easier now because I am a private person and I am now out of government. It was quite difficult then but now I try to unwind in many ways. I love boating, so on Sunday, I go cruising in my boat. I also like driving at the weekend. I drive around and see what is going on around my state.
What’s your fondest memory your mum that you cherish?
My mum always told me to be truthful and sincere. I can never forget these and I have imbibed these in my relationship with people.
As a child were you a nerd or a social butterfly?
I don’t really know how to describe myself in that manner but let me tell you a little bit of myself. I was born in Lagos State at Island Maternity and at the age of six months, my parents left the shores of Nigeria for greener pastures in England. They returned when I was six years old and with two additional siblings.At the age of seven, I went to school in Abeokuta and five years later I was sent abroad to further my education and so I attended secondary school abroad as well as had my tertiary education abroad. I never spent much time with my parents but what has that done to me? I believe it has made me a stronger and independent person.
You never missed your parents when they were away?
I can’t remember, because I was living with my grandfather who was the Oniru of Lagos but he passed on in 1984 at the age of 120 years. So, I won’t say I didn’t miss them but you don’t know as a young child what it means to miss someone who left you at the age of six months and when they came back , a year later, you were shipped to a boarding school. Like I said, it has helped shaped my life and I am a strong and independent person.
Can you compare Lagos State of yester years and the current Lagos?
No, you cannot compare.
But which one do you prefer?
The old Lagos was a lot quieter then and I think as at that time, the population wasn’t more than Three million to five million people but now you have close to 23 million people in Lagos and Lagos is a very busy place. If we had the wealth, Lagos could have been the New York of Nigeria today, because everything and anything is happening in Lagos, which is good.You need to be in a place whereby you are free to go out at anytime and you are free to do whatever you want as long as it is legal. I believe Lagos is a good place and the way governments come and go, Lagos is going to be a better place, because the foundation that was laid in 1999 is being built upon by successive governors since and we can see real change in Lagos and I am happy for it.
What are your fondest childhood memories?
I remember I always played football back then, because I enjoyed football a lot. I played soccer for my schools at every level and till tertiary level too.