Chief Fola Omolayo is a man of many parts. A teacher, an accountant, theologian and businessman. He is the Chairman, Foremost Caterers, owners of the popular -The Kitchen Towers. He recently turned 70. In this interview with Saturday Sun, he talked at length about his journey through life.
How do you feel attaining the age of 70?
I thank God for sparing my life to become a septuagenarian. It has not been a smooth ride but I give all the glory to God for sparing my life to become 70, and my prayers is that He will spare my life to celebrate more years ahead.
What’s your recollection of the early childhood, and growing up years?
One major thing, which I like to talk about is that I grew up in a polygamous home. My late father was married to many wives, and I happened to be number eight among 28 children sired by my father. He was married to seven wives. He was a traditional chief. He was also the head of warriors in our town, Ikole-Ekiti, Ekiti state. He was also a successful farmer. But because of the large number of the children, giving attention to all of us was a big challenge. But for providence, somebody like me would not have had education. Even though my most senior brother went to Leeds University in the United Kingdom but at that same time we also have those who were not educated among the children. Even for those of us who were educated if you know what we went through ,you will feel for us. For instance ,most of the education I had after secondary school was on part-time basis.
Part of the reasons was that our parents were by then getting advanced in age. Then again, they didn’t have the financial wherewithal to sponsor us.
You grew up in a polygamous setting but today you are a monogamist, what informed your decision to be married to only one wife?
Very simple. As a product of polygamous family, I also became a victim of polygamy. When I finished primary school, I had to first go to a modern school instead of proceeding directly to a secondary school, and one of the reasons was the financial challenge I had because we were many in my large family. Another effect of that was that even if I wanted to study science at higher institution it would not have been possible because I did all my post-secondary education on a part-time basis because I have to sponsor myself. Again, the fact that you are a part-time student you passed through a lot but I thank God for everything today because the scripture even tells us that all things happen for good for those who love God. Today I have no regret for all those challenges I passed through to be where I’m today. I believe that if I have not been born into a polygamous family, I would not have passed through all the challenges ,and difficulties I encountered before having quality education. But then I as I said earlier, I still give all glory to God.
I couldn’t have been a polygamist having been a victim of polygamy. Having seen all the problems associated with polygamy, I was determined not to be one. I have seen all problems associated with polygamy , so why go into it? I believe that most of those people practicing polygamy today would not have done so if they had experienced what some of us from polygamous family passed through. Some people who practice it may not have experienced what some of us experienced but with my own experience I made up my mind not to be involved in polygamy. I know it is not possible to stop polygamy but I like to discourage polygamy where it is possible.
Why accounting when you eventually decided to pick your course of study?
I must say that in the affairs of men , heaven rules. I believe that whatever anybody becomes in life must have God’s blessings. Once you are prayerful, God will direct your path, and ways. In those days during our own years, there were limited choices of courses, and not only that when I was in secondary school, I love book-keeping, and accounting. Book-keeping sustained my interests in accounting. Then I discovered that with Accounting, you could reach the pinnacle of your career without doing full time studies. You can be doing professional courses on part-time.
What were the challenges and temptations you faced as an Accountant?
Every profession has its own challenges. I started off life as a teacher between 1971-1972 at St. Thomas School in Ikole-Ekiti. However I left for Lagos where I secured job in an Accounting firm. While working there, I registered as a part-time Accounting student. From there , I became an external student of London School of Accountancy .Later I took appointment with Quo Vadis Hotels and Restaurant also in Lagos . I worked there for 13 years . I started as an Assistant Accountant ,later became Senior Accountant .I was later promoted as Finance and Administration Manager. From there, I became Executive Director in the same company. I left the place in 1987 to set up my own company called Foremost Caterers Limited which is also the owners of The Kitchen, which many people know ,and identify me with.
For me, what matters most and which comes first is for an individual to have principle. There were challenges, and temptations but that notwithstanding you will always overcome such if you have principle. My principle is this, if you work for your money, you will sleep soundly, and have peace of mind. Those who made cheap money, they will get the money but sorrow will be added unto it. I got to know this very early in life. So I work for my money, I don’t look for cheap money. I don’ take what is not my own, and I’m saying this confidently, and openly I’ve never taken bribe from anybody ,and I will never give bribe to anybody. Nobody can even try it with me not even contractors that were bringing supplies for the company where I worked.
The Bible says Godliness with contentment is a big gain, it is lack of contentment ,and the desire to make cheap ,and more money that put people into trouble. If you are contented with what you are earning as salary, then God will bless ,and prosper you. When you are contented, you will have inner peace of mind. Nothing happens in life by chance, everything that happens in the life of a man God has ordained it.
I knew from childhood that if I work hard, and have fear of God that I will attain any position I desired, and God has been faithful to me. It is not that I didn’t face challenges, and temptations but when challenges come I just laugh because I already have my own principles, and no amount of temptation can make me to succumb.
How would you compare the Accounting profession then and today?
There are no 100% identical human beings, so also there are no two identical periods. What operated 40 or 50 years ago doesn’t obtain now. The value system has changed. I can still remember vividly when I bought my first car in 1977 and took it to my home town, Ikole-Ekiti. If you see the kind of questions, and query my late dad subjected me to, the EFCC of today will not do better. My dad was asking me many questions at the same time. He said- how did you get the car? You saved or got loan? How much did you save? How much loan did you take? He was asking me all sorts of questions. So in those days they monitor people, they monitor and ask questions, especially if you come into a sudden wealth but which unfortunately parents and relations of today are not doing. Sudden wealth is wealth without work. Not only that, sudden wealth brings sorrow, and chaos.
Are there things, be it hobby or likes that you have been doing since when you were young, and up till now you are still doing at 70?
Even when I was in the secular world drinking and having all the fun, I was very prayerful, and up till today, I’m still prayerful. I can’t do without prayers. Secondly, as a primary 5 pupil in 1961, I was used to waking up at 4am to read ,today I’m still waking up early at times to read, and also to monitor news .I also enjoy reading biographies, and I love reading anything on leadership. One thing that many people don’t know about me is that I don’t like watching television.
Why? Is it because of your religious belief?
No. It is not because of religion. I don’t like television because I believe that TV is a source of distraction. Then once I’m reading, I don’t like being distracted. I’m not a religious person. TV to me is not part of what some people who are religious will consider worldliness. TV is not a thing of the world to me but I just see it as a distraction. When you are watching TV you get distracted. I enjoy waking up early .One thing about me again is that I watch what I eat .I don’t just eat any food or just eat anyhow. I try to avoid the three whites.
What are those three whites?
Sugar, flour, and salt. I also avoid red meat. I also fast at least once in a week, and I have been doing this every week in the last 24 years. I don’t joke with fasting up till now.
For a journey of 70 years, there must have been the high, and the low moments of your life, what are those moments?
High, and lows is about the positive, and the negatives. But in the basic areas of my life, it has been mostly positives. God has been very kind to me. God has blessed me with a lovely family. I got married 40 years ago, and the marriage is still waxing stronger. I also have a strong relationship with God. I’m not a spiritual wreak. Socially, I interact, and network with others. Financially, I’m able to pay my bills. These are all positives.
Then I can’t forget November 25,2009 that was the day of engagement, and marriage ceremony of my daughter. It was the most memorable day of my life. It took place in Ikole-Ekiti where I , and my wife played host to over 1000 guests. She is our only daughter, and two weeks after, we came back to Lagos for the wedding proper. But the low moment in my life was when we lost our son who was about graduating from Babcock University on May 28,2003.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up around 3am,and then meditate between 4-5am. Between 5 and 6am,we have family devotion. We later retire to our rooms but then converge at 8am to decide what we are going to do or our assignments for the day. Then once in a while I go to office-The Kitchen Towers to interact with the Staff.