By Aloysius Attah
Chief Emeka Agba is the chief executive officer, Agba Gold Nigeria Limited, as well as Tiger Base Global Limited. He has notable interest in solid minerals. He also owns other subsidiaries like Low Price Supermarket and carries on his philanthropic activities through Chief Emeka Agba Foundation.
In this interview, he draws attention to the need for the government and affluent individuals in the society to invest more in youths, to drive human capital development.
We are seeing increasing involvement of youths in yahoo-yahoo business instead of pursuing worthy careers. How can this be explained?
Many young people seem to go the wrong way, and that is the unfortunate trend that one is seeing. I think the cause is lack of proper orientation on what is important in life. They are doing it even while they are in school and this is what they do because of what they see among their clique but they don’t know that the money they make in such ignoble deals are peanuts. They are only making money that can give them a hand-to-mouth existence, but if they are given proper orientation which is what my foundation focuses on, they will realize that they can make a lot of money by ‘prostituting’ (investing) their talents. People who are selling their time are prostituting their time. They are not sex workers. If our people can learn how to ‘prostitute’ their time in a positive way, it will pay them heavily. Our businessmen should try and invest their money in some of these talent industries. We need a leader that will not only be in Aso Rock and checking how many barrels of crude oil have been lifted but a leader that must come from the grassroots, who knows that there is much money in human capital investment than in oil. Governments need to partner with people like us so that with approved proposals and authorization, we can scout for funds to do these things. Government doesn’t need to give us money, but they can endorse our programmes and officially approve it to enable us take it to different institutions around the world to finance such lofty ideals.
In what way are you contributing to harnessing the human ingenuity in the youth as you just suggested?
The answer to your question is basically why I set up the Chief Emeka Agba Foundation. My foundation is not just like some others that may say they are helping to give orphanages food. No. The foundation specialises in hunting for youths with skills, helping them to develop such skills and thereby make them to become better. It makes sure that our youths are not being wasted like what has been the order of the day in recent times. You see somebody after graduating from school, he is roaming the streets with a certificate telling you he can’t find any job, yet this young person is in his early 20s, has strong legs, big hand, huge and tall in size. That is unacceptable because raw talent is wasting away in that person. We have lots of gyms and boxing rings somewhere and when you engage such person in training in that line, you might have contributed to making a star. My foundation takes care of such person by putting him in a training gym or teaching him how to be a boxer and I can tell you that after two years, the person becomes a professional boxer and he can go to America and beat the hell out of their lightweight and heavyweight champions. This thing alone can fetch such young person millions of dollars in his pocket while some of his mates are wasting their time looking for jobs while others may be whiling away at Mgbuka Obosi market and Alaba where they are selling electronics. We have to look beyond the conventional training mechanism which the Igbo are known for because there is lots of money in human ingenuity. We have to learn how to convert the geographical diversities into economic opportunities. The geographical diversities we have here is the diversity of coming out of school and looking for jobs which have not favoured our youths. We have many aggressive young men today. In December 2021, we were supposed to have a boxing event in my country home in Akpu, Orumba South LGA, Anambra State but because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, all the white professionals we had earlier contracted to come and handle the event from both the United Kingdom and the United States couldn’t attend again. I want to work with the government that is coming in 2023 so we can create a money making hub through the strength of the youth. In America, nobody can go to waste because there is always something you are good at. See my training kits over there and you can understand that I train heavily including my wife and children who are boxers too. It is important people realize that it is not only through oil or going to main market that people can make money. Sports is a veritable money spinner. The foundation will continue to help young ones discover their talents, develop them and help them to expose the talents to the rest of the world. Our foundation sponsored the 2021 Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) pageant hosted by Silverbird Group including the Miss Universe.
Is there a relationship between what you are advocating in terms of talent development and the motivational messages that come from pulpits?
There is an urgent need in Nigeria to give people the proper orientation so that they will shelve this kind of poverty mentality where they are made to believe that the Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit will do everything for them to be rich. I know that when you talk like this, some people may feel offended but the truth is that some men in the pulpit have deceived many people with distorted teachings. So many people are lazy in Nigeria because they have been told that Holy Spirit will do everything for them even while they are sleeping. The youths need to be taught that this notion is wrong and that they need to work very hard. Our foundation will continue to assist in developing our youths in this direction too.
Let me illustrate my position from the Bible. When God talked with Moses at the burning bush, the Almighty asked him, ‘What do you have in your hand?’ and Moses said, a shepherds staff. So, you must put what you have (your skill, talent, intellect) to good use, to make money. The bible also says that God will bless the righteous work of your hand. Not Yahoo-Yahoo or 419.
You are engaged in solid mineral business. What kind of education prepared you for what you are doing now?
I read Geology in the university. To an extent this contributed because at least I had the knowledge of what solid minerals are. But as a geologist, I could have been more involved in the technical aspect than the trading but because we don’t have the right environment and right equipment to do the technical aspect of the geology. I decided to get licences to trade in solid minerals instead of being an expert that can be hired to do some other geological works but it’s still part of it.
Who are your major clientele in the solid mineral sector?
We have most of our clients overseas. They include big time jewellers company, some bullion companies, associate refineries in Switzerland, London, America and other places like Dubai. Actually, gold work is not done in Africa. Africans produce the raw materials but the actual gold work is done in Europe and other Western countries because they have the finishing facilities to raise the standard and bars of gold to the level they want it which we don’t have here in Nigeria.
When can you say was your big break in business?
Well, I can say that my big break came during the COVID-19 lockdown because lots of things happened then. So many people abandoned their duty posts and business outfits out of fear but I summoned courage to go to areas people refused to go as a result of the pandemic. I went and made success out of it. Just as it happened during that period some people and companies were profiting like Zoom, those in mail delivery sector like Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and some other billionaires in America doubled their earnings with billions of dollars. Some little part of those billions in that part fell into my own purse because I believe I was a partaker in what was being disbursed at that time. But my breakthrough has remained constant anyway because I see myself as an achiever.
What fond memories of childhood do you recall?
I was born into a middle class family. We weren’t a rich family but not poor either. My father was well committed in making sure that my siblings and I got the best education so we grew up in the village going to the streams to fetch water and helping my mum and dad to farm before I eventually joined my father in Edo where he was based at the time.
We have had several cases of successful entrepreneurs play significant roles in the business. What has been your experience in this regard?
My wife, Juliet Agba, is a lawyer and she is really a blessing to me. I have been in business for a long time but I couldn’t organize things very well until I married her and she helped me to organize. I made money at a very young age. I was barely 23 but reasonable income wasn’t organized as my wealth kept coming in and flying out. But when my wife came on board, she helped me to organize and made me know lots of legal rules which have helped me greatly. In fact she is a great asset to me.