NAIROBI KENYA - THROUGH THE EYES OF SUJIMOTO.
He is from a humble background. But through hard work, resilience and dedication, Sijibomi Ogundele has risen to become one of the youngest rich men in the country. He is putting Nigeria’s name on the global map in real estate and construction. You won’t be wrong by comparing him to Donald Trump, who grew up in Brooklyn and later became the king of Manhattan. So is Sijibomi, who was born in Agege, a Lagos suburb, travelled all over the world, and is now living and doing his business in Ikoyi, an elitist area of Lagos.
At just 33, the man, who was not born with a silver-spoon, is the CEO of Sujimoto Construction Limited, the fastest growing real estate company in the country. The company has just taken delivery of its world- class luxury apartments, Medici Terraces, located on Milverton Road, Ikoyi. It is said to have offices in Paris, Accra, Madrid, Dubai and Riyadh.
I braced myself for the worst owing to the unpleasant flight experience courtesy of a humid flight induced by the worn out aircraft to Kenya. I have never been in an aeroplane where I feel like I'm in a bakery in Badagry! For a second I thought I was in a flying “danfo” (commercial bus in Lagos), but arriving at the Kenyatta international airport blew my mind. Things started looking up. The efficiency of their immigration officials is truly commendable and I caught myself subconsciously comparing the airport and its services with some other international airports in Africa.
As a critic of architectural mediocrity and a dividend of architectural slavery; believe me when I say that the structural designs of the hotels there will astonish you. The Nigerian real estate industry has a lot to learn when compared to its Kenyan counterparts. Notably present is the large Indian community as a result of an en-masse migration that can be best explained by the fact that Kenya particularly Nairobi attracts top investors. The local Indians there would make you think you are in Mumbai!
My stay at the DusitD2 Hotel was a fabulous experience. I was ready to brag about it later to my colleagues but kept my cool when I paid a visit to the Sankara Hotel. Permit me to say- “ It is a sanctuary in the jungle”. The service and meticulous decoration would give you the sensation that you are in the Dorchester in London.
Words cannot justify the level of luxury that can be used to describe the TRIBE hotel owned by the iconic architect, Mehraz Ehsani. It is a haven that is cleverly themed with the rich and beautiful heritage of African art positioned within a range of 6sqm. I was able to count more than 920 art pieces. My tour guide; a close ally of the TRIBE is Mr Aram Laloui of ZANA; a company that would become our 'apple' in the nearest future. The leader of this company would tell you where the company is going. The zeal, diligence and passionate quality of this man will never let him down.
My reason for being in Nairobi was for the Forbes Africa Person Of The Year award, which was remarkably put together. The event was attended by over 100 captains of the industry from all over Africa. In attendance was the Managing Editor Forbes Africa; Chris Bishop, former Governor of Ekiti State; Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Chairman of CMA Investment Holding; Rakesh Wahi, Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development; Dr Akinwunmi Adesina not forgetting this year’s recipient; the magnate himself Alhaji Aliko Dangote, looking distinguished in his bespoke outfit. I consider him to be the personification of humility accentuated by a very tranquil disposition but not underestimating the commanding aura his presence registers. The room knew that a lion had arrived . Dr. Niyi Adebayo; his best friend, conversed intermittently as I observed showing admirable camaraderie between them. Dangote's speech was designed into one thing and one-thing only; the freedom of African businesses and the need for Africans to rise up to their own potential. He emphasized on today's youths as the leaders tomorrow, but only if we stop the 'feeding-bottle' system of total dependence and start realizing that our future is in our own hands.
The event was amazing and extremely vibrant. I felt exhilarated and overwhelmed not from stress but from the joy of being in the same room and interacting with the biggest names in the African economy. I made a rather bold move to ask Africa’s god of business; Dangote, "How did you turn N500k to $22billion?" He said, "Hard work is the biggest enemy of failure. Success can never ignore you if you are hardworking." My mind would never stop laughing when I remember the quote by Dr Adesina (Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development) about the sustainability of oil and the need to start tapping into the most important part of African growth which is agriculture. He said, "...by the time we realize that we can’t drink petrol and we can’t smoke gas, we would wake up and tap the dividends of agriculture."
After hotel shopping and the Forbes event, I’d by no means allow myself go back to Lagos without getting my view of the local developers. The were young and vibrant but a little laid back. I realized that most of the magnificent buildings were done by International citizens (Indians and South Africans), not local Kenyan workers. This upset me because it gives a negative buzz that Africans are not competent (which is a lie). From prehistoric times, Africans have made their mark when it comes to real estate. If you look at it from the time of Solomon (the first magnum real estate developer), you would appreciate the hard work and creativity of our African brothers. I cannot write this article without mentioning the good property along the Limuru road, which is a mixed material building, with a bridge, a swimming pool and a gym on the 7th floor. I was very impressed by the exterior.
I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trusts' Orphans' Project. It is a small ranch where orphaned animals are kept and taken care of. The experience was great as I got to see the true nature and beauty of these animals. I even adopted an elephant whilst I was there. They gave me the certification of adoption...guess what I called it..."Motophant".
The night life in Kenya is one of the most attractive in Africa filled with vibrant young people who have obviously taken charge of their destiny. The athletic looking men and of course the 'coca-cola bottle' shaped ladies. If I wasn't married to SUJIMOTO CONSTRUCTION, Nairobi might be my next hunt destination. Ah! the taste of the local beer TUSKER reminds me of what Gulder tasted like in the 90s.
Nairobi is a boisterous city with its great offers in hospitality and as the Kenyans say in their Kiswahili dialect ”Kaka sawa sawa” (brother all is well). I dare say I fell in love with the country on this initial visit and will never stop promoting and believing in them. This wouldn’t be complete without a shout out and best wishes to my driver Mr. Nelson who’s wife coincidentally gave birth the same day I left Nairobi. They decided to call their baby boy Suji. I asked him why?? He replied, "because a stranger gave me hope"