I came to Benin in a lorry, says industrialist
Deacon Vincent Agemonmen is an industrialist, philanthropist and an evangelist. The chairman, Freedom Group of Companies was recently honoured by the Benson Idahosa University with a Doctorate Degree in Business Administration. OSAGIE OTABOR met him.
How do you feel to be honored by the BIU?
I am very happy about it. I feel it came at the right time but some people say it was overdue. I feel God’s time is the best. I feel great.
Looking at your background? What advice do you have for young men?
I will let them know that if they do well and they are not in a hurry to make money, a time will come that blessings will over run them as blessing is overrunning me now. As one is coming another is on its way.
How was your growing up like?
I sold palm wine, biscuits when I was growing up. I grew up in a difficult circumstance in a village setting you will not understand today. I trekked 16 km everyday to and from school every day without breakfast. My breakfast was eaten at 2:30pm.
What happen that you are now an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur to give freedom to myself because I had suffered so much in poverty that I thought I had to do something about it. The hands of God were also pushing me. It was in a way to free myself from the bondage of poverty that brought about all these things we are seeing in business. When God finish with me in business, he gave me another business which is evangelism. My children are now taking care of the business.
What lessons do you have for elders that are yet to embrace Christ?
If God could arrest a church-goer like myself. I used to go to church to fulfill all righteousness for God not to be annoyed. Sometime I will be reading newspaper inside the church. I did not go out to look for Christ, he came looking for me. He told me to get people like me and I obeyed. It was later streamlined to me to meet people like me, elders and others that need to be in Christ.
How much did you use to start your business?
I came to Benin in a lorry. I sat on a bench at the back of the lorry without knowing where I was going. I came to Benin without a place to stay. If there were bridges in Benin like in Lagos, it would have been okay. I was surviving by just lying that I could no longer go home and the person would allow me to stay. I later went to hire an uncompleted boys’ quarter at Oza Street. I could count the stars from my room. Imagine living in a house without aceiling. It took a time for me to get a menial job at the Ministry of Works as a helper. While there, I learnt how to do plumbing. As I was doing that, it got to a point that I learnt a lot to be able to do contract work outside the ministry’s job. I was one of the first people to bring water system to homes to Benin. When we came to Benin, there was no water in people’s homes. There was only public taps where we used to fight. I was also selling palm wine and a taxi cab I drove at night to make more money. After a point I had to resign to give more time to business because my records showed that I was making more money than I was getting at the ministry. I didn’t had to go and look for seed money.
How did you manage all of these without education?
Necessity is the mother of invention. I would not have gone to secondary if we did not make effort. We had to fend for ourselves. Before I could go to secondary school, somebody promised to help my father but midway the person dropped and we had to do other things to make money. I sold Oxford gen biscuits. Young people cannot retail it and make profit because it was so sweet. To sell it one has to be very discipline. We did a number of things to take care of those things my father could not handle. In doing that, it helped us in business.
How did you come about setting up a sand dredging company and others?
Immediately I started doing plumbing contract, I added plumbing material sales and then building materials. At a point there was so much demand for sand at that time. People used to dive into the river to bring out sand on the canoe because no dredging. With the creation of the defunct Midwest State, government was here at the capital, Benin city and there was high demand for sand for road construction in the city. It was beyond what people could do manually. Going to buy a dredger was not an easy thing. God helped us that some of the people we were dealing with in building materials brought a dredger and we took off. I went to university after the business was so big. I employed graduates and without education, I did not understand the workers I had. I felt something was wrong and I needed to sharpen it. I went to the great University of Ife. While there, I decided to do project on what would be useful to me. I did a project on quarrying and immediately, I left the university, we started a quarry company and inaugurated it at Ukpilla. It was from there I established marble industry and then water factory. After so much and having spent 50 years doing business, I felt I was tired of doing business but I am still in the business of God.
As a businessman, how were you able to combine your business and family life?
My wife was instrumental. She played a wonderful role in the family. At a point, to come home for lunch was difficult so my wife suggested I bought an alarm watch to remind me of lunch. After I bought it, when the first alarm rang, I said I could not leave business opportunities for food. It did not work. My wife stood by me and took care of the children. It was my wife that helped more to care for the children.
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