By all standards, Olujimi Agbaje, OON, FPSN, FPCPharm, FNAP, has remained one of the leading pharmacists in the country, and has made outstanding contributions to the development and growth of community pharmacy in Nigeria. Agbaje, popularly known as JayKay, ventured into political activism, following the annulment of the election results that would have made the late media mogul, MKO Abiola, the country’s elected President in 1993. Twice, Agbaje vied for the governorship of Lagos State; though favoured to win, it just didn’t happen and he took it in good faith. He relied on the lessons he had learnt while in secondary school that the best could fail. Unknown to many, Agbaje was one of the concerned professionals who worked behind the scene to develop the blueprint that has made Lagos State one of the best run states in the country today. When I asked Agbaje one great lesson he has learnt in his foray into politics, without mincing words, he said: ‘There are no tenable excuses for not serving people that put you in power.’ He added: “Interestingly, I discovered that people’s needs are not many and can be met, but in Nigerian politics people pay attention to their selfish ambitions.” You will also enjoy other life lessons shared by Agbaje. Enjoy the reading.
Career: Stick to what your passion is.
At the time I graduated as a pharmacist, the most lucrative area of practice was to be a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative, which entitled you to many nice things: an air-conditioned car, a driver and a much better salary than other areas. But deep down, I knew I was not cut out to be a Sales Rep. I preferred to be a community pharmacist and began my career as one with less attractive perks of office. I gave it my absolute best working as though it was my own practice. I believe my hard work paid off as my boss bought me a brand new air-conditioned Volvo car, which was bigger and better than my colleagues’ official cars. The lesson here is that if you follow your passion, it may appear you are short-changed at first. But, if you keep at it, satisfaction, comfort and the money will follow.
Lesson 2: Business
No guarantee that your best plan cannot fail.
In setting up my business I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to run a family business. I was going to run a business that will outlive me and that meant that I needed to put in place a solid structure to have some measure of succession plan. I was fortunate to have very good hands working with me. In putting a succession plan in place, I relied on brilliant people who were in their young marriages at the time. The two I was relying on to take over left. The balancing of work and spouses by them affected my business at a time I had already gone into another calling, i.e., politics. This left a big gap that slowed down the growth of the business.
I also took up agencies and distributorships for well-established multinationals. I exposed my company financially only to realise that they didn’t ever really stick to their commitments. Their sole purpose was profit for themselves by all means. My consolation was that I was able to dissuade many younger colleagues from going down the same path. Better to build your own brand from scratch than build somebody else’s that has no commitment to you.
The lesson: there is no guarantee that your best plans cannot fail.
There is no tenable excuse for not serving people.
I started politics from activism. I was a typical young man who didn’t believe in government, didn’t believe in our leaders until the 1993 Abiola versus (Bashir) Tofa election debate. It encouraged me to vote, but then the election was annulled. I felt molested and joined the ‘concerned professionals’. We marched and protested, joined late Tai Solarin on the walk from Yaba to Tafawa Balewa Square, in Lagos. From there, things began to change for me and I offered myself for service to the people. One thing I have learnt going round the country as a politician is that people are not asking for the impossible. Their needs are things that can be provided, once the political leadership decides it wants to put the people first rather than before itself. This will influence policies and programmes that are formulated and properly implemented.
Money and Investment: You can be rich, but not a success.
Wealth for me is a combination of things: it is not just money. Wealth is something that should be leveraged. I believe wealth comprises a lot of things: your name, integrity, beliefs, network, how much you give back to society, and your money however little. Money without all the others does not constitute a success.
Marriage and Family: Make Your Immediate Family Your Strength.
Many great men of history had less than salutary family life. A fine balance of public and family life is required. The right choice of a life partner is most beneficial. I learnt the importance of having my family as my first sphere of influence. Sharing my dreams, successes and failures with family members has been a source of great strength.
The truth is that I married the person I loved. I married the person that God gave me. We had a long courtship; so I knew who I was getting married to. She is not just my wife. She is my sister, my best friend, my partner. My wife is the mother of my children, and she knows me inside out. We’ve come a long way. We’ve been married for 35 years.
The children have been a good mirror because you have to look at them and justify your actions and be a good role model. Someone they can be proud of.
Spirituality: Love your enemy.
That sounds so simple, yet it is the most spiritual test we all face as Christians. One important lesson I have learnt as a Christian is love your enemy. This lesson has helped me to go through life with little stress. In politics or business, there are many people who want you to fail and you know. When you find it in your heart to love your enemy, you are at peace with yourself and will have minimal stress because you know God is in your corner.
Lesson 7: Health
Work hard and play hard.
I have not really had health issues, but I think as you grow older you begin to consider your health. I sleep very well and that is because I am at peace. If you can sleep well, it relieves you of a lot of problems. I have good and bad eating habits. The good one is that I don’t miss a breakfast and I don’t eat between meals. I skip a lunch and have a dinner. The bad one is that my dinner is as late as 10p.m. while listening to the news. That is a carryover from my years as a community pharmacist when I closed at 8p.m. to the general public and still had to do my paper work. However, I do exercise and socialise. My motto thus is: “Work hard and play hard.”
Relationship: Be yourself.
In building relationships, the rule is just be yourself. When you are yourself, you are genuine. When you then meet somebody else who is also genuine then, the bond is stronger. But if I am talking to someone and I don’t see that genuineness, then the person will just be an associate rather than a friend. My true friendships have lasted forever. You don’t stab your friend in the back; you don’t bring him or her down; you remain a good sounding board. You are there for each other through thick and thin.
Key Mistakes Made
1. Anchoring my succession plan on key staff without factoring in the influence of their spouses. It was a costly error.
I still believe elections can be won by playing fair like in advanced democracies. My major regret is that I have not been able to add my name to that illustrious list of politicians who have played the fair game, won elections and performed well in office.
3 Pieces of Advice
1. Never fight with an African over untitled land. It is nearly always a life-and-death matter – My father
2. Share your assets without having to write a will – My Brother-in-law
3. Life is like a football game. Always fix your eyes on the ball rather than the player’s legs. That way, you will not waste time and energy on irrelevancies. – Anonymous
3 Books That Have Shaped My Life
1. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
2. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s several titles
3. From Third World To First World by Lee Kuan Yew
View on Restructuring
Nigeria is definitely not working as we would want. We need to run it differently.
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