My father insisted that he must choose a wife for me -Femi Mokikan (Ex executive Director, Seven Up Bottling Co.) - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Monday, 27 February 2017

My father insisted that he must choose a wife for me -Femi Mokikan (Ex executive Director, Seven Up Bottling Co.)

After 23 years of active work at Seven Up Bottling Company, Femi Okikan retired last year from the company’s board room at a highly placed position of an Executive Director. However, it is now obvious that, though the lawyer is retired, he is simply not tired. 
Immediately after retirement, he went straight into politics where it seems he found and worked with strange bed fellows. With no choice left, he retired into more work, setting up a company known as Interventions and Resource Limited: A company that handles human resource consulting.

Kogi state born Femi Okikan tells us that ‘life may not have been too smooth at the beginning, but sincerely, I don’t need politics to live a full comfortable life.’

Femi Okikan tells us more in this interview with Paul Ukpabio.

Tell us about your early journey to the corporate board room

I started my career as a lecturer in a Federal polytechnic; there I worked for about five years then joined the private sector which took me to five different companies.

I worked at Training and Conference centre Ogere, before moving to Authur Anderson now Accenture. It was however at Seven Up Bottling Company that I spent the longest time and eventually retired. I worked there for 23 years and retired last year. I worked there in the human resources department. I was in charge of that all over the country. After some years I was promoted to the board and I retired as an Executive Director. 

You must have seen a lot of changes and development in soft drinks bottling in the country. 

Yes, that’s true! When I joined, we were doing only bottles. We did that for a long time later on we added the plastic to it. There have also been changes in volume, we used to have 30cl, 35cl, and later we moved to 50cl. Seven Up was the first company to introduce 50cl, bigger packages in addition to adding flavours into, seven up and pepsi. We didn’t have Mountain Dew when I joined. We brought in that and others. And many other changes that were carried out but later dropped. 

The company also later changed it’s system of distribution

Yes, from time to time we change the model. For a very long time, we were doing door to door distribution, after a while, it didn’t make business sense because of the cost of distribution and maintenance of the trucks, which was heavy. We decided to take major dealers in selected places to carry that bulk on their shoulders, for final distribution to retailers who then pass it on to the consumers.

What about the volume of production?

Initially, the company had five plants. But by the time I left, we had increased it to nine. That also meant that volume had gone up. I can’t say exactly what it was then, but we moved from the position of doing 20 million to 100 million. So it was a huge volume of drinks that we were doing. Nigeria is a big country and I can say that even with the combination of Coca-cola which is even a bigger company, we are not doing enough yet, because the country is indeed big with a population of over 170 million which no doubt, is a huge market. 

What memories of early childhood do you have?

I grew up in the rural area. The first few years of my life were with my parents. Later I was moved by dad who said I needed more experience outside the rural area. He wasn’t educated and didn’t want his children to be uneducated like him. The only way he felt his children could move up in life was by living with people who were already educated. So he sent me to his friend in the then western region where I spent four memorable years. The man could have been said to be the neatest man in the town, and disciplined. And that showed in the lives of those of us that lived with him, our school results was very good. Of course any opportunity I had to go back to my parents at the farm in the village was always a great time of enjoyment for me.

My relationship with my dad is also something that I will always cherish. He kept telling me that he is not educated, that it is my brain that can stop me from going to school not his pocket, which meant that wherever level of education I wanted to attain, he was ready to look for and provide finances for it.

So who influenced you most?

My dad had a great influence on me, he didn’t have the white man’s education, I’m sure if he did, he would probably have become a professor, because most of his sayings are even today still applicable. I used to call him a philosopher.

You stayed for many years at Seven Up Bottling Company, what was your stay power?

I will say the stay power was the environment which I can also say provided a stimulant for me. What I realised was that; Seven Up was a place that anyone who had his shoulder in the right place will see something to contribute: more so, for one who was in the human resource department. That’s because for an organisation that was coming from zero system on ground meant every aspect of the organisation needed contribution and improvement. And again the people I worked with from the Chairman to my colleagues kept me going. I was happy where I was, even another company came calling for me with better remuneration and opportunities to move around the different parts of the world every year, but I looked around, and just couldn’t leave after 15 years, and I still stayed another eight years. You know there are some companies you go to and they are already very well established with systems and procedures, and you reach there you cannot put in much contribution, you just flow with all that has already been put in place. For me I didn’t feel that I should just go and sit down anywhere, I wanted to contribute, to create. And we didn’t have a parent company to go and borrow from, so everything had to be done locally. That alone was tasking and was also a big stimulant for me because I had to come up with creative ideas. I am glad that in that situation, we were able to make a difference, and I was part of those who created the difference. 

Life as a retiree, what is it like for you?

The name of my company is Intervention and Resource Limited, that is to say that we can be called upon in any area of a company’s life that requires intervention and when we come in, results must follow. What I’m doing is to also organise seminars for companies where I train people at retreats, in addition to being a lawyer. 

At what point did you become a lawyer?

When I joined Seven Up, I had to rely on our legal department for many of the issues that I had to handle. At times they told me things that did not make sense to me, but that is the law, so anything they told me, I had no choice but to accept, especially something that I did not know anything about. But we had a scheme in the company which allowed one to go back to school if you wanted to, and the company will support with some kind of subsidy. So I took advantage of that, and in 1997, I went back to school. Then we had the benefit of evening programmes unlike now. It was left to the individual to decide whether who was could carry both work and school. That was how I joined the pursuit of another knowledge. And by the grace of God, with a little sacrifice here and there, I was able to complete it and in 2005, I was called to the bar. 

Which university did you do the law degree, and how did that affect your family life?

I did that at the University of Lagos. I was shuttling work, school and home. As for family life, there was no way that it would not have affected it. As a matter of fact, at some point, I had to pack some of my things from home and go and camp in school. Of course for that period they were not seeing me at home. Also, when I got to Law School, I moved out of the house again. That somehow caused a distraction from my regular family life but again I had to remind my family that it was for our tomorrow to be better. I assured them that each member of the family had to endure and make sacrifices for our tomorrow. 

But at what age did you do all that?

I was 43 years old when I went back to study law.

But you were already comfortable from working with Seven Up

Yes, I was somehow comfortable. I went into Seven Up as a senior manager being the head of human resources.

That means money-wise you were loaded even at that time 

(Laughs) That actually depends on what you mean by loaded and comfortable.

So with some level of comfort at your disposal, the campus ladies must have warmed up to you, how did you handle them?

(Laughed again) I didn’t go there to look for ladies. First of all, when you are working and combining academics, you already have a big challenge on your hand, at that point, it was difficult to allow any distraction to come my way. It was either one go the way of distraction and mess up or focus on academics. Also I was comfortably married, there was no need to allow one small girl to mess up things for me. Or how would it have looked if I had gone to school and return home to tell my children that I had failed my examinations (laughs). I didn’t think it was something I would love to live with, so that made me focus on the academics.

You must have been one of the oldest in the class

Yes, but of course, there were many other people who were far older than me. 

How easy was it for you to relate with the other younger members of the class?

The class was a leveler for everyone. Everyone was seen as equals. Age didn’t matter at that point, we all saw ourselves as colleagues. But you also have to remember that even if someone is 70 years old, as soon as you get into school and into classroom, you will start behaving like the average student (laughs). So, it wasn’t difficult for us to adapt to the environment and many years after leaving school, we still maintain that friendly relationships between us.  I’m glad I did well and I attended law school here in Lagos. Imagine if it had been in Abuja that would have been strenuous on my marriage. My wife was very accommodating and they used to visit me at the law school once in a while, she came with the children and we spent Sunday evenings together. I have five children, one boy and four girls. I also have one who is also my child. He is my father’s son but he was six months old when my father died. So when he was three and a half years, I went to pick him. He has lived all his life with me before he settled into his own home. He is a married man now. He didn’t know his father, so he calls me father.

How about religion?

I am a Christian, if I’m at the country side, I go to Saint Paul African church, it is a little variation from the standard Anglican Church, but when I’m in Lagos, I worship at Redeemed Christian Church of God.

You have a sportive figure, what has your sporting life been like? 

I abandoned sports a long time ago. I used to be an active, award winning sportsman. I used to play hockey for my state. At the very first sports festival in 1973 here in Lagos, Gowon was the Head of State while his counterpart in Niger came over for visiting and was there with Gowon at the opening ceremony. We all lined up, small boys that we were, and they shook our hands, when it got to my turn, I held General Gowon with both hands, and said ‘go on with one Nigeria (laughs).’ Hockey was my specialty. I was also the goal keeper for my school at Federal Government College, Warri, and I also played basketball for the same school. I had interest in other sports as well. I used to tell myself then that if I ever build a house in my life, that I will fix a lawn tennis court in the compound. Unfortunately, I built, but I didn’t have enough resources to build a lawn tennis court there. I love lawn tennis. But the sporting zeal died immediately I entered University of Lagos. I got there late, and therefore had accommodation problem.  I had no clue that sports men got preference for accommodation. So I was staying in Surulere and going to school from there. I didn’t even go near the sports area until a month later when I saw our former football captain at Warri, on campus. He got there earlier than I did. He was the one who told me that he got an accommodation because he is a sportsman. That was how I abandoned sports.

Since you don’t do sports again, how do you keep fit?

I think its God that keeps me fit. I don’t do anything g about fitness. My doctors have complained. Most time when I go there to see them, they say I should go and do exercise. I bought facility for exercise and kept them at home. I bought tread mill, bicycle, if I buy today you will see me there for the next two weeks and after that, my interest in them fades off. I have a room where I keep those things, some days I go in there and look at them and laugh. I thank God for the way He has packaged my body.

How about socials?

Almost every Saturday of the year, there is always somewhere to attend a party or an event. That is because of ties and loyalty to friends, family and colleagues. 

How about clothes?

I like wearing smart things that fits my body. I do not like bogus clothes. I am not a fan of agbada in anyway. It is too bogus for my liking. I have some agbada but I usually end up wearing the buba and the sokoto, while the agbada is nowhere to be found. I remember a funny incident, my wife brought out agbada for me to wear with her to a wedding. I held it to church but didn’t use it. After the church service we were to take pictures because it was a family member that was wedding, that was when I remembered that I left the agbada on my seat in church. So eventually I got it back, put it on, and as soon as we finished the photo session, I removed it and gave it out as a gift to someone next to me. My wife didn’t forgive me for a long time. I think it is extra burden. Perhaps maybe I am used to production, you know in production you have to look and be smart. 

Who influenced the choice of your marriage?

No girl could come home to visit me because of my dad. I was in primary 3 when my dad called me and said he had two agenda for you, the first being education and the second, to get me a wife. But I want you to finish education first then I will give you a wife. So he said. If you want to change the order you are free, if you need the wife first, I can get you a wife now. But once I give you that wife, then forget education. I laughed, he told me that I didn’t need to laugh that it is a serious matter. I told him I will go with education first. So he said since I have decided to take education first that if any day he heard that I have impregnated any girl, that is the day that my education will end. So that caution really helped to check me throughout my years in school.

Did your dad eventually marry a wife for you?

No, he died before I got married, but he had already shown me who I should marry.

So is that the lady that you eventually married?

No she is not the one. But he wanted me to marry the one he pocked and then add my own choice to her if I so desired. But he died before all that could take place. 

What do you think of the Kogi election?

I knew that there were two conditions that could make Faleke lose the election, the first was if Audu died and the second was if the judgement is written outside the law. I think what we got from all the courts on the matter was political conditions. The clause was that ‘candidates must have fully taken part in all the stages of the election, which I do not think his opponent did. Audu died Nov 22, while election was Nov 21. Before the end of that month, he was nominated so within that period before election his opponent couldn’t have done much, so he didn’t ‘fully’ take part in all levels of election If I was his lawyer, I would have kept insisting that the election of Nov 21 was conclusive because if you look at all the processes, that was a proper election. I think he lost out because of his being a Tinubu protégé. Meanwhile, when the feudalist needed Tinubu they used him. But that event has made us wiser.

Are you into politics?

Immediate I retired, I went into politics. But with time, I got to realise that people like me do not belong. I also realised that if I couldn’t play their kind of politics, then I do not need to be there. Some even thought it was money and position that I was looking for, no God has helped me to that point where I do not need politics to live a life.

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