Celebrating Prince Olayiwola Shittu @70
Celebrating Prince Olayiwola Shittu, a former National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA) with excerpts from the book, Beacons of Nigeria Maritime Industry.
One beautiful heritage easily identifiable with the personality of Prince Olayiwola Shittu is his good mien towards people, irrespective of where they come from or what their religious or cultural beliefs are. It is a virtue that shaped his life from an early age when his father led him through the path of great thoughts, making him get exposed to other religions, simply to understand what could inform people’s disposition and how to relate with them. He also learned early in life how to give a helping hand to people, something that has since made him focus on pursing his needs modestly, and not doing the wild chase for insatiable desires. On the business front however, the entrepreneur gentleman knows how to keep the lead unruffled since 2010 when he became the National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
For Olayiwola Shittu, early life memories are the richest. His fond memories just will also remain fresh because the events shaped his life till date. “One vital thing I remember about my childhood was that my father encouraged me to read the Bible even though he was an Islamic Scholar. Later in the years, he said he was giving me the opportunity to think like others, not to think like myself alone, and that shaped my life,” he shares.
He recalls an incident once when his father gave out the entire 10 shillings left on him that was meant for the family breakfast before they would leave for school. A friend of his father had come complaining, looking very dejected, and within minutes of his story, the Shittu Patriarch handed the money to his friend. But when Olayiwola expressed his fear and worry of how they would survive the next day without breakfast, his father reassured him that cheerful givers never lack. His father raised his confidence for the coming day too that a miracle could just be around the corner, for his goodwill to a man in dire need.
Undoubtedly one of the quickest and real miracles he had ever known, the next hour and half brought with it huge financial blessings to his father. “Somehow, it was about 7.30 p.m when we had the night prayers, and another person knocked and greeted my dad. He said he came from Lagos and would be going back very early in the morning, but that he must see my dad because of the kindness he showed to his family member. That was how the man left 10 pounds as a thank you token. He also brought rice and other gifts,” Olayiwola testifies.
He was dumb-founded, but was only able to steal looks at his father, who did not also utter a word, but starred at him as if to say, ‘’hope you see how the principles of goodness to people works.
Olayiwola Shittu had to accept many little inconveniences growing up in a polygamous family. Though blessed with a loving father, there were diverse interests, including having some other wife argue that his father spent too much on him. The toughest was the fact that after his primary school education, there was vehement opposition from the other women. They insisted that he should wait at that point to allow other far-younger children catch up with him before they all continue schooling. But eager to have her son continue his education, his mother doubled efforts to ensure that he went to high school soon, after waiting at home for three years. He saw how his father succumbed to the pressures, and how he was only able to buy him a pen and eventually an Oris wristwatch when he passed his high school certificate examination.
With the passing of time and many lessons of life leaned, Prince Olayiwola Shittu says “I have made up my mind to only pursue my needs not wants. I am satisfied and conditioned my mind not to look at what others have because I have decided to be fulfilled.”
After high school, Olayiwola left his birthplace in Epe for Mushin, Lagos, to assume duty on a job with the Post and Telecommunications(P&T) Department, which trained him at the Training School, Oshodi, Lagos. Soon after, he transferred his service to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which is another parastatal of the Federal Government.
He was in Koko Port when the first commercial vessel came with Mitsubishi Lancer cars. Being passionate and dedicated to his job, he worked day-long and into late evenings, just to get the job properly done. He aimed at meeting his set goals doing cargo discharge, clearance and delivery processes at his duty-post, therefore, never waited for those who attended to the job casually. With that enterprising spirit, Olayiwola Shittu left Warri in present Delta State for Port Harcourt, Rivers State, convinced that he would be better-off running a business for himself. So, in 1984 when he relocated to Port Harcourt, he knew he was done with a salary-job after a good discharge with his records of service from the NPA.
He subsequently turned his efforts into a new work chapter with setting up of a company he called ‘Skelas,’ coined from the abbreviation of the names of members of his family. Applying his experience of working in Koko Port, he keyed into the business of customs brokerage, a business he considered easy to start on mainly goodwill. That was how he started at the Airport in Port Harcourt, Rivers and gradually built a clientele based on honesty of purpose.
Customer satisfaction from his company operations has sustained some of his clients who have continued to seek their services in the last 23 years. Several other customs agents have had to refer to him for recommendations for jobs from clients who have built trust in his brand. His company has also run its operations on retainership from big business ventures over the year.
When he considered diversification of his business based on the available opportunities he saw, Prince Olayiwola Shittu entered into a partnership with the communication network provider, ECONET, bringing the business to Port Harcourt, Rivers during the early days of the telecommunication service provision in Nigeria. But the operation was soon closed. Therefore, considering the importance of ownership composition beyond one man who had established the business, he opened up the business to other people, making a retired Assistant Comptroller-General of customs the chairman of the company. The business operations have benefitted from the chairman’s vast experience from the customs service.
There is a Skelas Hotel, which is affiliated to Hotel Travel Service, which helps hotel owners reposition their business for a fee. The company’s subsidiaries are run by complementary heads, who only seek his attention at critical times. He plans to quit from the port after his term as president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), just to settle down to other areas like farm management.
As a matter of policy, Skelas gives out parcels of land to staffers who have served up to 10 years with the company. This strategy has helped to motivate and retain its dedicated workforce. In the same vein, it assists ambitious members of staff to get operational license, to help them become successful as well.
He was Chairman, Port Harcourt Airport Chapter of ANLCA in 1986, and later served as National Publicity Secretary, ANLCA from 1999 to 2003. In 2012, he got the membership of the International Federation of Customs Brokers Association (IFCBA) in Greece, and joined the IFCBA India in 2014, while that of Shangai, China was in 2016.
Over the years, Prince Olayiwola Shittu has been able to prove by his leadership style in ANLCA that he is a positive force to reckon with. Over the years, he led several delegations of members of the association on training courses, both locally and internationally. His focus has also remained on the need to raise and groom a crop of highly informed young people who are able to handle trade matters from a knowledgeable point of view.
In 2013, he led a delegation of the association’s members to South Africa and South Korea for the Break Bulk training programmes. In July 2013, he made ANLCA shine with the African Maritime & Energy ‘Meritorious Award’ when the association was recognised as ‘AMES Customs Broker Association of the Year in Africa’, which was organized by the African Business and Logistics Support Services (ABSLSS) at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa.
Under his watch in 2014, the association realised its dream of a custom-built ultra-modern secretariat named Dikko House, in Lagos.
Born and raised in Epe, Lagos State, Prince Olayiwola Shittu’s lineage is originally of the Alao Sanusi family of Iya Compound in Obaago, Igboho, headquarters of Orelope Local Government Area of present-day Oyo State. His father traversed several countries in West Africa as an itinerant Islamic preacher, before anchoring at Epe in his mid-thirties. In this riverine town, the Shittu patriarch lived and maintained his polygamous family.
Growing up in a large and polygamous family setting, Olayiwola Shittu never knew that the first 18 siblings were just family members who found rest under his father’s roof due to his kindheartedness. Olayiwola was indeed the first son of his father, while he erroneously assumed the 19th position because his father did not create room for discrimination in his household.
He started early school at the Islamic Centre, where his father was actually the proprietor, because his father did not want his first child to go for Western education. He eventually attended Ansar’Udeen Primary School in Epe, the Model School, and then the Epe Grammar School.
He recalls that his father was very popular among the people in Epe, and he was fondly called ‘komaadan’ by the Ijebus. Their love for his father made a number of them to name their children Shittu Komaadan even till present time.