How a deal I struck with dad shut my mind against women —Ex-Seven Up Executive Director Femi Mokikan (became a lawyer at 43 years old)

After 23 years of active service with Seven Up Bottling Company, Femi Mokikan retired last year as an Executive Director. But the lawyer was far from tired. Immediately after his retirement, he went straight into politics where he found himself mixing with strange bed fellows. Left with no choice, he retired into more work, setting up a company known as Interventions and Resource Limited, a consultancy outfit on human resources. He told PAUL UKPABIO that he does not need politics to live a full and comfortable life.

Tell us about your stint in the corporate world

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 Arthur 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 is true. When I joined, we were doing only bottles. We did that for a long time. Later on, we added plastics to it. There have also been changes in volume. We used to have 30cl, then 35cl and later we moved to 50cl. Seven Up was the first company to introduce 50cl, bigger packages in addition to adding flavours to both Seven Up and Pepsi. We didn’t have Mountain Dew when I joined. We brought that and others in, and many other changes that were carried out but later dropped.


The company also later changed its system of distribution…

Yes, from time to time, we changed 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 he was disciplined. That showed in the lives of those of us that lived with him. Our school results were very good. Of course, any opportunity I had to go back to my parents on 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 was not educated, but that it was my brain that could stop me from going to school, not his pocket. Which meant that whatever level of education I wanted to attain, he was ready to provide for it.


So who influenced you most?

My dad had a great influence on me. He didn’t have the formal education. If he did, he would probably have become a professor, because most of his sayings then are even today still applicable. I used to call him a philosopher.

You stayed for many years at Seven Up Bottling Company. What was the secret of your staying power?

I would say the staying 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 would see something to contribute, more so for one who was in the human resource department. That is 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 with better remuneration and opportunities to move around 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.

What is life like in retirement?

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 am 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 the 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 was the law. So whatever they told me, I had no choice but to accept, especially if it was 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 one 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. 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. In 2005, I was called to the bar.

In which university did you study Law, and how did that affect your family life?

I did that at the University of Lagos. I was shuttling between work, school and home. As for family life, there was no way it would not have affected it. As a matter of fact, at some point, I had to pack some of my things from home to 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 sacrifice for our tomorrow.

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 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 moneywise, you were loaded even at that time

(Laughs) That actually depends on what you mean by ‘loaded’.

With your level of comfort, campus ladies must have swarmed around 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 went the way of distraction and messed up or focused on academics. Also, I was comfortably married. There was no need to allow one small girl to mess things up for me. Or how would it have sounded if I had gone to school and returned 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 to focus on the academics.

You must have been one of the oldest people 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 younger members of the class?

The class was a leveller 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. If it had been in Abuja, that would have been strenuous for my marriage. My wife was very accommodating. They used to visit me at the Law School once in a while. She would come with the children and we would spend 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.

You have a sportsman figure. Were you ever a sportman?

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 Republic came over on a visit 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 built a house in my life, I would fix a lawn tennis court in the compound. Unfortunately, I built a house, 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 in Warri on campus. He got there earlier than I did. He was the one who told me that he got accommodation because he was a sportsman. That was how I abandoned sports.

How then do you keep fit?

I think it is 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, but 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.

What influenced your choice of a wife?

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 me. The first was education and the second was to get me a wife. But he said he wanted me to finish my education first, then he would give me a wife. 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 get you that wife, forget about education. I laughed, but he told me that I didn’t need to laugh; that it was a serious matter. I told him I would go for education first. So he said since I had decided to take education first, if any day he heard that I had impregnated any girl, that day, my education would end. That caution really helped to check me throughout my years in school.

Did your father fulfill his promise to get you a wife?

He died before I got married, but he had already shown me who I should marry.

And is that the lady you eventually married?

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






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