I STARTED AS POOL AGENT IN THE 60S â€“ ADEBUTU KESSINGTON
Most people know him as Baba Ijebu but his real name is Kessington Adebutu. He is the Chairman of Premier Lotto Limited. He is also the founder of Kessington Adebukola Adebutu Foundation. A philanthropist to the core, he started life as a game man in the early 1960s.
In this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, the man who sits atop the multi-million naira betting business, speaks on his life, what lotto is all about, his Foundation and other things unknown about him.
How has it been managing a multi-million-naira company in a hostile environment like Lagos?
Well, it has been challenging and at the same time nice. Of course, this is not the first multi-million-naira company I'm managing. As you can see, we are doing well.
How did you get into the business ?
I have been in the gaming business all my life. I have been in the gaming business since 1963 and Lotto is not the only game business. We have pool, casino and lots of them and I'm sure you still remember the almighty face-to-face million-dollar business.
So, what is the difference between Lotto and Pool?
They are two different types of game. Pool is based on the game of football and the results will be 1-2 -X. 1 means home win, 2 means away win and x means a draw. But lotto is quite different . You have two ways of playing the Lotto, either by the ball or electronically.
Some people say Lotto is fraudulent. Is it true?
I have not heard that in my life. If Lotto is fraudulent, how come the federal government gave us our license? I'm licensed by the federal government, Lagos State government as well as Oyo State government. Are you saying these governments support fraud?
How was it growing up?
I was born on October 24, 1935 at Iperu Remo in Ikenne Local Government Area of Ogun State. I completed my primary education in 1942 and had my secondary education between 1951 and 1955. Thereafter I started life. I worked briefly with Classic Chemical Limited, a pharmaceutical company that produces Andrew's Liver Salt, Cafenol and all of that. I rose from the position of salesman to sales manager and in 1963 I left the company to start my own small business.
Having no capital, I looked for a business that required little or no capital and what came to my mind was to be a pool agent, because to be a pool agent, what you just need is to get a table and your pen. So, you can see it is not capital intensive. I did that briefly and within a short time with my best friend, the late Chief Solomon Adebayo Ayoku, we dominated Africa. We then diversified to other areas like agriculture, manufacturing, estate management, the lotto, entertainment and so on. Today, I have the concession for the Gateway Hotels Abeokuta for 25 years. By the time I re-opened it to the public in December, you will see wonders.
Are you saying you didn't attend university?
In actual fact, it was my ambition to study law but unfortunately I did not. You see, in our time, there was so much life. This generation is not as lucky as ours. We wore good clothes and good shoes. There were lots of shopping centres along Marina including Kingsway, and UTC. There was so much frolicking during our time. It was never about poverty or of not being privileged . Infact I was called 'chop life' then because there was too much to enjoy.
Tell us about your wife and children
I am a polygamist and coincidentally, you are seeing my first child (points at his son, Hon Ladi Kessington, who was present). I will be 75 in October.
How is the economic recession affecting lotto business?
It is definitely affecting us. The effects are very clear and simple, because business is quite down at the moment. Sales are down for now.
You are a philanthropist, what is the reason behind that?
I'm a philanthropist of the highest order and the motive is that some people work harder than me but they don't have up to one percent of the reward I have. I believe that the only way I can show appreciation to God is to give Him back some of these rewards through assisting the less privileged and that gave birth to my foundation, Kessington Adebukola Adebutu Foundation.
The foundation caters for the less privileged and it supports hospital patients and education. I believe that an educated and healthy soul can never be hungry. No matter how bad the situation may be, such a person cannot be hungry. We spend enormously on these . At present, I'm building a vocational centre worth N100 million for the Lagos State Government just close to my office. Only few days ago, the Gateway Polytechnic was named after me, and on that same day, the other Foundation for the Polytechnic was born, in which I put N100m.
What's the history behind the name 'Baba Ijebu' ?
It's not my making. It's not the name given to me by my father. It's a nickname from the public and our satisfied customers and of course I am from the Ijebu province, maybe that explains it better. Please, you are free to come here unannounced especially during the draw. We draw about 11:30 am, 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Come and see things personally. We are transparent in our draws… the public do the draws themselves and are satisfied. That is what made us what we are today. Transparency.
When did you marry your first wife?
I married my first wife on August 18, 1960, about 50 years ago.
Was it by referral or you met her yourself?
How can somebody refer my wife to me? I opened my eyes and got what I liked. Well, I run a polygamous home that means I have more than one wife.
How did you propose to her?
Ah, look at you; how did you propose to your wife (general laughter)? I met her the usual way we meet people and I proposed to her because then it was easier.
How many children did your first wife give you?
Just like my father who married many wives and was blessed with children, the marriage is blessed with children. You don't need to count children. My first son seated next to me is a politician and the other siblings are doing well too.
What about your parents? Are they still alive?
No, my father died about two and a half years ago at the age of 97. My mother died at the age of 94. My mother had only two of us, my big brother who is still a pharmacist here and I.
What's your most embarrassing moment ?
The most embarrassing moment of my life was in the early sixties when the entire coupon won and that killed about 95 percent of all the pools. Even the almighty federal government that sponsored Niger Pool located at the ACB building at that moment died. Everybody won. Can you imagine that? For all players to win.
Did you ever experience poverty while growing up?
By the standard of my town then, I won't say I am from a poor home. But if you're judging by the standard of other towns , because my town is a small town, it is a different thing. My mother was an agent with UAC and agents then with the UAC were very rich people. So, from all ramifications, my parents were never poor.
Have you ever had a close shave with death?
I really cannot think of any.
Your moment of joy
I have had so many reasons to rejoice. God has been so good to me. My moments of joy are uncountable.
How do you relax?
Well, I love gaming and at my age, I still relax playing draft. I can't play lotto because if I play, it's against myself. So I can't play lotto.