Udoji award gave me breakthrough in business —Yinka Obaleye (Yinka Oba)
I was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, 80 years ago but I am a native of Ilesa, Osun State. I am the third child of my parents. We left Abeokuta when I was a young lady because my father, an only child, didn’t want me to marry and settle down in Abeokuta. I lived with my grandmother at Iregun, a village in Ilesa. Later, my father came for me because his third wife was not taking good care of him, so he took me back to Abeokuta to live with him. He stopped my education when I was in standard four because, according to him, no matter a woman’s level of education, she would end up in the kitchen. My mother wanted me to further my education but my father refused. I followed him to Abeokuta and was assisting my father to sell shoes and bags. That was what I was doing until suitors started coming and my father was forced to take me back to Ilesa so that I could marry someone from our town.
How did you meet your husband?
It was when I got to Ilesa that my parents found the man I married for me as it was the practice in our own time. After the wedding, I followed my husband who was a barber to Idanre in Ondo State. We were there until I became pregnant and we moved back to Ilesa.
You clocked 80 few days ago. How did you feel joining the league of the octogenarians?
I am grateful to God that despite all the storms of life, I am still standing strong. I give glory to God Almighty for making me to witness my 80th birthday.
How did you start your business?
When we returned to Ilesa, I was assisting my husband who was selling shoes and some other things in his shop but I later decided to start my own business. My husband would have none of that so I had to go to his father and ask him to intervene in the matter. I had found a shop close to his but he said the only condition that would make him agree to my starting my own business was if I agreed to close my shop anytime he was not around and help him stay at his. I agreed so anytime he was going out. I would close my shop and stay in his. I was into petty trading and grass mattress made by the Hausas.
After some time, I started buying wool and employed a Hausa guy to help me make the mattress and stuff it with wool. When I saw that I was making money from the mattress business, I started patronising Tola Foam which was owned by the late Chief Adeola Odutola in Ibadan. That was how I started selling foam but there was a time he did something I didn’t like; I ordered foam from him but he didn’t supply it, claiming I was owing him whereas I was not. I had to travel to Ibadan three days after I was delivered of a baby to meet him and ask him to check his records.
He checked, saw that I was not owing and apologised. He then gave me a trailer load of foam. After that incident, I decided to get my supply from elsewhere. Mouka foam started around that time and I began to patronise them. I bought from Mouka for 9 years, then I discovered that some Igbo guys were making foams manually. I made enquiries about how I could be making box foams on my own and I was told all I needed to do to start. About two months later, I started making box foams manually until 1981 when I went to Manchester, United Kingdom, to buy machines. Then we were not obtaining visa to travel; we only had to buy ticket. I bought foam plant, cutting and slice.
I started the business from my house and my customers used to come from all over the South-West to buy my foams. I was making my own foams and was still buying from Mouka foam because during the time of Udoji award, civil servants were empowered, so they could buy foams. I sold a lot of foams and made a lot of money courtesy the Udoji award. I started making beds as well and was supplying beds and foams to schools. That was how God helped me to grow my business and Yinka Oba Foam became a household name. Today, Yinka Oba foam is also in Abuja.
What challenge did you face as a woman in a man’s world?
There is nothing you do in life that you won’t face challenges but with prayer, you will overcome. There was a time that the factory got burnt three times in a month; that was in 1989. The last fire incident that occurred in 2012 was terrible but I thank God for how far He has brought me. His grace has been sufficient for me. It was that incident that made me divert into other businesses such as hotel, filling stations and so on.
How did you combine your business with the home front?
My family always comes first. I used to go to my children’s school to see how they were faring. I also made sure that they were well educated. There was a time my daughter brought home a cardigan; when I asked her where she got it from, she said her school mother gave it to her. I followed her to school the next day and I found out that she was telling the truth. The school principal was so impressed by my action that anytime they were having a programme in the school, he would invite me to it.
You were kidnapped some years back. Can you share with us your experience?
Unknown to me, the kidnappers had been trailing me since 18th November, 2013. I had malaria and the doctor who came to treat me at home asked me to do some tests. I went to the hospital to conduct the test and from there; I moved to the bank to lodge a cheque, then went home and sent my driver to the market. It was when I was in their custody that they told me everything I did the previous day. I left the factory on the evening of 19th November 2013 and started hearing gunshots. When the gunshots stopped, I tried to open the door and behold, two men entered the car and I was sandwiched in between them. They killed my driver and drove me to an unknown destination. I was there and for two days, they didn’t say anything. It was on the third day that they said. “ We need our money from you.” They requested for $100 million. I told them that I could not afford that kind of money; they said they were internationals so they wouldn’t accept naira from me. They searched my bag and were surprised that they didn’t find much there. They asked for the money I made at the factory and I told them that ‘I don’t collect cash from my customers.’ I spent 18 days there before God intervened and they released me. They even said I should promise that I would give them more money because the money they were given was not enough
Can you tell us an unforgettable experience that happened to you?
It was when I lost my child. I am not bothered by loss of property; once there is life, you can acquire many more. I was so devastated by the child’s death that I almost committed suicide but God’s spirit ministered to me that I should not take my own life, I had the pills in my hands already and I was alone in my room with tears welling in my eyes on that fateful day. I thank God for everything.
What is the happiest moment of your life?
When I bought my first set of machines from abroad, I was so happy because it was a dream come through. Two white men came for the installation and taught us how to use the machine. I thank God for the grace I had to achieve that feat. It was after that that the news spread that “they have started making foams at Ilesa” and people were coming from far and near to buy from us.