By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
After surviving years of stagnation and unprofitability occasioned by gross mismanagement by past administrators, the pride of South West heritage, the Odu’a Investments Company Limited, is not yet out of the woods, Business Hallmark can report.
One of the group’s iconic ventures while the good days lasted, Premier Hotel, was recently shut down by the management of the group. All the staff of the hotel were also laid off.
Sited at the peak of the popular Mokola Hill in Ibadan, the sprawling edifice painted all-white, was a sight to behold.
While it doors were opened, it hosted several big events, wealthy businessmen, expatriates, heads of states and foreign dignitaries, as well as officials and national teams of countries participating in big sporting events, such as the 1999 FIFA U-21 World Youth Championship hosted by Nigeria between April 3rd and 24th.
Unfortunately, the hotel, one of the three owned by Western Hotels Limited, a subsidiary of Odu’a Investments, has fallen from grace to grass.
The hotel is now deserted and manned by private security guards who direct visitors away from the premises.
The guards were seen last week turning back uninformed guests or curious visitors who move too close to the massive green gate entrance of the hotel, explaining to them that the company is presently not operating.
Given reasons for the shutting down of the hotel, the company’s management explained that the hard decision was taken to enable it renovate and upgrade facilities in the run-down edifice.
“In line with our plans to make our hotels world class, we are renovating Premier Hotel and upgrading its facilities to make it a 5-star hotel, in collaboration with a global brand chosen by the board with the help of KPMG and approval of the shareholders.
“We want to increase the number of rooms we have, and increase the capacity of the halls.
“We are conscious of health and safety of the people, so we had to disengage the employees. We had to pay all of them off”, the Group Managing Director of Odu’a Investments Limited, Mr Adewale Raji, had stated.
The GMD further explained that the decision to shut down the hotel was taken in the best interest of the region and its people.
Meanwhile, BH findings revealed that Premier Hotel, like most of the companies in the conglomerate wholly by the Odua Group, had been battling with declining patronage as a result of undue interference from the political leadership of the owner-states, ageing structures, outdated facilities and staff inefficiency.
For instance, the fortune of the once boisterous hotel nosedived with the coming to power of the military in 1983.
Successive military administrations, as well as their collaborators in the civil service, apart from foisting their cronies who were ill trained and unqualified on the hotel, also almost bleed it to death by not paying for services rendered.
The political class that took over from the military in 1999 did not also help matters as they were more concerned with which state will fill top positions in the conglomerate.
According to a former staffer of the company, Otunba Rotimi Adedayo, past administrators, especially military governors almost destroyed the Oodua group with their pillaging.
“Immediately they came to power in 1983, they started pillaging the wealth of the company. They send their families and friends to Western Hotels (Premier and Lafia Hotels) and the Lagos Airport Hotel to be accommodated and fed without paying for the services.
“A governor even retained a suite in one of the hotels for the three year period he was in power”, he told our correspondence.
Expectedly, the group’s hotel chain, including Lafia Hotel in Apata, Ibadan, were denied the necessary income to equip them to standard compete with modern hospitality firms.
By the time big brands and well equipped hotels like Best Western Plus, Golden Tulip, Kakanfo Inn and Conference Centre, Saire Hotels, Owu Crown Hotel, among others started setting up in the ancient city in the early 90s for business, it was game over for the hotel.
A guest who lodged in the hotel before it was shut down, Tope Douglas, decried the poor services he got during his last visit.
“This (Premier Hotel) is by any standard a decrepit and bizarre hotel. No hot water in my room, shower handle broken, internet not working, strange bedding, the list goes on.
“The restaurant is dismal and utterly depressing. No signs to the dining area, guest just go down some dark stairs into an area with broken doors and abandoned stalls.
“The staff at the front counter were insolent and disorganized, at least some of the other staffers at the bar and restaurant were nicer, though evidently untrained.
“A really depressing atmosphere throughout my stay, more like an abandoned building.
“To top it off, the rates they demanded were completely absurd. Guests shouldn’t even be paying a fraction of what they charge”, Douglas argued.
Just before it was closed down, the hotel, BH learnt, was charging an average fee of N51,364 a room per night. This rate is exclusive of taxes and other fees.
On the other hand, newer and plush hotels like the Best Western Plus and Golden Tulip that can compete with any other hotels abroad with their modern facilities charge almost the same fees, if not lower.
The preference for these newer and plush hotels by hotel guest finally dealt the death blow on Premier Hotel with its recent shutting down.
Apart from it hotel chains which are not doing well, other manufacturing, real estate, food and beverages, agriculture and agribusiness, oil and gas, hospitality, construction, printing and publishing, equipment leasing, financial services, logistics, health care and telecoms businesses wholly owned by the conglomerate are also not doing well.
From about seventeen subsidiaries where it maintained majority interest in 1985, it had decreased to seven subsidiaries in 2021.
The manufacturing and industrial interests of the firm have also shrunk considerably, with most of its income generated from leases earned from its real estates in choice locations in Ikeja residential/industrial estates and Apapa in Lagos as well as several residential buildings in Ibadan, including the Orange Court and Almond Court.
Some of the wholly owned business concerns that have either collapsed or not doing well are the Nigerian Wire and Cable, Cocoa Industries Limited, NIPOL, Askar Paints Limited, Epe Plywood and Lafia Canning Factory.
Likewise, most of the conglomerate’s iconic real estate structures like Western House, Marina, Bristol Hotel, Lagos, Cocoa and Aje Houses in Ibadan managed by Wemabod Estate are in very bad shapes, compared to newer and modern structures like the Kingsway, Mulliner and Sogenal Towers owned by private investors.
“Drums of paints were collected freely from Askar Paints for their own private properties. The same applied at the Nigerian Wire and Cables and other companies. They were bled to death by the military rulers and their civilian collaborators.
“As if that was not enough, they started to install their incompetent surrogates to head companies under the group who packaged returns (money) for them every month.
“Due to their incompetence and massive looting, the companies were soon ran aground”, added Otunba Rotimi Adedayo, a former employee of the company.
While the decay lasted, the company, which recorded strings of losses for close to twenty years, was unable to pay dividends to its owners.
On the other hand, while companies fully owned by Odu’a Group seem not to be doing well, its former subsidiaries where it had relinquished controlling, but still with substantial shares are prospering.
The companies include Lafarge (WAPCO), Unilever, Tower Aluminium, Nigerite and SKG-Pharma and a host of others.
Troubled by the declining fortunes of the company, its owners came together in 2014 to unveil a five-year growth plan meant to grow the group’s business in five years (2015-2019).
The five-year growth plan included consolidating on existing businesses and diversifying into high growth and profitable sectors of the economy to realise the strategic objectives of creating value for the shareholders and delivering social impact to the South West states.
Lagos also officially joined the O’odua Group, with the acquisition of 115m shares, thus growing the share equity of the company to 690 million. The deal also allow Lagos to acquire land in other South West states for massive rice production.
The group, it would be recalled, was incorporated as a limited liability company in July 1976 to take over the business interests of the former Western State of Nigeria, now comprising Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti States and Lagos.