Adeyemi Adefulu, MFR
When the news broke on Monday 11th April, 2022 that Joe Oyeyani Makoju has passed on, the media was taken by storm and the nation shook. But the tributes started to pour in with such unanimity- he was a good man, a man of integrity, humility, passion, commitment , a brilliant engineer, a man of rare talent. Indeed, “when beggars die, there are no comets seen, the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” It was obvious that an unusual man had departed from our land.
If he was the title loving type, he would have had several trailers or several houses filled with them.
In my quarter of a century on Mother Earth, I have been privileged to move closely with many men, lowly and distinguished, academics and artisans, politicians and clerics, core professionals but Joseph Oyeneyen Makoju stood apart from them all.
His life was defined by simplicity, humility, professional competence, unending search for excellence,scholarship, sartorial elegance.Joe was one corporate leader who was not consumed by the drive for power. Unlike many Nigerian corporate gurus who put their hands in the till, had their hands in every major pie, and converted company assets to their own and became contractors to the companies over which they presided, Joe Makoju in over 40 years of corporate leadership was never to be found in such an inglorious company. Joe was an exemplar who was defined by solid values.
Joe Makoju was born into a very enlightened family. His late father was the English teacher in the St. John’s High School, Kaduna which Joe attended. He was a straight A student in all subjects. From St. John’s High School he proceeded to the Federal Government College Warri where he met Gladys his wife who was his classmate. Joe was not a lone star. His wife retired as a Director and Chief Inspector of Education with the Federal Ministry of Education. His siblings were high achieving having careers in the major sector Companies and one becoming a Permanent Secretary.
Joe’s children have also done extremely well. His daughter, an Electrical Engineer, is the Managing Director Siemens Nigeria, the first Nigerian CEO of the German Engineering company.
Joe was a family man per excellence. Gladys his wife was the mother hen who gently but fiercely protected Joe and the entire family. Joe was so close to his children and grandchildren. I was amazed once to note that despite his heavy schedule he found time to have dinner with his daughter and his grandchildren nearly daily in his daughter’s house unless he was out of town!
Joe Makoju and I became friends in 1981. He had been moved to Sagamu as the Plant Manager while I was a Commissioner in the Ogun state government. It was a casual meeting but almost from the beginning there was chemistry. In those days, the Sagamu plant of WAPCO was probably one of the finest cement plants in the world. It was regarded as the exclusive preserve of the topmost expatriate engineers not just any one. I was to learn later that Joe’s transfer to the Sagamu plant was a big deal and was heavily resisted. Joe was the Plant Manager of the Ewekoro Cement which was as ancient as Sagamu was modern.
The Ewekoro plant was a piece of antiquity so ancient that it was one of the oldest in the world. Joe had been asked to act for the expatriate Plant Manager in Sagamu. In a period of a mere five weeks, he turned things round so much that he increased the production capacity tremendously. His star shone. He excelled like a star and the head office took note of it.
However, when it came to time for a new Plant Manager to be posted to Sagamu plant a serious opposition arose. The British partners in the company, the Blue Circle company, didn’t want a Nigerian Manager to move into a plant which was the exclusive preserve of the British. However, the Managing Director of WAPCO, the late Chief CSO Akande, a most distinguished Nigerian and a man of principle and integrity and former Head of Service in the old Western State, put his feet down.He argued that Joe was a man of proven capacity and integrity and well lettered with a Masters degree in Engineering. Blue circle countered that they were sending a Dr. Warbuton who has a Ph.D in Engineering. But not a man to give up on his principle, Chief CSO Akande said he would rather “swim or sink with Makoju.” Out of respect for Chief Akande and the impeccable pedigree of the candidate, Joe was named as General Manger/ Plant Manager of the Sagamu plant. Thus the road was clear for his ascendancy to the top.
A few years in the position and with wonderful results in his performance in the job, Joe was named as the Managing Director. Paradoxically, the same Dr,Warbuton who had been the CEO of Ashaka Cement was named as the Deputy Managing Director to Joe.
Joe Makoju’s years at the helm were the golden years of the West African Portland Cement. Joe was a fantastic manager of men and resources. His style was inclusive and effortless. He was an inspiring leader who lived by the rules. He was firm but not fussy. He was intense in a disarming way. He made everyone feel important. The welfare of his workers was important to Joe. He knew and remembered the names of their wives and children. He could work with anyone, even the devil. He always found a common ground. His men trusted him and were always ready to work for him. He was a shinning example and in no time, he was in consideration for elevation.
It must be added that expatriate partners are usually suspicious of Nigerian managers. While they always acknowledge the brilliance of Nigerian managers and even artisans, they place a lot of discount on our integrity. They believe that on the scale of competence in all of Africa, Nigerian artisans and Managers are fastest learning but the least to be trusted in terms of integrity. This general principle always underlie their attitude and policies, particularly for leadership positions. It is to Joe Makoju’s credit that in his many years on top of the WAPCO enterprise, he was blameless and indeed excelled in accountability, integrity and compliance with processes.
For Joe, integrity was everything.
Joe never forgot his friends. One Saturday I was in my housecoat relaxing at home and must have shelved every social engagement. Then to my surprise, came in the Company Secretary/ Legal Adviser of WAPCO, Mr. Akin Fadoju. He had not been to my house before. Joe had directed him to see me and brief my firm, ODUJINRIN & ADEFULU to take over about 30 case files of WAPCO cases. Their lawyer was in military detention and their cases were running into trouble in various courts. The company paid off the lawyer and decided to brief a new firm. Without any solicitation or previous discussion, Joe Makoju remembered his friend!
Quantitatively and qualitatively, they were the largest number of cases we ever got from a single client. So many years on, my firm has done a lot of work and fought many battles for the company and still works for Lafarge WAPCO to this day.
Joe was an avid golfer. He had learnt to play the game in his days in the Ewekoro plant. Golf was always part of the tradition of the Blue Circle company. Golf, a very addictive game, got into the blood stream of Joe Makoju. He really loved the game and was happiest when he was on the golf course. By the time he became the Plant Manager in Sagamu, there was only a ragtag course. Joe and his interest it was, who acquired more land and built the Lafarge WAPCO Golfcourse which unarguably is one of the best golf courses in Nigeria. The course stands as a testimony to the vision, foresight, resilience and professional excellence of the man. Joe was an exemplar who made the very best of anything he laid his hands upon.
Joe was an incredibly hard working person but to me his best and most enjoyable time, apart from the time with his family, was when he was on the Lafarge Golf course in Sagamu. He tried for a long time to get me to play golf offering me membership of the club in Sagamu but I always declined on the ground that I was simply too busy to be able to spend several hours kicking some stony white balls around! But eventually, I caught the bug at some stage in my life and Joe celebrated it!
Whenever his busy schedule allowed it he thoroughly enjoyed his golfing moments. He loved to spend days and nights there in the adjoining guest house with his friends. It was there we celebrated his 70th birthday with his entire family and friends joining us. We played a kitty for him and the medal I won on the occasion must now be a prized memento, above others, for the rest of my life.
Joe loved the company of his friends and loved to entertain. We spent many hours in the gazebo he built on his Lagos premises discussing several issues far into the night. Simply put, we can’t say it too much that Joe Makoju was a good, earthy ,well rounded man, an epitome of simplicity and accommodation.
Outside of WAPCO Joe was Managing Director of NEPA. He was drafted as it were, by the Federal Government headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on a leave of absence from WAPCO. It was not an easy decision for him to make but he felt he couldn’t turn down a national call to duty. He was in the job for a number of years. After NEPA he was the Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo until the expiration of his tenure as president. We didn’t discuss his public sector experience often. He was not a man of many words but he was particularly silent on this public sector experience. I should have probed him but always thought we would still have time do discuss it. My conjecture is that it was a severe struggle totally different from the corporate life he was used to. The vested interests in the public sector, the placement of politics above rational interests, the corrosive effect of corruption are the reasons, good people like Joe find it so difficult to achieve what they initially set out to achieve.
But Joe never complained and never passed the buck. He always just did his best and moved on.
But his move to DANGOTE was the more interesting one. Joe was first a Shell and then a Blue Circle person trained in the best traditions of corporate governance. I happen to have known that Joe had a long friendship with Alhaji Aliko DANGOTE one of the most determined, ambitious and fastidious business men in all of Africa. I call the DANGOTE running a ring round Joe, may be, the longest job interview in the history of corporate Nigeria. For Joe, I am sure he was just being a friend to Aliko, but I am sure to the latter he had set his hands on someone he would never let go of.
By some coincidence, many times, Joe and I will be at a meeting discussing one case or the other and Aliko DANGOTE who at the time was still an importer of cement will call Joe and engage him for nearly one hour discussing various business issues. Joe was too courteous to shake Aliko off and Aliko won’t let go anyway!
So after many years of “friendship” or interview, Aliko made an offer for Joe to become the Chief Executive of DANGOTE Cement which was now on the ground and a big player. The efforts by Joe and his team contributed in no small measure to the success of DANGOTE Cement in all of Africa and beyond. While Aliko DANGOTE is the fearsome entrepreneur, Joe Makoju was the builder and meticulous corporate operator with the heart of a lion. The symbiotic relationship between the compulsive entrepreneur in Aliko and the meticulous manager in Joe has resulted in the emergence of the biggest enterprise in the continent of Africa.
Joe Makoju’s life exemplified service. He gave his all to his family, employers, friends, Remoland and Ebiraland. But the success of this partnership was Joe Makoju’s ultimate legacy to Nigeria. Joe served and served well. He gave his all and left his imprints in the sands of time.
May his good soul rest in peace.
When Dangote Cement celebrated Joe Makoju
Ibiyinka Aghedo says:
“Joe Makoju! He was chief executive who rode the elevator with everyone including cleaners, his official car was a 504 Peugeot GR while in WAPCO, the least in the series, he was very pleasant to work with, he related with everyone. He was very ordinary, very caring, selfless, humble, friendly with all.
Thanks for your account on Joseph Makoju, he was an Angel that worked, mingled with the high and low, he was extraordinary yet, very ordinary, selfless, humble, caring. Adieu Uncle Joseph!”