Dr. Fred Ayodeji Mafikuyomi is the Group MD of Unicorn Holdings Limited, with subsidiaries which includes Ayo Mayomi & Co., Unicorn Auctions Limited, Full Moon Infotainment and Events Sponsorship Limited and Unicorn Food Processing and Exports Limited amongst others. Some of the company’s partners and clientele include Crown Hospital Limited, Dana Group, Mayfair Brokers limited, Amen Estates, Texlon Group, Lagos State printing Corporation, Western Nigeria Limited, Prime Hospital Limited, Uchemec International Limited, , Road Master Construction Nigeria Limited, Sage Homes, Energex Limited (Owner Eko Atlantic), Alaro City, Lagos, Nigeria, and Alphameed Group, Afriland Properties, Flour Mill, Lagos State Government, See Local Government, Carlink Limited, Amangoed Limited, Boulos Enterprises Limited, Construmat Limited, Shabig Limited etc
Tell us about Unicorn Holdings Limited?
Unicorn Holdings is a Nigerian company, established some 18 years ago; we are in the critical sectors of the Nigerian business, with offices in Lagos, Ibadan, Sierra Leone, and in Abuja. Basically, we are investors in the real estate sector and development and majorly estate agency. When I say agency, I mean we market projects for developers.
In the agricultural sector, we have Unicorn Foods; it is our new baby. We discovered during the Covid that everything came on hold, but food and feeding were very dynamic items, people have to eat, so we acquired farms, and we are going to produce Nigerian staple foods like garri, yam flour, corn flour and the rest, for internal consumption and excess capacity for exports.
On a lighter note, for instance, let’s take our proposed fried meat here as an example. Our brothers in the diaspora have joked that the meats consumed in Europe are very soft, compared to the peculiar meat we eat here. Our cows here travel far distances, so they gather muscles, which somehow, I guess, makes the meat tough and more enduring in the mouth..!
We are also into entertainment. Our TV reality show, Tush My Home is a baby of Unicorn Holdings Limited. And that’s just a bit about Unicorn Holdings Limited.
Can you tell us more about Tush My Home
Tush My Home is our own way of giving back to society. Having done real estate marketing and development for three decades, we looked at how we could give back to society because we know that a lot of people still live in slums. So, we take a few people every year from slums and give them good habitable accommodation with furnishing.
It is disbursed through registrations on our site, and out of the many registrants, we choose 3 people to bless, put some furniture in their homes, and make their house habitable for their families. The first edition took place last year; the first winner went home with about 1.5million naira, the second and third were awarded 1million naira each.
This year promises to be bigger and better, with 2 million naira, 1.5 million naira, and 1 million naira furnishing prizes to be won. So ultimately, for us it is all about giving back, and this has been on for the past two years. The second season is coming up next month. The success of the first season has encouraged us to do it again because it is all about the people and how we can help them.
What has been the growth trajectory of Unicorn Holdings from inception till date?
As we know, the Nigerian economy is somewhat slow, and quite frankly, if it were in some other climes, we would have grown bigger than this, but we thank God, it is not the growth par se that gives me or our stakeholders pleasure, it is about impacting lives and doing what we promised to do.
The clients may be shocked that the customers we’ve had over these number of years are still our customers today. And they have become our ambassadors, they have introduced people to us, to do business with over the years, that alone is growth to us. It is not the balance sheets, it is not the presence everywhere but the clients that we service, we give them maximum satisfaction, that is growth to us and we are happy where we are now.
What are the major subsidiaries that you have under unicorn holdings?
As a 23-year-old, on the 20th of March, 1990, I founded this business. We shall be 32 years old this year.
Ayo Mayomi & Co. is our first business. It is a real estate marketing agency. When you build your property, we are the right people to come to market your investments for you; we rent, lease and manage it on your behalf. That is the marketing agency of the group; UNICORN HOLDING LTD. Being the first company I founded, it is still existing today, and surely will remain after I am long gone because we are building sustainable structures.
Building on the success of Ayo Mayomi & Co., people started to introduce lands to us for development, that was how Unicorn Holdings came in. Unicorn Holdings Limited is the development arm of our real estate business; we have lands, then we look for funds either through banks or through other investors and we develop as agreed
Agriculture: Unicorn Foods is our new baby and Covid was a blessing in disguise. We had a farm, so we were to build and harvest cassava, we cultivated cassava and started food processing. Right now, we are building a very big factory where we intend to produce garri, yam flour, rice meal, corn meal for the northern market, and meat production, fried meat for bachelors and men who live away from home. We are bringing products that are easy for them to prepare and not time consuming. We also have a farm that will supply raw materials for our food processing activities. Our new factory is located on Lagos Ibadan express road, and in the next few months we will launch our products.
We also have UNICORN Aggrotech.
Unicorn Aggrotech is in partnership agreement with companies in Turkey, Pakistan, and India. What we are doing basically is to take Nigerians out of the hoe and cutlass family, the labor-intensive system where you hurt your back through the usage of hoes and cutlasses; so, we are bringing in high caliber tractors to aid farming. Companies get to buy, lease or hire us to work on their farms; we till, cultivate on your land, and harvest your mature crops. We have positioned our company as a destination for farming implements and equipment.
In entertainment, like I said earlier on the Tush My Home show, we have gone through the first season and we are set for the second season. In a nutshell, these are the things that we do at Unicorn Holdings limited.
Earlier, you mentioned that this is a 32-year-old journey so far, how have you fared sitting as the driving force of this company?
Well, I am doing my bit. Life is about doing your best and leaving the rest. We have done our bit, and as you know, Nigeria is a very big market and we try to explore the opportunities inherent and available to us. The banks have not been fair, they hardly help startups; funds have been very scarce, if not, we should have grown bigger than this, but you know that our banks are not very friendly. I started this business as a one-man business. They neglect small businesses and fund big organizations, international organizations.
In the developed economies, for instance in the US, Malaysia, and some other Asian countries, the driving force of every economy is the small businesses. Meanwhile, our traders are also not friendly to the real sector. But like I have said, we have done our best and our stakeholders and customers have felt our impact, so we are happy with ourselves, we are happy with the position we have come to, and we are happy with the results we are getting.
The industry is proliferated and digital acceleration is hitting all sectors. What are the major steps that you have taken to meet these changing demands?
Any business man who wants to remain in business has to move with the times. We started out as an analog business because 32 years ago, the internet was not available, phones were not available, we only had coin boxes from NITEL and all. I remember when I bought my first cellular phone, I celebrated it because that was the first facility we could use to talk to people. But today, we have phones and many other communication gadgets, and as directors of the business, we are become very techy also otherwise you run the risk of losing your grip on your management, growth and development because if you stay as an analog businessman the world will leave you behind, as we are in a digital space now. We have websites for all our businesses, we have all the social platforms where we can be reached, we employ the use of SEO systems, management and accounting tools and softwares, we have empowered our businesses using all digital platforms that people can reach us through, whether from China, Singapore or the US.
We also have partners in different countries, International collaboration. In all, we have become very visible and more available. It’s a 21st century organization that we have built on and improved at unicorn holdings limited.
What are your projections for this year 2022, with regards to the real estate industry? How do you think the industry is going to thrive especially in the light of the changing demands that you have mentioned?
At the highest level of real estate developments, there are a lot of players in places such as Lekki, banana island etc. There are properties to buy and sell, the market is very liquid, where we are missing it in Nigeria is in investment in the lower sector of property needs, we need mass housing, that is where the players should look at. I don’t think the government has done enough for the housing sector.
The major developments that you see are private initiatives, and I think the government needs to step in to do more. There are lots of challenges, but one of the most pressing of these challenges is the failure of the government to equip the right channels. Even if the Government ; States or Federal does not want to play directly, they should encourage the private sector.
Getting approvals for your projects is a White Elephant demand, taxes and impositions are very steep! Title acquisition of land are herculean tasks. The official sees developers as their cash cows, this is the reason the developers try to cut corners! I have been struggling with a project like that in Orilé Iganmu for the last 5 years!
The Lateef Jakande Government of 1984, did abundantly and significantly well for the mass housing; the signatures of the success are everywhere in Lagos.
For instance, let’s look at the mortgage system. If we had a very vibrant mortgage system in Nigeria, a lot of investors or developers would have invested in the lower cadre of housing, mass housing.
The situation of housing in Nigeria is currently a big cause for worry. People can’t even find accommodation that they can afford. The majority of the challenged people are the poor, and they can only be catered for through mass housing. However, the economy does not give room for that. The result is that you find 10 citizens sleeping in a one room apartment and 2 people living in a 15 bedroom palatial in Victoria Island and Banana, Mango and Orange Islands. Whether they sleep well is another matter as they are afraid of the poor!
Let’s talk about mass housing and affordable housing in Lagos state for instance, what is your assessment of this situation?
I think Lagos is one of the most vibrant states, that is; looking at mass housing but the process of allocation is shrouded in mysteries and fraud, the Lagos state government is collaborating with private developers, but then also, who are the subscribers of these housing provisions? You find out that after the construction of these houses, they allocate majorly to politicians and people who can afford them and then the lower cadre people will become tenants where they should have been owners.
The government should go to far areas, even if they do not want to develop, they can put in infrastructures, what we call site and service schemes where you acquire large equity of land and you service it with drainage system, street lights and allow people to come and build, that will go a long way.
The Lagos state government is trying, but the process of allocating is the problem, another thing is the purchasing power, because when you build a block of flats in Epe and you are asked to come and pay 15million naira, how do you afford that? It is only the national housing mortgage system that gives loans, but before you get the loan, they look at your income and before you can get the loan, you might end up losing your investments if you don’t pay.
I would urge the government to study the housing system in Malaysia, Singapore, etc. When you look at Imota or Epe, these are some of the locations of the masses.
So, you see a lot of developments as Lagos State is collaborating with developers. But then, who are the subscribers of these housing projects? You’ll find out that after the construction they allocate these properties to only people who can afford them, hence the lower cadre people will become tenants where they should be owners. Nigeria is a very rich country in terms of natural resources and we are too rich for the kind of housing system we parade.
You mentioned that the government should help, and recently the government has noted that they are trying to help the citizens by slashing yearly rent and replacing it with monthly payments. How effective do you think this will be?
I don’t think the problem is whether you pay yearly or monthly, the government is turning its direction towards a wrong target, and the government is not giving loans to any developer or landlord. For you to acquire land in Lagos you will need a minimum of 3 million in Epe or Ikorodu. To build a block of flats or a tenement building you will need 20 million and you want the tenants to pay monthly rents?
How many years will it take the investor or developer to recoup his investments? That is not going to encourage mass housing development because some of the reasons why people develop is because they believe there’ll be multiple rental incomes, maybe a minimum of one year. The thing is, if you cannot pay your monthly rent, you cannot pay your yearly rent either.
I advise my tenants most of the time that, if you are a salary earner and you pay yearly, you drop a bit of your salary in your savings every month at the end of the year, you find it easy to pay the rent. I don’t think it is an issue to pay one year’s rent. However, I think it is going to serve as a big disincentive to developers.
One year as a minimum rent is good. It even gives them time to save, because a salary earner for instance will be able to save a certain percentage of his salary every month towards paying his rent. How will they cope doing that if they were paying a monthly rent?
One year as a minimum rent is good, it is suitable if you save monthly, some people will tell you government policy is a year but for me, if you want my house, it is two years, how people have the government prosecuted for collecting two years rent?
People still collect two years rent and now you are talking about one month tenancy, it will never work with the Lagos state government, it is not a policy that will find lots of favors with developers and people will not develop, a bag of cement is 4300, the government does not control any building materials, it is free for all, you can propose anything today and the people will buy; if they don’t buy it, you leave, then you want to control what you don’t create. Let the government go and build their own houses and rent it for one month and see how profitable or sustainable it is.
This factor that you have mentioned, will you say it has fueled the increase in the pricing of construction materials for the past one to two years?
Everything is dependent on something. For pricing, if you don’t have price control and you don’t have defense mechanisms for consumers, anybody can fix price anyhow they deem fit.
Building materials are very competitive in Nigeria, competitive in the sense that it is in the hands of very few people, like you have the Dangotes of this world, for whatever reason, they can decide tomorrow to create artificial scarcity so that their distributors and dealers will increase the price, that is the problem we have. No control whatsoever.
I don’t think Dangote is selling cement for N4300 in other countries where he has his plants, so why sell at that price in Nigeria and what is the Nigerian government doing about it?
When we were building one of our factories, we deposited our fund would deposit money to buy a truck load of cement and they use our money to import and produce and yet they will sell at very high rate to us, the same government who cannot determine the cost of building materials, who does not have any control mechanisms on building materials, now wants to control price and terms of rents? It cannot work, Nigeria is a very lawless country when it comes to consumer protection, nobody is protected. It is an opportunistic society.
The agriculture sector is not left out of the inflation and we know you play in that space; how does your company thrive?
Aggrotech, one of the reasons why we are bringing in tractors and all, is that food security is very important in the life of any nation. Nigeria is spending quite a sizable of our income on food importation, in a country where you have very fertile land and yet you are still bringing in rice, palm oil, to augment local production.
The Northern Government: they bring in tractors for their farmers, I think that is why we call the North the Food Basket of Nigeria, the northern governors have a working plan where they bring in agricultural inputs, agricultural implements and distribute to their farmers, that is why it is a pleasure for them to go into agriculture.
I think the south-south, south east and south west governors should replicate that, especially the south west where we have very arable lands, I think the government should come in and distribute tractors to their farmers so that we can be food sufficient in all sectors of agriculture, in cocoa production, rice and all.
Agriculture has moved from the cutlass and hoe labor intensive system; one farmer in US and even in India will cultivate hundreds and hundreds of acres of land with one tractor, but here when you go to the village you see young men who have become bent on their backs because their system of farming is very labor intensive, they use their blood and sweats to till one acre, two acres of lands.
If this continues, poverty will also continue for a long time, but our company has come into the space to help our farmers in terms of low price importation of farming implements, like the hoe, tillers and ploughs there are affordable materials that you can use and if you can’t afford to buy a tractor we are in the business of leasing our tractors to you, to till your land, we help with harvesting as well, we are the mechanization threshold of farming, and we know it is a movement that will help Nigeria.
If we can solve food issues in Nigeria, we will be able to conserve our foreign exchange because when you are importing, you are spending dollars nobody accepts naira outside Nigeria, when you are bringing in these food items you can imagine, you are still importing palm oil the same palm oil that Malaysians came to take from Nigeria, Malaysians are bringing in palm oil into Nigeria, it is a thing of shame. The only thing we produce sufficiently in Nigeria, is cassava.
We have cassava sufficiently; we are the no.1 in garri production, yet garri price is rising. A lot of people that are producing varieties of cassava use it for other purposes apart from food. So, if we are able to encourage the small farmer with our equipment, they will be able to sustain and grow their business, that is why we have gone into agriculture, like our cassava is to be used for our garri production. We are also trying to equally maximize our capacity to produce our hair products.
What would you say is the competitive edge that has kept unicorn holdings strong for over three decades?
At unicorn holdings limited, we try to pamper our clients and customers and one of our unique features is trust and response, and I always try to ingrain that in my staff. It is very important that whatever you are doing, you have to understand the fact that people are watching you, that people can put their properties in your hands, that is trust.
When they put their investments in your hands and they are expecting returns and you are giving that returns it creates room for sustenance, the business will grow within and outside itself.
Our customers are clients that we have had over 30 years dealings with, they have become our ambassadors, they are the ones referring other people to us, so we have enjoyed trust, we have enjoyed from our investment in people also, most of our old staffs come back to do business with us, that is our sustaining power. It is good, and a recipe for sustenance and it has worked for us where other people have failed.
What should Nigerians expect from Unicorn Holdings this year?
Nigerians should expect a whole lot. Infact, the farmers especially will laugh very soon, even the non farmers, because for starters, we intend to crash the price of Garri when we roll out our products.
We are currently building a facility called Garri Land where people can come to trade Garri with us, and people can come from far and wide to buy. People can also learn the production processes from us. We are making that available as well so that people can set up their own businesses. The thing is, there is no way you can produce enough food, we eat everyday, and this is a country with about 200 million people, no company can do it alone.
So we are trying to create an opportunity for traders to trade and distribute our products. The farmers will also have the opportunity of expanding the capacity of their farms and yield because we are going to bring in high yielding seeds.
Tell us about Dr Fred?
He is a friendly person. I enjoy a bit of humor and music, I am an avid traveler, if I didn’t come as a human being I would have probably come as a bird. I have travelled far and wide to major countries of the world, I have been to about 56 countries, I will be travelling very soon to some of the countries I have not been to before. I will be going to Pakistan, and I am planning to go to Singapore. I truly love to travel. I attended three primary schools, one in Ajegunle, the other in a village close to Ibadan and finished up at African School two, Okobaba Sule, Ajegunle. I read Law and History/ International Relations at the Lagos State University and bagged an MBA at the prestigious Business School Netherland, at The Hague in the Netherlands. I also attended executive programmes at the Lagos Business School, and the University of Pennsylvania,, Pittsburgh. . I belong to a number of Business and Professional Groups. Happily married to One Wife and 4 kids.
I am an Ajegunle product. You can be anything regardless of your background. With tremendous dedication and presence of mind and being focused on what you do, once you have a dream and pursue it, you can work it out.
I enjoy music, especially classical Yoruba music, like Barrister; and the mushin style like Pasuma. You know, I am a typical Ibadan man. I also love traditional music. I love Fela, even though I don’t smoke. I also love everything Nigerian. There was a time when some of my friends were traveling out of the country, I simply told myself that this country could be better and I wanted to be a part of that change.
I share the dream of the people who have the zeal to move this country forward. Nigeria is our home, it is our country.