It is said that if any venture will survive, it is in the first five years. At the beginning 20 years ago, the rent for our small clinic in Victoria Island was N250,000 per annum. The landlord increased the rent every year and now it runs into millions. After the first year, we couldn’t sustain the rent. I pleaded for a little time to pay and met a brick wall. Eventually, I went to a finance house, which was a subsidiary of Wema Bank took a loan of N1 million. I didn’t know anybody there; I had grace and just walked into the place and introduced myself and discussed my problem. I used my father’s house as collateral for the loan. I was supposed to pay in 18 months. When the 18 months passed, I could not fully pay back the loan. The bank threatened to sell the house. Miraculously, I got help from the managing director of mortgage bank who was my patient bought over the loan because we had a collateral. That gave us two to three years of struggle to find our feet. Essentially, we operated on deficit for five to six years.
In the heat of that the landlord slammed another huge increase in our rent. Each time I thought I had survived, the rent would go up again. (Chuckling) This happened every year for the first five years. By the sixth year, I was like a car with five flat tyres (including the spare tyre) and very little fuel in the tank.
Were you able to sleep during those years?
(Laughs for long) That time was very turbulent and quite a challenging. It was just the grace of God that sustained us. It got to a point where were almost close to deciding to relocate to the mainland, like Surulere or other place. That was also when we had divine intervention. Somebody just took interest in the clinic and decided to invest some money into the practice. He said that he had observed that I was striving to exhibit excellence in my practice. He said he wanted to support the clinic so that we could have peace of mind to serve the public with some ease. That investment was a very soft loan from an angel. People in the equity finance business refer to that kind of person as an “angel investor.” That investment enabled us to expand from one room to three rooms in the same complex where we have been for 20 years. About that time too, God opened a door for me at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Healthcare. The company was trying to re-launch Macleans toothpaste, which had been off the shelf. They were looking for a dentist with reputation, name recognition and expertise. God just fitted me into the profile they needed. They approached me to anchor a public awareness programme on Radio Nigeria FM. The money they paid me greatly helped to stabilise the clinic. Today, we have clinics in Ikorodu and Isolo. And to mark our 20th anniversary, we have just set up an exclusive clinic for our upper class patients who need a bit of privacy, to access dental services and oral care. The exclusive clinic is located in the same complex where we have been for the past 20 years.
I remain committed to educating the public on the benefits of accessing regular oral care. A lot of systemic problems that could prove fatal can be prevented early through proper oral care. That is we keep advising that Nigerians should see a dentist regularly. Don’t wait till you have pain in your mouth or teeth. Visit dentist regularly, don’t go to quacks.