Sir Clement Oluwatumininu Okeowo is an illustrious Nigerian and one of the country’s silent billionaires. Unfortunately, not much is known about him besides his famous fleet of cars and a few philanthropic initiatives that he has championed.
Olu Okeowo, as he is more commonly known, is the founder of Gibraltar Construction Nigeria Limited and indeed, there is more to him than meets the eye.
One can say that he was born into affluence. His father, Pa Taiwo Victor Okeowo was a millionaire businessman and a choirmaster at the Methodist Church of Nigeria. Olu recalls that his parents were quite strict and he had to spend significant time indoors after school.
“My father was very conservative and he wanted all of us to be modelled along the same conservative lines. He was a choirmaster and my mum is equally a simple person as well. She was a full-time housewife. I had to go to church on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for choir practice.”
The result of this was that the young Olu did not have any room for childish and teenage adventures until he moved away from home to school in Austria and the Caribbean. He studied Medical Technology briefly in Austria before proceeding to the Caribbean where he studied medicine. He returned to Nigeria in the late eighties and started his house job at St Nicholas hospital in Lagos.
Leaving Medicine for Business
Much as it was a prestigious thing to be a medical doctor, Okeowo knew that one needed to keep body and soul together to have a successful medical practice. The sudden collapse of the value of the naira against the dollar in the mid-eighties had dire consequences on businesses as many who had purchased their goods, collected loans and ordered machinery at the rate of N1 = $1 could no longer afford to pay for them at the rate of N8 to $1. The naira has experienced several devaluations since then.
Okeowo recalls that his father’s business was badly hit by this change, and one time when he asked his father to give him money to fix a car that broke down on the way, his father told him to assume responsibility for himself, having been trained.
“Necessity is the mother of invention. I knew I would not want to be a burden on anyone so I had to divert into business. I started out by making burglary proofs and iron-wrought furniture. I did a lot of fabrication (vertical tanks and horizontal tanks), did a lot of lighting and offshore components around Nigeria. I also did the lighting for the third mainland bridge,” he recounted.
His first contract came through an agent who ordered burglary proofs amounting to N20,000.
Okeowo soon realised that the civil engineering field was inundated with opportunities, particularly within the government but along with that, came the uncomfortable bureaucracy involved in lobbying for contracts and getting paid (usually 45 days or more after execution).
At the turn of the decade, he made the full switch into constructions and civil engineering and started building houses. Gibraltar Construction Nigeria Limited was birthed as a real estate and infrastructural development company.
There was, of course, the challenge of financing and Okeowo recalled that the banks were not forthcoming with help. He, therefore, constrained himself to projects that he could fund and veered into bigger projects when his funds increased.
By 1994, his company had become known as a construction giant with several projects across the country and a team of renowned designers and engineers tasked with executing each project to perfection. Since its inception, the company has completed over 1200 extraordinary projects across 12 states in Nigeria.
The company is involved in Construction Business, Storage Tank Fabrication & Construction, Real Estate Sales & Leasing, and Building Renovation. Some say that the company specializes in elitist projects that are only affordable to the rich.
Among the projects executed by Gibraltar Construction is the luxurious Parkview Estate in Ikoyi, which houses the Palacio de Okeowo mansion where Okeowo resides. The white mansion is built in a 3-floor Victorian style, modelled after a French palace. Little wonder it is called the French mansion. The construction took 11 months, sprawls across 5 acres of land and cost around $12 million to complete.
Gibraltar Construction has also developed over 10 other mega commercial projects in various choice locations, and continues to assert itself as a leading real estate player in the country.
When his first son, Oluwatumininu Okeowo returned to Nigeria after obtaining a B.Eng in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering with a minor in finance, and a Masters Degree in International Real Estate and Planning from UCL (University College London), Sir Okeowo stepped down from his position as CEO but remained Chairman.
The demolished building project
A recent investigation from Ripples Nigeria showed that part of the Parkview Estate, Ikoyi had defaulted in the land reclamation (creating land out of an ocean or stealing a portion of the sea to situate a property).
Ripples claimed that Gibraltar dredged and sand-filled a part of the sea to extend what was meant to be a luxury building – Tumi’s Court – with gardens, a swimming pool and a tennis court, while using the waterside as a unique selling point to interested prospective buyers. The property was still under construction as of the first quarter of 2021.
According to their findings, the Lagos State Real Estate Regulatory Authority claimed to be unaware of such a structure being extended into the sea, describing it as illegal and lacking an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Days after they confronted the government agency with their findings, the Lagos State government used a bulldozer to demolish the structure which was expected to be completed in the second half of 2021.
Other achievements and interests
In December 2018, Sir Okeowo was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science degree by the Wesley University, Ondo State.
Okeowo has also displayed several acts of philanthropy including the Sir Olu Okeowo Physiotherapy Centre which he donated to the College of Medicine, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. The centre is said to be the biggest physiotherapy centre in West Africa.
His love for luxury cars is also well-known with his fleet said to be worth about N2 billion. He is known for throwing lavish parties as well, making some folks nickname him the ‘King of luxury.’ According to the billionaire, luxury is whatever gives him peace of mind.
Okeowo makes a great effort to keep his private life shielded from the press, although news about him often filters into the public domain. Some have estimated his net worth to be about $250 million but this cannot be confirmed.
He is well travelled and speaks Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese. His travels, he says, have influenced his personal taste although he tries to keep his designs in Nigeria practical and cost-effective, with British finishings to enhance durability.
Sir Clement Oluwatumininu Okeowo is also a Knight of John Wesley.