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SPECIAL REPORT: From Grass To Grace Story Of How Ilaji Group Transformed Ona-Ara LG


Lately, Ona-Ara Local Government, despite its rural nature, has experienced socio-economic resurgence. In this special report, Hazeez Ayansola, unearths the factors that are responsible for this rare leap of fortunes of the council.

In recent time, Ona-Ara Local Government, has consistently found itself in the news, albeit, for all the right reasons; initially, it was sporting news that have been emanating from a council which have its headquarters in Akanran-a town that stirs up the Agbekoyas exploits during the military reigns anytime it is mentioned-but lately the town has played host to musicians whose ‘natural habitats’ for live performances can only be seen in cosmopolitan city like Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The likes of Alhaji Rasheed Ayinde, the Merenge Crooner; Ere-Asalatu, Sewenle-Anabi and host of others have painted Akanran, and to a large extent, Ona-Ara LG red with their electrifying displays on stage.

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One might be forced to murmur “what the big deal is about the musicians performing in Akanran”?; after all, Akanran is the capital of a local government, the third tier of government in Nigeria and the musicians mentioned earn their living from performances of that nature. Such question would make perfect sense only if one has not been to Akanran before or better still if the fellow has never taken a tour of the council.

Trying to paint a picture of the state of development in the local government is tantamount to describing the den of pigs as dirty. One needs to visit the pigs in its abode to know the extent of dirts, filth and stenchy mud which the pigs consider as ‘ornaments’. These dirty are nothing compared to the stench and murky substances which ooze out odiferous odour that can do a permanent damage to the lungs of the inhaler.

From Olorunsogo-Amuloko-Akanran axis, the only gateway to the council’s seat of administration, the only thing that is visible to a person plying the road is despair, penury, neglect and wretchedness. The deplorable state of that major road is a perfect example of the standard of living of the people in that area.

Rumours have it that the town which is the headquarters of Ona-Ara has suffered neglect over the years as a result of the charms buried there by Tafa Adeoye, the head of Agbekoyas, and his warlords. It was reported by people in the know that the charms which were collectively created by the hunters in the town and buried in the different parts during the Agbekoya war was to fortify the town and its residents against the attacks of the government forces. But decades after the war, it seems the charms have not only succeeded in thwarting the government’s attacks, it has also succeeded in ‘thwarting’ developmental projects which hitherto ought to have sprung up in different parts of the local government.

The Olorunsogo-Amuloko-Akanran axis which stretches to about 15 km with an estimated population of over half a million can only boast of one bank (first bank); this is a pointer to the low-level of commercial activities that are taking l place in the axis. The council which has had two former ministers, top government functionaries, past commissioners and a serving commissioner has not had electricity for the past 14 years. Having being carved out from Oluyole- an emerging industrialised local government in the state- before it was made a local government of its own in 1989 by the then Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, and couple with a land mass of 3570km, it would not have been out of sense to think that Ona-Ara Local Government ought to have had presence of few companies which would have absorbed its teeming unemployed youths but the reverse is the case as the council is only populated with petty traders, Okada riders and road sides hawkers. The resultant effect of this is a poor internally generated revenue for the council.

Beside the local government being a development retard; it is also a nightmare for the residents of the council living within the confluence of Olorunsogo-Amuloko-Akanran axis whose works make returning home late a must. The council’s poor road networks and absence of electricity for well over a decade is enough to shorten the life span of those who ply the roads especially the late evening drivers whose large chunks are mostly from the organised sector- civil service and a couple from private sector.

But like an oasis in the middle of the desert, Ilaji Group which comprises of Ilaji Farms and its sister company, Ilaji Stadium and Resorts Center, established at Oloyo Village in 2012 and 2016 respectively have been sources of succour not only to the people of Akanran town but also to the council as a whole.

Ilaji Farms, a multi-billion naira Agribusiness which initially started as a vegetable farm but has since been metamorphosed into a full scale poultry farm. The management of the farm has also taken a dive into other aspects of animal husbandry which include; fish farming, cow farming, pig and snail farming business. The farms, which sits on about 60 acres of land, is the major supplier of poultry eggs to the wholesalers and Retailers of eggs in Akanran town and its environs. Besides the poultry business, Ilaji Farms also has a standard feed mill; the feed mill has been a reliable market for the maize farmers in the council.

According to Major Femi Sanusi (Rtd), the Managing Director of Ilaji Farms, the mill has been a source of blessings to maize farmers in the council as it consumes millions of naira worth of maize consistently on monthly basis for its feed production. 

Since six years ago when Ilaji Farms was established hundreds of millions of naira have been paid to its workers who are mostly residents of the council. According to Major Sanusi, not less that 50 people have been on the farms’ payroll. While some of the workers transport themselves to the farms on daily basis, the majority of the employees are given accomodation right inside the farm.

While Ilaji Farms, through its products and activities, nurtures and creates avenues for commercial activities for the populace in the council, its sister company, Ilaji Stadium and Resort Center, a multi-billion naira sporting and hospitality outfit, takes care of the entertainment, recreation and hospitality aspects. Though the Resort Center is yet to reach the hundred percent completion, it has singlehandedly sponsored and hosted sporting competitions gulping tens of millions of naira.

Since March of this year when the first competition, Ona-Ara Sports Festival, was staged inside stadium, the owner, Engr. Dotun Sanusi, has bankrolled two other major football competitions. While the last one, Ilaji U-15 Football Competition was organised for the boys plying their skills for some selected football clubs across the state, the first football tournament hosted by Ilaji Stadium was an inter-state competition for girls that fall within the U-17 category. It was a festival of sort during the two-week competition as over four hundreds cadet female footballers and their officials drawn across the major ethnic groups in Nigeria were camped inside the Akanran based Resorts Center.

It was a mini-sports festival recreated right inside the ancient city of Akanran as the participants did not only compete for football medals, but also got rewarded for other talents displayed besides football.

Just as the Owner of Ilaji Group, Engr. Dotun Sanusi, has spread the tentacle of his Nigerian youths’ reformation activities beyond the shores of Oyo State, he has also ensured that the youths in Ona-Ara LG, the base of his companies, are not left out. It was this undying love for the youths around him to fulfil their God-given potentials and ultimately live a fulfilled life that spurred him to establish Ilaji Soccer Academy. 

The academy which has three different categories- U-13, U-15 and U-17 has all the facilities (training equipment, highly skilled coaching crew, state-of-the-art gym, swimming pool, recreation facilities etcetera) that any soccer academy in any part of the world can boast of. To make sure that the academy is populated with home grown talents, the first set of players in the academy were drawn from Ona-Ara Sports Festival, an all sports competition for all the secondary schools in Ona-Ara LG. 

According to Supervising Engineer of Ilaji Stadium and Resort Center, Engr. Hawai, construction works have been ongoing daily since two years ago when works begun on the site.

“Since two years ago that we have started work on this site, there has not been a single day that we didn’t work, be it weekends, public holidays, Salah break, Easter or Christmas breaks.

My workers have been working here daily.

“Why? this is a multi-billion naira project that requires maximum concentrations from all the workers in different departments for it to be completed at the stipulated time, he concluded.

Mr. Hawai while responding to the economic impact the resort Center has had on the people of the council, his answer goes thus, “Since two years ago that construction works have started here, we have never had less than 30 persons working in different departments simultaneously. There were some times when we had had well over 150 working here. I can say it categorically that hundreds of millions of naira have exchanged hands between the owner of this outfit and our workers who are mostly from Akanran and its environs”, he concluded. 

As at the time of writing this report, not less than 15 people who are saddled with the responsibilities of overseeing different departments in Ilaji Stadium and Resort Center have been on the pay-roll of the owner despite the fact that the company has not commenced full scale operation.

The economic and social buzz which Ilaji Group has engineered since they were established have not gone un-noticed by the first citizen of the local government, Hon. Buliaminu Ogundele. The LG Chairman talked about this vital contributions which Ilaji companies have made to the socio-economic development of Ona-Ara LG in a public gathering organised to Flag-off the resuscitation of electrification project in Amuloko-Akanran and its environs which coincidentally was sponsored by Engr. Dotun Sanusi.

Hon. Ogundele declared that Ilaji Group has been a blessing to the LG. According to him, his visit to Ilaji Farms shortly after he was appointed as the care-taker Chairman of the council two years ago when he solicited for the assistance of Engr Dotun Sanusi in the area of road’s rehabilitation has opened a floodgate of developmental projects which were solely sponsored by the companies.

The claim that youths’ nerves have been calmed through employment of the indigenes of Ona-Ara LG as workers in the two Ilaji companies was also corroborated by the Divisional Police Officer in Akanran, S. P. Amos Olaoye. The police sheriff in the town noted that normalcy has now pervaded the atmosphere in Akanran town and its environs as the youths who were hitherto unemployed have been occupied with one function or the other. He, however, maintained that Akanran Police division will be more vigilant now with a view to safeguarding the multi-billion naira outfits.

No doubt that the recent economic and social buzz in Ona-Ara LG have thrown up a pertinent question; why would someone leave the city, despite the inherent business oppurtunities, but instead go to the ‘bush’ of Ona-Ara to set up a multi-billion naira hospitality and sporting outfit? In the words of Engr. Dotun Sanusi, “it is the work of the God of wonder who has chosen the place of wonder to perform His wonder just as the name of the LG implies (Ona-Ara).

Hazeez Ayansola is a communication practitioner, a public relations officer of Ilaji Stadium & Resort Center and the Publicist of Engr. Dotun Sanusi.

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