From Village to Villa: The story of a young fisherman who became MSME winner

Benedict Orioye during his visit to the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi

By Adeola Popoola

“When it comes to life, we spin our own yarn, and where we end up is really, in fact, where we always intended to be” – Julia Glass

July 24, 2020 — One can find truism in the above popular quote from “Julia Glass” after listening to the life-changing grass-to-grace story of a young industrious farmer from a remote village in Ondo State.

The government in recognition of the major role being played by MSMEs introduced an award to support the MSME sector. The awards were meant to celebrate excellence in various categories such as; Manufacturing, Agriculture, Furniture or Woodwork, Technological Innovations and Fashion among others. This was relayed by Mr. Monday Ewan who is the Director, Enterprise Development and Promotion, Small and Medium Enterprise Agency of Nigeria.

The 3rd edition of the Annual MSME award (Virtual Edition) was held on the 16th of July, 2020, and 12 winners emerged from the various categories winning cars, cheques and award plaques.

Mr. Orioye Benedict Gbayisemore, a farmer cum fisherman, who owns First Morey Foods from Ondo State, won the best MSME participant (Male) and shared his grass-to-grace testimony.

Born into a family of fishermen in a village in Ondo State, Orioye Benedict was privileged to go to school. He began his fishing apprenticeship under the tutelage of his father at age five. Such was his dual life until he gained admission to the university. NYSC also came and went after which he returned to the village after endlessly searching for a job without success.

Most of his uneducated friends who knew how well he struggled to get an education made a mockery of him when he returned to fishing.

He enrolled and became an N-Power beneficiary in Batch A, even though at first, he also thought the N-Power scheme was a scam like many other young graduates at the time, who shared sentiments about the impossibility of getting selected without the usual display of nepotism on the part of the government in job selection. He had the mentality of a dejected unemployed youth who believed such jobs were meant only for the sons and cronies of the politicians.

After four months, devices were handed to all beneficiaries; it was during this period that he began an online search for ways to make his life better as he definitely wasn’t content with his status. He began branding his crayfish while his colleagues kept on teasing him about his “special packaging”, they felt they knew better and he was wasting his time and resources, having been in the business before him.

Elated Benedict Orioye jubilating after winning the 2020 MSMEs awards, as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, watches live on a TV screen

He explained that he heard about the various MSME Clinics through the Villa updates. He said it was everywhere at the time and he was closely following updates. He registered officially during the visit of the Vice President to Ondo State in 2018 and has since been following the updates of events.

When the MSME Clinics was brought to Ondo State in 2018, he took his well-packaged crayfish there. Upon the arrival of the VP, he was ashamed to display his packaged crayfish, but his wife encouraged him as always, that moment according to her was important.

The VP was already on his way out when he stopped to check his product. He (VP) was surprised when he saw what Orioye had to present. The VP thereafter asked if he wanted anything, while others had been asking for money, he surprisingly solicited for VP’s prayers on the expansion of his business. The VP told him that he would be elevated and that marked the beginning of his breakthrough.

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After the MSME Clinics, the former NSIP coordinator, Ms Maryam Uwais saw the clip where he was conducting his fishing and the capacity at which he worked and she contacted Mrs. Abimbola, the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme head in Ondo State for him to start supplying his products at various schools since the programme was about to commence in Ondo state at the time.

The Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu was a bit skeptical of his chances of supplying to all primary schools in Ondo State but Orioye had other ideas. Everyone was aghast when he supplied 97,000 pupils within 72 hours.

Orioye participated in the 1st and 2nd editions of the MSME awards without success but due to his resilience and determination to succeed, he applied again for the 2020 awards with conviction that he would win. He thereafter got nominated and became a winner.

In a telephone conversation with our media team, he was asked if he had to cajole, influence or bribe anyone for success in the nomination. He smiled and confidently said he was just a boy from the village with no connection to anyone.

He explained how difficult it was to have access to the Villa, let alone have the finances or access to bribe anyone. He exclaimed that he was a product of grace, a young man from the village with no light or social amenities.

When asked about his next plan, he said “By next Monday, the 27th of July 2020, I will launch a programme tagged “from Village to Villa”. A programme meant to encourage young Nigerians in rural areas who might think they are limited by resources and opportunities.

He concluded by appreciating the government, and especially the Vice President who has been at the forefront of advocating for the expansion of businesses in Nigeria.

His involvement has helped Nigeria move up several ranks in the World Bank’s ease of doing business evaluation, as it is evident that MSMEs contribute largely to our local economy.

Mr Orioye Benedict is a living testimony that the Nigerian youth can still strive to emulate even in the murky and hopeless situations of life.

This is a challenge for others who have little or no hope in the system that the sky ensures there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” – Eleanor Roosevelt.