A Story of Breaking Through

In the interiors of the city of Ibadan is a community called Oja’gbo. Life in Oja’gbo is rough; to survive you have to be rugged. It is a place where you lived one day on to the next, and the things that laid in your future was all the things you saw around you – the hooliganism, crime, gambling etc. Success stories were hard to come by in the community – you could hardly find people whose lives could inspire you to success. In the biblical sense, can anything good come out of Oja’gbo? On an April afternoon, I was born in Isero compound in Oja’gbo – a place where vices flourished.

Getting an education wasn’t a very important thing to homes in Oja’gbo – parents had no problem with their children not going to school, after all, they themselves barely had education. Most of our parents – at the time – were getting on with their lives without any education, so they did not see the need to compel a child to go to school. They believed the purpose of education was solely to earn a living; from their point of view, there were other ways to make a living and so school wasn’t a big deal.

The first time I went to school, I was six years old and it was my mother took me there. The school was St. Peters, Aremo. On that day, she taught me how to cross the road. ‘Look right, look left; when you are sure no vehicle is coming, run!’ that was what she said. At the school, I was asked if truly I was ready to study; I answered ‘yes’ – that was how I enrolled. When I got back home, my mother informed me that, from then onward, I would have to go to school by myself.

My father was a community leader (Baale) and my mother was a trader. She sold kola and when the business was no longer lucrative, she began to sell drinks. We would follow her with the drinks to places where there were parties and we would hustle to sell stuff. Of course, we were uninvited in those spaces and so organizers of parties would often chase us out of their party venues.

However, one thing struck me whenever we went to those parties to sell stuff – I was always intrigued by how some people had so much influence that they could order for things without batting an eyelid simply because they had money. I always wanted to be like them and so I wondered all the time what I could do to make money and be like them.

As a child, the only things we knew about life were disco parties which some of the big brothers and sisters in the neighborhood always organized. From our window, you could peep and see people smoking weed, Indian hemp and all that. Meanwhile, all through Primary School, if you spoke to me in English, I’d look at you as though you are speaking Mandarin.

After primary school, I wanted to attend Lagelu Grammar School – it was a big school and so I had set my eyes on it. When my placement was released, I wasn’t admitted at Lagelu Grammar School, instead I was granted admission at Oke’badan High School, a school notorious for truancy and hooliganism. When I got home and people mocked me that I had been admitted to Oke’jongbon High School.

To go to Oke’badan every day, my friend and I would leave Oja’gbo very early and trek to Agugu side where our school was. It would take us 30 minutes to trek form Oja’gbo to Oke’badan. I dared not ask for transport fare when the money I was being given for lunch was barely enough in the first place.

On the second day of my Form I (JSS1), I was walking to school and at Oluyoro, I saw a group of people bent over machines. I stared at how they were tapping keys and, when they rolled a knob, the papers came up; it all looked like magic to me. Fascinated by the machine, I mustered all the courage within me and asked what exactly they were doing. It was then I knew it was typing and the machines were typewriters.

I signified my interest in learning and I was told I could join them and learn but that I had to take a form which cost N5 and then I’d pay N10 per month. That was a lot of money at that time – 1990.

When I got home, I told my dad that the notoriety of the students had made some of our teachers to come up with extra-mural classes for we the serious students who really wanted to learn and that it was going to cost N10 per month. My dad gave me the money. I paid N5 for the form and that was how I got enrolled at Oriola Typewriting Institute. At the time, we used to call the typing place ‘studio’.

School would close by 2pm, I would resume at the typing studio with my uniform still on; I wouldn’t leave for home until 6pm or 7pm. What being so busy at the studio did for me in those years was that it kept me away from the vices that thrived at Oja’gbo. As a young boy walking in the steps of the big guys he looked up to in the hood, I used to foment trouble; but once I discovered typing, I hardly ever had time for trouble-making.

Six months into learning typewriting at Oriola,  a conversation ensued as we typed, that there was a better typing studio at Oja’gbo. This new place was called Emmanuel Commercial and Typewriting Institute and, from the conversation, I gathered that the proprietor was a proper alakowe with plenty university degrees. Hearing that, I made up my mind to find the school and enroll there. The thing was, I had never heard of it before.

That same day, I left the studio very early and traced the location of this new studio and I found it – Emmanuel Commercial and Typewriting Institute. The founder of Emmanuel Typewriting Institute was Dr. Gbade Ojo who would, many years after, become the Chief of Staff to the immediate past Governor of Oyo State. I made enquiries about how to join the institute. I disclosed that I had some experience in typing and so a typewriter was set before me and I was tasked to type some texts.

Once they saw my fingers on the tabs, they were impressed. I was told to pay N20 per month and join. Instead of starting as a beginner, I was elevated a few steps up. After my JS3 exams, going on to SS1, I wanted to go to the Arts class but the Guidance and Counseling staff in my school looked at my JSCE result and discouraged me from going on with my plan. Instead, I was encouraged to go to the Commercial class. The typing classes continued till I finished secondary school and for those six years I was paying per month. In fact, at some point, the fee was increased but I always found a way to pay.

Before I finished Secondary school, I had applied for – and passed – all the professional examinations in Typewriting including the 25, 35 and 50 words per minute exams by the Royal Society of Academy (RSA), London. Then the Simeon Adebo Training School introduced the 60 words per minute and I passed that too.

After secondary school, the next question then was, where do I go from here? In my Form 5 (SS2), I saved up some money and enrolled for the GCE. I wrote the exams and I made 4 credits but I did not pass Mathematics and English. I had a F9 and P7 respectively. My oga at Emmanuel typing studio had eulogized me for my GCE grades and that made me confident to try again. In May 1997, I enrolled and wrote the SSCE and I threw my all at the outstanding papers. When the results were released, I had an A2 in Accounting and C6 in Government, every other thing was Pass. In short, I performed woefully.

The good thing for me was that, from the home and area that I came from, no-one cared about my SSCE result or anything. Completing secondary school, not dropping out to learn a trade, is seen as a huge achievement. That was like the peak of education.

In July 1997, while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, a friend of mine introduced me to his own oga’s friend. The person I was introduced to was a lawyer with an office was at Agodi Gate. His name was Chief Obitade. He needed a typist for his firm and so I applied. He took me to his office and gave me so manuscript to test my skills. Once my fingers began to hit the tab non-stop, he had to stroll out of the office to the desk where I sat and offered me the job immediately.

 He started me on N700 per month and he promised to increase it every month. The next month, he added N100 to make N800 and by a couple of months after, he was paying N900. After that, he never increased my pay. My take home remained N900 for the next two years that I was with him. One day, a client came to our office one day and my oga prepared a land document for the client. The client paid N80,000.

At that time, N80,000 was a lot of money and because I was the one who typed the document, I had hoped that my oga would give me something for all the work I had put in. Instead, he collected the money from the client, got into his car and drove off. That day, I began to desire to earn that kind of money too; the only way I figured I could do so was to become a lawyer too. However, as fate would have it, my oga passed away in 1999.

One of my late Oga’s big clients – Chief G.O. Adeagbo – approached me and asked me what my plans were. Chief G.O. Adeagbo was a retired director of the Nigerian Ports Authority but he had set up his own consultancy company. He had always known me to be an efficient and diligent typist to his friend, so when his friend passed away, he sent his Personal Assistants to look for me – he wanted me on his payroll.

He offered me a job in his company and my salary was N2000. Not only that, he said that he’d need me on his trips out of the country and he promised to take me with him whenever he travelled. What I did not know before accepting Chief’s offer was that the location of his company was his village at Kelebe at Lagelu Local Government. There was no electricity in the village but the company had a generator which we put on only when Chief was around. I had accepted the job before I knew all this. I met two people in the gigantic structure that served as the office: a guard and a lady who served as a housekeeper.

The plan was this – I would be in the village from Mon-Friday; I would leave the village on Saturday to go spend the weekend with my people in the city and I’d return to the village on Monday. Whenever I was leaving the village for the weekend, my boss would give me a ride from the company, drop me at the junction of the house and, usually, he gave me a token.

I didn’t like the job at all – I was holed up in a village where I wasn’t meeting people who could open my eyes to see how to move my life forward. Also, Chief began to reneged on some of his promises; The company would organize trainings all over the country but I was never taken along on those seminars and trainings. These were supposed to be opportunities for me to expose myself to better opportunities but no, I was always in the village. Still, I stayed.

Whenever I had the urge to leave, where I’d come from would flash through my mind and I’d get afraid that I’d have nothing to sustain myself by without a job. I worried that with no job and no food on the table, I may fall into vices I’d tried to escape from at Oja’gbo. In the end, I became fully convinced that staying in that village would not give me the growth I desired. Sometime during the year 2000, I decided to quit but there was a challenge – I didn’t want to leave the establishment with animosity between Chief and me.

It was then that I crafted a plan.

I had a friend who lived Eruwa and so one Saturday after Chief dropped me off as usual, I packed a few things and left home for my guy’s place. The guy was a hotel manager at Eruwa and he hosted me for 3 days after which I returned to Ibadan. When I didn’t resume to work on Monday, my boss had no way to contact me – this was a period when there were no cellphones.

When I returned to Ibadan, I went to the village. Chief was very angry at first but then I begged him and explained to him that I had been offered admission at the Polytechnic Ibadan, Eruwa campus. He excited for me when I told him about the admission. He admonished me father to son and gave me a sum of N20,000. I wrote my resignation letter and that was how I left his employ.

Once I resigned from the job, I was back to square one. It was about this time that I heard that the Poverty Alleviation Program introduced by former President, Obasanjo in 2000 was accepting people. I rushed to the Federal Secretariat, picked the form and applied. I was selected and posted to the NYSC office. The salary was N2,000. Immediately I started working there, the State Director was so impressed and I became his favourite. He always wanted me to type for him and he sought ways for me to be retained but that didn’t work out.

Before the Poverty Alleviation Program was over, one of my aunties who worked at the Secretariat went to our family house and informed my dad about an impending recruitment exercise by the Local Government Service Commission and that I should apply. I did. The next day, while I had gone to Secretariat to submit my application letter to the Commission, I found out that the test and interview had been slated for that very day.

Ah!!!!

 

Two of us had shown up for the job – myself and a young woman – but only one person would be employed. We were set up with typewriters and texts to type, to assess our proficiency. I sat in my chair, the typewriter before me and I hit the shift bar couple of time just to announce to them that ‘Hey, Akin is here o’ ; then I began to type. The overall Director came out of his office and stopped in his tracks as he watched me type.

The other lady, too, looked at me – she knew she couldn’t match my speed. I proved myself to be way better than the lady and they had taken a liking to me; but she was the anointed candidate of the Commissioner of the Ministry under which the Commission was. When the test was over, a dilemma arose: who should get the job, the favorite of the Commissioner or me?

In the end, the two of us were employed as Typist 1 Grade Level 3; the lady was posted to the Director’s office but it did not take long before the Director called for me to be posted to his office. He preferred my work. These were the events of October 2000.

In my time in civil service, I observed some members of staff who were old and about to retire, I made candid assessments of their lives and I wasn’t impressed. Some of them were not so old and were agile – I wondered what they’d be doing with their lives upon retirement. I observed this trend and I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to spend more than 10 years in the civil service.

The salary back then was so meager and more, I found it irritating people calling me typist’, that name did not go down well with me at all. I wanted to be more than just typist; I channeled this disgruntling in my spirit whenever I was called a typist into motivation to rewrite my GCE. This time, thankfully, I made all my outstanding papers. Next, I was admitted into the Polytechnic Ibadan to study Public Administration.

After I had my OND at the Polytechnic of Ibadan, I was promoted to Executive Officer cadre. By general expectations, I was supposed to advance for my HND but I was not motivated to pursue that line. Having spent some years in the civil service, I understood that getting an HND wouldn’t impact my growth in the service significantly like a university degree program would.

By 2007, I was tired of the job, there was no upward mobility and I had just had enough of it. Every year, while I was still in the civil service line, I wrote JAMB exams. That was how very determined I was to get out of the service and move higher.

One day, I was perusing the papers and found an advert for a job as Chief Data Entry Operator at the University of Lagos. I looked at the qualifications and I felt I was the perfect fit. I put together my CV. I had a friend who was a student in UNILAG, he had come home to do something and so I handed my application to him to help submit it at the Registrar’s Office.

Weeks after, I was invited for the test – the test was for 10am. I went to Lagos a day before the test and stayed at a friend’s place at Owode-Onirin. The plan was that the next morning, I would go with my friend to his shop at Owode Onirin; then I’d leave his shop by 9am. As an Ibadan boy who had never experienced the horrors of Lagos traffic, I figured that I could get to Akoka within an hour. I had no clue the mad traffic of Lagos.

The next morning, I was at my friend’s shop and then he casually mentioned to someone that I was going to UNILAG. It was the person who alarmed me that I should have been on my way much earlier and that if care wasn’t taken, I might miss the test. Immediately, I got on the road and found my way to UNILAG. Luckily, I made it just in time.

I got there and I realized there were so many us. I saw the way people were so decked in sharp, immaculate corporate outfits meanwhile; I was just a humble guy from a humble background in Ibadan. The Registrar of the university addressed us. She specifically told us that we should forget whatever connections we may have; that the final selection will be based purely on our performance during the exercise.

We were given desktops to type and I did very well in that. Then they started calling us into the room one at a time. At that point, I became worried.

 

All my life, up until then, English language wasn’t something I felt confident about – in Oja’gbo, English wasn’t our thing; so when they informed us that we’d be interviewed and they began to call us into the room one at a time, the idea of facing someone fluent in English was overwhelming.

Interestingly, when it was my turn, the interview went well. In the end, I was employed as a Data Entry Operator and posted to the Department of Political Science. My friends couldn’t believe that I could be employed by UNILAG. In fact, many people did not believe that I got the job without knowing anyone to use ‘connection’ on my behalf. It is my belief that God has a way of compensating for the downtrodden.

It was about the time that I took the UNILAG job that JAMB result for that year was released and I scored 235. I’d chosen UNILAG as my school of choice. I attempted the Post UTME and scored 65%. Now, there was a problem – my school of choice was also my place of work. I wanted to tell the HOD of the department where I worked about combining my degree program and work but I was quickly cautioned that it was against the terms of employment and so I kept mute.

When – in the end – the admission into the Faculty of Law, UNILAG didn’t work out, I decided to resign from my employment. Nobody saw it coming. It was a daring move. I knew I was made for more than being a Data Entry Operator job, and I knew time was of the essence. To make progress, I knew I had to leave UNILAG.

One day, there was a departmental meeting and I sat in to type minutes of the meeting. At that meeting, my name kept popping up in their deliberations and every time it did, all the Professors talked glowingly about me. What they didn’t know was that before the meeting, I had made up my mind that that would be my last day on the job. When the meeting was over, I tendered my resignation letter and it felt like a major tragedy had befallen the department. I worked in UNILAG for just 3 months.

In 2008, I got admitted into the University of Ibadan to study Law. Sponsoring myself through university was hard. The program was a full-time program and so I had to find ways to survive and raise funds. Before, I always thought it was an unacceptable excuse to say the reason why one wouldn’t go to school was because they had no one to sponsor them; I always believed that, at least, they should be able to find a job no matter how meager to fund themselves, no matter what. It was tough going through the university but I pulled through.

It was when I had to go to the Law School that I discovered that, sometimes, the cost of school fees can be overwhelming and there are times one might not just be able to raise the fees. As I prepared to go to the law school, I had marked out two or three people I’d reach out to and I’d be able to raise the school fees. When the time came, the people I had thought would do something for me did nothing.

With the deadline for paying my law school fees drawing so near, I knew I had to do something drastic. I had a Honda car which I was using at the time; I put the car up for sale in order to raise my fees. One if my classmates, whose father was a lawyer, told his dad about my predicament and the dad asked how much I’d sell, I said N600,000. He made a counter-offer of N300,000.

I was desperate and I didn’t have much bargaining power on my side. I reckoned that the N300,000 could cover my fees anyway, so I agreed. That was how I was able to go pay my school fees and I went to the law school. I was posted to Yenogoa Campus. By this time, I was already married and I had to take care of my family too. I had to cater for my wife and children and so I had got myself into an organization where did some work and earned some pay.

I had barely spent 4 days in Yenogoa when I got a call from a colleague in the organization where I was managing to get some work done. He called to inform me that my job was on the line and that I needed to return to Ibadan. Instantly, I packed my things and came back to Ibadan o. All through my stay at the law school, I shuttled between Bayelsa and Ibadan

We were six in the hostel at the law school and everyone always thought that two out of six of us would have a first class. Knowing that I was never really settled at the Law School, I would have been okay with graduating with a Pass. I read for the Bar exam for just one month – I read from morning till the next day. When the results were released, among the six of us in my room, I had the best result.

I have a personal philosophy that whatever field you choose to delve into, then go all the way through. I went on to apply for my LLM program at the University of Ibadan. I finished my LLM in record time and for all these things, I give God the glory. Some years ago, I started my law firm and the firm has been growing through the years. Even when others are struggling, doors have opened for us.

Everything I own today I owe back to the background I came from at Oja’gbo. It was the hard background that spurred me and has propelled me to not give up on myself.

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