Three months after I was born my mother passed away. My grandmother took me in after the incident and raised me in my early years at Gege, around Agbeni market side. Life with my grand-mother was fun and filled with challenges but at that time I didn’t recognize it as a challenging phase of life. During the holidays, I had to hawk alongside my other cousins who lived with my grandma too. From 9am/10am – 4pm I will hawk guguru and epa (groundnut and popcorn) and then around 6pm I would resume hawking but this time I would hawk eko jije; and I would return home by 8pm.
In our trays we would have a kongo of groundnuts and 3-4 milk-tins of guguru. The whole items on each person’s tray could be N13 and grandma would instruct us to return with at least N16. Out of all us that used to hawk, I was the one who rendered the most returns. When we go out and return home, I always rendered N20-22 to grandma while the rest were always delivering N16/ N17. Of course, it was much later that I found out that others also made good sales but they would remit the expected N16 and help themselves to the extras on top of the expected N16. Lol
Moving on into secondary school, I had become calm and level-headed. It was this time that I moved back to father’s place at Alakia and reunited with my siblings. At Holy Trinity, I was a cool kid. I was class captain in JS1 and I played football in JS2, so I was the cool athletic kid in school. Because my father wasn’t quite satisfied with the standard of the school, I left Holy Trinity for Government College, Ibadan to continue my studies in SS1.
Going from Alakia to Apata was not totally out of line for me because my other siblings were already attending schools around Apata and my dad’s office was also at Apata so for me moving to Government College was merely a thing of aligning with the rest of the family
Immediately I graduated from Government College, I enrolled for a diploma program in Educational Management at the University of Ibadan. My father had got the form for me even before I completed my secondary school education so right after SS3, I got into the program which ran from 1999-2001. During the program, they cajoled us that we could cross into the degree program with our diplomas but I just wasn’t feeling the whole idea. I had my eyes on something different, something shinier.
After diploma, my dream was to go to the UK and get a degree but somehow, it never worked out. I was determined to go abroad and so I’d rather stay home and try than consider any of the Nigerian options. I must have gone to the High Commission for as many as 15 times but every time, I was denied. At some point, after trying and trying with no luck in view, I decided to go back to the drawing board. I wrote JAMB exams in Ife and I chose University of Lagos and University of Abuja.
When our results were released, I scored 220 or thereabouts. My father on the other hand wanted me to go to LAUTECH. My older siblings were attending LAUTECH and so my father was already seeking that option for me. Quickly, I took my fate in my hands and settled for Computer Science at the University of Abuja. For me, I just wanted to be far away from home as possible; I didn’t want to be anywhere where his eyes could cover me. This was in 2002. My choice of Abuja was going to be a life-changing decision for me.
In my 200L at UniAbuja, I met a lady Oluwakemi Ajulo she was my girlfriend on campus. In fact, she was the only girlfriend I had while in school. One evening we were just relaxing and she asked me “what’s your plan for life after school?” Up until that moment, I had never given that question a thought before. I had always thought that I’d graduate, get a job and be fine. I never really gave a thought to how I’d get the dream job to begin with.
On the spot, I told her that I would love to be a web and software developer and she thought that was cool. We never talked about it again afterwards. After a while, she called me to inform me that she had come upon an advert that some guys wanted to run a web-development training in town for 3 days and that she thought it would be beneficial for me to attend the training. When I asked her for the cost, she said N20,000. That was a whole lot of money.
My pocket money from home at the time was N7000 and my father would have paid for the whole semester in advance; and I knew my father, once he paid you your pocket money you were on your own. He didn’t want to hear any story that would touch the heart. Now this babe was asking me to part with the whole of my pocket money. She persuaded me that the training was a good one so I paid and attended it. True to her words, the training turned out to be eye-opening and game changing for me.
When the training was over, I had no money on me again but Oluwakemi did one thing that really touched me at the time, she made sure that I ate at least once a day. She was living with her parents and always came from home to school so she would prepare my food along with hers at least once a day – it could be breakfast today, lunch tomorrow. She made sure that I never went a whole day hungry. I ran that food schedule for the whole semester, about 2 months. The academic year ended and I returned to Ibadan.
During the holiday, we were supposed to go for SIWES. Everyone was scampering to find a placement where they could get well paid. When I discussed with my dad, he acknowledged that he could talk with one or two persons at NNPC in Abuja but that he would rather that I went further in my computer studies by enrolling at APTECH. Apparently, he had spoken with one of his business associates and that was the recommendation given to him. I decided to take my dad’s advice and so I went to APTECH. While in school we were still being taught C++, I was already on Java.
By the time, I resumed in school for 300L and I was so confident of my ability to code in the latest programming language. In my final year, I was assigned a project supervisor who knew my capabilities. The thing about my final year project was that I had set out to do a lazy job so I chose “Computerization of the National Hospital, Abuja” as my proposed topic along with two other topics. Many people had worked on it so it was a low hanging fruit – I only wanted to reach for it and move past university education.
The lecturer didn’t approve my topics. He said to me, “Wale, go and give me online application for Forex Trading.” I was taken aback. He went on further to say, “If you insist, I can approve any of the topics you have brought to me but you won’t score more than a D. If you work on online applications you will definitely score more than a D” When he said that, I decided to go with the online application for forex trading and in the end, I made a B.
This was in 2007.
After graduation, while waiting for NYSC, I was in Ibadan dropping proposal everywhere I could. This time, I was quite lucky I got an offer to build the website for Kings & Queens’ College. I had no car so I was always hopping on okada from one place to the other.
There was this hotel called T-Exclusive, I had gone there to drop a proposal to help them design a website. I was told by the guy who attended to me that they already had a website. I was so embarrassed because I had combed the internet before going there to ask if I could build a website for them but I did not find any. I thanked the guy and went to my dad’s office.
My dad and I were talking about our day when I mentioned the hotel to him. I told him I was sure they didn’t have a website but that I guessed the man who attended to me didn’t want me to do the job. It turned out that my dad knew the man who owned the hotel so he called him instantly. The man said his hotel didn’t have a website and that he’d be delighted to have me build the site.
He directed me to go back to the hotel and tell the guy who had attended to me earlier that I had come from him. It was then I figured that the hotel needed the site but the guy had his own person whom he had intended to give the job too. In the end, I went back to the hotel, was giving all the information I needed and I got the job.
One day, my father came back from one of his union’s executive meetings and he told me that they deliberated on having a website and that as they did I popped up on his mind’s radar. He gave me someone’s number to call to hold further discussions about it. I called the man and he told me to draw up a proposal and that I should bring it to him in Ondo town which was where he resided. I did. He collected the proposal and assured me that they would reach out to me.
Truly, I was contacted to come to their meeting at Calabar, the venue of their meeting where the union would decide on who would get the contract. I didn’t even have money and I couldn’t even ask my dad for money. In fact, I didn’t have to ask him, he knew I needed to be in Calabar, he was going to be at that meeting too. As he was leaving home, he said to me, “pade me ni’be – meet me there”. I had to borrow money from one of his managers. My father flew to Calabar while I was left to come by road.
At Calabar, I did not think there would be much to my session with them at the meeting. In my mind, these people were all my father’s friends so it would be a walk-over for me. I was sure they probably wanted to see my face and that immediately they’d cut me a cheque. I never knew that I was in for something that would once again transform my life.
When it was my turn, I was called upon and the familiarity I was banking on did not work for me at all. The name I had put on the proposal was “Salmon”. They members of the executive committee were all familiar with Oladiti but not Salmon so they couldn’t link me with my dad. Only 4 people in that room knew who I really was out of an executive of 20-something people.
I had also underrated them. In my mind, I felt that they were just ‘ordinary tanker drivers’. What would ordinary tanker drivers want to ask me about web development? To my utter shock, they began to fire questions at me – questions that I was not even expecting from them. If I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting their English to be fluent and silky; in that regard they caught me off guard. Meanwhile I could see the look in my dad’s face – I could bet he was thinking to himself that: ‘this boy, if you disgrace me here, my God will judge you.’
I quickly put myself together and began to answer their questions. For every question, I provided answers. I can’t even tell where the answers were coming from, I was just serving them hot, right back. At some point, I just saw that everyone rose to their feet to give me a round of applause. They were so impressed and I was discharged. I left, went to my dad’s hotel room and had a bath.
By the time the executives were done, I had freshened up. I went downstairs to meet my dad with his friends to relax. It was also at that point too that many of them connected the dots and realized that he was my father. My dad is a very emotional person so he burst into tears as his people came to congratulate me. I guess he was just super thrilled that he had a son who was smart and savvy enough to wow the executives. It was then that I knew that I had got the contract. I never knew that, all along, my dad’s business was facing some issues and he was wishing that he had someone he could trust that would come in, inject fresh ideas and keep the business up again.
I was paid N860,000 for the website contract and I was expected to deliver a month after payment was made. I delivered within 2 weeks. This was in 2008 and it was a lot of money. When the executive members of the union saw that the website was good and had met their expectations, they began to reach out to me to build websites for their other businesses or for their personal websites; this way I continued to make small money here and there. I bought a car from the huge contract sum – a BMW and I used the remaining sum to by a second-hand tractor head. A tractor head is the frontal part of a tanker that has the engine and the driver’s seat.
Back in Ibadan, my dad sent one of his associates to talk to me about coming into the business. His offer was that I should work for him while still chasing my IT dreams and that he’d pay me N100,000 per month. I accepted my dad’s offer but I never collected my salary monthly. I’d let it accumulate then I’d collect it, maybe over a period of 5-6 months. My father gave me an ‘accidented’ tank which I refurbished. The second-hand tractor head I had bought earlier was coupled with the refurbished tank and was enlisted for use with Total under my dad’s fleet.
One day, one of the senior managers of Total saw the truck and complained to my dad that they couldn’t continue using that tanker because it was old. My father conveyed the message to me. He said, “N gbo, they said your truck cannot work again o.” Since Total had rejected the truck I decided to sell it off and look for how to acquire another truck – this time a tokunbo truck. At that time, to get a Mack tractor head was N2.7million and I had N2million from the sale of the old truck.