My bitter-sweet experience in Ogbomoso —Adamu
Ezekiel Adamu, the Chief Executive Officer of multinational service management, Balmoral Centre, shares the story of his life with SEGUN KASALI.
HOW would you describe your growing up?
Hmmm… my growing up. Well, I grew up in the North. I grew up in a family of four siblings, with my parents, a very hardworking family. Our childhood pretty much shaped our future and so, I feel like I grew up with parents that are hardworking, that taught us the right values, how to respect people, how to strive for excellence in whatever we do and that has featured in my adult life. We actually started off in Sokoto, where my dad was a lecturer. From there, we moved on to Abuja and then to Lagos.
How was schooling?
My dad was a lecturer in the College Of Education. So, I started my primary school at College of Education Staff School. For me, it was more of my secondary school when it comes to indelible experience. I did my common entrance in primary five, because it was allowed then. And if you passed, you could decide at that point that you may want to go back to primary six or go to whatever secondary school you want. So, I tried my common entrance [examination] at primary five and I actually passed. And I remember then that I was actually called to be a perfect in primary six. I wanted to be a perfect by all means, but my parents said it was high time you went to secondary school.
A lecturer’s son must be a bookie.
I wasn’t a bookworm in any way. I love my play. However, my mum was also a teacher. And you know when your mum is a teacher and your dad is a lecturer, your academics will be sound to a certain level. Despite that, I was not really compelled to read. I think I started reading well during my university level. But then, I did the norm, one’s homework and when exam is coming, you know you have to read. You go out and play with other children during your play time, by 7p.m or 8p.m you come back home and have your bath, go back to sleep. My school was located in the College Of Education. We had quarters and we were always out playing; there was football, basketball and everything. I felt we were privileged because we had everything, big things that people would pay for. At that time, they took good care of children of the staff. I wasn’t the worst student and I wasn’t the best. I was an average student. For me to leave primary school at five, it means that I was good. I don’t think I was the most brilliant and I don’t think I was the dullest. I won prizes based on my academic performance
You must be outstanding at something. What about sport?
Football and I was playing for the school. I was also doing sprinting for the school. At that time, you have to be in primary six for you to represent the school. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish there and so, I didn’t have the opportunity to represent the school and there was no competition for the school to recognise me unfortunately (laughs).
Secondary school should hold more indelible memories for you.
Back then, there were no private schools. So, I went to Federal Government College, Ogbomoso, which made it the first time I was actually leaving the house, because it was a boarding college. That was challenging time for us as students from Sokoto, being at home where everything is fine for you to now go to a secondary school where you live by yourself, you respect your senior. It was really a shock for me living in the North and coming to the South [to school], different culture, different ways of reasoning and you meet different sets of people and you have to live without your parents. I didn’t really acclimatise in my first couple of years. I had to deal with seniors most of the times. I stayed in Federal Government College, Ogbomoso for three years. I couldn’t handle it because I was having issues with the seniors. I wasn’t able to go to class and I wasn’t able to go to the dining hall. So, it affected my grades a lot. When my parents saw that, they said well if boarding house would not work for you, maybe we move you to a Day-school, but they still wanted me to experience that moving away from home, to experience independence. So, they moved me to Federal Government College, Ilorin, where my aunty was staying and I was staying with her. I also remember we had an issue where a group of graduating students at that time set the administrative building of the school ablaze and also got some of their juniors injured. It is always the norm that they feel they can do and undo when they want to leave. But those ones took it to the extreme. So, the school was shut down.
What exactly was the problem with Ogbomoso?
There were situations where the hostel was dirty and they lined up all JSS students and flogged everyone. I had a situation where a senior left something and said you know what, this thing is missing and a situation where the mattress of a senior would be stolen and he would ask the junior one to go and bring his mattress and all that.
How did you revolt against this?
I couldn’t revolt. I mean I just had to take it. The only way I could basically revolt was thinking a lot and that couldn’t help my situation. You can’t revolt. Who do you revolt against? Seniors? You can’t. You just have to take it. It’s the norm. You can’t report to any teacher that this senior is bullying me. They would tell you we actually teach respect here. There must be reason for the senior to be picking on just you alone. So, we should do the right thing. We believe the seniors are not animals.
But looking back now, it is something that I really appreciate. It taught me how to respect my seniors. It also shaped the way I think independently now, unlike then when everything was always mommy and daddy. It makes you know that when you are in boarding school you have to take care of yourself. I mean it doesn’t matter if you are suffering. Even though your parents would come and visit, you dare not tell them that this senior is doing this and that. If you do that, you have not just reported that senior alone but the whole set and everyone would come down on you.
The experience must be terrible then?
I mean I was slapped; I was beaten; I was asked to lie down under the bed throughout the night sometimes. Uniforms got stolen, provision got stolen, mattresses got stolen a lot of times. Sometimes by the time we came back from the school, 20 people would have been robbed of their provisions and the like. When you all come back, you asked ‘oh you have been affected?’ You come back sometimes and your mattress is stolen. What happened when this happened? You have to share with someone else. Sometimes, you hang your uniform and by the time you come back, you can’t find it again. So, you just have to meet one of your friends that you have just one pair of uniform and it has been stolen. Can you help me? I think it was fun. It wasn’t such a major disaster. When I got to the school, I was very popular because my mom used to weave cardigans. So, my mom weaved the cardigan for me. And because she knew that when you get to school, they would tell you to put your name on it, she put my name boldly on it: Ezekiel Adamu. But, I actually saw it as a thing of embarrassment (laughs) because once you wear it, everybody sees your name. So, I became so popular. And I think that was the only thing that was not stolen when I was leaving. Every other thing was stolen (laughs). That one couldn’t be stolen because everyone knew me with that particular cardigan. Looking back now, I feel like it is something that had to happen for me to get to the level I am now. So, I don’t look back on it with any regret. I think about with fond memories.
Was there a female companion?
(Laughs). I think as of that time, we were just planning to have one. I don’t think I had a girlfriend in my first three years. We were all just there. As boys, we talked about girls. We were all shy to go talk to girls. Yes, we admired the girls but I don’t think it was a time for us to have one then. But at Federal Government College, Ilorin, my grades and confidence got back, as well as confidence for girls. But it wasn’t something serious back then. I mean you may have a girlfriend today and next week you have broken up and you see her going out with another person. The point of attraction was to be a happening boy in the school. You must be someone that has a girlfriend. Then we had this social clique then and the issue of girls was always causing disagreement, though I was not involved.
How did you handle the freedom that came with being a day student?
At the time I was moved to Ilorin, my parents had already moved to Lagos. I had friends in Lagos who were in the same school with me. So, I was a Lagos boy and you know everyone would look up to a Lagos boy. As a day student, those in boarding school could tell me to help them get some things outside and, as a matter of fact, they weren’t sending me for free. They had to pay, which depends on what they want (laughs). I had so much freedom in Ilorin. I was organising parties and started driving early to school. Driving at that age was something my colleagues were envious of. I mean girls used to boast about it then that look my boyfriend can drive. I had a group in the school and we were the happening boys of our set. We were organising parties. We had the finest girls as our friends. My favourite teacher was the Maths teacher. I remember him coming then because I just joined them in SSS 1. He asked me where are you from and I said from Zuru Local Government in Kebbi State. So, he said from today I would be calling you Zuru. So, every time he comes to class, he calls me Zuru. I didn’t have any opportunity to be a prefect, because for you to get any major position, you have to be a boarding student.
You went from Ilorin to the UK?
Yes, when I left secondary school, I went to a college in the United Kingdom. I always travelled for holidays for family trips while in secondary school. So, it wasn’t a new thing for me. I studies Business Administration, because I have always wanted to be a business person. I have always wanted to run my own business because of the rebel in me. My dad worked for the government, but I wanted to be different. I learned one or two things from people close to me. However, I am always curious about the other side; just because my dad was a small sports administrator, I won’t want to be one. If a competitor is doing something, rather than me copying the competitor, I would want to do something else because I believe that there is always another way of doing things.
Did you find teaching in UK different from what you used to know?
Their style of teaching is a bit calmer. There is no force in what you have to do. They take everybody at their own learning space. It was so competitive. Like, you have someone taking first, someone being in the middle and someone taking last. They actually find out how fast you learn and it puts you in a group like that. So, in that way, no one feels inferior to another person or no one feels I don’t want to contribute because my contribution might not make sense. So, it was great. One thing that I learned when I was in college is basically how not to scold people. Growing up here you realise that if you do something, you are being scolded immediately. What I learnt in college is that you don’t have to scold somebody for that person to learn. Instead of telling the person you are wrong, you show the person how to discover the right answer, not to tell him the right answer. I learnt that everybody is equal. Just because you can’t learn as fast as A doesn’t mean that you are anything inferior to Mr. A. That was the one thing I took away from the college.
Did you take the partying spirit there too?
Absolutely! I think I have always been a partying person. I have always been an organiser of things. So, even while I was in college despite that we didn’t have the opportunity to organise parties in a country you have not lived all your life and you only know people in your college, if there was any get-together in our little class, I was always at the forefront.
What did you study at the university?
I went to the University Of Bedfordshire to study Computer Science.
What is the correlation?
Okay, at that time, my dad always advised that: you know what computer is the next thing and as you can see IT is everything now. This was in 2000. I mean I started my university in 2000 and computer was coming up at that time. So, my dad advised I do Computer Science and I did, to fulfil all righteousness.
Looking back, how beneficial was that piece of advice?
Well, I realised that learning and going through the university is that you don’t go and learn exactly what you have learnt in college. What you learnt at the university is your ability to be able to get what you want. I mean the ability to study what you what. So, if you want, you could know how to go about it and that’s what I went to the university for, not really about programming and all of this, which was good. What I learnt at the university is that whoever you want to become, whatever you want to do, through your project, you always have a way of doing it. It was not like I had any business I wanted to do at that time. I just know that I wanted to become a businessman. So, what I learnt from the university was the ability to get things done. If you want something done, you research and do SWOT analysis.
When did your entrepreneurial skills start manifesting?
During my Master’s. I started a car wash business. What was great was that everything that was being taught in class, I was able to put it into practice it in my business as well. The business was basically three friends coming together. One of us wanted to start a barbing salon. One found a place for car wash. So, we said to ourselves why don’t we start with car wash first, especially in the Portsmouth area of the UK where we had just one car wash place and the place was always fully booked. There was always a queue for people to wash their cars. So, we started the car hash and the rest is history. One thing I realised is that if you work in an organised society like the UK, you earn a living. You don’t get rich by having just one car wash, but it pays your bills and it pays your staff wages. There wasn’t enough for savings because the taxes and the system were organised and as a result, you don’t overdo things.
After my Master’s, I stayed back to continue my car wash business, but I still needed support from my parents once in a while. So, I was advised to come back and explore the opportunity of having the same business in Nigeria and also do NYSC. My dad was a sports administrator and was always travelling around. So, I was fortunate enough to go with him once in a while and I always saw people put up venues and the next day you go back, there would be nothing at all. It is like a makeshift venue. I have always been fascinated by that and I thought if I had the opportunity someday, I would love to bring this kind of technology to Nigeria. So, after my NYSC, I explored the opportunity, where I wanted to bring an event venue Marquee to the country. So, through the help of my dad, I was able to secure loan from a bank to start up the business. My dad didn’t want to give me money to start business. However, he said he would help to secure a bank loan and I have to pay the bank their money.
What language of love did you speak to your wife?
I have always known my wife since we were in secondary school. We have always been friends even when she was in another state in the UK. I met her here in Lagos during GCE or one of the exams like that. We were still friends when I was in the UK and proposed to her when I moved back here. I came here four or five years and settled down with my business and got things running. So, my parents were telling me that now you have a business and you have what to do. So, the next thing is that it is always important to get married early, without further delay. I feel fortunate. I got married at 28.
What is she trying to change in you?
Hmmm! I think as a married couple, it is always a continuous process. There is never just one thing. Once you cross this, you cross the road. Marriage is about tolerating one another. Meaning that we are different and everybody is unique in his/her own way. We all have different bad habits that we want to stop. I think we have crossed that bridge of stop this and that. I don’t take life too hard. I don’t drink or smoke. I am not the guy that goes out too much.
What is that thing you failed to learn from your dad?
Hmmm! Well, the Bible says we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves. I think one trait my dad has is that he loves his neighbours even more than himself. I mean when you are on the aircraft, they tell you save yourself first before you save your neighbour (laughs). My dad is someone that will go hungry for other people to eat. So, I feel like why is the need to love yourself. You need to take care of other people which I learnt from him. I will pray that I love myself first even before others.
What is that thing that comes so easily to you?
As you can see from my library, I am a reader. I read a lot. I love to read autobiographies. So, I learn across all walks of life. But let’s say if it is something that you will wake me up in the morning to do, it is organising events. I have always wanted to do that. We have done event for African Union, when we went to Ghana to do event. We pride ourselves in doing very high-profile events. So for me, if you wake me up and say the President of America is meeting next week, with the Queen of England and we need some befitting events, that’s when I come alive. The bigger the event, the bigger the challenge, the best it is.
Which event gave you your breakthrough?
We were pioneers in this business and when I started, it seemed I was the only person. Our first venue was at Oregun. It took a year before we even got our first customer. That’s to show you the perseverance. We never gave up. It was tough to start up with it, but we got an opportunity for the wedding of the daughter of then governor of Osun State, Prince Oyinlola. And we did an amazing job. Everybody came out and like ‘wow this is something different’. We brought the best air-conditioned marquee and from there it caught fire.