My wife first rejected me, but said yes 24hrs later —Bassey
In 2018, his firm sponsored the popular Big Brother Naija. The CEO of Payporte, Mr Eyo Bassey, told SEGUN KASALI how he made it to the top of his career.
AS a child, what were your dreams?
I wanted to be a doctor, but it changed when everything changed after I lost my father. At the age of 11, my dream changed to ‘how was I going to prevent my mother and my family from going through hardship’.
Why doctor in the first place?
They were already calling me Doctor Bassey in the house. I don’t know why. I think it’s a way parents express their preferred future career of their children. So, it just stuck with me until 11.
What was it about your dad’s death that changed everything?
I saw my dad differently. The last time I saw him in the coffin, I couldn’t go close, but my siblings were able to do that. They were even able to touch him. I remember that when the whole thing died down, I told my mum that I would never be a doctor anymore because I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Financially also, I worried if my mother would be able to support this dream. So, I made up my mind to support her and my siblings towards achieving their own dreams because as the first son and first born, huge responsibilities were now on me. I had no choice but to think differently.
He must have had a tremendous influence on you
It was as if my dad knew he wasn’t going to be around for long because it still causes an issue today in the family. Siblings believe that it was because my dad took a special interest in me that was why I turned out the way I did in life. I knew my father so much. The man pushed me so hard. At the age of two, he started teaching me how to tell time. My mum told me this because I couldn’t remember them. My mum said he would put the wall clock in front of me and began to teach me. My mum, as a classroom teacher, would say that was not the way because he was too young. By the time I turned four years, I could say the correct time, as well as do so many other things. Any business my dad was involved in, he would let me know. I still remember that he had a very big farm in Abuja and would wake me up around five o’clock in the morning to check what the people were doing on the farm. I remember that I would tell him that I have to go to school and he would say ‘yeah, I will take you’ when you come back. There was a nearby stream and my dad would say that you have to have your bath by the stream now because by the time you get to the house, it would be too late to have your bath and go to school. I remember during the common entrance examination into secondary school. I passed the exam, but was left with the interview. One night, my dad came back home and I failed. I asked him if this person and that passed, he said yes, but you failed. My father had no patience for failure. For two days in the house, my father did not smile or laugh with me. On the third day, that my dad came back in the night and I asked him if he was sure it was my name that he checked and he said, you mean I don’t know my son’s name? I checked and you failed. You need to read your books. After about two weeks, my dad called me and said you may have failed, I would take you to another school. The Unity School was the main thing then, but he said he would take me to a school that was better and bigger. He took me to a school in Zaria where I passed the entrance examination. He was trying to get me settled at my aunt’s place; she was a lecturer at ABU. At 6 o’clock in the morning, I saw my dad and my mum in Zaria. I was wondering when the two left Abuja to have arrived Zaria that early. When I saw my dad, he just ran toward me and raised me up. He was so happy with me and said: “oh, you passed. I said, passed what? I knew I passed. He said no, you passed the common entrance. I said dad, I remember telling you I was going to pass. He now apologized. He said that the headmaster said that there were some pupils who were gifted and they all chose King’s College but the college was filled up and they needed to distribute us across the country. He said that I did not only pass, but I was qualified for a scholarship and that they would send me to Federal Government College, Minna. That was how much my dad meant to me and pushed me for success.
What value did Minna add to your life?
I was spurred to reading more, but my father felt I wasn’t in the right place. He believed I had more potential. After the first year when I was ten years old, he said I would make plans for you to go to another school. I think he noticed that the environment changed me and he felt I should go to another school that was more competitive. I ended up staying three years at Minna because he died. His plan of taking me to another school fell through. I think it was N240 and my mum couldn’t afford to pay N500-N600 as tuition. She decided that it was better I stayed in Minna. The experience was amazing. I met incredible people. Later on, I ended up leaving Minna for Abuja because my mum used to travel to Minna and moved me to Federal Government College, Abuja.
What are the memories of those years?
It was in Federal Government College, Minna, that I had my youthful crisis. I got into doing things that I was not used to doing. I ended up socialising so much. The popular songs then were those of M.C. Hammer and Bobby Brown, among others. I started dancing to those songs. I was very good at that. To me, it derailed me, but I thank God that I was pulled out of that system. Well, there was no way we could leave the school for parties, but there used to be social gatherings and I would mime songs. That was all in my head.
Was the crisis borne out of peer influence?
I don’t know if you knew who M.C. Hammer was. He had a funny haircut, big trouser and all of that. These were the musical idols then and music has effect on young persons. These were the people we looked up to. After a performance, the cheers and the claps that followed were so satisfying. That would carry me through the week, but the whole thing affected my academic performance. I now became an average student, but I still needed to make my mummy happy. To score A+ and some good results was not what I focused on, even though I knew I was supposed to read. All of that distracted me because I had a whole lot of things competing for my attention.
Did your mum pull you out because of this average performance?
No. Initially, I had an eye problem. That was where it all started from. I had ulcer in my eye and needed to be going to the clinic. I was almost going to undergo a surgery. It was in that school that I started experiencing it. I had to see a specialist in Kaduna, so my mother said she was going to take me to Abuja and start schooling because of its proximity to Kaduna where I could receive eye treatment. To me, it was divine because that was what refocused me. I was going through a new environment and that was where I became the son my mother really wanted me to be. By the time I was coming to Kwali, I went to the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) because a church member in Abuja attended it. By the time I got into FCS, I was one of their drummers. That refocused me and I couldn’t be distracted by the music of Bobby Brown and others. There was a class in Abuja called the ‘F’ class. That class was made up of students specially picked to sit for further Mathemathics. So, for the school to have picked me, it probably meant I was doing well. All of these times, my mother never sat with me for once to have a conversation about my academic performance. So, there was no result I had that my mother asked about my performances.
Abuja›s experience must be pleasant then.
No. I had a negative experience with bullying and intimidation by my seniors. I would see girls from back home that we would want to say hello to, but you won’t greet them because some guys flocking around them. One was being careful. You only talked to the girls when you got back home.
So, you had no girlfriends?
I never had a girlfriend till when I was in 200 level. Attachment to the Christian ways helped me.
University was a different ball game because it was a different environment where nobody cared if you didn’t go for lectures and all of that. It was different because I had the four of us in the family attending university at the same time. I went to Ladoke Akintola University. By the time I was supposed to go to the University, they had this Abacha strike which forced students to stay at home for two years. My siblings had finished secondary school and were ready to go to universities. Meanwhile, I should have been two years in the university. My mother also wanted to further her education and got admission into the University of Abuja. My sister was at ATBU in Bauchi and my other sister was in the University of Maiduguri. University was a different thing for me because I had to work and also try to earn money for myself. So, distraction was very minimal. I studied Pure and Applied Physics.
Why Pure and Applied Physics?
When I got to Ogbomoso, the issue of catchment area came in. I wanted to study Computer Science, but they said the quota had been filled up. I was advised to take the admission opened in Pure and Applied Physics department and that I would change in 200 Level to Computer Science. In my 100 level, I met a friend named Biodun Alimi. She was in Agric and was planning to cross to Medicine, while I was in Physics planning to cross to Computer Science. I told her that if she wanted to be my friend, she should not go for Medical Science as she couldn’t face the rigours of becoming a doctor. She changed to Computer Engineering, while I remained in Pure and Applied Physics. I was already exposed to computers by that time. I didn’t want her to study Medicine because I was already applying the experience of my dad and mum. Considering that my dad’s business failed because my mum didn’t know much about it, that led to the suffering we encountered as kids. So, I always tell myself that my wife must do the same thing I am doing.
Huge suffering in what sense?
We lost everything because my dad dealt hugely around sea foods. He was in Abuja, so, he had to travel with the cooling van, which involved a lot of engineering but my mum didn’t understand the dynamics. That’s why my wife knows everything I do.
How did you meet her?
I met my wife in my house. She came with some friends to Abuja and those two of my friends were classmates in the university. This was close to my final year and there was one of those long strike actions as usual. They needed a place to stay for a programme. I told my mum that three of my friends were coming and they wanted to stay in the house. My mum said it was okay. They arrived in the night and the following morning, my wife said she wanted to go. I asked her why so sudden. She explained. I took her to the park. I had a phone and told her she should call when she got to Ibadan. That was how she got my number. She was in Ogun State University then. Intermittently, she would call me and said she was just calling to check up on me, which was funny. It was after we started dating that I knew why she was always calling me.
What was her reason?
They used to queue to make phone calls and she said she never had anyone that had a phone. It looked as if only those who had loved ones that queued to make calls. So, she would queue. That was how I would see that once or twice, my phone would ring. From there, we started talking. There was a friend’s family event which they begged me to attend. I had to leave Ogbomoso for the event. They would tease me by saying; ‘don’t worry, Seun would be there. I went to the event, which was about a year after we had seen in Abuja. It was in her final year that I proposed to her.
How did you propose, with flower and ring?
Not the usual proposal. In fact, she turned me down. Then, I just started my own business and I had some partners that came from Israel. We chatted over emails and they wanted to come to Nigeria for a business. They probably had the opinion that the person they were coming to meet was very big, with big offices. I had to talk to my mother that these partners were coming and asked what I should do. I was using my mother’s parlour as my office. She said; where you are using is not your office. You have to get a hotel and have staff. I had only one staff, who was my best friend at that time. She also said that the company must have a Secretary, so I asked my wife, she was my girlfriend then, to leave her school for Abuja. When my partners came, I told them that my office could not take the entire operations, but I had a suite in a hotel where we would be operating from and that the suite was very close to theirs. They were okay with it. My girlfriend, the secretary, would go upstairs, come down, get this, get that and all that. For her to have agreed, I told my sisters that I was going to propose to Seun and I hoped she agreed. She was just entering the room when I brought out the ring and asked if she would marry me. She said was it because she came to help me that made me think I wanted to marry her and all of that. It was embarrassing. It was after we got married that she told me that 24 hours after she rejected my proposal, she called her best friend, Ayoola, that Bassey had proposed and she said no. She asked if Seun was okay to have rejected me. So, she came back and said yes. I still had the ring with me, so I gave it to her. The following day, I took her to my house and introduced her to my mum.
You started the computer business immediately you left university?
No. By the time I left university, I was posted to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) company for my NYSC scheme. That was what was in vogue then. You had to go to an ISP to get Internet. I was sent to an ISP because of my background in technology. In the last month of my service year, I had the most challenging decision to take in my life. I was doing my job and a lady approached me. She asked if I could help her to organise trainings and I said yes. She called me on the last day and said I was a recruitment consultant to a company. They wanted me to fill a position and she thought I was the best for the position. I said I was okay where I was because I was a big boy as a Corper. I was living in my mum’s house and didn’t need anything. She told me to decline the offer, but I should still go for the interview. She said they would get back to me and I would keep headhunting. I went for the interview in Lagos from Abuja where I was serving. They had not interviewed me at three o’clock, but they were interviewing other people. I went to meet the lady at the reception to tell them to interview me and if not, they should let me go because I had a flight to catch. She apologised, left me and later came back with a message that I should be patient. When they finally called me, the first thing they said was that I was a square peg in a round hole. I was like ‘ehhhh! These people kept me from morning till night and they are telling me story. I looked at them and said okay, no problem. So, the CFO asked them that why were those guys treating me like this? Tell him what you guys have for him. They had actually looked at my competency and that the position was bigger. I was asked if I would take the position. The salary was like three times what I was earning. I was earning over N100,000. That was my six months’ salary as a corp member and these people were offering me what we used to call Armed Robber salary then. And this was one month to the end of my service. I accepted the offer. I trekked from there to gate because I was just thinking what would I do? I called my mum. She said I should come back home. When I got back home, I looked at my family, looked at where we were. The money I was earning was already helping a lot. Of course, when I finished school, my siblings were still in school. Now, this company has been very good to me, what am I going to do?
What broke the deadlock for you?
My mum said I should go to my company and apply for a leave. I applied and reluctantly they approved it for me. I showed up in Lagos. They gave me a house, a car and a competitive salary. I arrived on a Monday and they called me in on a Tuesday morning and was given crazy tasks, immediately expecting me to perform magic. The position was a Global System Administrator. Internet then was via satellite. They would say tell us what satellite we are going to use for this and for that. I called my mum and said I don’t know what these people want from me because I don’t know what they asked me to do. My mum said sit down and work. I couldn’t even tell these people again because I felt that they really needed me. The whole thing was funny. My other company found out that I had left them and was heartbroken. They sent people to Lagos to literally pick me up from the office. They told me that Oga said he wanted to see me. I followed them out and got on the plane with them to Abuja. All in all, I came back to Lagos and I was still fine. Now, this company did crazy things, which was a great experience for me. When you talk about the e-passport, drivers’ license and other big projects in the country then, the company was there. When you talk of online portals for result checking and all, they were the one that started it. 18 months later, the company said we were all going to Ghana. We were doing a public offer. Typically, we used to go to Ghana. It was like my second home. But because I was not ready to relocate to Ghana, I had to leave.
What informed your No-Ghana decision?
I was like how could we leave a 120 million-people economy then to a 21 million-people economy. To me, it didn’t make sense. So, I left and now came the problem. The problem was that nobody was ready to pay me. I brought myself low. I told them that don’t worry you won’t pay that much money again. They said you won’t stay with us. You won’t last. You know why I cut myself down? I did that because people in the space already knew what we were earning. So, at the end of the day, there was no where I could work and all the offers kept coming until I went for one interview in Lagos. Of course, I had gone back to my mother’s house in Abuja and I was moving from Abuja to Lagos for all the interviews. So, I came for the interview one fateful day and I almost lost all my certificate because rain was falling. I saw one house which had a big generator and I hid by the generator for the rain to stop. I was there and the rain beat me. I was so miserable. I put my certificate in my jacket. Oh my God, I was drenched and it was in Victoria Island. And for me to go to the interview venue, I rolled my trouser to my laps, my shoes were condemned. I was all soaked and I remember getting to the interview late. By the time I put my hand on the table, water was dripping everywhere. I felt so this is life? Must it be this way? And that was in August, 2008. So, I was thinking which of my friends would be able to accommodate me with this wet body. My wife was schooling in OSU and I called her, asking her where she was and she said she was in school. I said how is your place? She said okay. So, I said I am coming there and she gave me the direction. I told her I was not going to go to for any interview again. So, I told her that she should help me get clothes and I left everything I wore in her place. Till today, I don’t know what she did with them. Two days later I came to Abuja, and I was in my bedroom when something mysterious happened. Right on my bed, I heard a voice saying “you would look for job everywhere in the world and I would make sure you don’t get any”. I wasn’t sleeping. I heard the voice clearly. I said okay and I was so miserable that afternoon till the following morning. When I woke up in the morning, I went straight to my mum’s room where she was getting ready for work. She was in front of her mirror and said Bassey, have you thought of starting your own business? I now told my mum this was the voice I heard and she said that she had the same experience and that’s why she is telling me that. That was how I started my business.
So, your mum was central to everything?
She is my pillar. My mum is everything to me. When I started the business, she gave me a house. It was in her house I had my first N15 million. That was the only thing the woman had in all her life. It was from the Obasanjo’s government that they started this owner-occupier thing. So, civil servants were given a mortgage opportunity to live in their houses. If not for the owner-occupier arrangement, how would my mother be able to own a house. At that point, she was a Deputy Director. She now had to turn in the papers of the owner-occupier to an inexperienced son to get a loan from the bank. It was risky. So, asking about my mum is like asking me about my life. Countless times, she would call me and said she just wants to pray for me that she knows I am going through a lot. So, without her, I don’t think I will be where I am today.
Could it be that you are returning her goodness towards you?
I think that will be a good question for my mummy to answer. First of all, I completed the payment of the owner-occupier house she was paying for in bits. She gave me a house but I gave her two. For seven years of my mum’s life, she never bought a cloth. I make sure I provide whatever she needs. My mum is retired now but still very active. She has a foundation for widows, which she has dragged me into and she currently has over 200 widows she is caring for. I support her because that is what she is super-passionate about.