Cultivated Man

January 4, 2014

I was influenced by the spirit of Ajegunle —Abbaly

I was influenced by the spirit of Ajegunle —Abbaly


Johnson Abbaly, CEO, Achievers Consortium International/Multivational Centre, in this interview, reveals how he was influenced by the hard work spirit of Ajegunle where he he was raised. The super motivational speaker recalls his determination to succeed in life despite his poor background and shares  his inspiring  story from grass to grace. Excerpt:

My beginning
I have fond memories of childhood. I was raised at Ohikere Street, Wilma, Olodi-Apapa. My beginning was humble and pretty challenging most times. Growing up at Ajegunle was exciting as it was challenging.

aballyI walked to school everyday to St. John’s Anglican primary at Araromi. I was a curious pupil, got into trouble more times than I can recount. My family was managing to get by. My father had been discharged from the army following the Biafra war and my mother was a teacher.

My siblings, six of us all lived in the same room and parlour. And occasionally, we had guests from the village who come over to squeeze us even further. Eventually we moved to Ojo where I completed my primary school and went on to Government College Ojo, where I graduated as the Senior prefect of the school.

So, I was not born with a
silver spoon. I learnt everything the hard way. I learnt to manage. One of the disciplines my father instilled in us was to always ensure we never gave any impression of what was going on financially at home.

We were never allowed to go to neighbours’ homes to watch television, which was a ‘big man’s’ item at the time nor seek food anywhere. No matter how hungry we got, we stayed indoors and swallowed saliva.

My parents were hard working, we  may not have had enough but they ensured we didn’t look it. My father was a typical Igbo man with a huge ego. He will not be embarrassed.

Making a difference in life considering Ajegunle background
Ajegunle is grossly misunderstood. Many folks today who now own properties in Lekki and on the island and drive posh cars around town had their roots in that city. Ajegunle has a spirit. It was called hustle.

Everyone knew this was a jungle and survival was for the fittest. We worked, suffered and played harder than anyone else in the world. However, during the course of this hard life, I encountered church folks who provided a different vision of what was possible in God. I towed that line.

By attending retreats, workshops, conferences, and other such events, it dawned on me that poverty is not a financial condition but a mental one. As I became increasingly enlightened, I had more control of my destiny and made choices in my professional life that eventually turned my story.

Challenges of growing up
I learnt to take responsibility for myself very early in life. From junior secondary school, as soon as I got home from school I would resume in the market where I operated a corn grinding machine. I worked after school till 7pm every day.

Proceeds from this effort went  into uniforms, family support and when I could afford it,  pocket money. No one at school knew of my after school work activities. I still managed to speak some of the most refined English language for my age. Even some friends thought I came from a wealthy home.

I didn’t bother to burst their bubble. I worked so hard manually. During holidays, I would go to construction sites and seek a helper’s job. Sometimes I got lucky and got chosen. I was skinny and small in size and that didn’t always help with those kind of jobs. After a while, a friend introduced me to Agbara Estate where they take casual workers in the industries to. You had to get there early to be selected on a daily basis. I had some luck here.

I worked at Jecon bulb and Drury Company, Toyo Glass, later at Vita Malt, then at Maltex, all at Agbara industrial estate. I never had a chance at Nestle. There were other times I joined a brother who had a commercial bus and worked as his conductor.

I would woo him to take routes where I wouldn’t  meet any of my friends.(laughs). Anyway, in retrospect, I am  grateful for the events in my life. Today I can relate with the needy in the streets because I have felt them.

However, I enjoyed quite   a few favours.

My secondary school principal offered to pay my WAEC fees because I couldn’t meet the deadline. I didn’t get to write JAMB early as I was always concerned about how to sponsor myself through university.

Waited for over six years after my O levels before I wrote my first JAMB exams. I used that time to acquire all kinds of skills, from computer networking skills to public speaking. When I wrote JAMB, it was a one off.

I got into University of Benin as a merit student and was pretty older than most of my classmates. My school fees were paid through honorarium from my speaking engagements and also through close friends who supported me through the period. I wrote computer operations hand outs and sold to my friends in the department- the only student who sold hand-outs (laughs).

Conceiving the idea of a motivational centre

All my life, I had experienced first hand what it means to be in want and I knew how things would have been different if I had better opportunities, insights and access to a robust network of upwardly mobile people. And I didn’t get that chance but I believe others deserve  it.

In 2002, I began a movement called the Achievers Consortium in Nigerian campuses. The organisation identified creative, talented and truly smart young people who needed support to make a difference in their careers.

We created a platform to support and build the nations creativity pool of young, smart workforce.  Recently, I met an incredible man who shared a deep passion for people. It was a meeting of  like minds.

Dr Jerry Ariomovuohoma is an accomplished doctor of Homeopathy and a serial entrepreneur with businesses in various sectors of the economy. He has founded the Little Kindness Foundation as a non profit effort to reach the downtrodden and support women and children.

By God’s grace, he has been able to raise the  Motivational Centre facility and chairs it as President. Our meeting created a partnership that seeks to reach the ends of Africa and beyond.

Reading books as a motivational speaker
Books are my life’s blood. I read books and foreign magazines. I tried to stay abreast what’s happening around the world.

That often helps me put Nigerian challenges within the ever changing context of the global political and economic landscape. As a student, I had two “Ghana-must-go” bags full of books and foreign magazines. It was all I possessed. I started out with motivational and inspirational books and after a while, I had to switch to “process” books. It’s okay to read books that excite you and spurn you into a mental state. But it is even more important to read books that help you understand the process and the discipline of becoming something of worth. It takes a certain mental toughness to read some of those books and yet within those books lies the material with which greatness is forged!

My passion
Young people are the
future of this land. The problem often is that the impact of disinvestments in education is not visible until a generation later. The “4-year” policy circle we had perpetuated in the country is leading us into an uncertain future. And this is a future that will be dominated by smart nations, and smart minds.

Our youths are now living within an economic reality that puts them in a survival mode. And it is difficult to ponder the long-term when you are in a survival mode. This is both a tragedy and the source of my passion.

I am concerned that if we do not intervene practically and provide options for our youths, we might be putting the future of the country at risk.

There is so much to be done. In my capacity as co-chair for the Youth Development sub-committee of the Human Development Policy Commission of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, we are seeking to push for policies that will help improve the living conditions and opportunities of young Nigerians. I believe men of goodwill will prevail.