By Demola Akinyemi, Ilorin
One of Nigeria’s highly inspiring true life stories is that of Emmanuel Oluwasayomi Ahmadu, popularly known as Mr Voiceover, a Kogi-born Batch B Stream II Corps member serving in Kwara State. Ahmadu, an award winning voice-over artiste, Nollywood actor, anti-depression and suicide advocate, is a graduate of mass communication from University of Benin (UNIBEN).
The story of his determination to succeed at all costs was aptly demonstrated when he wrote his Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) 17 times before he gained admission into UNIBEN. In this interview, Ahmadu speaks on his life.
How did you write SSCE 17 times and passed before you gained admission?
I survived through the grace of God. The journey started when I was at a tender age and everything was rosy in the family; then the situation turned sour and family crisis began. My father and mother separated due to irreconcilable differences. That was when my crisis started. I attended 16 primary schools and 14 secondary schools between 2010 and 2014 due to persistent family crisis which caused me psychological and mental imbalance, leading to SSCE attempts before I finally passed after the 17th attempt in 2014.
The examinations I sat for included WAEC, NECO, NABTEB, NECO GCE and JAMB that ushered me into the university. During the period of writing O’ level examination, I endured the pain to keep attempting each exam yearly with the sole aim of passing without cheating, despite pressures to succumb. This is because I knew succumbing to malpractice would cause me more harm than good, considering the psychological and mental effects of being enrolled in several schools and learning under different teachers.
I studied to the best of my knowledge but, in the end, I kept failing until God gave me breakthrough in 2014. Prior to when I finally passed SSCE, I enrolled in SSS2 in a school in 2013 when I strengthened my relationship with God and I also fully concentrated on my studies. During the period, I borrowed textbooks and attended private lessons with best students in various subjects and I also got SSCE syllabus from experienced teachers who doubled as my personal tutors. Furthermore, I constantly treated past questions on various subjects and I ensured that I scored higher than previous marks during my personal studies. I also received home tutorials on core subjects with brilliant students and graduates living my neighbourhood.
All these efforts paid-off as I eventually passed all my subjects in flying colours without cheating and got the best result in the school where I enrolled. It was this feat that ushered me into UNIBEN. All along, I had the conviction that I wanted to pass without cheating in order to correct my past and to prepare for a promising future. Today, I am glad that I am a change agent contributing to tackling national and global problems. If I had quit school or succumbed to the pressure to indulge in exam malpractice, which is becoming a norm to many students and youths in Nigeria today, my story would have been different.
What was the family crisis all about?
The family crisis started when I was about seven years old, separating my parents. I saw hell. It was more like a spiritual conflict with physical manifestations. The situation was so terrible that we the children were scared of approaching our father to share our emotions and love with him. The sad experience lasted more than 16 years when our father died despite fasting and prayers to save the situation. Interestingly, my father was a pastor and he was constantly on transfer which, in the end, had dire consequences on the family. Meanwhile, my mother was always relocating with him until she could not do so due to its effect on her life, her children and her job. During this period, I moved from one school to another and the cycle continued until I enrolled in 16 primary schools and 14 secondary schools months in two years.
I grew up to understand that my mother showed us more attention, care, godly counselling and love, and took up all responsibilities despite the separation from my father. She spent her salaries as a civil servant, engaged in all types of petty businesses and sometimes went the extra mile to obtain bank loan just to sponsor our education. She ensured that her five children did not go astray despite pressures from family members. My mother also funded the University Matriculation Examination which I wrote five times and SSCE which I passed after the 17th attempt, even when she knew that I was not ready to succumb to cheating in line with the godly counselling she exposed us to from tender age.
During the period you were rewriting your SSCE, what was the motivating factor?
One thing that kept me going was my belief system and God’s grace I saw quite a number of my junior colleagues who became master’s degrees’ holders and some were already working while I was still wearing secondary school uniforms to repeat SSS1 & SSS2. But I remain focused to succeed.
What about your parents, teachers and siblings? What roles did they play?
My mother played a great role, although she was at some time frustrated and wept profusely and compared me with other children in the family and with my peers who were making their families proud. She was frustrated by my repeated failures and the shame I was causing her. At a point, she took a bold step to advise me to quit school and invited family members to beg me to consider carpentry or learn a trade rather than for her to continually spend money on an unproductive son. But she never stopped praying and fasting for her children and husband. I technically suffered educational setbacks the most amongst my siblings as a second child in a family of five children. I was repeating class with my junior siblings and teachers would instruct me to meet my siblings for explanation in subject areas where I did not understand.
Teachers nicknamed me Coconut Head because I did not always understand what was being taught in class let alone being able to answer questions and I was fond of taking either the last position or the penultimate grade in my result. During a time I was rewriting my SSCE, our last born was also preparing for his first attempt in same exam at the Federal Government College, while other junior siblings and my elder brother were already in higher institutions. I felt traumatized but I kept hope alive with advice from close associates and people with loving hearts. In the end, I emerged as the first university graduate in the family. And as fate would have it, I was mobilized for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) months to when I will turn 30 years which is the age limit for Youth Service. I have no doubt in my heart that God orchestrated my story to pass a message to this generation.
Was there any spill over during your tertiary education experience?
I had no extra year. I gained admission into UNIBEN in 2014 and finished my degree programme in 2018. My passion to succeed distinguished me from other university students. During my days at UNIBEN, I represented the university, Kogi State and Nigeria respectively on several occasions where I won many outstanding national and international award competitions. These achievements called for my invitation for celebration by the university’s Vice Chancellor for winning awards and being featured on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
How did you survive during the period?
There is an axiom that says “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. Upon this nugget lies my drive to keep pushing on. I saw a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. More importantly, I surrounded myself with people who brought out the best in me by motivating me to press on and that one day all would be history. At a particular time, I had a one-on-one encounter with a secondary school junior colleague of mine at a bank who, at the time of our meeting, had finished his university programme. I was shocked, knowing full well that I was just re-enrolled into SSS2. But I had to put myself together to face the challenge.
When the conversation commenced, I brought out my business card and told him that I was into advertisement on radio and television. He told me I had achieved so much for myself, but that was actually an escape route for me. Although I had a natural talent to do voice-over at that time, I had suspended it to focus on getting my SSCE right. I was also able to survive my troubles because of the baby face God gave me, such that people often addressed me as a younger brother to some of my siblings. Although at some point during my last re-enrolment into SSS2 for my SSCE exams, I was being addressed as “sir’ by students and some teachers, but I was not distracted because I knew what I was there to achieve. It was not easy but God helped me through the hard times.
With the benefit of hindsight, what do you think youths can learn from your experience?
Youths should accept their challenges and see them as real life situation. And they should imbibe the spirit of determination and dedication towards the achievement of their dreams. They should be God-fearing, not religious and taking into cognizance that they will give account of whatever they do here on earth before their Creator. Let me give you an analogy. Destroying a nation does not require atomic bombs or long range missiles. It only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in examinations by students.
Patients die at the hands of doctors produced by such system. Buildings collapse at the hands of engineers produced in such a scenario. Money is lost at the hands of economists & accountants produced there. Humanity dies at the hands of religious scholars there while justice is lost at the hands of their judges. The collapse of education is the collapse of a nation. Nigerian youths should desist from examination malpractices and other social vices in order not to truncate their careers and bring shame to the country as future leaders.
Most of the youths are fond of comparing themselves with others with the feeling of inferiority complex which, most times, leads to unnecessary pressures which have caused many youths frustration, depression and triggered suicidal thoughts in the end. In recent times, depression has emerged as a predominant health challenge leading to young people taking their own lives or engaging in societal vices like internet fraud, political thuggish, cultism, exam malpractices, prostitution and drug abuse.
What do you think parents can do to support their wards to succeed in life?
Parents should provide the fundamental needs of their wards, which include but not limited to love and care, close monitoring to ascertain when a child develops behaviour disorder as well as other challenges that might lead to depression. Parents should believe in their wards and motivate them with kind words towards achieving greatness in life.
Parents should also create time to have heart-to-heart talks with their wards to address their emotional pains, which is more than just giving them money to meet their physical needs. Parents should discontinue the act of encouraging their wards to be involved in internet fraud, prostitution, street hawking and underage marriage because of the money they will make out of it.
They should learn from Ben Carson’s mother who brought out the best in Carson to become the first neurosurgeon in the world. And they should keep encouraging their wards towards achieving their purpose in life. They should not speak negative statements to discourage their wards, so their wards won’t feel hopeless, depressed and contemplate suicide. They should help their wards to discover their talents, then give them support to achieve them. They should be prayerful and hand over their wards to God, the Creator who can make a hero out of zero.
The authorities and stakeholders, how can they support youths to succeed and be tomorrow’s leaders?
Government should encourage youths by implementing policies and programmes that will create employment for them. Government should celebrate successful students and youths in order to motivate others towards achieving greatness. Government should include youths in decision making geared towards national development. Government should stop using youths as political thugs so as not to truncate their future. Government should standardize the learning citadels and review the curriculum. Stakeholders and those in government should lead by example. They should pump money and resources into academic programmes and competitions to boost the morale of youths, just as they do to the entertainment and the sport sectors. They should invest more in ICT development to set youths on global competition with their counterparts in other parts of the world. They should serve as role models to youths.
What’s your ambition in life?
Recently, I kick-started a global assignment to tackle the menace of depression and suicide, which will become the 2nd most prevailing health problem in world history by year 2020, according to World Health Organization.
It is a nationwide programme (state-to-state) on community mental health awareness and sensitization on tackling depression and suicide with a focus on secondary schools and campuses. I seek to work with the United Nations, World Health Organization, NGOs, health and education agencies, stakeholders and investors to achieve these sustainable development goals using my story as a platform to reach out and offer professional educational and mental health support to young people and adults who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
As a way to tackle the alarming rate of depression, hopelessness, trauma and suicide prevalent amongst youths in Nigeria and beyond and to restore hope, I seek the support of the entertainment industry, investors and relevant agencies and individuals in the adaptation of my full story to produce a cinema movie to be circulated globally and to have my story published and adapted by national examination bodies to restore hope to the millions of youths and students who are experiencing failure in career pursuits, resulting to depression and suicide contemplation.