Judging by the number of people camped in most embassies in Nigeria, you don’t need a soothsayer to tell you how badly many Nigerians want to leave the country. The unemployment, insecurity, unforgiving exchange rate and fuel crisis are some of the many reasons people want to escape what can be a tough environment to survive in.
Kayode Adegbola, a 25 year old lawyer and business man, begs to differ. I met him in a huge white building somewhere on the Island. Men were at work in what looked like a construction site. Some kind of serious renovation project was underway. He emerged from the flurry of activity around him, wearing an aura of confidence and amiability.
For him, Nigeria is home no matter what, and this drove him to return immediately after his education in the UK. I’m a true Lagosian, but I’m also aware that many people hustle and sweat for the opportunity to leave our shores. I wondered what would drive a man to come straight home barely a day after his graduation ceremony.
Kayode’s answer was simple: a sense of belonging. Culture and tradition mean a lot to him and he has a particularly strong connection to his village, Igan Okoto in Ogun state. To him, the sense of identity he feels in his village, and in his country, is something he never experienced abroad. This sense of belonging is a recurring theme throughout our conversation – from his reflections on his closeness to his family, to his unwavering love for Nigeria as a nation.
“In a sense, it was cultural. In another sense, it was love for my family. It was my passion for politics and current affairs in Nigeria. I grew up in a family of four and we are very close-knit. Being in university in England felt like I was in a boarding school somewhere because every opportunity I got to come home, I took. My heart has always been at home. I don’t feel like I belong there.
“I love Nigeria, I love Nigerian parties, the people… I just couldn’t imagine myself living outside Nigeria unless I had to and there was no compelling reason for me to stay in England beyond my graduation. While I was doing my law degree, there were two major election petitions in Nigeria for which I contributed ideas and rubbed minds with some senior lawyers and strategists. While doing that from there, I looked forward to every opportunity to come back home and meet these lawyers. Luckily, two of those people with those petitions eventually became governors. I couldn’t wait to come home and be a part of it.’’
It dawned on me pretty quickly that Kayode is not the average Nigerian. I don’t know many people who can say they have corresponded with state governors. I was talking to a privileged young man. Kayode does not deny this. He is aware of the advantages he has had, but rejects the idea that they absolve him of the need to work hard.
“My upbringing was very focused on hard work, and so the value of working for the things I want was ingrained in me from a young age. My first real job at a law firm in Lagos was one I got without my parents’ influence and it took quite a long time. However, I will definitely say that I have been blessed in some cases with a foot in the door, after which the real work of proving oneself begins.”
Good families don’t only come with helpful networks, they also serve as channels through which we can learn from elders who have gone before us.
“My paternal grandfather was a priest, my paternal grandmother was a teacher, my maternal grandmother was a judge and my maternal grandfather was a lawyer. It was an interesting mix and I learnt a whole lot from them.”
But Kayode’s grandparents passed on more than knowledge. His maternal grandfather in particular, in addition to being a forerunner for Kayode’s own background in law, also left big shoes to fill. Being the grandson of the late Bola Ige comes with some serious political and social capital. This made Kayode’s relentless patriotism even more interesting, considering the resources at his disposal and – more importantly – the tragic circumstances of his grandfather’s death.
“I was very young and it was a situation where I had seen my grandfather serve this country, fight for democracy and go to detention a lot of times during the military era. For him to be murdered in a democratic dispensation… It made me wonder why he was repaid in that way.”
The unsolved murder of Bola Ige took a devastating emotional toll on Kayode’s family. This experience could have given way to apathy and even anger towards the Nigerian state. Since moving back to Nigeria, Kayode has also had his fair share of the frustrations that are part and parcel of living and working in this great country.
“I have had bad experiences, especially with the police. One was so bad, a drunk police man assaulted me. There have also been other unfortunate incidents but these have not made me love my country less.”
Both as a child who watched his family reel from the aftermath of his grandfather’s murder and a young man going about his day-to-day business, Kayode has seen the ugly side of the Nigerian state. Still, these experiences haven’t left a bad taste in his mouth. Instead, they have forged Kayode’s resolve to do everything he can as a Nigerian citizen to improve the welfare of his people. His passion for Nigeria is befuddling to say the least.
“To be honest, I have never wanted to go back to England. I like the idea of going for holidays for a few days. Even when I do, I get tired of it before the end of the holiday. So, I don’t regret moving back home. There is just something about being among the people most like you.”
Kayode is not only passionate about Nigeria as a citizen. With an active commitment to politics and nation-building, I could tell that the apple hadn’t fallen too far from the Ige tree.
“I have been politically active for a few years and I’m a member of a political party in my grandfather’s village. It’s been an interesting journey for me so far. I go back there for meetings and elections. I have helped in generating ideas and implementing some that will help in developing my village so I have built some sort of relationship with the villagers. Persuading them to vote for my party didn’t happen overnight, and we did quite well in the last elections.”
Slowly but surely, Kayode’s sojourn into politics and building relationships in the grassroots has begun. He thinks he’ll eventually run for office. Having been burned by politics in the past, it is expected that concerns and worries from family members will surface.
“When I began to show my interest in politics, my mother was very concerned especially when I was in England and came back for things such as rallies. There was a time I wanted to go for a political campaign in Anambra and she wasn’t happy with it. She actually put her foot down and I was not able to go. I think I had just finished Law School at the time.
“I think, these days, she has come to terms with my passion for Nigeria and politics so she just sends her prayers. My dad is a silent politician and even my mum is, but her motherly instinct makes her worried.”
Be that as it may, Kayode doesn’t plan on rushing into office anytime soon. For now, he is happy to continue working on helping others and realising his personal, professional and business goals.
“I’m somewhat attracted to opportunities that come my way. I refresh myself by attending Law and self-development courses.. I have also been able to use some of my experience as a lawyer in my other endeavours.’’
As someone who is dedicated to discovering people’s needs and providing lasting solutions to them, Legacy Serviced Offices was birthed.
“The idea is to develop offices across Lagos that people can move into and begin work immediately, providing services like internet connection, security, cleaners, shared receptionists, uninterrupted power supply and so on. This is great for both local and foreign companies.”
Kayode’s ambition is pretty impressive. He speaks with conviction, passion and focus and has a clear sense of what he wants and where he is going at an age when many of his peers might still be figuring out what they want to do with their lives. The man before me had a plan, and he was pursuing it. He attributes this sense of purpose and drive to one source. The clue is in the name of his business. What leaves the greatest legacy for us, if not family?
“One thing that radiated around me a lot while growing up is love. The love that we shared as a family is what I extend to other people now. This love has also earned me a lot of good will.
“My parents made several sacrifices for my sister and I growing up and these are some of the things that shaped our childhood. We were made to understand very early on that we are not rich. They had no hesitations showing us their bank statements and telling us what their salaries were at the time and helping us understand that what we saw as available funds was money that they had worked really hard for and put aside for our education.
“A lot of the things they did in raising us were very deliberate and what this has done for me is that it has made me focused. I would like to give my own children the kind of upbringing that my parents gave to my sister and I, and ensure that they lack nothing that they need.”
As someone who could be seen to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Kayode challenged many of my assumptions throughout our meeting. He was fully aware of his upbringing and the clout that came with it, but also incredibly devoted to making his own mark on the world. I was also reminded that no family, however privileged, is immune to loss especially in a country where justice does not always prevail.
Nevertheless, Kayode’s passion and optimism were infectious. He’s going strong and he has no intention of slowing down. In the next five years, he plans to expand his business to include other serviced offices across Lagos. As for his other plans outside of business, the exact date of the launch of his political campaign remains top secret. He is definitely one to watch, and we will be watching.
People Like Us is an exclusive column created by TNC to document the lives of everyday Nigerians.
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