My name is Kehinde Arowosegbe I would like to tell my story today so that every youth in Nigeria will be inspired it. I want to tell my story to the whole world so that the youths will know that they can achieve their dreams, come rain or shine. And if they fail to achieve their desires they have themselves to blame.
I was born in a very rural community of Tsafe in Zamfara State (Sokoto at the time). The very first time I had the experience of switching on a light was when I entered secondary school in 1980. So also the very first time I turned on a fan. When I finished primary school I couldn’t speak English. I was one of the best in my class and because of my performance in the Common Entrance Examination I was sent to one of the best schools in Sokoto where we had 32 expatriate teachers. My Principal was the only non Nigerian principal in Sokoto.
It was impossible to communicate with my teachers because I couldn’t speak English. In the hostels, we spoke Hausa to our colleagues and friends, but in class we had to speak English. I started speaking English in Form One in 1980 and by 1982 I was okay; I had started reading novels. I finished secondary school in 1985 but I didn’t make my papers. I then joined my father in his bakery. The Federal Government of Nigeria under Buhari was giving bakers in Nigeria bags of flour at twenty four naira, a subsidized rate. So each baker could go to a headquarters to pick up the number of bags he wanted.
Unfortunately, when Babangida came into power in 1986, the price of flour sky-rocketed from twenty four naira to thirty something naira, and eventually it went up to sixty six naira. Babangida had cancelled the subsidy, and that was how a lot of bakers, including my father lost their businesses. I had to leave my father in Zamfara. I moved to my home town, Ilesha with nothing to do. I enrolled in a printing press to learn its trade. Later on, I joined a musician and we began to go around south western Nigeria playing music. Then in 1988 I went to the University of Ibadan, to play music at Trenchard Hall.
That was my first time in a university. I saw the students, young men and women wearing Knickerbockers, moving all around the campus undisturbed. It was exciting and I said to myself, I have to go back to school. The irony was that at the time I used to teach people subjects like English, Economics, Government, and so on, and they would take the WAEC examinations and pass. My older sister said to me in 1988, ‘Won’t you go back to school?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s only the children I will give birth to that will go to school. I am done with school ’. So I would like to tell the young people out there, the money you’re making today may not be enough for your future.
Around that time, something unfortunate happened to me; a friend of mine did something and roped me in. When we got to the police station, it was clear that I wasn’t part of it. A police officer wanted to write my statement for me and I said to him, ‘No, why do you want to write the statement for me? I can write English’.
‘If you spoil this paper, you will pay’, the police officer warned. ‘What is your qualification?’ I told him I had completed secondary school. ‘And you think you can write good English?’ he asked. I insisted that I would write the statement myself and tell my version of what happened. The officer allowed me to have my way. I never knew that was what God wanted to use to open my eyes. The officer was shocked when he looked at the statement. ‘How many books did you read?’
‘I am just a school certificate holder.’ The officer couldn’t believe it. ‘No. It’s either you done go Polytechnic or you commot from university. You say you dey learn work, you write this kind English?’ That was when I realized that a curse had been placed on me and it was lifted that day. So, my writing could be acknowledged by somebody else? That means I can still go back to school.
By 1990, my older sister came home from the north and I told her I wanted to go back to school. ‘You want to go back to school? I came here two years ago and you said you didn’t want to go back to school. What do you want to do in life?’ At that time I was rounding up my apprenticeship with a printing press. She said, okay and took me to one of my uncles who worked in Ogedengbe Commercial High School in Ilesha (now Ogedengbe School of Science). ‘Your son wants to go back to school. I told him to keep writing WAEC until he passes but he insists that he wants to go back to school.’
I told them that I wanted a teacher to teach me so that I could pass. My uncle agreed and took me to the Vice Principal. I told the Vice Principal that I wanted to start from SS3, but when she learned that I had finished secondary school in 1985 she objected. ‘No, you cannot go back to SS3 because you do not have continuous assessment for SS1 and for SS2. Your own education was when we were using the “form” system. Now, it’s “SS”.’ I suggested that I start from SS2 and she said, no.
‘Unless you go back to SS1… even that I cannot allow because you are too big; you will be beating my teachers. I assured her, ‘No ma, I am a determined man and I will never beat your teacher. I won’t be arrogant.’ She finally said, okay and asked me to go buy my uniform.
So on January 14, 1991 I started SS1 after finishing secondary school in 1985. That day I ran into my friend, Tunji who is now in South Africa. He saw me in uniform and said, ‘Hey Kehinde, are you mad? Don’t tell me you want to go back to secondary school?’ In Osun State at the time, everybody from JSS1 to SS3 wore shorts, nobody wore trousers. ‘With these hairy legs, you want to wear nicka (shorts) to school! You’re not even ashamed of yourself.’ I thought to myself, it’s true and I went back home and took off the uniform.
The following day, January 15, I mustered the courage to go to school. I told myself, ‘That guy who accosted me yesterday must be a devil who wanted to stop me from attaining my destiny.’ When I stepped out, everyone was looking at me because I was very popular. What is wrong with this guy? Going back to school, as big as he is? When I got to the school, I went straight to my Uncle’s office and sat there. He said to me, ‘Go and join your colleagues’.
I went through the back pathway to the SS1 classroom and sat down there. Soon, the school prefect came to chase students to the assembly. She saw one big baba sitting down with shorts. She knelt down. ‘Sir, please could you go to the assembly?’ I said to her, ‘Sorry, I will go’. I mustered the courage to walk to the assembly. Immediately, everybody’s eyes were on me. I passed the SS3 line, passed the SS2 line and arrived at the SS1 line. All eyes were on me.
Read the concluding part of Kehinde Arowosegbe’s incredible story of courage. It will be posted the weekend after the next. This extraordinary tale will follow Kehinde through a humbling career as a conductor in Lagos, a dangerous road trip that almost ended his life, and onto his eventual success years later.