“But without thy mind would I do nothing…”- Philemon 14a
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”- Romans 12:2
“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. … I obviously need help! I realise that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?”- Romans 7:14-24
It would help if you would pause a bit and read the three starter quotations above slowly and allow the message to sink. On a couple of occasions, I asked Dr Sam Adeyemi, leadership expert and presiding pastor of Daystar Church, what he would consider the most important lesson he had learnt in his personal development journey. He had always responded with the same answer, though couched differently most of the time. It is that “Your mind is the most important asset you have.”
This is how he put it in a THISDAY LIFE LESSON interview I had with him in 2017: “Candidly, the most difficult problem I have encountered is changing my thinking. I teach people that they need to change their thinking. If their thinking can change, their lives will change. But I always add that the reason many people’s lives don’t change is that it is hard to change one’s thinking. In fact, it is warfare. Thoughts have a way of strengthening themselves in the mind over time to the extent that the Bible describes a mindset as a stronghold. You see, when thoughts come into our minds, they are in a fluid state. If they stay there long enough, they solidify. I found out that with persistence, mindsets do change, and with that success, beyond imagination, follows.”
That statement had not really sunk until a few weeks back when, for one reason or the other I started to ask myself a few strategic questions.
One question that I asked that threw many things up was: How did I get here?
I had taken a hard look at my over 34 years in journalism, and I was thinking about the network of dots that got me to this very place where I am at the moment.
Like Paul of the Bible would say, “Not that I have achieved anything” but I felt it was important to pause and give glory to God. The Bible says that the only qualification you need to show gratitude is that you are still breathing.
I discovered amazing insights while still deep in that process of contemplation, and a series of questions popped up: What would have happened if I had not connected with some strategic dots prearranged on my path? What would have happened if I had not run into those rough waters (very plenty, including some life-threatening ones) along the path? What would have been the endgame if I had not made some of the mistakes (plenty) I made along the way? Would I have still found myself at this very point that I am at now?
On deeper reflection, I came to one hard conclusion: What we regard as mistakes are part of the process if only we can trust that there is an invisible hand directing the affairs of men and that He sure knows what He is doing. If you doubt that statement, go read the stories of David and his ordeals with King Saul; of Joseph and the mindless troubles he encountered on his way. Was God not aware of those challenges? He was and was silently using the same difficult circumstances to manufacture breakthroughs in their lives. That is the way of God! His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-12).
I also took a hard reflection on the statement by Dr Adeyemi on the importance of the mind, and it dawned on me how this had played out in a few aspects of my life. One of such came readily to mind.
When I started my journalism career back in 1989, as a proofreader with the Concord Press, I had secured a one-room apartment at a place called Mafoluku in Lagos, located just at the back of the media house. The room, which was at the back of the main building, was a peculiar one. It had no window, so there was no ventilation and every time there was rainfall, I had to arrange for a basin to be put by my side to prevent being drenched by water inside my room!
I complained to the landlord repeatedly, but he did nothing about it. Eventually, I was moved to the main building, a room and parlour apartment (thank God for His mercies). My encounter with the landlord in the main building was worse than my experience in the windowless boys’ quarter apartment.
Every three months, the landlord would knock on my door and when I opened, he had only one phrase: “Mr Ayoola, Orowa o.” He meant to say that we needed to discuss, and that discussion always centred on two things: either to increase the rent or the electricity tariff, which he determined by himself.
I got frustrated with his antics, but I could not leave because of my financial reality then. I was in that house from 1989 till 1996. I counted those years as the most frustrating in my entire career journey. But despite those challenges, I continued to put in my best in my job.
I later moved from the proofreading section and joined the magazine (African Concord) section of the media company. One thing led to another, and I found myself moving with Mr Bayo Onanuga and his team, including Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, Mr Babafemi Ojudu, Mr Kunle Ajibade and Mr Seye Kehinde, to pioneer The News Magazine and its subsidiaries: Tempo, AM News and PM News.
Something happened while at The News that changed the trajectory of my journey.
While with that magazine, I introduced a business column to satisfy my area of interest since the magazine had a bent on general interest stories. It was a pull-out designed to focus on business reporting in an interesting way. The concept caught on immediately. Advertisers latched on to it.
Unknown to me, a lady at the United States Information Service (USIS), known as Katherine Reilly, had read every edition of the pull-out and was impressed. One morning, in 1995, I got a note from this lady inviting me for a breakfast meeting. I honoured it.
She asked me generally about financial journalism, an area in which she said she had an interest. I was there prepared. At the end of the chat, she asked whether I had been to the U.S. before. I laughed, telling her I had not even been to the neighbouring Benin Republic. We both laughed. And we parted.
The following month, I got a handwritten note from the lady, asking me to forward my curriculum vitae (CV) to her. I did. To my surprise, three months later, she sent another note saying that she had forwarded my work and CV to the U.S. and was happy to announce that I had been picked to travel to the U.S. to participate in a programme they call the International Visitors’ Programme.
Words could not express my feelings. I was literally floating in the air! She asked that I forward my passport to allow her to process the visa for my trip. Unfortunately, it was the time the Nigerian passport was difficult to get. I did not have any then. I ran everywhere to secure a passport without success. By the time I got one in Abuja eventually, it was already too late for me to travel for the programme. I was demoralised. My dream of jetting to America was fizzling out before my very eyes. But the lady made a promise: that as long as she was there at the US Embassy in Nigeria, she would not recommend any other person for the programme until I went. She kept her promise.
The following year, in 1996, I got her invitation again. This time around I had everything I needed. So, I travelled to the United States after overcoming some difficulties with the Nigerian Immigration Service (journalists had a tough time under the military government of Gen Sani Abacha travelling out of the country for whatever reason) in April of 1996 to join 12 other individuals from around the world for a tour of the U.S.
I was the only Nigerian on the programme, and it was a fascinating experience.
We were each given $10,000 as our stipends. We toured six states. We visited several U.S. government agencies. I had the opportunity to meet journalists in different parts of that country. We were accommodated by many interesting families in different parts of the U.S. In all the states we visited, we were quartered in five-star hotels, all expenses borne by the U.S. government, outside our stipends. It was a life-changing experience.
Altogether, we spent five weeks as guests of the U.S. government.
We were meant to return to our countries to put into use the insights we had gained during the trip. We were at a five-star hotel in Louisville Kentucky on the last day of our programme. We were to be taken back to our destination airports on our way back to our different countries.
Panic struck me that night: I was in deep meditation, and my mind was travelling back to that “Orowa” room in Nigeria. So, I made a decision. I decided to stay back in the US to accomplish two things. One, to cool off a bit and stay away from the harsh journalism environment at home and, two, to see if I could get a good job to take care of my embarrassing financial position then. After the programme, I toured seven other states different from the ones we had visited. I still had some good money from what I saved from the stipend we were given by our host. I was so excited about what I was seeing and felt good about myself. Eventually, I settled down in Boston, Massachusetts, with an uncle.
REALITY DAWNED ON ME
Then, a few things started to happen. My uncle had managed to get a job for me in a supermarket as an attendant, on trial! While in the shop, my eyes strayed into a book on a shelf: Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. I bought the book. It was a Friday.
On Saturday, I went to the poolside of my uncle’s house to read the book. I had not read more than two chapters in the book before I began to feel some unease in my spirit. I just could not contain the insight oozing out of the book. Then suddenly, it appeared as if I heard a voice saying: This is not the place of my assignment for you. The voice echoed again and again. I could not read any longer. The key message of the author is that whatever you are looking for outside is right inside you, waiting to be mined.
I just stood up and returned inside the house. I locked myself inside the room. I read more of the book and took time to reflect on so many things. What dampened my spirit the more was when I saw a former deputy managing director of a mortgage firm in Nigeria doing a security job in a shoe shop in the US. He had sold his property to relocate. Unfortunately, he died while in the US. I encountered a few married Nigerians who had arranged kangaroo marriages with mismatched white ladies hoping to increase their odds of securing their green cards. Most of the calculations did not work. They could not secure the green cards and they could not travel back to Nigeria. They were stuck.
I also saw a few professors from top Nigerian universities doing menial jobs. Before travelling to the US, I had distinguished myself as a business writer and reporter. I obtained my master’s degree and obtained relevant training in financial journalism.
I was just thinking aloud: Does it mean that I am going to throw away all my experience, all the goodwill I have built, bury my dream of becoming a journalist of note and begin to work as a waiter? There was a revolt inside me. And that voice came again: This is not my place of assignment for you. I have a role for you in Nigeria.
My uncle came in shortly after that. I told him without mincing words, that I would be leaving for Nigeria the following week. He was shocked beyond words. He told me to my face that I was being manipulated spiritually. I told him it was not so but that he would not understand what was happening. I stopped going to that supermarket. We used the weekdays to shop. And the following Saturday, he drove me to Logan International Airport, where I boarded a Lufthansa plane to Nigeria.
A LIZARD IN NIGERIA WILL REMAIN A LIZARD IN AMERICA
The late Arch-Bishop Benson Idahosa used to say that a lizard in Nigeria would not change its status in America. A month after landing in Nigeria, I had to resign my appointment with that magazine and locked myself inside that same room for three months just meditating and asking for direction. And the direction came.
I gave my life to Christ and began a different journey altogether. I remained in that same Mafoluku apartment, but I noticed that my perspective on life started to change, and so did my circumstances. I started to hear powerful faith messages and consume some life-changing faith books by Bishop David Oyedepo.
Mr Victor Ifijeh, current Managing Director of Nation Newspaper, got to know I was back and persuaded me to join THISDAY Newspaper. He did more than hand me over to Prince Nduka Obaigbena, who absorbed me the same day. He also got me accommodation in the same house he was staying in, and finally, I was able to bid my landlord a final bye.
After about four years at THISDAY, a privilege came to join others to set up Financial Standard, which became an instant success.
I have since travelled back to the US and other countries a couple of times. And we can also say, to the glory of God, that a few things have been done through these hands of mine. Within that same period, I joined my other colleagues at THISDAY to interview three sitting presidents. After one of the interviews at the Presidential Villa, the then Head of State instructed we should be flown back to Lagos in one of the presidential jets.
I have found fulfilment beyond what I imagined. I have travelled to many other countries in the world and also won an international award. I have built many high-quality local and international contacts that have been of tremendous value to me. Picture this: all these would have been buried in me as a waiter in the US.
So when I see people trooping to all manner of embassies to obtain visas with a plan to escape permanently, I feel pity (but I can relate to their situation; it is a mind game). Many souls have perished in the process of trying to connect to other countries through illegal routes.
But have you stopped to ponder on this seeming irony: While Nigerians are jetting out (Japa) of the countries to all manner of destinations, citizens of other countries are trouping in large numbers? May I make this statement without sounding insensitive: Nigeria remains the best place to be. So many things are going in our favour regardless of what we choose to see or focus on.
One, the population is on our side. Consider the population of Lagos for instance (estimated at around 30 million). If you can just target a small percentage of that population and create a product that meets their needs, you are made. A few weeks back in this column, we published the story of one Adegboyega Adewusi, an ice cream seller, who despite his unassuming appearance and limited educational qualifications, Adewusi had achieved remarkable success in his business, earning a daily revenue of about N300,000 during peak periods and N200,000 during off-seasons. With an annual revenue of approximately N100.8 million and a gross profit of N60.5 million.
And for those who think Nigeria will soon collapse, please perish the thought: that won’t happen. Tim Akano, managing director of New Horizon System Solution shared an insight in a recent event where he was the guest speaker. Tim is close to a few of the nationals of other countries who have chosen to stay put in Nigeria. He said one of them told him boldly that contrary to the popular sentiments of many Nigerians that the experiment called Nigeria can go with the winds any time, those nationals hold a firm belief that there are so many stakeholders in the entity called Nigeria that would do anything to ensure it does not give way.
What changed? My mind! The conclusion I came to while doing that contemplation is that no one should attempt to do anything big until he has instituted a programme of consistent personal development with a focus on mind transformation.
But I must warn you that mind development is a tricky and serious business. I had erroneously thought that by giving my life to Christ and reading the Bible, something would just snap, and I would become a new person. That is an illusion! I can now relate to what Paul was saying in the quotation at the start of this write-up. You can memorise the entire Bible; your General Overseer can pour bottles of anointing oil on your head (I was a beneficiary of some) and lay hands and legs on you, but until you take the development of your mind as one of the most important daily assignments, you are not going anywhere. Nothing significant will ever happen in your life.
There is software running your life at times, and you have to figure out how to change that software for anything meaningful to happen in your life. By strange coincidence, I stumbled on three books that articulate very elaborately the strategies for changing the limiting software of our lives to the empowering one. Those materials are helping in no small measure. If you want me to share the details of the materials with you, simply send me a WhatsApp message at (08086447494) with this statement: “AA, please share the details of the three materials on mind renewal with me.”
WHERE IS KATHERINE REILLY?
One thought that has continued to give me concern is the impact of my decision (to stay back in the US) on the lady who gave me the opportunity to travel. When I eventually returned to Nigeria, I went to the USIS office to see her. Our colleagues at that office especially Mrs Joke Omotunde, and her colleague, Omowumi, felt disappointed. Mrs Omotunde took me to Katherine’s office. I could sense serious horror on her face. She could have lost her job. She felt very disappointed. But while I was about to step out of her office, she called me and asked me to turn back, and she uttered a set of words I cannot forget. She said: “Ayo, even though you did not behave correctly, I still believe in you. I believe if you would go right back to your career, you would still be able to come out well. I believe you took those steps out of ignorance.”
Those words have sunk into my soul ever since and have been the ones behind the passion I put into any journalism-related assignments that I have found myself in since. I have tried every means to locate that wonderful soul and this has not been possible. In case anyone knows where she is, I am interested in connecting with her just to let her know that she was an important dot in my journalism journey, and this is deeply appreciated.