Osun Osogbo and the Argungu Fishing festivals have become much larger than they have ever been. In fact, they are leading the way in Nigeria’s renewed efforts to promote culture and tourism. And, Ayo Olumoko, one of the country’s ‘Independence Children’, is behind the new revolution. He shares his story and experiences with ‘LOLA ADEWOYIN
My name is Ayo Olumoko. I was born on September 3, in the independence year, 1960, to unmarried parents. They were both in secondary school. My father was about 17 years old while my mother was about 16 years old. Because of the situation then, my father refused my paternity. But his parents accepted my mother because his uncle he was coming to spend holidays with at the area my mother lived, attested to the fact that he was seeing them together.
Later when I was about four years old, my mother got married and moved overseas with her husband. In 1965, my father married his fiancée, who became my step mother. She is a wonderful woman who accepted me and has been treating me like her own son. Then, I was living with my grandmother in Ebute Metta and I attended St Jude's Primary School, in Ebute Metta. At a point in time, my grandmother's elder brother's son used to visit my grandmother and on one of such visits, he asked my grandmother to allow me live with him in Shomolu. I later attended Odogbolu Grammar School in Ogun State.
Talking about my family background, I didn't have much connection with family life while growing up because my mom was not in the house. But that does not mean that my stepmother was not taking good care of me because up till today, I still feel freer with my stepmother than with my mom; she was really a mother to me. My daddy was a socialite who didn't really care about how I fared, his concern then was his social life and I wasn't really part of his problem. But fortunately, my stepmother was capable of keeping the home front intact and she was able to bring me and my siblings up. She was a banker. So, while in secondary school, I was in boarding house; I hardly had parental care.
During open days, nobody usually came to visit me. My grandmother used to come once in a while, but it won't be on open days. Also, anytime my father came to Ijebu Ode in the company of my stepmother, she would impress it on him that they stop by to say hello to me. Without my father's knowledge, my mom (referring to the step mother) will give me provisions, fried meat, garri and other things that she had hidden somewhere in the car. Because I thought nobody really cared about me, I did not face my studies. But fortunately for me, I did not repeat any class. I was not an average student but always manage to squeeze myself into the last four to be promoted to the next class.
However, I was very good in sporting activities. I became an aspiring school goalkeeper in Form Two and in Form Three, I started keeping for the school as number one goalkeeper. I was also playing Lawn Tennis for the school. In Form Four, I became the captain of the Volley ball team and assistant captain for Lawn Tennis. From Form one to five, I was not an average student. Average students are between 10 and 15 positions but I was always behind. Even out of 60 in class at that time, I will be around the 54th or 55th and of course, I was fortunate enough not to repeat any of the classes.
The prep period to me was a time of rest or to probably disturb some of my friends in class. If seniors were there and they were the type that would not disturb me, I would start disturbing the whole class and singing to prevent them from reading. Reading was not important to me that time. Sometimes, if the seniors are the ones that do not take nonsense, I would put my head on the locker and sleep off. But of course when examination period was approaching, I would discuss with my mates and at the end of it all, I would get promoted. As expected. I had F9 parallel at the final year examination except in my English where I had P7.
Then, I came back to Lagos because my thought was to manage and complete my secondary education and go straight to work. In those days, all those corporate offices were always waiting for us to come in and after one or two years, they give you a car, that was the kind of life I was used to you know, with a socialite as a father, I thought that was all that life was about. My set was the first that sat for Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination. Forms were given free of charge and I said who needs your forms? My friends who did well got admitted into universities and polytechnics. Later, my uncle encouraged me to sit for General Certificate in Education (GCE) and asked me what went wrong while I was in secondary school, because according to him, I was brilliant before secondary school. I had to attend tutorial classes that time and my step mom was on my neck to turn a new leaf.
I was admitted to Lagos State College of Science and Technology (LACOSTE) now Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH). That time, polytechnic education was for four straight years; there won't be any break and corporate organisations preferred technical institution graduates to university graduates. That was why I went to LACOSTE. From there, I started my life and my uncle returned from abroad with qualification in computer science and he joined United Bank for Africa (UBA).
While studying for my HND, he invited me to join the bank if I can do professional examinations, which will automatically make me a full-fledged manager. That was how I got to UBA and was posted to NET branch. I was there when NET (NITEL’s NECOM House) got burnt.
While there, I furthered my education at LACOSTE, but did not allow anybody to be aware of it. At a point in time, I had to work my transfer to Ilupeju branch of the bank to make it easy for me to attend lectures at Isolo. Nobody, including my uncle, knew about this. From there, when I was 21 years old, I had to leave the house and live alone.
While studying at LACOSTE, I got involved in campus activities. Our campus was not residential then, unlike now that it is at Ikorodu. So, there was nothing like cultism, but there was the Rotaract Club, which attracted me with their mode of dressing. They were always in jeans, jacket and tie and I love the look. That was where my life really changed. From there, I got to know about leadership. I got to see professionals in Rotary Club who were doing very well, like former minister Julius Adelusi, former Managing Director, Nestle, who is now Chairman of WAPCO; so many of them.
From then, my life changed and I became really brilliant, unlike when I was at Odogbolu Grammar School. Later, Mr Yemi Akeju invited me to come and join him in his business. It was while working with him that I got exposed to event marketing, promotion and management. I got the Nigeria Music Awards account for the company. That was when Chief Tony Okoroji was the president of Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN). So, we did a lot of things for PMAN that time. We had a problem with PMAN at that time because we were always making money for them and they were complaining that the money was not enough, to the extent that we went to court, of course, we won the case.
I cut my teeth in Public Relations and event packaging when I worked for almost 10 years consistently at Ideal Communication and its subsidiaries headed by Akeju. I was moved from one subsidiary to another and any time he is forming a new subsidiary, I was always the marketing manager. At the end of the day, I left the company as the group general manager, with all the general managers of the subsidiaries reporting to me and I reported directly to the group Managing Director, Mr Akeju.
I left to establish my own company. When I left, I planned not to be involved in the kind of work he does, but I found that I was not a technical person. Then I thought about what I could do and I started writing proposals to companies to help organise their Annual General Meetings. I got a good response from Unipetrol; that was how I became a consultant to Unipetrol under the leadership of Alhaji Yusuf Alli. From Unipetrol, I started getting jobs from other companies. I later got the account of Coca cola which was shared between my company and JSP, which has the largest share.
Osun Osogbo Festival
When Osun State government decided to repackage Osun Osogbo Festival, another company was approached to help repackage it. The company however declined, saying its belief in Christianity does not allow it. My company was approached and of course I needed a job, so we took it up. I am also a Christian, but I don't believe that packaging a cultural festival will have any adverse effect on my religious belief, in as much as I will not participate in the fetish aspect of the festival.
My company was also involved in the packaging of the Argungu Fishing Festival in Kebbi State and the Eebi Epe Festival in Epe, Lagos State. I see my business as a calling, especially in the area of promoting cultural activities because I don't have to do what others are doing. So, we thank God today that we have been able to do so many things. We are involved in promoting cultural activities, although we are not traditionalists. Tradition is quite different from religion; we are promoting our culture. The way we dress and talk and the way we respect our elders, you know that respect is reciprocal in African culture and if you look at what is going on in this country, our children are hardly speaking our languages; that is, our indigenous languages are going into extinction, which everybody should see as a very big challenge.
If you look at developed countries, culture is evident in every aspect of their lives. Look at Brazil for example, football is one of the things they do, much emphasis is placed on culture, their samba dance is known worldwide. Look at Kenya, the major thing they are known for is tourism, an avenue they explore to project their culture positively, so why not Nigeria? We have so many things that we can develop and that will be able to sustain us more than the oil we are placing all our hopes on. Let us look at Eyo Festival in Lagos State. Last year's edition was well organised and it was without any rancour; there was no problem whatsoever. The Eyo masquerades went on their parade peacefully; nobody was beaten anyhow; that is the kind of festival we are used to in the past. We don't beat people anyhow.