...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...

I attended Igbobi College partly because of now-Nigeria's-VP Osinbajo's star showing in the then prime-time TV Nigerian Schools' Debate

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25 December 2022
27 minutes read
I attended Igbobi College partly because of now-Nigeria's-VP Osinbajo's star showing in the then prime-time TV Nigerian Schools' Debate

Mystery of the first name

People wonder what my name - Lampe - means. I always say "it is my secret."

I always try and make a riddle out of it because there are two vowels missing in the full rendition which is not all that common.

Lampe is a shortened version of my full name which I used to bear in my younger days, in primary school. But as I got into secondary school, Lampe evolved - and I do not know how that happened.

My certificates have my full name. (Long laughter).

…As my career evolved, Lampe Omoyele became a brand name. That kind of stuck and, therefore, I always make it a kind of mystery when people wonder about the name …except to those who truly know me or grew up with me.

I have a middle name: Olorunfemi. Though nobody called me that while growing up, and nobody calls me that now. It is on my certificates.

Origins and heritage

I was born and bred in Lagos. When people ask me my state of origin, I first of all say "Nigeria" but my parents come from today's Ondo State. My paternal side has roots in Itsekiriland. My father has actually done the family tree that traces the family right to the first prime minister of Itsekiri (Ologbotsere) who accompanied the first Olu of Warri from Benin, to found Warri, as the family's progenitor. My dad undertook the exercise not  just because he is keen on history but he was also triggered by my daughter asking to see our family tree. He has also written a book of history around Ugbo Kingdom, Ilaje, where we claim today as our origin. The book, The History of Ugbo Kingdom, is one of the most authentic books on the kingdom.

Our surname, Omoyele,  is actually the first name of my paternal grandfather. The original family name is Jedo.

My father spent his primary school years in Ugbo while his secondary school was in the Warri axis.

Going by the Nigerian Constitution, it is valid to say I am a Lagosian and (technically) I am from Ondo State. My dad has property in Ugbo and I have also been there. I understand the Ugbo language but may not speak it fluently. My generation has not, in recent times, cultivated our Itsekiri roots.

Childhood - and a few memories

I am the eldest of my parents' five children, two boys, one immediately after me, and three girls. My dad was a civil servant while mum worked in the bank. Although he served in several ministries, he spent quite a long time at the Ministry of Finance. He later became permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health and Federal Ministry of Labour.

I was in nursery at Corona School, Ikoyi, from 1967 to 1969, and primary in the same school, from 1969 to 1974.  

I was a pretty well-behaved young person living up to the expectations of being a first child; not to say that I did not get up to this and that. Growing up in Ikoyi was fun, it was a secured neighbourhood, no fences, so we could go and play in our neighbours' houses. I had a Raleigh bicycle and a Chopper.  I also played quite a lot of football. We had football teams. We lived on Oroke Drive and together with others, I co-founded a football, which I think was named Oroke Bombers and we played inter-street competitions. I do remember playing against Cooper Road who were much bigger boys than us.

Later on, I was invited to join CASDEJ Rockets co-founded by two gentlemen, a Nigerian, Deji, who was one year ahead of me in Corona and a Zambian, Cassandra,  who was also one year ahead but in Corona Victoria Island. I played in the defence. CAS was for Cassandra who was the football captain in Corona Victoria Island and  DEJ was for Deji, a great footballer in Corona Ikoyi.

I played with the full knowledge of my father. We had reasonable gardens where we also used as playground. His instruction was to not go out until the homework was done although there were times when one sneaked out to a friend's to go and play football or whatever. But, once one heard his car horn from Queen's Drive, which is adjacent to Oroke Drive, one would start to run back, and through the neighbours' gardens, because there were no fences, to get home, before he got there. When you greet him, "daddy, welcome," you would now ask him if you could go out. 

In CASDEJ, I played in defence but in Oroke, I played more in attack.

Interestingly, when I went to secondary school, Igbobi College, where I played for my house - Aggrey, with the colour blue - not at the school level, I played more in attack. I also did some athletics. I was a pretty good long jumper for my house. Much later in the university, I played football for my department in the Faculty of Science and, yes, I scored the winning goal.

Of Igbobi College, Osinbajo and debates

I did a series of entrance examinations. Igbobi College was one of them. Federal Government Colleges were others. King's College (KC) was a target. But the issues around federal character had come to sway then, so even though one did well, one did not get (automatically admitted). So, I think I had an option of one of the Federal Government Colleges then….But the sway for me for Igbobi was, one, it was in Lagos, and that was an attraction as the other options were outside Lagos. But, also, before even those common entrance examinations, I had seen Igbobi College shining in schools' debates which were then a big thing; they were on prime-time TV. So, there was this igbobian whose style of debate I liked and I really admired this school's debate and I said that this is a school I would like to be. So, when I got the admission, I was glad. Now, that school debater, who was one of the best at the time, is today's Nigeria's Vice President (Prof Yemi Osinbajo).

He was my inspiration.

In the school, I also became a debater but only at house, not school level, because Igbobi had so many top debaters. Interestingly, later at KC, where I did my lower six and part of my upper six, I became the Chief Debater.

I remember that, in that year when I debated for KC, having crossed into the next round, I saw the two debaters for Igbobi College, and one of them, my friend and classmate, who was their Chief Debater, called me "Traitor". And, I thought to myself, what would happen if we met in the finals, and if the topic happened to be "Federal Government Colleges are better than states", how would I debate it?

Arts and medicine in conflict

I did not finish my upper six at KC because, in 1980, I got admission into the University of Lagos (UNILAG) to read medicine. 

Now, there is a story behind how I ended up with a degree in biochemistry.

Growing up, I had the seeming dream of being a doctor, although there was no human inspiration. Basically, I was told, for whatever reason, that as a child, I said that I wanted to be a doctor. So, I grew up hearing that as a child I would be a doctor, and that formed a frame of reference. So, all my subject selections were around science. But, early enough, I  realised that, probably being a doctor was not what I wanted. I had artistic talents; my sciences were okay but I was stronger in the arts. I used to draw. I could also say this is in the genes because my maternal grandfather, Akinola Lasekan, was one of the pioneer modern artists in Nigeria. I used to visit him when he was lecturing at the University of Ife. He died when I was only eight years old but I still have memories of him teaching me when I was on holidays and I drawing sketches. I also found how easy literature, history and English came naturally to me to the point that when we finished school certificate, my closest friends were wondering why I was going to do physics, chemistry, biology in A-Levels. My classmates who were pure arts students struggled with literature and I easily taught them.

I wrote my first short story in 1979 just after O-Levels. In fact, at KC, I was the editor-in-chief of the school magazine.

But one thing led to another, and I actually ended up going to medical school. I did one year of prelim in Akoka (UNILAG's main campus) and crossed over in the second year to the College of Medicine at LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital), Idi Araba.

The realisation of my artistic talents became stronger at the medical school and writing became my catharsis because I was not happy with my studies; I just did not feel comfortable doing medicine and that I should be reading something else. I also got involved in student politics, quiet and introverted as I was. I became the vice chair of the Students' Representative Council.

In a sense, there was a subtle gun being held to my head: you know how it is being a first child and you feeling that you do not want to disappoint your 'village.' So, it was a bit of a difficulty to say to the village that "I am not sure that this is what I should be doing."

I became restless with medicine.

So, I dropped out of medical school to go for what I believed I had the natural inclination for: literature, English, history. But I could not change directly from the medical line to the arts even as I really was prepared to. I suppose that would have meant losing additional two years. I then had to allow wisdom to prevail, and I had to think of what course would allow me go to Year Two again, hence I had to choose a science-based course. I had two options: microbiology or biochemistry. I chose biochemistry because I had done it in my year in medical college.

It was a difficult period for me. But, I started biochemistry and gave it my best shot.

I remember the day I left medical school, I had a dream that I was leaving a concentration camp and I was saying 'free at last, free at last' and on my way running, fleeing for my dear life, I met a classmate of mine who was going in the opposite direction, and I said to her, 'are you going back to that concentration camp?' You know, in real life, she must have spent twelve or fourteen years to become a doctor, and it has nothing to do with lecturers' strikes.

I would not say that my dreams always come to pass but I believe that dreams are an important part of life. So, if I have a dream, I want to consider what is that dream, if it is not positive, I would pray about it. Some dreams will mean nothing while some need some interrogation.

Anyway, I gave biochemistry my best shot and graduated in 1987 top of the class, with a second class upper. So, you can imagine that it took me seven years to get my first degree because of the twists and turns. Most people do not realise that one has gone through a tortuous path.

There was now a renewed pressure for me to do a postgraduate. So, to keep the village quiet, and even some of my lecturers, I decided to do a master's degree.

I remember having to appeal to the HOD, who was also my supervisor, Prof Ifeolu Akinwande, to sign my master's form. But he refused saying I must do M Phil straight,cto make it faster to do my PhD. 

I said No, I was not going in that track and I did not want to get trapped.

I still had that thing: that navigating my talents in the arts was still critical.

In my undergraduate days, I was a member of the Poetry Club in the university.

During my National Youth Service Corps, I worked in a factory at the Nigerian Breweries in Ibadan but I still did a lot of writing. For my community service, I was in the drama group and we travelled for acting.

Now, after my master's degree, I actually picked up a form to do a PhD in biochemistry. After one week, I said No, this is not the  path; that I am not going to go this road again of doing something which is not really where my passions lie.

Having gone through the crisis of me dropping out of medical school and doing exceedingly well in my degrees, everybody was happy and satisfied, my parents had got an appreciation of my gifts and we were better able to have more constructive conversations.

The good part was that I got a federal government scholarship for the master's. It was a competitive one. By then, my father had retired from the Civil Service and the family was going through challenges, so the scholarship was absolutely needed.

Seeking for a copywriter role

So, I began to look for work.

My primary interest in looking for a job was to find one that would help me utilise what I now felt were my innate abilities and my artistic bent, my writing.

My planned focus was copywriting, which then was not a big thing but I knew about it.

For me it was not about the money, rather it was about following my passion.

I did not know anyone who was a copywriter of note then. I was not inspired by anybody. I just knew that I had writing skills which needed to be utilised. By now, biochemistry was off my radar although I knew that it could still be relevant. I was not deluded that it was going to be easy to get a job as a copywriter because of my degrees. Nigeria was not as open as it is today.

So, I wrote application letters for employment as a copywriter to advertising agencies which were not that many then. 

In my applications, I requested to be given a chance to have a conversation despite my degrees in science. Not one was even bold enough to invite me to have this conversation but I kept at it. 

Marketing and Cadbury

I also started to apply for all kinds of jobs, here and there…eventually, after a series of interviews and tests, I got a job at Cadbury Nigeria.

The first stage was written, aptitude test; the second stage was physical, verbal: they put us into groups and gave us case studies and asked us to discuss in groups and then the second part was that they put topics in a basket and asked us to pick a sheet and whatever topic one picked one presented in one minute. So, they were testing different dimensions. Then the third and final stage was a one-on-one with the directors. 

It was that rigorous.

From a thousand candidates, we were down to seventeen at the final stage.  I remember sitting at the reception on that day and the then head of HR, Dr A. O. Iyiola - he was called Personnel Controller then - said: "By the way, I need to inform all of you that you are being considered for sales and marketing jobs." And there was that look on my face which he observed out of everybody sitting there.  

He then said: "Omoyele, you might think that because of your science degrees, you would be considered for a factory or technical roles but we have seen you through the interview stages and we believe you will do well as a marketer." I was even quite impressed that he knew my name. 

But, I had smiled and it was misread as a querying look. It was my spirit saying 'Hallelujah' but it had shown in my face as a surprise. But for me, it was a pleasant surprise.

It was me who had been thinking that I was going to end up in a factory being given an opportunity to go into an area which I believed I would be able to do stuff such as copywriting.

I then asked a colleague next to me what is marketing, telling him I did not know anything about it. But I just knew it was not science. That person happened to know a bit.

So, I went in before the Sales and Marketing Director, A O Ashiru, who passed last year, and also met the Planning Director, who years later became the Managing Director, Mr Bunmi Oni. 

Ashiru asked me if I had been told I was being considered for sales and marketing. I said, "Yes Sir." He then asked what I knew about marketing. I said, "Nothing, Sir." I said, "I will learn something." And that was my mindset. That day, 26 June 1990, was my birthday. I did not tell Ashiru. But, when I met Oni, as I finished and was leaving his office, which was opposite Ashiru's, I saw him bending over, and writing something. He said, "Seeing today is your birthday, I thought I should give you a birthday card." I just felt really glad, at his attention to detail, that he must have seen that it was my birthday, and got prepared. It touched me and I thought that this was the kind of place I would like to be.

One week later, I got a letter of employment. Eleven out of the seventeen were taken. 

So, that is how I got into Sales and Marketing and that is why I thought it was really God-ordained. And that is how it was fortuitous that I got into the field that spoke to my natural aptitude. 

Of course, later in my career, Cadbury being a food industry, my qualification and knowledge of science came into play and was quite pertinent. It was not the company taking advantage of that but I allowing it to play that part.

For example, when I was Brand Manager for Bournvita - I got into the role fifteen months after being employed as a trainee - one of the things we wanted to do was to fortify the brand with vitamins and minerals on a competitive basis with Milo. Some of the things we were keen on fortifying Bournvita with were Vitamins A, C and E, because that combination would have made Bournvita claim that it offered immunity. We were working with the Technical team. They said we could add Vits A and E but that C could not survive the manufacturing process. We were on this for months or up till a year. I was adamant that there must be a way out.

One night, at home, I was just reflecting and a thought process came to my mind that the chemical name for Vit C is ascorbic acid, which, based on my scientific background and knowledge can exist in salt format - ascorbate. If so, why can it not withstand high temperatures. 

The following morning I went to my Technical/R & D colleagues, Ph D holders, and took them through my thought process. And, they looked at me, this marketing guy, what does he know? But they knew I was right and they put it to test. It worked. They got Vitamin C into Bournvita. So, it became a joke as well: when they were discussing technical things and I asked questions, they would say, "Lampe is here, we cannot throw wool over his eyes "

I was in Cadbury for eighteen years, fourteen in Cadbury Nigeria business and the last four in the East & Central Africa business, based in Nairobi, Kenya. This was a secondment initially, as part of my developmental process, and also to support the team there. In the process, when I was there, there was a reorganisation that created a new sub-region of East and Central Africa, I interviewed for it, along with other candidates across the world, and I got the role as Marketing Director for East and Central Africa.

Life after Cadbury

I left Cadbury because the time had come to chart a different course. The trigger was at the seventeenth year when I was due to come back to Nigeria and the opportunities that were available in Cadbury Nigeria then did not fit into my aspirations. 

One of the opportunities that presented itself was to go into telecommunications. This for me was a growth opportunity. I worked at a marketing director level with Zain (which has metamorphosed into Airtel). Even though I stayed there for ten months, it was a good experience. For me, I think the key learnings were - how do you manage organised chaos, change that may not always look pleasant, how do you as a leader manage those dynamics, cultural differences, because I got recruited by Celtel which had East African roots, and two months after I started, Zain, which was mostly Arabs, took over, different cultures and different ways of doing things. But also, one had to help with structure, both in terms of people structure and segmentation strategy from the marketing perspective.

I was poached but I had to go through an interview, and, yes, Emeka (Oparah) was involved, let's put it that way. (Long laughter).

From Zain to Nutricima, a sister company of PZ-Cussons, as marketing director, almost like a poaching too. I was back in FMCG. I was there for almost three years. Then another opportunity came to be Africa Marketing Director at GSK Consumer Healthcare and I also spent almost three years there as marketing director. I left there to become Managing Director of Nielsen West Africa. This was different from two broad perspectives, one, it was not your typical marketing role; I now had a general manager perspective, managing people, managing business p & l across the West African region, and, two, it was research as opposed to brand management. But for me, it was a useful opportunity because of the general management role and it enabled me to bring in some of the experience we had on the fine side and use it as a consultant, so to speak, on many brands and many companies. I knew that, at some point, I would go into consulting.

I moved on and started a small shop of mine, Luscent Consulting Company. In the process of that, I moved to help build Nitro121 which at the time was 141Worldwide. It is also part of my journey of consulting, working with a series of brands, another part of the marketing ecosystem. For me, this is part of an ongoing journey working as a business manager with an expertise in marketing.

So, what has happened to my writing? It has tended to be more along business and marketing writing today. Proposals and some storytelling which tends to be more on social media. I do not do too much of what you might call creative writing apart from what I may do in the job while we are discussing (ideas and concepts). I did publish my first anthology of poems, Love Chords and Discords, in 2019. I still have some unpublished poems. I certainly need to do a lot more creative writing.

I also teach at many opportunities that I get at various fora, but the more formal one is teaching marketing strategy at the Pan Atlantic University. I also teach at the Orange Academy. 

My current look of having a beard and hair on my head - I used to go to the barber's every week for a clean shave - was triggered by the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020: I was not going anywhere, I was not going to take a chance going to the barber's and I was not going to shave myself because I was not too good in that aspect. Truth is that I did not realise that  I could grow my hair because I have been so used to weekly shaving. So, that I left it and found that it has grown fully and also grey was really intriguing. Then I got some feedback that it was okay. My spouse adjusted fully to it. So, even when it kept growing out more, I said, why not? So, what I just do is trim it. I still go to the barber's but once a month now. So, it is saving me money now, especially as the barber has increased his price, blaming it on the increased price of diesel. (Long laughter).

In terms of fulfillment down the road, I am really grateful to God. I think that I have been fulfilled in all through life and career, even through those challenges. I always say that no experience is a waste, even those that were seemingly negative or painful. For example, based on my career journey and choices, I have found that I have been in a better position to counsel parents regarding their children's career choices.

By God's grace, I think there is a lot more that is ahead.

About my relationship with God, my personal cultivation of faith in God and Christ started in Igbobi College with my membership of the Scripture Union. There have been ups and downs, back and forth but, at the end of the day, I have strived by grace, despite the trials and temptations, to remain connected to God. For me, He is an important strand of my existence and value system. The fundamental of Christian faith says that you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not by might not power but by grace.


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