Ugochukwu Omeogu: From Crutches to Cruises
Ugochukwu Omeogu is a polio survivor. Though he has lived most of his life on crutches, yet he has been able to change the status quo by rising above his challenges and converting them to opportunities to forge ahead in life.
Ugochukwu Omeogu, the Million Dollar Man aka Millions as he was known in Uni days at Imo State University or Premium Business Mentor as he is known today in the corporate business world, suffered from polio 1 year 6 months after he was born which left him with a permanent physical disability, having to walk with the aid of crutches for the rest of his life..
Though he has lived most of his life on crutches, he has been able to change the status quo by rising above his challenges and converting them into opportunities to forge ahead in life even in the toughest place like JP Morgan Chase Bank in Dallas Texas USA.
Surviving and thriving to excellence within and outside Nigeria with a physical disability whilst born to average parents, his life looks nothing like what he has been through..
Today, Ugochukwu Omeogu is a Workplace Attitude Expert, Personal Development and Career Coach. He is the Principal Consultant and Prime Facilitator of Merignos Consulting & Mentoring Limited, – a Career, Management, and Business Development Company. He also runs private Executive Mentoring and Coaching programs for top corporate executives. He is also the founder of Wealthinaire Mentoring Ville, a state-of-the-art business mentoring facility in Lagos, Nigeria.
Though he carried out his National Youth at Service Corps (NYSC) at Central Bank of Nigeria, Owerri Imo State, his mentoring and coaching experience and skills were developed at JP Morgan Chase Bank in the United States of America (USA) where he was the lead facilitator in the Performance Management Review Team (PMR). He was trained in Customer Service, Leadership and Organizational Strategy at JP Morgan Chase Bank in the United States.
He has also worked in one of the leading banks in Nigeria where he established with other topnotch leaders of the bank the Regional Private Banking Unit in Port Harcourt and facilitated the culture integration training.
Omeogu designed the Train-the-Trainer mentoring program adopted by Lagos State Government for the Secondary Teachers and Students in Lagos State.
He was the Regional Group Leader with World Lending Group in Dallas Texas in the United States where he functioned as the lead Loan Originator while mentoring junior officers to higher performance and also as a Senior Customer Relationship Manager.
You must be imagining What it was like to reach these heights of excellence as a physically challenged person born to poor parents in a country like Nigeria, how did he rise to the level of a Premium Business Mentor for fortune 500 companies?
In this interview with Kehinde Olatunji, he spoke on how he unlocked the virtues in his mind to overcome his challenges and how you can do it too.
Your story has inspired lots of people in the business world, tell us about yourself.
I have an interesting story indeed. My life is such that it shows that the human mind can withstand any type of onslaught. As long as your mind is intact and you have the capacity to think about the situation you are in.
My story shows that there is nothing life throws at you that you cannot withstand.
At one year old, I had polio. Going to school was difficult because I had to deal with the physical challenges of going to school every day, like other people. We had no car to take us to school. My siblings would walk a long distance to get to school, but I couldn’t do that, because I could not walk long distances. But, every day as my brothers woke up to go to school, I also woke up and dressed up with them. The only challenge is that when we get to the gate of my house, they would go to school and I would stay at the gate till they are back before I get back to the house.
I felt bad that I couldn’t go to school with them. Sometimes, I take their school uniforms and put them inside the water so nobody goes to school. Even at that, my pleasure, joy, and dream of going to school weren’t happening. So, stopping them from going to school was not still satisfying my own goal of trying to go to school.
On a fateful day, a young man who was always passing by my house on a motorcycle saw me one of the days I was staying at the gate and said, ‘Hey, young man, I see you here every day, crying and saying you want to go to school, what is going on?’ So, I told him I wanted to go to school, but I couldn’t, because the distance was too far, and I didn’t have the physical strength. He asked if my father was around. I said yes. He came into the house and asked my father if he could take me to school with his motorcycle, as the school was on his way to work.
That was how I continued going to school.
What I realised from that event is that, anytime you are at the gate of your destiny, a helper will always show up.
If I wasn’t coming out every day at that gate, I probably wouldn’t have encountered the man who helped me.
My life story has taught me that the kind of outcome you want in life will be based on your determination to achieve your definite purpose.
Defying the Disability Status…
After that, I got admitted to the boarding house at Holy Ghost College in Imo State.
My first day at the school was with my Guardian. The place was full of life; the students were playing football, while others were playing basketball and some other games. It was a beautiful scenario; I was excited. But as we got into the compound, my Guardian took a turn to a place where there was barely any life; it was a very deserted area. As we got close to the place, I began to see people on crutches and wheelchairs, some were even crawling. I was like, is this how my Guardian sees me?
The people over there appeared helpless. Though I had very thin legs, I was still walking and I never ever saw myself like those people. It was something that shocked me. Realistically, I was supposed to be okay with the place, but somehow in my mind, I believed I didn’t belong there.
I left my guardian, who obviously saw me as disabled, to join the healthy kids playing happily on the field because I identified with them, I saw nothing wrong with me regardless of what anyone else thought about my physical ability. He called me to come back, but I said no, ‘I’m not going there.’ So, my things were moved from the dorm for the physically challenged to the regular students boarding house.
Who you believe you are is more important than who people say you are.
Meanwhile, at the dorm for the disabled, the toilet was very close, everything was made very comfortable for them, because of their physical disabilities. At the dorm for normal students, where I insisted I wanted to be, the toilet and bathroom were located separately. But, I have always never known limits. I never knew I couldn’t jump the fence nor cross the road.
At the hostel where the regular people were, because the toilet and bathroom were at different locations, that means I have to take my bucket of water, cross the pavement and walk a long distance, which I found difficult to do because of my physical challenges.
So, every morning, someone had to help me carry my water to the bathroom but at some point, each time we are having a meeting in the hostel, maybe during the morning devotion, when I’m about to say something or contribute to the discussions, the students would tell me to shut my mouth because they helped me to carry my stuff to the bathroom. Actually, I thought it was out of goodwill; I never knew that I was indebted to them. I learnt something from that.
Anytime you receive value from people or any sort of kindness, even though you didn’t beg for it, you are still indebted; whether it is solicited or not.
As long as you have received value from people and there is no corresponding value back to the source of that value, such a person is indebted.
I felt like these guys were talking down on me because they helped me, so I said it wouldn’t happen again.
I started to share my provisions with the students. I would ask if they were hungry, and I would give them cornflakes, biscuits, and milk among others. That is me being upfront to give you something, so the next morning, if I ask you to help me carry my bucket of water, you will help without hesitation. Anytime someone carries my buckets of water to the bathroom, I will always make sure I give something in return.
At one point I had lots of students who wanted to help me with my bucket because they knew they would get something in return.
Before you request help, always determine and initiate a motive. Never ask for help with nothing to give in return.
Of course, my nickname was the ‘Million Dollar Man.’ That was an interesting story of how my mind refused to accept my challenges as a defining factor in my life and that refusal challenged the status quo.
I found out that anytime you have a vision for your life, the universe would make a space for you to achieve it. There’s always room to achieve whatever you want in life if you are determined and unwavering towards achieving it.
How have you been coping with your disabilities and does it affect your productivity?
At a point in time, I figured out that anything I lose physically, I make up mentally. Based on my situation, I am primed to think more creatively than a regular person.
For instance, if I want to get up right now from this seat, I have to make some calculations; I have to calculate the angle of my crutches to the ground, how I balance my weight to create lift and how I stabilize my weight to settle on my crutches when I stand, but if you want to stand, you can do that effortlessly with no extra exertion on your brain or mind.
So, the tendency for you to be lazy is higher. But I don’t have that option, to succeed I had to exert my mind even further than the average person.
The body has a way of making up for what you lose when one part of the body is not working; it makes other parts of the body compensate for the loss.
I began to see how I could make up for my physical challenges and decided to be more knowledgeable so that when I hang out with friends, I have answers to their questions. I began to study a lot, and guess what happened? I had more answers to more questions. My friends became dependent on me for solutions, and I was always the first person to run to when they have any issue with their academics or life.
What I thought was an alternative (my mind) is actually the main Centre of creative power. Right now, I have lots of people who come to me to find answers.
So, today, I have trained lots of people around the world, I coach people and get paid in foreign currencies from my international clientele. Basically, my mind is all I need to be great.
Your hands and legs are accessories while your mind is the command center. If your mind is not working, your legs or hands are useless.
Healthwise, how has life been on crutches?
A human being is made up of three persons. There is the spiritual, which is driven by purpose and vision.
This Spirit person requires the word of God to grow.
There’s the intellectual person, which is the mind; this person requires knowledge to function.
And lastly, the physical person, which is the Body, this particular person requires food and sleep to stay alive.
I recognize the three persons that come together to form the individual.
I do spiritual exercises, which involves prayer, fasting, meditation, and studying the word of God. These are what strengthens my faith and my belief in who I am, who I am supposed to be and my capacity to make an impact in the world.
Also, I undergo intellectual exercise by studying, researching, listening to other people, building relationships with people, and learning about the earth, physics, chemistry, and about the nature of the life we are living. I exercise my mind each time I study or learn something new.
My physical body does not require knowledge; it requires physical exercise.
I have a gym at home and in the office. I do all these things to increase the strength of my body. There are different types of exercises that I do that are unique to people that have post-polio syndromes, because part of what polio does is muscle atrophy; it reduces the nerve endings. The nerve endings in the body do not fully develop, because it’s not fully developed, it reduces the quality and quantity of muscles I can have.
There are some kinds of exercises I can do with my hand that make it weaker. If someone without polio does the same thing, it builds his or her muscle better.
I eat mostly vegetables and fruits. I avoid a lot of drugs and the only time I take drugs is when I know I cannot take care of the ailment nutritionally. I try to get eight hours of sleep. I listen to jazz music. I do lots of research that is guided by knowledge based on my unique body type.
What do you think the government can do to help those living with disabilities?
Well, I beg to differ. Everybody can develop himself or herself, everybody can think better than I think, but not everybody will do it. There are so many things people can do but are not willing to do.
Further on the government, when we talk about the government, we think we are talking about an alien, but the government is us. We are the government; we are the people that make up the government. The government doesn’t come from outside the country, they are a part of our family, members of our church, mosque, and culture.
So, everything you want those in government to do, you have to do it yourself first.
There’s no way we can expect a government that is like us and from us to do something that’s outside of what we do ourselves.
So, before we start putting the blame on the government, I think we should start to look at our family, cultural and religious values, and begin to change things for the better because one of us will one day go into government to expand what we already do.
I’m sorry to disappoint you that I’m not holding the government responsible.
I’m saying we have to hold ourselves responsible for the life we want and then extend that life to the structures of government to help make those particular things available to everybody.
If we are not living that life as a people, the government cannot give it to us.
Please tell us about your qualifications and the awards that you’ve won?
I try not to talk about those things; I like to talk about the lives that I have impacted and gotten better. I love when people are challenged when they are younger. I hate to see old men trying to make a change. I wish they knew better. One of my life goals is to help young people when they are still young to begin to forge the type of life they will live when they are older. It’s difficult to bend an old man and it’s easier to form a young person.
Do you think persons living with disabilities are receiving the right attention in Nigeria?
I think nobody is receiving the right attention in Nigeria and I think there’s nothing special with people living with disability. Disability is not a death sentence; it is a challenge to make other parts of your abilities to become more viable. That is my personal opinion.
Nobody in Nigeria is receiving the right attention. Everybody has something that is being denied from society, especially from the government.
We have not gotten to the place where our self-governance has recognised our innate capacity to govern ourselves to the level that we can have the liberty to dream dreams, have ideas, visions.
Have we even put systems and structures in place to help us create the life that we want?
The idea that the people with disabilities are not receiving the type of attention doesn’t hold any sense.
I have my limb not working, right? but someone has been abused all his life, physically, he looks okay, but mentally that person has the worst disability than someone who has a broken leg.
As long as your mind is healthy, you believe in your potential, you know that your life is designed to rise above challenges, to create alternatives where there is none, there is no issue to worry about.
As a matter of fact, disability is based on personal definition. That one’s leg is not working or someone is blind is not enough to limit anyone who believes he or she can achieve great things.
Matter of fact, you are not an eye, you are not a nose, you are not a mouth, you’re not a leg, you’re not a hand, you’re not an ear, so because your leg is cut off, you can’t say the whole person is disabled.
How would you assess the discrimination against persons with disabilities act signed by President Muhammad Buhari?
The law talks about how people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as those who don’t have disabilities. Why would I employ anyone who is going to be a liability to my organization? The question is, what is a disability? If you can create value for me, you are good to go. Should you be physically challenged, I would build a compatible system where there’s none because of the value you represent.
But to come to me on the condition that you are disabled as a reason for me to employ you, you would be projecting disability as leverage over value creation, that would be an expression of mental disability which is worse than physical disability and that person would be unemployable.
As long as one continues to use one’s misfortune to one’s advantage to be special, one will continue to depend on his misfortune to sustain it because whatever motivates you multiplies itself.
Anyone who uses disability as an advantage would need more disability and sympathy to sustain the advantage.
A Lesson on Leveraging Disability Positively…
I will tell you a story. During my youth service, I served in Imo State.
When I got to the camp, everyone with a disability was asked to go to a special place but I stayed back.
I was the only one who stayed back and they came to me to ask questions, I simply told them I could be useful one way or the other. I asked them during the endurance trek, “Who is going to take care of your personal belongings when you are all gone?” Aha, see? I got down to applying myself to my self-imposed responsibility.
During the NYSC camp, I led the revolution in the camp for us to be paid our allowances. And I was the only trusted person, why? Physically, I’m not a threat, so I told everyone to keep cool, no violence. In fact, the evidence that our protest was nonviolent was because it was led by a physically challenged person.
There is always an alternative way to serve within your capacity, something seemingly unimportant that people overlook but is relevant and needed, find it, apply yourself to it and leverage it.
Do you belong to any disability group that canvasses for people who have these situations?
I’ve tried to work with some of these groups. Most of them are only after their personal interest. Most of them are not doing it with the right philosophy. Most of those I got in contact with are trying to find a way to make money for themselves.
Each time I try to come close to them, it’s always one problem or the other. I’m not trying to disrespect those who are doing it for the right reason. But what I found is, people are doing it for their own advantage. Many of them are using the NGO concept to appeal to the consciousness of the society to make money off people.
I went to a motherless baby’s home in Lagos and I saw that the children are taught that they are orphans. This is wrong, If you take a child who has no mother and father and raise him to see himself as an orphan, you have made him an orphan. He is already an orphan by having no mother and father, you’re supposed to raise him to be responsible for himself not mentally label his self identity as an orphan.
Anytime I visited them, I discovered that they were taught to tell you their misfortunes not their aspirations or their goals. You disable them the instant you bring their mind to focus on their misfortunes; you reiterated the fact that the child has nobody and that he has to beg anybody that comes into his life, for money.
I see visitors and politicians take pictures with these kids only to score political points with it. That’s not how it is supposed to be. We are painting a picture in their minds and in the heart of society that they are disabled, a charity case, and this ultimately affects their self-identity and trajectory in life.
It is not right to try to seek a means of making money using physically or socially challenged people as leverage. I know you expected me to glorify the attitude that people are trying to seek help for people with disabilities but in fact, they are using those sentimental values to enrich themselves rather than helping the challenged become successful.
Instead, we should find a way to give back to these challenged people out of what we’ve created rather than use their circumstances as a means to create something for ourselves.
What advice do you have for those that are challenged and for the government?
My advice to everyone is that we have to take personal responsibility for our lives so we can help someone else. One of the reasons why you have to learn to become successful is not so that you can become successful, it is so that you can help other people become successful.
A service to many leads to greatness. So, in this consciousness, we cultivate discipline, learn how to create wealth, and learn how to build businesses the right way.
We must first develop the discipline of wealth creation so that we can transfer them to our children, our neighbors and by extension, bring that into our governance. I’m opposed to the public sentiment that the government is entirely to blame for our financial misfortune as an individual and as a nation.
No, our government is a reflection of us, the people. Until we change, we can’t get a different government from what we are as a collective.
I don’t know who is reading this article right now, but if you are physically challenged, I want to let you know that, there’s nothing wrong with you.
As a matter of fact, that disability is a situation to prove that the human being can rise above all circumstances. There’s nothing that can stop a man whose mind is set to create a definite outcome for his life.
I am a symbol of strength not of weakness.
My situation shows you that if your hands and legs are disabled but your mind is working, you can rise above any circumstances and even lift men whose hands and legs distract them from using their brains to get what they want. I hope that makes sense to you.
I thank the person that developed the concept of the crutches to help me walk better but as a matter of fact, these are not crutches, this is basically a walking aid to move around my house and garden because if you really want to travel the world, you don’t need legs, you need a developed brain and a refined mind.
You don’t need to walk long distances to become successful but you need to travel deeply into the consciousness of the mind to explore unfounded possibilities to create wealth.