Shofowora… Toast to a life of lavish grace
Come Tuesday October 10, 2017, accomplished Marketing and Public Relations professional with over 21 years experience, Babatunde Theophilus Shofowora (surname now Olufowora), will turn 50. Tunde, who has worked with leading organisations such as The Guardian, Thisday and FCMB, where he pioneered a number of initiatives, has resolved to use this day to thank God for his grace, as well as give back to the society. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the CEO of Red Ribbon Limited spoke on his life, career and the joy of turning 50.
You will be turning 50 on Tuesday, how does that make you feel?
Well, it’s a big deal but for me, it’s more about giving thanks to God because, I did a reflection on my 50 years and I came to a conclusion that God has been faithful to my life; providence has been on my side. I will turn 50 exactly on October 10, 2017. God has granted me grace; my life is almost what I would call someone you didn’t expect to be in this position. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, but we were also not poor.
How was it like growing up for you?
If I remember growing up, my dad passed away when I was nine years old; we were four in number. From that moment, life took a new dimension completely; it looked as though everything came to ground zero. It was like a helpless situation. My mum with four children not knowing where to go; we ended up in a ghetto. We had to really face life and almost like starting all over. So, you can imagine all the things we went through.
So, how did you manage to complete your education?
Going to school was very hard; sending my sibling to school was very hard. My mum had to wake up very early to do so many things to make ends meet; she would sell this, she would sell that just for us to have something to eat. I had to hawk bread; I would wake up very early to go fetch some bread at the bakery. But as we grew up, God started sending helpers our way. I call them helpers because, they may not know that they were helpers, but you see, one of my philosophies of life is that everybody that comes your way, God brings them on your part to make your life grow. So, no matter what happened, just take the lesson and move on. Up till getting a job in the bank, I never applied for a job. Going to school, I had people, who helped me; God brought people, who provided for us. Not necessarily giving me money, it was more of training. I had an uncle, who I stayed with for 16 years; it was more like living in the prison. But in those 16 years, God was shaping my life: I learned so many things that helped me.
With the picture you just painted, how did you cope as the first child in the family?
I think part of what worked for me was that, it wasn’t very long after my dad’s passing, an uncle came around and said, ‘you, come and live with me.’ I lived with him and in the course of living with him; I learned a lot of leadership traits, ability to fend for myself. So, I was able to combine so many things, including doing some work to support my mum. I remember that while I was in the university, during the holiday, I would come back home and tell my uncle that I was going for a job somewhere. Meanwhile, what I was going to do was ironing; I was ironing around Bolade Oshodi. I was like, ‘if I go in here, I could support my mum to send my siblings to school.’ However, what actually made me go for the job was that, in the house I was living, I was the laundry man; I could wash, I could iron very well. So, I said, ‘If I could do that very well, why not take up the job and make some money.’
How challenging was life at the time?
It was very tough. In fact, I remember then in Mushin, we had those, who were born with silver spoon living with us. We didn’t have TV in our home; we used to have, but what happened to them, we didn’t know. We just found that everything was gone and we had to move into a small room. But the guys around us had TVs, so, we would go to their homes to watch TV through the window. In Mushin then, I used to roll tyre from Mushin to Idi Araba. So, life probably threw at me lemon but somehow, I made lemonade out of it because of some of the leadership traits I got; those were the things that shaped my life.
At what point did you join journalism?
When I was in the University, I used to do campus magazine. And in the compound where I lived with my uncle, an assistant news editor with The Guardian was one of our tenants. So, whenever I come home, I would bring a copy of my magazine give to him and he was always excited reading the paper. Now, during my NYSC days, when I was posted to Oyo State, somewhere in Ede, one thing in my head then was to serve in a bank; my desire was to serve in a bank. So much that anybody that came in contact with me at that period just knew what my desire was. It got to a point that people were making fun of me. ‘This guy, you are always talking tough, where’s the bank? This is a rural area, you don’t have any bank here.’ I get things like this every time.
Were you able to get a posting to the bank?
Somehow, I fought my way to serve in the bank. I remember that when they were posting us for our primary assignment, they didn’t post me to a bank; they posted me to a school. Three times, they posted me to a school and I would go there and ask them to reject. The third posting, the woman was very stubborn; she wrote a stinker on my paper and sent it to the NYSC Secretariat. It was almost three months after the posting and I was still moving around looking for a bank. Somehow, something told me to ask the market women if there was a bank around and one of them said, ‘yes, there’s one bank, but in the next village.’
And what did you do then?
I set out for the bank; I wore my uniform and went to see them. When I arrived, I met the secretary and she asked me what I wanted. I told her it was personal and the lady laughed. She was like, ‘you want to see the manager but didn’t have an appointment?’ She then asked me, ‘do you know him?’ and I said, ‘no.’ But you know what, the day I came there, the manager was actually by the corner; he was on his way our and was just signing some documents for the secretary. So, when I continued pleading with the secretary, the man raised his head and asked, ‘Young man, how do I help you?’ He was listening to our conversation. I asked him, “Are you the manager?’ He said yes and I asked him, “Please sir, do you take Corpers here, I would like to come and serve with you.’ He was surprised with my boldness and said, “well, yes, we take Corpers, but you have to be posted.” Then I asked him, “sir, do you need a Corper here?’ he said, “yes, we will take Corper if they post.” Then I asked him to give me a letter that they need a Corper here that I will use it to get my posting. The man said, “no, I don’t give letters out to Corpers; it’s you secretariat that will post you. But if you really need a letter, you have to go to our head office in Ibadan.’ But then, the man looked at me and said, “I don’t know, but I’ve never done something like this before. You can come tomorrow lets see.’
So, did you go back to him?
Yes, when I came in the next day, he handed me the letter that they need a Corper. I took the letter and ran back to the NYSC Secretariat in Ibadan; they were almost closed but the Director was still in her office. She asked me, ‘why are you running, what happened?’ I told her that I’ve not been able to get a place of primary assignment, but I didn’t tell her that I actually rejected myself. Then I told her that the bank gave me a letter that they needed a Corper. Just then, she looked through the window and asked me to go get one man outside that he would help me. The man came in and brought my file and handed it over to the Director; my file was almost full because of all the rejection letters. In fact, the last one was the rejection letter from the last school I was posted; the woman used red biro to write all sorts of things on my letter. The director read all of them, closed it and folded it back. She then said to the man, ‘post him to the bank.’ It was bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which later changed to African International Bank. I was in the bank, served one year and they didn’t even want me to go. Unfortunately, they could do the ratification; I got tired. It was at the same time that I met my wife. So, I packed my things and came back to Lagos.
At what point did you join The Guardian?
I was waiting to see if I could get connection to the bank when this assistant news editor of The Guardian asked me, “Young man, what are you doing?” I told him I was waiting for my employment letter from a bank. He said to me, ‘you were doing campus journalism, why not join me let me take you to The Guardian to stay for them time being.’ That was how he took me to The Guardian; it was around September 1991. He introduced me to the News Editor and he attached me with the sub desk. Along the line, the found out that I could write and they transferred me to the business desk; Jide Ogundele was he Business Editor. He was later moved to start the Financial Guardian and Bisi Ojediran was brought in as Business Editor from the Feature Desk. Of course, Femi Kusa was the Editor and Ladi Bonuola was the Editor in Chief. Like I tell people, The Guardian trained me; I never studied journalism. I learnt the rudiment of journalism in The Guardian. After The Guardian got proscribed, Nduka Obaiegbena came and took us to work for Thisday. From there, I go a job with FCMB from where I retired recently to set up my own company.
Looking back to your humble beginning, what comes to mind?
Looking back, from school to The Guardian, Thisday and FCMB, seeing how God has used people to bring me to where I am today, I see there’s providence. There’s also a lavish grace. I said, ‘look, the best I will do is to try and give back because.’ If someone didn’t get up to help me after my father passed on, I probably won’t be here.
So, what are the plans for your birthday?
I’m actually planning a Charity Ball on October 8, at the Renaissance Hotel, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. I have a home that I’ve been supporting on my own as a partner; they are homeless and under privileged children, who are out of schools for some reasons. You just need to hear their story to see talent in these children that are abandoned. So, for me, I said the best way to give back it to help these children. So, on Sunday, we are going to have a Charity Ball to raise some funds to build a home for these children. I’ve invited a couple of people, senior executive from different place and they have promised to come and support the project. On October 10, which is my birthday, I’m having a Church thanksgiving with families and friends.
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