Entrepreneur hinges unemployment on educational system that produces employees
Waju Abraham would have been a medical doctor to fulfill his father’s wish but today, he is a successful entrepreneur, a FOREX trader by choice.
A dogged business person, he has recorded outstanding success in Africa and other parts of the world as an international trader. In this interview with Isaac Taiwo, he spoke about growing up, his work experience, and his journey into business. He charged Nigerian youths to rather work on their visions than look for destiny helpers as this kills creativity, ruins drive, and waste time.
Who is Waju Abraham?
My given name is Olanrewaju Ogunleye. But I decided to change it to something more relatable, Waju as a short form of my first name, which captures my hunger, passion, and ambition for life. I’ve always felt like a Lamborghini in
chains. So Waju is a reminder to myself to hit that gas pedal hard and move with power and intentionality.
Abraham is a name I gave myself when I got married and my wife was diagnosed as incapable of conceiving. It was a big issue in my family at the time though we’re at peace now. My parents didn’t want me to marry her for that reason. I went against my parent’s wishes and got married to her. Following my action, I was now under pressure to prove them wrong. So I surnamed myself, Abraham. I was the third child in a family of five and a half. I have a half brother whom we grew up with and see as a brother. He made me love math. The first thing I knew about myself was that I loved to be by myself.
And nobody liked it. To make matters worse, I had a terrible stutter that haunted me for my first 20 years.
I used to cry to be able to speak. And it got me into so much trouble
because people told lies about me and I couldn’t defend myself. When they bullied me, I couldn’t report because speaking was a problem.
I attended Ondo State University Staff School. I used to be a quiet but astonishingly brilliant kid. Parents would come to school and say “Are you the Lanre that refused to come second?” I didn’t like it one bit. And so when I got to primary five, I began to compromise and move with the playful ones. And that’s when my performance began to drop. In my final term, I think I was in 4th position which was very embarrassing. I later went to Federal Government College, Idoani aka Pre-hell. By then, I wanted to have friends more than maintaining my status quo as a brilliant student. And that’s exactly what happened. I failed all through. It was a boarding school where I had two older brothers. But you don’t want to imagine the trauma of watching your older brothers being flogged. I think I just gave up in those years. The bullying increased, I let people maltreated me so that I could hang around them. I was this ‘nobody’ that nobody wanted to associates with.
Yet when we got back home and dad asked how was school, I would say “fine”. Then I’d get flogged for poor results. It must have been frustrating for my dad who used to boast with my report sheet when I was in primary school. Today, I can feel his pain back then. I began smoking in SS2 also due to what I now call wannabe-ism. I had a classmate who was my school father at the same time. He was big and violent and seniors feared him.
For my protection, I had to go with him whenever he went on nightly nefarious assignments. If I dare to say no, I got beaten and starved. All this while, I had two elder brothers in the same school, but it was every man to himself. That school was evil in my experience. I managed to get two distinctions in my O Levels results, and because I was good in biology, my surgeon dad wanted me to study medicine. I had to re-seat the physics exam the following year.
In December 1988, I ran away because I didn’t like the fact that dad wanted me to stay another year until I passed UME for medicine in his alma Mata, University of Ibadan. You see, I thought he loved me too much and wanted to re-live his youth through me. Anyway, I ran away from home and refused to come back for the holidays. Eventually, hunger forced me back and I accepted to take the exam again. The real reason I accepted as I had joined a bad gang at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and I wanted out. Through all the wanton living in the hostels, I knew this was not me. I knew I had a better future. So I left the institution and went to Lagos State University (LASU) for medicine. That’s where I met Jesus personally and all my past faded away. The first thing to go was my stammering. And then my self-esteem began to be rebuilt.
Before I got kicked out of medical school, I already knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and author, as long as I could feed myself. I spent a total of 10 years in the university and eventually finished with a 3rd class honors in biochemistry at LASU. When I dropped out of medicine, I was so angry that I vowed I would be richer than all my mates by the time they were graduating. And so my entrepreneur journey began.
What are those values your parents inculcated in you that shaped what you became today?
I like to tell people I got the best of both worlds. Being the kind of person that I am, I don’t focus on weaknesses in myself or others. My dad is one of the few doctors in Nigeria who will attend to an emergency from nowhere in the middle of the night without discussing fees. He is a very kind man who left the United States and came back home
because he felt his people needed him. I got my dad’s extreme kindness. My mum’s dad (Grandpa Paul Alabi Adesua of blessed memory) built the first story building in our hometown, Omuo Ekiti. He was a very wealthy man in his heydays. My mum got his shrewd entrepreneur-gene and passed it on to me.
Could you explain the journey of your career development and how you weathered the storm to get to where you are today?
I don’t believe in that term’s career development. There’s no such thing as career development in my book. There’s only you. And the quality of life that you live, the career you build, your choice of business, all depend on the quality of the person you become. If you’re mediocre, it doesn’t matter how long you deceive people. Yoruba adage says “Character is like smoke”, it will leak out sooner or later. After getting born again, my standard of excellence naturally improved, as did my expectation of life. I knew I had become a child of God and would not end up as a gravestone. I became filled with the burden to live a shining legacy of success. This has been affecting everything I do. I made a lot of mistakes. But I think the edge I have over a lot of my peers is that I don’t attach my self-worth to my results. I get over mistakes super-fast. So fast that people see me these days and think
I’m just a lucky guy with a bundle of successes. But I just keep pushing. I recover fast. The longest recovery I had was from my first marriage.
Who are those that influenced your life, career growth, and has stood by you?
The first person to inspire me was my dad. He is a super kind man, almost too kind. Growing up, we sometimes had up to 13 people in our house which created money challenges, but I respected my dad for his kindness. A lot of those people he helped are doing very fine today. Mum also is very kind, though tough. She helped hundreds of people to
get jobs when she was in the civil service. She was the first woman director in the local government in Ekiti State. I keep telling her I owe her a lot. Aside my parents, Jesus is my top influence today. And it’s not just about salvation. My top business principles today were learned from him, especially in the area of marketing myself and dealing with haters.
The journey of life is a continuum, what is your projection into the future, drawing from where you are now?
Presently, my short term goal is to write my first million-dollar cheque to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. I owe all of my recovery and current growth to the gospel. Just four years ago, I was a civil servant. Think about that. Now I have businesses that made me more than my former Managing Director is being paid. That’s not typical. But it all began with discovering the person and the principles of Jesus. Family wise, I wanted to have 10 children, but I’m 40 now and I have just 2. I think I’ll just adopt the rest over the next decade. Honestly, my biggest priority is the gospel. It is the only hope of saving humanity. That’s why I work hard and think harder. The more I
have, the more I can give. I am propelled by the vision that with the way the world is going if we are not careful, our kids will marry thugs, drug addicts, and godless people. I am committed to populating the world with good and
godly people beyond my immediate family.
What lesson of life would you give your admirers and how to stand out against all odds?
“Nobody owes you a shit”. That’s my slogan. It is also my current
license plate (NOYS). Thinking, expecting, or depending on one destiny helper out there kills creativity, ruins drive, and wastes precious time. Name your vision, Get out there and pursue it as if your life depends on it because it does. My generation and the one after is living in the lie that there’s something called destiny helper. Half-baked pastors even give their members this as prayer point. It is a trap and many people are failing to
wake up to the truth a little too late. There’s nobody coming for you. You are complete. God made you with
everything you need already inside you. Factory fitted. He won’t send you any helper if you are ignoring the helper inside you. Get off your butt and pursue your dreams. Nobody owes you shit.
You worked as a civil servant in Ekiti state, how was the experience?
It was interesting. I remember the day I got the job. I was feeling high. I almost shared the testimony in the church. A month after, I knew that paid employment wasn’t for me. Our forefathers were all entrepreneurs until colonisation crippled them and they began to take pride in being “osise Oba” ( king servants). We had names like Oderinde (hunter), Agbekoya (farmer), and Agbede (blacksmith). They took pride in their professions, It had honour. These days, if you say you want to start a business, your mum will report you to her pastor for deliverance. I think it is fear. I saw it first hand while I worked. People say someone must do the work. Yes, I agree. But if that’s your calling, then don’t complain about the pay or the pension
The environment one lives shapen the person, tell us about your communal life?
My hometown is one that people used to fear to come back to because of fears of witches getting jealous and killing people according to their beliefs. Nevertheless, we went home at least every Christmas, sometimes during
Easter and other festivities. I’m a village boy. I love the space (this is why I hate Lagos). I love the closeness to nature. Also, everybody knew everybody. It was harder to be delinquent. I look so much like my dad that I didn’t dare cause trouble anywhere until I went to school in Lagos.
What are your memorable moments in life?
They’re really simple incidents, but beauty is in the mind of the beholder. I was six years old when my dad saw my long unkempt fingernails. He expressed shock and then showed me his own. They were neat and well-manicured. It left a lasting impression on me. Especially because he didn’t flog me. A good example is better than a thousand draconian
laws. I was 9-10 years old when I began saving money for a transistor AM radio. I managed to save N30 at the time in 1990. My half-brother helped me get it from the Hausa sellers. It was a yellow radio and I loved it so much. When I showed my parents after some days, they queried me seriously, and ultimately seized the radio. I think that’s where I began hating the idea of saving. I just aim to make more than I need. I later stole the radio from my dad’s room years after, and lost it in boarding school.
What were the challenges you faced growing up?
Stammering was probably my only challenge. All the others, like being timid, originated from it. My stammering was so bad, I would be gasping to say 3 words. But it worked for good today because I began to focus on writing as my main means of communication. Today, I’m probably the most respected Nigerian copywriter alive. The same skill helped me settle down properly when I relocated to the US. It saved me from doing menial jobs because I knew how to sell products and ideas with the written word.
Are you married?
Twice. The first one was a mistake. I’d never had a girlfriend before at 27. And I had just made my first millions. She gave me attention and I flowed along. She left me when my business crashed and I got broke. We have a son together. Today she claims I’m the one who left her. Life’s funny. I got married again 4 years later. My parents were naturally skeptical and afraid of me. Besides we disagreed on the state of origin. They wanted me to marry Ekiti. I let them down.
Keeping and maintaining relationships with female folks, what lessons have you learned?
Women are precious beings to be handled with care and nurtured. Unfortunately, today we are facing a feminism epidemic. Women seeking equality and trying to compete with men. Funny, ridiculous, and deadly. It’s like a beautiful rose bush trying to be an iroko, it is pointless and hazardous. You don’t need to be a feminist. Just be a good woman and stay your lane. There is no happy feminist. My advice to guys in the face of all this two-pronged. Never compromise your leadership role. A woman who questions your leadership (in relationship) is not your wife to be. She’s your personal witch to be. Make a lot of money. Never ever be comfortable with a woman who is or wants to be the breadwinner. It will haunt you in the future. Lead with wisdom
and with money.
What is your favorite food?
I don’t eat a lot. Mostly once a day. But if I have the best food, it used to be Ewa Aganyin. Now it is cold, day-old Eba with any good soup.
How did you stumble on FOREX?
Like most things in life, I saw someone struggling with it, and I checked it out. I lost $1000 the first week in 2007. Then I lost $3000. By the second year, I was dead broke.
What has been your greatest feat as a FOREX trader?
Last year, 2019, we had only 4 wrong trades. I also received an award from one of the biggest forex platforms.
You earned the name FOREX god. Can you tell us why and how?
I don’t think I earned it. It was forced on me because of the consistency of accuracy in trade signals. Some of my students are now teachers themselves.
Making your first million; how was it like and at what age?
I made my first million at 27 in 2007. I had no feelings. I don’t celebrate physical manifestations. I celebrate things before they appear. Jesus said “More blessed are they whom having not seen, yet believe”. That’s where I queue.
You have today flints of local and International networks, what has been your driving force?
I’m playing catch-up. I’ve missed opportunities in the past because I was timid. Now I make friends so easily that it gets on my wife’s nerves. Take me anywhere in the world and give me 24 hours, I’ll have new friends like old friends. I think everybody ought to read the book by Dale Carnegie “How to win friend and influence people”. It’s the second-best book I’ve ever read -after the Bible.
What lessons have you learn as an entrepreneur in Africa?
I was already making millions monthly before I fled Nigeria. Then I got abroad and within months I went 10X. Why? No stress praying for electricity or safety. I think any business in Africa is underperforming. That’s why even Jumia is on the New York Stock Exchange. My view may not be popular, but I still say it anyway. Emigration is the new smart.
Did you ever had your fingers burnt when you started doing business? A lot of times and I think it is necessary. How will you have sense?
9out of 10 businesses fail within the first year. It’s not the same economy. It is arrogance. Most startup founders are too busy feeling big with their funding and so they won’t hire coaches. I was there too. And that’s where I got burnt. But seriously failure is nothing if you learn from it.
Unemployment keeps rising in Nigeria, is it a problem of government inept policies, infrastructural challenges or skill gaps among the youths?
Again, my position is unpopular. Nobody owes you a job. Our forefathers never had jobs. The only employees in their time were slaves, captives, and sons of debtors. I published a book many years ago that’s still in circulation. How to start absolutely any business on earth -without capital, begging, or painful bank loans.
If you could start a profitable business easily, would you still keep a job?
I think the problem is that the educational system was designed to produce employees. So I don’t blame these graduates. Otherwise how come no business school teaches people to start and run successful businesses? Even the MBA lecturer has no business aside from the small shop in front of his house. I’m sorry to say that but it is what it is. Sustaining businesses for centuries in Nigeria have been a huge challenge, why and wherein lies the solutions? Vision. Vision. Vision. You would be shocked to discover that most people start businesses to be the boss. Yes. It’s an ego-trip for most people. They don’t care if it never makes a profit so long as they have somewhere to go where some underpaid employees are saying “Yes sir”. If your vision is to be the boss, you won’t invest in it after you’re
crowned the boss. You already have what you want. That’s why you have 80 per cent of businesses that do not know what a“marketing budget” is. 15 per cent, know what it is, but are hesitant to create it. Three per cent depend on sabi-sabi connections and are doing well. Less than 2 per cent know and operate a serious marketing budget.
If you don’t invest in marketing and customer acquisition, how will your business grow? How won’t it be stagnant aside from the yearly repainting? How won’t your employees be dull and uninspired.
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