From Grass To Grace, Imasuagbon’s Story

From grass to grace, Imasuagbon’s story

Sunday, 22 January 2012

BY CHUKS NWANNE Life Magazine - Spotlight



BASED on our telephone conversation, I was expected to meet Kenneth Imasuagbon on seat when I called at his office, but like one of his staff said, “oga just stepped out.”

Just as I was beginning to take interest in a Nollywood movie showing on the screen at the general reception, Imasuagbon wheeled in on a Mercedes Benz SUV, making a final stop just few steps to his office building. Minutes later, the door was opened and I was ushered into his office by one of the office assistants.

“Sorry my brother, something came up, so, I had to tidy them up as fast as possible before meeting you,” he said jovially.

A Law graduate from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), he looked very ordinary in his jeans and white shirt. Except for his glittering wristwatch and necklace, nothing suggests he’s well to do. Humorous and friendly –– at least for the little time we spent — the lawyer turned entrepreneur seems to be the easygoing type. Unlike most CEOs, who would surround themselves with barriers, Imasuagbon’s workers seem to have free access to him; there was this cheerful mood on their faces immediately the boss arrived.

The founder of Pace Setters group of schools, Abuja, Imasuagbon’s story is a typical example of rising from grass to grace; he had seen tough times. Coming from a very humble background, the death of his father worsened the situation as Kenneth and his siblings had to depend solely on their mother’s petty business for survival. Forget his enviable status today; Ken had seen tough days.

“I remember those days I used to jump molue in Lagos,” he recalled, now sounding very emotional. “My father died early; my mother brought us up. It was difficult living without our father, but I thank God for the Christian values, which helped us stay focus. It wasn’t really easy, but God was on our side.”

The situation then was critical, to the extent that Ken and his siblings were not well fed, after long hours in school.

“Do you know how it feels to come back from school and there’s nothing to eat,” he quizzed. “Notwithstanding, It was also very comforting because it makes you to work hard in school; you don’t want to remain where you were. Those days, I used to see the children of the rich flaunt their father’s wealth, and that was when I resolved to be a successful man.”

So, it was more like a propelling factor for you?

“Of course, what was at stake for me then was to fight poverty; I wasn’t ready to transfer poverty to my children. With that in my mind, I was very focused; failure was never in my dictionary. To me, it is possible to achieve success playing according to the rule.”

HAVING completed his secondary education from money made through his mother’s petty trade, Imasuagbon took a bold step to move to Abuja in search of greener pasture to support the family, the same time the Shehu Shagari administration was laying the foundation stone of Abuja City.

“I came to Abuja in 1980 and worked as a technical assistant in training with the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). I worked with FCDA when they were building Usman Dam; we practically built Abuja. I remember when President Shagari visited Abuja in 1981, I was one of those who presented him with flowers; he slept at the Lower Usman Dam. I was much younger then,” he noted.

As a technical assistant at the Dam, Imasuagbon showed sparks of brilliance, which endeared him to the hearts of the Polish engineers handling the project.

“Actually, my concern then was to make money and support my family, but along the line, the engineers started talking to me about going back to school; they saw something in me, which I didn’t notice then. That was how I left Abuja for Ife.”

Imasuagbon’s road to the University of Ife was as tough as growing up without a father.

“To make the matter worse, I scored 284 in my Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for Law in Ife, but I was not taken because I’m from Bendel State (now Edo State). Yet, there were people with 230 and below, who were admitted in the name of catchment area; that was when my spirit about the Nigerian nation went down; I wept. I was looking at a very beautiful law faculty, but I cannot go in because I came from a different part of the country. This is one of the most challenging periods I will never forget in my life,” he said in low voice.

So, what did you do?

“I had no option than to sit for another JAMB and by the grace of God, I made it.”

With 284-grade in JAMB, it is very possible to switch to a related course, but for young Ken, it is Law or never.

“My father actually triggered my love for Law; he once told me that if he had the opportunity, he would have loved to be a Chief Magistrate. Then, he used to see the white men in the Law Court. So, I decided that I was going to be a lawyer.”

So, it was more like fulfilling your father’s dream?

“Of course; in my mind, I was doing everything possible to ensure the dream comes alive. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see me being called to the bar; it was an emotional time for me. I was from a poor home, but while we were taking pictures at the ceremony, TOS Benson came around and I took pictures with him; that made me feel good in the absence of my father,” he enthused.

While in school, Imasuagbon was active with students’ unionism, where his leadership skills came alive.

“Ife was a kind of preparatory ground for me. We had good professors in the Law Faculty then; it was a great school. What we did was to mix character content with academic content, which brought me to where I am today.”

With an LLB in his kitty, the young barrister returned to Abuja on a different level.

“Then I was into litigation as well as property law. That time, a lot of people were moving from Lagos to Abuja, so, we were behind their settling down in Abuja. There were few lawyers in Abuja then, people like Kayode Adetokunbo, Pius Anyim … we all worked together then. We believed in the unity of the country, so, as pioneers, we needed to set good standards in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).”

To Imasuagbon, a lot has changed in Abuja.

“Those days, Abuja was so small in the sense that we knew everybody in town; it was like a ghost town. I remember the IBB Golf Course; we were among the people that started it when we were looking for places to relax. Of course, we didn’t have crime. Today, Abuja is fast turning to another Lagos; the population is increasing everyday. So, I think government should do something about expanding the infrastructure to be able to accommodate the growing population.”

Having found his rhythm, Imasuagbon resolved to make contributions in the educational sector of the economy by setting up Pace-Setters’ Academy, a school that draws its strength from its name. Today, it operates Pace -Setters’ Academy Wuse; Pace-Setters’ Academy Gwarinpa; Pace-Setters’ College Gwarinpa; Pace-Setters’ College Wuye and Pace-Setters’ Academy Gwarinpa (Nursery, Primary/Elementary, Pre-school through 6th Grade School).

“I’m interested in the Nigeria project. The first time I visited the United States, I asked myself, ‘why are these people special? I sat side-by-side with Americans and discussed, but there’s nothing magical about them. I looked at their environment and how things are working for them; the only thing I could point at is education. So, I called my wife and told her that we must do something in education when we get back to Nigeria. To me, education is key to the development of any nation; if we cannot contribute anything to Nigeria, we would contribute educationally,” he said.

TILL date, Imasuagbon has been engaging young Nigerians through his Essay and Sport competition initiatives aimed at taking their minds off crime.

“When we started the school in Abuja, we changed the face of education in the FCT. Look, we must set the pace and agenda for our children. The idea of the essay competition is to discover talents; engage the children. To do that, we must come up with programmes that would occupy their time. Aside from essay competition, which is a national project, we also started sports competition for both private and public schools; we reward them with prizes as a sort of encouragement.”

He continued: “This is about engaging the youths; if you engage them, you take their mind out of crime. This is why I call on multinationals in Nigeria to also help in engaging our children so that our tomorrow will be better than where we are today. The change we want to see in the country tomorrow must start with the Nigerian children of today.”

To the Lawyer, Education is the bedrock of every society.

“Whatever you want to do in this world, you need education. Even if you want to be a footballer, you need education; if you want to be a good politician, you need education. When I look back into my life and how education changed me, I conclude that we need to invest more in education.”

Philanthropy is another aspect of Imasugbon’s life, which he holds dearly.

“Each time I see people suffering, I weep; I cannot hold back. I can give everything I have rather than see somebody go naked. That’s me; I can’t change it. I’ve found out that you don’t need even one per cent of your total earning in life; sit down and calculate all that you’ve eaten today. I have a divine call to give and I get satisfaction doing just that. Each time you give, God will never allow you to go hungry. Giving is not about cash; you can give in different ways. When you give your time, you are contributing to the good of the society. Those who give are the true patriots of the society.”

You are interested in leadership position?

“Leadership is about service; it’s about giving the best to the society. The difference between US and Nigeria is that America is about giving. I’ve found out that the good people in Nigeria are always out of politics; we leave the business of politics to ‘never do wells.’ If you leave the business of politics to weak people, you get weak policies and at the end, we will all complain. It is very interesting getting involved in politics; you get to see a whole lot of anomalies in the system. Ultimately, it’s a battle between the good and evil.”

WITH his hand full of activities, you wonder if Imasuagbon has time for family and relaxation?

“I thank God I have a wife who understands life very well. Also, my children have grown to understand that their daddy has a lot to do.”

How did you meet your wife?

“I met her in Abuja; she was working in the bank then. I walked into the bank and saw this pretty legs and I said to myself, ‘this one will not go today.’ Initially, I was like, ‘if I go talk to this lady in the presence of everybody and she snubs me, what would happen?’ But on a second thought, I summoned courage and introduced myself to her. She told me her name and I was like, ‘you are the lady I’ve been waiting for.”

You said so on your first meeting?

“Yes, I said it and she showed a kind of surprise! I said it because my spirit told me I’d met my wife. Before we got married, I took her out to the Lower Usman Dam where I worked.”

Why Lower Usamn Dam?

“That was the only place that came to my mind; I’m not a party person. We had a very long walk, throwing stones into the Dam.”

Did you mention it to her that you worked there?

“Oh, no I didn’t; I wasn’t sure how she would feel about it. We had fun together and after that day, the rest is history,” he said.

You said you don’t party, does that mean you never had friends?

“I had good and bad friends, but I know exactly when to draw the line. You won’t believe it; I never smoked or drank throughout my growing up. While most of my friends were going to party, I was busy burning the midnight candle; hard work pays. Let me tell you, shortcut don’t last.”

To Imasuagbon, no Nigerian is rich yet.

“The truth is that even my children don’t have everything they need. In Nigeria, nobody is rich; we can only be rich when our lights are working; our roads are in good condition; and our hospitals working. The money you steal from government today, in years to come, you will discover that there’s no need stealing from the people’s purse. As a man, you are remembered for your contribution to mankind, not the amount of wealth you acquired for your children.”

So, what exactly do you want to be remembered for?

“I want to be remembered as one Nigerian, who came from nowhere and changed lives.”

------------- via GUARDIAN

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