A Food Vendor, Cobbler, Okada Rider Who Later Rose Tells Youth To Persevere for Success – Interview with A. A. Abdulraheem

A Food Vendor, Cobbler, Okada Rider Who Later Rose Tells Youth To Persevere for Success – Interview with A. A. Abdulraheem

Youths these days must persevere in their quest for success – Abdulahi Abayomi Abdulraheem

His story is a demonstration of strong will and determination to succeed. He came from a humble background but never allowed his circumstances to bar him from stepping higher. He failed exams,dropped out of school. At a time, he was a cobbler. Some other times, he was riding a commercial motorcycle to make ends meet. At one point, he was selling foodstuffs. Yet he rose to be a model to youths in his state, nation, African continent and even the globe, with his NGO founded basically to motivate the youth to rise above their limitations and become the best version of themselves. Meet Abdulahi Abayomi Abdulraheem, the son of a petty trader who had his name on the ballot as a 2019/2021 African Representative Candidate for the World Bank/IMF Civil Society Policy Forum Working Group. He was an OmoOja (the market boy) who became one of the 23 Global Superheroes of Atlas Corps and served as the Education Program Impact and Evaluation Fellow with the world largest volunteer organization – Points of Light, in 2007. Here is a chat with him by Rasheed Adebiyi.

Tekedia: Can you please tell us about yourself?

Abdulahi Abdulraheem :My name is Abdulah Abayomi Abdulraheem. I am the last child of a family of six (6), five men and a woman. I happen to be a native of both Osun  and   Kwara States. By God’s grace, I am the Chief Servant, I stopped calling myself the Founder or Executive Director for a reason, of the Initiative of Sound Education, Relationship & Health(ISERH).I was on the ballot as a 2019/2021 African Representative Candidate for the World Bank/IMF Civil Society Policy Forum Working Group – a position I lost to another senior African colleague.

I’m a trained Leadership Coach by the American Express Leadership Academy, US; and got certified on 21st Century Leadership by McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University, United States. I’m an alumnus of the AfricaAmerica Institute (AAI) where I got trained on Social Sector Management (SSM 5) by the Enterprise Development Center, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos. I also attended Institute for Humanitarian Studies and Social Development (IHSD) where I got trained on NGO Management and Administration. I’m an alumnus of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), West Africa Regional Leadership Center, Accra. I hold B.Sc. in Demography and Social Statistics from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and OND in Accountancy from Federal Polytechnic Offa in 2010 and 2005 respectively.

I served as a delegate to the 2017 and 2018 World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings held at Washington DC; and also served as a delegate to United Nations Headquarter, New York for the International Young Leaders Assembly. I got named as 1 of the 23 Global Superheroes Class 23 of Atlas Corps in 2017 – Washington DC, and served as the Education Program Impact and Evaluation Fellow with the world largest volunteer organization – Points of Light, New York. In 2016, I topped the list of 100 Brightest Young Minds of Brightest Young Minds, South Africa. And in 2015, I received the Most Replicable Project Award of the Life Changers Foundation, UK. I was among the 72 delegates for the 2018 and 2019 American Express Leadership Academy Global Alumni Summit, held in New York and Washington DC respectively.

On several occasions, I’ve been consulted by the Nigerian Senate, House of Representatives and the Executive on several national issues. I used to be a member of the selection committee for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) – an American Professional Fellows Program.I am married to an awesome woman and blessed with two beautiful daughters.

Tekedia :Can we have a snippet of your growing up?

Abdulahi Abdulraheem: I was born on July 7, 1985 and grew up in Ilesha, Osun State. I grew up in the neighbourhood called Idasa, very close to Atakumosa market. It cannot be called a slum, but it is not a highbrow area like Imo or other areas densely populated by educated people in Ilesa. My parents are not literate, my mother could not even identify her name,and same as my father. My mother is a trader, even till now, she trades in jewelleries (hearings, chains, rigs, etc). It is just a petty business. I attended Jehovah Nissi African Primary School, Arango but now Araromi, behind the Atakumosa Market, Ilesa. Students that attended the school were usually referred to as “ Omooja” or “Omoeyinoja” that could be literally translated to ‘market kids’,simply because a large percentage of us were children of the traders of the Atakumosa market.

I was enrolled in the school in 1990.I repeated class 1 because of a domestic accident at home. We lived in a house where we had people of different tribes. AnHausa woman was returning from the kitchen on a fateful day, carrying a pot of hot water with her bare hands. On getting to the spot I was sitting, she could no longer bear the temperature of the pot, so she dropped the pot and the hot water splashed all over my body. I got hospitalized for a long period and this led to my repeating class 1.While in primary 6, I failed my common entrance examination as a result of my disobedience to the rules while trying to help a friend with whom I attended the same Arabic School. I was the only one punished for this misconduct while my friend got promoted to secondary school.

Consequent upon this incident, I informed my parents that I would not be going back to school again. I told them that I wanted to become a cobbler. Before they could recover from the shock of my declaration, I gathered some items and started a cobbling job in front of our rented house in Idasa Street, without any form of training.

Upon resumption for a new academic calendar, one of our teachers – Mr. Ayoola – had to come home to ask me. My parents informed him of my decision and he successfully talked me out of my earlier decision. I got re-enrolled and was able to represent the school for a scholarship competition in both Mathematics and English Language at Ilesa Grammar School, Ilesa. That was my first experience of seeing a school with tarred road, a library full of books and with ceiling fans, a school with electricity and electric poles etc. I thought it was a university! I decided to select the school as a choice during my Common Entrance Examination.

In 1997, I got admitted into an ever competitive Ilesha Grammar School where only the brilliant chaps of educated fellows attended. It was a very amazing experience being admitted to a school Pastor E. A. Adebayo, Justice Alfa Belgore, Justice Kayode Esho, Baba Lateef Jakande, etc attended. I met a lot of colleagues from upper and middle social classes and it was an amazing period of my life.

I completed my secondary education in 2003 and I got admitted into Osun State College of Education Ilesha, in same year, for diploma programme in computer. During the programme, I got another admission into Federal Polytechnic Offa, to study accountancy in 2014. I dropped the diploma programme and went for the polytechnic admission. I remember vividly that my mother went borrowing to pay for my SSCE, MPCE, UME (now UTME) owing to an encouragement from 2 street brothers, Br. Kazeem and Br. Olaitan. I paid up the balance of the debt in 2017. My mum wanted me to become a graduate as none of my elder siblings went beyond secondary education.

My polytechnics days were tough periods of my life. I stayed 3 days drinking only gaari. I slept on the bare floor for almost an academic calendar year. I had come home to collect foodstuff and money but only to be given an equivalent of my transport fare. In 2005, I won a scholarship opportunity to study Accounting At the University of Greenwich, United Kingdom but it seemed my mum’s prayers against my travelling abroad got accepted, as I had no one to serve as a guarantor for my being finally accepted into the program. As God willed, I missed the scholarship.

Could my mum be blamed for saying such prayers? No!I grew up in a neighbourhood where almost all the houses/compounds had one or two children abroad, but majority of these children would neither send money to their aged parents and siblings nor come home, except when such parents died and they came home to lavishly celebrate their glorious exits. Hence, my mum’s love for me as her last child and the most educated of her kids, made her to pray against my traveling abroad as at then.

After my Ordinary National Diploma program at Federal Polytechnic Offa, I got a placement for my Industrial Attachment (IT) at Ibolo Microfinance Bank, Offa, having come first in the preselection test and interview respectively.My first stipend of #3,500 from the bank was used to obtain UTME form through which I gained admission to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife to study my dream course – Demography and Social Statistics. I graduated in 2010 with the Second Class Lower Division. I faced a lot during my undergraduate days and after graduation. I almost got killed during my NYSC year at Ubaha Nsulu, Abia State, but God preserved my life. To make ends meet, I was once a commercial motorcycle rider, a teacher, and a foodstuff trader. Alhamdullilah for how far I have gone in the journey of life.

Tekedia :Was it the experience you had while growing that made you found ISERH?

Abdulahi Abdulraheem: Actually no. I cannot say my experience as a child informed my setting up Initiative for Sound Education, Relationship & Health (ISERH). But it aided it, it aided my passion. It aided my vision and my strong will towards the establishment of ISERH. What actually led me to founding ISERH was the policies of education in OsunState between pre-2013 and 2015. 

In 2013, I was still an “okadaman” and I used to convey high school students to and fro their schools. I used to listen to some of their conversations around SSCE examination, especially government sponsored WAEC, and how their failure could prevent them from rewriting the exams in government-owned schools, as well as how their parents might not be able to send them to private schools or examination centers to re-enrol.I became curious to know the fact behind the claims of the students. Hence, I started visiting schools and meeting principals towards having empirical evidence to the claims of the students. I would ride my bike in the morning, go home to remove my camouflage and dress appropriately to visit schools in continuation of my findings.

The outcome of my findings revealed a lot of policy somersaults. The OPON IMO (tablet of knowledge) distributed by the state government to high schools students had turned to porns storage and viewing gadget, as the majority of the students had successfully deleted the ebooks on it. Against the government’s claim that the device could not be used to access the internet, I found out that it could. I also found out that the state government initiated a policy to bar school’s teachers or principals from collecting WAEC money from external students and then enrol them under the government free WAEC policy. Hence, the government introduced a policy that compelled schools’ principals to send the list of students that got promoted to SS 1 to the State Ministry of Education. Only those students whose names appeared on the list would be writing WAEC in the state’s schools 3 years after. Hence, once a student failed WAEC, s/he could not go back to retake SS 3 and thereby write WAEC the following year. The only option available to them was to either go back to SS 1 in order for his/her name to enter the list of students that the government would sponsor his/her WAEC in 3 years to come or to simply register with a private school or education centers that abound the state as at the time. No student in Osun High Schools then was to repeat a class. The school kept passing them while their end-of-term exams and promotion examinations were always written on the chalkboard. The government abolished the Mock Examination that was supposed to prepare the students for WAEC. Hence, Osun was performing very poorly in WAEC which led to students coming up with a slogan ‘Aregbe Je Gbese‘ that could be literally translated to ‘Governor Aregbe Is In Debt‘.

That was the period Osun was rated 30th and 27th, out 36 states of Nigeria, in States WAECPerformanceIndex. It was also a period of highest level of indiscipline and violence in Osun state’s high schools. Consequently, a committee on indiscipline was set up by the then state government, headed by Dr. Isiak Owoade who later headed Osun State Education Quality Assurance, to see to the issues of indiscipline. That was where my move started. I attended a sitting of the committee at Ilesa Grammar School where teachers and parents were busy shifting blames. I was fortunate, after several efforts, to be allowed to speak as the last speaker for the day. I pointed out a lot of faults in the state’s government policies and the hall became thunderous from the claps of both teachers and parents. Late Mr.Ogunleye, of blessed memory, who later headed TEPO before his death, was the one who wisely took me off the podium and gave me his card, requesting my writing and submitting a memo to him, of which I did and submitted more than 3 times.

I then started writing online about Osun education defects. A website got designed by a good friend and brother, who serves as our ICT Director today – Mr. Kunle Olatunji, and through this website, I shared a lot of my findings and solutions. The site got hacked several times but we kept going.A friend and I then introduced a competition called Aspiring the Best Competition (ABC) with the sole aim of exposing the students to paper-based exams before writing WAEC and thereby reducing failure rates. Participants of the competition are to write English, Mathematics and any other 2 subjects of their choice. Only candidates who make 75% aggregate score win the competition and get sponsorship for their SSCE or UTME. This competition was first held on March 1st, 2014. On the day of the examination, we got introduced to a woman who runs an NGO in Osun State and she promised her support for us. She later introduced us to a wife of a rich man in Ilesa, who promised to sponsor the prizes of the winners and would like to place the beneficiaries on a university scholarship.Unknown to us, this woman got the money from the sponsor but refused to release it to us. Hence, I was left with using my foodstuff business capital to offset part of the bills/prizes of the beneficiaries. The woman thereafter offered us a ‘loan’ of N200,000 to redeem the prizes of the 19 winners. Still, we had debts left to be paid. Luckily, I was offered a job by the same woman,but I got paid 1/3rd of the stipulated salary for the post I got employed for, under the project we were working on. But the job was a lifesaver for me as the pays/salaries were used to offset all prizes, after we had pleaded with the parents of the winners to pay for the examinations from their pockets, while we’ll refund them later. That was the genesis of ISERH and it was at this critical time that my friend, with whom we kicked start the program,left me to battle for the payment of the prizes alone. Hence, I became a lone ranger and kept pulling till ISERH finally got registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in July 2015 as an Incorporated Trustee Nonprofit Organization.

I still never got tired as we did the second edition of the competition around November 2014,while a big prize giving ceremony was done in January 2015. I kept writing about the needs for the state government to re-introduce mock examination and it was re-introduced in 2015. Although, it was poorly organized centrally, as some students could only see the results of 1 or 2 of the subjects they sat for. But to me, it was a successful advocacy.

In sumary, the educational policies of Osun State Ministry of Education under the leadership of His Excellency, former Governor of ‘State of Osun’, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola led me to establishing Initiative for Sound Education, Relationship & Health (ISERH) while my childhood experiences fueled my passion and energized me to be rugged and navigated my ways to stardom.

Tekedia :Now what is ISERH all about? 

Abdulahi Abdulraheem: Hmmm! The little organization that almost landed me in trouble several times is no longer only focusing on Osun State’s education policies but African youth’s developments in the areas of leadership, socio-corporate, entrepreneurial, and peaceful relationship skills development. ISERH now focuses on building a literate, peaceful, religiously tolerant and healthy nation through the promotion of sound education, leadership development, relationship strengthening and psychosocial support. And that has been our mission, and our vision is to have a peaceful, informed and healthy nation of ethical leaders.

So, ISERH is all about young people. It is all about exposing young people, training them, grooming and preparing them for the uncertainties of adulthood and independence that follows their graduation from higher institutions. We are now committed to teaching for FREE,what no African university teaches, by exploring internet opportunities to reach millions of African youth. We are currently busy raising young people that believe in Africa and her strength to be self-sufficient. The youth that are busy and ready to be part of those who push positive narratives about Africa to the world and tirelessly work to righting the wrongs of our continent. Those who see no political, tribal, religious, and gender differences as an impediment towards mutual relationship and togetherness in bringing out values and driving a positive change. That’s what ISERH does, stands for and currently known for.

Tekedia :What impact has it made in the society in the last 6 years of its establishment?

AbdulahiAbdulraheem: I would like to take the word ‘society’ to mean African Continent or the universe. ISERH is an organization that started from a town in Osun State, Ilesha to be precise, and presently its impacts are global. Like I said in my initial responses,we sought to address educational policies of Osun State when ISERH was established, and so far, we have stepped to be globally relevant. 

Through our pilot project – Aspiring the Best Competition (ABC), we have successfully sponsored the Senior School Certificate Examinations (SSCE) and Unified Tertiary Examinations (UTME) of 93 young people, among whom we now have over 20 graduates.The names of these beneficiaries, called ISERH Ambassadors, and the high schools attended can be found on http://abcportal.iserh.org/ambassador.php

38 teachers have won ISERH Excellent Teacher Award. This award was created to tie the success of the participants of Aspiring the Best Competition (ABC) to their teacher’s efforts in mentoring/teaching them for the competition. Hence, it becomes a competition among teachers who want to see their students winning the competition. At ISERH, we believe that teacher’s efficiency and long lasting teacher/student relationship could be enhanced through this win-win initiative. You can check the list of names of the teachers, their schools, and the students mentored online on our website.

243 pupils of elementary and middle schools in Osun State had been provided with textbooks, exercise books and pens under our Teens-back-to-School Project. The project is designed to support teenagers, children, and  pupils of elementary  and middle schools that their parents may not have the ability to support their going back to school for a new session. 

A community, Ifewera, benefited from our Rural Community Health Support. This program is designed for the purpose of taking medical checks to dwellers of rural communities and as well provide them basic medications. We do this with the full supports of our volunteered medical practitioners.

Six government schools in Osun State benefitted from our School Supports Project. This school support project is initiated to provide basic schools’ supplies to government schools that are facing inadequacies in schools’ supplies. We provide them teaching aids and chalks.

Through Enriching the Unreached Project, over 8,949 students of high and middle schools in Osun State were impacted. This project is designed to take hope of a greater future to young people in secondary and middle schools, for the purpose of showing them the picture of what their future could be like, if they work in certain ways. It was the initiative of the beneficiaries of Aspiring the Best Competition (ABC) otherwise known as ISERH Ambassadors. They are the ones that speak to their peers.

We’ve given out 507 Motivational/Story Books to students of Osun State, as motivation towards encouraging and improving reading habits and moral values. We do this during our annual prize giving ceremony for Aspiring the Best Competition (ABC).

In 2016, during the application process for Npower Scheme, a program of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that was designed to employ 500,000 unemployed graduates, our organization ran a free application program for anybody that walked into our office in Ilesa, Osun State. We also designed for free, Curriculum Vitae (VC) for the majority of Npower Scheme’s applicants that got free registration in our office. I could remember that during this application process, the website of the Npower Scheme crashed and they lost over 4 million applicants’ data/application.We, at ISERH took it upon ourselves in circulating information to reach every applicant to resubmit their applications. I was in the State House, precisely at the Banquet Hall of Aso Rock, in June 2016 when the application was designed to close that very day. I pushed for the extension of the closing date and the Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed promised to work on it before leaving for China that same evening. I received the news of the extension before I got to my hotel.

Apart from that, when N-power lists were released, people were asked to go to their various local governments and meet their state governments’ Focal person.Majority of states didn’t have a Focal person while their Ministry of Education were unclear about the scheme. ISERH sprung into action as we visited Alhaji Kolawole, I can’t remember his full name, the then OsunSUBEB chairman, where we gave him details on the scheme and also provided our support. We were instrumental in stopping a planned protest by Npower beneficiaries in Lagos due to the state’s failure to accept the appointed Focal person by the Federal Government. We spoke with the Lagos SUBEB Chairman as at that time, – Mr. Ipaye (not sure I got the name right). I was on phone with him to explain the details of the program and to encourage him to reach out to the Focal person as I supplied the details of the appointed person. We did the same forOgun, Nasarawa, Kogi etc. Our intervention prevented ministries and even some state governments from exploiting the beneficiaries. Some states were making moves to tax the N30,000 stipend paid to the beneficiaries, but ISERH raised the alarm. We attended to lots of complaints and resolved lots of issues. At a point, I belonged to all whatsapp groups of Npower Beneficiaries across the states. We were the ones they could access when the team in charge of the Npower Scheme could not be reached. We did all this voluntarily and with our individual personal resources. I give kudos to all individuals that make up ISERH Team then and now.

In 2018, ISERHdesigned and launched a freeprogram that is meant to transform the reasoning, behaviour, actions, and views of African young people, precisely African undergraduates and fresh graduates towards Africa and to also stem the prevalence of suicide among young people. The program was later reviewed to accommodate Masters and Ph.D students as beneficiaries of the program named ISERH Undergraduate Studies. It is a tuition-free 5 month course that ought to be made compulsory for all African Millenia (young people). The module of the program is world class and through this course, we teach for FREE, what no African university teaches. The facilitators of this course are the world best that key into this course without receiving a dime for sharing their knowledge and hard-earned experiences. One can read more about this project via the ISERH website. 

Since the course was introduced in June 2018, we have received 3,650 applications from African and Asian countries.We successfully offered admission to 1,300 applicants and only 286 admitted scholars successfully completed and graduated from the course and are now known as ISERH Associate Ambassadors. This 286 ISERH Associate Ambassadors are from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, Ghana,etc.

As a criteria for graduation from ISERH Undergraduate Studies, participants are expected to take the knowledge gained from the course to their peers, colleagues, family members or dwellers of their community as Capstone Projects. Through this initiative, Capstone Project, ISERH has indirectly imparted 10,597 people across African countries where our IUS students come from.

Tekedia :What does the future hold for ISERH and for you?

Abdulahi Abdulraheem: Thank you very much sir for this question. I think ISERH is already in the future we are talking about.We are already in the future we’re dreaming of. Our vision and mission are already materializing as I speak with you sir. Presently, ISERH is having Associate Ambassadors forming state and national chapters for the purpose of driving change and supporting one anothers’ vision and purpose. We have them coming up across the states in Nigeria. This is also happening in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Burundi and some other parts of Africa as we speak sir, where those who have undergone our programs, especially ISERH Undergraduate Studies are coming together as a group to impart young people in their states, community, country, and promoting peaceful coexistence.These young people, like myself, are coming together with a complete disregard to differences in religious, ethno-social and political affiliation. They are ready to stay in Africa and grow her. Those abroad among them are working to invest in Africa and seeing a reduction in unemployment rates and igniting industrial revolution. As I speak now sir, we have more than 25 of ISERH Associate Ambassadors who are founders or co-founders of different networks or organizations that are busy promoting one social cause or another. That is the future that is happening now.

As for me, I see a future where I will not be remembered for the amount of wealth, materials or children that I have, but for the number of lives the initiativeGod used me to found has touched. I never knew today would turn out to be like this when I started the initiative as a commercial motorcyclist (Okadaman). In as much as today looks so amazing like this, the future, if God preserves me to live till then, shall surely be a celebration period for the achievement of the vision and mission set in 2014.No matter how better the future turns to be, my prayer to God Almighty is to kindly let me keep seeing myself as a poor humble commercial motorcyclist (Okadaman) but not as a mighty or influential person as the world currently sees and takes me for.I’m presently not rich, but Alhamdulillah (Praises to God) as I am not where I used to be. I appreciate all my team and everyone that thinks of joining us to make a huge difference. My consistent wish to Almighty God is that He should kindly kill me as a submissive servant of His (an interpretation of my name – Abdulahi). I give thanks to Almighty Allah for the past and present, while I commit the future to His Hands.

Tekedia :What is your advice for today’s youth?

AbdulahiAbdulraheem: My advice to young people like myself is that life has stages and we mustn’t jump a stage believing that we want to get to the next. Seeing people doing great today doesn’t depict that they were never, at one time or the other, at the same stage or even in worse stage than you currently are.We all need God, vision, love, hope, taking steps and getting set to never turn back, as vehicles to getting to our desired point in life. Money shouldn’t be our priority but creation of values. Wealth is surely at the door steps of whoever thinks of solving problems and creating values. I want to also ask us to stop cursing our respective countries and mother Africa. Africa is not an unfortunate land as she is blessed in natural resources than most other parts of the world. She’s only unfortunate for having many of us as her offsprings or dwellers. For Africa to attain her full potential, individuals must work to have a vision and achieve our respective full potential. The greatness of a nation is not in its land but in its people.

Enough of social media rants. If I had converted my social media platforms to ranting without taking steps, do you think I would be where I am. I might definitely remain an Okadaman and this platform wouldn’t have noticed my existence, let alone of seeking to hear from me. FInally, let us be consistent in good, change from evils and be perseverance in every unpalatable circumstances we find ourselves in. I believe that if we practise the above, the sky will be our starting point and the world would be eager to read about and from us. 

Tekedia: Thank you for your time

AbdulahiAbdulraheem: It is my pleasure sir and I rather appreciate you and your crew sir.

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4 thoughts on “A Food Vendor, Cobbler, Okada Rider Who Later Rose Tells Youth To Persevere for Success – Interview with A. A. Abdulraheem

  1. I have taken time to go through the proceedings of the interview. How I wish Our Young African Leaders will to the line of the Chief Servant of ISERH. God will help Us.

  2. I have taken time to go through the proceedings of the interview. How I wish Our Young African Leaders will tow the line of the Chief Servant of ISERH. God will help Us.

  3. The real success is not about how many millions you have in your account or how many houses you built hundreds but the real success is how productive or impacted you are to people closer or far from you positively to achieve their success without expecting any dime.

    Mr Abdulahi Abayomi abdulraheem put on the light for other to see.

    I pray that Almighty Allah will continue to set all your affairs at ease.

    Please we the youth let’s try and learn from this for the progress of Africa.

  4. Popoola Toyeebah Bukunola · Edit

    This indeed a great “icon of hope” may Allah SWT lead all our youth to the right path (Amin).
    At first I was pitifully shedding tears with my brother life experience.
    At last I named you “Eni olohun opa” meaning he who God don’t kill no human being can dare it.


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