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  • Friday, May 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Adebayo Ogunlesi’s journey to success stokes discussions on Nigeria’s social mobility

The recent acquisition of Adebayo Ogunlesi‘s Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) by BlackRock for $12.5 billion has sparked conversations and concerns among Nigerians, who ponder over the role of family background, geographical setting and connection in shaping their paths to success.

From King’s College to Harvard

There’s a saying that “The biggest lottery in life is the circumstance of birth,” and besides being a lawyer, investment banker, founder, CEO and featuring in Grammy award-winning song lyrics, there is more to Ogunlesi’s success story.

Adebayo Ogunlesi hails from Sagamu in Ogun state born into the family of Theophilus O. Ogunlesi, the first Nigerian professor of medicine at the University of Ibadan.

His father was the pioneer head of the University College Hospital, Ibadan and the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, making significant contributions to the development of medical education, research, and practice in various areas, such as tropical medicine, hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases before his passing last year at 99 years of age.

Perhaps what he would consider a greater achievement is birthing Adebayo whom he put through school at King’s College, Lagos.

Ogunlesi moved to the United Kingdom to further his studies, acquiring a degree at Oxford University, England, where he graduated with first-class honors in philosophy, politics and economics. He also earned a JD and an MBA from Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, respectively.

With over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry and international business and capital markets, including emerging markets, Ogunlesi pioneered notable strides globally, obtaining several awards including the CON, purchasing multiple airports and earning a seat on Donald Trump’s economic advisory team.

The most recent of which, was being crowned Africa’s newest billionaire with an estimated net worth of $2.3 billion, following his billion-dollar deal with BlackRock, Inc.

Connections and privileges

Ogunlesi’s remarkable achievements in the diaspora have sparked conversations from many Nigerians who express their sentiments on the challenging landscape of Nigeria’s mobility sector for the common citizen.

They claim Ogunlesi’s story is not a grass-to-grace one but one of a silver-spooned individual, which served as a propeller for his journey, in comparison with the fate of an average Nigerian in a complicated economy.

According to a survey by BusinessDay, Nigerian youth believe that having strong connections is essential to success in life.

However, the current economic conditions in the country make upward mobility difficult, especially for younger people who are often hit hardest by unemployment despite an incessant churn of graduates from the nation’s varsities.

“We are not creating enough opportunities for youths. Even the smartest struggle. We have seen people with First Class Honours trying to crowdfund for higher education. In the West, there are just too many options/funding, which is why it is easier to turn fortunes around in one or two generations.”@taadelodun on X.

“Exactly why I’m praying to God to grant my wish of providing dual citizenship for my kids. The place of privilege will never go out of fashion. Some things will never be experienced and that alone in itself helps set a pace that someone who is not privileged might struggle with.” @ZaynabBakare_ on X.

Nigeria’s social mobility problem

According to the World Bank, Nigeria ranks 157th out of 174 countries in terms of intergenerational mobility, which means that the income or educational level of a person’s parents has a strong impact on their own outcomes.

“I’ve seen some people say that their dads started life as houseboys. Mine started life trekking to school – and I mean from Ekpoma to Asaba (I never asked whether, like GEJ, he had shoes on or not). He was an olopa’s son.

He was able to get a lab assistant position in UI (working for Prof Edozien, I believe, interestingly) before managing to get into medical school (and I recently learnt that he was able to finance his way through medical school with a large gambling win – so I guess that he did hammer in his own way.

The point is that the structure of the country doesn’t present those types of opportunities anymore – or at least not in the same numbers relative to the population.” @afalli on X.

Atedo Peterside, founder of Stanbic IBTC, had expressed his sentiments about how society is currently rigged against young people, voicing concerns about restrictions on their ambitions.

He stated that the economy provided the needed opportunity for youths to succeed when he was younger, unlike it is in the present economy.

“Some Nigerians as they got older kept on pulling the rug along with themselves and the environment that enabled them to come in and succeed them withdrew it.

I’m sad that no young Nigerian at 33 will be able to begin a bank the way I did. If you have 10 years of experience and you go to get a license they will throw you out,” he said.

The education problem

Education is a key driver of social mobility, as it can provide people with the skills and knowledge to pursue better opportunities and careers.

However, the World Economic Forum revealed that Nigeria was not among the 82 countries that were assessed for their social mobility index, which evaluates the quality and equity of education, health, work and social protection systems.

Nigeria’s education system is plagued by low enrolment, high dropout, poor infrastructure, inadequate funding, and low learning outcomes.

UNESCO reports that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, with about 10.5 million children not attending school.

The quality of education is also low, as only 51% of primary school students and 25% of secondary school students achieved the minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics.

Some Nigerians however express that education could turn around the socio-economic situation if taken seriously, regardless of a person’s initial circumstance.

“My father was sent at age 10 from Akure to Ibadan to be a domestic servant (houseboy) in order to position him for Government College Ibadan GCI because his mum believed education was the way. We’ve gone from houseboy to me in one generation. It’s education not privilege.” said Yodifiji on X.

“My late dad, was sent to IB as 11yr old from a mid Western state, served whites at Moor plantation, passed Cambridge without secondary edu. Worked there & later passed ICAN. Mind is strong if trained & determined. He served FG for 35+ 2 extra yrs.”@e_okoegwale

Hope for the future

Despite the daunting challenges facing the social mobility cycle, some people are poised to break out, with high hopes of a brighter future than their early circumstances.

“I certainly think I’ll do better than my parents financially because of better exposure to the tech that can help me pitch my services better to anyone,” said Ganiu Olanitori, a 25-year-old phone seller.

“Although the economy was quite in their favour, I’m not totally at a loss or disadvantage,” he added.

Olanitori, like many other optimistic Nigerians, believe they will do better in life than their parents by leveraging technological advantage amid an economic disadvantage.

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