The prospective clients had arrived, they were from a top-tier manufacturing company and were looking to improve a number of their processes. They were being attended to by the Chief Operating Officer and some other junior staff, it was only a matter of time before somebody sent for me so I passed the time going through the company’s portfolio. Halfway into the portfolio, my secretary called me up and informed me that the Chief Operating Officer had requested my presence in the conference room, it was time. As I stepped into the conference room, the COO stood up and introduced me saying “Gentlemen, Chief, this is our senior-most sales executive; the Vice President of Sales, Mr. Joseph Oluwole. He’s here to explain the package we have to offer you” He then turned to me and said “Joe, I want you to meet the CEO of RTY Industries; Chief Fela Arogunmati”. I took my seat after a series of handshakes and immediately deduced that the CEO hadn’t bought into the idea that he needed some firm to tell him how to increase his productivity. Chief Fela Arogunmati was a popular man in the country, a chief and a renowned businessman. He was known to be part of the all-powerful cabal of politicians, military generals, royalty and other captains of industry that had the whole nation in the palms of their hands, it was a big deal for the firm. The way he stared at me on my arrival hinted at the fact that he had heard about me, he probably looked to poach me to his company as many of our clients did. He meticulously sipped his cup of coffee as he carefully perused some documents the firm presented, before I could interject, he cleared his throat and spoke “Oluwole…hmmm, aren’t you Lieutenant Oluwole? The traitor that instigated a platoon to desert a military outpost”.
The question took me and everyone in the room by surprise, some of the junior staff were genuinely confused. I replied with a forced smile “I am Lieutenant Oluwole but I am not the traitor that instigated a platoon to desert a military outpost, I’m surprised you’ve heard of me sir” My reply amused him but it also seemed to pique his curiosity, so after another sip of his coffee, he answered “I didn’t build a company as big as mine by forgetting to do my homework, besides I followed the scandal religiously, you’re lucky the media didn’t get a hand on your portrait, you would have been a pariah” He was right, I was certainly lucky or so it seemed, my father had contacts within the government at the time of the scandal so he used them to influence almost all of the media houses and stations to refrain from putting up my portrait, it was my only respite in the chaos that followed. “So tell me Mr. Oluwole, why should I let a traitor and the company he represents tell me how to run my business?” His question was the final straw, my heart started racing…I could see the COO motioning me to remain calm but it was too late. I leaned in and pointed to my cheek and in a furious and irate tone, I responded “Look at it this scar! I didn’t get this running away, I got this in close quarters combat with insurgents, rescuing my platoon in a war trigged by the great injustices perpetrated by men like you! Men like you are the true traitors, in your vain conceit you think the country is your footstool, but it’s men like you that framed me, men like you with your corrupt and nefarious practices that have doomed this country and the people in it. The only traitor in this room is you!!” The Chief’s face was lost in a look of great disbelief, there was a high chance no one had ever spoken to him in such a manner…before he could respond I jammed the conference table furiously and stormed out of the room.
I collapsed on my knees as soon as I got to the office, my whole body was shaking and my heart was beating out of my chest. I had not fully gotten over the incident, I had improved over the years but the scars were still there. I had seen a good number of shrinks but they could do nothing to release me from the burden I bore deep within my heart, my father suggested I speak to my uncle, he was a very spiritual man and was renown in the family as one of the wisest men ever, my mother called him “The Sage” but I was tired of speaking to shrinks. No one could understand what it felt like to have your whole world turned upside down, to be labelled a pariah, to suffer for a crime not committed, a suffering that would last a lifetime. I gripped the sofa as the room began to spin beyond control, breathing quickly became a great task as sweat began to drip from my body profusely. A sensation of numbness quickly seized my body as I felt my consciousness slipping away.
It had been four years since the incident with the military, I was twenty five and it was my first day as an MBA student in a prestigious university in the United Kingdom. The classroom was bright and had a very illustrious feel to it, we were up to thirty seated. A beautiful woman of average height got up from the seat behind me and walked up to the front of the class. She smiled warmly then spoke “It seems we’re all seated…My name is Catherine Rogers, I’m from Canada and it’s a pleasure to meet everyone here, I hope it won’t be too much to ask for all of us to come and introduce ourselves briefly to the class, we’re all going to be together for one year” A man seated at the back of the class stood up and replied “Wonderful idea Catherine, my name is Robert Cheng, I’m from Taiwan, it’s a pleasure to meet everyone”. I particularly wasn’t in the mood for any introductions, I wasn’t in the mood for anything. The incident back at home had left me disillusioned, I was basically just moving through life on auto-drive. Either way, I stood up after Robert Cheng so I could quickly be done with it, then I started “I am Joseph Oluwole, Nigeria…pleased to meet you all”. We were almost done with the introductions when a young man of below average height sauntered into the room, he was dark-complexioned and had a rather pleasant look complemented with a well-trimmed beard. He looked a little flustered as he stood glancing at the whole class. Catherine walked to meet him with a handshake and asked him if he were an MBA student. He nodded and with a smile, she asked him to introduce himself, so he started “Hey class! My name is Korede Fawole”. He was possibly the most interesting person I had met in my life, and he helped me get past many of my lingering issues at the time.
Korede was a rebel of love and he was unlike anything I had ever seen; playful, non-conformist, passionate, kind, confident, dramatic and almost as intelligent as me. He lived according to his own rules but at the same time he valued love and goodness above all things, he seemed like the kind of guy that could sacrifice his life for someone he just met. He was also a brilliant philosopher and he understood life far more than most. In the class, he was the second best student after me but he gave me a good run for my money. He captivated the whole class and everyone loved listening to him talk. He didn’t particularly seem cut out for the business world but one of his dreams was to own his own company and empower people. The way we met was rather noteworthy; after the end of our first class, he walked up to me and whispered “Lieutenant Oluwole, aren’t you him?” I cringed on hearing that and my heart beat was steadily increasing when he added “You don’t look like a deserter or traitor to me bro” I felt a wave of relief, enough to make me smile, then curiously…I replied “And how do you know this?”…he answered ”To be brave enough to continue living after what you’ve been through, the shame and ridicule, a man with your bravery would never desert his fellow soldiers” I couldn’t help but smile at his remark, he was genuinely sincere. I immediately stretched out my hand and said “You can call me Joe”.
“Competition is the foundation of all growth and development” Robert Cheng interjected. We were having one of our regular heated discussions. Our professor had just taught us a module on competition in economics and business, and everybody had their own opinions, including me. “I agree with you Robert, competition brings out the best in us in every field. Competition pushes the sportsmen to achieve greater feats, it spurs companies to develop greater products, it ensures only the best stays relevant. In other words, competition brings out the best in all facets of life.” I added. Robert clapped happily at my addition and the other students nodded in admiration. I felt I had ended the long overdue argument then I heard a voice speak “A marketing strategist has something else to say on this issue, he said and I quote ‘Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people’. In my opinion, collaboration and cooperation bring out the best in products and people.” I quickly retorted “That is just wishful and idealistic thinking, businesses aren’t charities, they are formed for profit…how exactly would collaboration among businesses ensure profit maximization?” He smiled at my remark then started “Change is the only constant in life, innovative companies are already starting to reap the benefits of cooperation” I interjected “Which companies??” then he continued “Adidas, Puma and Innovalley collaborated to create intelligent sportswear and accessories, Coca Cola and Heinz to develop sustainable containers…even academic giants Harvard and MIT collaborated to develop edX; a project both institutions invested thirty million dollars into”. His response was so sound that no one could bring logically discredit it, but not to be outdone I spoke “Those are just the exceptions to rule, they aren’t the basis for a paradigm shift in business, competition will and has always begin the driving force behind great accomplishments in any field”. I could see some of the faces in the class looking at me with approval, I had finally ended the argument this time, or so I thought. Clearing his throat and with much passion, Korede immediately replied “As most of you know, I am an unapologetic Christian, so please, kindly permit me to tell a story from the Bible…Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, humans all spoke one language and adhered to one culture. In their unity and in their egocentric desire to equate themselves with The Creator, they proposed to themselves to embark on the greatest feat they could think to accomplish at the time “The Tower of Babel”; a structure they intended to make so high, it would pierce the very sky itself…most of us know how that story ended; The LORD went to them and confused their language because in unity, nothing they proposed to do would be impossible for them. That was the beginning of disunity, competition and whatever words you may call it. It was a punishment levied upon us due to vain conceit and narcissistic self-gratification. In other words, make no mistake, the true driving force behind great accomplishments has always been and will always be unity…that is…cooperation” The whole class clapped at the end of his powerful oration, I thought to disprove it on the grounds of him referencing the Bible but deep down, I knew it was a lost cause…he had already won the argument in the hearts of everyone present.
It was the end of the first semester and Korede suggested that a couple of us from the class go for drinks at a local pub. He had to literally come to my room and drag me out to make sure I came with them. The pub was quite spacious and it had a beautiful stage with numerous musical equipment. I ordered a neat mug of lager and I sipped it gently as one of the indie bands serenaded us with good music, Catherine was beside me and across the table on the opposite side of me was Korede, lost in a mug of black stout. When the band had finished, the bartender came up and announced it was to be karaoke night. In no time, a groggy man from the left side of the bar went to the stage to sing his rendition of Linkin Park’s In the End. It was incredibly hilarious, I laughed so hard I fell off the chair but when he finished, no one clapped for him harder than me. After a few more karaoke performances, Catherine looked around and said “Someone from this table should volunteer himself to the stage”. Then Korede smiled mischievously and immediately took it up “I nominate Joe!” I tried to dissuade him with a few sharp glances but he winked at me and gave a thumbs up, soon enough, Robert followed “Joe! Joe!!”…then eventually the whole bar erupted in a chant of “Joe!” I had no choice. I emptied the content of my mug in a few hefty gulps, wiped the pale drops of lager from my beard then proceeded to the stage…I was prepared to give them a night to remember. I performed James Morrison’s You Make It Real, my singing voice was above average and it took the whole pub by surprise, when I finished I got a standing ovation, for the first time in so long, I truly felt happy.
I woke up to find myself on the sofa in my father’s house, he had probably been called when they noticed as I was unconscious in the office. He walked in not too long after and said “Joseph, I’ve invited your uncle over, it’s been long overdue. You need to talk to someone” I shouted back “Father, I told you I’m done talking to shrinks, I’m not gonna subject myself to this any longer” then Korede also walked in, we became best friends in school and he was basically my only friend at this point, He looked at me sternly and spoke “Is that anyway to talk to your father?” I immediately retorted “Mind your business Kay!” then he said calmly “We heard you started some serious commotion in the office, your boss said you shouldn’t resume till your ready…Joe, you need to handle this once and for all” I immediately got up to leave then another man walked in from the door; he was very tall, had about five inches on me and he wore a polo shirt and jeans, then on closer inspection I realized it was Major…no, General Alagbara. Apparently my father had conspired with Korede to invite him over. He smiled and gave me a hug. Then switching back to the tough and taciturn man I once knew, he spoke sternly “It’s time for you to get help son, this is an order!” I sank back into the sofa in defeat, they had won. Almost immediately, the bell rang, the General turned to Korede and my father and said “Gentlemen, this is our cue”
A fairly light-complexioned man walked in briskly, he was around my height and he was bald, but it looked good on him. He introduced himself “Hello Joe, I’m your uncle, Bayo Oluwole” We sat down on the chairs in the living room and he stared at me for a few minutes without saying a word. I replied in frustration saying “Is this how you plan on making me get past this?” without acknowledging my question, he asked one of his own “Joe, what is your major goal in life?” I dismissed him saying “What does that have to do with anything?” He asked again in a sympathetic tone “Joe, be straight with me, what is your goal?” I realized there was no other way out of this than to cooperate or at least pretend to cooperate, so in a very convincing tone, I lied saying “I want to have a wonderful family with a smart beautiful lady”…He smirked then continued “Son, tell me…what is your goal?” He was on to my lie, apparently he was smart enough to tell when even I was lying, I had no other choice. I looked at him and answered “My goal…my dream has always been to leave a great legacy, to have my name and accomplishments listed prominently in the annals of history, to be a great man in the league of history’s greatest”. He nodded his head then asked me another question “Tell me your story Joe, don’t leave anything out”
I told him my story from the military days up to my explosion in the office. I didn’t leave anything out, I noticed he got emotional at several points in the story. When I was done he asked me another question “Why do you believe a shrink can do nothing for you?” Then I replied “Because no one knows what it’s like to feel…to go through what I’ve been through. I lost everything, my fiancée, my life…and that wasn’t even my only tribulation” Then he continued “I will try my best to help you” wasting no time, I quickly retorted “Do you know what it feels like to be a soldier uncle? Or have you experienced great shame and dishonor?” I was sure I had taken him to his wit’s end, but shockingly he started “I have, not by the virtue of my experiences but by the virtue of my ability to empathize. It’s my greatest ability and my greatest vulnerability, in hearing your story I was ferried through time to those events, I experienced them as much as you did…I felt the same emotion you felt. I won’t undermine your suffering by saying they left the same scars on me, but at the very least, I now have an understanding of your plight” I immediately shouted back at him “What do you know of my plight!?” He paused and let me act out my emotions then he spoke further “My son, you don’t have a monopoly on suffering or experiences. I assume you think your experiences have taken you a step above the average person but in all honesty, it has not only weighed you down as a person but it has separated you from everyone. In all these years, the closest thing you’ve had to a friend is Korede and that’s because he’s been kind and patient enough to maintain a friendship with you. You need to throw the past away son”…“It’s not as easy as it sounds” I scoffed. He raised his voice and spoke “You don’t make it easy for yourself, one question son, what do you believe in?” I furiously answered saying “I believe in the will of man, the will to do, the will to thrive, the will to live and the will to understand, nothing else…nothing more!” He smiled solemnly and started “My son, your answer has shown me the reason why you can’t move on. You believe only in yourself and your abilities, but life has shown you that time and chance trump ability any day, so you are stuck bearing the full pain and shame of what you call the greatest failure and shame of your life. Today’s session will soon end but let me tell you something, let me tell you about what we’ve lost” I contemplated curiously then he continued “You can only see the physical, which is why you suffer in it greatly without hope, let me tell you about the word ‘spirituality’; it is the realization of the fact that there is more to the world than our limited physical perspectives…” I never believed in religion and I never really concerned myself with understanding it, but today, my uncle wanted to make me face an issue I had never considered relevant, so curiously I listened on “…people arrive at spirituality and define it with their own beliefs, to me spirituality is Christianity and it’s the truth to me, a truth I’ve seen manifest many times in my life, but I am not here to preach to you, just to help you move on. I have one quote and one lesson for you; the quote is from a wise sage Rumi; ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself’…Joe, grow as person, the worth of a man is majorly in his substance and character…in how he lives relative to his environment and the people around him, achievements don’t define the man, it’s the man that defines the achievements…now, the lesson is for you to realize is that not everything is within your control…” I had always disagreed with that notion, life is all about choices, I made the choice to let myself be framed and living with the shame and burden was the consequence of that choice. Then as if he could read my thoughts, he continued “Choices are the small measure of control you have in the whirlwind that is life, I’m sure you feel you put yourself in this position but then I ask you; ‘Did you have any control over the situation you had to make a choice in?’”…he was right, at least about that. I had always avoided the idea that there could be something like fate…that our lives have already been mapped out to some degree or the other. He saw the confusion in my face and addressed it saying “Take a whole day to think on these concepts you’ve been avoiding…on life and spirituality, go into a process of reflection and introspection. I can only kick start the process but you have to take it further” Then smiling he ended his discourse saying “And maybe when you’re done, you’ll ask me for a Bible”. I chuckled at the last statement but he had succeeded in piquing my curiosity so I decided I’ll try to understand what he was talking about, to recover what we had supposedly lost. Standing up, he shook my hand and asked “So when next do you want to see me?” and I replied “Would you be available two days from now?”