Bul­lies al­most made me drop out of school

Cob­hams Asuquo is a mul­ti­ple award-win­ning mu­sic pro­ducer. Vis­ually im­paired from birth, the 37-year-old, while speak­ing with ERIC DUMO, re­veals some of the tough­est mo­ments he has faced in life

The Punch - - WEEKEND STARTER - –Cob­hams Asuquo

You had your ear­li­est child­hood in a mil­i­tary bar­racks in Jos, Plateau State, what was that pe­riod of your life like?

That pe­riod was fun be­cause I was able to do all the things most chil­dren around could do de­spite my vis­ual im­pair­ment. I re­mem­ber rolling tyres on the streets with the other chil­dren back in those days. I was very com­pet­i­tive. If any child did some­thing around me, I found a way to do it bet­ter.

My par­ents didn’t have much but they gave me so much love. I would say I am a prod­uct of love. My vis­ual im­pair­ment was never an is­sue of con­cern as a child.

Later, my fa­ther, who was in the army, was posted to

La­gos, so we lived at the Ikeja Mil­i­tary Can­ton­ment. Hav­ing been raised in the bar­racks, did you ever de­sire to join the army?

Yes, I did. I would al­ways tell peo­ple around that I was go­ing to be­come a sol­dier one day. Sadly, I couldn’t for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up in the bar­racks was good for me and it in­formed my love for a lot of things.

Your fa­ther, be­ing a mil­i­tary man, must have been a dis­ci­plinar­ian. Was that the case?

He was a gen­tle soul. He was fun-lov­ing and very re­spect­ful of his fam­ily. The fact that he was in the mil­i­tary didn’t make him to be strict with his fam­ily. He was a lov­ing per­son.

Dogged, tough and re­silient are some of the ad­jec­tives that have been used to de­scribe you in the past, would you as­cribe these at­tributes to your be­ing raised in the bar­racks?

I think more than any­thing else, vis­ual im­pair­ment is what has pre­pared me for life and all its chal­lenges. It is what has brought me face-to-face with the pos­si­bil­ity of fail­ure. It is the rea­son be­hind my early re­solve in life to do well.

Of course, liv­ing in the bar­racks also pre­pared me for the man I am to­day, but I think that be­ing born blind has played the big­gest role in who I have grown to be­come.

From what you re­mem­ber or was told, what sort of ef­fort did your par­ents make in try­ing to find a so­lu­tion to your predica­ment?

I think they did ev­ery­thing in their ca­pac­ity to get a so­lu­tion. From churches to dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals, we went ev­ery­where look­ing for help.

Even­tu­ally they re­solved to give me the best life they could af­ford at the time. I am re­ally grate­ful to them for get­ting me at the right places and at the right time.

What were the right de­ci­sions you think your par­ents made for you?

They treated me as they would treat the other chil­dren. They showed me a lot of love and did not spare me when I erred. I was the last child of the fam­ily. They pre­pared me for life as I know it now.

Were you able to start school as and when due or were there de­lays as a re­sult of your sit­u­a­tion?

I started pri­mary school when I was 10 years old at the Pacelli School for the Blind and Par­tially Sighted Chil­dren in La­gos. I had learnt a lot of things from my broth­ers and sis­ter be­fore I started, so it was quite easy for me to fit in. I lis­tened to a lot of ra­dio pro­grammes as a child, so this in­creased my un­der­stand­ing of a lot of things.

I at­tended a board­ing pri­mary school and for me, the en­vi­ron­ment and at­mos­phere were very dif­fer­ent from what I had been used to at home. The shock was such that I wanted to drop out of school in pri­mary two. The rou­tine was quite a lot for a young boy like me who had been used to be­ing wo­ken up by his mother and asked what he wanted for break­fast.

Also, the head boy of the school then didn’t like me much be­cause I spoke with an ac­cent I picked up from watch­ing tele­vi­sion which they couldn’t un­der­stand. He and a few other boys did all they could to make life dif­fi­cult for me. The sit­u­a­tion got to me and I wanted to drop out of school at that point.

For­tu­nately for me, a lot of those boys passed out the fol­low­ing year, so things be­came much eas­ier for me in school. As a mat­ter of fact, I soon be­came a ringleader my­self as time went by. It was an in­ter­est­ing pe­riod of my life.

You wanted to be a lawyer with the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice at a point, what hap­pened to that dream?

Be­yond be­ing a lawyer with the ICJ, I also wanted to be­come an as­tro­naut as a child. I wanted to be so many things and sud­denly mu­sic be­came a huge part of my life. I stud­ied law at the Univer­sity of La­gos for three years be­fore opt­ing out. What was the rea­son be­hind your de­ci­sion? I was never prop­erly ma­tric­u­lated in the first place. It was a prob­lem that per­sisted for a long time and I wasn’t go­ing to con­tinue to lie to my­self that I was a stu­dent of an in­sti­tu­tion that had not ma­tric­u­lated me prop­erly be­cause of the care­less­ness of a few peo­ple. I felt I needed to chart a new course for my life and mu­sic pre­sented it­self.

What do you mean by care­less­ness of some peo­ple?

I was con­sid­ered a stu­dent of the in­sti­tu­tion; oth­er­wise I wouldn’t stress my­self to at­tend lec­tures for three years. You know bu­reau­cracy and red tape in get­ting cer­tain things done; it was a spe­cial case in a sense. There were papers that needed to be pushed from of­fice to of­fice but a few peo­ple didn’t do what they were sup­posed to do. I guess I be­came a vic­tim of the sys­tem.

For me, that came as a big blow be­cause I had al­ways taken my aca­demic work se­ri­ously and prided my­self on do­ing well at it. Af­ter three years of fail­ure to re­solve the is­sue, I de­cided not to waste my time any fur­ther. I opted out to pur­sue mu­sic full-time.

Did you not try to get the is­sues re­solved or maybe get jus­tice of some kind?

I did not. I guess I was too busy try­ing to be­come suc­cess­ful with mu­sic. I am talk­ing about this now be­cause I feel there is the need for peo­ple to be pro­cessed prop­erly in any­thing in this coun­try to avoid be­ing dis­ap­pointed at the end. No­body should be made to pay for the care­less­ness of oth­ers.

Were there peo­ple who de­manded money to fa­cil­i­tate the res­o­lu­tion of your case at UNILAG?

It wasn’t a case of any­body de­mand­ing money. The peo­ple, who tried to help me, did so gen­uinely. But there were a few oth­ers who were com­pla­cent and that messed things up.

Do you still feel bad for those three years you wasted at the in­sti­tu­tion?

I don’t feel bad be­cause the truth is that I en­joyed ev­ery bit of those three years study­ing law at UNILAG. The knowl­edge I learnt then is still use­ful when I go through con­tracts with my lawyer to­day.

I have also built en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships with a hand­ful of peo­ple I met while at UNILAG. The knowl­edge gained can never be wasted. The ex­pe­ri­ence has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly in shap­ing who I am to­day.

Af­ter that dis­ap­point­ment, have you tried go­ing back to study law at the univer­sity or you have given up on that pur­suit?

Though I have not gone back, I don’t think I have given up on study­ing law. For now, I am do­ing what I love so pas­sion­ately, and it is im­por­tant to see it through. Mu­sic for me is a tool for so­cial re­demp­tion and I think this is very im­por­tant to the world I live in.

I am grate­ful to God for who I am and where I am to­day.

You have a beau­ti­ful wife and two lovely sons, what are those things you think mar­riage and fa­ther­hood has changed about you?

Mar­riage has made me more con­scious, more re­spon­sive to my fam­ily, their needs, feel­ings and so many other things.

Mar­riage has helped me build my com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills. For the fact that I now share my life with some­one, I have learnt to com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively and ex­press my thoughts in a clearer man­ner. Mar­riage has hum­bled me, made me a bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tor. It has made me ac­cept my wrong with hu­mil­ity and that of oth­ers with mag­na­nim­ity.

Your job takes you out of your home for long pe­ri­ods of time, are there spe­cial things you do to make up to your wife and chil­dren upon your re­turn?

No mat­ter how far I go, I am al­ways on the phone with my fam­ily ev­ery day. My wife is my ‘gist part­ner,’ so we talk a lot.

I am very in­volved with my sons as well, so when­ever I am around the house, I do well to make my pres­ence felt in the best pos­si­ble way.

So, are you groom­ing any of the boys to take af­ter you as re­gards mu­sic?

They watch me play the pi­ano at home and you know chil­dren copy what they see. The el­dest gave a pi­ano recital re­cently and I am so ex­cited about this.

But it doesn’t mean he or any of my chil­dren would end up do­ing mu­sic. If they de­cide to fol­low that path, I’ll sup­port them. My re­spon­si­bil­ity as a fa­ther is to help my chil­dren make the right de­ci­sions in life and be­come the best that they can be.

How do you re­lax or spend your leisure time?

I have great con­ver­sa­tions with my friends. I like good food and cof­fee. I like good mu­sic and go­ing to the movies. I like go­ing to the beach and trav­el­ling to ex­otic places.

So, where are your favourite des­ti­na­tions?

I go to places that reach out to me. I’ve had amaz­ing times in Wales, France, United States, Cape Town in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, Davos in Switzer­land. I like ev­ery of those places.

One of your lat­est hits, ‘Starlight,’ showed you telling a lady not to lis­ten to all the dis­cour­ag­ing voices ad­vis­ing her to leave you, was this in­spired by a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence?

Not nec­es­sar­ily. It was borne out of the fact that there are cer­tain peo­ple who find them­selves in that sit­u­a­tion and I felt I needed to en­cour­age such per­sons. Mu­sic for me is a tool to speak on broader and some­times more spe­cific is­sues.

But have there been times when a few per­sons tried to dis­cour­age your wife from be­ing with you es­pe­cially be­fore you mar­ried her?

There has been noth­ing of such that I know about. We are very pri­vate peo­ple; my wife doesn’t have the time for mak­ing small talk, so it’s very dif­fi­cult to share some ideas with her.

If you had the power, what would you like to change about your life’s jour­ney?

If I had that power, I would use it to turn the sit­u­a­tion of Nige­ria around so that more peo­ple like me could have bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties to shine.

What would you like to be re­mem­bered the most for when you are gone?

I would like to be re­mem­bered for be­ing the man who learnt, lived, loved, did and laughed. I want to be re­mem­bered as a man who im­pacted lives.

You have had dread­locks for some time now, what in­spired that choice?

Dread­locks are an­other way of ex­press­ing my­self as far as I am con­cerned. I love the way I feel; my wife loves it too.

For those who think that hav­ing a dis­abil­ity is the end of the world, what words do you have for such peo­ple?

I think such per­sons should take a look at my life. The fact that I am where I am to­day is tes­ta­ment to the fact that they can do 10 times more.

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