JOHN EHIGUESE At 60, My Life Re­mains Work in Progress

John Ehiguese, CEO of Me­di­acraft As­so­ci­ates, is a sur­vivor, strong-willed, in­tel­li­gent, hard-work­ing and in ev­ery re­spect, a self-made man. While his age mates were boys, he was al­ready a man. Ehiguese started tak­ing care of him­self from age 15, thus, dev

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Fin­ish­ing sec­ondary school at 15, John Ehiguese had to work be­cause there was no money to fur­ther his ed­u­ca­tion. Too young and com­pletely un­pre­pared for that ex­pe­ri­ence, he didn’t un­der­stand the im­port, but the whims of life put on his weak shoul­ders the full re­spon­si­bil­ity of his sick fa­ther at age 20, af­ter his mother died, a re­spon­si­bil­ity he shoul­dered sin­gle-hand­edly for over 25 years un­til his fa­ther died in 2005. He Sur­vived four years at The Polytech­nic, Ibadan, with­out a sin­gle spon­sor – and yet turn­ing out with the first and only dis­tinc­tion in his de­part­ment – a record that stood un­equalled for 25 years. What about how Ehiguese en­rolled for an MBA at the La­gos Busi­ness School in 2003, while in full-time em­ploy­ment, with a wife and five chil­dren, all in school? What about be­ing ‘forced’ to start Me­di­acraft As­so­ci­ates in late 2003 with­out any cap­i­tal or spon­sor – and nur­tur­ing it to one of the most rep­utable PR con­sul­tan­cies in Nige­ria to­day? Amaz­ingly, Ehiguese sur­vived the odds.

As a child, choos­ing a ca­reer path was a big deal for him, as his choices were al­ways chang­ing at dif­fer­ent points of his for­ma­tive years. At one point he wanted to be a po­lice de­tec­tive, at an­other point a cre­ative writer, and then a sur­geon. He can tell you for a surety, Pub­lic Re­la­tions wasn’t on the bucket list!

At the be­gin­ning of his 10 years, he was just a reg­u­lar child from a com­fort­able, mid­dle-class home. But things took a turn as the worse when his dad de­vel­oped se­vere health chal­lenges that even­tu­ally led to los­ing his job. The fam­ily for­tunes nose­dived and they all, es­pe­cially John, had to ad­just real fast.

He re­counts that the most dif­fi­cult thing that ever hap­pened to him and how he dealt with it: ‘‘My mother’s sud­den and un­ex­pected death hap­pened in 1978. I was just 20 years old at the time, the first child, and un­pre­pared for the shock. I guess at that time, I didn’t quite un­der­stand its full im­port. But as with ev­ery ad­ver­sity in my life, I had to pick up my­self and move on. When my mother died, I was forced to take up full re­spon­si­bil­ity for my dad at that ten­der age. That was a cross that I car­ried for a very long time, and it taught me the mean­ing of re­spon­si­bil­ity very early in life. Per­haps one of my great­est re­grets in life is that I never got a chance, and the re­sources, to take good care of my par­ents while they were alive, as I would have loved to. They sac­ri­ficed so much for me, es­pe­cially my dad.’’ This ex­pe­ri­ence marked a wa­ter­shed in his life. He shares how he over­came the most in­flu­en­tial ex­pe­ri­ences in these words: ‘‘The dras­tic down­ward turn that my fam­ily’s for­tune took when my dad fell ill and even­tu­ally lost his high-pro­file job as a very se­nior ex­ec­u­tive in Mo­bil in 1969, just as I was en­ter­ing sec­ondary school, was a big life les­son to me. Es­pe­cially the fact that he made a num­ber of wrong choices that ap­par­ently ag­gra­vated his prob­lems. I have all my life consciously tried to avoid mak­ing sim­i­lar mis­takes. A key turn­ing point was when I fin­ished sec­ondary school at age 15 and had to go and work be­cause there was no money to for­ward my ed­u­ca­tion im­me­di­ately, de­spite my very good grades. I was too young and com­pletely un­pre­pared for that ex­pe­ri­ence. But it taught me very early in life to take charge, and re­spon­si­bil­ity, for my life.” When he jux­ta­poses grow­ing up to­day and his own time, he un­am­bigu­ously had this to say: ‘‘Oh, grow­ing up, life was a lot less com­pli­cated; there was still a great deal of in­no­cence. For ex­am­ple, ev­ery­thing I got was on merit. I didn’t have to know any­one or pull any strings. Back then, a good name was still a prized pos­ses­sion. I fin­ished sec­ondary school at age 15 in 1973 and started work­ing in La­gos six months later. The fol­low­ing year, at 16, I rented my first apart­ment. And that it­self was a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause I paid for the apart­ment four months be­fore it was fi­nally ready, and I was not is­sued a re­ceipt. But when it was time, the land­lord just traced my name in his di­ary and handed me my keys. Just like that! “Things are a lot dif­fer­ent now, this gen­er­a­tion tends to be driven more by ex­pe­di­ency than by any set of val­ues, short­cuts have be­come more at­trac­tive, there is an un­com­fort­able pro­lif­er­a­tion of the he­do­nis­tic mind­set among the youth, and the role of the fam­ily as a strong sup­port sys­tem for grow­ing chil­dren is fast be­ing eroded. Things have changed a great deal to­day. A lot of the ex­pe­ri­ences that we had grow­ing up would sound like fairy tales to young peo­ple to­day. We were brought up to talk in a ‘proper’ way – for ex­am­ple, to make sure that we spoke clearly and cor­rectly, and to speak po­litely to our el­ders, es­pe­cially our par­ents.’’ For food, he ate just about any­thing. He has never re­ally had any spe­cial food pref­er­ences, even now. For fun, he was ob­sessed with read­ing nov­els, and was very much en­gaged in sports, es­pe­cially ta­ble ten­nis. As a teenager, these pop­u­lar phrases re­main in­grained in him till date: “I can think of a few that were tied to the value sys­tems that we lived by then; ‘a good name is bet­ter than sil­ver and gold’; ‘hard work is a sure road to suc­cess’; ‘show me your friends and I will tell you who you are’; ‘slow and steady wins the race’; and so on.’’ When quizzed on the best gift he re­mem­bers re­ceiv­ing as a child, his face lit like a happy child, ‘‘my let­ter of ad­mis­sion into Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment Col­lege, Warri, in Jan­uary 1969. I re­mem­ber that my late dad treated it as a spe­cial gift – both to him and my­self.’’ About 1980, he taught him­self how to drive with his friend’s Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle and later ac­quired his first car, again VW Bee­tle which he bought in 1987 for N700! Af­ter high school grad­u­a­tion, his dreams and goal was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion, un­for­tu­nately, it didn’t quite work out that way for him. The for­tu­itous oc­cur­rence of him gain­ing ad­mis­sion to the Polytech­nic, Ibadan, to study Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in 1978, kick-started in him, a se­ri­ous thought about a ca­reer in Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, par­tic­u­larly in Ad­ver­tis­ing or Pub­lic Re­la­tions. It no doubt seemed a log­i­cal choice, given what he was study­ing. Al­though, he doesn’t’ seem to have had any re­grets what­so­ever. As a con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional bur­dened and pas­sion­ate about the busi­ness of per­cep­tion, he gives an anal­y­sis of how PR Busi­ness changed in the past few years: ‘‘The prac­tice of PR has not only changed, it has in­deed been sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupted, es­pe­cially by the com­ing of the in­ter­net, and specif­i­cally so­cial me­dia. The me­dia forms

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