Posted by Ifedayo Oshin on Saturday, May 10, 2014 Under: Our Headline Articles

If there are Nigerian personalities in South Africa that can be deservedly called Proudly Nigerian or A True Nigeria Brand Ambassadors, Braimoh Bello must be one of them. Yet, that description will be unfair to the magnitude of the person and character of the Nigerian epidemiologist and international health Consultant. Braimoh is a proud Nigerian, a brilliant citizen of the world who is passionate about youth and educational development as well as academic excellence in Africa generally. Braimoh is a man of many questions, theories and answers applicable to change success and excellence in most endeavors of life.

Braimoh’s local and international works and writings have won him multiple awards. He won the best PHD presentation at an international conference (ICOH) in 2009. He was recognized with the Lifetime Honorary Membership Award by the Golden Key Honor Society at the Wits University in 2010. In 2011, he was recognized by the Mail and Guardian as one of the Top 200 Young South Africans.  In 2012, Klipdrift and Parable (differently) gave him recognition as Influential Leader. And in 2013, he won the Nigerian Voice’s Newspaper award as Most Inspiring Nigerian in South Africa. 

From humble beginning as a student-cart-pusher in Benin city, Nigeria, to struggling days as a postgraduate student-typist at the Wits University, Braimoh  takes us on a journey of his life; the triumph of mind over matters and the philosophy and practice of success that became solidified over the years. Braimoh is such a delight to interview, and you only need to read the excerpt below to share the experience we still savor when we met him at his Braamfontein office area of Johannesburg.

From Benin City to Wits University

Braimoh Bello grew up in Benin City in the South-south of Nigeria; the city where he started his early education and ended up with Master Degree in Medical Microbiology from the prestigious University of Benin. As an aspiring scientist, young Braimoh observed with dissatisfaction the way science was being taught and practiced around him. Having conceived a vision of better scientific professional practices, he decided to further his academic interest abroad. Braimoh recalls this early awareness:

“I have always wanted to be a scientist. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the practice of science in Nigeria. Again, that tells the power of the mind; that you can know what quality is even before you see it. Yes, you can envisage what is good before you see it. I had not seen proper science but I knew something was wrong with the culture of researching in Nigeria. I knew there was something wrong with our laboratory, our approach to academia. So, what did I decide? I told myself I have a master’s degree now. So, let me go out to Canada or the UK to get a PHD or another master degree, and then practice”. But eventually I found myself at the University of the Witwatersrand.And I am glad I went to Wits.

The Challenges on the Way to Success:

Braimoh lost his mother when he was just 11 years, leaving his father devastated that he had to resign his job. With the financial strain on the family, young Braimoh had to combine cart-pushing every morning before he went to school in order to make enough money to pay for his ‘Matric’ exams. He said of this experience: “It didn’t matter what price I needed to pay to overcome challenges and get to my desired destination.”

It was this same resolve that made his travel to South Africa a possible mission. Braimoh arrived South Africa in 2004 armed with a master degree and a paltry R4, 000 which he would later find out could not sustain him beyond a day. Faced with many challenges right from the first day he set his foot at the Wits university international office. He narrates how the power of confidence guided his experience:

“When I decided to leave Nigeria in 2004, I had about five to six hundred thousand naira (Nigerian currency). Then, it was R25, 000. My tuition was R16, 000 and as an international student, you were expected to pay in full. So, I paid everything in full from Nigeria before I could even get my visa. My air ticket was about R5, 000. It hasn’t changed much in the last ten years- that made it R21, 000, and I had R4, 000 left in my pocket.”

“Now, the power of confidence is very good. If you are afraid, you wouldn’t take a bold step. How do you leave your father’s country and go to another country with only R4, 000 in your pocket. I asked my friends here if I would be able to find jobs when I arrive. I told them I had only R4, 000, and asked how much I would need per month. In those days, R250 grocery was enough for a month. So, my contact advised that R500 would be enough to carry me through a month.  This meant that my R4, 000 could sustain me for eight months. I thought to myself, ‘I was covered for eight months before I would start looking for jobs.’ On my arrival at Wits, I was told, I needed to pay for medical aid which cost me R3, 500. So, I left the international office with R500 in my pocket. I went somewhere else and I was told to pay for another thing. By the end of my first day in South Africa, I was left with just R100 in my pocket”.

Typing Papers for a Living:

“I started to post paper adverts around the campus advertising typing services. I started to type other students’ assignments to earn a living. In those days, I used to charge R1 per page. You can imagine charging R50 for 50 pages. Yet you have your books to read. I used to stay in the Nurses’ Residence and typing school works for young girls; some of whom were very rude to foreigners.  I remember one lady who made me stay outside her door threw my money at me.  I remember one of the securities at Wits. Every night, he would see me in the computer lab from 8pm to 6am, typing assignments. Anyway, that was how I survived those early days”.

The Visionary Became a Secret Squatter

“I also remember I was squatting at the Nurses Residence with a kind South African guy Thulani Ndlela. Sometimes the security men would demand staff or student ID cards before one could enter. This sometimes prevented me from getting into the residence, meaning I had to sleep on the floor in my classroom some nights. By the way, most of my classmates were sponsored by organisations like the World Health Organization. I think it was only two of us that were not sponsored. So, imagine your friends coming to class with their laptops with money in their pockets and you haven’t eaten all day. By 4pm, they all go home. I am listening to lectures and I haven’t eaten and I study from then till 12am after which I sleep in the same class. In the morning, around 5am while the securities were asleep, I would rush into the residence to freshen up and change my clothes and rush back to class at 8am.” This happened many times. But I was not one to give up.

Overcoming Challenges through the Power of Vision and Good Associations

“I think that the way we overcome challenges is the same, by and large, for all of us, I think. The details might be different. It is by tenacity; by holding on. You see, there is a bi-directional relationship between the present and the future. You know, people say to you that what you do today determines your future. But what we should also know is that what determines what you do today is your image of the future. What determines whether you wake up at 5 am to push, or you step out there in the face of adversity, is your image of the future. If we can create and retain for ourselves a clear and positive image of our future, we can overcome adversity much easier. When you are very convinced that in three years, this is where I want to be, you will walk and trek a thousand mile to get to where you want to be. So, for me, there was a very clear image of where I wanted to be. And, honestly, to God be the glory that is the life I am living at the moment.  The life I imagined 15 years ago, is the life I am living today. I am living my dream. And if there is anything that motivates me to be a motivational speaker, it is my own life. Seeing how the power of vision can get you to your destination”. Look, no man is island. Without the support of friends and mentors, I would not have made it. I already told you about my friend Thulani. But I should also tell you about my mentors Dr. Pius Oba and Dr. Bonny Cheyip. These men were pastors of my church (Redeemed Christian Church, Parktown) and were also academics in South Africa. They did not only inspire me, they supported me materially. In fact, they supported many people. It was almost impossible to be under Pastor Pius’ Ministry and not be a professional. Most of us in his church were masters and PhD students at that time. May God bless these two men and their wives.

Beyond Tomorrow: A Positive Force for Change and Excellence:

As a professional speaker and pragmatic thinker, Braimoh presides over a human development consultancy organization- Beyond Tomorrow- an organization that provides motivation, mentoring, academic development and excellence empowerment to millions of South African students. Braimoh shares his motivation for establishing the organization; “I put this organization together to promote education and academic excellence among secondary and tertiary school students”.For an organization passionate about positive change and success, there is an underlying philosophy that guides its vision and mission. Braimoh explains:

“We believe that there are two things that determine the success of any individual. One is the motivation they have within them. Let’s call that nature. Number two is the environment we place around them. Let’s call that nurture. We know that Bill Gate would not have been Bill Gate if he had not found computers in 1960s. So, the environment in which our children grow is absolutely important”.

Expanding on this thought further, the medical scientist shares his theory of change and its working especially among the youth: “if you want to change their mind, you speak to them. That’s a chain of change: its mind, word and transformation. Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will become the philosophy of the government in the next generation.” If we can create a generation of students who appreciates excellence, who puts in their best, who do not take shortcut, perhaps we will have a generation of politicians who put in their best and do not take shortcuts. And this is my passion; transforming Africa through the power of education, self-reliance, confident productivity and Excellence”.

CESAR- “A University That Trains Other Universities”

As an epidemiologist and bio-statistician, he has worked on many UN, WHO, UNAID and DFID-sponsored scientific projects across Africa and many parts of the world.  His science research and training organization- CESAR- has been providing skills and knowledge transfer to researchers and scientists from government institutions and universities in South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Kenya and Angola among many others.

“To some degree, I have become an expert in my field. And there are many scientists and researchers who need these skills that I have. So, I started CESAR to provide training for professionals. So, we do transfer of technical skills and knowledge through our short courses.  I was at the London School of Hygiene at the University of London in 2009 and 2010. People came from different parts of the world paying so much to attend short courses for 2 weeks. I asked myself, “Can we not do this in Africa.Why do Africans have to travel to London to attend these courses?” That’s where I got the vision for CESAR.I eventually resigned and started fully in 2013. So, CESAR is like a university that train universities lecturers and researchers.  Although, I still have big dreams for CESAR, we are just starting, but we are satisfied with what we have achieved”.

Winning The Nigerian Voice Newspaper’s Nigerian Community Award:

Braimoh won the maiden edition of the 2013 Most Inspiring Nigerian in South Africa at the Nigerian community Awards organized by the Nigerian Voice newspaper. Braimoh says of the award:

“I was humbled. The bible says a ‘prophet is not respected in his home town.’ I have won multiple awards in South Africa, both locally and internationally. But when your own people decide to recognize what you are doing, and give you an award, it is the most satisfying thing; because it goes against the common wisdom of ordinary man who does not want to appreciate things that come from his own community. And this is why; I would always want to give the kind of support I can give to the Nigerian Voice.”

Choosing Nigerian over South African Citizenship

In an age where desperation for naturalization is a fast way to life of ease and opportunities in foreign land, Braimoh chose to keep his Nigerian identity when he had the chance to take up South African citizenship. Being the man of value, it was not difficult for Braimoh to make up his mind. He recalls this all-important decision:

“You know I have an option to have South African citizenship and passport after I got my South African ID through exceptional skills. If there is any reason, I haven’t had it is because I am a proud Nigerian. So when I hear people saying ‘you don’t love Nigeria’, I just laugh. If some of us who have good jobs and international positions and have the chance of getting other nations’ passports, all rush and take those passports, what would Nigeria be recognized for? I was entering the US the other day and the man at the entry point asked, ‘what are you coming to do?’ And I answered, ‘I am coming for conference, I am a scientist.’ He said, ‘wow, you are a scientist! Where are you from?’ I replied, ‘I am a Nigerian.’ So, they need to hear more of such things. So, if we all exchange our Nigerian passports for foreign passports, who is going to project the image of Nigeria?”

Guidance for Nigerians in South Africa:

Braimoh warned that South Africa is different from Europe where there is a higher availability of menial jobs for foreigners. For this reason, he advised his fellow Nigerians coming to or in South Africa to have a clear image of what they want to achieve in the country. He challenged those who want to study to pursue careers in technical fields and the business-oriented ones to acquire technical or vocational skills in order to have something worthy to offer the South African economy.

“If you are coming to South Africa, you have to be armed with ammunition; you either come as a technical person or a businessman. You come very qualified and many Nigerians doing well here came very qualified. The reason I say this is that although South Africa is relatively better than Nigeria in terms of opportunities, there is high unemployment here as well – 23 to 40% depending on the definition you use. The Department of Home Affairs legislation says you cannot give a job to foreigner if there is a local who is qualified for it. I am sure Nigeria and many other countries have the same legislation”.

“For those who are not in education, they still need to pursue technical or vocational skills. If you want to be a graphic designer, salon operator, photographer, you must be on top of your game. And Nigerians here have done so well in these areas.  The locals often wonder how a foreigner can make such success from small shop business, they think the money comes from drugs dealing, but I am often quick to advise them to open their minds, mingle and learn. I know of a Nigerian who has five small shops. At the end of the day, he earns more than a doctor or lecturer. So, whatever you are going to do, do it well. Look for business areas that the locals have not tapped into. This is the value of travelling. When you come to South Africa, you see opportunities. In the same vein, when South Africans go to Nigeria, they see opportunities.

Respect and Associate with the Locals:

Braimoh attributed some of his success to his respect for and association with the locals. He admonished Nigerians to show respect to South Africans.
“It is good to associate with the locals. I don’t think I will be where I am if I don’t associate with the locals. So, let’s not come with a xenophobic attitude because xenophobia is bi-directional. Honestly, Some of us foreigners can be xenophobic. Some tend to look down on South Africans. We say they are not bright; they are lazy. We disdain them. And they can feel it. But when you come with a spirit of I am an African and I am going to treat the next person as a human being, you never can tell what doors you are opening for yourself.

Africans have to rise up and fight the black on black hatred. I hear now that Nigerians are also complaining that South Africans in Nigeria are stealing their jobs and economy – I am sure you know that there are countless South African companies in Nigeria as we speak. All this hatred has to stop. Africans have to stop seeing other Africans as foreigners. This is Africa for Africans and we are all brothers. So, the advice I will give to Nigerians who are coming is totry and go for technical skills, associate with the locals and be excellent in what you do. Excellence will distinguish you”.

What Inspired The Inspirer?

Braimoh is inspired by the awareness of his purpose on earth. He opines; “My philosophy is if you know why you are here, and why you were born, you will be inspired to be successful.”His early experience of financial suffering is a lasting impression that he will never want to experience again. 

“If you have seen poverty before, you will work hard to escape poverty. I have experienced suffering before and I don’t want any of my children to experience it. My primary inspiration is realising what God wants me to be. In every human being, is an immense potential to excel and shine. Permit to quote scripture from the book of Peter that says: “God has given to us all things pertaining to life and godliness.”

“I told myself I am going to be a champion wherever I go, by the grace of God. If there is anything that inspires me, it is knowing that God wants me to be a success and that I cannot fail.  So I am not going to fall short of God’s image. The other thing that inspires me is that I love to see people succeed. And if there is anything I can do to help people succeed, I will do it.

Words for the Nigerian Voice newspaper!

“My words for the Nigerian Voice is that I understand how immensely difficult it is to start anything original, to run a project or company. I will tell you guys not to give up. You guys should be strong and continue to do want you are doing. There are many Nigerians who appreciate what you are doing. Sometimes, the tendency is to be distracted by the naysayers”.

“The other things I will say is that you guys should think of expanding your horizon. Even though your primary focus is Nigeria, I see that you are beginning to bring more of South Africa in.  And one way to do that is to accommodate South Africans in your perspective and not put Nigeria in their faces. Chauvinism is not patriotism. Patriotism is defending your country when attacked. Patriotism is representing your country well with professionalism and character in and outside of your country. Patriotism is a good thing we must all uphold.

Chauvinism, on the other hand, is thinking that people of your nationality are smarter and better than others. For example, it is wrong to say, ‘We are better than you.’Chauvinism is shallow and uncivilized. Chauvinistic people only promote hatred towards their country. Your primary focus is Nigeria, but you can get South Africans to advertise. Sometimes, when we start a business we don’t know how far God will take it. . I think it was Thomas Watson the IBM Chairman who said there is no place for more than 5 computers in the world. Bill Gate came and said I want computers in every home in the world. That’s the difference of vision.

You should think of what will attract South Africans if it is possible. But I am not saying you should change your vision. I am saying this because I am putting myself in the position of the CEO and every entrepreneur. So, I think in terms of reach and quality of reporting, you guys are doing well. But you have to think of financial sustainability. And I think you should continue to pester Nigerian businesses here especially if you collect data on the reach and impact of your magazine. But we have to be subtle sometimes with our approach”.

In : Our Headline Articles 

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