Five Lessons From Success Story of Tolu Ogunlesi, Presidential Aide On New Media

Tolu Ogunlesi
There is a maxim that says some are great, some achieve
greatness and some employ PR to make them feel great. The inspiring story of
Tolu Ogunlesi, special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Digital and
New Media, could only have been motivated by the second factor.
Born on March 3, 1982 in Edinburgh the capital city of
Scotland to Nigerian parents, Ogunlesi lived most of his life in Nigeria. A journalist,
poet, photographer, and fiction writer, the young man holds a 2004 Bachelor of
Pharmacy (B. Pharm) degree from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and in 2011
earned an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, United
When Ogunlesi’s appointment was announced through the
presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in February 2016, quite a handful of people
thought he was lucky.
But the story of the writer has not always been that rosy. Behind those
glitters that look like solid gold to most admirers, he also has a story to
Addressing a gathering of youths during the launch of Young
Pharmacists Mentoring Programme organised by Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy
(NAPharm) at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Alausa, Lagos on
March 22, 2015, the renowned writer shared his experience on how pharmacy
practice paved the way to his current elevated status.
The former editor of Next Newspaper (now defunct) told the
audience that he always knew before he graduated that Pharmacy was not his true
“Not that I don’t like the idea of practising as a full time
pharmacist. But right from the time I observed that I have keen interest in
writing poems and short stories, I knew that I have found my passion.
“In all of these, I must not fail to point out the fact that
Pharmacy paved the way for me to succeed in my chosen field. Before I hand over
the microphone, let me quickly enumerate five key lessons that shaped my life,”
he remarked.
L-R: Ahmed Yakasai, PSN president; Tolu
Ogunlesi and Lekan Asuni, managing director of GlaxoSmithKline 

First Lesson
The first lesson, according to the presidential aide, was for young pharmacists
to note that the journey in life is as important as the destination.
 “One of the key
lessons I learnt in life is that your journey is as important as your
destination. Some people will never understand why you took a certain decision.
Let me use my life as an example. I have taken decisions that didn’t really
make sense to people. Many actually thought my failure to practise as a
pharmacist after my service year would be my undoing. But it didn’t happen!”
Second Lesson
Secondly, no matter how many times you explain, some people
will just not understand why you took a particular decision. There comes a time
when people will always want to ask “Why are you leaving your job?” “Why take that
job?” “Why do you want to start a business?”
Counsel is good, no doubt! But decision taken should be yours,
because at the end of the day, no one sees what you see.”
Third Lesson
The third point, in his summation, for people to come to
terms with the fact that there can never be a substitute for passion.
“I meet so many people who tell me that they want to be a
journalist and the first question I usually ask them is: ‘Do you have a Blog?’ The
reason I say that is simple. In five years time, nobody will wait for Punch or
Guardian to give them the news. Thus there can be no substitute for passion. If
you don’t have it, you cannot buy it. For some people, it is activism. For
others, it is marketing. There are millions of passions out there. No matter
what obstacle you face, that passion stays with you. As I said earlier, the
last time I practised pharmacy the course I studied was during my NYSC years
when I discovered in passion in writing poems and short stories. However
pharmacy is a discipline that designed in such a way that one can fit easily into
any profession, whether it is banking, telecommunication, civil service or multinational
companies. I know quite a number of people in these sectors who are equally pharmacists.”
Fourth Lesson
“The fourth lesson is for every success-minded individual to
keep an open mind. You must have been seeing shops putting up notice like ‘Open/Close’
signpost outside their doors. You shouldn’t be like them. A close mind is
really a dangerous thing. You must always learn to keep an open mind.
For instance, I had no idea 10 years ago that I will end up
where I am today. You don’t always need to have things figured out before you
make a move. After all, even in pharmaceuticals, products like Viagra was an
accidental discovery because it was originally developed to treat heart related
diseases. But when they discovered that the older men are in the habit of
coming back for more stating that it makes them feel younger, a new use was created
for it.
Fifth Lesson
While urging young pharmacists not to give up on their dream,
the presidential aide declared that the sole decision he took in those trying years was his
gains today.
“It makes more sense looking forward instead of backward. I am
proud today that those decisions I took yesterday have all added up to take me to
where I wanted to be. I can confidently say that I am living me dream!”
As he disembarked from the podium, Ogunlesi received a
standing ovation from both the dignitaries and crowd of young pharmacists in
To his credits, the pharmacist-turned-writer has authored a
collection of poetry such as Listen to
the Geckos
, Singing from a Balcony
and a novella, Conquest &
. Among publications in which his fiction and poetry have
appeared are The London Magazine, Wasafiri, Farafina, PEN Anthology of New
Nigerian Writing, Litro, Brand, Orbis, Nano2ales, Stimulus Respond, Sable,
Magma, Stanford’s Black Arts Quarterly and World Literature Today.
In 2007, Ogunlesi was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg
poetry prize, in 2008 the Nordic Africa Institute Guest Writer Fellowship, and
in 2009, a Cadbury Visiting Fellowship by the University of Birmingham. He has
twice been a winner of the annual CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards, in
2009 (the Arts and Culture prize) and in 2013 (Coca-Cola Company Economics
& Business Award), as well as being shortlisted for the inaugural PEN/Studzinski
literary prize.
As a journalist, he has been a contributor to many
significant publications and outlets, including Tell Magazine, The Guardian
(Lagos), Daily Independent (Nigeria), New Age, Forbes Africa, The Guardian
(UK), Financial Times, Huffington Post, Business Day (Nigeria), and Premium Times.
Ogunlesi and Kemi during their traditional wedding
His marriage to his heartthrob, Kemi Agboola, in December 2014 at Oritamefa Baptist Church, Ibadan was the talk of the town.
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