When I fell into depression in the UK, I came to Nigeria —Mohammed

Mr. Tobi Mohammed, a serial entrepreneur, is the Founder, the Mainland Block Party and Managing Partner of an entertainment company, The Plug. Among other things, he discussed the influence of his mother on his career. SEGUN KASALI brings the fragments.

How was your experience growing up?

I come from a humble background. Although I went abroad, my parents didn’t start to feel comfortable until I was about seven or eight years old. But we also had one thing: discipline. My mother was very disciplined. She was a teacher. My mother coached me to such an extent that I dropped out of high school at the age of 13. I was very disciplined.

She must have been the disciplinarian then?

Alhaja! In fact, until now my mother is still a lioness. She is the strongest person I know. She is the biggest influence in my life. She is the only person who taught me that no mountain is too high to climb. I’ve seen her kick people out of their seats. When she was a deputy, I saw her fight and beat two men. My mother sold kerosene. When she finished teaching in the afternoon, she would go north to get kerosene and come back the next night. She would sit in the front with the truck driver for the entire trip and she had the largest tank in the area then. Maybe two years later she started a salon called Elegant T Salon because my siblings and I are all Ts. I am Tobi, my brother is Tosin, my sister is Tomi and my other brother is Tolu. And it was the most elegant drawing room in the whole area.

Then you must be brilliant like a teacher’s son

I am a straight A student. I had my GCE when I was 12 because one thing my mom would do is give you structure. I remember always having nannies, Aunt Kudi and Aunt Titi. I remember doing this WAEC thing at a school near Ojuelegba. So they would have people waiting for me downstairs. So to me I’m a straight A student. My master’s degree was a first class. And it was my father who chose what I studied in college at the undergraduate level.


Yes, it was my father. My dad is cool. He is a stockbroker. My father used to be a banker when we were young. He is a financial analyst and works with the Nigerian Stock Exchange. My father was someone who didn’t talk much. I am religious like my father. I am also an Alhaji. So he was the one who chose Engineering, but I hated it. When I was in high school, I was the best at social studies and all things cramming. I can put the whole subject in my head. I finished best in chemistry, biology, but I hated math. Somehow I always passed math, maybe because I didn’t know and so gave it more attention. I wanted to be a lawyer at first, but my father didn’t believe in that, because at the time parents naturally thought science courses were hot. Knowing I could memorize, I agreed. I wanted to be a doctor. My father went out one day and came back saying, ‘I have completed a recovery form for Engineering at the University of Ilorin.’ He said he fulfilled the first option to become electronics engineering and the second was agricultural engineering. From an African point of view you can only get angry but you have to do what they (parents) want. So I got admission to read Engineering.

How are you settled?

At various times in my life, my mother’s input supported my father’s share. I studied Engineering Sciences; I didn’t like it, but I had to keep it up. One of the things I’m afraid of is disappointing my mother. So I just had to do it because that’s what my dad wanted and I did it right.

Did you go to England afterwards?

I think England made me. Lots of things I’ve learned such as being able to question things, think outside the box, be your local government, and the quality of the people I’ve met who have influenced the kind of person I am now am and my fashion style , are developed in uk. And you know, in England everything is fast and expensive. You pay through your nose. It’s like when you breathe clean air, five pounds are gone. It’s like running every day, and for me I like the good things in life.

How did you find your feet in the UK?

I had very good friends. Some of my friends I knew from Nigeria were already there. I also had Indian friends and many London uncles really helped me understand the place. I remember one of my uncles taking me to the bus station. He told me, ‘If you see a bus going this way, don’t take it. But if you see the bus going that way, you can take it.’ I think it was a year that I kind of got it using City Map, which was thriving at the time because Google Maps wasn’t around then. Uncle Perry Gentry helped me a lot because I often didn’t do well financially, but he helped me by sending money and helping with many things. People have really helped me. I always often say that I am a community child. Many people raised me; my aunts- Rasheedat, Bola. There was a year when I had no accommodation in England. I rushed. I’ve washed pots. I have been a kitchen potter. That’s why I resonate more with people with humble beginnings, because I think they’re nicer people. I believe that people raised with silver spoons don’t really understand what it feels like to be hungry. I am a very homely person. I always try to look out for people.

When did it start to get better?

I think that’s when I got this nice job at TFL, a government agency that takes care of the transportation network in the country. I did some jobs there and also worked with Amazon. I did better, but I also lost sleep. I have to be at work at 7:30 am in very cold weather. Oh my! You know when it’s cold, you want to sleep more. I think that was when I could quit the kitchen potter. But I liked the food; it was fun.

What was your indelible experience in the UK?

That was when I was washing jars and those jars were not the normal ones. I’m honest with you. I cried and called my mother. Those pots were very heavy. I do not know why. Maybe because they cook at industrial level in the restaurant. I usually feel for myself washing those pots. But I realized that it’s not bad in England. It’s here that people look down on you for doing a menial job. Another memorable event is that the train makes the journey faster. So I think I was trying to meet a train and the last one was around 11pm or something. So I ran away, but I couldn’t meet it. I saw the train leave. I walked and took a bus that would take two and a half hours for a 25 minute journey. I suffered that day. But one thing about me is that I’m a crybaby. The moment I cry, I move on to the next.

What led you to what you are doing now?

Depression. I wouldn’t lie to you. Ask someone abroad, it’s not easy. It wasn’t even a depression about money. I was okay in England, but there are many people and not many people there in England. When you jump on the train, the person next to you is weird when you say “hi” to them. During rush hour people are literally squeezed together. So the lonely state in the UK got into my head and my mom wanted me to stay behind. But one day I just packed my bag and decided that I would come to Nigeria. But that was after my second short course in the United States.

Why did you come back to Nigeria?

I came back to Nigeria because I thought there was more here. I just wanted to see what Nigeria had in store for me. When I came back, the journey was long. SoftCom was the only technology company I worked with and my roles moved until I got into Marketing. It was just as I started and entertainment was on the side. I’ve been into entertainment since I was a teenager. It’s one thing I’ve always been sure was for me. But I didn’t know how to do it. I always think I’m a lazy genius. One thing about me is that I am business minded. I’ve been selling things for my mother since I was a kid. Until now I still sell things. I do a general contract and I deliver stuff. Entertainment is quite a selling point. It’s more or less like I see value here and I think this is the market and take the value there. So I think that’s the way the transaction is done.

Are you going to fully immerse yourself in the entertainment industry?

I have to be honest with you, there’s nothing like getting into it completely. I started working with Ayo Jay when I was 19 or 20. But I left him for a while because of my youth service. So one day we had a conversation and he said that an American record label had just signed him. But I was off that for a while until I met Sess the Problem, a multi-award winning producer. He produced many Simi and Falz songs, including Adekunle Gold, and he was in Ilorin at the same time. But I brought him to Lagos and he became a success story because then he got his big break. God made him. I play an important role in many people’s careers. I introduced him to Falz and he did Karishika. Shout out to Falz, he’s one of my best friends. I think that’s where my career kind of started. So Sess puts me in the spotlight. The first time I was at an awards ceremony was for Sess. It was Headies Awards. The fact is that everything I learned from my mother has become a part of me. Wherever people don’t see a silver lining, I see it. I’m not afraid to get started. I am a serial entrepreneur. I’ve lost so many things and I’ve gained so many things too. But one thing I’ve always done is stay true to myself. I don’t work with an artist I’m not affiliated with. I must be your biggest fan because that’s the only way I can sleep and dream of you. I must be willing to make sacrifices.

How did you get started with Mainland Block Party?

I live in Ikeja GRA when I just got back from the UK and said to myself ‘you know what people on this island always call that, what the hell’. And you know that people on the island always feel like they have money, but the money on the mainland is strong. So I thought I’d start something for the mainland and it would have the DNA of everything I believed in that is considered in the eyes of those who don’t have much about it. This is where I stand and that’s what I’ve done in my own festival. My team is about 75 percent women.


Women built everything I’ve done. Shout out to all the great women in my life. Feyi, Becca, Tola and so many others. What Feyi has done for me, I don’t think anyone in the world has done it. Feyi has been working with me for four and a half years now. They would be there to protect me.


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