Growing Up In A Military Barack, I Wanted To Be A Soldier – Cobhams Asuquo Talks About His Childhood
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
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.