By Henry Akubuiro
Life was cruel for leading, contemporary Nigerian artist, Oluwole Omofemi, as a young man growing up in the slum of Ekotedo, Ibadan. With the world at his feet now, he has elected to bail out those occupying the lower rung of the social ladder.
Hence, on Saturday, December 24, he will be impacting the lives of the downtrodden in Ibadan as part of his strategies to give back to the society.
In an exclusive chat with Daily Sun, the artist, who was, this year, hosted by King Charles of England at Buckingham Palace after painting the portrait of late Queen Elizabeth II of England, said his philanthropy was informed by the hard life he led as a young man from poor background, with no food to eat, and relying on menial jobs to survive.
“I grew up with my grandfather in the Ekotedo area of Ibadan, a dangerous neighborhood where life was so difficult and survival wasn’t guaranteed. Though I had a mum and dad, my story was very different.
“The major challenge for me was to feed myself. I went through a lot of stress and trauma. I had to work with restaurateurs to help them wash plates and pound yam just for them to give me some morsels of pounded yam to survive the next day. I am talking about ten years ago,” he told Daily Sun.
Sometimes, Omofemi would buy fresh pepper, not sugar, to drink garri. Some other times, when there was no food to eat, he would, in the dead of the night, when all the restaurants in his neighbourhood had closed for the day, be scavenging for leftovers to take home. Sometimes, too, he would mix garri with raw oil to eat. What a combination!
His father, a sacked railway worker, couldn’t fend for him, so he had to survive on his own the hard way.
Omofemi still visits that area where he grew up in Ibadan once in a while, and everybody is excited to identify with him as a celebrated artist. It’s an area home to many prostitutes, hemp smokers and even assassins. “Surviving in that kind of environment is actually by the grace of God,” he said.
Hence, he floated a foundation, Oluwole Omofemi Foundation, last year, to cater to the needs of the downtrodden, especially widows in that community.
“These are basically people I grew up with. There are about 40 widows I take care of every three months, supporting them with food items and money. I also invite a medical doctor to run a check on their health,” he said.
Lately, he has been thinking of broadening his philanthropy to other people —the youths. Each time he visits the area, he raises their hope that, if somebody like him can become something in life and meet top personalities, including King Charles of England, they, too, can do better.
His latest initiative, Ijewuru Day taking place on December 24 at Ekotedo, Ibadan, is designed to put food on the table of many people, going by his previous experience struggling to feed himself, award competition prizes, as well as present a lecture.
“I want to also inspire them and put the narrative forward that nothing is impossible, as I have demonstrated myself. I want to give them hope and make the world a better place,” he said, adding, “Next year, I am planning to pull some of them out of the miserable lives they are living.”