Kenneth Imansuangbon is a man of many parts. A lawyer, politician, businessman, philanthropist and the chairman, of Abuja-based Pace Setters Group of Schools. Born on May 4, 1966, into a humble background in the rustic Ewohimi community in Edo State, he rose to fame by dint of diligence, transparency and open-mindedness.
He began his educational pursuit at the St. John’s Catholic School Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State and proceeded to Ago-Iwoye Secondary School, also in Ogun State. Though he passed out in flying colours in 1981, but owing to poverty, the young Imansuangbon had to take to menial job as a technical assistant with the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) Abuja. He worked with some great expatriates who spotted his exceptional brilliance and talent and advised him strongly to return to school. Ken did not dismiss that idea with a wave of the hand. While at FCDA, he gained admission to study law at the University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) Ile-Ife.
After a stint as a lawyer during which he established Imansuangbon and Company, a legal firm of which he is a principal partner, he veered into education when he set up Pace Setters Schools. As Chairman of the Schools/Academy with more than five campuses in Abuja and one in the US, Imansuangbon has for many years offered scholarships to children of military, police and other security officers who lost their lives in active service.
In bid to promote grassroots sports and youth education, Imansuangbon has annually organised sports and essay writing competition for secondary schools across the country.
In continuation of his philanthropic gestures, Imansuangbon has for seven consecutive years shared bags of rice on the streets of Edo State every Christmas, a gesture which has endeared him to the people and earned him the alias, “Rice Man.”
Imansuangbon spoke with BEIFOH OSEWELE, on his life, his philanthropic activities and how his wife, Kate, who he says drives him hard to bring out the best in him.
Share with us memories of your childhood. As a young boy, what were those dreams you had?
I remember that when we were young, we were free people. We were not in bonds. We didn’t live in fear. You could leave your village for the next village, play soccer, and play matches. Everybody was one another’s keeper. You could enter the next house and eat without fear of being poisoned or kidnapped, without fear of harm. But today, it’s not so.
Then, we never had much, but we loved one another. So, if you compare what obtained when we were growing up with what we have today, you’d agree that things have fallen apart. Those noble values of yesterday are lost. It makes you wonder what we’re really now living for. It’s like we’re living for suspicion and hate. There was no hate then. We were one another’s keeper. If you were a Muslim, it didn’t matter. If you were a Christian, it wasn’t a barrier. We were one people, one nation, and one citizen under God.
I was born in Ewohimi, Edo State, but my father relocated to Ijebu-Ode where he worked as a rubber plantation manager. He managed a group of people at a rubber plantation in Ijebu-Ode. And then, we were living a communal life. There was no distinction as to who your father was. We saw ourselves as one. There was no division, no unbeliever or infidel, no Efik, no Igbo, no Hausa, no Muslims or Christians. What defined us was the fact of our common humanity. We are human beings under God. But today, we’re so divided and polarised. Never has this country been so divided. We’re a divided people. At the end of the day, we would only end up a failed people, if we continue the way we’re going. And it’s quite unfortunate.
You had your early education in Ijebu-Ode?
When I finished from Ago-Iwoye Secondary School I went to Abuja where I worked for four-five years. We built the Lower Usman Dam. When Shagari came to Abuja in 1982, that was where he stayed. I was a technical assistant in training. Of course, I was there because I didn’t have money to go to the university. I had to work for four years to save money to go to the university. But even then, there was no Ibo, Calabar or Hausa. We saw Shagari then as a rallying point for the country, irrespective of where he was from. I still remember him – very slim, tall, handsome man with a long cap and Agbada. When he came, I walked up to him, touched him and he smiled at me.
When you touched him and he gave you a smile, you must have been enraptured.
I felt that this man is a father, that one day, I was going to be president. He looked at me, smiled, beckoned on me and I walked up to him, shook his hands. I felt anointing was being transferred. So, that encounter actually invigorated me. Let me quickly say this: our politicians must know that they would be held accountable one day because of what we are teaching the children. We’re teaching them political violence. We’re teaching them trouble. In the days of Shagari and Awolowo, it wasn’t like that. What Shagari gave me was a smile, not battering. I think we must know that a day of reckoning would come. A time would come when God would ask us everything we do as a people.
From being a technical hand, you went to study law. Why not engineering or something else?
I felt law was a tool for social change, a social engineering instrument. I wanted to practice law, to fight for humanity, defend the poor and to use law to bring about change. That was what I wanted to do until I visited the US about 20 years ago and saw the huge development that had taken place there. I asked the first white man I spoke with why Africa was not as developed? He said the gap was in education, that developed people are people that are highly read, people that take their education serious. So, I made up my mind that I was going to open schools. I sat with my wife and told her there was a need for us to make a change and the way to start the change is to educate the minds of the Nigerian people. That was what gave birth to Pace Setters Group of Schools.
I am proud to say that with the great support of my wife, Kate, we have been able to make that change in the education sector in Abuja, and even in Nigeria at large. We’re proud to say, with humility and gratitude to God, that we have been able to kick start the process that would bring about the desired change.
Did you ever practice law at all?
Yes, of course, I did. I had a law office: Imansuangbon and Company in Abuja. It is still there though low-keyed.
Are you gone from law for good?
In fact, till tomorrow, my classmates at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, cannot believe that I could leave legal practice. You know, life is unpredictable. Life can be very funny. At times, where you think the radar would go is not where it goes. My classmates at Ife would never have believed that by now, I would not be a SAN. Even those who served in my chamber wouldn’t believe it. I may return to practice in due course. Yes, you can’t rule out that possibility.
Can you recollect your first day in court?
It was as a law student. I remember very clearly my appearance before the late Justice Abiodun Kessington, a great judge with lots of wit. When I said, ‘My Lord, I am Ken Imansuangbon,’ he said to me, ‘You must be a young lawyer?’ I said, ‘Yes sir’. He then said, ‘Every dog has got its own day.’ I would never forget the late Justice Kessington of the Lagos High Court. He told me, every dog has got its own day. Never mind, those who are the lords of today may not be the lords of tomorrow. That also has shaped my character of the neighbours’ principle, that I must respect humanity and above all, that I must respect my God, my Creator and that I must do things well, because every dog has got its own day. And he (Kessington) was a great preacher of patience.
How did that case go?
It was a criminal trial of assault and battery. I made a very strong legal argument why my client should be left off the hook. We won that case ultimately.
Who or what influenced your decision to go into law?
Two people influenced my decision. The late Gani Fawehinmi. He was a great role model. I loved his courage and how he fought for humanity. I loved how he fought for the poor. I remember when I was in Ife, when we gave him SAM (Senior Advocate of the Masses). I laid on the floor that he should walk over me; that I wanted to be the red carpet for him to walk on because he was unique. Unfortunately, we don’t respect our heroes. The true heroes of this country are people like Gani Fawehinmi. He was everything to me. He inspired me each time he talked with his tiny voice. Well, today, we don’t have a Gani Fawehinmi anymore. Everybody is money, money, money. It is quite unfortunate. But I know that a Gani will rise again, for sure. My father also had hoped that I should read law. To honour him, I decided to read law because I said the dream of my father must not die.
At what point did the philanthropy bug bit you?
My background must have shaped my philanthropic disposition. I came from a very poor home. All that I have benefited was from my widowed mother and neighbours. Those who were our neighbours never made us lack. They all supported. So, I made up my mind that if God blesses me, I would give back to God and to humanity. To that extent, this is a mission and a pact.
Then, I also learnt a lot from the late MKO Abiola. Yes. When I was in Ife, we needed to raise money for the Law Faculty Week. The dean, Professor Fabunmi, called me and said we must go and raise money. We got to MKO’s house at about 3pm. We learnt he went to see Gen. Ibrahim Babangida at Dodan Barracks. We waited until he came at about 1am. I will never forget MKO. What I observed was that even men in Christian cassock and Muslims in their turbans were also waiting. But when he came, he was told that students of the Faculty of Law, Ife, were waiting. We were the first he saw. He asked what we wanted. I was the lead speaker; I told him we needed N100, 000 for our Law Faculty week. He asked how much we’ve raised? I said we haven’t raised anything. ‘You’ve not raised anything. It’s MKO Abiola’s money you need to do everything?” he chided me and laughed. At the end, he gave us N50, 000. All that we needed actually was N10, 000. MKO Abiola was a giver per excellence. He loved everybody. He wasn’t discriminatory in his character, attitude, fellowship and fraternity to people. For him, there was neither Muslims nor Christians; everybody was equal. That’s one lesson I learnt from him. That’s why when I share rice; I take some to the mosques in Edo State. MKO Abiola was a great man. He’s undoubtedly one of the legends we have had in this country.
What defines you?
What defines me is not what I have. The way I give love to those my eyes can see, those my hand can touch and those my legs can walk to are what make me what I am. When those people are happy, I am happy.
So other people’s happiness constitutes happiness for you?
What happiness means for me is my love for my neighbour. I must regard and treat my neighbor as myself. The neighbour principle generally- do unto others as you want others to do unto you, don’t cheat, say no to corruption, treat everybody with love and respect, and above all, serve God. You must never lose the sight of the fact that one day you’d account to God whatever you do. So, each time I am able to help a neighbour, I feel fulfilled. Who is my neighbour? They are not just the persons who are close to me. Each time I see an Okada (commercial motorcycle operator), I see my neighbour. Each time I see a poor man, a beggar on the street, that’s my neighbour. When I see people with cancer, with growth in the street of Abuja or anywhere, I am sad. It is always a sad moment for me. When I see people who cannot pay their children’s school fees, that does not give me joy. When I see young graduates who cannot secure jobs or put into practice what they have learnt, wasting and roaming the streets without jobs four, five, six years after leaving the university, I am sad.
Conversely, each time I am able to help people, I feel very happy. When I give jobs to people at Pace Setters Schools, I get satisfied. When I share rice on the streets of Benin every Christmas, I am very happy. When I do essay competition, each time I give out 500 computers to university students, I am very happy. When I do the Ken Imansuangbon Essay Competition and students win and are happy, I am very happy. Each time trophies are being given to elated winners of Ken Imansuangbon Secondary Schools Soccer Competition in Abuja, I feel very happy.
What would you consider to be the best and worst decisions you’ve taken?
The best and worst decision I have taken is to join politics. It is the best because the poor people need men like me in politics. But I since I jumped into the murky water, I have seen that politics is a game of deception and 419. At times, I ask myself what I am really doing in it, that I am not meant for this kind of thing. But each time I get discouraged, my courage comes from the fact that if I were not there, who will I leave the business for. For this same people that want to impoverish the poor, that hate the poor, that want everything for themselves, not for the people? If the good ones abandon the game of politics for the bad ones, then the common man is gone.
Who or what determines what you wear?
The truth is that I am not a fashion person. I am more of ‘let’s roll.’ It doesn’t matter; I can wear jeans, tee-shirt…Well, as a lawyer, if I want to go to court or be with lawyers, I can decide to put on suit. But majorly, I am a jeans and tee-shirt person because I believe business of the people requires the jeans and the tee-shirt. There’s a lot to be done in the country. Nigerians are suffering, we’re behind, and things are getting worse. The country needs to be brought back from the precipice. We can’t continue like this.
What is your worse moment?
That is when I see people poor, those that can’t get food to eat, don’t have jobs when they have left school, when a woman who has malaria, but cannot pay her hospital bill, cannot go to the hospital because her husband doesn’t have a job, when a woman who is pregnant cannot see a doctor because she cannot afford the medical consultation fees, when a child can’t pay school fees. Situations like these make me sad.
What would make you excited?
I feel on top of the world whenever Super Eagles win their matches.
Are you a soccer buff?
Yes. I love soccer.
As a young boy, did you take part in any sports?
Yes, I played soccer for my secondary school. I remember we lost to Odogbolu Grammar School and Ijebu-Igbo Grammar School, but we beat Adeola Odutola College. I scored the winning goal. All my life, I have been scoring goals, and I would continue to score goals. That is why in 2016, I know I would score a goal.
What were the pranks you played?
I was deeply spiritual. I gave my life to Christ very early as a member of the Scripture Union.
How do you keep fit?
My wife is a strong woman who believes in sports. She drives me and my kids to do sports. Whatever I am today, she is instrumental to it. She’s a God-fearing woman. Quite honestly, I don’t deserve the wife I got. I wanted a God-fearing woman, but God answered my prayers and gave me an angel. I owe a lot to her. So, she pushes me to get on the treadmill to do my exercises, which I do if I have the time. But I also try to regulate my meals, because as a man close to 50, one is no longer a baby. She is my brain and source of my strength. God gave me a good partner.
Which is your favourite food?
I love rice, dodo and Eba.
Where do you derive your inspiration?
My inspiration is in my DNA given by God.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered as someone who loved his neighbour as himself; as someone that brought change. I would love to be remembered as someone who fought for change. I would love to be remembered as someone who loved his country so dearly. I would love to be remembered as someone that fought for the poor and brought hope to them. I don’t want to be remembered for being a rich man. I am not a rich man; I cannot be rich anyway. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who has billions of money in his account. I want to be remembered as someone who made change possible in the country; one who gave dreams and hope to the younger generation.
What is your concept of good leadership?
A leader is a good shepherd. A good shepherd gives his life for his people. A good leader is one that would not steal the people’s money. A good leader is a leader that would give back the people’s money to the people.
A good leader is one that would be fair and equitable in all his decision. A good leader is a leader that would remember tomorrow and know that tomorrow, in words of Justice Kessington, is another day.