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Jammal Mohammed understands how misunderstood his intention can be, so his parting shot as we ended the interview was: “Be nice and communicate my thoughts well”. He said this with a smiling face that he wore all through the 60 minutes of our interview.
For most part of our discussion, Jammal put his best foot forward and made sure it felt like two friends catching up on lost times.
He apologised twice for coming three minutes late for the interview; he was detailed when giving answers, he let me speak with one of his little daughters and he made his family wait for their weekend trip till I asked all my questions. He also linked me up with Tekno and JJC Skillz for subsequent interviews. “Tekno might delay you but I will let it work,” he promised.
It is not unusual to find a well-mannered Nigerian with a positive mindset but for Jammal, there was something different and that unique trait led me to request an interview with him – His confessed love for Nigeria.
Perhaps, loving your country and professing how special she is should not be unusual. But if you are a light-skinned Nigerian from an affluent background, people would cast aspersions at your patriotism and shame you for ulterior motives. They lay charge at you for promoting the positive news because you are insulated from the crisis.
For this week’s profile series, Jammal Mohammed (White Nigerian) tells Oladele Owodina his hustle stories in the entertainment industry and how important it is to balance the reputation of this great country called Nigeria.
- What was growing up like for you?
I was born and bred in Jos. It was a family of 6 children, and I was the sixth child at that time. I was just a normal child growing up in Jos that was where I did not know colours. I didn’t know I was different because I was white. I grew up with everybody in the normal way that every other Nigerian did.
Childhood was good because my dad had a workshop and a lot of workers both at home and in the office. We grew up all speaking Hausa, his staff, all their children used to come and play with us and we just grew up speaking in the Hausa language as everybody else.
I went to Hillcrest school, it’s an American school in Jos and that was where I did 12 years of both primary and secondary school. Then I went to London for 5 years and that’s where I did my undergrad. I was in London for 4 years getting to 5 years. I did 3 years undergrad and 18 months for my Masters. I then came back to Nigeria.
- What was your most memorable childhood experience?
I think that was probably in our school days, those days. We had a patisserie just behind our school, you know those patisseries where they sell ice cream?
So we had the patisserie just behind our school and that’s where we used to go and try and jump the fence of our school to buy ice cream during school times. I think for me, those were the funny, crazy things you will remember the most. And I think it was just playing football back then when people used to play after school. I was young, so I used to play with the older kids and I used to enjoy it when other schools came with their drums and their fanbase that came and watched us. It used to feel like you were playing in a stadium. But those were my memorable moments back then in school. I used to love playing football. People in my area would come and watch, just to watch me play football. That was how good I was at that time.
- Is there any special day or special incident you remember back then?
I’ll tell you a special incident that relates to Nigeria. We had a procession for a Head of state; I don’t remember which Head of state it was. A week before the Head of state was passing in front of our school, we were asked to make Nigerian flags, you know all those flags, I can’t remember the date or who the head of state was. I remember vividly we all stood in front of our school in a long line on that road, all the students and we all had to have our flags. I think I was like seven years or eight years old. I think it was Abdulsalam, I can’t remember who it was. But we used to hold these small flags and wave it. I remember the president’s convoy passing in front of our school and the president waved at us as they passed. That is one memory I will never forget and I know that my children would never experience again in Nigeria.
- A name like ‘White Nigerian’ is an attention magnet, what led to the name?
My first time of realising I was different was when I went to London actually. When I went to London, the Nigerians that were there made me realise I was different from every other Nigerian. But in Nigeria, I did not notice that which is very weird. When I got there, they now started saying oh have you met that white Nigerian guy to their friends and everybody started talking amongst themselves. Aha oh you are the white Nigerian guy that everybody is talking about. That’s actually how the whole name came up.
Then I think AY was doing an event and at that point I had posted some stuff on YouTube. I compared my life in London with my life in Nigeria and said Nigeria is a better place than London. I think it got traction, AY saw it and decided to like let me bring this guy to my show. Now I didn’t know anything about entertainment, I was not an entertainer, I was studying International business and global management but at the end of the day, he said I should come from his show at 02 Arena and that’s how he promoted me – Mohammed Jammal, White Nigerian. After that event, it was ‘Nigeria at 50’, an independence day event, so after that event, a lot of people started inviting me.
The Nigerian embassy also invited me for their ‘Nigeria at 50’ event and that is how the traction started with the whole ‘White Nigerian’ thing and I was just about graduating at that point. That was in October, I was moving back to Nigeria in January. So, when I came back to Nigeria, I was still getting popular at that point. I went to a Basketmouth show in Abuja, and before you know it, I kind of officially joined the entertainment industry without even knowing what I was doing.
Then I didn’t know how to tell jokes without repeating my jokes every time in every show. So I was like the best way I can go about this is let me do a song because a song, I can repeat that song like 100 times. The more I repeat the song to Nigerians, the more they will like the song.
I went to Lagos and there was sanitation day on one Saturday like this and I got there on Friday and JJC Skillz, who I knew from London, I met him at some of these events. He was around and I was like, guy let’s do a song. This entertainment or comedy thing is really not for me and it’s not working for me because I was repeating jokes at every event, they would get dry eventually.
He was like, why don’t you do a Hausa jam? I was like Hausa! Like I have never heard a Hausa song with the tune of R&B or Nigerian beat but he was like let’s try it. So we went to the studio early in the morning, before the sanitation started by 5:30 am and literally we just stayed in the studio. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Baby Fresh? He works with Mavins. At that point he was working in one of the radio stations and we just chilled at his place. So he was the one that produced the song called Taka Rawa. And I can say that it was after my own Taka Rawa Ice Prince started reigning with Aboki, all those Hausa songs, and that’s how Hausa music got into the whole naija song. I didn’t know any other Hausa naija jam.
And then Tekno was upcoming in Abuja and Tekno said, White Nigerian, let me just do one jam for you. Just one jam but he kept delaying it. Eventually one day we were sitting outside the car, my wife, himself and I and he said let’s just go to the studio. We went to the studio around 10:30 or 11 pm and we were out of the studio like 1am. We did my best jam – Dirty whine. Literally, Tekno did the beat right there, after the beat, he now did the chorus and the verses and I literally just took over and repeated what he said on my own.
I think that’s why I stopped. Entertainment wasn’t really my thing but I was enjoying it and that was how in Abuja you couldn’t say White Nigerian without saying Tekno, you couldn’t say Tekno without saying White Nigerian back then. We were like P-Square at the time. That’s literally how close we were at that point and then he got signed up in Lagos and then moved on. I had my first child and there was no way I was going to work from 9am to 5pm in an IT company, then do entertainment in the evening, going for shows here and there. The popularity was just there but everything changed, so I went back to my normal hustle .
I even left the company I was working for Dr. Aloy Chife, he was my first boss in Nigeria. I worked with him for a year. I was able to get some good deals, and I looked at it and I was like why am I working or getting projects for someone else? Why can’t I go ahead and get projects for my own family or for myself? I spoke to him and he said it was no problem at all. So I went to work with my parents. I got the experience from my dad on the construction side of things. In 2014 I decided to open my own company. Immediately I opened my own company, that was when I first got a contract from Chinese to build the Abuja-Kaduna railway parts of the works for that. That was how my company started.
So I did a lot of the project, from Abuja all the way to Rigasa station, Kaduna and a lot of the asphalting and surface dressing work with them and that is how I continued doing projects for Chinese and a lot of other people.
My wife just reminded me last year, remember when we used to drive around Abuja looking for construction sites? I literally used to enter every construction site and beg them to bring their road works or interlocking. Every site in Abuja, I don’t think there was any construction site that I didn’t enter.
- How did you bag your first big deal in construction?
There was a hotel in Gwarinpa and I literally just drove in and I said it looks like you are doing your hotel, please can I do your carpark for you? They said I should go and bring a quotation. I went and brought the quotation for her and you know, obviously she beat it down to the minimum level possible. I suffered on that job and even made a loss but it helped me because I had that project showing on my profile.
Then, I now started doing other small projects and before you know it, someone that had a major road work asked if I could do something for him and I said definitely. And so I gave him my cost. They broke it down, but I got it into my profile. I think my first year, 2017; I was literally making loss after loss. One project was a loss and another would compensate for that loss. So I literally was not making money for about 3 years but I was building a profile that today it’s what helped me be who I am.
I take in projects now, some are losses and some are profitable, but they are on a larger scale. So if I am making a profit, it covers losses. In the beginning, it was about building that profile but for a lot of people in Nigeria, they want to build that profile overnight. I can promise you it’s not that easy. I have hustled, but a lot of people think that because my father has the Aeroplane house in Abuja, I grew up with a silver spoon. I can’t belittle what my parents have done because they are the ones that even connected me with Dr. Aloy to get my first job and came back with a very good salary. So I got a lot of experience from that side and I now went to work for them till I felt I was ready to start my own company.
In fact, starting my own company started as an argument between my parents and I. And that’s why I even went ahead to set up my company and I think they are the proudest parents today because they’ve seen that I really wanted to make a difference and today I am making that difference.
- When you say you’ve hustled, what hustle stories do you remember especially as you came from an affluent family?
My dad is a very hands-on person, he is not a stick in the office type of person. So even growing up in Jos, we used to follow my father to where they buy spare parts for cars. There is no holiday that you’ll have that you would travel abroad. The first time I traveled abroad was when I was 14 or 15 years old. That was my first time in an aeroplane.
We grew up working with my father during holidays. In fact, every holiday, my father must travel to Abuja. He was one of the first people to travel to Abuja back in the days and when he moved to Abuja, he had a small container and a workshop at Area 10. It was the first workshop at Area 10 in Abuja. Every holiday, everybody would come from Jos to Abuja and we had to be in the office working with him. That was our life for up to when I was going to London for university.
We used to come and work in the office, work in the workshop, learn how to fix cars inside the house, in that aeroplane house you people see there, every single plant that you see there, we planted it ourselves, like literally digging it. You cannot sleep beyond 8 o’clock, who are you to sleep beyond 8am? We literally did all those things so when I grew up, I learnt to work for my money.
There was no daddy, can I have this or that in our house? It was not possible. He literally would make you work to earn your money from a very young age. I think that was what has made us who we are today. As I said, if you speak to some of my friends from 2011 till today, a lot of them are doing amazing both in entertainment, in construction and others. But if you know the places we have been to bro, you will be wondering, did you really do those things?
Tekno, Chuks D General, I, my wife and kids once drove to Kaduna to perform at a wedding for 100k. We drove from Abuja to Kaduna.
I was doing it for fun, because I was earning my money on my normal 9-5 but for them, that was serious money. But I still wanted to collect my money, I wanted to know I was getting paid for my entertainment, you understand? We worked hard to get to where we were in that entertainment lifestyle. The only thing that made me different from them, was because I had my 9-5 job and they only had entertainment. Even that first studio session that me and Tekno did, I think it was like we paid the studio N30,000 and I gave him N20,000 or something like that. That’s how we started too. We used to eat indomie and egg every day. Ha, bro, me and my entertainers went through a lot.
And construction wise, I think I have been to like 17 out of the 36 states in Nigeria. There is even one place in Ekiti I never thought existed in my Nigeria called Ogotun, and I went in there to do a job. I say I have been to every construction site in Abuja, I used to go there to beg for contracts and that’s how I got my contract. I was not sitting at home, my office. In fact, my office was in my car. I had a mobile printer that’s still in my room. The mobile printer that I bought and that was where I printed my whole document, all my proposals. I can sit outside, research, take the measurements of the site, just go back to my car, I will do the quotation and I hand it over to them. I didn’t have an office.
How did I get my first office? I rented a space to one of these embassies who wanted a business centre, and I negotiated. I was also doing property business at the time, I still do and manage Silverbird care in Abuja and for AMCON (Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria). I used to have this mobile printer that was literally my office. So when they wanted a space, the ambassador told me. So I now gave them all the options and when we agreed on the location, I went and met the landlord and said oga, the only way I’ll bring this embassy for you is I need an office space for 1 year free of charge. Very small space, he gave me a 30 square meters and with the small commission I got on top of the deal, I got the furniture and other things. That’s how I had my first space.
My parents had spaces ooh, but you know, they are not ready to give you, they want you to go work. My parents have never stepped into my office ever till date.
- You have come a long way, how big is your construction company now?
Right now we directly employ over a 100 staff.
- One of the top 3 construction companies in Nigeria?
Definitely not but you can say one of the fastest growing indigenous construction companies.
- You say a lot about your father and wife, what does family mean to you?
Family means everything because they always have your back. Literally, our family is everything. We have a tradition in our house, even though everybody lives in their house; as soon as it is lunchtime at exactly 1:30 pm, we must all gather for lunch. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, as long as you are in town, you must all gather for lunch at my parent’s house.
- You go to your father’s house to have lunch?
Every day. Literally, all the family members, you must leave your work and come and spend time with your parents for lunch.
- Wow, that’s interesting
It’s been going on for years and that’s when you get to sit down with them and discuss, laugh and cry. That is the moment that you understand the importance of family. And that has been what has made us very close, very tight
- Do you have any life regrets?
Honestly, I don’t think I have any life regret because every single thing that has happened to me has shaped me to where I am today. There is literally no regret. If I didn’t have my entertainment career, you guys probably wouldn’t know me. I’ll be hidden somewhere just doing my thing, nobody knows me but ehn everything worked for a reason. God had his way of you know our success story is based on what happened before.
- So what’s the thing that people do not know about Jammal?
The thing is that you’ll be surprised every day on the different stories you hear of Jammal like you’ll be surprised. It’s just people that know me that know me. People that have known where my background is, where my hustle is, how we grow to where we are and all that.
People that don’t know me just assume that I didn’t grow up hustling, that I had everything needed. I will say yes, my parents gave me the best education. They sent me to the best schools both here and abroad but for my business, I worked for my business, I hustled for my business and that you can’t take away from me.
I pray I will be able to do the same for my children. I pray that I’ll get them the best education because that is the best thing you can give your child. After that it’s left for your child to find his way and get where he wants to be. I think today my parents are proud. I’ve worked hard in my own way. A lot of people would say Mohammed is like Dj Cuppy but Dj Cuppy has brought herself out today. Do you understand?
She’s hustling, she’s making her music, she’s making her money, she’s signing agreements, she’s signing contracts. She’s doing her thing, so don’t assume that because somebody’s father…look at Davido, do you know how Davido hustles every day? Is it because his father has money that he is where he is today? Do you know how many children of billionaires who made nothing with their lives?
So you have to hustle to get to where you are. You can’t just sit down and be spending your father’s money. And our parents back then are not like parents these days that they’ll just be giving their children money. Back then bro, if they give you 200 naira to go and buy something, you must bring their change.
That is the kind of childhood memories that you will always remember. If they say you should go and buy Coke, you must bring that change. There was no way you would tell them that you had to remove change. There was no way you would bring another pen from your school that they didn’t buy for you. You’ll explain. So you would rather just stay in your lane, do the right thing. Use what you have and manage what you have to. Because like these days now, I don’t know parenting has changed and I think that’s part of the problem in Nigeria.
We need to start with the family. We need to start the orientation and how we grow up as a family-like literally how you bring up your children would determine the fate of this country and the future and that’s the truth of the matter.
I don’t think my children would ever get to go and stand on the road again to bring out a Nigerian flag and wave while the president is passing. I don’t see my children having that experience because the country has changed so much. We used to be patriotic Nigerians, we used to sing songs of Nigeria my beloved country, our future is bright. But these days, all you’ll hear Is maybe the national anthem
We used to bring up the flag in our school every day. In fact, we used to fight to be the one to be the flag bearer. We used to sing the national anthem proudly.
These are the things that I don’t see happening anymore in Nigeria
- Almost everyone knows you don’t shy away from talking about your love for Nigeria. Do you think Nigerians have a thing for blaming leaders?
That’s the thing and it’s going to continue. After Jonathan, you know Buhari is here now and after Buhari, another person would come, they would still insult. It’s normal but what people need to understand is there is enough negativity in the news already.
So with all the negativity going on, be different and promote the good things. Let people that want to think positively, think positively.
It is important for people to also know the good things happening in Nigeria. When I state that this road is being done or this bridge is being done, it’s the duty of our government to get those things done because that is why we elected them. But we are quicker to post the bad things than to promote the good things and a lot of people take my patriotism for maybe government affiliation. I’m not a party holder of any party. I’m just a promoter of Nigeria and I will continue to promote Nigeria in whatever way possible because if Nigeria breaks up … The people that are trying to do anything do that because they probably have more than one passport, I only have Nigerian passport. Where do I go? Where do you go when having only a Nigerian passport?
- You become a refugee in other countries
So let us all ensure that we promote this county because Nigeria, I promise you the day Nigeria becomes what it is meant to be, other countries around the world would suffer.
- People think you are making a jest when you compare Nigeria to other countries. For example, you just said that when Nigeria becomes great, other countries would suffer
Think of Nigeria as your home. Just inside your premises, there’s a neighbour beside you, neighbour on your left, neighbour on your right. They are supplying you with pure water every day. Because they know you have a large family to care for. There is another person on your left providing you with eggs every day. The person behind you provides you with milk every day. And the person in front of you is providing you with electricity.
You now decide you want to buy a transformer. The person providing water doesn’t anymore because you now have water in your compound. In fact, now you are the one supplying yourself and you even have an excess that you want to start supplying to them at a cheaper rate.
The person beside you that was giving you milk, you have bought your cow in your compound. The person on your right that was providing you egg, now you have gotten enough chicken and they are providing you with your eggs that you need every day? Would they not be angry?
- Yes, I get the analogy now
So there is no way that you would tell me that the day Nigeria does what she needs to do that the whole world would not suffer.
Do you know how much we are worth in this country? Imagine now that Nigeria isn’t importing again. Just imagine we are telling foreign countries that we are not importing and we would now be selling to you. We can even sell back to you at a cheaper rate than what you wanted to send to us.
- You have given an interesting insight but what strategy do you propose for the Nigerian government to sell this Nigerian dream you’ve just talked about?
We need to re-orientate Nigerians. We need to make Nigerians understand that this is Nigeria and they should fall in love with Nigeria. You need to make Nigerians have a reason to fall in love with this country.
You need to have a Nigerian flag that is flying outside every government institution to be a beautifully decorated Nigerian flag, not a tattered Nigerian flag. Those small things are things that are very important.
Go abroad and see how patriotic Nigerians there are. Do you know that immediately Nigerians go abroad, you’ll see them carrying the Nigerian flag. But come to Nigeria and ask someone where they are from and they’ll now be telling you I’m this one first before I’m Nigerian. But when they go back abroad they’ll be shouting Nigeria Nigeria Nigeria.
- Is it because they are insulated from the crisis in Nigeria?
Not at all. Bro our media plays a big role in promoting the negativity of this country. I feel like the best way to promote this country is by bringing the media on board. There is definitely not a good relationship between this government and the media. It’s obvious.
It’s obvious that there is so much good happening that isn’t being promoted. It’s obvious that there are a lot of bad things happening that are being promoted at the same time. But for me it’s important you share both positive and negative as a media company and in my perspective, the more you promote good things, then more good things happen. It has happened in my life and I think it can happen to the country literally because positivity attracts positivity. So imagine we are not promoting all these killings and all these things that are going on in the country. But we are promoting industries, we are promoting positive things, do you know how many people from abroad would want to come here and come and invest?
But just type Nigeria on Google, the first thing you’ll see is so and so dead. So and so killed. Bro there is no single positive news ever that you’ll open the newspapers in Nigeria, that you’ll see good news. Why?
- Can it also be that the media is just performing their reflective function – reporting what is happening and not manufacturing news?
No, I’m not saying it’s not happening. I’m not saying what’s happening is not happening. What I am trying to tell you is that at the same time, you’re putting bad news here, also put good news beside it.
It’s not just now this has been happening, it has been since I came back from London in 2011. Front page of the newspapers read ‘This one has killed, Boko haram has killed this one’. Are we here to promote them or are we here to promote Nigeria?
When the army does what they are supposed to do, do we promote what the army is doing as front-page news? No, because it does not sell fast. I understand where the media come from because that news wouldn’t sell. That’s the truth of the matter. The good news will not sell to Nigerians and it’s not just Nigeria, it’s all over the world.
Have you ever opened BBC or CNN and seen any good news by every hour BBC news or CNN news. You will always hear negative news like the war in Afghanistan because that is what is selling.
There is that fear that is created every single day in people’s lives that affects the way people walk, that affects the way people move around in this country. I posted a picture yesterday of a place in Abuja, just outside of town and they started shouting that is it not when security is there that it is safe to visit. Like bro, people go to these places every day, you understand?
I understand the situation is there and I understand the problem is there and I have also added my own voice. I have said something needs to be done and I pray something is done but las las, we need to promote this country better. We can’t get investors into this country with the way we are promoting this country. It’s not possible that you as an investor will you bring in your money? People come to Nigeria and but this is not what we saw on the news I, this is not what we saw, you know like we create this atmosphere around this country that is heartbreaking. Let me not lie.