He was widely rumoured to be under a spell. He was rejected by classmates and scorned by playmates. He was suffering from Dyslexia, a form of disability that impairs reading, spelling and even writing, in children. And with such disability, he lived his adolescent years with the fear of a bleak future.
But all that changed in 2014 when he eventually overcame his dyslexic condition, with the support of his mother (now late) and some of his teachers and mentors. But prior to that period, his condition had spurred him to discover a talent hitherto hidden to him and many people around him: construction of electronic appliances.
“With my dyslexic condition, I was scared because I never wanted to become a school drop-out. So I discovered that I can create and invent technological appliances,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview.
“Of course, I wanted to innovate because I could not write. So in a way, my poor reading and spelling abilities made me discover my talents.”
AYANWOYE TOBI RASHEED
19-year old Ayanwoye Tobi Rasheed is a Senior Secondary School, SSS 3, student of Federal Government College, FGC, Ogbomoso. He was born in January 1998. A native of Oyo State, Tobi was raised in Ogbomoso in Oyo North senatorial district of the state.
Having suffered Dyslexia from boyhood, he was never given any chance by people around him. But against all odds, and with the support of his mother and teachers, he fought his disability. He can now read, spell and write well.
For more than three weeks in December 2016, Tobi could not be reached. Every effort by our correspondent to meet him for an interview proved abortive. But when PREMIUM TIMES eventually spoke with him, he spoke on his challenges, motivation and future plans.
“It was tough for me,” Tobi said of his experience before he found solution to his dyslexic condition. “Whenever I saw an alphabet, I mistook it for another.”
Tobi, at 14 years of age, had to repeat classes because he could not read or write. No one realised he was suffering from a learning impairment, and it was indeed a complex situation.
“Some teachers in the school believed Tobi was under a spell and this was the story I had to believe,” Ishola Abdulkabeer, Tobi’s private teacher, mentor and coach, said.
“Fortunately for me, watching the movie ‘Like Stars on Earth’ changed that psyche. It featured a character (Hishan) who also suffered from Dyslexia like Tobi. We sat to watch the movie with Tobi and I asked him what his inference was, then he told me this was exactly what’s wrong with him. The first thing I did was to carry out a background research on his learning history.”
Mr. Ishola also disclosed that he made contact with medical professionals to examine the situation and scheduled personal coaching sessions with the boy using digital flashcards designed with PowerPoint.
“We explored the OneNote application for synchronizing exercises via PC and mobile while enjoying the digital inking feature. We gathered videos from YouTube about people who had overcome the dyslexia challenge. The scrabble game was also helpful for letter identification and word formation. We equally watched inspiring movies like Akeelah and the Bee which spurred his dictation to perfection,” he added.
The teacher explained further that it was really difficult and frustrating helping Tobi overcome his challenge in the beginning, adding that he almost gave up on him. However, Tobi’s attitude to learning and resilience, Mr. Ishola said, were highly infectious.
“I chased him away one day after explaining a concept to him several times, yet he failed to comprehend. The next day, he came knocking on my door and then I asked: ‘what did you do when you got home yesterday?’ He said: ‘I went to pray to God to touch your heart and accept me back’. That really touched my heart and from that day, I gave my all to see him succeed,” Mr. Ishola disclosed.
Mr. Ishola helped Tobi overcome his disability, through intense coaching.
Born into a poor family, Tobi’s parents were not financially buoyant enough to support his educational pursuit. His mother was a petty trader who took up loans to settle his school bills from his primary school days. Sadly, on December 3, 2016, she died in an auto crash along the Mokwa-Jebba Road. She was buried the next day, December 4.
“Sadly, when the incident happened, I was on my way to Lagos to receive another award from my school’s Alumni Association for being the most innovative student of the year in the school. That day was my happiest and saddest day on earth.”
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that Tobi has three older siblings and an aged father, who is rather too weak to support his son’s academic pursuit.
But Tobi is desirous of studying abroad, to learn more and build more electrical appliances.
“I really want to go and study more in higher institutions of technology abroad, maybe Italy or China,” he told our correspondent.
“I want to learn more skills that will make me create, build and innovate things. Also, I will like to teach other people how to invent technological appliances too after acquiring sufficient knowledge and exposure. I will be glad if the Federal government can help me fund my education abroad.”
Some of the projects Tobi built include a solar-powered lawn mower, a machine that uses solar technology to cut grasses. Also, he designed and built a solar-powered grinding machine as well as a foot mat alarm, which alerts it’s owner when visitors step on it without them having to ring a bell.
“I also designed and built radio sets and CD players in the past, although I couldn’t complete them due to lack of funds,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
His works and ideas have earned him the nickname ‘Atra the Innovator’ amongst his colleagues and teachers (‘Atra’ being a corrupt version of the initials of his names–––Ayanwoye Tobi Rasheed). All he achieved was done courtesy of the support he received from his teachers, the management team of his school and especially his late mother.
“Most of my projects are abandoned half-way. I once built a mower while in primary school, but it is different from the one I built recently. I had to abandon it because of funds.
“I must say that teachers in my school, FGC, have been supportive. The school provided the solar panel I used while building one of my projects. But there are still challenges.
“Most of the equipment and materials I need for my projects are expensive and I cannot afford to get them. That is why I need the support of the Nigerian people,” he said.
In 2014 Tobi won a runner-up prize for his invention at the Schlumberger Excellence in Education Development (SEED). The Science and Technology School Exhibition gave him an opportunity to showcase his projects as he was honoured with the most innovative student award.
He was also featured on TEDx IsaleGeneral programme themed ‘Beyond The Walls’.
In October 2016, Tobi featured as a speaker at TEDx IsaleGeneral, a discussion platform where speakers are invited to talk about topics that could change the world. The programme held at Isale General, Ogbomoso, Oyo State.
Despite being the youngest speaker at the event, Tobi’s presentation was adjudged the most impactful, drawing loud ovation from the crowd and fellow speakers. His presentation was titled “From Incinerator to Innovator”.
“Tobi Ayanwoye was the youngest speaker we featured at TEDxIsaleGeneral…and without any bias, Tobi was the only speaker who got an overwhelming standing ovation by all members of the audience, including other speakers,” Emdee Tiamiyu, the curator of the TEDx IsaleGeneral programme, said.
“His ideas were beyond the walls and his speech was electrifying. As young as Tobi is, he has expressed huge potentials through his innovative projects that has won numerous awards for both his school and him.”
Ridwon Rasheed, the publicity secretary of the TEDx programme told PREMIUM TIMES that Tobi is a talent whose potentials must not be allowed to die.
“He is a unique unicorn, with his ability to think better than most electrical electronics engineering students and graduates; to create something he is passionate about. His brilliance and innovation won his school a laboratory from the German government.”
Mr. Rasheed urged well-meaning Nigerians and the government to ensure that Tobi is supported in his chosen field of innovation and invention, noting that his presentation at the TEDx programme and his numerous projects can help nurture a generation of creative and ingenious Nigerian youths.
In the first week of January, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, was informed about the young boy’s numerous projects and innovative skills. Mr. Saraki has since invited the young for a short presentation at a date yet to be announced.
“We have not been informed of the actual date,” Tobi told PREMIUM TIMES in response to the date he is billed to deliver his presentation at the Senate.
“But we are hopeful the plan would work out. The Special Adviser to the Senate President got in touch with us but said the date has not been fixed.”
Mr. Rasheed and other facilitators at the TEDx IsaleGeneral confirmed the development.
Bamikole Omisore, the Special Assistant to the Senate President on New Media also confirmed the invitation, saying, “the Senate president saw his entry and was fascinated by it and he is one of the entries we were told to prioritise at the #MadeinNigeria Desk.”
“The invitation to Tobi is part of the move by the Senate President to meet with young innovators like him to hear directly from them challenges they go through and how they have been able to make It against all odds.”
When asked what the government and other well-meaning Nigerians could do to support his dreams, Tobi disclosed that he intends to study and acquire more skills abroad.
He also appealed to Nigerians to render their support towards funding his numerous innovative projects.
“I wish to school abroad and acquire more skills. I want to come back to Nigeria and give back by training other innovative young people like me too because I believe in the future of this country, Nigeria,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.