Patrick Ayota: The boy from Nyem Nyem at the helms of NSSF.

Patrick Ayota is a man whose life has been littered by a multitude of stepping stones that gradually paved his way before finally ushering him to the position of Deputy Managing Director at Uganda’s National Social Security Fund.

Having joined the fund in 2011, Mr. Ayota was previously the firm’s Chief Financial Officer for six years until 2017.

Patrick has been involved in the setup of the fund strategy function, and the introduction of the balance of performance scorecard.

Before joining NSSF, he worked as the Finance Director at Barclays Bank (Uganda) and has a wealth of experience in accounting and finance management spanning years of work in both Uganda and the USA.

He is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and also holds an MBA from the University of South Carolina in the US. He also has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.

But Patrick has not always been the man decked out in well-pressed suits with enough degrees to start his own temperature scale.

A simple life in Nyem Nyem village  

At a young age, he was taken on by his grandfather, who raised him. As a reverend, his grandfather ensured that the children in his household lived a life governed by discipline, did not shy away from chores, and performed well in school. These were the building blocks that made up the structure of the life that a young

Ayota quickly got used to.

“We lived a simple life that was devoid of many of the luxuries that are common these days. We had no running water and walked barefoot. I run 4 km to Kidoko Primary School and 4 km back. I spent 7 years at the school and every morning we would wake up at 5.30am and first go to the garden and do agricultural work. On returning to the home, we would wash our feet and run to school, “he says.

Like many children in Nyem Nyem, Patrick was raised on a lifestyle that was based on pure work. That was all they knew and did not find it strange because that was the nature of the upbringing that all the other children were subjected it.

Christianity was an ever-present guidepost through life

Patrick’s grandfather, as a reverend, was the direction-giver for his family. He did not entertain waywardness from members of his household. There was no drinking local brew or taking part in local village practices like sacrifices that were commonplace.

“We focused on school which became an escape from all these things and to this day that has been the guide of how I live myself.” Mr. Ayota says.

As often happens in life, tragedy struck, and his grandfather passed away when he was about to sit for his primary leaving examinations. This did not deter him, and he passed remarkably well, getting a half bursary to attend Nabumali High School. In those days, Nabumali was one of the best schools around and he was very happy to join the school.

He wasn’t sure which profession he would pursue later on after leaving Nabumali, as he was only 14 years old when he joined. In his senior four final exams he passed Mathematics, Economics and Geography. This cut out his dreams of ever pursuing medicine to become a doctor, or engineer. He focused on doing business administration which sounded sophisticated although he didn’t know much about the field.

“The very first time he wore shoes was in senior three. Before this time, I was wearing rubber sandals that had been fashioned from car tires. The privileged boys from Kampala had some of these luxuries. Since my grandfather had died, there wasn’t much support coming from home. he says. “I fried cassava and sold it to fellow students to make a few shillings.”

A change in his life direction

After sitting his final A level examinations,the results came back and he had got only two principal passes at A level indicating a lackluster performance. His life was shattered. “I passed math at S4 almost by accident. I had had some previous trouble in mathematics so when I got to A level the standard of mathematics was rough” At this point I didn’t know what to do with myself. I fell into a deep depression he says.

Luckily, an uncle that was working in Uganda prisons tried to get him a job in the prison sector.  He was placed as a storekeeper in Mbale Prison for the prison industrial division, which was involved in activities like carpentry.

The store was empty so he was doing nothing the whole day despite getting paid a monthly salary.

One day, he got a visit from his supervisor, who found the office space dirty. He asked Patrick to clean the place and he was not amused. “I had a fairly decent education and he I was being asked to clean floors.” he says. “I was not happy at all about that interaction.” This reinforced a typical Ugandan belief that work levels of tasks are below individuals of a certain class.

Moving to Karamoja

Later, Mr. Ayota was posted to Karamoja as a storekeeper at the prison farm. “I did not want to go to Karamoja and resisted the move with everything within me. For two weeks, I stayed put, despite increasing pressure. Finally, my uncle radio called me and said, that I either go and work in Karamoja or I find another job.” he explains. Defeatedly, he boarded a lorry on the long journey to Karamoja.

On arrival, he hated everything about Karamoja. He was there for six miserable months, hating his life. Finally, the stores were loaded with a number of items such as oil, rice, and sugar that he had to oversee and these things were in great numbers. However, the store was a mess and everything was tossed around in disarray.

He organized a group of young men, and for four days, they organized the store and placed everything in neat columns. He also created an inventory for all the items so that nothing could be lost. A white gentleman who was in charge of the stored supplies made a visit to the store and was impressed with the level of organization that Patrick had executed. He overheard him saying to another that Patrick was the smartest African he had ever come across.

“This was the light bulb moment that I needed to transform how I work. From that day on, I ensured the store was clean and organized. He even mopped himself.  Finally, he started to love Karamoja and his life there because he was being productive. He learned how to drive at 20 years old due to the many vehicles that were available at the prison farm.

A new job with better prospects

One day, he went to Malaba with the director of logistics. While there, he learned how to clear goods and made himself acquainted with the customs regulations of Uganda.

Owing to the presence of many expatriates at the time, he also learned how to carry out immigration work and started assisting them with that. I was offered a job by a company called ICA as a logistics officer. I went from earning shs3,000 as a prisons store keep to earning shs30,000 in my new role. This turned my life around.

A few years later, I got a call from the country director who told me that the director of logistics had resigned. He wanted to know if I would take on the job. It was a big job and I had big shoes to fill. However, during all this all he was grounded by church and lived a fairly controlled life. “At this time AIDS was just emerging and many of my peers got the disease and a large number of them are not here anymore. It is only by the grace of God that I was not swept away in that avalanche of deaths.”

At 25, his American directors asked him what he wanted in life, and he told them he would love to go back to school. He applied to three American universities and was accepted to all three. He chose Liberty University and tendered his resignation. The company gave him $10,000 as appreciation for his work, and off to the US he went.

At Liberty, he earned a science degree in Finance with an Accounting minor. “To survive I did menial jobs here and there as the money I came with had gradually dwindled after paying my tuition. I was once in the bathroom and I met my associate profession cleaning the lavatory. I was in shock and asked him why he would do such a thing. He told he was saving to take his wife on a vacation and that hit me hard,” he says.

“I realized I had something wrong with me if I thought cleaning bathrooms was something beneath him. So, I did every kind of work that I came across.”

Later on, he fell hard for a Kenyan woman and they tied the knot, and have one daughter.
Eventually, an opportunity presented itself at NSSF and he was taken in for the position. He lauds the firm as one of the best pension firms in the world, having come out on top in a number of global pension assessments. 

Patrick Ayota is a man who has been fortunate enough to turn the lemons in life into lemonade. He enjoys reading, music and cannot get enough of pasted groundnut sauce made with dried fish. Due to its alluring landscapes, his favorite place in Uganda is, unsurprisingly, Karamoja. In the future he hopes he can get into a teaching position where he can impact young minds with wisdom on living life based on some of his life experiences.

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