Humanity matters. That was the central credo of Oba Oladele Olashore, the late Ajagbusin Ekun Iloko-Ijesha in Osun State. Not many people have heard of Iloko until Olashore moved to his native town and built the Olashore International School in 1994. He wanted to make it an international institution and he brought teachers from all over the world. Soon, the school built a reputation across our shores and Nigerians in the diaspora gladly send their wards to attend this village school. Twenty-five years on, the school remain a lasting legacy institution to its founder, the inimitable Kabiyesi Olashore who died in 2012.
Yet that school came by accident and not by design. When I first met Baba Olashore, he was a top banker in Lagos becoming ultimately the Managing Director of IBWA and later the First Bank. One day when I visited him in Iloko, he told me the story of the dramas that attended his last days at First Bank. He and another colleague had taken the Federal Military Government to court over its banking policies, as part of the Structural Adjustment Programmed, SAP. He was very sure he was on firm legal ground, but he forgot who the master was. At that time, the Federal Government had controlling shares in First Bank and appoints its top management, including the MD.
The legal tussle was still going on when Olashore settled in his office one morning in 1987. Soon, his secretary brought a message that one young military officer would like to see him. He brought a message from Doddan Barracks, then the official residence of President Ibrahim Babangida. Olashore collected his letter. He had been sacked. He tiptoed out of his office.
It was this personal and traumatic experience of being knock-off atop the totem pole that gave birth to Olashore International School. He set up the Lead Consult Ltd (and later Lead Bank), made money and decided to transform his hometown by putting it on the world map through the establishment of a world-class institution. Kabiyesi reign was short, 1994-2012; but crowded, eventful, fruitful and fulfilling. His son, Abimbola, the banker and finance expert, is now superintending his father’s dream.
Baba Olashore must have inspired a lot of people. I drove through Ijebu-Jesha to Iloko on my way to Lagos last Saturday. Almost the whole stretch to Ilesha has become something like a Schools Boulevard. There are several new private schools in that axis, all of them looking very modern, trying to play catch-up game with Olashore.
One man who received direct mentorship from Kabiyesi Olashore is our father, Oba Adedokun Abolarin, the Orangun of Oke-Ila in Osun State. I introduced Kabiyesi Abolarin to Baba and they bonded immediately. One of the impact is the total commitment of Oba Abolarin to the progress of his town, the hitherto sleepy Oke-Ila, tucked in the armpit of Igbomina country. The pace-setting Abolarin College, founded and maintained by Kabiyesi Abolarin is a living monument to the friendship of the two royal fathers. Regularly, Kabiyesi Abolarin, a lawyer who also read political science at the then University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University), regularly moves to the town’s secondary schools to teach students Government and History.
Olashore’s successful interventions in Iloko must have inspired many other successful business people to give back to their home communities. Thus we now have private universities set up by successful entrepreneurs competing with those set up by religious institutions and governments. This is happening all over Nigeria. Apart from the pioneering Igbinedion University, Okada, in Edo State, we now have the likes of Afe Babalola University, Ado, Ekiti State, and American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State, Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Ondo State, KolaDaisi University, Ibadan, Oyo State, Bell University, Otta and Lead University, also in Ibadan. In years to come, these universities may set the pace for higher education in Nigeria. Already Afe Babalola University has set up a first class Teaching Hospital to compete with the best in the world, equipped with the best diagnostic machines. The university would be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
These institutions are trying to recapture for us the old excellence of Nigeria which was noted for high intellectual attainment on the world state. In the past, the Nigerian firmament was clustered with a galaxy of stars. Today, the firmament is still clustered with stars but we hardly see them because of the cloud of uncertainties and frenetic race for wealth and instant gratifications. One of the old stars in our days at the University of Lagos was the unforgettable Professor Ayodele Awojobi. One of the protégé of Awojobi was a dashing young lecturer, Oye Ibidapo-Obe, who made a first-class in Engineering in 1971.
Like most Unilag first-class graduates, Ibidapo-Obe use to walk with chips on his shoulders. Unilag was one of the best universities in the world and its products could rub shoulders with graduates of Harvard, Columbia, and Cambridge or any other institution. After his graduation in 1971, he won a Commonwealth scholarship to do his masters and doctorate at the University of Waterloo in Canada. In one of the tests, he scored 76 percent. His lecturer invited him for a private chat where he upbraided him for his poor performance. The lecturer told him that his 76 percent score was far below the class average and for a Commonwealth scholar, this was unexpected. Some of Ibidapo-Obe’s classmates scored 90 percent and 100 percent.
“So for the first time in my life I learnt that when you do a competitive examination, you have to push yourself beyond excellence,” he recalled. “You should target more than 100 percent.”
Since then, he has been many things, including two-times vice-chancellor, once in Unilag and later the first vice-chancellor of the Federal University, Udufu Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi. He is now a professor at large, having retired recently at 70. For him only the best will do. He was one of the editors of the book, Olusegun Obasanjo, The Presidential Legacy, 1999 – 2007, in which I had the privilege of contributing one chapter. The revered President Nelson Mandela wrote the Foreword. Other co-editors of the book are Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe, first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, former Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor Friday Okonofua, former Special Adviser on Health to President Obasanjo and Professor Babatunde Idowu, an animal physiologist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
Yesterday, Ibidapo-Obe joined other Nigerians in Lagos to celebrate Professor Gabriel Olawoyin, a lawyer and senior academic who attained the age of 80. Olawoyin is the first Nigerian professor of Business Law, a distinction he achieved in 1978. He and his son are both Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Olawoyin has lived a good life and at 80 he appears to be in vigourous health. One of his younger colleagues who joined to celebrate Olawoyin was the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and now the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu.
Akeredolu was also present to honour our distinguished colleague, Eric Teniola when he celebrated his 70th birthday on Tuesday. Teniola is versed in his trade. He is a wordsmith of exception skill and versatility who has turned the art of reporting into an almost accurate science. We first met when both of us were reporters at the National Assembly during the Second Republic. He was our leader on the beat then and his experience and contacts made him outstanding. As Chief Press Secretary to three military governors in old Ondo State, he showed his mettle as a journalist of solid substance. No wonder all the big names in the profession, including our Uncle Sam Amuka, the publisher of the Vanguard, were at hand to honour Terrific Eric. Indeed Teniola has made an impact in the rough terrain of journalism.
All these men, and perhaps millions of Nigerians who are changing our land, are not politicians or occupiers of political offices. Though Olashore held political office as Minister of Finance in the final days of the Ibrahim Babangida regime and under Chief Ernest Shonekan, it was his profession and contributions that defined him. This means we can look to the future with optimism and courage. Perhaps those who would change Nigeria are not those who mount the rostums seeking political power. Changes may come from the persistent toil and labour of love of determined citizens who are ready to invest in change and like Ibidapo-Obe, would settle for nothing but the best for Nigeria.