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Omolewa at 80: I’m just a product of God’s mercy

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Michael Omolewa


For the foremost educationist and 32nd President of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Emeritus Prof Michael Omolewa who turns 80 on April 1, this year, divine providence worked things around for him beyond his imagination. He had applied to become a Messenger and accomplish his ambition to retire as a Chief Clerk, but that application landed him in a secondary school with scholarship that shot him up to become an international scholar. The 11th child of a father of 42 children, the great scholar and “father of adult education in Nigeria” revealed the story of his life to The Guardian Head, South West Bureau, MUYIWA ADEYEMI.

How do you feel clocking 80?
At 80, you know, it’s my colleagues who have drawn my attention to my being 80. They wanted to keep its celebration a secret and that would have been good for them if they had kept it a secret but unfortunately, they wrote to a particular person who said to me, so, you are about to clock 80 truly? Otherwise, it could just have passed again. Throughout the whole 79 years of my life, I have never sat down to think of marking my birthday. This is mainly because my mates at School used to tease me on being born on the day people called April fool’s day. My wife had wanted us to mark the day but I had consistently refused her request. She planned to celebrate my 75th birthday and told a church pastor to please make arrangements, then she passed on and everything stalled. I had earlier told her that that what I am doing at 80, is what I was doing at 50: going to the classroom, teaching, doing research, publishing, going on workshop and seminars, international conferences, serving as resource person here and there and nothing has changed.

Furthermore, physically, I don’t see the 80. In fact, one of my children asked me recently “Daddy, what have you been doing for the past 80 years?” I have no answer because I don’t know what I have been doing for the past 80 years other than teaching different students, writing, reviewing books, working on research proposals, helping my postgraduate students and then my undergraduates, telling them that what they see in me has nothing to do with me, that it’s just the grace of God in my life. So, it’s not the age, it’s just a grace to get that top level. I advise them never to take failure as the answer to their problem. That failure is just a moment of reflection like you see a mountain, you can’t go over it, you go by the side, like the water, you go by the side and keep going again that that is what age is. I feel good within myself and I appreciate my colleagues who have chosen to mark the day with an unprecedented style in my life. I know that Pastor Adeboye and the wife, Pastor Folu Adeboye, are happy that the man for whom they have been praying over the years and who has frequently seen the evidence of prayer has now attained the age of 80. There are others who have made contributions to my life that will celebrate with me.

While growing up, did you have any inkling that one day, you will turn 80?
Yes, I had the feeling within myself that I will grow to a very old age because I come from the family of many old people. My mother died just about four years ago at the age of 108 and my father died about 43 years ago at the age of 105. My father, at the age of 100, still produced children.
 
Did you say at the age of 100, your father still fathered a child?
Yes. My dad had children at old age. Overall he had twelve wives. The younger ones continued to have children for him at his incredibly old age. I believe that old age is in his gene and that with the grace of God, old age can come easily and effortlessly to his children.

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How many of you in all?
We are 42 in all. I am the 11th and we were taught to follow order. I can’t jump and take the place of the 10th. Once you are eleventh, you remain the 11th. So, we were taught the spirit of complete surrender ver early. Once you survive the child birth and early childhood you were not expected to die young unless there is an unforeseen accident of life. The dangerous years were the period between 0 and three years. That was when we lost very many people. My immediate junior sister is three years younger than myself but after my immediate junior sister, three people who followed her died. As a matter of fact, I am the second child of my mother. My brother died at the age of one. So, once you survived the teenage years you can then move on with your life. I also think the length of the age of my father has to do with a lot of exercise. My father’s farm in our town at Ipoti Ekiti is about 9 miles away from home. We all had to walk to this farm sometimes three times a week and you know this type of exercise is very healthy and helpful.

The quality of food is also important. When we started going to school, if you excelled, my father would give you additional pounded yam and fresh vegetables. We call it “efo odu”. Because of the fresh vegetables and the pounded yam, I said to myself, I will do so well in the class. My mother was the favourite of my father’s first wife, Mama Agba. She didn’t have any female child, so she adopted my mother as the daughter that she never had. So, as soon as we were born those of my mother’s siblings, we were adopted by Mama Agba and we thought that she was really our mother. It was not until I was 12 years old that I knew that Mama Agba was not my biological mother. And my junior sister who was then nine years old also didn’t know. We both got to know when our number 3 girl, was born in Omu-Aran in Kwara State where she was given the name Bamidele. They started calling my mother “Mama Aduke” because they now knew that she had a child of her own. We also believed that that Aduke was her first daughter. So, when my mother died four years ago, she was now thanking us all for coming to bury her mother! Because of my special status as the adopted son of Mama Agba, I was protected by the influence of the first woman in the family. I was very rascally and nobody could challenge me and my father could not do anything because the first wife was very powerful.

At some stage, my father decided that my brother, Joseph Omolewa, the son of that first wife who was now going to Ibadan on posting as a teacher should take one of us with him. The young man opted to take me along, again because of the mother. That was how at the age of 9, I travelled to Ibadan. Rather than being a help to my brother who took me, it was he who was responsible for feeding me, giving me my bath, taking me to the school and bringing me back home. So, instead of helping him, he was the one doing everything like a father to me. That is why I owed him so much for helping me to get off my feet in life.

You grew up in a polygamous setting and you had a good story about it. But now, it’s like a crime. Nowadays, we abhor polygamy, only for us to be talking of same-sex marriage and other vices. How would you look at both scenario?
Actually, what happened was that for my father, it was important that he became a polygamist because he had a big farm like about five miles by four miles; vast area and he had all sorts of crops — cocoa, oil palm, cotton and so on. So, he needed helping hands and he discovered that if he brought these people who didn’t share the ownership of the farm with him, they could be difficult members of his team. He therefore married the women, put some in charge of palm oil, others in charge of cocoa production, or cocoa marketing, and some in charge of cotton. My father became very wealthy and he was among the richest in my town. He had the transport service called Omolewa Transport Service, a Bedford lorry that plied Ipoti to Ibadan to Ikole and back. You also know once you are wealthy, people would want to associate with you, so, many people approached him and some donated women to him for marriage.

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Everything has changed in modern times, many of the reasons to marry many wives are no longer there, the setting for running a polygamous home has also changed. It is inconvenient now to have multiple wives.

Perhaps, I should add that I had Divine intervention in my life very early. By Divine providence I followed a friend of my father, Pastor S A Dare to live in Erunmu where I continued with my primary school. Later, Pastor Dare was posted to Ibadan. In the meantime, my brother Joseph had returned from his training and had been posted back to Ibadan. I had to go back and live with my brother. Things were not rosy at the time: we had garri in different forms of soaking, making eba and self- declared garri cake every day.

After my primary school education, I decided to look for job as a Messenger so that I could earn some money to eat better than what my brother could afford at the time. One day, I went to the Ministers’ Quarters in Iyanganku, Ibadan to the residence of the Minister of Education, Stephen Oluwole Awokoya. I had written an application along the lines we’re taught at school, “Dear sir, I beg to apply for the post of a messenger in your establishment. I promise you I will be loyal. Yours faithfully, Michael Omolewa.” I gave the letter to the secretary of the Minister whom I begged to give the letter urgently to the Minister. That time, if you wrote to a Minister, there would be a response in the post within three days. After the fourth day, when there was no response, I decided to go back to the Minister. On arrival at his residence, I told the Secretary that I wanted to meet the Minster. The secretary told me to go in and see him. When I knocked at the door, the Minister said, ‘Come in’, when the Minister saw me, he jumped up and wanted to escape through the back window because of my small stature as I was only three and half feet tall at the time. I was like a sigidi. In those days, political opponents used to send sigidi to one another to terminate the lives of the opponents. When I responded “Good morning sir”, the Minister was pleased because the sigidi does not talk. He relaxed and asked me who I was.

I told him that “My name is Michael Omolewa.  I wrote an application to you four days ago and I have since been expecting a reply. I decided to come and ask you what has happened to the letter sir.” The Minister started laughing and asked what I wrote in my letter. I said ‘I applied to be a messenger, sir ’.

He looked at me, and said, “I cannot employ you, I am the Minister of Education; I am not in charge of employment or recruitment. There is a Minister of Employment. I probably sent your letter to that person’. I then brought out my Primary School Leaving Certificate and told him that I had distinction in all my examination subjects. I added that I desperately need a job to survive. The Minister started laughing again and said, ‘my boy, see me on March 4 in my office and not at my residence’. I said ok sir and left. I started counting the days to March 4 and calculating my first salary, when I would be able to add ewedu to support my eba and hopefully also add fish or meat.

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On March 4, I woke up very early to walk to the secretariat in Agodi from Oke Bola. When I got to the secretariat, I was still rejoicing at the prospect of becoming a Messenger. When I knocked the door to the office of the Minister, the secretary said ‘who are you’?, I entered and said “I am Michael Omolewa sir, I have an appointment with the Minister of Education this morning.” He said ‘if you don’t go out of this office, I will throw you out of the window. He added ‘you this urchins, useless boys, you roam streets and offices instead of going to school’ but I kept explaining myself, and refusing to be intimidated. At that moment, the Minister walked in, he looked at both of us, went in without saying anything. The Secretary said that’s the Minister, I said I know. He then threatened to invite the security to come and throw me out. While he was still talking the Minister rang his bell, the secretary went in, then shortly after, he returned, and he asked me if I was Michael Omolewa. I said yes, sir. He then said please sit down. His countenance had changed and he was courteous. He offered me albums to look at, photographs and some newspapers. I was thinking of my job as messenger and my first salary.

A few minutes later, two white people came into the Minister’s office, and I was asked to come in. The Minister asked for my name again. He said ‘what did you tell me when you came to my residence?’ I said I came to tell him that I had applied for a job as a Messenger. Then one of the Europeans asked, what is your hope for the future, I told him that I wanted the position of a messenger and that as a messenger, I would work with diligence and later get promoted to become a Clerk and that hopefully I would become a Chief Clerk and would buy a BSA motorcycle, the type that my Pastor in the Church rode. I thought that was the best that could happen to anybody. They said I should leave the office and wait outside. I was happy that I had gotten the job and I planned to buy pounded yam for my brother.

They now invited me in and said I should follow a man. I was happy because I thought the man was taking me to where I would start work as a Messenger. The man passed Oke Bola where I lived, I was happy that my place of work would be close to my house but the man drove straight to Ibadan Grammar School. There, we met the School in festive mood because Bishop Akinyele, the man of God who founded the school in March 1913 was visiting. His in-law, then Reverend Alayande was the Principal. The driver gave a letter to Reverend Alayande who then called the Vice Principal, Mr Charles, a Sierra Leonian, and whispered something to him. Mr. Charles asked me to follow him. I followed and went to the classroom. He said you are going to do an exam right now and I said okay. I wrote the exam and he marked it and gave the score to the Principal. Then, the principal called me to join him in the office. He then telephoned Chief Awokoya, and said ‘Minister, we have set exam for the boy and he scored 100 percent’. The Minister told him to send me back to him. So, I went back to the Minister. I must confess that I thought that they would post me to the distant Ibadan Grammar School and I was protesting in my mind that I want the job very badly. When we returned to the office of the Minister, the secretary welcomed me very well and cheerfully. I was wondering about the magic touch given him by the Minister about me. When I met the Hon Minister, with the two Europeans with him, he said “Michael Omolewa, you will start school tomorrow at Ibadan Grammar School on the Western Nigeria Scholarship which will pay for your tuition and accommodation, and books and clothes and travel allowances.” I was speechless as I calculated all the payments and I discovered that they were going to be many times larger than the salary of a messenger. So, I went back home and told my brother that I am now a West Nigerian scholar.

The following day, I went to Ibadan Grammar School and started schooling. One of my teachers at the time was Uncle Bola Ige who taught us Latin and English. Bola Ige was the only teacher who didn’t cane us. So, we could come late to the class. Later in life, when Uncle Bola Ige became Governor of Oyo State, I was the Dean of my Faculty of Education in Ibadan. He wanted to introduce literacy to all citizens. He had gone to Cuba to learn how he could make everyone in Oyo State literate, to be able to read, write and do simple calculation. He however decided to postpone the projected launch to his second term in office, only to be voted out of office in a controversial election in 1983.

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By the end of the second term at School, I was among the best ten students in the class although I came so late to School. My class teacher, Mr. Kuti-George, also from Sierra Leone wrote in my report: “evidence of good scholarship.” I was elected Secretary of the Rainbow Boys Club in the School, a club of mostly poorer students who gathered together to challenge the Young Boys Club of which the late Wole Awolowo was a member. It was indeed at the home of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that I had a meal with three pieces of meat. I asked Wole if there had been a mistake in the kitchen: “There is a mistake here o, three pieces of meat for one person.” Wole responded that he could tell the mummy to add more pieces of meat if the three pieces were not enough. I screamed. I was thinking in myself that one piece of meat would be torn to shred for all of us in my home, I now have three big ones to myself alone. At Ibadan Grammar School, I forgot my origins and joined “The Jungle Boys club” of which I was the secretary. If any of the students were fighting, you have to look for me to report and I will tell you what time we will meet in the jungle. At the jungle, all the jungle boys will be watching while the two of you fight it out. The one who loses will now go inside the jungle, as far as Molete, buy palm-wine and Itele (cow leg) to give to us who have judged the fight. We would then drink the palm-wine and eat the itele as celebration. We would also play the Monopoly where I made sure that I had houses in Pall Mall and Wine before the ambition to buy some hotels at the Strand and Park Lane.

Later, my father decided to withdraw me from the School, saying that I needed to go to a School where there were challenges of life to be groomed and prepared for real living. That was how, with the help of my uncle Chief G.K. Dada, who was then a Member of Parliament, I ended up at Ekiti Parapo College, Ido-Ekiti. I got to the place no electricity, no water, the roads were bad.

What about the scholarship?
There is a saying that you are told that the Babalawo is burnt to ashes and you are asking for his beard. What was the first to go? The scholarship of course went with my exit from Ibadan Grammar School. I was then in form four. My father refused that it was my end and decided to pay for my form four in my new school. Someone told him in the new School that I wouldn’t stay in Ekiti Parapo College having experienced better environment in Ibadan Grammar School. But my father protested, saying that if I were not a bastard, I would stay. I stayed and passed all the papers that I offered at the West African School Certificate examination. After one year working at the Seventh Day Adventist Secondary Modern School at Ile -Ife, I decided to take the entrance exam to Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti where I was admitted for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) course.

While in Christ’s School, everything took a new shape, perhaps because I had learnt from my experience at Ibadan Grammar School. In Christ’s School, there was no place for showing off the wealth of your family. Everyone was in school uniform. The focus was on excellence in performance, in learning and character. There was no room for Jungle Boys Club or other aberrations in behaviour. If you were caught and put in prison or detention, you were treated like an outcast instead of being celebrated as a hero, challenging the existing authority. The majority of the teachers in Christ’s School were Christian missionaries and Europeans with the vision and mission to produce the best for the society and the world. The school is therefore just interested in your intellect and character. I faced my books and I had distinctions in my papers which made my admission to the University of Ibadan easy. I had a stint as a teacher in two secondary schools in Lagos while waiting for the admission to the University of Ibadan and I was able to save money for my admission in the unlikely event that I did not have a scholarship.

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When I came for the scholarship interview, the chairman of the panel was sleeping most of the time. He suddenly woke up and asked why I was not dressed in suit. I told him that I had no suit. He asked why I did not go to rent one. I told him that it was perhaps best for me to appear as I normally do instead of incurring some additional expenses to get a suit with the tie. He became hostile to me and accused me of arrogance because I had distinctions in my HSC result. The Chairman could not have his way with me because Chief Awokoya who had become the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education and the Chief Adviser on Education, insisted that merit and not the dress should apply in considering applicants for the Scholarship awards.

So, when the names of the successful scholarship students was published in the Daily Times, I was on the list. When that list appeared I began to think of all the savings that I had made. I was very grateful for the Federal Government Award which was at that time enormous. When the results of the first year examinations were released by the University of Ibadan, I was awarded the University Scholarship which was more prestigious than the Federal Government scholarship and also with more money.

At the end of first year, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor J F Ade Ajayi informed me that I had the best result in History. He added that I and Ifeoma Anosike who had the best result for the female students would proceed to the University of London on an exchange programme package between the University of London and the University of Ibadan. When the Dean of the Faculty asked me if would you like to go in spite of the cold in the UK, I was tempted to tell him that even if I would have to stay in the ice room I would go to the land of the King and Queen of England. Professor Ajayi said that the British Council would give me, on arrival, 25 pounds sterling for my warm clothing. That was how I found myself in January 1966 at the University of London, exposed to the teachings at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Economics and Political Science and Queen Mary College studying aspects of History.

At our final year examination, there was one question with which my colleagues were familiar because they were taught while we were away to the University of London. We were asked to describe the work of one historian, and the question was to be answered for three hours. This means that once you don’t understand it, you are done. My colleagues who were at home were familiar with the works of the African historians. I knew little of them and I chose to examine the work of one Georges Lefevbre, a French social historian. Lefevbre was opposed to the striuct focus on the study of the history of Kings and Queens and argued that the people who make things happen are not kings and queens, but they are ordinary people. I could not limit my answer to just one of item of his publications because I did not have enough evidence from one book. I therefore explored his books and articles that I had read when in London.

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When Dr. Remi Adeleye marked the paper, he found my interpretation of the question appropriate and he awarded me the best marks. That was how my marks shot up. I had the best result in the department and therefore the History departmental prize, I had also had the Sir James Robertson’s prize in the Faculty of Arts. This was all because I had no clue to the question or the understanding, thinking that I had made a mistake. Things were suddenly turned around for good. I began to see God as One who would turn around what would have been a mistake into an asset and a distinction to be celebrated. I felt so happy in His presence.

As a renowned educationist, would you say you are pleased with the level of education in Nigeria today?
No! Well, you see, things have evolved over the years, some, in the right direction, some in the more challenging direction. But look at the situation, for example, the 6-3-3-4. The whole idea at the time of the 1969 Curriculum Conference was to transform our British educational system into what they believed was then in practice in the United States. So, one aftermath of the Conference was the abolition of the HSC programme of two years and the design of the 6-3-3-4 education system. I believe that it was going to be problematic to scrap the HSC that was used to already fine tune and groom prospective university education materials. It was used to sift those who could benefit from the university education from those who could not. Once you abolished that system, you allowed everyone from the secondary school to want to aspire to be admitted to the university. That brought in many hundreds and thousands of young secondary school graduates who believed that nothing should prevent them from moving on to the next level of education, at the tertiary level.

You then have this large number of JAMB candidates sitting for the JAMB examination. The JAMB candidates who scored 289 at the first seating and who were denied admission because of the cut-off point of 290, would at the next seating have 269, and in the the following year, will have 200 because the candidate is already discouraged. In the end you have a pool of candidates faced with discouragement and frustration. That development one suffocates the system. In 2004, Prof Fabian Osuji , the Minister of Education at that time wanted to bring back the HSC and thus make sure only students who have been certified as university materials proceeded from the secondary school to the university. Thus, once you don’t come to the HSC, you know you are either going to the Polytechnic or the College of Education without waiting to come to the university. And you go to Polytechnic, you set up your business you are a better person than the one who goes to the university, taking the BSC and looking for a job. Before he could bring the papers forward for consideration, he was sadly removed from office and the vision died with his exit.

If you have your way now, would you re-introduce HSC?
Yes. I would re-introduce HSC not for all the schools. I will pick as it was done at that time. It was not every school that had the HSC. You could finish your school certificate here and go to the HSC designated areas where the very best of equipment and teachers were available. 

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In 2018, you served at a committee that recommended that government should declare emergency on education, what is your take in the government stance of not implementing that committee’s recommendation up till now?
The committee that I led at that time is called the Presidential Committee on Ministerial Strategic Plan. It was set up by the current Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu and what he wanted at that time was the strategy that would revive, revolutionize and refocus education programmes. He had brilliant ministerial strategy plans which are revised now and which were developed after wide consultation. The membership of the committee included the Presidents of all the Academies, (Academy of Science, Academy of Education and Academy of Letters), past Chairmen of the committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, and academics with proven records of excellence in performance. It was a high-powered team and the Minister was very happy with us. He was also very happy with our recommendations and he proposed that there would be a declaration of emergency on education during which time the nation would take a fresh look at the education sector. One of the recommendations at that time was also that there should be a Mass Education where the bulk of the population would be made functionally literate and encouraged to life throughout life. The recommendations were passed on to the Hon. Minister who set the Committee up. He was delighted that people would have access to Education and that the process would lead to mass enlightenment and greater understanding of issues and enhanced productivity by a literate citizenry.

What happened thereafter?
The Minister, in his address at the meeting with the President and members of the Federal Executive Council made his proposal known and urged the President of the need to consider the declaration of the emergency for the education sector and make more funds available to carry out the plans of action of the period. That’s where our knowledge of the development stopped because we are only an advisory and ad-hoc committee. What happened after that level is not known to us because I guess they would now have to take this to the Federal Executive Council, they will now have to get the consent of Mr President and perhaps reflect on the funding and other issues. There is no way that I can have have any information other than the one released by the chief executive of the Ministry after consultation with the President and perhaps the cabinet.

2018 till date, are you happy that you have not heard anything about that?
What has happened is that from 2018 to now, the country has continued to face the challenges arising from the poorer economic performance of the nation, the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis in the education sector caused by kidnapping of students in various states and other serious distractions.

UNESCO recommended that 26 per cent of the annual budget should be allocated to education in the developing countries and no state in Nigeria, even the Federal Government up till now has dedicated as low as 10 per cent to Education. What would you say to that?
What happens is that any nation that wants to develop will allocate, sometimes, as high as 60 per cent of the budget to Education because education empowers and that is why you find why the late Nkrumah dedicated almost 70 % of Ghanaian budget to education, that’s why you find Chief Obafemi Awolowo with his Universal Primary Education dedicated so much, that’s why you find Julius Nyerere of Tanzania dedicating so much. So, it’s a question of what is your own priority? If your priority is Education, you will look for the money, if your priority is defence, you will focus more on defence; if it’s on environment, you focus on the environment as so on. But the decision to determine area of focus is primarily a political process that is the exclusive preserve of the head of state as the Chief Executive who determines the way he or she wants to run the administration.

With the paltry amount allocated to education in Nigeria, can we say education is not the priority of this government?
Currently, education in Nigeria is facing the problems that seem to be replicated in every other areas of health, pandemic, security, Kidnapping, defence, change of guards and so on. So, education is at par with all of these. Now, our assumption at that time is that education could be used to raise the people up. It is still possible to revive the dreams in the Ministerial Strategic Plan, you never can tell. 

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Even in your area of adult education, how much of these have we embraced in Nigeria?
Well, what happens is that the current administration employed a professor of adult education, a very competent person, very professional, very experienced to handle the important unit of the education ministry. I have served on his committee and decisions have been taken on the language of instruction of the adult learners, the primers and method of facilitating learning. The out of school population and the street children have also been factored into the proposals which have been favourably consisidered by the Minister and his team. When Chief Awokoya was the Minister of Education of the Western region, he made sure that the primary education sector was given priority. You know about the universal Primary Education but you hardly know that the Chief also made sure that the adult education was not left behind. He argued that if the adult population is enlightened, such an act will strengthen the capacity of the adult to approach the young ones. Awokoya launched his “Awoerin”, a comic published for the pleasure of the adult learner who enjoyed the stories and adventures of some fascinating characters. We all pray that what we are facing at the moment will be transient, a passing phase, and that there will be a revival again when education will once more be appreciated and supported.

The incessant strike by the Nigerian universities, ASUU today, NASU tomorrow, and just recently, a whole session was lost, as an international educationalist, are you not concerned?
Of course I am naturally concerned because it’s not just the children that are suffering, it’s not their parents that are suffering, the image of the country is also at stake. And so, what is desirable is a swift, and amicable resolution of whatever conflict could lead to strike at any level of educational system in Nigeria. You know I am a member of ASUU and I have advised on some occasions on way forward. I know that there is no ASUU person that is happy to stay at home for all those years because there is a natural desire of the lecturer to see to the progression of the students. ASUU members are also parents who would not like the education of their children disrupted.

Everything that has to do with my students is of great concern to me. That’s the role of a teacher and no teacher ever would want to go on strike in a happy mood. No! It’s when there is a deadlock, that is when you talk of conflict resolution and so on.

But the impression of the people now is that ASUU seems not to have the interest of the students and the society at heart?
Is that possible? It is not possible for a teacher not to have the interest of his students at heart? I have been through the system, you see all those people I just mentioned to you now, these were all my teachers. They took my interest to heart and they made sure they pushed for it and nothing has changed in the setting.

What is the way out?
I think the way out is to have the mechanism that will ensure that before there is an explosion, that there is a process involving an amicable, speedy, resolution that would be based on dialogue, on negotiation, mutual trust, respect, confidence, sincerity and sensitivity; once you have these on the two sides, you can be rest assured that there will be peaceful resolution. Don’t forget that among the ASUU too, there are those that are parents among them; so, they are also concerned; don’t forget that among the ASUU, there are those who are stakeholders, whose income is affected by non-performance in the school setting.

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How do you feel that most countries don’t take seriously or value most certificates from Nigerian universities?
They do value the certificate. I just came back from abroad and I told you I examine for universities outside Nigeria and even outside Africa. You know, when a Nigerian graduate is given a Second Class Upper Division, a 2:1, he will make a first class wherever else he goes he is. So, the value of the certificate is there and not lost. 

The only issue is lack of predictability that once you are admitted to a degree programme lasting for a specified number of years, you don’t know when you will graduate. Once you are admitted for a three-year programme, you can stay for God knows when, Who and what is responsible for this predicament? T hat is what needs to be addressed. In my department of adult education at the University of Ibadan, we used to have the Trade Unions and Industrial Relations programme where we used to expose trade union members and other stakeholders to issues of conflict resolution and peace making. That was where we also explored theories about the sensitivity and the faithfulness of stakeholders. If you sign an agreement, you are bound to respect it. What happens if you sign an agreement and you refuse to respect it, what would you do?

After my primary school education, I decided to look for job as a Messenger so that I could earn some money to eat better than what my brother could afford at the time. One day, I went to the Ministers’ Quarters in Iyanganku, Ibadan to the residence of the Minister of Education, Stephen Oluwole Awokoya. I had written an application along the lines we’re taught at school, “Dear sir, I beg to apply for the post of a messenger in your establishment. I promise you I will be loyal. Yours faithfully, Michael Omolewa.” I gave the letter to the secretary of the Minister whom I begged to give the letter urgently to the Minister. That time, if you wrote to a Minister, there would be a response in the post within three days. After the fourth day, when there was no response, I decided to go back to the Minister. On arrival at his residence, I told the Secretary that I wanted to meet the Minster. The secretary told me to go in and see him. When I knocked at the door, the Minister said, ‘Come in’, when the Minister saw me, he jumped up and wanted to escape through the back window because of my small stature as I was only three and half feet tall at the time. I was like a sigidi. In those days, political opponents used to send sigidi to one another to terminate the lives of the opponents. When I responded “Good morning sir”, the Minister was pleased because the sigidi does not talk. He relaxed and asked me who I was.

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In this article:
Michael OmolewaUNESCO
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