‘I want to be remembered as a great mother’
Winifred Adefolahan Awosika (OON), Founder/Chairman of Chrisland Schools Limited and Founder/Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Chrisland University, who turned 80 on Thursday, February 13, 1940, was born into the Oshuporu Chieftaincy Family of Owo, Ondo State. She gained admission into the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan) in 1962 and graduated in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Awosika later bagged a postgraduate Diploma in Education from the University of Lagos, after which she started her teaching career that later led to the establishment of Chrisland Schools. With an honorary doctorate degree in Management Technology, Awosika has invested heavily in the younger generation. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA and NGOZI EGENUKA, she shared her thoughts on contemporary Nigerian issues and the journey so far in life. Excerpts:
What do you really desire at 80?
I desire to spend my time in a quiet environment. I want to closer to God. I don’t mind writing some spiritual nourishment books to inspire others. We can learn a lot from nature and how God speaks to us in a still voice.
Chrisland has included a university into its group of schools. How has the journey been?
It has been the grace of God because when I started, it wasn’t easy. My husband, the late Dr. Victor Awosika, wasn’t initially supportive. He was the old-fashioned type that believed a woman’s place is in the home and the man is the breadwinner.
I was a housewife for years, and then I became bored with staying at home. I turned out to be irritable, angry and sometimes I beat my children and start crying because my kids were not troublesome. Then I had the inspiration to start a school in our boy’s quarters, so I begged my husband to let me.
Later when we moved to Opebi (in Ikeja, Lagos), my husband allocated a portion of the land for the school. Now, we have grown into a university.
What were the challenges you faced building this reputation for the university?
Asides from funds, another challenge would be government injunctions, rules, and regulations. Sometimes, we have to do things that may not be necessary. All the big expanse of land required is not needed. To build our university in Abeokuta, we were told to get 110 hectares of land, which most times gets encroached on.
How can the decay in the educational system be remedied?
I am very unhappy about it. People make so many mistakes. Sometimes I start to doubt myself. When I write to my 91-year-old sister, who stayed in Akure then, she would correct my English and send it back to me in Owo. I would write out the corrected letter at that level in the late 1940s to the early 1950s.
The standard of English now is very bad. How can graduates make some silly grammatical mistakes? It is not their fault; teachers are always on strike and when they call off strikes, they set up exams on things they didn’t teach the students, and they pass anybody they wish to pass, which is not right.
The solution is that we need to be closer to God. We need people who truly care. I can see signs that we are aiming at better things and we must get there.
How do you feel when you see Chrisland alumni?
We are just starting. One of them who bagged the First Class at Covenant University also bagged her Ph.D. at age 25. She got me a birthday card last year and she said: ‘Mama, we are coming to take over Chrisland.’ I told her I am ready to handover to them.
I am not doing it for money; let the legacy live on.
How did you come about the name Chrisland?
When I started the boy’s quarter crèche, which I wanted to turn into a nursery school, it was named ‘All Saints,’ but when I invited the Lagos State Ministry of Education to see my layout, one of the officials said there was an existing ‘All Saints School’ at Ikorodu.
When I came to see the land one day, I said to myself, ‘Opebi Onigbagbo,’ this land is Christian land. Abule Onigbagbo Opebi Village. Christian land, that was how I was able to coin the word Chrisland. When they say Christ land, I said Chrisland, meaning Christian Land.
Would you say teaching runs in the family?
Sometimes I am marvelled about it. My oldest sister was not that educated. My step and elder sister started school early. When they were flogged, my grandmother withdrew them from school. When my father returned from his journey and found out that his daughters were no longer in school, he was so angry. Anywhere he travelled to, he took the whole family along.
My middle sister attended a teacher’s training college and retired as headmistress of a school in Ibadan before she started her own group of schools in Ibadan.
Her eldest daughter also worked with me at Chrisland as a teacher. Her youngest daughter is a trained engineer and started a group of schools in Asaba and is married to a Delta man.
I don’t know why my family members went into teaching. Sometimes, I ask myself how it happened that we are all teachers in my mother’s lineage.
Over the years, what has life taught you?
Patience! Some things happen that you might not understand immediately, but it would become clear to you eventually.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him in school as a third-year student through a friend. Initially, I had a lot of excuses, because I didn’t want to have babies in school, he also needed to travel for his postgraduate.
It was a short courtship; he handled all the wedding processes. I had two suitors before then, one was very serious, but the other, who I liked more, was taking me for granted. So, I decided to pray and fast in deciding the choice to make and asked God to guide me. I would break the fast by 3.00 p.m and take my meal from the refectory to my room to eat.
So, when my friend came to tell me about Dr. Awosika, I knew that God had answered the prayers.
What do you think your late husband found irresistible about you to propose marriage?
I think he found me naïve because when he proposed, I asked him what I would tell my family and he said I should tell them that we had known each other for a while.
How would you describe your formative years?
There was discipline. Every morning, you wake up, you sweep the whole house, pack the dirt, take it to the dumpsite and take a bucket to fetch water. My father dug a concrete well outside the family house down the road, so we go there and fetch water before getting ready for school.
When you get to the school gate, the headmaster is waiting with his cane. If you come late, you will surely get canned. You dare not go late to school.
Imagine sweeping and fetching water every morning. When it was Harmattan season, the bathroom was an open place covered with bamboo, so you have to be timely to avoid being late. When it is raining, the headmaster is happy, because he can cane latecomers.
Was your father a strict man?
We were all afraid of him! If you don’t do what you are supposed to do at home and your mother says, ‘I will report to your father,’ you would be shaking in fear. You don’t want to be reported.
I cannot remember my father beating me, it is only my mother. If I go out to play and I return late, she would tell me my food is in the room. If I enter, she would lock the door and cane me well.
The eldest amongst us disciplined me the most. She was a teacher and retired not long ago.
Would you say you were trained as one would train a male child?
No! The girls had more discipline than boys. Discipline by parents on female children was different from that of the male. The female must fetch water and sweep the house, while the boys performed different roles. They didn’t have to fetch water like the girls. The boys would go out with my father.
My father was close to the Olowo of Owo then. Whenever he comes back from work, he would eat, rest and proceed to the palace. We only know at night when he is returning from the palace through the sound of the coral beads on his ankle and would run helter-skelter to our room. He didn’t really cane us, but we feared him.
During your early days, was there peaceful coexistence among the tribes and what do you think is the reason for the suspicion among Nigerians today?
The killings in the north, the kidnappings and all the ugly things happening in Nigeria are caused by its citizens. Before now, Nigerians have always had the Christians and the Muslims living together without issues.
I am from a home where there were Christians and Muslims staying together. Even though my father was a Christian, he had Muslim relatives and it didn’t stop their contributions while we said our prayers. They were equally asked to say prayers in family gatherings and there were no issues then.
Today, it is not the same, because brothers are killing themselves all in the name of religion.
Where do you think this disharmony is coming from?
We know, but we don’t want to admit it openly. Everybody is grumbling. It is a mixed grill; we cannot be specific about the cause.
We should examine our heart, individually. If we say the Muslims are oppressing the Christians, how many Christians are doing Christ’s bid? How sincere are we to the service of God and humanity?
How would you want to be remembered, asides being an educational icon?
I want to be remembered as a great mother.
If you were to ask for an 80th birthday gift, what would it be?
I appreciate whatever I would receive because nobody is self-sufficient, but I would rather anything done should be done for the university.
If you are given an opportunity to change something about yourself, what would that be?
I can be too frank. Maybe I would want to be a little wiser by keeping silent, but people have come to appreciate my candidness.