Mr. Adedoja Adewolu, 89, chairs the Board of Trustees of the University Teaching Hospital of Benin.in this interview Eye of EmmanuelEighty-somethings travel down memory lane

you Celebrated your 89th birthday on October 1st…

that’s right.

How do you think your birthday coincides with Nigerian Independence Day?

(laughs) Well, I’d say Nigeria is 62 and I’m 89. I want to thank God for this. Nigeria gained independence in 1960. I was already in the UK at that time. I was in London in 1960 and I was at St Albans Hall when the Nigerian flag was raised. I’m one of those from the western part of Nigeria who was sponsored by (late) chief Obafemi Awolowo for special training, so I’m happy. At the time I was a member of the UK Nigerian Student Union. So, I am happy to celebrate my birthday every year. The most important ones are the ones I celebrated between 2011 and 2019 because the then-governor of Ogun State happened to be my cousin. He made sure to bring three cakes to the Moshood Abiola stadium. One of the cakes is for Nigeria, the second is for Ogun State, and the third is for birthday celebrants on 1st October, I am one of them. It was an amazing experience. So, I am so excited to celebrate my birthday like Nigeria.

In those days, many people were unsure of their actual birth date due to poor record keeping and the level of civilization at the time. Some people use trading days and other parameters to estimate dates. How did you get to you and how certain are you about the date?

My dad was a very wealthy cocoa grower and he was lucky because he had delays so he had older sisters and older sisters than him. So, he is the one who sends his sister’s children to school. He assisted in sponsoring their education and they were the people of the record. For example, one of them, Pastor Ayodele Soleye, wrote down my date of birth and showed it to me. The births of all my father’s children and all of my father’s activities were recorded by him. So, at that time, they were exposed and educated. They went to Government College, Ibadan, King’s College Lagos and they were very creative. My father looked after them and helped fund their education. One of them, Adewale Odule, documents all my father’s activities at the time, even the land my father bought at the time. This is one thing I am grateful for.

For many others who were born at that time, their mothers only told them that they were born on a specific market day, but in my case we educated those who were able to record and I still have books that record it being recorded .

When Awolowo launched free education, a lot of people took advantage of it, and I can say that in Abeokuta we had the first educated woman, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who was also the first woman in Africa to drive. She is the wife of Ransom-Kuti, Principal of the Abeokuta Grammar School I attended (Oludotun, Israel). She is also the mother of the (deceased) Beko and Fela.

And Admoras who started his education. He (their patriarch) went to Cambridge and later became Nigeria’s first indigenous chief justice. So, at that time, we had people who had been studying abroad. Also, in Nigeria, the most educated people come from this part of the country (South West) – the first doctor, the first lawyer, etc. I also had the privilege of interacting with the first professor of medicine, Ogunlesi, who taught medicine in Ibadan, Oyo State and many other places.

What was the situation in the country at that time?

At that time, everything was great because there were three regions – the Northern Territory, the Eastern Territory and the Western Territory, each of which, of course, was governed by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of the Western Region is Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Prime Minister of the Eastern Region is Nnamdi Azikiwe; and Ahmadu Bello is the Prime Minister of the Northern Region. Each region has their account with the UK government and Awolowo has a lot of savings there for the west, which is cocoa export earnings. Peanuts come from the north; that’s where we have the peanut pyramid; and palm oil from the east. The thing is, each region has its own budget, but Awolowo was the best at the time. He introduced free education even before the country gained independence. The Western Regions had the first TV station; had the best stadium – Liberty Stadium, and had the tallest building in the whole of West Africa – Coco House in Ibadan.

When Nigeria gained independence and would have a federal government, it was pointed out that all funds from these regions would be pooled and given to the federal government so that the federal government could take control. We, the students from the West of England, were very surprised that we were told to prove that the Commonwealth Government should not combine all the accounts but keep separate accounts. That was the first time some of us went to 10 Downing Street, England (the Prime Minister’s residence) with placards, and that’s how each district was allowed to keep its accounts, keep its secretariat, and continue its education policy.

At that time, Awolowo sent people from all over the Western Regions to study different educational policies. Like many others, MKO Abiola was sponsored to study accounting. I was sponsored to study hospital administration and administration; today, I am happy to say that I have reached the pinnacle of my profession. Today, as you can see, I am Director of the Teaching Hospital of the University of Benin. I am a health administrator. I am in charge of mental health. I studied hospital management, specializing in mental health. I am happy to celebrate my birthday on October 1st every year.As you can see my family, friends and well-wishers are always advertising my birthday fist I’m happy about it because fist is the most widely read paper in Nigeria today.

What was your early life like?

My early life was very interesting. I happen to be from the village. My father was a cocoa farmer, of course he was rich. He has six wives and I was not one of his first five children, but by the grace of God I happen to be the principal today because I was lucky enough to start school in 1943. I went to the Baptist Day School in Abeokuta and from there I went to the famous Abeokuta Grammar School, the oldest secondary school in Nigeria and the only colonial-era school not run by imperialists School. You can’t compare it to Igbobi Grammar School and other schools. Of course, I am lucky that my classmates are famous people like the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late Beko Ransome-Kuti, the late Balogun of Egbaran, the late Chief Soetan, and of course Like Robert Clark, SAN, and Chief Adedapo Adewale Tejuosho, who was my senior prefect at Abeokuta Grammar School. We are fortunate to have the late Pastor IO Ransome-Kuti as our principal. He is a disciplined man. He founded the Nigerian Teachers’ Union. He is the father of the best health minister we have ever met in Nigeria – Olikoye Ransom-Kuti.

When I started primary school, my classmates were all Muslims – MKO Abiola, Debola Ajibola, etc. At Abeokuta Grammar School, Cutie was the headmaster. He has a policy on whether you are a Christian or not, as long as you are in the dorm, you have to go to morning prayer, six in the morning, for an hour. In the evenings, all boarders must also gather together to pray, we are taught Bible verses, and we memorize them.

My going to Abeokuta Grammar School changed my philosophy. By the grace of God, today I am a Christian and a member of the Full Gospel Merchants International. I am also happy for the woman I married.

How did you meet her?

When I was at Abeokuta Grammar School, she was at Holy Child College in Lagos, which was the best school for girls at the time. She went to England to study law, and today, she is a retired High Court judge. She was one of the judges appointed when Ogun State was established in 1976. We have six children – three boys and three girls, three of whom are lawyers today.

When we were young, myself, Dr. Dolapo Shoneye and (Olusegun) Obasanjo used to trek from Ifo to our village, we grew up together, and to this day Chief Obasanjo and I are still very close, just like my other friends. Even on the birthday I celebrated, Chief Dolapo Shoneye and Obasanjo came and we had Thanksgiving at my house. By the grace of God, next year I will be 90 and it will be done in the Presidential Library in Abeokuta.

Some children from polygamous households are usually affected as well and go down the polygamous path. What makes your case unique?

Well, the reason is that my father told us his history, he didn’t want to be polygamous, but after he got married, for the first ten years, he had no children. He married a second wife, but had no children. About 15 years later, the Ifa oracle told him that he had to leave Abeokuta and go to a village, and when he reached the village, that was his lucky time. The second wife happened to be my mother, and the wives were able to conceive and have children. After that, because he was a rich cocoa merchant, the money came, and he was a Muslim, they told him that he had to take four wives; so, he took more wives. I have other siblings and we are doing great. One of my brothers is a former lawyer.

Most of your classmates and friends are involved in politics. Do you have a reason not to get involved in politics?

The reason I didn’t get into politics was because my father didn’t think most politicians would walk the talk. Awolowo was a man of his word, my dad was very close to him and he supported him. I can’t get into politics because my father advised me not to. He prefers me to continue my career. I have someone in politics, but for me it’s a no, I thank God.

So, don’t you regret that decision now?

Not at all. I have no regrets about it. Some of my friends in politics are not so happy at the end of the day.

At 89 years old, you are the Chairman of the Board of Directors of UBTH, Benin, Edo State. A lot of people have already retired at your age. What keeps you going at this age?

God’s grace keeps me going, even as I speak to you, I was asked to come to Abuja for some assignments. We have 32 teaching hospitals, specialty hospitals and federal medical centers, and we have chairpersons for all of them and a chairpersons forum, which I’ve just been elected to chair for now. Our mission is to bring all teaching hospitals, specialist hospitals and federal medical centres up to standard and to encourage and advise the government to train doctors, pharmacists and medical specialists. I thank God that I can do my best, by the grace of God. This time last week, I was in Abuja at the International Convention Center, where the President presented some of the National Honorable Mentions. Three of my friends received national honors. It was a great show where the president stood for hours and shook hands with people.

Do you have memories of the Civil War?

Yes, I am not too happy about the Bifra war. I was in England at the time and we were all shocked when the war started. We were shocked by the plans and results of the war.

Looking back over the years, do you regret anything you did or didn’t do?

Do not. I thank God that he has always been good to me because I trust God so much and he has never let me down.



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