Dr. Ramon Adegoke Adedoyin is a renowned educationist and founder of many institutions, including Our Saviors University, Delware, United States of America; Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, Osun State; Unique Citizen University College, Ghana, and The Polytechnic, Ile-Ife. In the build-up to the appointment of a successor to the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, there were speculations in some quarters that Adedoyin would step into the shoes of the deceased monarch. Things, however, did not go the way many had speculated as the lot fell on the present Ooni, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi. For the first time since the appointment of the new Ooni, Adedoyin speaks on why the final selection did not go in his favour and his relationship with the late Ooni and the current one. WHAT prompted your deep interest in education as the founder of tertiary institutions like Oduduwa University, The Polytechnic and Our Savior’s University, among others?
I read education in the university. That could be one of the reasons I am into education. I have said it many times that while I was an undergraduate at the university, a professor in the university, the University of Ife then, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in the Department of Mathematics, identified me among the students and asked me, ‘Can you assist our children in Mathematics?’
It was the belief in those days that Mathematics was a difficult subject. Every parent was always desperate that they gave good education to their children and knew fully well that Mathematics was the basic subject. It was the basic science to become anything in life. I believe that if you are good in Arithmetic, Mathematics or whatever, the sky is your limit. I read Mathematics in the university and the professor told me to teach the children while I was still in Part 2. As I was doing this, the other professors saw this, because it was in one of the classrooms in the university, and they started bringing their children. This was precisely how a student became a teacher in the university.
Immediately I graduated from the university, I was no longer interested in doing any other business. So I established a remedial school, which I called Universal Tutorial College. How did I start? My mother had a beautiful house in those days. The only thing it could cost me was a single sign board. It was only when you got to the back of the house that you would see that all that was called a school were just some planks joined together. Because my mother gave out the rooms to tenants, definitely there was no way I could have turned the rooms into classrooms. As a matter of fact, she saw it as a child’s play. I started renovating this into a normal classroom. Each time a tenant left our house, I would turn the room into a class room. Before you knew it, I took over the whole house from my mother and so a good school started as the Universal Tutorial College.
In those days, so many people attended free school. There was the need to go to school after passing their school certificate, their GCE O level, but there were no schools as we have them now. They wanted to go to tertiary institutions.
Another thing came to my mind. I could still establish another school, but it was still Universal Tutorial College. There was no law for polytechnic or whatever. I now went to the University of Benin where they were offering diploma. I started offering diploma to these people. As God would have it again, the Federal Government promulgated a decree, Decree 9, in January 1993, on the establishment of private universities, private polytechnics and so on. I applied and changed the name of Universal Tutorial to Universal College of Technology. It later metamorphosed into The Polytechnic, Ife, which is what you are seeing today. If I am not making a mistake, it was the first private polytechnic in Nigeria. Later, the concept of the university came in, and by the special grace of God, I have what is called Oduduwa University today.
If anybody gets to Oduduwa University today, they will begin to wonder if it is a state-owned university or a federal-owned one. We keep expanding every day.
Establishing a university requires a lot of money. How have you managed to cope?
Like I said, my own case is exceptional, unlike nowadays when you see a motor dealer saying I want to go into school business. A contractor would say I want to go into school business. A politician who is in government makes a lot of money and decides he wants to establish a university. Which is also good. In my own case, I started from the scratch. The buildings were already there as tutorial centre, polytechnic and so on. It was just a kind of metamorphosis. I just graduated into the university system.
Apart from that, I have some other businesses that are doing well, and with the growth, we were able to finance the university.
You mentioned other businesses you used in kick starting your university. What are these other businesses?
Yes, I had other businesses. In those days when we used to run remedial school, it was just remedial school. Look at what is happening now. If you go to any corner, you will see a remedial school. But if you don’t diversify a bit, your base will suffer. Today, I can boast of other businesses which are mostly educational, like The Polytechnic Ife; Our Savior’s University in Delware, USA; Unique Citizen University College in Ghana; Oduduwa University; International Secondary School. I still believe that all the businesses I am doing are one business, because 95 per cent of them are educational.
The businesses you venture into are usually risky. What is it that that gives you the push each time you want to start?
I am an optimistic person. I always believe that whatever I do must succeed. Anytime I intend to invest in a thing, I don’t normally doubt. When we were to get our licence and Professor Julius Okogie was there, we went to him and he said, ‘You want to establish a university? It is only wasteful people that establish universities. You have started building, you have started buying things, you are not sure whether they will approve it, you have started spending your money.’
So I agree with you that it is a very risky business, because you invested so much and the government keeps telling you that it remains this or that. The process of accreditation is not a joke. Before you get a licence to operate a university, you have about 11 steps to take, and I’m sure that each step is not a joke. So if you look at the steps you have to take to get to the approval stage, if you look at it critically, you may say I don’t want to continue with this business. But if you are sure that this is what you want to do and you are determined, I think that success will come.
Was there a time you felt discouraged that the business of education is not worth the hassles?
There was a time at the polytechnic level when I had not got the accreditation, some students rioted, destroyed the school building, destroyed the school bus and burnt everything down. I was not happy. One iron bender came to me. He did a lot of work inside the school and he said, ‘Oga, I don’t think this thing can succeed again, I advise you to start another business.’
I looked very well. It was a sober reflection. And I said this guy is making sense. Later, something again came to my mind. I told myself that was what I would pursue. I pursued it and later got the programmes accredited. Look at it today.
As that happened, I used to have a hostel, that hostel was like 10 rooms. And I said if this polytechnic should fail, just as the guy suggested, let me try a hotel business. That was how Hilton Hotel came into existence. I turned the hostel of the school into a hotel because of the problem I had at that time. But again, look at Hilton Hotel, it is one of the biggest hotels in Ile-Ife. I am always optimistic in whatever I do that success will come and success has come.
About 70 per cent of your businesses are located in Ile-Ife. What could have been the reason?
When I got to Jarusalem, my wife took me to the place, we slept in one hotel there. Around 5 am, I heard ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.’ I told my wife that could not be Jerusalem but she said it was Jerusalem, Allahu Akbar in Jerusalem? When we started moving round, I listened to the way they talk about Jesus. The way we talk about Jesus here is deeper than the way they talk about Jesus. I think when you establish a business in your own town, if care is not taken, people who knew how you started, they will want to pull you down. That is why when people establish businesses in their town, such businesses hardly survive.
Apart from this, I believe that there is a certain force which I don’t think I understand myself. I have houses in Ghana, Lagos and the USA. When I travel and I tell myself that I’m going to spend three days in my Lagos house, before the second day, I would want to return to Ife. That force, I still don’t understand it up till now. I believe that there is a force that keeps bringing me to Ile-Ife and says keep on doing this. Honestly, by the time you pick seven Ife sons, you will be making a mistake if you don’t know one boy, Ramon Adegoke Adeoyin.
A professor, Professor Eyindero, once said, ‘Give me an Ife son, dead or alive, who has contributed immensely to the development of Ile Ife up to this moment.’ I cannot answer your question very well because I do not know myself. Because I don’t know the force that says sit down and keep doing it and I’m doing it and it is successful. You know that they say we have 401 deities in Ile-Ife, and there is no day in Ile-Ife that they don’t worship one god or the other. And people believe that there are many witches in Ile-Ife and that if you try anything in Ile-Ife, so and so will happen. We thank God we are here and instead of them attacking us, they are encouraging us.
Since you have done businesses and succeeded, why is it difficult for you to persuade other Ife people to establish businesses in Ife?
I have told you that my experience when I contested the position of Ooni of Ife has really made me to see that notion about Jerusalem and Jesuism. If you start business in your town where they know you well, they will likely pull you down instead of encouraging you. Each time we encourage people to come, they would want to come, but they will start thinking about other factors that could hinder them. We will keep encouraging them to start something in Ile-Ife. I’ve chatted with a number of them in the United States today to come and start something in Ife. I even encouraged one who has now settled down inside my university. How? He said he wants to start doing something in Ife just like I did. I said okay, what is your profession? He was a pilot in the United States, married to a white woman. He is now in Oduduwa University. Instead of continuing with his pilot job, he abandoned it. He came to this place and I asked him to start something inside Oduduwa University. He was able to set up something which he called Institute of Aviation, Oduduwa University, just like I encouraged him. When people like us were young in this business, attempt to get affiliations with big schools were frustrated. I just gave this thing to him on a platter of gold. If I had wanted to frustrate this my brother, I would have said go and bring $25,000 so that he can have affiliation with Oduduwa University.
Except for the faith-based universities, it is difficult for individuals to manage private varsities and succeed. How have you been coping?
People have said several times that the Federal Government should give money to private universities. Currently, they give money to state and federal universities. But with what happened many years ago when federal and state governments took over schools from their owners, even if you had invested all your life and the government gives you so and so money, then it is possible for them to take it over, even when you have spent your money. That will be different from when they say they invested their money into this. So, each time we talk about inviting government to give you money or whatever, I have a different concept on that. I feel that so many people have seen the importance of private universities and I begin to think that very, very soon, you will see that people will not go to government schools again.
It is happening at nursery and secondary levels. No reasonable person who is earning a good salary will send his child to a public school, except for what the governor of Osun is doing which I quite appreciate. Because if you see the type of buildings the man is constructing in Osun State, it is highly fantastic. Forget about politics and sentiments. The man has got 100 per cent on the building of schools. So if you look at the general attention to public schools and so on, riot and other problems, have you heard something about that in our school?
Every day, every time, the system is running. Before you know it, students have graduated.
What is your vision in the next 10 years?
If I tell you that I don’t go to the university, you will not believe. I just go to the university to sit down for two hours in a week. I also do that at the polytechnic. If you look at it critically, you will say two hours? How do you then manage the university two hours in a week? I think if you have done the system very well, the system will organise itself. You will see that everything will work out very well. When I go to the university, I just go there to attend to people and talk to them. At least, let them see my face. If not, there will be no need to be there. That is to tell you that everything about me is organised. That is to tell you that I have removed myself from the system. With the two hours, if I don’t go there at all, the school is going on by the special grace of God. I believe that what I have done, what God has made me to do, is for generations and generations to come. If I’m not there, I want the system to continue. I believe there is a system of doing it. That is why the place is running.
At a point, everybody thought you were going to emerge the Ooni of Ife when the race was on. And you said you had never failed in anything you put your hand on. At what point did you get it wrong?
If you look at Ile-Ife today, I still believe that a lot of people love and appreciate me. I still believe that the kingmakers in their inner mind will know that this is a material. I believe that the present Ooni knows that this is an Ife son, but you know that everything now is about politics. I’m not a politician. Honestly, I don’t pray to go into politics. I’m not a failure. I’m still relevant in Ile-Ife. What happened was the way God wanted it. Because if what you want is going to affect you, God may say, ‘Shift this way.’ I believe that what has happened was the way God wanted it. Man proposes, God disposes.
I’m happy and friendly with the present Ooni. We are from the same house. He sat beside me here. He is a peaceful person. The way some people wanted it was to allow commotion and violence, but I did not do it. When the Area Commander, the Assistant Commissioner of Police came to this place and said, ‘Chief Adedoyin, they said Ife is going to burn tomorrow, so many people will be killed and so many houses will be burnt. That is the message from Abuja. That there is a rich man in Ile-Ife. He has a university. He has security. He has guns.’ I don’t have a gun. I assured him that there would be no problem. When the people came to my house here, saying ‘we no go gree.’ I said you are not going to agree about what? I gave them what I could afford and told them to go.
Me, who you say you want to fight for, don’t fight for me. The second day, I called my wife and children and I I travelled out. You want to fight for someone that is not around? When everything had cooled down, I came back and congratulated the the Ooni of Ife. We are very close. We are always chatting. We were born here. We are succeeding here and the Almighty God is helping us in Ile-Ife. How can we imagine Ile-Ife burning? Ile-Ife will never burn, by the special grace of God, and we will continue to succeed in Ife, by the special grace of God.
You were very close to the late Ooni. What are your memories of him?
One thing that I’m going to miss is his disposition at things. There was a time a high-ranking civil servant needed my assistance. He wanted the late Ooni to give him a letter for an appointment. Since I was close to the late Ooni, the big man wanted me to help him get a reference from him. In my usual characteristic, I went to the Ooni. When the late Ooni wanted to do something for me, he would be restless until he did it. But whenever he was not disposed to doing something for me, rather than discuss my request, he would say something else.
On this our Oduduwa University, he handled it as if it was his own. He gave me 25 acres of land, and the land was his own personal land. I remember again that there was a problem with a piece of land at Parakin, Ile-Ife here. I gave N2 million to somebody for the land and the land became a controversy and I insisted that I would not allow those contending the land with me to take it over. They knew the person they could talk to in Ife that I would always listen to, so they went to the late Ooni.
When they got to him, he said, ‘Leave those people, leave the land, I have so many lands. I have land at Parakin, come and take the papers.’ Somebody who just gave me 25 hectares of land, I should go and take it again? Somebody who just gave me 25 hectares of land, if I’m not a foolish person, I think I should use my common sense not to take the land. I left the land. I don’t want to say the man loved me more than his son. He also created a town in the name of Dr. R.A. Adedoyin to be called Maye town. I have the letter surely signed by the chiefs. The man was God-sent for all the success that I have, and I believe that his contributions must have brought me to where I’m today.
Again, before he died, each time he was travelling, he would send a text, saying, ‘Take good care of our people. As you continue to do this, the Almighty God will continue to bless you.’ The last time he did that, I think it was the second day or the third day that he died. Prior to his death, he told the left chiefs and the right chiefs, ‘Do not make a mistake when I die. This is the man that will carry the luggage of Ile-Ife. Gbogbo Ife lowa nibi loni yi ooo. E ma se mistake o. Ti oju ba ye oju, ki ohun maye ohun o (the entire Ife people are here today. Do not make the a mistake). They are still alive except the Obalufe (one of the kingmakers) that is dead. All of them are still there.
There was a time I was chatting with Ooni Ogunwusi, he said the load was enormous. I told him that we will all carry it together. I reminded him of what Baba (the late Ooni) said. He is carrying the load. Look at what he is doing to that. All the 401 spiritual centres in Ife, he is remodelling them just so as to make Ife a place where we can invite people, just like we saw in Jerusalem where they took us to where Jesus was born. That will be good. What people should do now, because the luggage on his head is not a joke, is to support him so that he can succeed.
Was it the passion you have for Ife that made you think that even if you didn’t get the Ooni stool, life continues?
There was this kingmaker that called me. He said, ‘Adeoyin, be careful. We know you very well. You are the one that has the largest property in Ife. If you want Ife to burn, burn it and let’s see.’ Even if they had come to cane me inside my house because I want to become the Ooni of Ife, I would still say sorry to them. I will be the last person to fight. Some people invited me that these are the secrets of the present Ooni of Ife, let us go to court. I said this man is already the Ooni of Ife. We are from the same place. Even if I fight him and remove him as Ooni of Ife, can I still be the Ooni of Ife? Because it is going to go to another ruling house, so why am I fighting?
Apart from the fact that it was reasonable that I should not fight, because if you look at the largest investor in Ile-Ife, it is Dr Ramon Adegoke Adeoyin. I will never fight. Instead of that, if there are things I should tell him, I will tell him. He knows that I don’t need chieftaincy title. I’m not interested in becoming king. I don’t need money from him. He knows I’m not a politician. Whatever I tell him is the bitter truth. I know if he looks at it left and right, he will think twice before dismissing it. I know we can make Ife great and I will never be a party to destroying Ile-Ife.