As a young man, I had it rough, especially since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Program in 1985. After secondary school education, I could not go to a higher institution not because I did not do well in JAMB, but because of poverty. I became a full-time farmer and was fully engaged in farming between 1987 and 1993/94 academic sessions when I was admitted to the University of Ibadan. In between these years, I was a bus conductor in Lagos. Yes, Molue Conductor in Lagos. My brother, Pastor Adewale Oyeniyi is reading this and could testify to my stint as a Bus Conductor. We both were leaving with our niece, Monisola Owolabi, at Majidun Area of Ikorodu then. I bought the JAMB form and went to the University of Ibadan straight from Molue Conducting.
Studying was not so much of a problem for me, but joggling it with part-time teaching, hawking bits and pieces made studying a hell. I did a little of bunkering at Ogunmakin and Sapade, buying mostly wheat and PVC from trailer drivers and reselling them at Eagle Flour, Alata Mills, Isale-Oyo Plastic Industry, etc. If you are in doubt, my classmates at the University of Ibadan are all reading this. Ask them.
During those lengthy ASSU strikes, I leagued with Mr. Segun Bolarinwa – Atuka bi eru, ko ri enibaja mo, o fa ogiri mora – and started a laundry business in Oyo Town. Who was our first client? Mama Ibukun – our big sister. We laundered some of her dresses, packaged them, and walked around Owode, with the packaged clothes in hand. Any silly observer would think we were posing around with those clothes. No. We were advertising our craft. At the height of it all, we laundered Alhaji Mufutau Adebayo and his numerous friends’ dresses, we worked with the Nigerian Baptist Convention and some of the big men and women in Oyo Town.
The business stopped immediately the strikes were called off and while Segun left for the Obafemi Awolowo University, I went back to the University of Ibadan.
I was assisted in both my 300 level and 400 level by two brothers – names withheld for security reasons. The assistance was short-lived as we fell out after publishing Dr. Olatunji’s “Pendulum”. As it is the case with all big families, squabbles and avoidable mistakes ensured that my path would remain rocky.
I looked at graduation with hope, especially as it would be followed by NYSC, which would, at least, for one year, afford me the opportunity to earn a pittance. I was posted to Edo state and served in Benin City with Toyosi and Taiwo Olaniyan, my Paddy for Life.
After a brief sojourn at Ogbomoso, I relocated to Ibadan and got a job with Goshen, as Administrative Manager. I met Bernard Ijesunor Aigbe – my Kabiruuuuuuu – at Goshen. The position I occupied at Goshen was meant for a friend, Dr. Eberendu Chukwuneye Ngozi Eberendu – one of the most selfless human beings I have ever met. He let me have the job, noting that I had a family to care for. I did not complete the year before I fell out with my boss, Mrs. Marinho, for her lack of empathy.
I resigned without any job insight. From my allowance at the NYSC, I bought a 2-stroke pumping machine with which I set up a Car Wash in front of Expoyo, along Sango-UI road in Ibadan. Idowu Alade and Ariwoola Shefiq are witnesses. I combined this with my MA History program at the University of Ibadan. I was doing this, even when I became a Ph.D. student.
One evening, I washed a guy’s car – name withheld for security reasons and returned to my room at Awolowo Hall, University of Ibadan. I met the same guy whose car I just washed, at the Porter’s Lodge later that evening. He looked at me furtively, trying to remember where he had known me.
“You just left my Car Wash”. I said to him.
The porters on duty told him I was a Ph.D. student. The guy was shocked. He asked for my room number, and I gave him. He came later in the evening and told me how sad it was for him to realize that, even with my BA (Classics), MA (History), and Ph.D. (History) (in-view), I could be washing cars. He was concerned about my self-esteem, “doing that kind of job” not far from the university.
I laughed, saying: “Adebayo ma je’ un” (Adebayo (my son) Must Eat).
He asked if I could meet with his uncle, a certain professor of History, who needed a Research Assistant.
I was at Jadeas Trust the next morning and was interviewed by one old man with a terrible Ekiti accent. By the end of the interview, I got myself a position – Research Assistant to the emeritus professor of History, Professor J.F. Ade-Ajayi.
My salary was the same as any secondary school teacher then – just 14000 naira.
I returned to the Car Wash that weekend to gift the place to my most trusted worker – Ogun. He is still there at Expoyo. Go there and confirm, if you are in doubt.
I met one boy, Mr. Saheed Aderinto (now Professor Saheed Aderinto) at Jadeas Trust and we soon formed a partnership based on mutual interest in research. Most of my MA History classmates mocked me for taking up the job with Prof. Ade-Ajayi. They were concerned that whatever I wrote would be in the professor’s name and not mine.
Saheed, then a young, lively, and my most dedicated partner, turned everything into a joke – “Egbe Awa Ti A Go” (The Association of the Stupid Ones). We would laugh at ourselves over this. He would mock me, saying “Chairman Awa Ti A Go” – The Chairman of the Stupid Ones, while I would return the joke: “Sekitiri Awa Ti A Go” – Secretary of the Stupid Ones.
Within my first eight months, I was awarded a scholarship by Professor Ade-Ajayi to undertake my Ph.D. under his supervision. I was gifted his old laptop, a printer, and my salary was also bumped to N15000.
Saheed was beside himself that evening when I showed him the letter bearing those details.
“Baba mi, e ri pe Egbe wa yi daaa” – “My Senior, can you see that this our association is good?” He enthused in his characteristic Ibadan accent, as we gulped down bottles of 33 after a sumptuous bowl of Amala.
Professor Akinjide Osuntokun was with us for his sabbatical at Ibadan and taught us Historiography. He was impressed at my final examination script and announced that I had the best grade in the course. When we met again at Jadeas Trust, as he was Prof. JF Ade-Ajayi’s family friend, it was like a magnet and an iron. He took me under his wings, encouraging me to continue to focus on my study and develop myself while assisting the old professor with his research.
I joined Redeemer’s University as a pioneer staff at the Department of History and Strategic Studies. Professor Osuntokun was the Dean, College of Humanities. I was at the threshold of defending my Ph.D. then, so I was employed as a Lecturer Grade II.
Under Professor Osuntokun’s guidance, my colleagues and I designed the four-year BA History and International Relations program of the Department and secured NUC accreditation in a year that even the History Department at …… and …. in Southwest Nigeria were not accredited.
I left Redeemer’s in 2009 and joined Joseph Ayo Babalola University in 2010 where I singlehandedly designed the four-year BA History and International Relations program of the Department and later secured NUC accreditation.
Today, I read and heard graduates talking thrash about the “government not providing jobs”, “the system not conducive”, “past generations not doing this and that”, etc. as they shop for excuses for their failures.
Each time I read or hear anyone saying these, my heart bleeds for Nigeria.
I grew up in Oyo Town and had this very good friend, Rasaq Victor Olawuwo, while growing up. We cultivated the habit of reading. We had no mentors. We self-developed ourselves. There is no English author of old that you can name today that both of us would not tell you about their writings. We graduated from literature to philosophy, to religion and classics, science and technology.
We could not afford those books, so, we were constantly at the public libraries. Truth be told – I even stole some public library books while growing up. That is how much and how far we were ready to go in order to build up ourselves.
At L.A. Primary School, Bola in Oyo Town, I did ‘Biri-Sope” (only the deep can be called into the deep). I was a pupil then. At St Luke’s Idode, also in Oyo Town, I was a student and a farmer. At Durbar Grammar School, I had to travel 45 minutes every day to feed our chickens before going to school. I was, for many years, a farm laborer – alagbaro, and did all manners of work at the Eleekara Market.
When SAP did our family finances in going to the farm every day was not just to feed chickens, but also to make ‘lafun’. How do you think I smell on such days in school? If you think I am exaggerating, Prince Adeniyi Segilola and Mr. Bamidele Obaseki – my classmates at Durbar Grammar School, witnessed it all. They are also reading this and can controvert any of my claims.
Reading and hearing Nigerian youths write and speak with entitlement today breaks my heart. It is sad that Nigerians want to live under a capitalist and democratic economy but want a socialist economic system in the manner of a communist system on the sides. It is only in a communist state that government provides jobs. Not in a democracy. So, it is not the job of Nigerian government to provide you jobs. In fact, no one owes you anything. You owe it to yourself and, if you are not good at anything, blame yourself for your failure.
At both the Redeemer’s University and Joseph Ayo Babalola University, we placed advertisements on many occasions, looking for lecturers. At both institutions, we received lorry-loads of applications from an uncountable number of unemployable but certificated applicants.
While at Redeemer’s University, a young man who studied Computer Sciences at Olabisi Onabanjo University came to me to ask for assistance in fixing his computer. In addition to helping him in coupling a system from the scratch, I regularly attended to his other software needs. He read computer Science. He obtained a B. Sc. in Computer Science while all my degrees are in Humanities.
At the Redeemer University, I led a group of students to bid for a contract to provide the university with internet services through Wi-Fi. We were shortlisted and competed with five other companies from outside the university. We had a test run, each participant for one week when we provided Wi-Fi services across the RCCG Camp at Mowe. Despite the fact that we came out the best, we were not given the contract because we were not a registered company.
I cited these two cases to illustrate a few important points. One, there are a million and Nigerian youths who are multi-talented and great entrepreneurs. While at Redeemer’s, I met and dealt with many. I cultivated their friendships to date, not minding that they were my students. I don’t want to put them on the spot, otherwise, I would have reeled out their names. Two, among so many of them, are PA to the Vice-President of Nigeria today. You would never hear or read any entitlement-seeking piece from them.
On the flip side, there are millions of other Nigerian youths who would thrash-talk all day long. They have education, but no cognitive skills. They are the ones that consider selling peanuts by the roadside, bus-conducting, gatekeeping, etc. as beneath them.
I have bored you enough, let me end by noting the following:
Today, I am a professor of African History, but like an onion, if you peel the layers, here are what you would find: a bricklayer water-fetcher, a farmer, a bunkerer, a Molue conductor, a dry-cleaner, a car-washer, a GSM phone operator, and a Research Assistant.
Ask anyone who knows me, I relate with a bus conductor in the same way I relate with my fellow professors. I don’t even introduce myself as Dr. Oyeniyi. I respect cleaners, drivers, pepper sellers because I value what they do. I have great pride in what they do. I have done all those before and knew that there is dignity in labour.