I WANT TO APPEAR IN COURT AS A LAWYER EVEN IF ONLY FOR A DAY-PA ADEGUNJU, 74-YEAR-OLD LAW STUDENT
At the recent matriculation of 5,000 undergraduate students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, 74-year-old Colonel Olayiwola Aderemi Adegunju (rtd) was the cynosure of all eyes. The joy of the septuagenarian, an indigene of Ire-nla near Erunmu in Egbeda Local Government Area of Oyo State, was infectious as he danced among other students.
Overjoyed Pa Adegunju declared his enrolment to study law as a fulfillment of the dream of many years. In this interview that took place in his residence at Ile-Ife, Osun State, the retired military officer talks about his longstanding ambition to study law and projects into the future. Excerpts…
Could you tell us about yourself and your family background?
First, I am a retired colonel and an indigene of Ire-nla near Erunmu in Egbeda Local Government in Ibadan, Oyo State. I married my wife in 1962. We are from the same village and she was my primary school mate. I married her before I travelled with her to Britain in early 1962. I had my first child in England in 1965. We had three other children, all boys.
We had a girl, but she died at the age of nine years and six months. I was already in the army by then. The boys are doing fine, by the grace of God. One is in United Kingdom and is an architect. He attended Ahmadu Bello University for his first degree and masters and then got another masters degree in construction management, overseas. The second is also an architect; he did his first degree at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), and then his masters degree in OAU. The third read Economics at the University of Ilorin and did a post-graduate Diploma in Business Administration at Ambrose Alli University. He is now in Canada.
Could you recall the highlights of your career in the army?
I started my primary education at Seventh Day Adventist Primary School, Erunmu. I finished there in 1963 then got into UC College, Ikeji-Ile, for my secondary education in 1965 and finished in 1968. I am a proud product of Tai-Solarin College of Education. After that I worked with Ibadan City Council and taught at IBC Primary School and NDA Modern School in Erunmu before I left for the United Kingdom in 1962, and was there till 1971.
What took you to UK?
Well, in those days it was the common desire of every young person to seek further education in Britain. When I was in the UK, I searched for work and it was difficult to get work in those days, but I later enrolled at North Western Polytechnic in London for my Advanced levels, which I completed in 1964. I passed Economics, British Constitution and General Principles of English Law. Thereafter, I enrolled for the professional examination for the Institute of Chattered Secretaries and Administrators in 1965.
I completed the final examination in 1968 and worked briefly in some factories as a labourer and eventually took up employment with a temporal permanent building society - what we call mortgage bank in Nigeria. They were very friendly with me because the first black man they employed - a Ghanaian - behaved very well. So, when I saw the advert in the newspaper, I applied and because of the good conduct of the other African, they immediately took me in and I was there till 1971 when I came back to Nigeria. While there I made many friends and they used call me Ade because they could not pronounce my surname and that was why they shortened it as Ade. I also took a course in electronics. I was in the Portsmouth branch, which is located on the south coast of Britain where I had a wide experience before I came back to Nigeria in 1971.
When you got to Nigeria, what else did you engage in?
Well, first of all I took up a teaching appointment with Olubushe Memorial College at Ife, a secondary commercial school. While I was there, an army advert came out, inviting people to apply for direct short service commission and I applied. I was lucky to be one of the successful candidates in May 1972. I was commissioned as a full lieutenant.
What motivated you to go into the Army?
I got the motivation while in Britain. The Ghanaian friend enlisted and joined the Territorial Army as part time profession for people in service. When you go in, you are trained for two months at a time in a year and you go back to your employment. If there is any need or an emergency, then you can be called up, so it's the same here in Nigeria when you are in reserve, it's only when there is an emergency or war somewhere and the country needs you that you are called up. So, I got the inspiration from my Ghanaian friend and so I said immediately I got back home I would see whether the army would be prepared to take me. I am very grateful to God that I was recruited. We were 20 in number, but all of us were professionals.
How did your parents feel, especially your mother when you joined the army?
I have to confess, I didn't have the courage to tell her because, if I had told her, probably she might have collapsed for fear that her 'little' boy would be going into the army and won't come back because that was the belief of most parents then. So, I went behind their knowledge. I was about 52-years-old in the army before I confessed to her that this is what I was doing.
When did your career in the Army start and how were you retired?
My career in the army started as far back as May 1972 when I was recruited alongside 20 other colleagues of mine. After the initial training, I was posted to the finance unit of the army. I was posted first to the army records office in Apapa, where I stayed for one or two years before they moved us out. So, my first posting outside Lagos was to 2nd Division in Ibadan and my army number was N2512. Colonel Ade Adebunmi, Colonel Ogun and Brigadier General Luck, who is now based in Jos, were among the officers recruited with me. My sojourn in the military ended in December 1990 when I was Director of Army Finance for 3rd Amoured Division in Jos. I was told that my services were no longer required, but the authority did not disclose why they retired me, probably because of my age or rank, but I know I didn't commit any offence, neither was I a coup plotter. I was then 65 years old when I was retired in the army.
What did you venture into after retirement?
I opened a small office at the University of Ibadan and ran it until the management of the university required the office for something else, although they were magnanimous to relocate us somewhere else, but the building had not been completed.
When you were in the Army, were you privileged to partake in any coup?
No! No! No! Sometimes I wake up and want to go to work, then friends and relations would tell me I should not go out, that something was happening. So, I would just stay in my house and be listening to the radio as the events unfold. But, luckily, I was there for 19 years and I came back as fit as one can expect somebody of my age to be. I am on pension and I am very grateful to the Federal Government because when we retired, things were very bad. The pension was very poor, but we have to thank the military authorities for improving our pension substantially.
So, what brought you back to the campus after so many years in the Army?
I missed several opportunities to return to school, but I know God's time is always the best. Since I never left reading at any point in time, I had been very eager to fulfill a life ambition. I have always dreamt of becoming a lawyer in the nearest future and that was why I studied English law in my O' Levels in 1964.
If you had the opportunity, would you have chosen law in place of army?
No! They are two different things! In the military, we have the Directorate of Legal Services, where you have qualified lawyers. So, my choosing to be a lawyer has nothing to do with the military career. They are two different things!
But, if you had to choose one, would it have been law or the Army?
I would first of all choose law because it is when you are somebody in life that the army recognizes you. If you join the army with a primary six certificate, the future would not be too bright, but if you go to the university or polytechnic in whatever discipline, then your chances are very bright.
Could you describe your years in the military?
Waoh! Very eventful! I never crossed River Niger before I joined the army, but I am very glad the army gave me the opportunity to know my country better. I have been to every part of this country and it was the opportunity given me by the army that made me know my country.
At what point did you decide to go back to school?
Right from when I left the army. I retired 22 years ago, but at that time there was no money to do such thing. Remember I told you earlier that the government had been very magnanimous to improve the military pensions, including you civilians. So, what they did for you, they did for us and we are very grateful to the government. So, you can't go to school unless you are comfortable a little, at least, because you need books and few other things to make life comfortable for you as a student. It was last year I scaled through when I picked a Direct Entry form to OAU. I should have been here since 1978, but I couldn't do it because I was in service and the situation was such that I couldn't just leave my job.
But you never thought of going to school then?
I thought of going to school then, but it was too late and I left it too late for the three-year programme then at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
Why did you prefer OAU, then and now?
Ife is about culture! Ife is a great place throughout the world! Ife gives you knowledge and the culture. You see, when I visited my third son in Canada in 2009, they admired the Ife logo that I took there. The first time I tried to get into Ife, I didn't make it, but I never gave up at all because I knew there would be another opportunity as long as I am alive. So, I tried UNILAG and I got admission to study law, but I couldn't go, again because of finance.
I also tried the evening programme for law again in 1985/86, I passed the Part-1 and was promoted to Part-2, but by the time I was to pay my tuition fee it had gone up from N5,000 to N25,000. For someone whose pension was N24,000 per month, definitely I couldn't pay the fees, so I had to drop the ambition. At the third time, after leaving service in 1991, I wrote to the university that I wanted to come back. Magnanimously, the university re-admitted me, but I still couldn't pay the tuition fee. Somehow, I had the conviction it was not the end, because my children were in school then at the same time and they had priority over any other considerations. I felt that I had to slow down things with the belief that eventually I would have another chance. So, I am glad to have gotten the opportunity this year to enroll at OAU to study law.
How did your family, especially your wife, react to your admission?
They are aware of what I was doing, but they have the anxiety that maybe it would be very inconvenient for me to come and share a room accommodating about four or five students, who are my grandchildren, so to say, when I am comfortable in my house. So, that is their only anxiety and also about my feeding, but all these are minor problems because the university has a cafeteria, which is very unique in the sense that I have eaten there on several occasions and it's alright for me.
What has been the effect on your age going to class for lectures?
That doesn't happen in law because all the departments are within the same building, and even if I have to go to some other faculties, the okada is there or I use my car. I can even trek.
Personally, how do you feel being in class, do you sometimes feel ashamed of yourself being in the midst of your grandchildren in class?
No! When I was serving in 2 Division, our General Officer Commanding (GOC) was a Brigadier-General born in 1972. Meanwhile, I was born in 1938, so you can see the age gap, yet it's not the age that matters. You give honour to whom honour is due. I am older than the Vice-Chancellor, but he is still the head of government of OAU as of now. So, the question of age does not arise. If you see the enthusiasm they showed on the matriculation day - all of them rallied round me with happiness and took photographs with me. So, the question of age disparity doesn't come in at all. They have received me so well and are always ready to assist me where necessary. This also goes for lecturers; I am older than the lecturers, but I respect them for who they are because they are going to impart knowledge to me and I know I am going to gain from them. They would be contributory to whatever I would become in the future, so I respect them.
With your age, do you think you will be able to cope for four years in the school and another one year in law school?
Yes! I am very fit. It's an exercise and driving also is an exercise. We are trained not to live an idle life because when you are not idle, you will go out and exercise yourself. So, apart from illness, and I am grateful to God to have good health, but it's also due to what I gained in the military. I love doing continuous exercise and I'm a member of the army officers club in Ibadan; I play table tennis. I exercise myself regularly.
At the end of your sojourn in law school, what do you intend to do?
Even if it is for one day, I will go to court with my seniors (laughs). I will join a firm of established solicitors and lawyers that would give me the experience. I will be one of them.
At your age, one would expect you should just sit down at home and enjoy yourself because your children are standing firm and high in the society. Do you really need what you are doing at the moment?
I need it because there is no age barrier in learning. The day you stop learning, you are a dead man; so I don't want to be a dead man. If you get to my room, it's just like a library, by 4 O'clock every morning, I listen to BBC and the Voice of America, then I start to read books on economics, politics, international affairs, general affairs and so on and so forth. I keep myself busy and if you keep yourself busy and you don't just sit down and do nothing, the tendency is that you will have good health.
What is your advice to the young ones, and even adults?
If at my age I can still do this, there is nothing preventing the younger generation from even doing more. I read in the paper sometime that some students writing JAMB exams were hiding answer sheets in their clothes. There is no reason why they should not pick up their books and read to pass exams. It's sheer laziness. So, if a person of my age can still continue to read, there is nothing preventing the younger generation to follow suit. What I am doing is an inspiration to the younger generation.
As a retired army officer, what can you say about the army now?
There has been a lot of changes and improvements. People used to look at the army as a pack of illiterates, which is not correct, because the army educates soldiers. You have plenty of army officers with doctorate degrees in various disciplines. So, things have changed unlike in those days when it was only those people who could not find their fate elsewhere that joined the army, that is not the situation now. If you read the papers, they were advertising for direct short service commission, short service combatant, if you look at the qualifications they were asking for to be able to get in - there were various professions like medicine, architecture, civil engineering, survey and so on. You must have, at least, passed through a university or polytechnic or a higher national diploma.
What's your advice to the Federal Government on the issue of security challenges in the country?
Luckily, we have a president who understands the society. When you have plenty of uneducated people, they don't have any feeling for their country because you ask them to take up arms and kill other people and they oblige because of their low level of intelligence and exposure. And that is what the present government is trying to correct by educating the Almajiri people.
Illiteracy is the basic cause of all these problems. As we all know, the government is trying to correct the mistake of the past as they are building schools for the Almajiri and making them to become useful citizens of our country. Somebody you have rejected and considered hopeless doesn't care to destroy his country because he thinks he doesn't lose anything by destroying it, like what is happening in Afghanistan and Somalia. So, if the government continues like this, I am sure in the shortest possible time we shall get rid of all these problems.
The army is training and sending soldiers on courses both within the country and outside, and the army also has all sorts of schools like the Army School of Education at Ilorin and some other schools in engineering, nursing, just to educate soldiers. From my own point of view, the government is doing its best. The military as whole (army, navy, airforce) are doing their best to surmount security challenges in the country.