Olu Isaac Adenipekun is the immediate past Head, National Office of West African Examinations Council (WAEC), Nigeria. He shares his story with TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE.
You are retiring as head of WAEC, Nigeria Office. How did you get to the top?
I grew up just as every other village boy in my home town, Ere Ijesa in Osun State where I had my primary education at St Stephen’s school. I started as an informal student because I was underage, and my father taught me Yoruba alphabets and how to read Yoruba Bible, though he didn’t go beyond Standard 2. That made me better in class than my peers when I started primary school in the real sense of it and I was really interested in going to school. I mean the interest had been in me from tender age through my father, though he died before I finished primary school. But his death was like the end had come to my education.
My father was a farmer and a plank seller, but he loved education and promised to send me to school. My mother also loved and still loves education, but she just couldn’t combine sponsoring me with family upkeep as I have four siblings. The two older children died in infancy. So, as a first surviving child, I kept reminding my mother of my father’s promise to send me to school , but, to her, where would she get the money? Because of that, I stayed one year at home and later went to modern school, but only spent two terms. And each day I did remind my mother of my ambition to go to secondary and not modern school. One day, she sat me down and asked me to promise I would not be a rascal and not have red ink in my report sheets.
Why such thoughts about your person at that age?
I didn’t know. But I was closer to my father than to my mum. I was always with my father and whenever he travelled out of town, I would cry until he returned. He would tell us all kinds of story about life and farming and all that. So, when my mother eventually gave in to my wish in 1972 to go to secondary school, she asked me to meet her elder sister in Ilesa and tell her the same story and that whatever she told me she would do. That was how I obtained entrance examination form and the only school available by that time was Ijebu-Ijesha Grammar School. I submitted my form the next day to beat deadline and I passed very well. After then, I went to University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to study Political Science and also did my Master’s degree.
What was your job-seeking experience like?
I will start with my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exprience. I left OAU in June 1983 and was posted to Ilorin, Kwara State for my NYSC. I served in Government House and it was a beautiful experience. I was attached to the office of the Press Secretary to the Governor and so, working with the Press Secretary in Government House (and not Office) was a great experience I really enjoyed.
While there, I developed interest in going into journalism. Because I found myself writing on issues in news format and, at times, was asked to bring reports to NTA in Lagos for airing. And the second day or that same day, the reports would be aired on TV. It was a big deal and exposure for me, a young graduate. That was how my interest gradually increased towards journalism. But when I finished the youth service in July or August 1984, I didn’t get job until January 1985. So, in the interim, I was doing part-time teaching and I did that for about five months before I got full employment, first with the Lagos State government as a classroom teacher. I stayed for only three months when I got another teaching job, now with Oyo State Central School Board also as a classroom teacher. I compared the two and I dropped Lagos for Oyo State to enable me to have time for my Master’s programme at OAU. I actually planned to work in a media house and Concord Newspapers specifically or in the Federal Ministry of External Affairs. Those were two areas I aimed but none worked out and I embraced teaching.
Your journey into WAEC
I joined WAEC in 1989 which was two years after my M.SC programme and I spent 30 years and five months. I was a teacher when I got the offer. My intention was to leave teaching job, but not for WAEC. I had got married at that time. So, I took WAEC job as temporary one, pending when my employment with the External Affairs Ministry would click. I just loved to work there.
My journey into WAEC was interesting. The organisation advertised vacancies in a newspaper and I applied and was invited to Lagos for an aptitude test. I made sure I did well in the test and I went back to Osogbo to continue with my job. I was expecting to receive letter for oral interview but none came. But a colleague of mine who also did the test told me he had received his own invitation letter for oral interview. I asked him whether he knew somebody in WAEC, but he said he didn’t. I asked him repeatedly if somebody helped him and he insisted no one did. I then concluded that if he could be invited, I must have also been invited. I asked him how he got his letter, he said he put his address in care of his brother in Lagos. So, on the date of the interview, I decided to go with him from Osogbo to Lagos. I just had the confidence that I must have also been invited. That was how we both came. Now in WAEC office with no invitation letter in my hand and many people at the gate and it was raining heavily, I was confused. Later, I summoned courage to tell the security man that I came for interview and he asked of my name and I told him, ‘I’m Olu Adenipekun,’ he said ‘oh, where have you been since. We have been calling your name.’ That was how he allowed me in to where other applicants were seated. I came prepared with all my credentials and jacket and tie. That was how I did the interview. It didn’t get to my turn until around 9:00 or 9.30pm. But after the interview, they took those of us from outside Lagos and who could not go back, they took us to a hotel to sleep and also provided a vehicle to bring us back to WAEC the following morning. That gesture was very strange to me. And yet, they paid us transport allowance to and fro our destinations. I was surprised that an organisation could do that. We then dispersed and from that moment, something kept telling me that if the organisation employed me, it would be a good place to work as I kept wondering about the treatment they gave us even as job seekers.
So, I kept waiting to hear from them, but no message for the first three weeks and same thing for my friend from Osogbo. I then suggested to him that we should come to Lagos to find out the latest. But we asked ourselves how to go about it when in Lagos. It occurred to my friend that he had a brother in Lagos and that we could first come to him to explain our mission, but with no letter of invitation, we were not sure if we would be allowed into the premises. As God would have it, the man knew a member of staff in WAEC, one Mr Fagbemi, who was from Osogbo and asked us to mention his name at the gate. We went, but the security man asked if the man was expecting us and we said no, but that we were part of those who were interviewed a few weeks back. That was how the security man led us to the man’s office and we introduced ourselves and explained our mission.
The man then asked us if that was truly why we came from Osogbo and we said yes. He then excused himself and went to find out. After about five minutes or so, he came back and the first thing he said was ‘congratulations, you are now part of us.’ He was happy and livelir and began to ask us questions. He told us that our letters of employment were not ready, that it must be signed by the Registrar in Accra, Ghana. He said we could come back in a week that our letters must have been ready. That was how I became staff member of WAEC.
Then, you stayed this long?
Truly, I had no plan to work in WAEC for so long but temporarily till I would get a better offer, especially with the Foreign Affairs Ministry. WAEC employed me as a subject officer in charge of Government and before long, I started making recommendations regarding the way Government questions should be structured that students would have to think deeply and not just tell stories and these recommendations were being taken. Even at that, I still had the urge to leave WAEC for another organisation, but for obvious reasons, I didn’t go there. Why, because when I was to collect my letter of employment, I was told to come to the headquarters in Abuja with N500 to collect the letter. N500 was a huge amount of money that time. So, I went back to my office and something told me that I didn’t want to value the job at hand because I didn’t lobby or bribe anybody to secure it or to collect the employment letter. That ended that story. And even at that, I was aiming the External Affairs ministry, but it didn’t work out. That was how I started finding WAEC job interesting. I was moved from one office to another and gradually, I found myself attending council and management meetings and also became the secretary to the management at weekly meetings.
That assignment really exposed me to WAEC operations, because at a very close range, you see power at work. You see how decisions were being made; how people’s future and destinies were being determined by just only a few people and all that. I was in that position for five years and doubled as an Alternative Personal Assistant to the Head of National Office then.
So, after normal working hours when other members of staff had gone home, I would relocate to the corridors of power to perform other duties for the HNO. Don’t forget, I was not the Personal Assistant, but alternative personal assistant and we would work till late hours.
So, the opportunity of moving from one department and from one town to another was like moving from one organisation to another. Each transfer came with new experience and mostly when one is in charge outside the headquarters. It got to a point when I asked myself the need to look for work elsewhere when I was not sacked and the pay packet wasn’t bad. I then told myself to settle down in WAEC and made a career. That was after spending 10 to 12 years. But something told me that if actually I wanted to make a career in WAEC, I must upgrade myself by having some qualifications that would connect me to the primary duties of the organisation. Then, I registered for higher degree in Public Administration with specialization in management of educational institutions at the Lagos State University, Ojo and graduated in 2011\2012. By that time, I had been promoted Assistant Registrar and I said it was now that I really connected academically to WAEC. I have B.Sc. in Political Science, master’s in International Relations and another master’s, in Public Administration.
Then it means you were aiming the HNO position?
Not at all initially. HNO is not an office for one to be aspiring to just like that. WAEC is a very big institution and so also is HNO.
The office must be political then?
It is not political and I would explain why. HNO is by interview and appointment. And if you look at the setting, we were many as senior officers and the office is for only one person at a time. So, I didn’t aim the office, but even at that, I was doing my work dutifully. I also used to take my transfer regardless of where in good faith. It even got to a time some colleagues were linking my transfer to offence and punishment. But I knew I didn’t commit any offence and my transfer was not for any punishment, but for a purpose. And even if it was punishment, I knew God would make it a fertile ground for me to shine. That was how it had been all along. But one thing is that I always provided leadership that inspired my subordinates.
Now back to the HNO issue, the first time I applied for the position was in 2011 when I was transferred from Uyo to Kaduna as a coordinator. In 2012, Dr Iyi Uwadiae was appointed as the Registrar to the council and he was to go to WAEC headquarters in Ghana and so, there was a vacancy advertisement for new HNO and I applied. Among five of us who applied, I was the most junior. I was a deputy registrar. I could remember that one or two of my friends called me aside to ask if I didn’t know that a particular person also applied and I told them I knew. They asked me to withdraw my application, but I told them it wasn’t a crime for me to apply since I was qualified. So I was not surprised that I wasn’t appointed. That was my first attempt and that action created an awareness sort of in the organisation. So, in 2015 and even before the seat became vacant, people had already started talking to me to apply again and I did and I was given the job.
What are your memories?
There are many memorable events on the job. The day I collected my letter of employment was one. The day I picked the question paper that I administered and saw it contained the questions I selected myself among several others for that year was another one. I put the questions before myself and started answering them. I felt if I could determine the questions that more than one million candidates would sit for, it then means I must have to take my job more seriously. I interpreted it to mean that whatever I do or don’t do right would have great effects on so many people out there without them knowing who must have carried out those actions. Another memorable event was the day I was appointed as the HNO in 2015 and people began to congratulate me. That is the highest office as far as WAEC is concerned in Nigeria. It didn’t come cheap and I give God the glory.
Those were some positive memories. Now on the low side. There are many of them. When you send people out to places like Maiduguri, Calabar, Yobe, Kaduna and even Ekiti and all that and you are the one that approved who to go, that approval means that you would take responsibility for them. And look at WAEC covering every corner of the country. Even when there was no security threat in the country like it is today, people had to travel at nights without minding the risk involved. So, you continued to pray for their safety. You also ensured you put your telephone close to you because they may need your intervention and all that on the road. And that happens at times. But to now hear that your colleagues who travelled couldn’t be reached after sometimes on phone and to later discover that they had been murdered is traumatic. I am talking about three of our members of staff who were murdered by Boko Haram between Maiduguri and Yola some years back. It was a very sad and traumatic experience that can never be forgotten.
How then does WAEC conduct exams in the North East?
Honestly, it has not been easy in that region, but WAEC enjoys the support and cooperation of government from federal to local levels and that of the security agencies. Government deploys vehicles for WAEC’s use, relocate students if need be and provide security escorts for our officials during exams and all that. But all these at attendant cost.
About your family. How did you meet your wife and what was the attraction?
Oh, my wife, I call her ‘Iyawo.’ Christiana Aduke, daughter of Pastor and Mrs Odebunmi. We happen to come from the same town, Ere-Ijesha. Though, she didn’t grow up there, I did. She was born in Osogbo, currently the capital of Osun State and she had part of her education there and another part in Omu-Aran. But we could not deny the fact that we had known ourselves one way or the other as youngsters growing up. But I think we finished secondary school about the same time and we were friends without any intention to marry. But as we grew up, our paths crossed again after secondary education and we started exchanging letters to greet each other and all that. But by the time I was in UNIFE (now OAU) Ile-Ife, she had finished from college of health technology and came to Ile-Ife to work. One day, we ran into each other at the Faculty of Health Sciences on campus. That was how we started a new friendship and by that time, we had already known our right hand from the left. And by the time I finished from Ife, we already had the feeling that we would get married. And when it was necessary for her to leave Ile-Ife for Enugu for higher studies, we had the understanding that God being on our sides, we would become husband and wife. And we started relating on that basis till we got married.
Was that all it required to marry a pastor’s daughters then?
It wasn’t. The relationship started around 1993 and her father who was in Ado-Ekiti insisted that I must come to see him. We agreed on a date and I went to meet him. Her father, of course, knew my father and mother. And that period, I was keeping a long beard because I belonged to the Marxism school. And immediately her father saw me, he said ‘Pele, Oni rugbon’ (welcome, the bearded man). We then started talking. Of course, he was also excited, but separately, he made a request from me. He said though it was good that I wanted to marry his daughter, she was his first daughter and being a pastor in Christ Apostolic Church, I must be prepared for a white wedding. He said that meant there should be no issue of sexual intercourse between us let alone pregnancy before marriage. He said once I could keep to that request, I was free to marry his daughter. But he warned me not to promise what I wouldn’t be able to fulfill.
What then came to your mind?
I digested what he said immediately and I thanked him. I remembered right there what my mother had told me when I was in secondary school and I started going to night party. She said I should know one thing for sure that if any girl came to tell her that I impregnated her, she would accept the pregnancy, but she would not be taking care of a pregnant lady and taking care of me, including schooling at the same time. That meant I automatically put a full stop to my education by myself. I promised my mother that nothing of such would happen and by the grace of God and determination, I kept to the promise.
So, back to my father-in-law to be, I promised him nothing of such would happen. After all, I kept myself through secondary school and now that I almost graduated from the university, that shouldn’t be a problem. And by the grace of God, God kept me, till after our wedding.
Sorry, are you now saying your wife is the first woman you ever met intimately?
That is a big and very serious question you asked me. But the answer is yes. You know I had told you that my mother always warned me against such and I kept to it. So, good moral training was there. I knew I must not make any silly mistake. Even in my undergraduate days at UNIFE, I didn’t overstep the bounds. I knew my mother was very serious with the warning and might probably be happy if I made that mistake because she would not bother to struggle to pay any school fees again. My mother is still alive today and I appreciate her for the training.
How about advances from ladies or peer influence?
I must say this clearly that keeping myself from such act doesn’t mean I totally set myself apart from friends and others, including female friends or that I wasn’t a bit rascally. I related with people without crossing the lines. That was it.
What about your children?
They are three boys and are all doing fine. The youngest is a qualified lawyer and practising in Lagos, the middle one is a medical doctor based in the UK, while I appealed to their brother not to stay abroad but to come back home to float his own company with the understanding that I will give him support as necessary.
Farming would have been appropriate but for the insecurity in the country. I have farm as inheritance from my father and the one I had while growing up, but the insecurity issue is a big challenge. It is not everybody that can be lucky as Pa Olu Falae, who was attacked sometime ago in his farm and lives to tell the story. So, I will be running a foundation, preferably in Osogbo, Osun State. The focus will be to provide support for the senior citizens in need and also for students who are pursuing doctoral degree programmes and in need of support for thesis and related matters.
What kind of support for senior citizens?
I have observed that many elders do not have necessary support to make them lively and still contribute to the society. This is not about the indigent alone. The cosmopolitan nature of our society where children scatter all over the place have made many to neglect their aged parents in a way. So, the support could come in various forms. Some may need constant foods or accommodation while the need of some may be medicare or to live in an environment that will give them some level of comfort and all that. Some may only need small amount of money that will come regularly to keep themselves. For the PhD students, the foundation will support them. I have friends who can also support my projects and they may not even do so in my name but theirs. The project will make me to be very engaging while I will also play much of golf.
YOU SHOULD NOT MISS THESE HEADLINES FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
CBN Pegs Exchange Rate At 386/$
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has pegged naira exchange rate at 386 units to the United States dollar as it plans to resume weekly forex sales to Bureau de Change operators from August 31. In a circular signed by O.S. Nnaji, director of trade and exchange department, the apex bank said its decision to resume FX sales to BDCs is to enhance accessibility to forex “particularly to travellers” since the resumption date for international…
Council Of State Pardons Ex-Gov Ambrose Alli, Three Others
The Council of State has ratified the presidential pardon extended to late former Bendel State Governor, Prof. Ambrose Alli and three others. The meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja on Thursday also ratified the pardon granted to Col Moses Effiong, Major E.J Olarenwaju and…
Blasphemy: I Will Not Hesitate To Sign Death Warrant If Yahya Sharif Fails To Appeal, Says Ganduje
Kano State governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, has said he would not hesitate to sign the death warrant passed on Kano-based singer, Yahya Aminu Sharif if he fails to appeal the judgment. This was just as governor Ganduje said the state government has accepted the judgement passed on Sharif and is ready to abide by it. However, the Nigerian constitution gives the right of appeal to Shariff…
Southern Kaduna Crisis: We Won’t Sweep Issues Under Carpet ― Osinbajo
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has assured that the Federal Government will not sweep the major issues underlying the conflict in Southern Kaduna under the carpet so as to effectively deal with the situation. Speaking, on Thursday, at the ongoing Nigeria Bar Association Annual General Conference during a Special Conversation, he identified the major issues to include “ensuring justice, fixing economic marginalisation and the…
Details Emerge Of How Akinwumi Adesina Got 100% Votes For Second Term As AfDB President
Dr Akinwumi Adesina was on Thursday unanimously endorsed by all the 81-member countries of African Development Bank (AfDB) for another term of five years as the 55th annual meetings of the bank ended in Cote d’Ivoire. A globally-renowned development economist and a World Food Prize Laureate and Sunhak Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Adesina has distinguished himself in driving a bold agenda to reform the Bank and accelerate …