The immediate past vice chancellor, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo and former deputy vice chancellor, Lagos State University (LASU), Dapo Asaju, is a professor of Christian Theology and Bishop, Theologian Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). He shares the story of his life with SEGUN KASALI.
How was your childhood like?
Growing up, for me, was very organised. I am an indigene of Iyara Ijumu in Kogi State. I am the third son of the late Oba Michael Asaju, who was the Oba of Iyara town and former president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). So, I was born into a journalist’s home and a very good Anglican Christian home.
I grew up to be a journalist myself in 1979 before I came to the university. Growing up was very good. The family was based on love, discipline and good upbringing. We had the best of education. Our education was very complete. So, it was good. It was a disciplined family and we are very well-bonded. We grew up as a united family such that the Asaju family is a royal family and we maintain the royalty everywhere. I did not remember any problem we encountered while growing up. I always remember our parents as being very disciplined.
Yes. They were very strict. My grandfather was an oba in the 1940s and 50s. He was a man known for great discipline and that was passed on to us – discipline in moral uprightness, and having leadership skills. The word ‘Asaju’ is actually inherited – meaning the leader of warfare or anything daring and very constructive. And that has been with us all the time. The discipline was so much that my father had vehicles but he never took us to school with the car for one day (laughs).
We had to trek many kilometers to and fro everyday like the children of the poor. While I was going to secondary school in Okene, which was about 200km to Ilorin and there were no telephones in those days unlike now, my father would simply put me and my brother in the New Nigerian newspaper’s vehicle, asking the driver to drop us at the school gate. These were students just resuming at a place they had never been before and for five years, he never visited one day until we finished, got accredited and came with our results.
So, we were trained to be very, very independent. That is the reason we cope with any situation and that is why I describe my life as that of simplicity. We were brought up to be very respectful, never to be unnecessarily agitating or ambitious. We had our morning prayers every day and we always woke up at 4.30am every day. It was a place of prayer, discipline, uprightness and contentment. We were not rich but we were not poor and never lacked anything in life. My father was broad-minded.
Broad-minded in what sense?
Broad-minded in the sense of being accommodating, such that relatives were always coming to stay with us. On the average, there was hardly a time we had fewer than 20 people living in our house.
There was no comfortability then…
It was not comfortable. Nobody could distinguish between those who were my siblings and those who were not. All of us lived together. We all slept in the corridor, slept in the sitting room and we woke up the next morning, packed our mattresses and life continued. All these helped me later in life because those who lived in my father’s house were people of all sorts. People came from our town because there were some my father wanted to send to school while some were plumbers, carpenters, electricians, welders and all sort of artisans. And sometimes, we went to meet them at their workplaces. As such, I learnt virtually all trades.
So, when I became the vice chancellor of Ajayi Crowther University and I had to engage in construction, I knew about plumbing, electrical installation and all other trades. I picked them up from interacting with those who lived in my father’s house. It was a life of everybody being our brother and sister. The former Nigerian military leader, Tunde Idiagbon, was brought up by my father. He lived in my father’s house. It was from my father’s house he went to join the Army. So, that tells you the kind of discipline we received. Tunde Idiagbon sold newspapers for my father. He was my father’s vendor. And when he eventually became the number two man in the Army, he invited my father (laughs).
How would you describe Idiagbon when he was with your father?
He was very respectful. He was very disciplined. He was ambitious also and that was why he had to leave being a vendor to join the Nigerian Army. God favoured him and he made a success of it. He was the backbone to Buhari when he was head of state. That shows his background and he picked part of it from my father. That is what we picked from our father too. Be honest wherever you are. Don’t touch what does not belong to you. You don’t join them to do fraud. Be daring enough to stand alone for principles when others are compromising. Even as an Anglican Bishop, if I am caught up somewhere, I would come down from my car and walk or join okada. I must not go late to any ceremony. That is the kind of life my father lived.
And you’ve never gone astray from these principles?
The Bible says “teach your children the way to go and when they grow, they will not depart from it.” You don’t leave your foundation. This is the foundation on which I was brought up and that is what I have used to bring up my children. I have three children and four grandchildren. So, it is the same principle – godliness, contentment, humility and dedication to the work of God. Wherever we are, we are God’s ambassadors. We are not there because of our own intelligence. We are there to shine the light of God’s principles.
Have your children successfully imbibed these principles?
Yes. I have a wife who is a clergyman’s daughter – the late Venerable Theophilus Olumakaiye. So, her father was also very strict. So, when you have the combination of me and my wife, the children too must be disciplined. We allow our children to be very honest and principled. They don’t join the multitude to be corrupt and God has blessed us. Our eldest daughter, Grace, is a medical doctor and she is married to a medical doctor. They are now in England. My second daughter is a lawyer and I have a son who is also a very disciplined young man.
Your daughters must be chaste when they got married as a result of the principles infused into them?
Yes, they were. My wife and I were strict in that area and they kept to our instructions until they got married. And that should be the ideal thing for every parent and their daughters. It is not true that all the children nowadays must compromise. No. It depends on the fear of God you infuse into them and the way you bring them up. They don’t go to parties. They don’t go to all these unnecessary social events. They are more in church and they are more into being godly. And that is the principle we have given them. They have a strong foundation. Even when we are not there, the fear of God placed in their heart guides them.
What is your advice to young girls about remaining chaste until marriage?
I would encourage them to be conservative. They should not go the way of immorality. They should allow the fear of God to grow in their hearts. They should allow God to choose for them. Don’t join the popular statement “If you can’t beat them, you join them” or the bandwagon effect. No. The world is becoming corrupt. The Western influence is not helpful. Internet is not helpful. It can be very seductive. I would want to encourage them to keep their bodies. They should get closer to God. They should be morally upright. They should have the courage and tenacity to stand their ground. They should follow the way of the Lord. They should allow their parental background to tell on their lives.
Was life rosy when you met your wife?
Life was not rosy for me before I met my wife. I was a young man still struggling. I was completing my National Youth Service Corps scheme when I met her. She had other people that proposed to her. But, out of love, she decided to go with me and whatever we are today, we all struggled together to become. We had nothing except hope and love when we met. So, we grew up together as a family. We got married in 1989 and even when we got married, things were still very difficult.
My salary at that time was just about N400 per month. So, you can imagine. And with that, I still sent her to school for her master’s degree at the University of Ibadan and from there, she decided to read Law. So, she is a lawyer and librarian. It is always good for couples to struggle together. In that way, you can tell your own story. It is not that someone has made it and that is why the lady is attracted. No. People should marry out of love.
She was still lovable when you became a taxi driver as a result of job loss?
Of course, yes. She was the one who encouraged me. I got home and said ‘How are we going to survive now?’ She said ‘well, you are the head of the family. So, you have to provide for the family.’ She said ‘And what do you have in your hand is what the Bible says.’ And I said, ‘my car.’ So, I had to use my car as kabukabu. At that time, it was N1 per drop from Egbeda to Isheri to Iyana-Ipaja. All those roads were not tarred at that time. So, I was driving kabukabu for almost one year as a senior lecturer in the university. The lesson is, you as a father of the house must provide for your family. Don’t say because you have a certificate you cannot do this or that. No. You should be able to do things honourably to put food on the table for your family.
Not everybody will look for white-collar jobs to survive. There are jobs if you have your eyes opened and be humble enough to do it. So, I had to do the kabukabu until I got my job back. When I was feeling reluctant, she sat in front of the car collecting money on my behalf. Then, later on when I got my confidence, I said ‘okay, since you are sitting here, I am short by one passenger’ and from there, I had the courage to do it.
I would go and struggle and still be on television and be in the newspapers as the ASUU chairman. I was very popular. In the night time, I would drive kabukabu. Early in the morning at about 5.0 O’clock, I would drive. Once it was 7am, I would close and start Aluta. Of course, I did not want people to see me then. What happened then was that I joined this university in 1984 and I became ASUU chairman in 1988. And I was very tough. I led most of the struggles against [General Ibrahim] Babangida.
Attahiru Jega was the national president of ASUU but he was in Kano while I was the one here being the capital of the country at that time. There were a lot of struggles we carried out at that time – welfare of the staff and so on. So, because the university was not happy with us, they terminated our appointment out of victimization. We got the job back later during the time of Governor Michael Otedola.
What was the crux of the matter then?
There were many issues. In our own time, it was about defending the welfare of the people. The salary was very poor and I was part of the people who struggled for the improvement of the salary structure of the university system. I contributed substantially. In fact, the current salary the university system is getting and copied by other tertiary institutions, I was part of those who formulated it. Four of us were chosen by ASUU to draft a new structure – myself representing ASUU in the country; Professor Ogban Inyang from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Dr. Segun Osoba of University of Ife at that time and a professor from Ahmadu Bello University.
We formulated the salary structure that everyone is enjoying today. It is the struggle to make welfare better for everyone. A professor was earning N1480 per annum. It was terrible. So, when you hear some people in the Senate earning millions for doing nothing, I shake my head. Up till today, professors are not well paid. Hardly do you have a professor earning about N500,000. And these people are getting millions doing nothing and sleeping in the chambers. So, that is why. It is just about welfare. I walked into Dodan Barracks to meet General Ibrahim Babangida to challenge him. I was even the one who brought him to reconcile with ASUU. That was the time Professor Aliu Fafunwa was the Minister of Education. So, I was very progressive. It was not just fighting, fighting and fighting.
Were there threats to your life amidst the struggles?
Yes, there were. State Security Service (SSS) officers were after me. For 21 days, I was sleeping in my car. We went through these struggles then. I was rascally for the union.
You must have inherited activism from your dad?
Of course, yes. It was because my father was the president, Nigeria Union of Journalists. He was the one who galvanized NUJ all over this country in the 1970s. I travelled all over this country with him in his car. So, unionism was in me. He confronted the military government in his time and he was the first chairman of NUJ in Kwara State. So, I inherited it.
So when did the breakthrough come?
There was no breakthrough. I only got my job back and then, when I continued to grow in academics, I got promoted and became a professor in 2004. So, there was no breakthrough. I was just earning my normal income. As it is now, I am back to my normal office and still earning my normal income. I live by my normal income. I don’t have special savings, special income or anything. So, there is no breakthrough. I have been here for 36 years. So, if I am where I am, that is a long period to get to where I am. There is no special breakthrough. We only live by the day and we are satisfied. I won’t say because I am the vice chancellor, therefore, I should embezzle money. No. I am very contented and live a very simple life.
What are the legacies you left behind at Ajayi Crowther University as the VC?
When I got there, discipline was restored. Spirituality which was down was restored. We brought up children with the fear of God. We had outstanding results in their thousands, cleared all the backlogs of results. We did make-up examinations for those who failed some courses so they could graduate. We graduated everyone that got qualified. The academic standard was high. As of the last time I presided, I had over 51 First Class graduates. Physical buildings constructed by the vice chancellor were more than 100. I established eight new faculties with various departments, including Faculty of Engineering, Environmental Studies and others. They were all accredited during my time and they cost over N500 million and I didn’t collect a dime from the school.
I did not collect any subvention either from the government or the church that owns it. I ran the university without subventions from the owners. Yet, I never owed salaries. My staff salary every month was N72 million and they were paid as and when due. Promotion went on for those who deserved it. We started a radio station and this happened to be the first in Oyo town. I started three new campuses at Awe, Ogbomoso and Oshoogun. I also started postgraduate programme up to Ph.D level.
These achievements must have given you unquantifiable joy…
Yes, but most importantly just serving God and being on the field ministering to people; seeing those who are in trouble getting out of it, including seeing those who are deprived of getting justice. Anywhere they put me, there must be development. No matter the position I occupy and no matter how economically bad the situation may be, I will turn it around. I don’t have anything to give back except the knowledge I have. I am a Bishop of the Anglican Church. I am called Bishop Theologian. I supervise all the theological colleges of the Anglican Church all over the country. My duty is to ensure that they produce the right people. In this place, I have produced over 27 Ph.D holders as they were all supervised by me. So, I am giving back. I don’t have money to give back but I have ideas.
You seem not be an outgoing person.
I don’t socialise. I stay at home. I spend my in the church, at home and in the class. Unless there is someone celebrating a wedding, yes, we can go there. That is all. I am a very disciplined person. For example, I am a vegetarian. The last time I ate meat was in 1979. I live a vegetarian lifestyle. I can’t even go to someone’s house and be entertained. I won’t eat meat, I won’t eat chicken. So, what do you want to entertain me with? We should be homely people. Not going out for parties here and there.
How do you relax?
I read books. I listen to Christian music. That is all. There is no relaxation.
Any indelible memory?
I have overcome a lot of challenges. For instance, I was poisoned when I was the vice chancellor by people who were not happy about the changes I was carrying out. I didn’t allow them to misbehave. They poisoned me and I had two major operations at UCH, Ibadan. There was a time I narrowly escaped being shot at Iyana Iba by armed robbers. So, I have encountered a lot of things too. So, I have come face to face with death quite a number of times.
None. My life is automated. God runs my life for me. God has taken me to the peak as the Bishop of the Anglican Church. As a professor, that is a peak. As a vice chancellor, that is a peak. And I am just going to be 59 on November 16.
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