Dr Mary Oluyemisi Oluwatoyin Aina, community development activist and academic, is the chairman of the Public Lecture and Conference Committee, Federal College of Education, Abeokuta and Director of Education, Western Nigeria Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church. She shares her life story with TUNDE ADELEKE.
The subject of sex-for-marks and allegations of sexual harassment is usually heard among male lecturers. Are women in the system free of the same allegation against male students?
To the best of my knowledge, this is uncommon in the Nigerian educational system. There is no female lecturer in my institution that has been accused of sexual harassment by any male student. Though I read about it and found that it is happening in other countries, Nigerian female teachers see themselves as in loco parentis of their students, male and female, as against female teachers in other countries, so it is not a common occurrence in Nigeria.
How do you cope with the challenges posed by cultism and other vices as a female lecturer in a tertiary institution?
My institution is relatively peaceful when it comes to the issue of cultism. Meanwhile, since we know that students do mingle and the innocent ones can get entangled in the web of social vices, they are always counselled during orientation conducted for fresh students. Personally, at the commencement of every new session or semester, I always make it a point of duty to enlighten my students on the implications of engaging in social vices such as cultism, examination malpractices, fraudulent practices and cybercrimes. I see myself as their mother by showing them love. It is my habit to pray with them before we start the semester.
Every stakeholder in education must know that we all have a lot at stake when our children are exposed to social vices which can eat them up, like cankerworms eating fabrics, at the peak of their careers.
I show keenness during classes and invite students to my office for probing, counselling and prayers. A stitch in time saves nine, if not many nowadays. It is a collective or corporate responsibility to nip anything that we observe to be out of place in the bud.
How was life growing up?
I was not born with a silver spoon and nothing I have achieved, by God’s grace, was on a silver platter. I can be described as a child of grace and destiny. I was born and nurtured by illiterate parents. My parents, Pa David Olajubaje Awe Abioye and Madam C. K. Awe of the famous Agbagiirisegun dynasty had a delay in having children and all efforts seemed abortive. My father got many vituperations, contemptuous and slanderous indictments from friends and relations due to his flirtation as he was trying to prove the prowess of his fertility. The highest and most painful troll was from his mother who loved her beloved son and would not like anything to inflict any pain on him. She was devastated by his choice of a ‘man’ as a wife when her handsome fashionista son had a retinue of ladies that he could have picked his wife from.
Eventually, Oluyemisi Oluwatoyin Kikelomo Abayomi was conceived but the sceptical mother and a few friends, especially my father’s suitors and/or concubines, thought my mother had a kind of disease that could not be diagnosed. My paternal grandmother continued to troll my father and kept on reminding him of marrying a ‘man’ and wasting the money he was to use for the purchase of roofing sheets like his mates.
How did your parents take all this?
My mother and father, not minding all the cynical remarks, resolved to conduct a pregnancy test. Thus, my mother’s first antenatal visit to the clinic then took some emotional toll and physical exhaustion on my father. My father narrated how he had to leave home and sit on a tree under a secretly-marked place for the village chiefs called ‘Mogun’, in front of our compound. There he sat, keeping watch and awaiting his wife’s arrival from the antenatal consultation. One could not imagine the level of his anxiety when my father spotted my mother. He sprang up and leapt like a hyena about to catch its prey. He drew my mother close to him and whispered in her ears, “What did they say it was?” My mother told him that it had been confirmed that it was pregnancy, not a disease. The mood changed and the countenances revealed excitement and relief. My birth was dramatic as my paternal grandmother openly pleaded for God’s forgiveness in the maternity ward after confirming that it was actually a child, not a disease.
What then was her reaction?
She rolled on the floor and rubbed her mouth on the ground as her punishment before God. I got many names as a result of the circumstances that surrounded my birth. I was named Oluyemisi by my father, Abayomi by my maternal uncle, Kikelomo by my mother’s auntie, Oluwatoyin by my mother’s aunt and Mary by my older cousin. I grew up with my two grandmothers but lived at Idasa with my beautiful maternal grandmother, Madam Abigail Ayeni.
On a fateful day, I met my uncle’s son-in-law pleading with my father that he would be glad to take me to Ado-Ekiti, a request my father objected to. I then hid somewhere eavesdropping on their discussion. I wished to go and thought I would have a better life. My father eventually obliged when he promised to ensure that I would be treated like his daughter and that nothing would affect my studies.
How did you feel about it?
My joy knew no bounds on the day I left home. I was in Primary 2 at that time, in 1967.
Did the man keep his promise?
It was another experience that could have thwarted my destiny, if not for the intervention of God. Back home, I was the apple of my father’s eyes and a precious daughter of my mother and grandmother. My father never flogged me at any time while I too would never engage in any vice. We understood each other and we related very well. Though it was a polygamous setting, he knew when and how to stylishly give me warm wrapped pounded yam and seasoned venison (bush meat) that he usually brought from the farm.
Interestingly, I never experienced missing school for a day because of school fees. He took delight and pride in paying in bulk the fees of the three terms once he sold his cocoa beans. He ensured I never lacked any resources related to education. I was always collecting books that Ilesanmi Publishers usually brought to my class teacher for sale as I had the confidence that my father would give me the money the next day.
Nevertheless, in Ado-Ekiti, it was another experience. For almost a session, I was not allowed to go to school; a child of seven or eight years took up the responsibility of a housemaid. I was the one to pick rice, sift and rinse it in preparation for cooking. I started selling rice to travellers and pupils in our canteen at the motor park, now known as Old Garage.
Surprisingly, out of my father’s youthful exuberance and the urge to see his daughter, he and one of his friends arrived at our shop on a motorcycle which both of them rode from home. He was shocked to see me selling rice when I should be in school.
What was his reaction?
He became devastated when he learnt I had not been enrolled in a school. It took the intervention of the people around to plead with him not to take me back that day and a promise to enroll me the next day. Though I started school the next day, I failed the class because the session was almost gone before I joined. One of the things I loved doing during the harvesting of cocoa beans was the extraction of wet cocoa beans. I always ensured no other person beat me in terms of quantity and several baskets that we were to extract. In addition to all that have been mentioned, I was engaging in jobs on construction sites. I was a regular worker during holidays wherever Baba Wole, a renowned bricklayer, worked.
What did you use the proceeds for?
The wages were always paid every Saturday and they were always spent on dresses and provisions to be taken to the hostel after holidays.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I started my primary education at the Ebenezer Baptist Primary School, Ipoti-Ekiti. I also attended St. Louis Primary School, Ado-Ekiti, but later returned to Ipoti-Ekiti in 1970 to complete my primary education. I was a member of the pioneer students of Ipoti High School, from 1972 to 1977. My father wanted me to go to a school of nursing after the completion of my secondary school education, but I declined based on having a phobia for blood. That refusal did not go down well with him as he refused to give me not even a dime while schooling at the then Oyo State College of Education, Ilesa, in the 1979/1980 session. I only spent one year there as I was fortunate to secure admission into the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife in 1980 to study English Education. I graduated in 1984. It was in 1998 that I added another feather to my cap as I got a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Lagos. The thirst for more knowledge took me to the University of Ibadan in 2000 where I had a second Master’s degree in English, then M.Phil. and PhD in 2004, 2014 and 2018 respectively. Amid these academic pursuits were storms of life that took my husband away. Meanwhile, I had someone who cheered me on in the actualisation of my dream. She was the academic guru, Professor AdenikeAkinjobi. She kept on reminding me of the need to forge ahead despite the loss of my husband and that I should stop wallowing in sadness.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, my passion for reading led me to a six-month course in an online teaching programme by TESOL, an international association, based in the United States of America. Today, I am a TESOL certified online English Language designer, planner and facilitator. I have also done some courses with the British Council which qualified me to be one of their consultants.
How has your career journey been?
My initial desire was to be a lawyer, but my father objected to it on the basis that the first lawyer in our town did not live long. I also wanted to be a newscaster, but I never knew how to go about it and there was no one to guide me. Eventually, I settled for education which made me a qualified teacher. I was employed by the Lagos State Teaching Service Commission in 1985 and taught for about 10 years before joining my husband in 1995 at the then Adventist Seminary of West Africa (ASWA), Ilisan-Remo in Ogun State to help them start the now Babcock University High School. I spent seven years before joining the Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, as a lecturer in 2002. By God’s grace, I am a Chief Lecturer in the Department of English and also an Adjunct Lecturer and Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and Literary Studies at Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo. I am currently the Education Director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of the Western Nigeria Union Conference.
How did love find you?
I had many suitors while growing up. The one I settled down with happened to be the son of my secondary school principal. He never schooled at Ipoti-Ekiti, but was always around whenever we had social activities in the school. I used to lead the cultural group; he would take pictures which he would print and bring along on his next visit. I used to call him Brother Kola then. It was one Christmas day that he sent a note to me that he had malaria fever and would like to see me. I had seen him as an older friend without any romantic feelings. Innocently, I asked one of my friends to accompany me to the Principal’s Lodge. On getting there, we saw him and discovered that he was actually sick. We stood at the entrance of his room as we were exchanging pleasantries and watched how he was struggling to eat. It was a brief visit as I told him we were leaving after about five minutes. We rushed out of their house and as we were about to get to the main road, I heard her cousin call my name and she informed me that Kola was calling me. While my friend was waiting for me, I rushed in to find out the reason for the invitation. I stood by the door to know what he wanted me to do for him. I was taken aback when, without mincing words, he declared, “Yemi, mofefe e ni now” (Yemi, I want to marry you). I felt embarrassed and rushed out to meet my friend. I narrated what happened to my friend and mimicked how he said it. I told my friend that he did not know how to woo a girl.
Eventually, I found love. I loved his handwriting, his English expressions and how he was encouraging me in my academic pursuit.
What would you consider your favourite food?
Pounded yam with okro that is cooked with locust beans, assorted meat and dry croaker fish.
What genre of music do you enjoy and how do you relax?
I enjoy listening to gospel and juju music. I love reading, singing and dancing.
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