Oba Adedokun Abolarin is the Orangun of Oke-lla and the proprietor of Abolarin College. He tells BOLA BAMIGBOLA why he established a school for indigent children
You were trained as a lawyer before you became a monarch. What motivated you to get a Law degree?
Social justice and I also had the intention of going into politics because of the politicians of my time that I grew up knowing – people like the Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Akinloye, Chief Richard Akinjide and Adeoye Adisa were all lawyers. In terms of public service, I knew I was prepared for it but I didn’t know that I would eventually be involved in public service as a king. With due respect, lawyers are well-trained to participate in public service as well as protecting the rights of the people. A well-trained lawyer cannot tolerate poverty.
These were the reasons I decided to study Law. Before Law, I did Political Science. I am a scholar of International Relations. I had my master’s degree in the field from Obafemi Awolowo University. So, with the totality of my experience in the classroom, I’m thankful to God.
Did you practice Law?
Yes, I did in Lagos. I later moved to Abuja and became the legal adviser to Senator Anyim Pius Ayim, a former senate president between 2002 and 2003.
You have one wife while many monarchs have three, four or more. Why did you choose to be monogamous?
With what I am doing here, I can’t afford to keep many wives. If I do, I don’t think I will be able to do what I am doing. Each of them (wives) will be struggling to have their share of the empire.
What got you attracted to her?
Her proper understanding of my role as a traditional ruler got me attracted. She is the only one I have and she has been supporting me here.
You established a school for poor children. What inspired it?
The inspiration comes from within. When people around are poor and we are doing nothing about it. What I am doing is to use education to fight poverty. This is not an immediate thing but a long-term projection that in the next 50 to 60 years when those in that environment see these children, their lives won’t be the same again. I know the importance of education and instead of establishing a school for the children of the rich, I did for the poor and that was how we started Abolarin School in 2014.
What do the pupils stand to gain?
It is a win-win affair. In the long run, the students, society will immensely benefit from this. I believe so much in human capital development and these are the children that will change the world. Here in the school, we have people from different parts of the country. We train them to embrace diversity, we train them to celebrate knowledge and to have mutual respect for one and another and all these are for their benefits and to build a country that is glorious. We need to stop complaining about Nigeria and do the little we can to fix it.
How were you able to fund the management of the school?
I want to correct that; it is not free education. What we are doing is to give the children an opportunity and by the time they graduate from the school, they will be paying back to their various communities, not leaving the school out. With this, we are making them responsible. Many of us attended schools and were made to understand we owe nobody, not even our communities anything. But these ones know that they must give back. I must thank my friends. Ninety per cent of them do not want me to be a king, but over time it became a shared vision.
They have been assisting us. Also, I have a widow who gives us N2,000 to support us every month. People come here and give us gifts, no matter how small it is, just to support us because they appreciate what we are doing. With the support, I have come to appreciate Nigerians the more. Nigerians are good people and would give anything within their reach to support any noble course. To be sincere, I don’t have that kind of money to run the school. It is because of the support we get from well-meaning individuals. At the appropriate time, we are going to make open the names of our benefactors. Out of the over 100 students we have, about 20 are still very much around because they do not have where to go.
It was said that you teach in the school. Do you?
Yes, I do. I teach history and government. I teach history because of its importance. I also use this opportunity to call for the return of history to the school curriculum. Our children should know where we are coming from and historical moments in the country. History can be used to foster national development. I also teach government. I am a political scientist and a lawyer. I can’t acquire all this knowledge and not use it to influence people regarded as our tomorrow leaders.
How many hours of teaching do you do?
Weekly, I teach for six hours.
How do you determine indigent kids that qualify for admission, since admission is said to be based on that?
Basically, these are children from public primary schools. We don’t admit from the private schools. We all know that public primary schools are not what they used to be. We conduct an examination for them and afterwards, do interviews where we scrutinise them. After we are done with this, we go to their various homes to establish the fact that they meet our criteria. Then their headmasters will write a briefing on them. However, so far so good, I can tell you that 97 to 98 per cent in our school are indigent.
It is said that kids of all tribes and religions are welcome as long as they are poor and brilliant…
I believe in the greatness of the country. In fact, I am looking for the Almajirai here. We pray that we will one day establish a school in the North with the support of the governors there. We need to allow these children leave together and appreciate one another. That was what the late Tai Solarin did. Baba Alayande also did it during the Civil War in Nigeria. Tai Solarin picked children from the East to Mayflower, Ikenne, Ogun State. Baba Alayande as a principal of Ibadan Grammar School also did the same.
In the school I attended, there was no difference between one ethnic group and the other. We are all blacks, humanity is one. We must not segregate. I believe we should use the population we have well. As it is, we are not making good use of it. I have children who are Muslims; why must I force them to practise my religion?
As a school administrator, how will you access the standard of education in Nigeria?
One may not be happy, but we have brilliant children. Be that as it may, this is now the time for us to build. It is time to see that children coming after us must be able to compete with their counterparts in other parts of the world. Now is the time to build the foundation the future generations will build on. It is also the time for all of us to be repairers and builders. This is not the type of educational system we had. We must see it as waste spaces that we must develop and rebuild. Let us complement the effort of the government and the government itself must be alive to its responsibilities because beneficiaries of this are our future.
What areas do you think need improvement?
All areas need improvement. This is not the kind of education we had during our time. Most of our children do not see the reasons why they should go to school. But you and I know how important it is to have an education. In essence, we need to improve in all facets of our educational system.
Have you ever been shocked or overwhelmed by the level of poverty of some pupils?
Sure. They all had very touching stories. Many of them were malnourished, but after we took them in and gave them nutritious meals, they have changed. Hardly have they fallen sick, all because they are provided with good food. All Nigerians must be entitled to one. We should not deny them this. When we do, we rob the poor, which the Bible frowns against. There is nothing we can do, poverty will always be with us but to a large extent, we must care for them (poor pupils).
How many children are taught in the school?
We have 131 children all living in the school. We have only a secondary school.
What would you describe as the challenges that come with managing the school since it started?
The biggest challenge is funding. Everyone who works here is like a missionary. Some of them (workers) are not even remunerated. They shared in the vision and they are happy doing what they are doing. We also have the youth corps members who have been assisting us.
How long have you been running the school?
The school started on September 24, 2014.
How do you ensure the safety of the schoolchildren, considering the level of insecurity in the country?
To the glory of God, Oke-Ila has been peaceful, but we have night and day guards.
Schools have been shut down for some months now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How have the children who depend of the food you provide been coping?
It is a big problem. A lot of them who have gone home have been calling me, saying they want to come back to school but there is nothing we can do. We just hope that the pandemic will be a thing of the past. Sincerely, I feel for them and for the 20 of them who stayed behind, we have been doing our best to cater for them.
Why are you doing this?
I do this because I think and care about the future and like I earlier said, I had a platform to operate. That is the chieftaincy platform. It is an institution you can modify and a major institution to ensure the development of the people. And mind you, I have a vision for the throne and it is encapsulated in the book of Isaiah 50 (in the Bible) which asks us to build the old spaces and build foundations for many generations. With my knowledge and exposure, will I just be on the throne without doing one or two things to affect humanity and the future? It doesn’t make sense. The institution is the best to propel development.
Where do you see this school in the next 20 years?
It does not belong to Oba Abolarin. I have a foundation and there is a board of trustees. With time, we may tinker with them for, of course, the school children take up responsibility because it is theirs. They are going to outlive me and when I am gone, they will do whatever they think is right. But I know the school is going to be in perpetuity.
The pioneer set of the school would have taken the West African Senior School Certificate Examination if not for the disruption by COVID-19. What is your expectation?
They would have sat for our first WAEC exam but for COVID-19. They did well in their JAMB. Of the 28 we presented, one scored 165. Twelve of them scored between 180 and 199 and 15 of them scored 200 and above. We are certain that 27 of them will make it to higher institutions.
Who will sponsor their higher education?
That is the preparation we have been giving them here. We taught them about hard work, for them to lean on one another and for them to be creative and productive while in school. There won’t be a problem with their higher education.