It took a long time but it finally happened. The SchoolTips team got to meet with the founder of Supreme Education Foundation, Mrs. Nike Adamolekun, an exciting woman of many parts. She shared with us how she changed from a tomboy into a graceful woman and many other thoughts on family, education, success, friendship and life generally.
Tell us what growing up was like
Growing up was a lot of fun. I am the second born of the family. I started at St. John’s Anglican Church Aroloya in Lagos here. Later my father moved us to our grandparents in Ekiti while he went to study abroad for one year.
When he came back, he was asked to found and head a school in Idufamoro, Ekiti state. I completed my primary education back at home and from there I got admission to Queens’ School, Ede. Secondary school was for five years then and I finished in 1962. After that, I came back to Ekiti for two years to do A’ Levels at Christ School. That was the most transient time of my life because I failed the A’ Levels! It was the only exam I failed in my life.
This is because back then before WAEC results were out, it took about nine months and so for most of the first year, teachers would keep telling you “your name is written in pencil, you don’t know whether you are qualified to stay here or not” because if you don’t pass mathematics, English and some other subjects, you can’t stay. So unless you are really mature, you tend to play. By the time results were out and we realised we were here to stay, everything had piled up and A’ Levels syllabus is no joke. So I had to take the examinations for prelim- what you call pre-degree or foundation today. I took the exams for University of Ife and the University of Lagos and got admitted into both universities. I came to Lagos for about a week and took a look at the typical setting of Lagos and told myself, “I don’t think I will survive here. I might just go on with my playful attitude.” I went to the University of Ife which was at Ibadan back then. My A’ Levels had taught me sense. I intended to study medicine; my father wanted me so badly to study medicine but there was no ‘medicine’ at Ife so I wanted to transfer to Ibadan. The Dean of Science at the University of Ife then was Late Professor D.F Ojo; he had a photographic memory- if he didn’t have the money to buy a book, he would go to the bookshop and read everything in the book and put it back, the book was already in his brain. He was my father’s very good friend and he didn’t want me to transfer so the form was there till the admission expired. By then, I had matured enough to know why I was in school and my results were good and they didn’t want the good results to migrate.
I tried for pharmacy but after a while, I told myself “I don’t think I will survive here” because the teachers were mainly Nigerians and when you are young and vibrant, they think you are challenging them. I went back to Faculty of Science where we had foreigners teaching us and they were very dynamic. They didn’t care who you were or what you did, as long as you did your work. That’s how I stayed back at the University of Ife, studying Botany. My parents didn’t know I wasn’t going to transfer until after about a whole year.
After my first degree, I went for my masters for one year in Pathology at the University of Wales, Bangkok. I tell people that one year was a year of play because almost everything we were taught in Wales at Masters Level had already been taught at the University of Ife at first degree level. One of my lecturers at the University of Wales was my external examiner at the University of Ife and he knew that we had completed the curriculum.
From botany to education, how did that happen?
In the process of getting my master’s degree, I met the man that I married. Even though I had known him (his younger sister was my junior at Queens School), we never talked to each other. When I was going for my masters, we happened to be on the same plane and that was how we started. When he finished, he came back to Lagos and he was employed by Mobil Producing. I had an offer to get my doctorate degree but I thought to myself, the man I want to marry did his masters and went back home. If I get a doctorate, it may cause some problems back at home. People may start thinking, “she is pompous because she has a doctorate…” so I left it.
That means you changed from the person who wanted to be free to this person who gave up her doctorate…
I matured. I just told myself, you’ve finished your masters, what else do you want? This is a man who has potentials for us to make a good life together. He doesn’t have money right now, but neither do I. I knew his background and I felt that I would be able to live with him. Another thing, don’t ever think that you are going to change a man. If you think “when I marry him, he will change”, you lie! He may hide that character for a while but he won’t change. So whatever you see in him, if you think you can’t live with it, walk off or work on yourself.
Ok, so back to how you got into education…
Well, we got married and he got a job with Mobil while I got a job in Ibadan. After the wedding, I had to move with him in Lagos where I tried to get a job with the Ministry Of Agriculture but they said they were not going to recognise my second degree; I said bye-bye. I don’t think I would have survived there anyway. At the University of Lagos, they told me to come and be a laboratory demonstrator but I didn’t take it. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be because I later realised being a demonstrator wasn’t a bad thing after all. At that time, my father-in-law was the chairman of West African Examination Council, so I took a temporary offer there. But you see, I love challenges and I knew I must not be seen to fail especially since my father-in-law was there so I stayed focused and learnt the ropes and I was privileged to work with a good boss, Mrs Oyesiku. It was fun.
I was with WAEC for about 20 years. It was at that point that I decided that my career at WAEC was finished. I had already acted as head of office and I had done an interview so it had become political. I told myself, what do I want to do? I’m already in education administration; I have seen the deficits and discrepancies in our education system- and you know that at that time, any form of exam at all, even common entrance was under WAEC. We used to conduct a lot of research and one of the results showed that some good students who had attended very good primary schools, when they went to different high schools, we saw how such schools dented and affected their lives. Many brilliant children had their careers on hold because they didn’t attend good secondary schools. I told myself, this is something I can do. I am going to start a good secondary school. At that time, the trend was to start remedial schools for people that failed school cert. People told me it was easier as I would have no attachment with them; all I had to do was collect my money. But I felt that I wanted people who I could affect their lives. I had some highfaluting ideas. I believe women must be self-sufficient and self-empowered so I was going to start a girls’ school but the parents said no, where did I want them to put their male children? I also thought all the members of staff would be women but people asked me what I would do when about five members of staff go on maternity leave. The girls’ only school didn’t even take off.
I have a passion for women. Women shouldn’t be mistreated and if a woman is empowered, she can’t be mistreated. As a woman, your life is very important especially if you have children. You are responsible for those children. You must make sure you raise those children properly; God will ask you for their lives. And don’t wilfully lose your own life, God will ask you for it. That’s why I say people who stay in abusive marriages, they’ve got problems. I’m not saying women should walk out of their marriages at will, I’m only saying that try to make it work- but not with violence. When violence is involved, walk out. Men should protect women not abuse them. If that woman was your mother or your sister, would you treat her that way? Like I tell people, you are going to have daughters, what are you going to do then, after you abused their mother?
What advice would you give to a woman who is in an abusive relationship?
There must be something wrong with her. What is she doing there? She wants to get killed? Is he the only man in the whole world? A man that you have not even married and he is already beating you! Are you a punching bag? What kind of love is that? That is not love; that is stupidity. Just walk off. There should be no excuse for anyone to do that. My husband has never raised his fingers against me and I never saw my father beat my mother. It doesn’t augur well for anybody. If you are in a relationship like that, just walk off or your children will grow up abusive. It is even worse with verbal abuse. For instance, I would rather you hit me than tell me horrible words. Abusive words will register in your brain and ruin your personality completely whereas physical scars can fade.
What if the woman is the abusive one?
(Laughing) Then the man should walk out except he wants to commit suicide!
So what was your experience with running SEF it at the beginning?
It was fun. We started with 8 students and 13 members but as I said, I love challenges. We knew every student and the parents and their situations at home. If you didn’t come to school, we would come to look for you at home.
How do you think we’ve fared with today’s girl children, especially in the education sector?
Today’s girls are even less conscious of the fact that they are girls. They are more focused than the boys and on the average, they perform better than boys. Monitor all the graduation ceremonies and you will find that most of the best students are girls. It is about stepping up your game; the ground is there. Nobody will come to give you a level playing ground.
What do you think is responsible for girls outperforming boys today?
It is because girls mature faster than boys. In the past, most girls did not even go to school so they couldn’t tell. Then, they were only to be seen and not to be heard. It was a curse to have only girl children but today, it doesn’t make any difference. There is no difference between man and woman; we all have the same head. Make use of what you’ve got and stop making excuses.
Tell us about women you admire today
I like Oprah Winfrey. She is not that academic but she knows her strengths, that is talking, and she exploited and developed it till she came out tops. This means that nobody is useless; no child is hopeless or weak. It is the duty of the teacher and the school to find out what that child does best and develop that child along that path. Whatever you can do, do it well. If you are an engineer and you can’t do it well, you will fail whereas a very good draftsman will succeed. It doesn’t matter if what a child does best isn’t academic. I tell my students that if all you want to do is sweep floors, go ahead and do it but make sure you are the best floor sweeper in the whole world. Get all the gadgets for sweeping and ensure that the topmost companies call you to clean their offices.
What worries you most about Nigeria’s education sector today?
Well, people keep saying the standard of education is falling. It is not exactly falling; the demands are only getting higher and higher. The greater problem is that there are a lot of distractions: Facebook, Twitter… When I was growing up, television came on at 6:00pm and closed at 9:00pm. Now, we have over a thousand channels for 24 hours.
Share three events in your life that you would not forget
The biggest for me is our moving to the school’s permanent site. I sold everything I had and sunk everything in it with the view that there is no going back. I had nowhere to go back to so I had to make this work. I stayed focussed. I didn’t go shopping; everything I had was in this place. My husband was helpful and supportive. Sometimes when I think about it, I think I did it to the detriment of my children. My last child incidentally attended this school. I wanted to enrol her in a boarding school but my husband said “you have a school, why take her elsewhere? When you are bringing up other people’s children, when they see that your child is also there, they will know that you are confident about what you are producing and that is what I did. She was part of the first set that passed out.
Secondly, becoming a grand-mother was good and exciting.
Well, I had some crisis in my life that drove me straight back to God and that is why I am still here. I learnt to serve God, I leant to do good when you can; I learnt to know that like Job of The Bible, if God gives you the good, will you not take the bad that comes with it? I learnt about life, about friends, about marriage, about bringing up children. Just like I was raised, I gave my children too much independence and I had to cut it in. Running the school with being a wife and a parent were very challenging. Being committed in the church helped me a lot. I learnt to be responsible.
What have you learnt about friendship?
There are more fair-weather friends than genuine ones but the way I rationalise it is this: if siblings can disappoint you, why can’t friends disappoint you?
What advice do you give to working family women who are trying to juggle it all?
Something has to give. For instance, after my wedding, I had my first child. A year and two weeks after, I had twins so I had to employ adult nannies and pay them almost six times what others were paying them. I needed to know my children were safe. I didn’t have much money with me but it was my priority to know that my children were safe and well-taken care of.
You need to re-evaluate your priorities at every stage of your life. Now, my priority is my health.
Would you like to tell us how old you are?
By next year, I will be 70 years old.
Share one outstanding thing life has taught you.
All that glitters is not gold. You see people smiling and driving big cars and you want to be like them but you don’t know what that person is going through. Have your own dream and stay by it. Don’t be a copier, else you will always be second fiddle. Be the original.