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From houseboy to Polytechnic Rector

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Former Rector of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic and Director, Achievers University Flexible Academic Programme, Dr. Johnson Bolu Ogundowole, who recently clocked 70, speaks with Taiwo Abiodun on his life journey so far, years as a houseboy and how he weathered childhood uncertainties.

THE feeling at 70

”At 70 I feel fulfilled, to God be the glory .When you talk about fulfilment, it’s a combination of the day one is born, growing up, going to school, university; when you settled for a job, got married and settled in your own home. The accomplishment of these is what we call fulfilment. Whatever I laid my hands upon, by the special grace of God, always turns out successful.

My birthday is not a question of dancing, dining and wining only. One should always remember that a force is behind all these achievements; that is why one should always thank God. That is what led to thanksgiving.

I lost my mother at age eight

Reflecting on his background, Ogundowole said he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. ”To even go to primary school was difficult, but God said, ‘This boy is a star’ and paved the way for me. I was not ripe for school but I decided to follow my cousins to school at Ansar Udeen, even though I didn’t quite like the school. Later I saw them at St. John’s Primary school, Iyere-Owo. Those were the days when you put your hand over your head to touch your ear on the opposite side; but mine didn’t touch it because I was so small. That was in 1956 when I was six. When it was time to go to secondary school, there was no money. I’d lost my mother at eight and my father had little or no money, but he wanted me to proceed. I went to All Saints Modern School, passed their test. It was like JSS 3 of today but the quality was high. Anybody with Modern 3 certificate could teach in primary school. Unfortunately, when I passed out in 1964, I couldn’t teach because my hand could not reach the black board’.

House boy to a Briton

”God, however, sent me a helper and I got a job as an office boy at Fiwasaiye Girls Grammar School. I was attached to a British missionary, the late Miss Joan Steward, who later became the Principal of St. Catherine Girls Grammar School, Owo (1966-186). When she was transferred with promotion, I became Johnson Omo Steward (Johnson son of Steward). So, if tomorrow I am launching my autobiography and I title it, ‘From office boy to highest officer’, you have to understand. An office boy at that time was like a houseboy but I was consistent, honest and had integrity, so she just took care of me. When we got to Owo, she asked what I wanted to do and I told her I wanted to go to Imade College, the only college at that time. At St. Catherine Girls School, I lived in the Gardeners’ Quarters, as I later became auxiliary teacher and special assistant to Miss Steward. I did not want to go to St. John’s Mary because if I went to teacher’s college again, I would become a teacher. But the teacher I said I didn’t want to become I later became the head of all teachers. I came third during the entrance examination in Imade; we were to be given scholarship, but since Miss Steward was paying my school fees, my scholarship was given to another person. I left Imade College in 1970 and went to Edo College. I did Advance Level GCE, and then gained admission to the University of Ibadan to read English Language (Education). I did my National Youth Service Corps in the North and later went to obtain my Masters in Communication Arts.

After my NYSC, I returned to Ondo State and was posted to Oludaiye Grammar School in Oba Akoko to teach. They told me they always rioted in the school and that they had had six principals in four years, but God used me as an instrument to put an end to that trend.

I contested with seven professors to become Rector

Speaking on how he became Rector of Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Ogundowole said ”That is another long story, because I was acting Director of the Continuing Education Centre (for Ondo State Polytechnic now Rufus Giwa Polytechnic) Lagos. My autobiography will not be complete without writing about Poly, where I put in 25 years. I became the Acting Rector, and full Rector. During the interview, they went round in search of qualified candidates, they brought professors, cancelled the first interview we did in which I came third. They went to South Africa and brought some professors. In the end, about seven professors competed with me but I beat them all.”

 Rufus Giwa was rated the best during my time

”After Baba Adefarati (former governor of Ondo State) approved my position, I started work like I never worked before. I renovated the dilapidated laboratories; we improved all our facilities, so that when we called for accreditation, they were dazed. In fact they rated us as the best polytechnic down South at the time. After four years, they did not like the face of Ogundowole. They said the school is not for Ogundowole. Together with two years as acting, I was rector for six years. Some of the projects commissioned by the late governor include the library, staff school and pre-ND village. He laid the foundation stone for the Students Union Building; he also visited the completed guest house. I made sure the school could compete with any school in Nigeria and abroad.

Challenges at the poly

”The problem started from the change of name from Ondo State Poly to Rufus Giwa. The students barricaded all roads leading to Abuja, Lagos; they brought life to a standstill. I was also facing the problem of five months’ salary arrears inherited from former the administration. The place was getting too hot. At a point, I said if I knew, I would not have left my secondary school job.

“We solved the problem of cultism. I brought the late Pastor Obadare, Baba Adejumo and Evangelist Falade from GOFAMINT to pray for the school. This did not go down well with some people; they said if I wanted to become an evangelist, I should go to Vining Centre, College of Theology in Akure. But I had my reasons. The day Baba Obadare came to the school to pray; about 40 cult members came out to renounce their membership of cultism. That is a chapter in my life.”

Happiest moment

”That would be the day my wife gave birth to my first child.”

Family

God has blessed me with a unique family. In the nuclear family God gave us a lawyer, a business management, a Biotechnologist, two computer scientists and we have a computer engineer in the making. My in-laws are in the academic, like Professor Biodun Olotuah, a professor of Architecture at FUTA; Professor Folusho Olotuah is in Botany Department at Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba; there is also Dr. Femi Olotuah of the Federal University, Akure and host of others .All these people made my family unique. I am the Balogun Ijo of St. John’s Anglican Church, Iyere Owo. My wife is a loving, kind and Godly woman.”

Regrets

”My regret is that from the start, I did not begin from the university because there are lots of opportunities in the university system. Well, times are changing. If I had been in the university line, I would also have become a professor. However I got to the peak of my career as a chief lecturer, which is equivalent of a professor; and that is what brought me as a Director at Achievers University.

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