When we got to Great Ife on that fateful day in 1970, right from the gate I was smitten by the beautiful, well-planned campus. There were three major buildings in the academic area of the campus at that time, the Faculty of Agriculture, Faculty of Arts, and Faculty of Science buildings. When we got to the Faculty of Science, my group was assigned to the Chief Technologist of the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Mr. Bamgbelu. He told us that in the university and in the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering they admit ‘’the best students and train them to be best engineers.’’ As a teenager of the age of fifteen, I was struck by his words and overwhelmed. I do not know what excited me more, whether it was the enthusiasm and confidence which with he made his speech or the eloquence with which he convinced me that I can be the best engineer.
There and then, I made up my mind that I wanted to come to Ife and study Electronics and Electrical Engineering. I would not settle for anything less. The following year in 1971, I gained admission to both Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Lagos to study the same course, Electronics and Electrical Engineering. Even though the duration of study at the University of Lagos was less by one year, my encounter with Mr. Bamgbelu a year earlier had helped me to make up my mind. I settled for Ife and came at a relatively young age of 16, in those days, to start my undergraduate study. I had crossed the river from being a secondary school student to being an undergraduate because of someone who inspired me to be the best.
This brings me to the first principle. Always go for what will bring out the best in you, either in your career or your relationships. Please do not settle for less.
On settling down on campus to study, I experienced the vibrant student union activities led by a young charismatic and articulate student union President, Mr. Sunmade Akin-Olugbade. I was so impressed by his style of leadership and his team that I vowed to also be a student union activist in no distant future. I sought an appointment to see Sunmade to discuss as it were my ambition. He did not discourage me but warned me that as an engineering student I would not have time to play student politics, hence my ambition could clash with my studies.
A few months after my discussion with Sunmade, there was an invitation to all the universities in the country to participate in the first Inter University Debate sponsored by Heineman Publishing Company. I volunteered to represent the university and the university sponsored then Ms. Funke Sholu, a law student (now Mrs. Funke Adekoya SAN) and my humble self, an engineering student, to represent Great Ife. The debates were televised live on Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) station in Ibadan. And lo and behold the Great Ife team won! Funke and I brought the Heineman African Writers cup home to our university as the first inter university debate champions in Nigeria.
The Vice Chancellor, Late Prof Hezekiah Oluwasanmi welcomed us back to campus and invited us to the VC lodge. You can imagine the thrill and excitement that I experienced meeting with the great Late Prof Hezekiah Oluwasanmi at his Official residence. He encouraged Funke and I to keep doing well in our studies. He remarked that he was pleasantly surprised that an engineering student would be interested in debates. As it turned out, both Funke Sholu and I came top as the best graduating student in our respective Faculties.
The victory in the debate buoyed my confidence and in the next semester I contested for the post of the Public Relations Officer of the Student Union. I lost that election to a more mature (about 8 years older) and worthy opponent (accomplished journalist in the Observer Newspaper), Late Senator Albert Legogie who was former Deputy Senate President in the defunct Third Republic and a pioneer member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A year later I won the election to become the Speaker of the Students’ Parliament and the following year won the election to become the Director of Socials for the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS).
This brings me to the second principle. Do not get let limited by conventional framework. Indeed, break the glass ceiling. Pursue your interests with vigour even when conventional wisdom says it cannot be done or you are not trained for what you are trying to do.
My next story has something to do with a special teacher who influenced the course of my career. I was privileged to interact with a great academic, a physicist of note Prof A F Oluwole, as a student. For those who may not know Prof Oluwole, he pioneered energy education in this country and established the Centre of Energy Research and Development here at Great Ife. I took his Atomic Physics class called Physics 206 in 1973, fifty years ago. I did very well in the final exam in that course and throughout my undergraduate days Prof. would seek me out and remind me of my stellar performance in his class. Unknown to me he was nurturing and molding my interest in academics.
By the time I graduated in 1976, Prof Oluwole had gotten the Federal Government approval for the establishment of the Centre for Energy Research and Development then called Nuclear Technology Programme. Because of the mentoring and nurturing I got from him during my undergraduate days, I was the first staff to be recruited to the programme after I completed my National Youth service year in 1977. He gave me a good recommendation that supported my admission applications to several graduate schools in top notch universities in the USA. I was admitted in all the schools, thanks to his letters of recommendation, and finally settled for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA.
Before I left Ile -Ife for Cambridge, he gave me a pep talk that gave me confidence throughout my stay at MIT. He told me he did not get admitted to MIT when he applied for admission in his time. He got and studied at the University of California, Berkeley, another top notch engineering school. I am telling you these details to let you know the extent of mentoring and nurturing that this great academician went. And throughout the four years that I spent in graduate school he made sure he visited to encourage me annually. And when I came back from graduate school, he was always there to give advice on my career path. Even when I was in government as Special Adviser to the President on Energy Matters (2005-2007), he was always available to advise and counsel me. In my business ventures, he was always available as a sounding board as well as an encourager for my plans. This long-term relationship had a positive and tremendous impact on my career.
So, this leads me to the third principle: Strong, effective, and long-term mentoring system is needed to get the best out of us. I am persuaded it will go a long way to get the best out our brightest for the benefit of our country and the world at large.
While I was at MIT, with the confidence gained from my experience at Great Ife, I faced the academic rigour frontally and by the grace of God I did very well. As it turned out I was the first Nigerian admitted to the Nuclear Engineering department at MIT. After my first year, my master’s thesis supervisor and Director of the MIT Nuclear Research Laboratory, Late Professor Otto Harling invited me for a chat in his office. He was a blunt German American and wasted no time in telling me how surprised the faculty in the department were about my performance in the department. They had expected that I would not do well and probably transfer to a more ‘black American’ friendly department like Urban Planning in the university. He believed the university where I had my undergraduate study must be good. Then he told me that the department would be willing to admit many more students from Great Ife if they were as academically sound as I was. To the glory of God, by the time I was leaving MIT in 1981 Mr. Ibrahim a Great Ife graduate from the department of Engineering physics was admitted. A year after I left, three more students from the same department of Great Ife were admitted.
This brings me to the fourth principle.You must guard jealously this heirloom and not drop the ball so that others behind you may benefit from the reputational capital of Great Ife.
I returned to Great Ife immediately after I graduated from MIT in 1981 to resume my faculty position. Many of my friends also came back from their graduate studies from the US, Canada, and UK. Permit me to mention a few of them, Prof Femi Ajibola, and Dr. Goke Adegoroye. We were young and participated in the vibrant academic environment of Great Ife. Because of the good time that I thought I was having, I completely ignored my spirituality. I was not going to church on a steady basis talk less of participating in any religious activities. Surely there was a void in my life even though I did not realize it at that time. Through the grace of God, my late mother and my dear wife organized a “coup” and got me to attend Christ Apostolic Church at Ede Road pastored by Prof AMA Imevbore. Baba Imevbore took me kindly under his wings and began to mentor me as a young disciple. He taught me that faith in God and quest for academic knowledge are not mutually exclusive. Through him I got to be reconnected with my roots and began to grow spiritually.
Then one day in 1999, Baba Imevbore informed about 5 of us, Elders in the church, that we were going to Ibadan to be ordained Pastors. As far as I was concerned it was the greatest story of grace. I believe then that I was the most unworthy soul to be a pastor. Therefore, Great Ife is where I got my Damascus conversion just as Paul, the Apostle. One thing led to the other, I was directed to pastor a church in an uncompleted residential building in Ilesanmi layout in Ife. Today, I am a Zonal Superintendent of CAC supervising about 20 churches in Abuja.
This brings me to the fifth principle. You need to be grounded spiritually if you are to cross the many rivers of life successfully.
I plead with you to hold on firmly, faithfully, and honestly to your faith. Let your faith be an anchor to the ship of your life as you will need it when the winds of life blow contrary. However bright you may be, you will face adversities and meet some disappointments in your life’s journey. Sometimes you might even be perplexed no matter how smart you are. I have faced a few myself and through the grace of God I was able to overcome.
Professor Anthony Adegbulugbe is the Chief Executive of the Green Energy International Limited. He lives in Abuja.