By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Having been served the best of education from the best schools both in Nigeria and outside, Funsho Adegbola, daughter of the late Attorney General of Nigeria, Chief Bola Ige, returned to Nigeria to help develop young children by setting up The Vale College, Ibadan where she holds forth as the director. Some of the students are currently making global impact, according to her.
Recently, the school, commissioned a modern four storey building at its permanent site located in Iyaganku, Ibadan. The ground breaking ceremony was performed by the wife of Ondo State governor, Mrs. Betty Akeredolu.
Mrs. Adegbola who qualified as a lawyer like her father, in this encounter with WW speaks about her passion for education and life without her parents.
What is a lawyer doing in the field of education especially with the setting up of Vale College?
The Vale College is a result of a dream given to me by God. I had the best of education- my parents ensured that. I had two degrees: One in French and Spanish from University of Essex and a law degree from University of Bristol both in England.
When I came back to Nigeria in 1986 for my Law school, a lot of people were complaining about the standard of education. So I volunteered to teach in St. Anne’s my alma mater.
Prior to that, I had taught in two secondary schools in France. I had taught English to French children. I knew I had passion for young people especially teenagers.
In 1986/1987, God gave me this vision to start the Vale College but I wasn’t very sure about it. But because I grew up in a family where they invest a lot in education, I knew I had to do it. When my father, the late Chief Ajibola Ige, SAN, was Governor of Old Oyo, one of the key projects of his political party was free education.
My mother, the late Justice Atinuke Ige was the first female lawyer of Ibadan origin. My parents believed in me and believed in education. They didn’t have money but they believe if you give your child the best education, he/she would be able to look after him/herself.
How did the story of the school start?
The Vale College was established by the Solemilia Educational Trust on November 7, 1994 as a private co-educational secondary school to cater for the educational and pastoral needs of individuals from Grade 7 to Grade 12 (JSS1-SSS3). It is a Bible-based Christian school that values character building in young ones. As part of its process to fulfilling its mission statement, the school runs broad curricula, the Nigerian curriculum and British curriculum while public speaking and elocution, Christian Fellowship, Leadership Training and Charitable activities, have been part of the school’s programmes since inception.
Over the past 23 years, the school which resumed with 13 students at its first premises in Old Bodija, has recorded many feats.
How has it been in the last 23 years?
I am a beneficiary of God’s Grace.
God sent dream helpers all along the path of my life. I first shared the vision with my immediate late brother, Babatunde Ige. Unfortunately, he never saw the physical manifestation of the college. He died in his sleep in 1993. And that is why I do a scholarship on his behalf every year. My father gave me the seed money to start the school and my mother gave me her building to start the hostel. I have committed and dedicated members of staff who run with the vision. I also thank parents who have entrusted their kids in my care. It is an awesome responsibility that I don’t take for granted.
Can you recall the school’s memorable moments?
I started my school with 13 students and 10 teachers and those first 13 students were a work of faith because I didn’t have a track record of a renowned educationist. When I was selling the form, I was still working in Bola Ige and Co. and I would ask the parents; why are you sending your children to this school? They would respond that they believe it is going to work. The vision of the school is that our relationship with the students, staff and parents would be life-long. So I have students who are married, I attend their marriages. When they graduate I attend their graduations. I have students who have started giving scholarships. One of my ex-students is 27 years old and he has already given out N400, 000 this year and he plans to do this every year.
That for me is a landmark achievement. One of my students, Yewande Akinola got an award from Queen Elizabeth II of England in 2012 for being one of the best female engineers under 30 in the whole of UK. She was Head Girl when she was in The Vale College.
In a saturated school environment, what, in your own view, makes The Vale College tick?
We know them one-on-one: we know every student’s weakness and strength. We know all the parents and we are able to monitor if a child is not doing very well or not. Every child is an individual: we know you and your parents. The vision of The Vale College is not a place to dump your child; it is a school like learning environment and home all put together. We have that synergy and it has really helped us in the past 23 years.
What effort has the school made in impacting the immediate community?
A few years ago, I started an annual scholarship scheme in memory of my late parents Bola/Atinuke Ige for children and pupils in public schools. Bola Ige scholarship is for students in public primary school in Oyo and Osun States. Every year, we give scholarship for the best boy and girl through examinations: written and oral. The best two get scholarship worth N12 million for the six years post primary education.
Then I do another one under the Atinuke Ige Scholarships for students in public secondary schools: The best outstanding boy and girl in both Oyo and Osun states, receive a scholarship worth N2 Million to come to The Vale Tutorial College for their ‘A’ Levels for a period of one year. We have been doing that now in the past five years. I have three of them studying medicine at the University of Ibadan. It is not an ordinary scholarship but an award that has transformed lives. For instance, the N12 Million awards have benefited pupils whose parents are bricklayers, tailors, bread sellers.
What effort is The Vale College doing to achieve global recognition?
Already my students are making waves globally. We do a lot of international exposure for both students and teachers on excursion. Also, 50 per cent of my students school in universities abroad.
Where do you see your journey in the next 10 years?
I pray that the school and its tutorial arm will continue to expand. We already have a succession plan and I am looking forward to when my alumni will begin to send their children to The Vale College. I am looking forward to when my children will take the children to a greater height.
What are the life lessons learnt over the years?
I have learnt that when God gives you a vision He will make provisions: human, spiritual, physical and material things. I have faced a lot of challenges as it has not been a bed of roses. I started the school a year after my immediate younger brother, Babatunde died. By the 10th anniversary of my school, I had lost both parents. Those are the people that are closest to me in the whole world.
How is life as Bola Ige’s daughter? What do you miss about your father?
I am a very proud daughter of my father. I am so proud that I wrote a book about him and me. I consider myself to be extremely blessed to be born by Bola and Atinuke Ige. My dad was a real ‘Abiyamo’. He was like a mother hen who was always protective of his children. I miss that about him.
If I come home crying as a child that ‘I can’t do this’, he would simply tell me ‘you can’. When I do debate in my school, he would be on the opposition side bringing points so that I can think before the opposing side comes up with points. He puts a lot of values in me.
Who or what do you consider as the greatest influence in your life?
Apart from God, my mum was my number one role model. I remember when I was about five I wanted to be an air hostess because I want to be travelling and all that. My mum said that is not a very lofty ideal. She said I can still be travelling and the air hostesses will be serving me. And that really struck me because she didn’t rebuke me rather she encouraged me that I can do better. Again, both of them used to work together under Ige and Ige Chambers.
Losing your parents was a challenge. How did you overcome it?
Every inch of the way God has raised help for me. In the last three months when I thought I would not be able to finish the project, I was scared but God kept telling me ‘Funso, I have your back’. The parents in my school donated the ICT Lab because they wanted me to succeed. And because I am an open person and if things are tough I will put it on the table and we would deliberate. Then I have wonderful chairman board of governors. So I have men and women of good pedigree who give solid advice and counsel.
Tell us about family life.
My greatest supporters are my husband, Mr. Gbenro Adegbola and my two amazing children, Kayode and Ayotunde. Both of them are lawyers. They attended The Vale College before schooling abroad. Kayode schooled at Queen Mary’s, University of London and Ayotunde attended University of Kent both in the UK, attended Law School, called to the Nigerian bar and they are both working now. They have all witnessed my best and lowest moments. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this if I don’t have a happy home.
You look radiant for 57 years old. What is the secret?
More than anything God has been kind. There is no secret to it. I have a trainer. I exercise five days a week, I do my massage every week. I love to do my nails just to look good. I put a lot of mental stress on myself and in other not to break down, I try to feed my body and soul and like to be in the midst of people who would inspire me.