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Education Standard: Personality, not structure has changed — Prof Odukoya

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By Dayo Adesulu & Alex Folorunso

THERE have been  complaints that education in our country is not what it used to be. Do you subscribe to that? What, in your opinion, is missing between the old and the new?

From my own perspective, I think we had better education in the past than what we are seeing now.


The structure appears not to have changed but personality has changed. In those days, virtually 100 per cent of our lecturers were fully committed and devoted. The circumstances around them made it possible. They lived in comfortable accommodations, had good transportation, they had their cars and so on. They had sponsorship for conferences; trainings and everything was almost there. Now, things have changed.

Today, if you are a young lecturer, you are unlikely to be accommodated within the campus. The lecturers in those days and teachers in the other levels reasonably lived comfortable lives and that facilitated the ability to concentrate on teaching.

Sponsorship for conferences

Nowadays, things are different. The pay package for upcoming lecturers nowadays is not encouraging. They only take up the job with the mindset that they will have something else to supplement and in that case, it will be difficult for them to give a 100 per cent commitment to their job. Of course, to the students, the distractions in those days were minimal.

What was education like when you were growing up?

I went to a primary school at Lagos Island. I went to standard school where I spent eight years which included Infant 1, Infant 2 and Standards 1 to 6. I later attended Igbobi College. At Igbobi College, God gave me the privilege to rise above board, though I came from a humble home. In those days, I had to compete with those who came from well-to-do homes.

I worked extra hard which made me to top the class every time. After Igbobi, including HSC, I came to the University of Lagos, precisely College of Medicine here in Idi- Araba, Lagos State.

Have you ever failed before whether in the primary, secondary or tertiary institution?

Failed? I was always topping my class at Igbobi College. Of course in the university, we faced our usual academic stress. I was admitted in 1971 and graduated in 1976. All through my academic years, there was nothing like failure. I had my post-graduate degree at Harvard University in Boston, U.S.A. The University of Lagos sponsored me to Harvard University and paid my school fees. Will you get this nowadays? Can the University of Lagos get such money to fund lecturers’ academic programmes abroad now? I was a Research Fellow II in 1979 and in 1980, I was already sponsored to post-graduate programme at Harvard University for three years. When I finished, I was invited to apply for Doctor of Medical Sciences in Oral Biology at Harvard University. Since I came back to Nigeria, I have been fully committed.

What were the things that helped you to be where you are today?

Apart from the University of Lagos, God has been my helper. I lost my father at a young age. My father was a local laundry man and my mother was a petty trader, selling ogi (pap). In 1960, my mother died. The most senior person in my family, my sister, was a Grade II teacher who God later used to help me complete my studies. God used human beings to help me and the Federal Government also supported me. University of Lagos played a very important role in my life and Harvard University gave me the background. God also used the chairman of my department, Professor Gerald Shkler to lift me up. He saw me as a young man with a future. He guided me all through. He got me involved in some of the research projects that he had then. I carried out all of them and he gave me some little money to support me which allowed me to do my publications. My own immediate family also made some great impact in my life. I am talking about my wife and my four children.

What were your best subjects at school in those days?

My best subject in secondary school was Mathematics. I used to score 100 per cent in Mathematics. People were shocked when they learnt that I wanted to put in for Dentistry. I got 100 per cent in Elementary Mathematics but things were a little bit different in Hard Mathematics. I had an A in Elementary Mathematics and A3 in Hard Mathematics.

Tell us about your parents and their contributions towards your education?

Well, my parents could not contribute much apart from the fact that I got the destiny that God gave me through them. What would my father have contributed when he died when I was 11 years? I was in primary school when he died.

Did you ever have difficulty paying your fees at any time?

From Form 1 to Form 4, I never had a scholarship. My sister saved money and paid my school fees at Igbobi College. The most exciting moment of my training was when I was in Form 4 in Igbobi College on December 7, 1967. I got so many prizes – mathematics, french and sciences. I used Molue to carry my prizes from Igbobi College to Oko-Awo in Victoria Island. I also survived by scholarship, especially what is called foot scholarship in Nigeria.

Who among your friends at school can you still remember and how many of them are still alive?

Many of them are still alive today and they include: Mr. Folusho Phillips of Phillips Consulting, Jimmy Morgan, Ambassador Ogunnaike, Chief Olaitan Banu, Dr Tokunbo Kamson, Professor Segun Aderibigbe, Chief Adedeji Adelowo, just to mention a few.

At your age sir, what are the things you wish you could have achieved that you never did?

I just give glory to Almighty God because when I reflect over my life, there is no regret. If there is any, I would have loved my parents to be alive.

Mental  imbalance

I have houses, a beautiful wife, money, a good job, children and good health. God has charted my destiny and I am happy about it.

How did you gain admission into the University of Lagos?

You must have your three  papers at A level. I had the three papers. I had wanted to go in for medicine. Dentistry was a new department then at the University of Lagos. I applied for it and that was all.

As a holder of Bachelor’s degree in Dental Surgery (University of Lagos in 1976) and Master’s degree in Medical Sciences (Harvard University in 1983), what was the journey like?

I came in 1971 and went through the usual protocols – all the courses as a student. We worked extra hard. God slowed me down. If I had continued the way I was going, perhaps I would have had a mental problem by now because when you are too brilliant, sometimes you could have mental imbalance.

That is what I have observed about people who are extremely brilliant. When God slowed me down, I relaxed. I was passing my examinations but not in flying colours. For dental and medical programmes in the University of Lagos, it is either pass or fail. There are no grades. Once you passed, you moved on.

Your autobiography revealed that you have interest in music and singing. What are your best songs?

Church music! In my house, I am the Pastor of my family. It is just God. I am a Christian who is truly practising Christianity.

I believe in God and know that he is truly in charge of my life.

How did you rise from the ranks and files to achieve all these?

It is all through hard work. I started as an intern. After my university days, I went for my youth service. I did some field work to collect some data which I later published. I was lucky when I came back as Lagos University Teaching Hospital gave me a job as a Senior House Officer and Registrar.  The Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology department was combined with the Oral Surgery Department then. I was later appointed as a Research Fellow II.

I was House Officer, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, 1976-77; Senior House Officer, Registrar, 1978- 79; Dental Officer, Nigerian Youth Service Corps, 1977-1978; Research Fellow II, University of Lagos, 1979- 83; Research Fellow I, 1983- 1985; Department Co-ordinator, 1984- 1985; Senior Lecturer, 1985- 1991; Associate Professor since 1991- 96; Research Fellow, Harvard University, Boston, 1980- 83; Consultant, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, since 1987. Acting Head of Department, University of Lagos, 1986- 1987, 1989- 1992; Acting Dean, since 1995 – 1998; Head, Department of Oral Medicine, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah; Saudi – Arabia, 1992; Associate Professor, 1992- 1994; Head, Division of Oral Pathology, 1993-1994; board, Directors, Medilag Consult. In the University system, it is either you publish or perish. Series of my publications got me promotion.

What is your best delicacy?

I am very contended. I eat anything that I am offered. Of recent, I like Amala and Ewedu. If you give me another food at another day, I will eat it.

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