Chief (Dr) Johnson George Oladeji Adegbite was the Pioneer Registrar of the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, then Obafemi Awolowo University, Ado-Ekiti.
The Atayese of Ayegbaju-Ekiti, Atoye of Iyin-Ekiti, Elemeso of Ado-Ekiti and Otun Olokunodu of Oke Ayedun-Ekiti was also a former Commissioner at the Federal Character Commission (FCC) Abuja.
He talked to Daily Trust issues, among them the struggles on the establishment of the Ekiti State University and being fulfilled at 80.
I was born in Ado-Ekiti on Thursday August 8, 1940.
My father put me in Emmanuel Nursery school Ado-Ekiti, around 1945/46.
It was a school for the children of the elite then.
I spent two years in the nursery school and started primary school proper in 1947.
From there, I went to Emmanuel Senior Primary school from 1951 to 1954.
Then, I took the entrance examination to Christ School Ado-Ekiti, which was the most popular school in this area at that time.
I came first in the entrance examination, so I was given a scholarship by the Western Nigeria Scholarship then.
I entered Christ School in 1955.
In secondary school, I played football very well; I was the school goalkeeper for the junior team – 1955 to 57.
In 1958, when I was in form four, I became the school goalkeeper for the senior team, but before that time in 1958, the school gave me the post of a post boy, which impacted on my life later.
I didn’t know that all the teachers were taking note of the fact that I had a very great sense of time.
I had a wrist watch, and every morning, I would leave my house by 7am, going round the masters’ houses.
Sometimes when I get to their houses, the masters wouldn’t have changed.
So, when they were discussing at the end of the year, all of them voted for me as the post boy.
Anybody who was a post boy was exempted from cutting grass.
They said I was responsible and my sense for time was fantastic.
On getting to form five, I became the senior perfect of the school, and I did not play football for the school again, I was only keeping for my house alone.
However, something remarkable happened when I was in Standard five in 1953.
That thing has stuck in my head up till now.
I bought an atlas and wrote my name on it; Adegbite, MA London, MSc Chicago, PhD Toronto, I was just 13.
You can imagine how someone, at age 13, predicted what he would become, and the prediction later came to fruition.
I took the entrance examination to University College Ibadan in 1961 and again, I came either first or second in the faculty of Arts entrance examination and I was given state scholarship.
In the university, we had about five faculties and the first two in each of those faculties were always given state scholarship every year.
As luck would have it, I was part of those 10 in the whole of the country; Christ School always made three out of the ten, which shows you the importance of Christ school at that time, and I was one of those who got the scholarship.
I passed out of the university with a second-class upper degree in History.
After I left the university, I was given an appointment with the Ministry of Defence in Lagos.
I was Assistant Secretary for Navy and Air force matters.
They gave 12 of us automatic employment in the Federal Civil Service without interview.
After sometime, I became AS Army Special duties. At that time, Prof. Ajayi was phoning me every day; they’d given me scholarship to come and do a PhD.
When my mother died, I never forgot the family responsibility left on my shoulders.
By 1968, I left for the University of Ife as an administrative officer.
I did the interview three times because Oluwasanmi didn’t want me to come to the university as an administrator.
He said I should go and complete the PhD and join the academics but I persisted. At the third interview, I boldly challenged him and said, ‘Mr. Vice Chancellor sir, do you need a dullard in administration’?
He said, ‘You made a 2/1 and I said yes, I want to use the 2/1 in the administration of this university’.
He took off his glasses, looked hard at me and said I should get out of the interview room.
I was later told that the other members prevailed on him by telling him that they probably made a mistake by not appointing me two or three years before then, after all, they were looking for a registrar.
So, they called me again, asked what my salary was, and that was how I joined the administration of the university as an administrative officer in 1968.
I was promoted to an assistant Registrar after two years because of the way I performed my duties, then to senior assistant Registrar, and after another two years to deputy Registrar.
I became deputy Registrar in 1976, and Director of General Administration, Director of Students Affairs, all at Ife.
I came there in 1968, I became Assistant Registrar in 1970, Senior Assistant Registrar in 1973, Deputy Registrar in 1976, Director of Students Affairs in 1979, so, it was from there, I was appointed as the pioneer Registrar of Ado-Ekiti University.
Which year were you appointed as Registrar of the university?
I was appointed Registrar on August 1, 1982, the University started on March 30, 1982.
The pioneer Vice Chancellor, Prof. Oladapo of blessed memory, was going round the universities talking to Vice Chancellors and gathering information.
I didn’t know that somebody had told him about me; that if he needed a prudent person, he should go to Ife and look for one young man called Adegbite.
Meanwhile, they had advertised for Registrar and other positions but I didn’t apply because I didn’t want to come to Ado-Ekiti, which is my home town.
I had thought it would give me some problems, leaving Ife and coming to Ado-Ekiti.
Again, in Ife, I was one of those touted as the next Registrar.
When the man came to see Oluwasanmi, he asked us (the two deputy Registrars) to join him because the man wanted to ask some questions.
As I was going, he stopped me and said I should wait for him outside.
He told me that wherever he went to, people have been mentioning my name as the person who should work with him in the university but he was yet to see my application letter.
He didn’t know that people were also pressurizing me to apply so I had submitted my application that weekend.
So, I was shortlisted and interviewed.
I came first and I was appointed. I became the second staff of the University after the VC and you can imagine; we started the university from the scratch.
We were shuttling between Akure and Ado-Ekiti for the first four months.
Governor Ajasin gave us a temporary office in Akure, at the Catering Guest house.
That was where we started the University in Akure.
As the first Registrar, how would you describe the challenges?
The challenges were tremendous. Fortunately, my first Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ifedayo Oladapo, was a deputy VC at the University of Lagos, so we had experience, hard work and everything to our advantage at the university.
I was also Deputy Registrar in Ife before I got appointed. Three things – I was deputy Registrar and Director of General Administration in Ife, from 1976 to 1979.
Before that time, I was Executive Assistant to VC Oluwasanmi, who built the University of Ife.
He was the greatest VC in this country then, and when I started, I was in general administration at Ife, later moved to personnel and then to his office as assistant to him.
I already garnered experience moving round the Registry in Ife and ending up as Director of Students Affairs, when student’s affairs in Ife was very turbulent.
That was the time we had Belgore Tribunal in Ife, so on coming to Ado-Ekiti, two of us were so compatible.
He wrote it down in his memories, that working with me was God sent.
He said our attitude to work was the same, we were both workaholics and he would see me anytime – day or night, and if I had any problem, I would go to him also.
So, we were symbiotic together.
The work I was doing there was like what I was doing as the Assistant Registrar in Ife.
Building the university was no problem for us because we were used to hard work.
There was a time we were to have the turning of the sod of the university, and there was petrol scarcity.
We were supposed to bring members of council to Ado-Ekiti, and to send cars to go and bring them.
I and the VC were out in Ekiti and running round for petrol in the night.
Fortunately, we were able to get and everything went on fine.
In fact, Awolowo came, everybody came and they commended us.
Later on, Akhigbe came and we had problems.
We didn’t have money in time, and we were supposed to make something out of nothing.
In fact, he wanted to scrap the university, he said there was no fund, but the people said this was the only thing we had in this area.
If you had seen me when we were graduating our first set of students, it was a great feeling of fulfilment.
It was supposed to be in March, our foundation/anniversary day but because of the problems we were facing, we shifted our graduation to November 1986 instead of waiting till March of 1987.
You needed to see me when I was calling the names of the students, I was just smiling and smiling, that we have come to stay.
If we were able to graduate our first set of students, nobody can cancel the university again.
If we didn’t work the way we had worked, this university would have collapsed and it would have been a disaster.
However, the university has grown in leaps and bounds.
We started with only three faculties – Arts, Science and Social Sciences. Now, the place has grown.
We have ten or even fifteen faculties now. So, the university is like the grain of mustard seed which was planted and has grown and become a big tree where birds of all kinds perch.
We have grown from three to about twenty buildings.
We started with only three or four bungalows; we now have high rise buildings all over the place.
For how many years were you the pioneer Registrar?
I was pioneer Registrar for 13 years. I started in August 1982 and retired in October 1995.
I spent 14 years in Ife, eight with the Federal Government -Ministry of Defence. So, I spent 35 years in the public service.
I retired in 1995 after 35 years in service.
The rule of the public service is that you are either 60 years of age or 35 years in service, whichever comes first.
I took the later option because I commenced my service from January 1960 when I left school.
I was teaching and I got scholarship too, so they merged my service from January 1, 1960 to October 1995.
People were saying I was not yet 60, but I made up my mind to go after 35 years and as God would have it, I was at home for only one month before FG gave me another federal appointment.
People saw my name in the papers that Gen. Abacha appointed me and we started the Federal Character Commission in December 1995.
I was playing my barilla at the club when one of my uncles said they heard my name in the news.
When I watched the network news, I saw my name as a member of the FCC.
So, you never had prior knowledge of the appointment?
I know that people know me, but nobody told me. Some of my friends may have put in some words here and there, but I didn’t know.
One thing I could say about the military at that time was that they were looking for capable people without anybody lobbying, and that was what happened.
There were 37 of us because the FCT was also represented, with Alhaji Adamu Fika as the chairman.
The inauguration was done on December 27, 1995, in Abuja and I represented Ondo State as a Commissioner.
What was your experience like working at the Federal Character Commission?
All of us were people with experience, either as retired registrars or retired Vice Chancellors, retired Head of Service, so it was as good as that.
In fact, I met somebody there the day we were inaugurated. We were having our tea break and he was looking at me.
It happened that we were classmates in 1965 at the University of Ibadan.
It took 35 years before we saw again. He even called me during my birthday. He was a civil servant in Cross River State, rose to become Permanent Secretary, Head of Service, retired as HoS and was appointed as a member of the FCC.
Our chairman was the Head of Service at the Federal level before he retired.
Six of us were asked to draft the guiding principles for formula for the distribution of posts and amenities and so on.
How would you assess what happened then and what is happening in the country now, especially at the FCC?
The principles we used then are what they are still using.
When states were created, Gen. Abacha said those of us from where new states were created should be managing two states together.
I became FCC commissioner for Ondo and Ekiti states at that time. The same person was for Rivers and Bayelsa, the person in Plateau represented Plateau and Nassarawa etc.
He gave us five years in the first instance, and if he hadn’t died, he would have renewed for another five years.
When politics came in 1999, Obasanjo told us to continue our work because it had the backing of the constitution.
But the politicians, according to Obasanjo, wanted us to be disbanded because they thought we were making money there.
He (Obasanjo) told us that we should go ahead with our work; that the politicians were hungry and angry, but that he told them we were a constitutional committee commission and if they send us away, we can sue them and claim our money for the period we would have served, that was why they left us alone.
So, at the end of five years, they thanked us and we went our ways.
How many associations did you belonged to?
Talking of professional association, I was a member of Association of Universities Administrators, a fellow of Personnel Association of Nigeria, a member of Commonwealth Universities Commission and so on.
I was one of the foundation members of Rotary Club in Ado-Ekiti, I have been in Rotary since 1982.
I brought Rotary to Ado-Ekiti in 1982 and I have been standing firm in Ado up till now.
I became a Paul Harris fellow of Rotary in Ado, which is the highest honour in 1986 and in religious organizations, I’m the President of Morning Star Society of Nigeria in Ado-Ekiti and their current president.
Again, a member of Full Gospel Fellowship, Inland Club, chairman of table tennis association of Inland club, Ekiti State, I played table tennis very well; up till now, I still do.
These days, I devote my time only to Rotary, Inland Club and the Church, and I have written two books.
Let’s talk about your experiences in Rotary Club
Rotary is a philanthropic organization and as I told you, I brought it to Ado-Ekiti, I was president of Ado-Ekiti Rotary Club in 1985/86.
I was an assistant Governor for Rotary in old Ondo State at that time.
There were 12 of them, that time I toured with the district Governor.
We have been donating things to the less privilege; we have been doing things for Ado-Ekiti community.
When I was President, I established Rotary in five areas in Ekiti and Ondo states then.
I started the Rotary Club of Akure, Ikere then, Ijero, Ero, Ikole, Omua.
As I said, I was assistant Governor 1988/89, 89/90, 90/91, 91/92, 92/93 before I said they should choose another person. Right now, they call me Father of Rotary in Ado-Ekiti,
because out of those of us who started in 1982, I’m the last man standing.
In fact, it was the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti who gave me the name “Father of Rotary.”
Who are the important personalities you met in the course of your jobs?
Gen. Abacha appointed us as FCC commissioners but we weren’t seeing him on daily basis.
When he invited all of us to Aso Rock to brief him on our work, he liked what we came up it.
He was impressed and said he would ensure that the document was implemented.
Prof. H. A. Oluwasanmi was the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ife when I joined them.
He was the man who built Ife as the most beautiful campus in the world. At that time, I worked with three of them – Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as well as Prof. Cyril Onwumechili – an Igbo man who later became the VC of Ife.
In Ado here, there’s Chief Ajayi, who was my teacher in Form One; also Prof. B.A. Ajayi and then Augustus Adebayo, who was a permanent Secretary and Head of Service in Ondo State then.
Those are three great giants that I worked with and who also shaped my life at that time.
What significant memories did you have with the former governor of old Ondo State?
Late Micheal Ajasin – it was during his time that I was appointed.
The moment he saw me and they told him that I worked with Oluwasanmi, he said ‘you would have gotten plenty of experience’.
He didn’t interfere with our job but he was stingy with money; he said he would give us N6 million to start the university, we didn’t get more than N600,000, because they didn’t have money too.
However, he respected university autonomy at that time, he didn’t interfere.
When the military came, Otiko, who became military administrator, was an old student of Christ School, though I didn’t meet him in school.
He graduated in 1953 and I joined the school in 1955, but he knew me, may be for political reasons.
He was the one who changed the name of our university.
He didn’t like the name Obafemi Awolowo University, because he said we didn’t give Ondo State people the collective ownership that they should have, so he changed the name of the school to Ondo State University.
What is your favourite food?
Being an Ekiti man, people would be surprise that it is not iyan (pounded yam) because they say I’m an expatriate Ekiti man.
I only eat pounded yam once a week. People don’t believe it but that is me, maybe because I didn’t stay much in Ekiti.
My favourite food now is rice and beans.
What are your hobbies?
I have been a games man from day one.
Table tennis is my hobby, and I did it to the extent that I was the state chairman of Ekiti State table tennis association.
People are surprise that I can still play table tennis at 80.
I play billiard; I play Ayo game.
When I couldn’t go to the club because of this COVID-19, I changed to walking.
I do my walking in the mornings between forty-five minutes to one hour.
At 80, how will you compare life then and now?
Both old and present ages have their own merits and demerits.
There are so many things that people were doing in the past that were good, and there are so many things that people are doing now that are also good, but each has its own shortcomings.
I told you that from age 8, I had already made up my mind what I wanted to become in life – not this age of running after money, craze for money, craze for wealth.
When I started primary school, the motto of the school was ‘aim high and be through’.
Since that early age, I have not only been aiming high, but being through.
It takes hard work and painstaking efforts before you can achieve what you want to be.
These days, people don’t look at things in that way.
If I were to be a vagabond, after losing my dad before I was 8, nobody would believe that I would become what I am today, but it took hard work, prayer and dedication.
I couldn’t have become a head of a school or a senior perfect if there were no traces of leadership qualities in me.
I couldn’t have become somebody they liked and trusted with their money as post boy in Christ School.
Teachers used to give me money to buy money order, stamp, and so on, and they trusted me to deliver.
If I were pilfering their money, it would have affected me. These days, ‘yahoo, yahoo’ is the order of the day.
People are in a hurry to get rich. Look at the recent case of Hushpuppy.
Anyway, I’m sure God would not leave us to suffer forever.
There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
Nigeria would still be better; Rome was not built in a day.
At 80, what advice or new thing do you want to see in the country?
I think the military had a role to play in the present condition of the nation, even though I had commended them on looking out for merit before getting people appointed.
They more or less destroyed this country at that time because they could do away with anything without answering to anybody.
One of the reasons why I read History and became an administrator is because administrators do not do things in a hurry, they weigh the options.
Historians are good administrators; they look at things from different angles – right, left and centre before they reach a conclusion.
I think Nigeria would become better if we take a look at our past mistakes.
Don’t be in a rush to conclude on anything.
You weigh the several options; that is why historians are very good.
You study the history of the past, which gives you a better understanding of the past, for the present and gives you a prognosis of the future.
Anybody who does not learn from history cannot plan anything.
When they said Nigeria took history out of the school curriculum, all of us kicked against it.
How do you feel celebrating 80?
It was a feeling of nostalgia on that Saturday.
We prayed while making plans because people make plans and never succeed, some die before the day.
I was so happy, especially looking at my first daughter on Zoom.
She had wanted to come from Atlanta but couldn’t come home because of COVID-19.
All the same, we were all happy that we could mark the event via the internet (Zoom).
All our relations were there. Awosusi, my former staff who was Registrar at Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, organized this and I was so happy.
The VC chaired the event, and the children renovated this place.
There were cards all over the place.
Governor Kayode Fayemi did advertisement on behalf of the state, Femi Orebe wrote something in the paper, my children, relatives, people I worked with at one time or the other, eulogized me; I am satisfied and fulfilled in life.
The plaque in front of my house is my motto – 1 Corinthians 15v10: “It is by the Grace of God that I am what I am”.
I called this place ‘The Grace of God Villa’, so, who am I not to thank God for what has happened to me?
How many people born at the same time with me lived up to 80, reached the pinnacle of their career and were fulfilled family men?
Everything just points to the grace of God. So, I am very satisfied.
Everywhere I had worked, people respected me.
The first set of students of Ondo State University Ado-Ekiti gave me a golden award sometime last year.
Most of them came from London, Canada and so on, to Lagos to honour me. Their president phoned me to say they are organizing another seminar for me, about 1000 of them.
If they could celebrate me, why won’t I be happy?
The governor personally brought another letter home, congratulating me, even after publicizing my birthday.
Any words for Nigerians?
Well, I am happy that Nigeria is making progress.
No matter what people say, we have only one country, though there are problems here and there.
The problems would be solved if we are dedicated, prayerful and if we have vision.
Anybody who wants to be great in life must work hard, he must pray hard to be able to succeed and I’m sure Nigeria would get there.
One thing I advise is that people should not curse Nigeria or be abusive.
If an American wakes up from his sleep, he/she says ‘God bless America’, so Nigerians should also learn to say ‘God bless Nigeria’.
We should pray for those in authority; the Bible says that it is God that put them there.
Your prayer can help them not to make mistakes.
I advice Nigerians to be positive in their thinking, they should pray for the country and the leaders, and God will bless us.