Epunchng - Most read newspaper in Nigeria Thursday, December 7, 2017 - Page 42

42 THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2017 interview Y Pregnancy at 19 changed my life – Lekki British School owner OU started a private school at 27 at a time when such venture was a preserve of retired teachers. How did it happen? Back in my secondary school days at St. Loius, Ibadan, I was good at mathematics and my father, who was an accountant, felt I would make a good accountant. Unfortunately, I had a baby immediately I left secondary school. My father was very angry with me and I was angry with myself as well. He took the baby from me at 11 months and I went to London to study. The early motherhood, however, changed my perception. While I was nursing the baby, my mind switched from being an accountant to education of children. When I got to England, I started doing child education as a course. It wasn’t challenging enough and I wanted to pull out. However, I had a college mother who advised me to finish my first diploma in education before changing to accountancy. I listened. In the course of my first year, my interest got developed and I stayed in the field. After three years, I finished. When I returned and my parents introduced me to my child, he started calling me aunty. He was calling my sister mummy. And it has been like that till date. However, I observed that I loved children. I taught at Adrao International School for two years. There I saw that not only did I love children, they loved me as well. At times they would go home and start writing notes about what I wore to school. When I got to the school in my car, they would fight over who will carry my bags. I later moved to St Saviour’s School, Ebute Metta, which was headed by a British woman. I got fulfilment in that school and became attracted to the British curriculum. That summer, I went to Disneyland in Florida with my kids. I saw there was much to attract children. I saw a lot of things and characters – like Mickey Mouse, and the rest of them. So, I decided to start a school when I was only 27 years. How did your parents receive the news? When I told my mum, she said I should go back to work because I would go hungry. She said, ‘How many of your mates do you see going into school ownership? Have you ever seen any young person in that field? Most of the people are retired teachers with a lot of experience’. But I didn’t listen. I wanted to show off something new. I was determined to go into it. Here in Nigeria, it was all about passing exams, going to school. But I wanted a school that was full of fun; things that would interest children more. How did you get approval for the school? I had got a bungalow in the Palmgroove area of Somolu and did some designs with very attractive colours. I noticed that anytime a family drove past that place, the children would point to the place, saying that was where they wanted; because of those characters and attractions. When I went to the Ministry of Education for approval to open the school, they refused. I changed the school’s resumption dates three times. After the third time, I went to the Ministry of Education at 7am to meet the Permanent Secretary. He came in around half past 8am and I had to sit without food till around 5pm when he finally called me in. He said he would not give me approval because his officers had yet to inspect the facility. I told him I had been calling them for the past six months without any response. He said •Laja with some pupils of the school Dr Abiodun Laja is the Executive Director of the Lekki British School, Lekki, Lagos. She started a private school at 27 and recently celebrated her 40th anniversary in the education sector. In this interview, she told SAMSON FOLARIN how becoming pregnant at 19 changed her career path and the challenges she had faced over the years Dr Laja there was nothing he could do. I got very emotional and walked out of his office in tears. While descending the stairs, I bumped into a clerk, who pushed me away. When he saw that I was in tears, he showed some empathy. I asked where the office of the commissioner was and he told me. I met the man’s secretary, who said he was attending to a lady and I could wait. Around 5.30pm, I saw the secretary step out to go to the toilet and I quickly entered into the office. When he saw me, he was taken aback. I guess my tears and dressing also got his attention. He asked the lady he was chatting with to excuse him. He got up, gave me a handkerchief and said I should wipe my tears first. He was a gentleman to the core. He asked what the problem was and how he could help. I told him the story. The first thing he said was that I looked familiar. He asked if I knew one Dr Laja, who happened to be my sister. Immediately, I said yes and felt a bit more relaxed. Apparently, he lived in the same area with my family. I told him that I had been calling the inspectors to see my school, and they had refused to come. So, he called the lady in charge of investigation. Immediately she entered and saw me in front of him, her countenance changed. He asked her if she knew me, and she said yes. He asked if she was aware I had changed my resumption dates three times and I had given the parents Monday as another resumption date, when it was already 5.30pm on Friday and I was yet to get any inspection or approval. 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