OLUSOLA ERINLE (ENGINEER)
Interviewed by Funke Olaode
Where were you born?
I am from Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State but I was born in the northern part of Nigeria. It was interesting growing up in Zaria in the present day Kaduna State. My father worked for an international company then called London and Kano Trading Company. Being an international company, he was always on frequent transfer; from Zaria to Jos to Kano. We lived in the Sabongari area which was predominantly peopled by Igbos, Yorubas and a few Hausas.
How would you say parental influenced helped your endeavours?
Having educated parents was an advantage and there was always motivation to read and get educated. This influenced the progress one made. The discipline too has helped. It was a disciplined life because my parents didn’t spare the rod at all. The slightest prank could earn severe punishment. The religious background also helped because my father was an active Anglican. My secondary school, Christ School, Ado Ekiti also played a significant role in moulding one in both learning and character.
You came from a relatively privileged background, which tends to create a burden of expectations. Did you feel the pressure to excel?
Initially, I was rascally. I didn’t want to read, I wasn’t serious. And that was why they moved me from the North to a private school in Ibadan, Children Home School. It was challenging but I overcame. By the time I got into the secondary school in Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, I started doing well from the first term and never wanted to fall back. From there, I became a good performer. It was a new environment but I enjoyed it.
What influenced you to study engineering?
From the onset I had wanted to be an engineer. My school also prepared me. While in secondary school I was good in the science subjects. With modesty, I had one of the best results in my set in 1967. I had a Western Region scholarship to Comprehensive School, Ayetoro for my Higher School Certificate (HSC) where I did Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and English. Normally, students were restricted to three subjects but I did four. Again, I had one of the best results as well in 1969. After my HSC I didn’t know what to do. I was contemplating whether to do chemical engineering or mechanical engineering.
I applied to the University of Ife for Chemical Technology, University of Lagos Mechanical Engineering and Ahmadu Bello University Mechanical Engineering. I had admission in all the three universities. Interestingly, I was doing a vacation job at Nigeria Television Authority in preparation for my resumption at the varsity when my plans changed.
I met an old student now Prof. Akin Oyebode. I said to him “You must have graduated now?” He said no I am currently in Soviet Union. He said it is an opportunity to get out of the country. I was later invited for a scholarship interview which I passed. I ended up going to the Soviet Union where I studied Mechanical/Chemical Engineering (a combined honour).
What was your experience jetting out to an unknown terrain?
It was an extremely cold environment so it was tough for me. But I coped by dressing so warmly that I wouldn’t feel it. I missed home and the food and all that. At a stage I planned to come back to Nigeria. I saw an escape route two months after I got to the Soviet Union. Federal Government scholarship for Nigerian universities was announced and I got a scholarship to study at Ahmadu Bello University.
I told my father that I would like to come back to Nigeria but he prevailed on me. He encouraged me to stay on and today I have no regrets. I spent six years and had a Master’s degree. I came back home after my programme and did my youth service in Port Harcourt. I joined Nipol, a plastic engineering company in Apata, Ibadan in 1977. After four years in Ibadan I was invited to join the UAC in 1981 in the Business Equipment and Manufacture (BEAM) where Mr. Felix Osifo was the general manager. Again, I decided to leave that section because engineering practice in Nigeria is very limited.
What are the fond memories of the old times?
They are many. I enjoyed my undergraduate days in Soviet Union. I remember we used to travel from Soviet Union to London or United States during holidays. We actually engaged in small trading. We would buy things from Moscow and sell in London. We were able to live comfortably well.
Sometimes our profit from one trip covers our annual allowance. So I travelled very widely. I enjoyed my youth that even as an undergraduate I was married. I met a Nigerian lady who was studying medicine, our chemistry just jelled and we decided to get married. By the special grace of God I have grown up children and a grand-child in secondary school.
What is the secret of your youthful look?
It is the grace of God and contentment. Also, physical exercise also helps. I love badminton game. Life in retirement has been good as well. These days, I am involved in community work, consulting and all that.
If you could turn back the hand of clock are there things you would have done differently?
If I had a chance again, I would have taken advantage of opportunity available for me to network while in UAC.
What lesson has life taught you?
While working for others no matter how comfortable you are, you should not forget to think about your future early enough.
What is your philosophy of life?
Do your best and no matter your level, be good to people around you. Live a good life, be content with your situation; trust in the Lord and work hard to attain goals that are attainable.