He had despaired he would not further his education, after the completion of his secondary school education at Beje High School, Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State. But succour came his way, courtesy of Rotary Club and Premier Sisters Club. Now a medical doctor, his initial dream was to be a cobbler. Dr. Babatunde Ipaye is Ogun State Commissioner for Health. He tells Femi Ogbonnikan, about his poor family background, his survival and eventual success
What is your background?
My name is Dr Babatunde Ipaye. I am from Oke-Agbo, in Ijebu-Igbo, Ijebu North Local Government Area of Ogun state. I was born on May 15, 1970. I attended my primary and secondary schools in Ijebu-Igbo; first at St. John’s Primary School and Beje High School. I left the primary in 1981 and my secondary school in 1986. I left the secondary school, with the hope of learning how to make shoes, because my elder siblings in the nuclear family could not further their education, because nobody was going to pay their school fees. I finished my secondary school education with seven distinctions and everybody in Ijebu-Igbo town became attracted with that WAEC O/L result and I was able to further my education, with scholarship awards. As I have told people severally, I had been admitted to learn how to make shoes and my father had already registered me with a friend who was a shoe-maker. But, on a certain day when I was playing football in front of our house in Ijebu-Igbo, a Post master, in those days, brought a letter to me, and when I opened it late in the night I saw that it was an admission letter for me to study medicine and surgery. I didn’t know how I came by it; I only remembered then that my secondary school principal paid for my JAMB form, some few months before I wrote my WAEC, but I was not expecting anything out of it. When I had this admission letter, combined with the performance at my WAEC, the Rotary Club of Ijebu-Igbo was gracious to give me scholarship award. The Lion Club of Ijebu-Igbo also gave me a scholarship and of course, the PRESSI Sisters, an association of Ijebu-Igbo women, who were based in Lagos, called Premier Club of Ijebu-Igbo Ladies also awarded me scholarship for six years. So, that was how I reverted from learning shoe-making to study medicine at the Ogun State University (now, Olabisi Onabanjo University), Ago-Iwoye. I was at the Ogun State University for six years and I graduated as the best overall medical doctor in 1992, with five University awards, including the Vice Chancellor’s Prize and several other prizes. I went for the national youth service at Delta State University, Abraka and I came back and I started work at Victory Specialist Hospital, Ijebu-Igbo and established my own private practice, Idunnu Hospital, in Ijebu-Igbo in 1995. I ran it for several years before I went for my Postgraduate Study to study Public Health and I became a Fellow of the West African Public Health in 1996. I was a lecturer/consultant at the Ogun State University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, before I joined International Development agencies. I worked for FHI. I worked for UK DFI and I worked for the World Bank, then. Now, I was graciously appointed as Ogun State Commissioner for Health.
Did your father’s advice to learn shoe-making go down well with you?
I had no choice, because it was not a matter of going down well with me or not. I came from a fairly poor household, and you’re someone who had never seen a university in your life, you had never been to one and you did not know how it looked like, then you could not miss what you didn’t know. Besides, nobody had ever gone to a university in my household and it was just a norm or a tradition. My elder sister had learnt tailoring and my immediate elder brother had learnt plumbing. And within our viewpoint, it was just traditional for you to pick something you wanted to learn and make living out of it. So, it was not surprising; it was just an expectation.
Was your brilliance not enough reason for your father to change his mind?
It was not a matter of changing his mind, but a matter of affordability. Of course, there is no parent that would not wish his or her child should excel in life and go above his or her expectations. But the bottom-line there was that, it was assumed that university education was expensive and not affordable for the poor. They didn’t have the privilege of the benefit of it. There was nothing else to miss. Yes, my father admitted that I was brilliant in secondary school and everybody in my school knew that and I also knew it. Though education is good, but the question was who was going to pay for it, even if he decided to push me forward. I assumed that if my performance was not that outstanding, it would also not have attracted the attention that it got. If it was just an average performance it would not have gone down history, but you know, it was a result everybody was seeking out; to know that boy, who was in a very rural school, Beje High School. So, it was a combination of hardwork and people’s desire to be good and push forward what they had, as a sign of excellence.
Where did you get money to obtain the JAMB form?
I told you, my Principal, Mrs. Victoria Ogunyemi bought it, and she remains my adopted mother now. She saw the potential in me and I didn’t have to talk to my parents, but she just obtained the JAMB form for me and took me personally to Ijebu Ode to write the JAMB examination. And for me, she remains the source of the success, because if I had not written the JAMB examination, then there wouldn’t be a letter of admission that was brought by the Post-Master thereafter.
Where did your interest in medicine come from?
The traditional thing in those days was study of medicine. In every school the conversation around brilliant and smart students was either you wanted to be a medical doctor or a lawyer. Medicine was the preferred profession in our neighbourhood and it sounded good when we listen to people, calling them Doctor so, so and so. Besides that, there was a Catholic Hospital, St Joseph, not far away from our house and we used to go into the compound to pluck guava and we would see Doctors and nurses well dressed. So, that was an aspiration brought out by peer pressure and the respect for the profession at that time, nothing more. Probably, if I was well counseled, maybe, with the benefit of hindsight, I would not have studied medicine, if you look at other opportunities in other professions in Nigeria.
How rough was your upbringing like while in primary and secondary schools?
Just situate the experience of a poor boy, with a poor background, poor parents and rural with limited opportunities in the environment. You would only make the best of waking up in the morning, and given amala or eba to eat. You would go to play and, of course, I was also helping my mother to hawk food items like cooked rice, cooked yam and other seasonal foods. So, I did that until I was going to Form 5 in this (Beje High) school. So, beginning from Primary Three, my mother would cook rice, put them inside leaves and I would sell them. I also used that opportunity to make little money to buy sweet and chewing gum. That was a life. You would go to school in the morning, thank goodness, courtesy of Awolowo era, primary education was free in school, and when we closed from school, if it was a season for yam, my mother would have cooked yam and I would hawk around the streets. I would come back home eat my food and sleep off. I did that for years. It was fun.
You established ‘Ajoke Ipaye Foundation’ in aid of brilliant but indigent students studying in Nigerian universities. What informed that?
I told you that when I was 16 years old and I had these remarkable and well-noticed results of my WAEC and JAMB, in 1986 members of the Rotary Club of Ijebu-Igbo invited me and graciously awarded me a scholarship, without applying for it. They just felt, this very young man had played his part and they gave me a scholarship of N1, 000, per year for six years. Lion Club gave me a scholarship for the first year in 1986, just once and the Premier Club of Ijebu-Igbo, the PRESSI Sisters also gave me a scholarship of N1, 000, every year for six years. So, I was able to pay my school fees from the two scholarship awards for the period of six years; money from the Rotary Club and PRESSI Sisters. On that day, I had a covenant with God that if God answers my prayer and, as far as I could afford to, I would do the same. So, when I turned 40 years old, it was an opportunity for me to fulfill that commitment; to say that if the good people had not taken me out of poverty-line at that time, then I would not have been what I am today. So, for me, it is an opportunity to give back to that Ijebu-Igbo community that made me, because all those who were members of the clubs that gave me scholarship awards were Indigenes of Ijebu-Igbo either as PRESSI Sisters or Rotary Club members. They gave me university scholarship awards every year, and mine was a way of looking back and say thank you God, and thank the good people for their good deeds.
Apart from tuitions, which was paid through scholarships, who was responsible for your upkeep?
A thousand Naira in 1986 was a lot of money. My tuition fees then was N276 per session. So, what I did was once I collected the first scholarship award from the Rotary Club and the second from the PRESSI Sisters, I saved the two at Savannah Bank, Ijebu-Igbo branch. I would pay my tuition fees of N276 and I would be left with about N1, 724. Out of that, I made sure I didn’t spend more than N150 to maintain myself, every month. I would go to the bank at the beginning of every month, withdraw my allowance and go back to school, while I made sure I lived within my allowance. Of course, my mother was also very supportive; she would give me raw rice and other foodstuffs. Occasionally, my dad also, from his very poor pocket, would bring out something once in a while.
So far, how many undergraduates have benefitted from the scheme?
Well, about 25 people now have benefitted, and the good story about it is not about those who have benefitted but the successes we have recorded from it. We have produced about two or three first class graduates; we have produced several second class upper; and one of them is in the Law School now. He had just paid his Law School fees. The first one that had first class from University of Ibadan (UI) in English and Linguistic has gone abroad for his Master’s degree programme. He even had a distinction in his Master’s degree programme and he will be going for his PhD soon. This was a boy that we picked up at a sawmill when he was also following his mother to sell planks.
For me, that is a story of from grass to grace; and very recently, the guy was invited by a German institution to make a presentation on behalf of the University of Ibadan. For me, this is a story in life-changing intervention, because some people touched my life and I am now opportune and privileged to touch the lives of others.
Who is responsible for this young man overseas Post Graduate programmes?
He just secured admission and the admission came with scholarship award and I will be supporting him with every other fee, definitely.
You were once an Advisor to the World Bank on HIV/AIDS and subsequently Malaria fever. How did you go about them?
When I started my international development work, my first place of work was Family Health International on a DFID-funded project. From there, I was appointed as a longtime Advisor to the National Malaria Control Programme in Nigeria. The clarity I am going to make is that, my Advisor to Malaria was DFID-funded. It was a UK Government funded project and DFID is the arm of the United Kingdom government that supports international development, and domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Health to help in reforming the malaria control programme in Nigeria. I was selected among those who contested for the position, based on merit. Of course, part of my achievements was to that I assisted Nigeria secure 485 million dollars grant-in-aid for the first time in the history of malaria control in the world. It was the biggest public health funded support that any country would receive at that time. After two years of work as Advisor in malaria, I joined the World Bank as a Consultant in HIV/AIDS Specialist, supporting the implementation of the HIV development project for Nigeria, in all the states.
I was there for almost four years before His Excellency, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun graciously appointed me the Commissioner for Health in Ogun State.
You are not a politician but you are in the cabinet of the Ogun State Government, how did you get this appointment?
No! I’m a politician. I have always been a politician and you could remember, I wanted to contest for the House of Representatives on the platform of the APC. I have always been a politician. I was a member of the AD between 1999 and 2004 before the party dissolved into two factions. I was even a State Officer. I was an Assistant Treasurer for AD in Ogun State, at that time. And then, I joined some of the AD people through Afenifere to form DPA. I was Campaign Manager for Alhaji Adegbenga Kaka, now Senator, during his governorship aspiration. And when we also moved back to ACN I was Kaka’s Campaign Manager for his successful election into the Senate. When APC was formed I also attempted to run for the House of Representatives but, of course, I had to step down for zoning reasons, and then, the position was taken to another Local Government Area and I was the coordinator for Sen. Amosun’s re-election in my local government for his second term re-election. I was also the coordinator of the 20 coordinators across the state. I was part and parcel of the electoral victory of 2015. And I will describe myself as a politician, as well as a technocrat.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife when I crossed over to the clinical stage in Sagamu medical school, OOUTH. She was a young girl and about to be admitted into the University. We had gone to play football as medical students and as we were coming back, we stopped in a particular place where they were selling cold drinks and we sat to drink and I saw the beautiful and elegant lady, coming out to give us coke and other drinks; I became attracted and we became friends and she got admitted into the University, then and our friendship continued. That was how we met. And we dated for six years before we got married.
Did her parents object to your union?
Not really! As I told you, we were friends and we courted for six years. Her parents wanted to object at the point of marriage because we got married when she just graduated. And the father felt that he would have preferred that she worked for some time and that was the little objection, not necessarily, but after some persuasions, because she was pretty young they felt she needed to have job experience, you should know what mothers usually expect. Particularly, the father was very supportive and they trusted me that they have known me for a reasonable period of time. It wasn’t anything difficult. There was no serious objection.