Prof. Solomon Adebola: How I Turned My Dreams into Reality

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How I Became a ‘Doctor of Mathematics’ in Secondary School

He is currently a Professor of Management Science whose foundation was rooted in Mathematics as a federal scholar at the University of Ibadan. Again, he grew up in the 6os where his early exposure to the educational system was limited to secondary education due to the lean availability of the ivory tower then. But the dexterity and prowess with which he handled the subject Mathematics while in secondary school earned him the nickname ‘Doctor’ and the master tricks of all subjects, Mathematics. From the backwaters of Kabba in Kogi State, he became a global icon acquiring education in universities across Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Pragmatic and brilliant, meet Prof. Solomon Ajayi Adebola, President and Vice Chancellor of Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State. Funke Olaode unveils the Kogi-born erudite scholar.

He is an erudite scholar and accomplished professor of Mathematics whose life is torn between mathematics and the financial industry. But if you were to measure his early life when his vision was only limited to secondary education with his present position as a top echelon in the Nigerian academic sector, you would conclude that he allowed his sense of ‘Listening to advice” to prevail over what his environment presented back then. Meet Professor Solomon Ajayi Adebola, President and Vice Chancellor of Adeleke University, Ede Osun State.

Born on March 17, 1953, in Kabba, Kogi State, the accomplished professor began at St. Andrews Primary School, Kabba, in 1958. As a lad, his teachers and handlers began to notice his academic and leadership abilities and potentials. By the time he entered St. Barnabas Secondary School Kabba for his secondary education and Titcombe College in 1970 and 1971, his career path manifested.

A young chap whose vision was once restricted to his environment later blossomed, traversing different continents of the world acquiring knowledge. And simply put, he was unstoppable. Prof. Adebola became a federal scholar at the University of Ibadan where he read Mathematics graduating in 1975, Diploma in Management from South West London College, United Kingdom, 1983, Master of Business Administration (MBA Southern California University, Los Angeles, 1984, M.Sc. in Banking and Finance from Bayero University, Kano, 1992 and capped it with PhD in Management Science, the University of Ilorin in 2001.

Narrating his sojourn in the academic world, Prof. Adebola said, “In December 1969, while I completed the West African School Certificate (WASC) examinations, in St. Barnabas Secondary School, Kabba, the school principal, an elderly British gentleman, Mr. J.Q.S. Phillip handed over to me my school-leaving testimonial. I took a look at the comments of my mathematics teacher, also a Briton, Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell, and I noticed that she had written under the ‘Remarks’ column, ‘Solomon should go far in this subject of mathematics, and should teach others also, the master tricks of this master of all subjects.’ I deeply reflected on this young woman’s comments about me and mathematics, and it immediately dawned on me that I was bound for academics as a life vocation.”

His mentor must have noticed his academic prowess, but he was never interested in becoming a teacher as a young man.

“My early exposure to the educational system did not, for once, go beyond secondary. Up till my entry into form 1 in St. Barnabas Secondary School, I never heard of a university. Why should I blame myself for this crass ignorance? There were only five universities in the contraption called Nigeria at the time.

“The whole of the then northern region had only one university, the Ahmadu Bello University. The eastern region had only one university, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was only the western region, undoubtedly far ahead, that had three universities: the University of Ibadan, University of Ife, and the University of Lagos. Of course, the ivory tower’s lean availability would naturally translate into a natural scarcity of university undergraduates.”

But in all of his life’s calculation, destiny was playing a fast one that he was born to be an academic. Again, an encounter with a missionary teacher during his ‘A’ levels must have been the very genesis and germination of interest in academics in the then young Solomon.

“It was in 1970 during my lower six class in the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme, in Titcombe College, that some of the students in my class decided, and mischievously too, to nickname me ‘The Doctor.’ It was their idea that, with the dexterity and prowess with which I handled the mathematics, I was undoubtedly a ‘Doctor of Mathematics.’ This nickname so stuck like a leech that many students, and some teachers too, did not know my real name. All through my two years in the HSC, most schoolmates knew me as ‘Doctor.’

“Incidentally, one of the teachers at Titcombe College, at the time, was an American missionary, from the stable of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). The man, Dr. Kranchervick, was said to possess a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He had the title ‘Dr.’ in his name. I believe that my encounter with this PhD holder, Dr. Krackervick, must have sparked or ignited in me that first flame of academic interest. I badly wanted to confirm in real life that nickname of ‘Doctor.'”

As a reputable academic, his life was defined by academics, the finance industry, and the church.

“With my God-given academic endowments, I did not want to jettison academic pursuits. At the same time, I realized that I wanted to be financially comfortable. This was what a career purely and solely in academics was not likely to offer. That confusion gave me my initial problem of indecision. I had a Kwara State government scholarship to read Mathematics, and I also had a Federal Government Scholarship to read Architecture. While I wanted a PhD in whatever I chose to read, I also desperately wanted to acquire financial comfort and pastor a church where I would preach the gospel and would not ever need to canvass for any financial donations or offerings from any parishioner.

“That was my ultimate ambition. I had imagined that a vocation in architecture would enable me to acquire the wealth that I would need to build and run my dream church. But a B. Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) five years degree programme was not likely to give me an early or easy lead to the PhD degree. That was how I eventually jettisoned the Architecture programme, and found myself in the Mathematics class.”

As the sun rose and set, Prof. Adebola soon became a managing director of a mortgage bank, a managing partner in a tax consulting firm, and, ultimately, a professor. He is still hoping that someday, he will be privileged to enrol in a seminary.

He has unbeatable records of being in several tertiary institutions across the country, with 79 publications (personal and co-authored). That seems to be a lifetime. What was his experience like, and why did he seek a greener pasture abroad?

“It’s been a thoroughly exciting time traversing from one area of academic vocation to another. One unique thing is that monetary or financial inducements did not induce the movements. Never! To the glory of God, I have travelled to not less than 25 countries around the globe, either in the course of searching for knowledge or in the course of disseminating knowledge. My main joy in serving is seeing young ones growing into giants in academics and other industrial sectors.”

He added, “When I come across some of my former students who have become professors, entrepreneurs of note, and industrial gurus, I feel highly elevated and generally fulfilled. What more can one expect in life than finding the very ones you have nurtured, springing up on to high pedestal of life’s platform of achievement. I got elevated to the Professorial position about 15 years ago.”

In all of his achievements, Prof. Adebola acknowledges his humble background. “My father was a farmer, while my mother was a dealer in textile materials and a petty trader. We were six children: three males and three Females.

“My growing up was undoubtedly a mixed multitude of fun and terror. I had fun growing up in a larger compound of almost four different families. Although the house belonged to my father, other extended family members pitched their tents with ours.

“I took great interest and excitement in going to school. On the other hand, I developed a deeper loath and awful hatred for the farm. That was the beginning of my regular escape to Lagos for the school vacations.

“My senior brother, Raphael, was a marine engineer with the Nigerian Navy at the time. Whenever they spent time away from the Nigeria/Biafra battleground, I was always with him in Lagos for all my vacations. Brother Raphael was not married at the time. I kept his apartment clean and did his cooking. That experience taught me a lot in self-independence and helped to inculcate in me the spirit of self-reliance, which I have found very useful even to date.”

He loathed going to the farm. Acquiring formal education excited him.

“I had two great parents,” he recounted. “My mother was a religious, intelligent, and industrious woman. These characteristics helped greatly to shape my life ambition and core values assiduously. On the other hand, I was always terrified when I had to accompany my other siblings and father to his farm. I did not like the simple idea of being asked to go to the farm for whatever reason. While on the farm, I remember a particular day, instead of helping others to harvest coffee seeds, my father’s main source of economic support. I strayed away from the rest of the team to climb an orange tree searching for ripe oranges.

“Unfortunately, as I came down the tree, clutching a headful of oranges, I landed on a trap set for grasscutters that often terrorized the maize crops on the farm. And pronto, I was caught in the clutches of the trap. I threw the oranges away and howled for help. My father heard my loud shouts and came to my assistance, setting me free from the trap. That singular incident made me hate farms all the more.”

Prof. Adebola has been married for 41 years. He met his wife, Eyitola, shortly before he left Ilorin in 1975 for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

“I had just graduated from the University of Ibadan in June 1975 and was deployed to the east-central state for the NYSC. I was at Ilorin with my senior sister at the time. Suddenly, there was this military coup that removed Gen. Yakubu Gowon from office. There was a general atmosphere of insecurity and instability in the country. We were advised to hold on for a while before going to report for the NYSC. During this lull time of apparent idleness, I particularly strayed on to this beautifully clad lady in my sister’s house in Ilorin. Her father and my sister’s husband were great pals, and this lady had come calling to say her byes before leaving to resume as a student at the Specialist Hospital School of Nursing in Benin City.

“That was how we spoke; it clicked; one thing led to another, and on December 2, 1979, I found myself walking down the aisle to the alter in St. Andrews Anglican Church, Kabba. The rest, with five children in tow, is now history. She is a nurse. She recently retired as a chief matron at the Lagos State Health Services Board. She has since joined me as a clinical technologist in the Nursing Department of my university in Ede. The marriage is blessed with successful children who responded to training.”

No doubt, Prof. Adebola’s trajectory is a lesson, having left the university at age 22 and has been consistent over the last 45 years. His staying power is staying focused, seeking a niche that will enhance the overall quality of humanity and human existence, “and fill the niche appropriately.”

He added, “And with my upbringing and behavioural core values, I’ve always found genuine satisfaction in Godly service.”