“Kabiyesi, I’m told you want my daughter to enrol in your school so that you can convert her to Christianity”, said Imam Oyefolahan, Chief Imam of Eripa Central Mosque. He was addressing the Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun and founder of Abolarin College, Oba Dr. Adedokun Omoniyi Abolarin, Aroyinkeye I. The Imam’s daughter, Aminat, had won a competitive scholarship award to Abolarin College but her cleric father was not quite sure of the motives of an institution which educates children from indigent homes free of charge.
“Imam, if that is your concern, then you don’t have any cause to worry at all. We are not interested in converting anybody to any religion. Our focus is education. We want to ensure that your daughter achieves her highest potential”, replied the royal father.
Now Amina has graduated from Abolarin College and has secured admission to the University of Ilorin. Her father, now deceased, must be blessing her from above that she is on the way to fulfilling her destiny.
Abolarin College is a silent revolution in which educational acorns are being planted today so that the society may bask in the shade of intellectual Iroko trees tomorrow. Oba Abolarin shares Henry Peter Brougham’s conviction that, “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”
Evidence of his subscription to the educational philosophy of the former Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, abounds in his school where a beautiful bust of the sage adorns the front yard of the institution. It was Awolowo that warned us to cater for the poor in our own interest: “The rich, and the highly placed in business, public life, and government, are running a dreadful risk in their callous neglect of the poor and down-trodden.”
But for the immediacy of social media and the encyclopaedic richness of the internet, many people would have found it difficult to believe that a school that caters to the needs of brilliant but financially handicapped children exists in Oke-Ila Orangun, Nigeria. But a physical visit to the town could be an excursion of sorts.
The philosophy behind the establishment of Abolarin College is based on the conviction of Oba Abolarin that education is a tool for liberating families from poverty. According to the school’s official website, “It is a desire fuelled by the desire to ensure that the rights of a child to education irrespective of the social status of the child is met. A child’s future should not be determined by where the child is born but by the ability of the child to put into maximum use the talents that God gives. Therefore every child born into this world should be empowered through effective, functional and quality education.”
The school does not charge fees. It relies on the resources of its founder and the generosity of public spirited people who share Oba Abolarin’s passion for helping children of the poor achieve their utmost potential. It is the only educational institution in Nigeria where poverty is one of the major requirements for qualification.
Coming from the hustle and bustle of Lagos or Abuja, an incredible sense of calm descends on you as you enter the idyllic environment of Oke-Ila, the ancient Igbomina-Yoruba town directly descended from the progenitor of the Yoruba race, Oduduwa. The town is located, on one of the several mountains adjoining the eastern flanks of the Oke-Ila Ridge, a part of the Yoruba Hills, about 190 kilometres directly west of the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue at Lokoja and about 55 km northeast of Osogbo the capital of Osun State.
Tourists will be interested in the fact that the ancient town boasts the breathtaking Ayikun-nugba Waterfalls, located southwest of the town, along the north-trending ridge-and-gorge series of the Oke-Ila Ridge complex in a cliff gorge, and its associated caves with “mythical” underground passages.
Another equally breathtaking tourist attraction is the Omi-Ogan Waterfalls, located in the valley off the northern road into the town, at the bottom of very steep slopes. The waterfall flows down two mail mounds and collects into a pool at the bottom, feeding the westward flowing Omi-Ogan River.
There is also the Oke Lanfo Peak located southeast of Òkè-Ìlá Òràngún, from the top of which a panoramic view of the surrounding towns within 50 kilometres can be seen. The ridges and gorges consist of the geologically defined Oke-Ila Quartzite, a series of metamorphic rocks about 550 million years old.
Abolarin College is a manifestation of the truism in Richard Mead’s famous declaration that,
“The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows.” A revolution is afoot in Oke-Ila, and it recommends itself to all societies desirous of development all over the world.
Where else would Bulus and Harsabala, poor children of refugees displaced from Borno State by Boko Haram, have had the privilege of free education if not at Abolarin College? Their fathers were eking out a living as maiguards in Lagos when the opportunity of secondary education came. And they have grabbed it with both hands. Now, Oke-Ila is their home because they even spend the holidays in the school and enjoy the hospitality of the locals.
The students come from all directions of the compass. Chidozie from Ebonyi State has graduated. Gabriel Erosen from Delta is now at the Federal University of Technology, Akure. Okebe and Esther are from the Igede-speaking area of Benue State while Nathan is from Plateau State. Miracle is from Enugu State while Chisom is an Anambra indigene. Some of the students have their parents in surrounding towns and other places all over the Southwest, but all are treated equally.
Abolarin College has the potential of becoming a mini ‘united nations’ of secondary education in terms of national spread. In these days of all-systems-go in Nigerian society, the college insists on the highest standards. Admission into the school is not automatic but regulated under a strict process in line with the core objectives of the royal father who is one of the most highly educated monarchs in Nigeria.
“The future of Nigeria is extremely important to us”, says Kabiyesi, “Lord bless Nigeria and use these children mightily . I am indeed an incurable optimist.“
They are taught to be self-reliant and confident. Their self-confidence is further bolstered by the fact that the Oba himself finds time to teach in the school. This has enabled him to know all the students by name and monitor their academic progress. In addition to first class education, the students are exposed to farming. They plant cassava, plantain, yam, corn and other food items to augment their feeding.
A first time visitor to Abolarin College cannot but be impressed by the cultured behaviour of the students. They are immersed in cultural norms and respectful behaviour. The combination of good upbringing in the midst of first class instruction and facilities has produced excellent academic records.
About 21 products of the school have now gained admission into several Nigerian universities out of the 28 presented for public examinations— Adeleke University, Ede, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and University of Ilorin. Oba Abolarin personally attended the matriculation ceremonies to further inspire the students.
Oba Abolarin’s initiative has redefined the essence of traditional monarchy in Nigeria. Reactions on social media to the many stories about Abolarin College indicate that many people are of the opinion that the Oba’s conduct recommends itself to many of his colleagues nationwide. Traditional rulers, say the commentators, ought to be focussed on the plight of the poor people and the development of the younger generation.
When a king is a change agent, when a royal father is himself the ultimate ally of the poor, when a paramount monarch has made the development of human resources for the future his life’s work, a chronicler will say, blessed be the land whose king is compassionate and futuristic for it shall see better tomorrows.
Last week, in the presence of several invited kings, family, chiefs, friends from within and outside academia and industry, this columnist was inducted into the illustrious heritage of this ancient town with the conferment of the title of Aare Agbaakin while the better half was installed as Yeye Aare Agbaakin. Ad Dei gloriam.
Thank you, Oba Dr. Adedokun Omoniyi Abolarin, Aroyinkeye I, the poor people’s revolutionary king. Thank you Oke-Ila Orangun. We shall be back.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021