Mrs. Modupe Olumuyiwa Ademide Ladipo, the Principal of Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos, was born into the Dada Royal Family of Aporto, Kogi state. She obtained her first degree in English Language from the University of Ibadan and began her teaching career at the Federal School of Arts and Science, Lagos. Also an old girl of Queen’s college, the charming, beautiful and friendly Ladipo, who combines intelligence with elegance, spoke to SAIDAT ALAUSA on challenges of the teaching profession and a wide range of other issues. Excerpts:
How did you receive the news of your appointment?
It was the icing on the cake. I was very happy about it, but I will not go into the details. .
How challenging is your position as principal of Queen’s College’s?
Quite challenging but I am enjoying it. The school is running perfectly. It is peacefully quiet and the students are behaving well. You will hardly know that the school is in session and people couldn’t understand how come. The secret, really, is knowing how to manage the school.
I have quite a number of competent Assistant Directors, 27 in all. What I did immediately I was made acting principal was to give out portfolios to the Assistant Directors. I made them understand that they were very senior officers and as such, they should be able to handle anything. I told them to treat the portfolios as if they were principals.
So I had about 29 portfolios written down and I gave them all out. I also instilled discipline in every one. I told them that they must give me reports, because it is one thing to give portfolios but if you don’t monitor things, everybody goes to sleep. And what I did was, whichever area I find them, I am interested in what they are doing.
Do you think the Unity Schools are still serving their purpose?
I went to a unity college and I will tell you about when I was here (Queen’s College) as a student. It was only when I started work that it occurred to me that, this one is Igbo, that one is Hausa, or that other one is Yoruba. When we were here, it wasn’t important. Where you came from was not important.
What was important was that you made friends. We were here in school when they brought some northerners at that time, and some of them could not afford to buy buckets. People took them to the market, bought panties, buckets and other things for them. We didn’t see anything strange in that. All we did was to make friends! ‘Hello, how are you, what class are you in?’ We were interested in how you were doing in class. That was what was important.
Go and check people out, and you will find that those that went to unity colleges get on well with people from all over the place. They are usually not tribalistic.
The interesting thing is that, before I was appointed as the principal, do you know that all the staff members were praying for me, Igbo mainly and I am not Igbo. I am from Kogi state. Meanwhile, they all prayed for me. Students were praying, both teaching and non-teaching staff members were praying. So, at that our time, things worked, but I don’t know if it is working now.
What do you see as the loopholes in Nigeria’s education sector?
I have always said it. Teacher needs to be treated as professionals. They need to be well paid. People should not look down on them. Nobody got where he or she is without the help of a teacher. Anybody, name it, a doctor? A teacher taught you. A Professor? A teacher taught you. If you an accountant, a teacher taught you. Basically, primary school, secondary school, are the foundation. So, teachers need to be put in their right places.
As the principal, how do you rate your students?
Ooh, my students are wonderful any day, any time. Queen’s college has always been on top and we are still on top. My students have been wonderful in character and in academics. For example, in the Macmillan Youth Literary Day contest, Queen’s college came first. Science Quiz competition, we came first. Food and Nutrition Cooking competition, organised by the Federal Ministry of Environment, we came second. Hero International College Award, Queen’s college’s head girl came second. Also, in the Lagos State Safety Advocacy programme competition, Queen’s college came first in the senior category and she (winner) is to enjoy a week tour of London, courtesy of the Lagos state government and Arik Airline amongst others.
We also received a letter from the American Embassy, telling us that they were delighted to award a 12-month Achievers’ programme grant for the 2011/2012 academic year to three of my students. This grant will enable my students work with the Education Advisory Centre, Public Affairs section of the US Consulate, in assisting with the college and university application process for admission within the year and maximize chances of getting scholarship.
Do you have issues with parents, especially in the area of discipline?
Oh yes, we do have issues with parents, but we always handle it.
Looking at Queens College then, when you were one of the students and now, what do you think could be done to bring back the glory of the college?
So many. Academically, they are doing well, the reason being that we have always had very good teachers. And I am bold to say that any private college that wants to have the retinue of staff I have would really have to try. Though, they (teachers) are not enough, we need more, but those that are on ground work very hard.
Our facilities are in a deplorable condition, although, the Federal Ministry of Education has tried. The Ministry has done quite a lot. Parents are paying N8,500 and most people don’t know. The federal government pays all our salaries, from Assistant Directors to Deputy Directors, teachers, all of them down the line are being paid by the Federal Government.
The government also gives something to take care of our overhead cost, capital projects and so on. But education needs everybody on board. Like now, some of our old girls are coming to support us. A particular old girl is going to help us out with our kitchen and dinning. The1991 set is helping me out with the library. So, we are trying to bring back the glory of the school.
Many Nigerians believe that nothing can be achieved by merit in this country. What can you say about the admission process for Queen’s College? Is it based on merit?
Well, quite candidly, part of it is basedon merit, that’s the truth. As soon as the Common Entrance examinations are taken, NECO (National Examinations Council) handles it, those with the best scores are listed out. But we have our criteria for picking. We cannot just say take merit and we are done. No. We look at the environment. Queen’s college is in Lagos, so for environment, we need to have a few more students from the environment. Whichever unity college, for example the one in the East, it will have more from those who are domiciled in the environment.
Apart from the fact that those we will choose may be the best in all the states, we would have representation from every state in every unity college. So, a child from another part of the country may have a higher score than the one from the immediate environment, yet, one from the environment will be chosen because of the environment factor. It’s like a balancing act.
Did you have the dream of becoming a teacher from the beginning or someone influenced you to become one?
I actually didn’t plan to be a teacher. Initially, I had intended to be a lawyer. Then, when I was admitted at the University of Ibadan to read English, my parents told me to go ahead and start. Somebody, I will rather not mention his name, said I should go ahead to do one year and that he was going to send me a form to read law. By the time I had spent that one year, the forms were sent to me to fill but my mum said ‘you are already in year two and you will soon finish, why don’t you just finish?’ So I listened to my parents and I agreed to finish.
On finishing with the course, I decided to go back and read Law again. My mother now said, ‘oh no, to go and read law again?’ In short, she discouraged me. And then, she wanted me to work with the Kwara state government. My uncle was the Commissioner for Education. I was taken there and I had an interview. While waiting for my letter, I got tired of waiting and I asked my parents one day, ‘don’t we have a Federal Ministry of Education in Lagos?’ My father said yes, so I asked for his driver and car and I was taken there. The day I went into the Federal Ministry of Education was the same day I started work at the School of Arts and Science. They just took me in.
The man I met there looked at me and said, ‘do you know the Federal Government could post you to Sokoto?’ I just said, yeah, I suppose so. And he said, ‘no, you can’t survive there, you look like somebody who should be doing her School Certificate Examination,’ because I looked tiny. So, he said, ‘go to the Federal School of Arts and Science, I think that will be better for you.’ I didn’t know any person. I just went there and within a month, I had made friends.
So, when the letter came from the Kwara State government appointing me as a lecturer on level nine, I was already on level eight. I just told my parents I was no longer going back to Kwara. I had already made friends in Lagos. That was how I got stuck to education. That was 1978, because I did my youth service in 1977.
What do you think could be done to make the teaching profession attractive, to make it first choice among students?
Honestly, teachers need to be better paid. No child of today will take the kind of salary we started out with. Most teachers, even here, their husbands are well-to-do, occupying prominent positions in different parts of the country. But the women stayed back in the teaching profession, so that they could take care of their children. Most of us decided to stick to the teaching profession because of the working hours: You go to work early in the morning, drop the children off in the school and at closing time, you pick your children and you have enough time for them. But these days, the young ones think about their pay first and this is because many of them schooled abroad and they are comparing. They will say, abroad, ‘I will be paid so, so amount of money, so why should I settle for less?’ So, we need to look at the pay and some other things to encourage them. Before now, we used to have accommodation in the school. Long ago, civil servants were given cars, and other incentives. The incentives must continue. I like the idea of “HATS”, Housing for Teachers. Build houses for teachers, so that as you retire, you will have somewhere to live, a shelter.
Most children use teaching as a stepping stone. Ooh, you don’t have any job right now, why don’t you go and teach for a while until you could get something better. That shouldn’t be it. But now, we thank God, the profession is insisting that if you don’t go for the Post Graduate Diploma in Education, you can’t teach. You must go for training before you can teach.
Tell us about your childhood
I Modupe Olumuyiwa Ademide Ladipo. I was born into the Dada Royal family of Aporto, Kogi state. I attended Corona School Apapa. When I was in school, we were just the three black children in a whole class of all whites. Mrs. Land was my headmistress and it was much later in life that I realized that the person I used to call Mrs. “Nowanago” was probably Mrs. Nwanego. She’s black American but she told us her name was Mrs. Nowanago, From there, I went to Queens’ College. I’m grateful to my parents, because my mum did something: as we came in from school everyday, saying good afternoon, she would reply: “Kaabo oko mi, (welcome, my dear),” so I spoke perfect Yoruba, I spoke perfect English and I listened to them speak Yagba, which is the Kogi language.
What are your favourite food and colour?
You know what? I have no favourite colour. I like white and that’s no colour. Food? Most people look at me and the first thing they say is, oh, she is buttered, she is Oyinbo. My favourite food is pounded yam. Isn’t that interesting? Now, back to Kogi state, if somebody really wants to satisfy me, or really wants to make me happy, give me pounded yam.
From your point of view, what is fashion?
Well, I am not one of those that look at fashion in terms of wearing the latest thing in town. No, I am very conservative. I love well tailored clothes, if they are going to be made. If they will be bought I buy quality. I don’t expose my self unnecessarily, I don’t believe in it. Maybe I belong to the old school.
Tell us about your memorable day
I have several, but I will pick the day I had my first child. It was the happiest day of my life. I refused to put her down, I refused to give her to anybody to hold. I had her in the United States. My sister is a medical doctor and she said, ‘when you are tired, let me have the baby.’ But I still could not give my baby to anybody to hold. It took me a while before I settled down and realized that this baby was not going anywhere, that I could actually give her to somebody else to hold for a short while.
How do you combine being a career woman and a mother?
It’s been easy. Maybe being a Christian allows me to know that the home comes first. After your love for God, your family comes before your work. Even now while the interview was going on, one of my children called and asked for credit and I made it available to her before answering you. I had to have my telephone with me for 24 hours because of them. They schooled in the states (US). They were here and it was after secondary school they went to the states. I do not allow any of them to go to the US before secondary education, even though my husband wanted them to go from primary level, but I said no. They have to be here until after secondary. I was a 24-hour mummy and I let them realize that they can call me anytime. I call them almost everyday, and it costs me a lot of money, to make sure they were nicely settled, find out about what they were doing daily until they were settled.
Anytime they have issues, they knew that I was just a phone call away. If they need counseling, I talk to them. If they need prayers, I pray with them all the time. Before any examination, they would call me and I pray along with them.
What advice do you have for young ladies who look up to you as a mother and role model?
Well, the main thing I will tell them is that, they should be determined in whatever they are doing. Like I share in my church, delay is not denial. They must realise that yes, challenges will come, if they believe they will live a life without challenges, it is not true. Challenges will come, but as they come, they should take it a day at a time and they should always be hopeful. They must have their eyes on their focus and then they must be determined. They mustn’t lose their focus. Then, they will achieve their dreams. They must be hardworking. Nobody can be lazy and expect to achieve anything. They must love God, and they must put God in His rightful place. So long as they anchor themselves to God, they will make it. They will have challenges but they will overcome those challenges. I know that if I had given up half way, I wouldn’t be here. I learnt the hard way, but I learnt with a smile on my face. Yeah, I had challenges but I went on. I refused to be disturbed, I refused to be distracted. I refused to lose my focus and of course, you have to love whatever it is you are doing.