Vice-Chancellor, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Prof. Dapo Asaju, shares his experiences as a father and administrator with TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN
What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood simply means responsibility to oversee the affairs of a family. Any position of responsibility where you exercise oversight as the brain, breadwinner, security person, guide of the family, you are playing the role of a father.
To be fatherly is to beget; a father is someone who begets another child. It entails a reproductive responsibility as well as a mentoring responsibility and it comes with lots of administrative responsibilities as well. That is why Apostle Paul advised that those who want to be leaders in church must first be leaders in their houses. Just as when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we begin with our father, who art in heaven. What God is to us as human is what the father is to his children and society.
At what age did you become a father?
I had my first child in 1990 and I am 57 now. My first child is a medical doctor, she is now married. My second child was born in 1991; she is a lawyer and married. My son, who is the last child, was born in 1996. I became a father at 28 and since then, I have been carrying out responsibilities. My own case was peculiar; you know there are fathers and there are fathers. In the African setting, you are not just a father in the nuclear sense of it.
As early as 1981/1982, I have been a father to many of my younger ones and relatives. As early as that, I had already started paying the school fees of 13 persons from 1985 to 1988. I didn’t become a father when I had my own children; I didn’t have only my own children to cater to. I fathered many other people because of my position in the family.
How were you able to balance this without jeopardising your children’s training?
Priority must be given to one’s children. I was brought up in a polygamous setting. My father was prominent and my grandfather was a king. He was prominent in his time and one of the most civilised people in his time. My father was a journalist; he was the popular Michael Asaju of the Nigerian Union of Journalist in the 1970s and 1980s. After that, he became a king. I was born in a very large house where we always have people coming to live with us. General Tunde Idiagbon was one of the people who lived with us. He was working with my father when he was a young man. Sometimes we could have up to 15 people living with us.
I don’t have a large family like my father but one or two people lived with us. I made sure I provide for my family and ensure that they never lacked anything. But in all, we gave them a strict discipline. After marriage, I told my wife that husband and wife would want to have a joint account. But in my case, it wouldn’t work because I am responsible not just to her and our children but also to many others.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her at the University of Ilorin. At that time, I had completed the National Youth Service Corps scheme and she was in her final year at the university. I also graduated from the university. We courted for four years and got married in 1989. One good thing about her was that I was using a motorcycle when I proposed to her. She had other options but she believed in me out of love. Today, the same man, who rode a motorcycle, is now a bishop, vice-chancellor and a professor. I have reached the peak in the three areas of my career. I encourage younger people to marry out of love because they don’t know what the future holds. Don’t marry because a person has money or connection. During (Ibrahim) Babangida and (Sani) Abacha’s era, I was the chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities at the Lagos State University. I started lecturing at LASU in 1984. I have put in 36 years as a lecturer at LASU. I became a professor there in 2014 and a deputy vice-chancellor there before I came to Ajayi Crowther University.
The former Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, was the president of ASUU and I was the chairman of LASU chapter then. I was a radical lecturer back then. In the course of the struggle, my university felt that I was too radical. So, they terminated my appointment. By then, my wife was also an employee at the university. Her salary was also withheld; so, both of us had no salary. My wife said, “Aluta! Aluta! Now that they have terminated, what are we going to eat?” We have a newborn at the time.
There was nothing else to do. Although I studied Religious Studies, I wouldn’t start a church. My wife was the one who encouraged me to use our car as a taxi. She would sit beside as I picked passengers and she collected the money. After some time, when I gained enough confidence, I told her we would be giving her space to passengers as well. I took charge of the business. I tell this story because I want to pass a message that whoever you are and whatever the challenges you are facing, humble yourself. With a supportive wife, one can weather the storm and we did. After one year, I got back my job and we were okay. We love each other and I am proud of her always.
What do you think is the solution to the lingering ASUU strike?
It is sad that the students have to suffer for ASUU strike. But it is not good to have the palliatives without tackling the problems.
Let me share a story with you. A bishop in the Anglican Communion was ill and taken to the University College Hospital, Ibadan for a major operation. But they said they couldn’t do the operation and referred him to Babcock Teaching Hospital; a private hospital owned by a church while UCH is one of the topmost medical institutions in Nigeria. They can’t handle a case and had to refer it to a private hospital. That is a shame on our medical system. Who should refer cases to who?
Imagine how many of our doctors are in Canada and other countries. They get trained and leave; same with nurses, professors and the rest. The government doesn’t care what happens to us here. They are only interested in stealing money. We are being exploited.
Why didn’t you space the birth of your first child and the second?
There was no gap between our first child and the second because as of then, we wanted to quickly give birth to our children. We had two girls and we decided not to rush again. And thankfully, God gave us a boy after five years and we decided to stop giving birth. We are happy with them; they are all very lovely and God-fearing children.
How did you discipline them?
I am a disciplinarian but I love them. I will say my wife did the disciplining at home because I was always on the job while she was more at home. I am a lecturer and an evangelist. I will say the discipline was complementary but she did more of the discipline. I am a straightforward and tough person.
How do you celebrate them whenever they make you proud?
I gave them whatever they wanted; they have always done well. I am not the kind of father that will claim to have topped the class when I was in school. I was above average and I didn’t expect too much from them. I wanted them to do well and pass their exams. I emphasised more of discipline and character. I am proud to say that my two daughters married as virgins. That is a joy to us. I believe education is a combination of one’s knowledge and morality. Each time they did well, we praised them. We appreciate them but we emphasised morals, care, humility and others.
Whenever they needed anything, we gave them. I promised to send them on vacation to the UK and even though I wasn’t earning much, I did that for them and their mother. As soon as they were settling down, I gave them a car each even though they were used cars. That was what I could afford and they appreciated it. We are an average family. We don’t have much but we are content because godliness with contentment is great gain.
They are never envious of what others have. We don’t need much to live, and all we need is food for the stomach, clothes to put on and a roof over our heads. Every other thing is vanity. We have taught them to live well and be contented with whatever they have.
Did you force you children to read?
Next to our wives, after God, are books. I am an avid reader. I spend most of my time reading theses. I read most of the times when I am on the road. Imagine you teach many courses and you read all sorts with terrible handwriting. I don’t think I taught any of my children in that line. In fact, none of them wanted to be a professor. They aren’t interested in my career path. I know everyone cannot be like me and I don’t try to force them to be like me. They followed their career paths.
What values did you instil in your children?
Honesty, fear of God, discipline, courage, hard work, purity and excellence in whatever they want to do as well as pragmatic approach to life. I tell them that they are unique in their own way and shouldn’t follow the crowd. People say Nigerians are corrupt, not everyone is corrupt. What God does not give to me, I don’t need it. I tell them to live within means.
When I met my wife, the moment I saw her, I knew she was my wife and she told me that the Holy Spirit told her same. She said she rebuked it. When I was led to her, I went told her, “Lady, I love you. I want to marry you. Please, let me warn you that though I am proposing to you, I am not like those boys who mess around. I love you.”
Female children are usually close to their fathers while the sons cling to their mothers. Is it a similar thing in your family?
My boy is closer to his mother although he resembles me. He bears my name. He is Dapo Asaju Jnr. But he gravitates more to the mother. The mother has a way of being around me while my daughters are closer to me. I don’t joke with my daughters. All my children are dear to me but I am closer to the girls.