TOPE AKINTAYO. Yours is a fascinating story, and I am glad to have you share some insights with me. To start with can you give an overview of your background and how you got yourself all the way up here.
TOSIN AYO. I was a pure science student in the secondary school. From SSS1– you know most of these secondary schools, what they do is once you have good grades in science related courses they just move you straight to science class, in spite of your literary abilities and other abilities you might have. So, even though I was good in English Language and other art related courses, they just put me in sciences without really checking to confirm what I really wanted to do.
The idea of being a doctor fascinated me, but I realized I can’t be a doctor because of my haemophobia. So, I opted in to study Plant Science which I was offered then in University of Ado-Ekiti but then I realized that my passion doesn’t really lie in Plant Science–I was more involved in writing and student unionism–I followed the nugget that said “No matter how far you have gone down the wrong path you can always make a U-turn back to your destination.”
So I went back to re-write GCE, even though I was in 300 Level at the time. There was mass failure in Literature for the year’s GCE result but, to the surprise of many people, I passed. Most of the novels in the syllabus were ones I’ve read before. I noticed that there is a particular area that said special marks are awarded for clarity of expression and logical presentation of ideas, and I said “Oh, this is my thing.” And that was how I began studying law.
I obtained my LLB from Ekiti State University. I went to Nigeria Law School in Abuja. I served in Delta State, first at Bola Omoyeni and Co before I was found out by the State Department of Petroleum Resources. They requested for me to serve with them and I was at the cooperate services unit of the department of petroleum resources.
It was from there that my love for oil and gas law and practice began and so I seek admission to universities in the United Kingdom and I was offered admission into the masters degree program at the prestigious University of Abberden, which is like the number one university for Oil and Gas Law in the entire world.
After my masters in Energy Law I came back to Nigeria and I practiced in several law firm until I went back to my first love, which is to impact knowledge. And that was how I found myself as a lecturer in Ekiti State University.
You said when you got to 300 Level, you decided to change your course, you couldn’t even manage to finish with that degree before making that decision and taking the step–
–No. I just had to. I knew if I finished through to have the B.Sc. certificate and I started working I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dream. So I said nope, until I go back and study what I really wanted to do. And most of my friends that knew me in sciences always wondered how I eventually became not just a law graduate but also a law teacher.
So what was your parents’ say in all these?
They supported me through and through.
They said it’s okay?
Yes. Thankfully I had age on my side. In fact as at the time I came back for the GCE I had friends that were still battling with gaining admission. So I didn’t feel bad eventually.
You said you gained admission at age 15. That means we’re talking about you at age 18. This decision to drop the course you were studying to pursue a new course, was it like a quick decision or was it something you’ve contemplated on for years?
It was a burning decision that lingered for a long time. And I had an uncle who was working at JAMB and so I asked him and he said I could do that once I have passed the prerequisite courses. All I needed then was Use of English and I’ve always been having good grades in the subject. I once won the award of the best English Student in the entire state, so I knew I have the power of communication.
So, I also knew that if I could just use my basic current affairs knowledge in maybe the government and then pick any other course—and I could end up studying Law. So, even if you were a pure scientist and you want to study Law, all you need is Literature in English. You can use Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and any other science courses to complete your 5 credit passes.
There was a bit of challenge in the comment that people were giving: “You mean you want to waste all these years?” I said, “No, I would gain it.” I didn’t see it as any big issue, I was seeing the bright side. There were so many other people that are out there that haven’t even gained any admission before. Once I’ve made up to do something in my mind it’s very easy for my whole body to follow suite.
Could it be because the course you were studying before was not really looking very valuable to you at the time? Perhaps if you were studying Engineering or Medicine, would you still do what you did?
Yes, I would. The truth of the matter is that I have always believed in the fact that it’s better to do what you want to do, rather that doing what you have to do or what you didn’t have a choice but do. I also believed that it’s better to have a thing and not need it than to need a thing and not have it.
I have always projected myself that whatever it is I am studying whether it’s Law or Medicine, I must really love it, I must find fulfilment in it. It’s like you’re being paid to have fun. I knew that this was what I wanted even people that were not Lawyers, people who look up to me because of my literary dexterity, saw that it wasn’t a hard decision for me.
Also, I am haemophobic. If I were studying Medicine and I found out about my haemophobia I would still have left it, because there is no point doing something in pain or in agony. And the doctor thing is something you can still get. If I had continued I could have become a professor of Plant Science today and that wouldn’t make me less fulfilled. It’s just that I find more fulfillment in studying that in which I didn’t have to struggle before I could become. Being a lawyer and a teacher of law comes naturally to me.
So let’s assume that someone comes to you, someone who is studying say Plant Science, and then he comes to you and says he’s no longer interested in furthering school, that he has a knowledge of web development and he feels like he is more fulfilled while developing websites. Or let’s assume that someone is studying mechanical engineering but now feels like it’s a waste of time and he has more passion in carpentry–
I’ll tell the person, “you can go ahead, but you must be educated first.” I will not advice you to drop out of school because you want to pursue your passion. You can have both. There is always a place for everything. Even if you are a carpenter if you have education you’ll be a sophisticated one. So that’s one thing education does, it increases you drive, it enhances your creativity, innovation and productivity.
I’m one of those people who believe that it would come to a time when if you plant without having education your plant would not germinate. Education is so important that it suppresses the animalistic tendencies in man. It brings out the real you, it makes you do things better, it changes and broadens your horizon so you can be able to forge ahead and think situations through.
Education also enhances and improves the way other people see you. Perception is everything. It’s just like being a preacher. Without having an education you might not appeal to someone that is a professor because he feels that you’re not operating in the same frequency. He feels you’re disadvantaged as a human being. So, I wll not advice you to drop out but I can advice you to start as a side project.
Talking about education. Is there a special way that education improves you. Say for example the person studying Plant Science who would rather be a carpenter, how would studying Plant Science improve this person?
Actually what education does for you is to open your mind, to increase your capacity to think and to also make you a force to reckon with in the society.
The number one thing that studying Plant Science will do for you as a carpenter is that your client base will be different. People that will come to you will be high cadre of clients who love to relate with people on the same level as them. Number two is the fact that you will understand better the components and constituents of the furniture you are working on.
I don’t believe that Plant Science is not related to furniture. Many furniture items are made of plants, so if you see it from that perspective you’ll realize that it’s just not about seeing an object without knowing what constitutes it. Education helps you break down big, complex concepts into tiny understandable ones that make it easier to grasp why things are the way they are.
Also, the fact that you studied plant science means that you must have studied other borrowed courses with it: you must have studied all the basic sciences in the first year, you must have also studied the general courses (GST).
And also research methodology…
Yes. You have information gathering ability as a graduate–the capacity to research into anything and you’ll also be able to answer questions with ingenuity. You’ll even develop the patient mind that will give you the capacity to deliver.
People who are studying mathematics wonder what the direct application of that mathematics is to their everyday lives. Mathematics has improved how they think, it has improved their problem-solving skills.
Education also enhances your ability to cross-fertilize ideas. You don’t think of yourself as an island. You’ll be able to appreciate and utilize other people’s ideas. A man who thinks of himself as an island is nothing but an isolated desert. Education strips you of intellectual arrogance. The most arrogant people are those who assume they know, but it’s one thing to know and it’s another to think you know.
Actually, education doesn’t necessarily change you, it only magnifies your personality. That’s why we have people that have been to school but have remained idiots. Education makes a criminal a sophisticated criminal, education makes an entrepreneur a successful entrepreneur because he already has the capacity.
I’m interested in the funding aspect of your educational journey. Transitioning from one course to another, I assume that your parents are–
–comfortable? Yes, they supported my dreams because they believed in me. They knew that if Tosin said he wanted to do this then there must have been something he has seen. Parents know their kids. It’s only when you don’t trust a child or you feel they have failed somewhere and are only trying to hide from the past failures that you would not be motivated to believe and support them.
Thankfully, also, the tuition fee around that time was not as much as it is now, it’s something an average civil servant could easily afford to pay, it’s only recently that the tuition fee was increased. Plus my dad retired as a permanent secretary, so my school fees were affordable for him.
Besides that, I was also entrepreneurial as a student. I can proudly say that even if I didn’t have parents then I could have successfully sponsored myself through school. I wrote biographies in school that we made money from.
The secret is that if you have the mind to do something, support will definitely come. The will must come first. When I wrote ex-president Jonathan’s biography, I didn’t first go to the presidency to inform them, I wrote it first and published it and then I showed them what I’ve done. They bought the idea.
The dream must first be concrete. You must have done your part so that the support will come. So as much as possible, whether in business or life, you must have earned the trust of your helpers so that they can be comfortable helping you.
My parents knew that I was not going to just squander their money. At the time I left Plant Science I was about the second-best student in the class, so my transition has nothing to do with me trying to just run away from sciences. They knew if I didn’t waste their money in sciences I wouldn’t waste it in law.
Also part of my being prepared to be helped was that when I was planning for my masters, I decided to sell my car–I was mobile as a corp member–so I sold my car and I sent the money to my dad. Even though that was less than 20% of the entire fee. And my parents were the kind that even if all you gave towards a million Naira project is a hundred Naira they’ll encourage you and appreciate your wisdom.
So, yes I had supportive parents that I’ll always appreciate but I also catalyzed their support by having the will and the drive.
I think that’s interesting, the part about having supportive parents. Now if we assume that there are no supportive parents who are unable or unwilling to sponsor, what would your advice for such a person be?
My first advice would be that you must want whatever you want badly enough. The fact that you don’t have a thing yet means that you don’t want it badly enough yet. You must be passionate about it so much and you must also have the capacity to find destiny helpers.
There are some of my students whose school fees I’ve paid, even though I’m an irregularly paid teacher. It’s as a result of their presentation. There is a way people would come to you… If for example you come to me and say, “Sir, I’m an orphan, I have challenges with paying my school fees,” I’ll first check the phone you are using. I’ll first see how wasteful you appear in person. If for an instant you can pay a good percentage of your school fees with your gadget, I’ll be convinced that you are simply not serious. However, if I sense a genuine inability to pay then I’ll definitely come to your aid. These are the issues.
I remember reading the late Obafemi Awolowo’s letter of a loan request to Odutola. When you read through that letter, even though he didn’t get it you’ll know that this person knows what he is doing and he’s really in need of what he is asking for.
Also, in your quest to get help, if it turns out that you were turned down, you should always have in mind that the fact that you were turned down doesn’t mean you have been denied. It simply means that there is a temporary delay. I didn’t get a job immediately after I got to this country, you must learn to wait.
No doesn’t always mean absolute negation, it usually means not yet, not now, not immediately. Sometimes, no means to re-strategize. When I was in studying for my masters in the UK, there was a friend who only had 1000 pounds, and we rallied around as friends and ensured that this guy paid his school fees.
As much as possible, you must believe in yourself and you must also try to find other means to raise yourself to a level where others can actually be able to support you. If you need a hundred thousand Naira, you should try to get some percentage of this money so that people will see you’re already on your way.
I had people who did menial labour to see themselves through school. I had a friend who would go to Lagos and buy goods, bring it back to Ekiti and resell them. And he was making a good amount of money from this so he sponsored himself through school.
You mentioned something about the real work of education being to bring out what you already have in you. Is that a way of saying education only enhances talents?
Yes. In fact, there is no university in the world that replaces people’s brains. Not even Harvard. I once gave a speech where I said that Harvard really doesn’t do anything special. What it basically does is recruit the best of talent and that’s why it’s the best university.
Even as a teacher I can say that there is nothing we do specially beyond giving you the instructions and teaching you the basics. We don’t change a blockhead into a genius. No. The latent talent must be there that we can now enhance and make evident through the teaching methods. If, for example, a university only recruits first-class brains do you expect that they’ll produce anything short of first-class products? No!
Input determines output. It’s still the same Garbage In Garbage Out cliché at work. So, what education does is magnify the latent talent in you and kinetize your potential. It makes you a better version of yourself.
I don’t believe in the pricey universities because even if you were in an ivy league university if you decide not to be serious you’ll turn out as an idiot.
So there are some people that are actually idiots and blockheads that no matter what we do, no matter what kind of education we give them, they won’t cope? If there are actually people like this what solution do you suggest for them to be useful in life?
I think it is foolish for a fish to attempt learning to fly just as it is foolish for a bird to attempt learning to swim. We have our different capacities. The fact that you are not book smart does not mean you cannot succeed in another venture.
To say that there are no idiots is to say that the word does not exist. There are people that are genuinely incapable of intellectual exertion and cognition. Your cognitive capacity cannot be the same as everybody’s, it’s not possible. Even teachers understand this and that’s why we have grades. 1st class. 2nd class. 3rd class. Pass. And some would fail. That’s just how the world is structured, just like our fingers are structured differently while individually serving a unique purpose.
As much as possible we must understand that the fact that you do not have the mental acuity to compete favourably with your colleagues does not mean you cannot succeed in your own venture. In fact, you can even succeed in idiocy. You can be the best idiot around.
You get the picture? It’s not everybody that will succeed in a class but the fact that you do not succeed in the classroom does not mean you will not succeed in life room.
It’s just about self-discovery: finding your purpose and developing it and succeeding in it. I don’t believe that people who don’t have the book sense must be forced to study. We have artisans and craftspeople who are doing well in their various fields.
So we can say that idiocy is kind of relative. Someone can be an idiot in class but be a success outside the class.
Yes, you can be stupid in one venture and be very bright in another. It’s a matter of individual capacity.
What are your greatest strengths?
I don’t deceive myself. I am a realist to the core. Also, I am extremely courageous, I have so much gut–it scares me sometimes. If for instance, I want to do a thing, I go all out for it. I strategize and put my best into it. I already started planning for my Masters during my service year. I ensured that I have written goals and plans, even for the next 10 years.
Then I also believe in the power of people, I believe that I don’t have to know or be able to do all. I can always maximize the potential of the people around me. The best people in the world are not the ones who have their own individual strengths or brain, they are those who know how best to coordinate and use the brains of their subordinates to achieve a particular task. So as much as possible I believe in people, I believe that if you want to go far you go with people but if you want to go fast you go alone. So I believe in communal capacities. I don’t do things alone.
I’ve also learned not to move around chickens, but to move around eagles. You are the aggregate of the people you move around with, so as much as possible I’ve maximized my privilege of good friendships and partnerships.
I also believe that if some other people have done it then I can also do it. Almost everything in this world has been achieved. So if some people have achieved it, you can too.
I love that you answered the question of what your strengths are by mostly exploring your belief and mental bend. I think it’s beautiful because the transformational journey begins with the expansion of the mind. This philosophy is at the heart of The Witsprouts Project.
You mentioned the other time that your courage scares you sometimes. I’m always on the lookout for new knowledge on the development of self-confidence and courage. So I’m wondering if the courage you talk about is inherent or acquired through learning.
I believe it’s both. One thing success does for you is that it increases your capacity to do more. If for instance you dared a thing and you succeed at it, you’ll have more courage to try something more. That’s what failure also does to you. If you have failed, the devil would always try to convince you that you once failed and you will still fail again.
That’s why all you need is just a break. Success is like a chain. Once you get it done once, you’ll want to do it again and again. Once you’ve been able to achieve the first seeming unattainable feat then the subsequent ones would come easy.
You mentioned something about communal capacity. How does this work? How have you been able to get the right kind of people, keep them and deal with them?
I think I should start with a disclaimer. A great example is Jesus, the impeccable Jesus still got a Judas. So as much as possible don’t expect too much from people. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust people but you don’t give everything to people. You must reserve a little bit of yourself for yourself.
We’ve seen Acrimony, the movie. One of the things I learned from the movie is that while you are helping others, make sure you have a backup. It’s when you’ve given and lost everything that you become that acrimonious. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust or love them, it only means you trust yourself more than you trust or love them so that you’ll still have the capacity to bounce back and not totally fall.
Also, make sure that people earn your trust before you give it to them. It is not something you give beforehand, it’s a consequence of patriotic dealing with you. Before I can say I trust you, I must have considered how you’re dealing with me. There’s a reason why it’s called trustworthy. You must have been worth that trust from an action that you have exhibited beforehand.