How I Established Al-Hikmah University With No Formal Education – Oladimeji - 9japarrot


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Sunday 9 October 2022

How I Established Al-Hikmah University With No Formal Education – Oladimeji

Abdulraheem Oladimeji established the Al-Hikmah University Ilorin in Kwara State. In this interview, the 84-year-old business tycoon narrates how his initial idea of establishing a plastic company turned into a successful private university. Excerpts

What was growing up like, for you?

I am the last child of my late parents. My father – Malam AbdulRahman Yusuf Oladimeji was a Lagos-based businessman who later relocated home because of age and started petty businesses. He was a farmer, hunter, herbalist and trader. My Mum, Hawau, was the first Iyalode of Igbaja and traded in chickens. I lost them both as an infant and then lived with my uncle.  

When did you leave Igbaja for Lagos?

At about ten years old. The opportunity to travel to Lagos came in 1948, but prior to that, I was following my uncle to the farm. The Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) wanted a place to start an elementary school and they approached my uncle who obliged them. Preparation for my resumption was on top gear when my uncle changed his mind after he witnessed the beating of a student by one of the teachers on our way to the farm. Because of this single incident, he revoked the land offer after he stopped the punishment. I was too beloved to him to be subjected to such punishment because of western education. So, he gave out my uniform which had already been sewn. The community intervened and after a lot of pleading, he agreed to give the church another land in a different location. Suffice it to say that the initial piece of land is today the Igbaja Campus of Al-Hikmah University School of Preliminary Studies. 

So, what happened in Lagos?

I started menial jobs with a popular food seller, Mama Sikira, in Isalegangan, Lagos Island, but came back to Igbaja following some untoward experiences. After a while, I returned to Lagos to work with the business enterprise of Pa Gabriel who hails from Oro in Kwara State. I was on a wage of 70 kobo and later, it was increased to 80 kobo. After a short stint, I came back home before I relocated to Lagos around 1950 as a trade apprentice, this time around with one Alhaji Usman Alabi, a popular businessman better known as Sumonu Wosonle. I was with him for eight years without pay but learnt a lot from him. By the time I became independent in 1963, he gave me £180 which was N360 based on our agreement. But it was in form of liabilities (bad debt) and I was left with the challenge of recovering them. 

Was there any attempt or effort to return to school during this period?

Yes, but the attempt was not successful. While still with my boss, I wanted to go back home but was denied and I felt unhappy, so I wanted to communicate. My attempt to find someone to help write a letter was not successful. I became angry and resolved to learn how to read and write, at least. I enrolled myself in an evening lesson costing one penny a month to learn ABD, the Yoruba alphabet. After graduating from the Yoruba class, I had the challenge of funding to proceed to learn the English alphabet which cost two pence but I didn’t get the support. 

Did the dream perish at this point?

No, I was eager to at least read and write even without formal education. So, I came up with the idea to organise evening lessons for children in Yoruba alphabets in front of my master’s shop after we had closed at the price of one penny per pupil. I partnered with another friend to teach English alphabets at two pence each. As the one who came up with the idea, provided space and resources, I demanded that he paid me one penny from his two.

This was a win-win situation for me all with the support of Almighty Allah. The success of that lesson was underscored by the way it was embraced with about 50 pupils in the first month. Moreover, the initiative was to use the opportunity to grasp the English alphabets from my partner whose teaching period comes after mine. After I finished, I will sit in his session and also learn, that was it. 

You lacked formal education, yet founded a university that now has doctors and professors, how do you feel about this?

Well, I feel fulfilled and honoured that we are finally here today. I will say my investment into the education sector was divine after one of my sons dreamt of me establishing an Islamic university while in Saudi Arabia for Hajj in 1994. This coincided with my desire to impact my family and humanity through Islamic and Western knowledge. I had planned to establish a plastic factory and had imported all the equipment and machines with almost all the buildings completed. As a businessman, this was initially difficult because return on investment in education is not instant. But I wanted to use it to serve humanity. 

How did the process begin? 

I started with AbdulRaheem College of Islamic Foundation which was affiliated to the ABU Zaria, International Islamic University in Sudan and later, Islamic University in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. This then propelled us to get our own university license during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. I also have AbdulRaheem College of Advanced Studies in Igbaja for remedial studies, for people wanting to gain admission into the undergraduate degree studies in the university. 

How have you been able to run the university despite your educational limitation? 

I am a very detailed person who Almighty Allah complemented with talents, wisdom, creative courage and intelligence in my approach to issues. Then, I have the ability to pray. There will always be challenges from the staff and students, especially from changes in leadership. Vice Chancellors are supposed to spend five years, but we had to let one go after two years when we found his performance unsatisfactory. From the VC, DVC to Bursar, these are key positions in the university that must be manned by capable hands if you don’t want to run into trouble. 

Did you have funding challenge while establishing Al-Hikmah University?  

Yes. You see, I only had the desire for education but didn’t make my findings on what it entailed; whether one was going to make money or just spend it. I spent N100m to obtain the license although government returned the money after six months when they became convinced, we could pay salaries. We were also required to have a 10,000 acres land. This was unlike my previous business investments whereby one started making money almost instantaneously. The government barely supported us in the construction of our buildings, so we hit a brick wall and the only solution was for me to sell half of my property abroad. But I was happy to do so because I used it to fulfill my heart’s desire.  

Any regret thus far?

None whatsoever, I still have a lot of properties in Nigeria and abroad and my children are now doing great things in life. I’m grateful for that. 

Some people say you’re difficult to work with, how true is this?

I don’t like hypocrisy and I don’t engage in it, that is where people got the notion that I am difficult to relate with. Those saying that are hypocrites and they find me difficult to manipulate. It is our hypocrisy that got us to this point in Nigeria. If I wasn’t cautious, the university wouldn’t have progressed. This is about your seventh attempt trying to get me to sit for this interview, if you had given up, we wouldn’t be here talking. 

Like I said, some VCs lasted only two years but look at what the present VC, Prof Noah Yusuf, has done, look at the grounds we have broken under him. We are on the verge of birthing our medical school. The Katsina State Governor, Malam Aminu Bello Masari, spent two days with us, not as a state guest but as our guest. So, it is normal for some people to say those things about me because I refused to allow them take advantage of me. 

Any plans to return to school? 

What am I still looking for beyond what God has given me? This is enough. My teachers must be extremely patient otherwise we will fight all the time. I am a very busy person. During Prof Oloyede’s tenure, two professors from the university of Ilorin used to come home but they stopped because I was always attending to people from morning till around 3pm.

Source: Daily Trust 

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