If you meet Chief C.F.I Olaniyan the founder of Victory Group of Schools for the very first time, you wouldn’t believe he is 90. He does not look it. He does not behave like one. He still takes a long walk daily and still active.
Not only that. There is nothing about his looks that shows he is a nonagenarian. He does not use reading glasses. His power of recall is commendable. He does not use walking sticks. He stands and sits unaided. He eats anything he wishes. He is still very active. At 90, Baba has not slowed down a bit. He is blessed, agile and bubbling with life.
City People’s team visited this modest man a few days ago at his Ikeja home. If you meet and interact with him, you will realise that Chief Olaniyan is a simple man. He lives within the school compound. If he likes, he could have relocated to Ikoyi or Banana Island in V.I, but Baba prefers to continue living among his students. He is a father of many children.
When we got there, we found a happy man who is at peace with himself. What makes Baba all the more happy is the fact that Victory Group of Schools is 50. He has put in 62 years into his career as an educationist. He has established 8 schools.
How do you feel clocking 90?
I give God all the glory to reach this landmark age, not only to clock the age but to reach the age in good health. I’m full of gratitude to the Almighty God for giving me that privilege; I regard it as a privilege. To be able to wave through all the problems of the heart and reach the landmark age; it has not been easy at all. We all know the average age in Nigeria (laugh) so, one needs to be thanking God. The celebration we are doing is really to thank God. It’s not only a question of eating and drinking but just to give gratitude to God Almighty. Moreover, to see a school that I started when I was just 40 years old growing so fast, though it was taken over by the government at one time, they used it for 25 years and after, they returned it. I’m full of gratitude for that one too because It’s not easy, even to get land in this area. Having up to 10 acres in this area and somebody just wake up and seize everything, with everything on it without any reasonable reason, no compensation, than to say you are using it for the public good. Is Education itself not public good. When we established it, we established it for the public good, and that is evident now by the number of ex-students, testifying to it that we have done everything to make them be what they are.
You don’t look 90, what is the secret of your young look sir?
There is no secret anywhere. I will only thank God for that, and it is the sign of good health. I thank God for giving me good health. I realise it’s not everybody that God has given grace. My children insisted that we must celebrate because they realised that God has been so kind to me and they want to thank God for His mercy on every one of us as a whole family and as a family of victory family because we are so many. These are the things that give me joy, the reason I’m happy and always give gratitude to God Almighty.
At 90, what are the lessons that life has taught you?
Life is still going on. When one is still healthy, you still continue to learn and develop yourself. My line is education and we are still developing and we will continue to develop until the last day. I have 7 schools by the grace of God. When you are building an institution, there is no question to determine or end it; you will always have something to do. The oldest of the school is Victory High school and we still have so many things to do there. This Victory Grammar school was founded 29years ago when Victory High school was in the hand government. So we can always have improvement, even schools established centuries ago still need development, so once God spares our lives and we are still breathing, we will keep on improving, as long as the advice and inspiration are still there. The younger generation will continue to contribute their quotas.
How did you feel the day the Government announced the takeover?
I left Oriwu College when it was taken over. When Lagos State was created, they had nothing, no secondary at all. So, they took over 5 community schools that were being run by local governments. Oriwu college where I was happened to be one of them, and when that was done, luckily I’ve already established my own school in Ikeja, so I didn’t join the civil service. When we built our laboratory, I applied that Oriwu College’s and our own Laboratory be approved when I got there. I was already used to all sort of pioneering works. So, when I resumed fully here in 1972, we completed our science laboratory within a short period of time and we invited the late Chief Abraham Adeniran Ogunsanya, who was then Commissioner for Education and Youth Development for Commissioning. During his speech, he spoke on the issue of taking over schools. He said it’s a matter of time because Lagos State had only 5 secondary schools, which they had just taken over and they may likely take over more schools. After the ceremony, I went to him to enquire more; I asked if he was going to take over this primary school because where I was coming from had also been taken over. Lo and behold! He said” “Yes” because they needed more schools. He said there was a need to subsidise education. I told him I just bought another piece of land at Iyana Ipaja and he said I should go and build it, but he said he would advise me to concentrate on Victory High School, that I should concentrate all my energy on it. Already, he had been very supportive all the time I was in Oriwu college, I was well received there, I did a good job and people commended my efforts. So, he said I should concentrate on Victory High School and do whatever in my power to make it well established. So, to me, I would say it’s an act of God that such thing came, because I would have established on that land immediately and start struggling to get things done because I struggled a lot at the beginning here. After we started, we had series of litigations, the problem on the land from Onigbongbo and with Onigbagbo family, that I had to give scholarship to their children and told them how much they were going to benefit from it. That it’s not a commercial money-making venture. That was how I was able to have a respite. And by the time they took over, it was not the Lagos State Government that actually started it, it was the military government regime and they posted their men all over, so they took over many secondary schools in the whole country, not only in Lagos. At the initial stage, we thought they were going to value the property and give us money after series of meetings upon meeting, but you know Obasanjo was very ruthless as at that time. Also, the military government is the military. They don’t negotiate, and they just give the command from the top. All the mission schools were also taken over.
Those that were not up to standard were closed down. So, the situations were so though before Tinubu came in. Many schools were so congested. They did that for so many years, but eventually, civilian Government came in, and Tinubu said he was going to make it a campaign issue. Initially, we thought he was joking. When Jakande came with his own policy too in 1979, when he cancelled all the primary schools and left only Nursery schools. He did not impound the structure, he only moved the children and he established his own school. Another thing that he did that generated heat was when he said anyone who did not attend the preprimary school will not be admitted into the secondary school that had been taken over. The military took over the secondary schools, I had a secondary school. It really got us furious and we staged a protest led by Arch Bishop Olubunmi Okojie and within 6 months it was resolved. But then people were still not comfortable because private schools at that time were very good. The standard was higher, the business was better, then they said they should give us freedom of choice, whether you want to attend private or public school. Eventually, they permitted Nursery, Primary and both the pupils and the teachers were happy. And 3 years later, they allowed a secondary school to be established. And in 2001, Tinubu said all the schools taken over should be returned to the original owners. So, that we could return to the standard we started with.