Professor Adeyemi Clocks 70 today
Professor Ekundayo Adeyinka Adeyemi is the current Head, Department of Architecture, Covenant University. Popularly referred to as the grand father of Architecture in Nigeria, his professional and University teaching career spans over a period of 44 years, 36 of which had been devoted to teaching, research and University administration. Professor Adeyemi who clocks 70 today, February 27, 2007, in this interview talked about his life odyssey.
GROWING UP DAYS
Sir, can you tell us about your child hood?
My mother was a very young woman when she married my father in 1933, but unfortunately, she did not start giving birth until 1937 when I was born. She had recurring stillbirths and miscarriages. Because of limited knowledge at that time, it was deduced that there were some forces responsible for her problems. So, when I was conceived, she ran away from Jebba to Ilorin, to a particular compound, for protection. I was, however, born safe and sound at a General Hospital. After that, mother and child had to go back to where my father was in Jebba, and that was where I grew up.
Now, midway through my primary school, at the age of eight, my father, who was then working as the head of the local shed at the Nigerian Railway was transferred to Lagos But at that time we could not all go with him, he went with the seniors and I had to stay at Offa, with the most senior wife. I joined him in Lagos in 1948, but I was there for just one year before we were moved again. And by 1949, after being in the service for 30 years, a rare thing in those days, my father retired from the Nigerian Railways. It was real celebration all the way. We now moved down to my hometown in Ekiti.
Before we left Lagos, precisely in 1945, I was in standard 5 and I took the entrance examination into Christ School, Ado Ekiti and passed but my mother did not want me to go because she felt I was too young to be separated from her. So I could not go to secondary school at that time and unfortunately when I got to my hometown I could not pass the exam again. By 1950, I wanted to get in by all means so I had to go and live with the Master (a school teacher). I did not get in until 1952 when I started my class one and did not finish until 1956. Christ School was one of the best schools in those days where students use to make it in grade one, and many of its products are now professors all over Nigerian universities.
What where those striking experiences you had while growing up?
These experiences would include the environment in which I grew up. It was during the war years, 1939-1945 was the period of the 2nd World War. I was about two years old when the war started and only eight when it ended. My peers and I had these military sensibilities; we dressed like soldiers, we had small groups commanded by leaders, exactly in a military way. Nostalgically, at times, I still wonder if those guys then that we all grew together are still alive or dead.
Also, where we lived, at Railway Quarters, overlooked the River Niger, so at a distance you could just view the River Niger and also the railway station, which was very close to the house. The United Missionary School, the primary school that I attended was on a hilltop with flowers all round it. When I look back, I see people I have gone to school with who are now professors and have made marks in various works of life, many alive, a few dead and all this gives me memories and I feel very nostalgic about it.
In other words I grew up in an atmosphere of love where people shared things, no hatred. My dad and his colleagues would come together and eat from the same dishes and I think that is the greatest demonstration of love that I have seen and which I still want to see, it’s not common this days where there’s so much secrecy and self centeredness.
EARLY TEACHING EXPERIENCE
I started a teaching career at a nearby village, Ikere Ekiti. I was there for about 13 years. I was under 20, but the kind of responsibility that I took on then astounds me today. I was games master and also English Literature teacher. Anytime I taught, the Principal of the school would come and sit in my class. I do not know why but perhaps he use to think this small boy, or perhaps, I had a special way of teaching and it was nothing spectacular as all I did was imitate my former principal in Christ school, Rev. L.D Mason, a white man, who would transfer us from Ado-Ekiti to wherever context was situated. For instance, when he taught us about the Tale of Two Cities, you could practically see yourself in the streets of France and you could see the hangman loose. He really sensitized us on the power of vision. So, I just imitated him. I was very good at reading; I think this impressed my principal.
Then suddenly, my brother came back from England, he had just completed his own architectural studies at that time. In addition to my ability to express myself in English at that time, I could also express myself in drawing and painting. As a young man, less than 20 then, I would just sit by the window and paint whatever I saw. I will look at the hill view with its lush green field and the rock sticking out from the lushness of the green and I would start painting. So when my brother came, he said, you shouldn’t be here, come with me to Lagos and that was how I followed him. I left the school without even saying goodbye and today I still regret that because that was not a good way of departing with people who loved you.
In Lagos, I did not bother to look for a job because my brother just wanted me to stay in the house and to imitate him, to study him and learn architectural draftsmanship. I did this fast enough and within six months I had started doing drawings on my own. Later I got a job with the Federal Ministry of Works at the Surveys Department where I was a draftsman. It was from there that I gained admission in 1958, to the Nigerian College to do Architecture. I was then invited for the Federal Government Scholarship interview and by the time my brother already groomed me so I just got the scholarship with ease. I think I must have impressed them so much because I was there with those who were already studying architecture. I enjoyed the scholarship through out my days in school as an architectural student, and up till now I have never spent my money on study; it was always one type of sponsorship or the other.
DESIGNS AND PROJECTS EXECUTED
I also worked with my brother in practice after I left the Ministry. He had already started his own practice so we did some work together and that was the time that modern architecture was evolving in Nigeria and the time when Nigerian architects were also getting involved. I also did a few projects on my own, some design of houses in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and some choice areas in Lagos. When I left my brother and moved into teaching, I formed a practice; actually my students pushed me into it. I formed a group, called the ArchCon (architectural consultants), based in Kaduna and we did a lot of projects. When you are talking about an office, you do not claim the authorship but you could be the brain behind the design and I did quite a number of designs. The University of Sokoto, for instance, I took very active part and the National Youth Corps building headquarters in Abuja, though not built but the design is there; the General Hospital Gbagada in Lagos, I did that personally; a few houses for important people in Kaduna, and what else, just teaching.
JOURNEY INTO THE IVORY TOWERS
First, I went for my Masters at the Colombia University, which is perhaps one of the best schools in Architecture the world over and when I finished, I came back because the Federal Ministry of Works sponsored me. Over there in Colombia, I had specialized in Medical Facility Architecture, but when I returned, I was given the assignment to design schools and I was not happy about that. I said to my Director, I can’t imagine you spending so much money on me in a specialized area of medical facility architecture and then only to ask me to be taking up duties designing schools. Then he said no, that is not right perhaps you should go to the University you don’t belong here and I said well I’d think about it. When I left the ministry I was with my brother in practice then some students came from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and they said they wanted me and that all they wanted to know was if I was interested or not. They said they would go back and tell their Vice-Chancellor that I was the person they wanted. At that time there was a revolution in architectural education in the University, as the programme was being restructured and they needed somebody to pilot and put into operation the reforms that were taking place. That was how I found myself in Zaria. I was given a letter of appointment as Lecturer I. When I showed the letter to my brother, he asked if I was interested and I said yes I do. So, he said go ahead. That was how I got into teaching and I resisted every attempt to go into practice. I think my calling is architectural teaching.
I became a professor before I was 39. I think it was Gods grace, because when I took up the headship of Architecture in Zaria after the completion of my Ph.D., at the New York University, my Dean, at that time, a polish professor, said Professor, let me put you up for professorship and I said it’s rather too early that Associate Professor was okay because I was already a senior lecturer. He insisted and I said well if you want to go ahead you could. He did and when the result came from the assessment, I was offered professorship. I said well if they can give me professorship then this looks like a place for me to stay.
Actually I must tell you it is not getting to an important position that matters but retaining that position. The work began after I reached that level, prior to then, the work had not began. I had to maintain my stand, keep my head above because at the time I became Head of Department. There were people in their fifties who where under me and it was astonishing how I was able to gather this people together. They were all white people and everyone of them both man or woman was older than myself. I don’t know how they gave me so much respect that I was able to mobilize and get them going. I just could not believe that a young person like myself could be given so much respect, loyalty and I think it’s a lesson for the rest of my life, if white people can give me so much loyalty, why can’t we black people also do that. I am currently writing a book that will capture these very years and all these Polish people that I referred to as Adeyemi Team.
ACHIEVEMENTS AT ABU
I was the Dean for four years, from 1976-1980; I was the Head of Department from 1974-1986, when I left in 1986. Throughout my stay at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, apart from the first few years when I got there, the rest was utilized in University administration and playing very significant roles in the development of the University. I was chairman of the Physical Planning Committee and was known as the guru for physical development. During my tenure as Head of Architecture, what was then a turbulent department became a very peaceful department and our products were very good. They occupy very important positions today and some of them are Permanent Secretaries in Federal Ministries, big people in practice, controlling the professional body of architects. I spent the most creative part of my life in Zaria and when I look back at all that was done in Zaria; the innovations that I brought into architecture, the number of students that I had to tutor, how I devised means of coping with large numbers, all this make me to believe that those are my creative years.
FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, AKURE
I moved to Federal University of Technology, Akure to set up another School of Architecture when I was still at my peak.
But when I started off the School, I had some initial problems. After they had sent me off in Zaria, two weeks after I got to Akure and they said they have scrapped the school, which was earlier approved by the NUC. Some people even said perhaps the NUC did not want me to leave Zaria. But I said once you say good night in a place, you do not say good evening again. So I stayed in FUTA, and eventually I became the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University. That appointment coincided with the time NUC had a change of mind and gave recognition to the University. I was combining both duties of Deputy Vice-Chancellor and that of setting up the School of Architecture. I brought in some of my staff in Zaria that were young and creative and also some of my students who had graduated that were in other places. Not too long into my appointment, I was invited by NUC to be Chairman of a committee to supervise the grants given to each university. All the 25 Federal Universities at that time were given 25 million each for development. For two years also I chaired the NUC Monitoring Committee. I was doing that and still teaching my courses at FUTA. It was also during this time that the issues of Vice-Chancellorship came up, some people taught I was the right person but for one reason or the other, I did not get it. When I went on sabbatical with the hope of retiring and suddenly, I just went down for Christmas holiday when my name was announced for the Vice-Chancellor for FUTA. At that time I was already 63 and I said well, am close to the end but at least let me do this until I retire and that’s how I became the Vice Chancellor for the two years and at 65 I retired.
How was the experience in those two years?
Actually, the reason for the appointment was because the university had some crisis and they just felt I was the right person to quell the crisis. I thank God it went well, but, I had some opposition because by the time I got there, there were groups and one of them wanted me to be part of them to punish the other groups and I told them look! Am an elderly person, I don’t do such things; I am father to all. So, because I do not join them, I was also another target, but through my leadership style, I was able to bring peace and by the time I was leaving I said to them very humbly, now let thy servant depart in peace.
COVENANT UNIVERSITY CONTEXT
One of my staff at FUTA, Akure that I brought from Zaria, came here for an interview and got a professorship, but somehow he was also looking for our own professorship at FUTA, and when he got that one he felt that it was better for him to stay on at least to maintain perpetuity of his tenure. So he decided to stay and that was the first time I learnt about CU. One day, after I had retired, Dr S. A. Daramola, who was then Head of Architecture, CU, came to my house in Akure, I never knew him before. He talked to me if I could assist them that he was told that I was the only person around that could help them in CU. I said well you are lucky, right now am resting but I think I have rested enough, I will try and come as associate. I came down and I saw what Bishop Davd Oyedepo had done and my description at that time was that ‘this is a miracle’. Till now it is still a miracle; to get the money, to organize the men and be able to get to the point that we are now, I think is a miracle. We were in Faith Tabernacle and I marveled at what I saw. At the end of that day, what I could just say was that the Bishop should bless us too before we left. After some time, I started coming as an associate lecturer but I knew I did not have enough time to stay with the students. There was pressure from Dr. Daramola and coupled with my respect also for the Bishop. It may interest you to know that my wife, who was in Zaria years ago, would leave Zaria and go to Kaduna to attend Bishop’s service on Sundays. In Zaria, she could as well attend the same Living Faith Church, but she preferred going to Kaduna. So in my heart I said if a man can do all these, then I think such a man is worth following in his vision and that was how I said I will now take on greater hours of teaching, and that was how I came.
To develop a university is not easy at all because buildings alone do not make a university, there’s a lot to consider in the making of a university, you have to develop the men, materials and particularly the human capital and when you do that you must also develop an ability to retain and not just attracting them but also retaining them and using them well. Talking about being a world-class university, you see every institution wants to be world class but it’s your activities that will determine where you stand, your efforts, gradual application and dedication to principles, which must be within human reasoning. I think that is where the planning comes in; we need a master plan that will indicate the targets and how to get there via a time frame. So far, I think the University is doing well in these parameters.
Sir, What do you want to be remembered for at CU?
I want to be remembered as somebody who has helped tremendously, honestly, selflessly in the realization of the vision of creating a new leadership for Africa tomorrow. I want to be remembered for actively and conscientiously and earnestly taking part in this. I also want to be seen as an elderly person who is able to speak the truth as given to him by God and not by man. I don’t want to be known like the Yoruba saying ‘agba iya’ but to be seen as a truthful elder who has truly and earnestly contributed to the realization of the vision of the Chancellor.
HIS LEADERSHIP STYLE
There is one thing that I try to do once I come across any person with problem. The question that comes to my mind is how do I help this person; if it is a student, the question is how do I help; if it is admission, the question is how do I help this person. Then I look through whatever the problem is and try to find means of help. Even if I tell some people that there’s no way I can help, they feel so happy, because I would have looked through thoroughly before conclusions. Secondly, I think my leadership style can be interpreted anywhere. I have tried it for more than three decades, it had worked, and people acknowledge it everywhere; even when I was a young man, they saw me as uncle, father. I think it is the leadership style; I was never aggressive, I had a very gentle way of pointing out mistakes to people, I try to follow the Biblical injunction that you can point out mistakes with love and not with hatred and I give people a long rope so much so that they say I always give them a long rope to hang themselves. My duty is to advice and if you choose not to abide then your evils will catch up with you. What I always say is that, I do not care what people say even if they see it as weakness but I think it takes a great heart and humility to say I am sorry. I have seen somebody who did something to me that was wrong and he saw that he was wrong but he told me it was not his style to say I am sorry. I just laughed and said well we are two different people. It is not that I learnt it from someone or read a book on it, I think that’s just the way God made me, and people have never complained for almost all the 30 years or more that I have been a leader in academics. The worst anybody can say is that this man is weak. When you try to seek peoples opinion, they see it as sign of weakness but really it is a sign of strength and people had better learn that whatever seems to be a sign of weakness is actually a sign of strength.
CHALLENGES ENCOUNTERED WHILE CLIMBING THE LADDERS?
Well the challenges are the normal ones any young man faces while moving up. When you move up, you are reaching for something higher than yourself and unless you conscientiously move towards it without giving up easily you cannot reach the top. And in your match to the top never you rubbish people below or people by your side, just do your own thing the way God wants you to do it and do not hurt anybody which is very important. I told somebody point blank one day that why do you use people to get what you want? He said what is wrong with it, as long the person does not know that you are using him, but I felt that was not honest. A lot of people use people to get to the top and only to fall terribly to grass. Somebody said to me that since I took up teaching I have never changed my mind, that even I had the opportunity with my practice (Archcon), of making big money. I told my partners at that time, when they kept on saying I should come, I said to them I trained you, so why should I not train others and that was when they kept quiet.
Sir, do you really have a mentor, someone who impacted your life more than others?
My brother, Adedokun Adeyemi, he is dead and I always wished he was around. He was my mentor. At the time he was mentoring me, I did not realize it not until he left. Then my father too, he believed so much in me, that the last word he said to me was, "Yinka, don’t you ever change", he said it in Yoruba, so I felt that he must have looked through me and endorsed my actions. He died at the age of 92, which was a conservative death at that time, he must have been about a 100.
HOW TO IDENTIFY A GOOD ARCHITECT
You have to be creative, do things differently and there has to be something about your design that is strictly you. Some people call it the cult of the personality, which is important in identifying the real masters in architecture; they have their personal stamp on their buildings that is very important in identifying a good architect. But you see architecture, it is not just design or creativity, someone says it is business; you must be good in economics so as to know how to manage your business; be a good psychologist, be able to market yourself. Actually, it has become a business and all the attributes of making a business thrive should be seen also in the architect, but more importantly, he has to be creative, doing things differently that people will see and say this definitely is the work of a great mind, and not many people see this; some just think it is designing a building that people can stay in and so on.
If we go by the old perception of who an academic is, we will almost think of that absent minded person who does not mind how he looks because that is not important to him but what your brain can produce. For instance, you have those who do not comb their hair and sometimes it works, because when we were in school, someone like Prof. Awojobi, who is late now, you will know that this person would be an architect because he was a man of many parts, he would do each part well. If you saw someone like Prof Jubril Aminu, who was onetime Executive Secretary of NUC, who is a Senator now, he is a true academic. When he was in school, he did not care about the body at all because there are more important things to him, he had distinction in many of his medical subject, and collected prizes when he was graduating. But some people erroneously think an academic, is someone with beard and so on like me. Whenever am traveling, people will see me and call me Prof without actually knowing my profession. That is there own idea of who an academic is, but in actual fact, it is more than all these. An academic, even the way he speaks, he will be ordered, analytical, not sentimental, he does not care speaking the truth and that is the sign. He does not cringe, he does not care whether he retains his job or looses it, and he is interested in knowledge and adding more to knowledge and does not want to be pushed. If you want somebody to perform maximally, just leave him alone, create an atmosphere that will make him reach out for the best, don’t put him in a pigeon hole that you must do this or that, academics hate that, and that’s why they always move looking for areas where they can be free to use their brain to exercise their mind in things they want to do and they are not difficult to know, they can honour God but never worship man.
Being a sound academic does it qualifies one to becoming a good administrator?
No, in fact most academic do not like administration. The higher you go in academic the less administration you want to do. When I was in FUTA as Vice Chancellor, I wanted to have aids that could take up all the day-to-day jobs because, I need time to think, plan and make contacts for the university. So the day-to-day should rest on the shoulders of the deputies, in some universities, there are Deputy Vice Chancellor academics, administration etc, so that the Vice Chancellor can now have time to plan, set goals and constantly work towards its achievements and perhaps more importantly, to also look at the general welfare of staff because you have to retain your human capital, and have to be a moderator. But if sound academics want to be administrators they can be very good because of their ordered minds would make them good administrators. Personally, I like administration because order has been a first law for me.
WHAT THRILLS HIM MOST ABOUT PEOPLE?
It is the insincerity of man. Some people behave as if they can never think evil, in other words, they know how to put in blood and spit out spittle, but inside them there is fire. That thrills me and sometimes I just laugh, and say look, if you know this person you wont like what he or she is doing. Hypocrisy is what thrills me about people and also, the ability to open up, and embrace you genuinely. So it means that the human being has two attributes; one positive and one negative and also I think that the same person can be so many things at the same time.
WHAT LIFE TAUGHT HIM
Life has taught me not to assume, like the Bible says carefully investigate the truth and hold fast to that which is true, don’t rush into statements, anger or making judgments, be a bit retrospect, study the situation before conclusions. In other words, do not jump into conclusions.
HOW HE SPEND HIS SPARE TIMES
These days I stay in the office and when it is time to go home I go home. I do nothing official in the house anymore, at least at this stage now, I don’t leave office till seven and when I get home I eat, relax, watch TV, get familiar with the events of the day and then get a cold drink and sleep and then wake up six the following day with my early morning devotion and by seven am ready to get to work.
HIS FAVOURITE FOOD
None, I just like good food, if okele, once the soup is good. I don’t eat too much of meat, if you like put ten in a plate, if it is one I can eat, that’s it. I have no favourite food in particular.
WHAT GIVES HIM GREATEST JOY
My family, my children, they give me the greatest joy.
I have a wife that is also elderly, and just less than three years older than she is. She has given me seven good children, all of them have gone to the university, three are married, two boys yet to marry, three are abroad the girls, and am just happy they have never given me any trouble, they have never for once disappointed me, they love me and their mother who lives for us. She is a retired nurse, and contented listening and to taking care of us for me I live well and do not take money from them, except if I choose to, but I discourage it.
Did any one of them take after you professional wise?
Yes my daughter, she is an architect and a mother of three she is a partner in one of the firms in Lagos.
What of academics?
The only one close to it is in consultancy, they do all sort of consulting work for people, they advice banks, manufacturing companies etc as to their structures.
Sir, if you have an opportunity to live your life again, would you still prefer the one you have lived?
I have no regrets at all. There was a time when I wanted to say oh! As an architect, let me be a rich man and make big money, having a home in Victoria Island, Lagos or here and there, but today I have only one in my home town, even though at a time I use to think about my colleagues and wished I had secured lands in choice areas too. But I do not want to think of that again because, the Bible says the little you have be contented about it. So I would like to relive my life again the way I lived it.
Coming here (CU) what has it done to your life?
It has kept me mentally alive, and exposed me to different types of people and shown me what a great mind can achieve. Though God gets all the glory, but human beings are instruments in the hand of God and the mind that has birthed all these, I think I have a lot of respect for it. I just wished most Nigerian live like him, that’s why I don’t mind staying here, and being here has exposed me to both the goodness of God and that of man.
Do you intend to work all your life?
I have my own goals too. You see just as the university has its goals, individuals should also have theirs too, and my is to be able to set the performance benchmark for the architecture programme here, as long as God gives me the strength. My mission is not just here; I can go anywhere, like someone says, that he sees me planting seeds. If I finish my goal here and another institution says Prof. Adeyemi we need you to come and help us set school of architecture, I will go but it depends on my health. If God gives me the strength, I do not see myself been tied down in one place in the name of retirement, the grace he has given me is unlimited and I have to do His will in helping others and not only a particular set of people.
How do you assess Architecture Department in CU?
It is moving fast but we need cooperation, we have received it in the past but it must be continuous until we have consolidated on our successes.
Finally, at seventy, how do you feel spirit, soul and body?
I feel like am still forty and life begins at forty. When I was forty, the invitation cards that I gave out then simply read ‘life begins at forty’ and I can say the same thing that life begins at seventy.