For Evangelist Apata Henry Adebanji, struggle is a way of life. His expedition through all the strata of education, which cuts across the Modern School, Grade II Teachers’ College, College of Education to the University, adequately placed him in good stead to confront all horrendous situations that dotted his way.
Having been so stupendously endowed with artistry prowess and pedagogic skills, he bestrides both the arts and education landscapes like a colossus.
His never-say-die spirit, which is a complete episode on its own, will stir up any complacent, indolent, uninspiring and lily-livered folk.
Apata, the education expert and school administrator extraordinaire, speaks to Toye Faleye and Jide Fashoyin on how he wrestled contending forces to a standstill in his chosen professions.
Blackcampus: Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Evangelist Apata Henry Adebanji. I hail from Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State. I am a teacher by training. I passed through all the levels of education, from Modern School, Grade II, College of Education for the award of Nigeria Certificate in Education(NCE), to University.
I moved to Lagos in search of greener pastures and worked briefly in 1982 when I finished my Grade II. I was posted to Igangbo, a riverine area of Igbokoda. That was the first time I travelled on water. As a young man, that place was not conducive for me, so I had to abandon my two months’ salary to search for better prospects. I ran back to Ado that same year. I picked up a job at St Joseph Nursery and Primary School, run by the Catholic mission. I taught Nursery 1 and did very well as a teacher of kids. From there I moved on to the College of Education Ikere Ekiti where I obtained NCE and read Fine Arts before moving to Lagos in 1986 and got a job at Premier Nursery and Primary School, located at 96, Palm Avenue, Mushin. I was there for another 6 years
Blackcampus: How did you meet your wife?
It was at Premier School that I met my wife. She was in this same school for 6 months. It didn’t occur to me that she was to be my wife, because at the time I had met two or three of those young girls who were not wife materials. It wasn’t in my nature to flirt around, because I was always focused, sensitive, and pursuing my mission. I noticed those girls were always discussing parties and the attire that they would wear, so I discovered that my spirit was not aligning with them.
There was a man in that school that engineered the employment of my wife. He was trying to arrange her for one of his friends around his house. He told my wife that there was one area she could not go to in the school, which was the Arts room, but unfortunately, she was mature enough to know who she can relate with. As an Arts teacher, I was always in the Arts room. She also finished Adeyemi College of Education. She read French Education. But that office where she was told not to go was the place she was always coming to eat her food. Anytime she opened her food, we the guys around would join her without being invited, carrying our spoons.
One deceased friend of mine, Muyiwa, was always coming to my school because he wasn’t busy then. He was the one that said, “This woman I’m seeing is a wife material”. It was then I became conscious of her beautiful qualities, that was the meeting point between my wife and me.
Blackcampus: How did you go further in your education?
When I left Premier, I went to the University of Benin. It occurred to me that my wife had NCE, so I could not also be flaunting NCE.
The second motivation was my experience at the College of Education. I felt cheated by my HOD at Fine Arts Department. I was very versatile in painting and other areas of fine and applied arts. My HOD would get work from outside and would give the work to us. We would do all the work without any form of incentive, whereas he got paid for the work. I see this as exploitative because I was a self-sponsored student that survives on the stipends I make from the work I do. For this reason, he would score me low. What the HOD could not do was fail me. I was oppressed and victimised, and I told myself I would move to the next place where I would be silent and nobody would know how talented I am. I got to Uniben and left with the Second Class Upper division.
Blackcampus: What is the perspective behind establishing your school BANBI?
It began from instinct. I lived with an aunt for about 10 years. She and her husband were very strict teachers. They were outstanding. Living with them helped to shape my life. I started by helping them with the entry of report cards from when I was in primary three. I dare not make mistakes. There was discipline and no room for bad thoughts. Those 10 years of my stay with them made me. I saw how they lived their lives. They never quarrelled. I got moral and good conduct from them.
When I finished my Modern Three, I was thinking of attending Christ School or Ado Grammar School but I ended up in teachers college which was against my wish, but the family I was living with knew where best I could go to. There I started exhibiting the ability to draw. When one of the students of Adeyemi College of Education on teaching practice saw my drawings, he told me that if I took the drawings to Adeyemi College of Education, the HOD in Fine Arts would offer me admission without an interview.
After obtaining my degree in Fine Arts, I got involved in private lessons. I was to coach three kids from the first family I was connected. I took them for six years as their private lesson teacher. All their in-laws and family members started bringing their kids. I decided to be teaching them for two hours every afternoon. At a point, eleven kids were meeting me there at different classes, and at the end of the term, they would bring different gifts, thanking me that their kids were improving in their various schools.
‘’The strategy to reduce school fees by one-third helped us keep afloat through that period. Just when we were recovering, Covid-19 came. Nobody ever saw it coming. Many schools folded up. Some schools were sold together with students, chairs and structures’’
I was now looking for accommodation. When I told the father of one of those kids, he didn’t want me to go because he knew I would stop teaching his kids if I had accommodation elsewhere. He told me that he had a project at Ejigbo. That was what brought me here, and that is the house opposite me there. I lived in that house for sixteen years and they didn’t want me to go. They still wanted me to take care of their kids. I was teaching Fine Arts in the school and I was also teaching other subjects at home. It was during that period that I displayed much of my teaching skills, especially when I left them and went back to the university. By the time I left them, the three teachers they employed to replace me could not fit in as they left after the other. It was then it occurred to me that if I made my money, I would plough it back into education.
I got married at my 100 level when my wife was about thirty-two years old. It was also at this period that I had my first child. I would pay the school fees in Binta where I had registered him to start school. I would pay rent, NEPA bill and my school fees. That made me very tough, and I did that throughout my education. My wife was taking care of clothing and feeding, and we were able to balance things. My second child came when I was in the 300 level at the university.
By the time I graduated, I couldn’t enlist for the NYSC because I had passed beyond the age. There was nothing serious I could lay my hands on, but I could never stay idle because getting jobs without knowing someone was not easy. I thought to myself that if I could survive when I was in school, why not after school? Because of my background, I painted, sculpted, and I did textile jobs. I was making good teaching aids for schools. I always carried them to schools that will purchase them. One of the Proprietors of the schools saw that my charts were better than the imported ones. Even the inspectors that came to approve his school told him to invite me to the ministry or else they would not approve his school. He had to invite me again, and I followed him to the ministry. When I got there, they had to make bookings for my charts because they fell in love with them. The money that the proprietor could not offer me, those inspectors paid.
In the course of my sojourn, I came across another school that triggered my determination. The school was managed by a bike rider and a school drop-out. I saw many kids there. So when I was returning, my spirit kept telling me that I was wasting away; that a bike rider and a drop-out were managing a school. I told myself that I could start with a coaching class, which did not need not require billions to start. So in the evening when all the schools would have closed, that was when I structured my lesson. Between 4: 00 pm and 6:00 pm.
But when I was leaving Premier, I had a complete scheme of work from creche to primary six, and because I worked for schools I can do anything you need for you: posters, hand ills, wall decorations and many more. That was the beginning of the whole thing.
This took me to one of the best schools in Isolo. The proprietress there loved beautiful things. She changed things nearly every term. When the two of us saw ourselves, it was a balanced equation. She liked painting, and I gave the best of me on her school wall. You can’t pass the school and not look at the paintings. I was doing those things to sustain myself. I was still organizing evening lessons, and the kids were coming. When I saw what they taught them in the school, I started thinking about the kind of schools they had around. They urged me to start a school where they would bring their children.
At a time, a girl came and I used the primary two scheme for her while she was in primary four. Her mother came complaining that the girl was not getting anything since joining my coaching class. I then showed her the scheme I was using for her. I was using the primary two scheme while the girl was in primary four. This means some schools are better than others. I advised her that if she would allow her to continue she would blend. That girl came 30th when she came to my lesson, but gradually she came 15th, 7th, and later she was roaming between 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions. It was all these that triggered the establishment of my school.
I was looking for a big structure. You know structure sells school. Many parents want fine school, and that gave me concern, as I was looking for a way to manoeuvre. There is a structure next to this compound, a four-bedroom apartment. I told the man that I would like to use the structure, and he agreed, but when he finished it, I couldn’t get money to acquire it, so he gave it to those that had money. Then the spirit still kept on telling me if I wasted time, the idea of the school might not see the light of day. That was how I summoned the courage to start in my room and parlour. In the morning I will quickly wake up to clean and mop up the floor. I got a table and four chairs. I took off with three kids. The first graduate teacher that came was attracted to us by a fantastic banner I placed at a strategic point in town. I put on banners in front of my house, and others at strategic points. When we started, people didn’t recognise it as a standard school, they were thinking it was a mushroom school, but we were bringing out standard, at a time people who were looking at us as a substandard school started envying us, and eventually, they came to join us.
Blackcampus: The economy is biting hard how have you been coping?
I think the school sprang out of passion. It could not have been money that motivated us. It goes beyond that, and if I could overcome the challenges at the cradle, then you must know that there was something very hard in me. It was that courage that I had initially, and more than that too, I was a serious church worker, praying hard. I have been a CAC church elder since 2002, so you can judge my level of faith, and once you put your hand on a plough, you can’t look back, so that informs the ruggedness that is seeing us through.
This place that we are using was full of thick bushes. It was an abandoned place, a dilapidated structure where refuse was dumped and corpses buried. I did the German floor, I fixed everything. There was the challenge of how I would sustain the staff. Now I’m not thinking of how to get money, but to pay those that are coming to work, I engaged in artwork. I would go from one school to the other to paint and do any other and ask what work they wanted to do. Whatever money I got, I would plough it back to pay the salary of staff, so it took us a lot of sacrifice and passion to get us here.
Blackcampus: Even now, considering the fuel price hike and bad economy how has it been?
We are coping. When you look at it, education is a very important aspect of our lives. Your mind will always be where your children are. We can’t joke with our children, that is why education is always moving. There were economic policies that almost capsized our boat apart from Coronavirus, to the extent that I had to reduce the school fees by N10,000 because of the harsh economy. The strategy to reduce school fees by one-third helped us keep afloat through that period. Just when we were recovering, Covid-19 came. Nobody ever saw it coming. Many schools folded up. Some schools were sold together with students, chairs and structures. I think God really helped us. Now the school has a college, we have a land at the back. Challenges will come but once you take care of people working with you, the work will go on. At one point, I owed about six banks. That time I was in trouble. It was really a trying period.
Blackcampus: How has the performance of the school been in external exams?
We have good records. All the children that have passed through the school have led in one way or the other. I’m part of the school, so I have been involved in classroom activities. In our first attempt at external examination, we took three children to sit for Common Entrance, one got 530, another 525, and one other that we took from primary four to six because of her age got 466. Three of them were given letters to Queens and King’s colleges for interview. Our students don’t fail external exams because I have already set a standard. Our products are in Universities across the Nation.
Blackcampus: Some invest in education to make money, what about you?
It is true. School business thrives on money. The running of a school is of two parts. One pattern of running a school is market share, and the other is wallet share. Some schools are not after what a child achieves, they are just there to make money. There are special centres all over. In special centres, you don’t need to know anything. You can score As, but in JAMB they can’t cope. In this school, once you are in SSII, you are encouraged to sit for GCE, because I want to know what you have in your brain. Most people don’t tolerate it but for me, I am more concerned about what you have in your head so that I will know where the problem is. Here we teach ahead.
Blackcampus: Will you say you are fulfilled?
Yes, I am. It’s not about building ten houses and buying 20 cars. The church we run is like giving back to the people. Everything is on me. I keep supporting people when they don’t.
Blackcampus: If you come back to life what will you want to be, or like changed?
If I come back to life, I will still want to be the artist that I am because it allows for creativity. Now that I am doing God’s work and God is the first artist, I now know that I’m not missing anything. God was the first and the only super artist we have. It is everything that God created that we are copying. I am okay. I am training children, and pupils which is Christ’s job, so how best can one be fulfilled? We thank God for what He has done, and He will do much more.
What is your view about this story?
Don’t hesitate, send it to email@example.com or call the Editor on +234 805 844 7220.
Please like, share this with others.