This Ijesaman has no secondary education, but at 70 becomes a successful practicing lawyer in London

A 70 year old Ijesaman from the South West of Nigeria, Ezekiel Folorunsho Atewojaye had no opportunity of secondary school education, but with his primary education, he had to engage in artisan training as blacksmith, due to his family poor background while his peers burnt ‘midnight candle’ away to become relevant in the society.

Penpushing reports that, Atewojaye, however, defeated poverty when he struggled hard and found his way to United Kingdom, only armed with Primary School leaving Certificate, but was not ashamed to realize his dreams when at 50 years, he wrote General Certificate Examination {GCE} and came out in flying colours.

The London resident in this exclusive interview, narrated his life to stardom after relentless struggle to overcome poverty inspite of his inability to have taste of secondary education, but  as fate would have it, he is today a successful lawyer in United Kingdom. Enjoy the rest of the narrative.

Can you briefly take us through your background

My full names are Ezekiel Folorunsho Atewojaye, born on June 2, 1950, while my place of birth is Iwoye Ijesa, currently in Ori-Ade Local Government Council of Osun State. I Attended Demonstration School, Iseyin between 1956 and 1957. I attended Saint Thomas’s Primary School Iwoye, Ijesa from 1957-1961.

I can vividly remember that my primary one teacher was Mr Adedeji. Mrs Sadiku taught me in primary two. A year after, Miss Bimpe Adanri of Iwoye Ijesa taught me in primary 3. In 1959, Mr S A Oluwadojutimi from Erin Ijesa was our teacher in the next class. In 1960, Mr M O Komolafe from Ijebu Ijesa taught me in primary five, while in 1961 Mr Babadiya from Ikeji Arakeji local government area was my teacher in primary six.

How did you move out of Iseyin?

 I moved out due to the collapse of my parent’s business in Iseyin. My father led us out of Iseyin to Iwoye Ijesa our home town. That was towards the end of the school year of 1957. I knew that very well because the end of the year examination was on. I have written parts of the exams then. Our one full day, the journey from Iseyin to Iwoye makes me miss one full day examination. On the next day, my father took me down to St Thomas’s Primary School where I was enlisted in primary 2 examination that made it possible for me to get promotion to primary three in the year 1958.

Did you learn any vocation after your primary education?

 I signed an apprenticeship for blacksmithing with Matthew A Awotunsin (my master), a relation of my mother. The original agreement for the training was three years but at the end of the third year I was not able to catch up with the job any longer. At this juncture, my father warned me to learn the skill at all cost, if not I could end up a looser. At the end of the day people may be calling me (Agbede a gun ba la ba la), which translates irresponsible man because anything worth doing at all should be done properly. That advice had helped me a lot today in everything I want to do since I want an acceptable standard of perfection.

Can you be precise on the places you have worked after the artisan training?

 From January 23, 1968 to October 11, 1977 I worked as a Blacksmith in Erin Ijesa for a period of nine years and nine months. Earlier, I had operated as a farmer, where I planted yams, rice, cassava maize and Cocoa in large quantity.

What were the reasons for your inability to go to secondary school?

It was mainly due to the collapse of my parent’s business. We left Iseyin for our home town then. My father decided to establish a better future for the family when he became Cocoa farmer. He decided to start planting Cocoa on a virgin land called ‘Lakarigi’ in Iwoye Ijesa. Also, he had another land in Eti Oni area of Iwoye Ijesa. It was during the time of formation of his new venture that I finished my primary education.

Thereafter, there was no money to sponsor my education. The cash crops that could have given us the money was mostly for our feeding and clothing. There was no saving. But because we believed Cocoa plantation is not a cash and carry business, we held on to our fate. For sure, I know there is no way a Cocoa farmer that start from the scratch will make money from the plantation in the first five to six years except if he is lucky to have acquired the plantation already grown by someone else, which is rare and dangerous.

In short, there was no money to sponsor my secondary school education. I thank God for the leaderships of the then Western Region that implemented ‘free primary education from 1955/66. If not, people like me would not have been able to go beyond kindergarten class. Personally I thank Chief Awolowo for his thoughtfulness. Above all, I thank God for my achievements.

What inspired you into to have sought for Higher Education?

 When I assumed apprenticeship under my blacksmith master in Iwoye Ijesa, my school mates were in their various ways to different public and private schools. I knew I needed to read to become somebody worthwhile in life. To attain this feat, I made it a point of duty to read any English book that came my way. Also, I made dictionary my friend and companion.

How did you successfully write General Certificate Education {GCE} without a taste of secondary school?

 From the year 1962 to1977 I did not attend any public examination, but registered and studied salesmanship through National School of Salesmanship, Manchester, England. I enjoyed my studies and training with the hope that I would get sales job back home. On October 10, 1977, being the following day I moved out of Erin Oke to Lagos with my Primary School Certificate and Red Seal Diploma in Salesmanship.

My first job in Lagos was at Bhojson Nigeria Limited where I earned the sum of N2:00 per day. I worked there for seven days and I resigned. In November 4, 1977 I joined Metal Box Nigeria Limited as a Cleaner on salary scale of N64: 00 a month. I was promoted by the end of the second month as a Machine Operator. The following year, around September, I made a Production Checker after an Aptitude Test.

I was on the same salary until April 1979 when my salary was increased by 12% as negotiated by the unions, hence my wages moved to N72:00 a month, inclusive of N10:00 housing and transport allowance. I enrolled for GCE O/Level Exams in the year 1979 for the first time in my life. As a matter of fact, when I got married January 31, 1981, I could only boast of a testimonial primary school leaving certificate issued by Western Nigeria Ministry of Education in 1961/62.

Also, I have Red Seal Diploma in Salesmanship, Gold Seal Diploma in Sales Management, Advertising and Marketing Research after I completed correspondence course as a foreign student in a certificate issued by National School of Salesmanship, Manchester, England. It is important at this stage to let you know that in my initial enrolment in WAEC for GCE O/L, I only enrolled for three papers: English Language, Economics and Business Methods in which I did not get a credit in English Language, but had P8 in Economics and Business Methods.

During that time I had no money to pay for evening Classes or private tuition as I squeezed myself to send two of my siblings through Erin Community Grammar School because I saw it as my responsibility to see that they have at least secondary education. Our father died when I was 19yrs old. That time my mother was 43 years old while my juniors were 16, 14, 9, and 5 years respectively.

How did you get into law?

 Initially it was my plan to study law in Nigeria on part time basis, but unfortunately there was no job for me to backup my plan. I had to check out of my dear country to a foreign land where I did work mostly in an unsocial hours as office and domestic cleaner, janitor, kitchen porter, security guard, mail runner and warehouse assistant, parker and loader.

Tell us about your university education?

 My initial plan was to study law as a part time student in University of London. I approached the University registry in my first year on enquiries. The registrar asked for the originals of my credentials and authority to verify from WAEC and National School of Salesmanship. After their verification the University advised that I need to have only one A/Level paper with at least Grade Level ‘E’ to qualify as an undergraduate.

Hence, I enrolled with North London College of Accountancy to study A/Level Law. I passed ‘A level Law’ and certificate was issued by the University of London, which I presented to Registrar. Then the University issued me a Certificate of Eligibility to study Law at Degree Level as an External Student. Regrettably, during that time I heard that Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had refused to recognise anybody that studied at University of London as External Student.

This means that no matter how brilliant you are: Nigeria Bar is not for you. That made most of us to start searching for acceptable alternatives. I ended up with Holborn College which is in franchise arrangement with Wolverhampton University. That was where I secured my Certificate and Diploma of Higher Education in Law. I finally carried my credits to London Guildhall University to finish my Bachelor of Laws Degree with Honours. That automatically entitled me to have LLB (Hons) at the back of my name.

How did you make it abroad?

 It was so adventitious. In the year 1988, as I planned to apply for study leave from my employer (Nigeria Airways), they fired their usual end of the year salvo for December retrenchment and I became a casualty. Then, I was abroad on casual leave when they retrenched me. I came back to pick up the retrenchment paper which read that I have been retrenched because of public interest. I wrote a letter of appeal because my sectional/Departmental Managers, Controller and my Departmental Director said that they are not aware of how my name came up on the list. After failing to receive an acknowledgement of my appeal either from Nigeria Airways’ Managing Director or Directors or my Departmental or Sectional Manager, I decided to move out of the country, where I left behind my wife and children aged: 6, 3,years and 3 months respectively.

Can you say you are now a practising lawyer?

 My answer to that is that as at now I am not a Solicitor or a Barrister. But I am a Legal Adviser. If you agree that legal Adviser is a Legal Practitioner then my answer to your question is: Yes, I am now a practicing lawyer. But if your belief is that only those that appear in court cases are lawyers then I will say No, I am not a practising Lawyer now. To have studied law from A Level to Diploma and Degree to the extent of securing LLB Hons, I am a lawyer and legal personnel. Also, I am a potential Solicitor and Barrister. I crawled from grass to grace. To God, Jehovah belong the Highest Honours. And to my father Jacob Ajayi Atewojaye who taught me so much at a tender age of five and half years, I am happy today that I have made him proud. I also thank God for providing Awolowo during my own generation.

 How were your family members able to cope when you traveled abroad to study?

 My earlier plan was to spend only three or four years and be back but I had a prolonged stay. My wife joined me abroad within the first one year. Our children joined us couple of years later. We are all in Britain as one of the Nigerian community members in the United Kingdom.

What is your advice for younger generation about life?

 My advice to the youths is: to have initiative, be focused and determined to succeed, irrespective of the challenges. They should always keep themselves busy. They should realize that our life on earth is a school of experience where we have to learn through trials and errors. In view of that, there is no easy way to success. They should always be ready to try their hands on new things.

They should not fear exams and tests because of failure but should aspire to succeed in their examinations and tests by putting all their abilities, even after initial disappointments. There is one word that will keep them going in life: that word is perseverance. They should not allow anything to distract their attention on the way to success. The younger generation should not allow peer pressure to overrun their progressive movement.

They should look beyond the present unfavourable state of our education while at the same time various government at their different levels should create a conducive atmosphere for our youths mostly from the primary school; so that by the time they finish their secondary schools they will be able to fit in into any progressive society in any part of the world The young ones should develop themselves through information technology. They should not misuse the advantage of computer world for mere chatting and friends-making but they should use information technology as a ladder to the top.

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