Once navigating through the daily uncertainties of Ijamido Children’s Home, John Willoughby (Dr) – now a PhD holder – has defied all the odds and has risen off the seeming clouds of dust to become an academic lecturer. In this interview with TIANNAH ADELERE and BUNMI AYODELE, he delves into his upbringing in the Home and exposes to us the challenges the average Home administrator face from time to time.
How did you grow up?
I grew up here at the Ijamido’s Children Home and it has become a huge part of my life because this is the place I have come to know as home. In fact, as I was gradually getting to grips with life, I worked here briefly as an administrator before I travelled to the Republic of Benin to commence my PhD programme. However, despite the fact that I now lecture miles away in the Republic of Benin, as soon as I have the chance, I like to return here to contribute my little quota to the development of the Home because no matter what heights we attain in life, there’s no place that can substitute home.
Kindly tell us some of your experiences while you were at the Home?
Recounting childhood at Ijamido Children’s Home, I have a lot of memories. It was not exactly rosy as feeding, drinking and in fact, schooling at a time was a huge challenge. Sometimes, we would have to walk miles to the toll gate at Ilo-Awela to fetch some water for our daily use. However, through it all, I am extremely grateful to the proprietor of the home who was, and still is, the definition of a loving mother, and more. She drilled us well to the best of her abilities and was always available to support us so we could feel very comfortable.
There was a time when we had to borrow textbooks from colleagues in school simply because there was no money to buy. There were also a number of occasions when we had to stay back at home while others were in school because we had not finished paying our bills. However, those very sparse down-periods did not deter the training we received at the Home – we were thought how to speak fluently, especially in the public and other key skills that, to date, still give many of us massive advantages over our peers.
I recall how much of a people-person I was back in the higher institution, people would always come to me for counsel. And not only in school, upon graduation too, it didn’t take long for eagle-eyed people to spot that I am unique in my own way and very comfortable in my own skin – all thanks to the training I received back in the Home.
Growing up in the Home was very interesting, challenging and more importantly, a learning curve in preparation for life.
Could you kindly brief us about your academic background?
I studied Science Laboratory Technology at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro. However, before that, I had my basic education at St James Anglican Primary School and bit-part of my secondary education at the Anglican Grammar School. I went on to complete my High school education at Ado-Odo Ota Local Government Commercial Secondary School where I eventually sat for and passed, the Secondary School Leaving Certificate Examination.
After my National Diploma at Ilaro, I opted to study Industrial Relations and Personnel Management at the Lagos State University (LASU). I found the discipline interesting, so it did not take long for me to decide to pursue a Masters degree in a similar field – Human Resources and Industrial Relations at the same University.
It was after that I went to the Republic of Benin to start my PhD studies in Human Resource Management. I found Poma International Business University, which has been partnering with the Oxford University of Namibia, a good fit for my aspirations.
Ever since I started my academic journey, I have garnered about nine professional certifications, five in Nigeria viz: Institute of Public Management, Institute of Finance and Control of Nigeria, Nigeria Institute of Training and Development, Institute of Certified Economics of Nigeria and Certified Board Administrators of Nigeria.
While in the Republic of Benin, I was also able to add fellowships to my feathers. I am a proud fellow of the African Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, African Institute of Management and Administration, African Institute of Management and London Institute of African Economists.
What inspired you to achieve all these?
While God is my ultimate source of inspiration, the Home has also been very inspiring for me. You wonder how. If the home teaches only one lesson – it has to be ambition. This is because as a child in the Home, you will meet different calibres of people – among the administrators and visitors, and you will definitely be inspired by the lives they have led and you want to be a great person too.
All the people involved in the management of the Home and training of the children are great minds and they pass on positive bursts of energy to the children through different activities. At the home, we had time for debates and quiz competitions, cooking challenge, games and many other extracurricular activities.
Some visitors would also come to hold seminars and the like. All of these things inspired me and my peers. More importantly, these kind gestures helped us to keep a level head, always remembering that the life we have been able to enjoy is a result of the sacrifices of some people who chose to contribute their resources. This is why as soon as we are able, we also want to give back something to the Home. However, giving back to the Home is not limited to material resources, it also extends to displaying a good public image, being a good ambassador of the Home by impacting people positively everywhere we go.
What are some of the challenges the home is presently facing?
Whenever people ask this question, I always say that we have the same basic needs as any household, the only difference is that ours is just in many folds.
At the moment, there are over 20 students from the Home who are in Universities and their fees need to be paid. The ones back here need to be fed and they need to wear good clothes too. Those in schools have to buy textbooks and of course in any house, there will always be a need to do some domestic maintenance from time to time – like plumbing and electrical works.
In addition to that, we also have a piece of landed property very close to this place that we would like to develop because the space we have here can no longer accommodate everyone comfortably. We also need a Coaster bus to ease our transportation. This is because there are times we get invites for programmes. Usually, we just find a way to transport ourselves, sometimes not in the most ideal way possible.
We also need solar power which we can all agree is very important due to the situation of electricity supply in Nigeria. We spend so much money every month on fueling the generator because we have to ensure there is light everywhere for the kids to avoid any form of hazard.
What is your advice to other children in the home and the society at large?
There is this saying by one of my friends and I quote, “The reason your back is on the ground is not because you are bad. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, what you have and what you don’t have. What matters is what you are ready to do.”
By the grace of God, at the moment, I have 13 awards – nine of them are international, one of which is from the United States and others from the Republic of Benin. We are a product of the choices we make in life. So there is no way we can actually make a difference when we don’t choose to make that difference.
Just start from somewhere, no matter how things look like at that point. I have a fellowship in the Republic of Benin for students and I have over a hundred in attendance. It was not easy starting but I had a vision for it. I believed in it so I started building it gradually and now it is what it is today.
Now, a lot of people – even parents, call to bless and pray for me due to the changes they see in the lives of their children. Looking back, it has become clear to me that it is not because I have the money, people or connection but because I believed in myself that I could do anything I readied my heart to do.
Distractions and failures will come but one must see that all those as stepping stones to the next level and very importantly, one must love and believe in God. There are people who have the money and strong networks yet cannot achieve some of these things. This means Grace also plays a huge role in whatever we do.
My advice to every young person is to believe in God, have a dream, and of course, pay the price for the achievement of that dream. When you fail, feel rejected or betrayed, do not give up. All those things will give you the experience you need to be able to thrive and then achieve your dreams. Keep the right friends. If there’s something I have realised, it is that you are only as good as the people around you. Surround yourself with visionaries – people who have a clear purpose and plan for themselves because the choice of your friends will greatly impact your destiny.