I Wanted To Be A Policewoman, Became Lecturer By Providence –LASU VC, Prof Olatunji-Bello

Ibiyemi Olatunji-Bello

Aside from being an academic, you are also a preacher. Are you still the Area Pastor in charge of the Testimony Chapel, Redeemed Christian Church of God?

Well, I have been promoted to a Zonal Pastor. I am now in charge of two areas of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Zone 9, Lagos Province 1. They are the City of David Area and Testimony Chapel Area.

You actually hold a postgraduate diploma in Theology. What really fascinates you about being a preacher?

At the time I did the postgraduate diploma in Theology in 2000, I did not plan to be a preacher. I did not even plan to be a pastor. I was just someone that was thirsty for the word (of God) and I needed to know more about the Bible. I had some free time so I used it to do evening classes to know more about the Bible. It was at the end of that the church then called us ‘ministers’. I did not plan for it. Mine was just a thirst for the word of God.

Now that you are a pastor, is there a meeting point somewhere between being an academic and a preacher?

Being an academic and preacher have a meeting point. It is like you are delivering a lecture when you are preaching. You prepare for it as you prepare for your lecture and you also impart knowledge (to the congregation) just the same way you do so in school to your students. You would have to teach the audience more about the word of God and about Jesus Christ and how to behave and live a sin-free life.

Is being a lecturer something you’ve always loved from childhood?

(Laughs) I never wanted to be a lecturer. When I was a child, in my primary school days, I wanted to be a policewoman (laughs). Up till now, some people still call me ‘Sisi Olopa’ (police lady). Fate brought me to physiology, and when I came into physiology – which was by providence because I was never admitted for the course but was admitted for pharmacology – I had to make do with what I had. Immediately I was admitted, I knew it would be until I got a PhD in physiology that I can make something out of it. I made a promise to myself that I must do something tangible with the degree. I was determined from day one to make the best out of physiology and to be the best.

I really loved endocrinology, which is also my specialty. I also loved reproduction a lot too. In that aspect, I specialise in the thyroid glands and in the pancreas. I am a specialist in thyroid function and also a specialist in diabetes.

What kind of people are your parents and what kind of upbringing did you have?

My parents are God-fearing people. They are loving (people) and they always take care of the family. My mother was a full-time housewife because my dad insisted that she must not work. He told her that he would take care of her and would provide everything for her. So, she was at home taking care of the children and making sure that everybody was fine. But that is not the life that I wanted to live. My mother was taking care of us while my dad worked as a contractor and engineer. He worked with the Federal Government. He was well-known and well-respected in society. His name is Chief Meshach Ibidapo from Owo. He built very big buildings for the Federal Government and he was one of those who originally constructed the Ibadan axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. So, we could say he was a ‘big man. He was also a disciplinarian. He was a loving father, who also had a very special way of taking care of the female children. He preserved us and was always giving us what we wanted because he didn’t want us to go asking any man for anything. Anything we requested, he gave us. Even when we were in the university then, he gave us (his female children) cars. He was just too protective of us and we loved him for it. Looking back at that now, I would say it paid off.

My mom’s decision of being a housewife was not an entirely bad decision. I would say it paid off too. She took care of us, but I wouldn’t say she really satisfied herself. Was she fulfilled doing that? She was an entrepreneur and contractor also at that time. She was supplying food items to the likes of UTC, Kingsway and AG Leventis. She told us (children) that she was also a hairdresser but my father said he didn’t want anything of that sort. He just wanted her to stay at home.

You’ve reached the height of your career as an academic, having become the VC of the prestigious LASU. Have you always seen it coming?

Of course, yes. I saw it, that was why I was determined. You know when you see the vision, you would want to run with it. I ran with it and was determined to achieve it. So, I would say I saw it coming.

Of course, the intrigues that preceded your becoming the VC are well-known. What were your major takeaways from the process?

The process taught me never to give up and to be determined and focused. Never lose focus on your goal. Those intrigues were distractions to me and we were determined and didn’t give up.

You’ve now been in the saddle for about four months. What is the summary of your experience so far?

I would say it would be hard work and more work (laughs). It also involves less time for oneself and less sleep too. I have not been getting my regular six hours of sleep like I used to. But since I became the VC, I have not even been able to get those hours anymore. It is now less. I have more phone calls and text messages. All my friends are now like strangers to me because I don’t have time to chat with them or return their calls. The pressure of the courtesy visits was so much that it deprived me of the opportunity of doing so much paper works in the office, which I have to take home to do at night. It has really deprived me of so much sleep.

Many high-flying women have said that women need to put in twice the amount of effort put in by their male counterparts to get to the top. What are the major sacrifices you’ve had to make to reach where you are today?

There are many sacrifices I have made on this academic journey. The major one would be, as you have rightly mentioned, working twice as hard as your male counterparts. I have had to stay up in the night to write papers. I sometimes have to go to the laboratory at night and even at weekends. My male colleagues may be feeling lax at home and writing their own at home, but (as a woman) you have to be busy taking care of your own family. This means you would have to be working in the daytime taking care of your family. At night, when they would be sleeping, you have to get up and write your (own) paper. The sacrifice would be depriving ourselves of sleep as women.

What do you think other women can learn from your story?

They should be focused and hard-working and never feel inferior to their male counterparts. They should always be decisive. Once a woman is decisive, she would reach her goal because no one would be manipulating her to get it.

Your husband is a journalist, a lawyer. How did you meet him and what attributes made you say yes to him rather than to someone else?

(Laughs) It was one of the evenings when he was campaigning to be elected into the Students’ Union as the Vice President of the University of Ibadan – the Great UI! He was a year ahead of me and he came to my room to campaign as he was going to every room. Ours was love at first sight. When he saw me and I saw him, the first impression I had on my mind was ‘Ah! This fine boy!’ (Laughs) Then, all my friends decided to join him to campaign for him. We took him to different rooms and we campaigned. I remember that day, we composed a song, “Tunji-Bello u la la la! Tunji-Bello u la la la!” So, we sang this all over Queens’ Hall. That was how I met him. That was in 1982 – that would be about 40 years ago. So, I would say it was his ‘fine boy’ face that attracted me to him.

He is the Lagos State Commissioner for Environment. We have three children. If I add my son-in-law and grandson, we would be seven in the family.

What do you like to do in your spare time to relax?

Do I have time to relax? In my spare time, I take my phone and start reading emails and Facebook. These days, there is no spare time. If I were not a minister or pastor, maybe I would have some spare time. But with that time, I have to go to church and do all the necessary things one has to do as a pastor.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities is in a perennial struggle with the government over funding of education. Do you honestly see an end to this stand-off?

Of course, yes. I see an end to it. The Federal Government should just concede to ASUU and fund the institutions. They should be trustworthy and do their own part of the agreement and all this would end.


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