Proprietor’s interview with The Nation Newspaper
What inspired your interest in education?
I remember when I was growing up, I was the kind of person that would gather kids together. I will start by teaching them stuff, because I learned very fast so I knew things easily. I will assemble them together in an informal setting just like a classroom. I always came out first in my in class during my primary school days.
All along I have really been challenged by the lives of people in the likes of the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin who was my principal at Owo High School, Owo and after graduating from secondary school I went to the University of Ibadan. I actually had the intention of studing medicine but unfortunately I could not,so I ended up doing B.Sc Geography.
During my National Youth Service between 1984/85, in Gongola State, now Adamawa State, I was actually posted to the Nigerian Airport Authority then, at Yola there was no accommodation so I had to seek for redeployment to the St. Peters Seminary, in Jimeta to teach. In the course of lecturing there I met a lady who was setting up a school, but she was in a dilemma, she didn’t know what to do, so along the line, we just found ourselves linked up together and then I offered her my service . I was earning N200 as income then. That was where my interest in having a school grew. When the National Youth service came to an end, I stayed behind and organised extramural studies within the neighbourhood, which was the first of its kind in the north. It was not out of desire to make money but due to the passion i had at the time, since then the mental image of having my own school has never left me, so much so that when I started acquiring properties and I was also thinking of investing in schools. All along, I have always been saying that I will have a school that will have all the complements and standard facilities of the kind of school I went to, that would have a standard football field, games and everything, that would have wide expanse of land, not the kind of one-room apartment that people use as school these days.
What are the unique selling points of your school?
The name of the school is Strong Tower Academy. And it is based on the Biblical principle that ‘’The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into Him and they are saved.’’ I have come to view education as a two-way relationship: you submit your kids to us and allow us to train after you must have done your bit. But the job does not end alone with us and besides that, we will try to create a place for ourselves that makes you feel it is not just about money. You find out that education has become too expensive in Nigeria, whereby in the secondary schools you find a situation where parents pay close to N1million or N2million per session. In our own case, we want to come in there and make a niche, we are not too expensive, we are not too cheap, we are going to be affordable. My venture into education is like a ministry to me as a Christian, whereby the widows, who desire qualitative education but cannot afford to send their kids to private schools, their kids would be awarded scholarships not only in secondary school, but also in higher institution. What I intend to do is to build up kids through education, through morals, to the extent that they would be obedient and diligent in everything they do and to be outstanding in anywhere they go to.
When I was thinking about this school project, my challenge was in the likes of Tai Solarin. Here was a man who put his life in Mayflower Schools, he did not believe in the existence of God, but l do, so if the products of Tai Solarin today are not vagabonds, let alone the products of my school which will be groomed under biblical concepts and attributes, will also exceeds very well. By the time a child goes home after spending one month in the school there must be a difference. That’s why with time, we are going to make it a full boarding school. But for now, because of economic constrains, we can only operate day and boarding.
We are going to run a curriculum that will combine that of Nigeria, British and America respectively. We are not just going to base our instructions on academic, because you realize that there are some students who are better off in other areas. We have counsellors who would be able to know what the kids are good at. That’s what Americans do. By the time you finish your ninth grade in America you already know which course you want to do. But Nigeria is not like that. Here you find a situation whereby parent wants their kids to study medicine and the guy is not good in biology, he is not good in physics, at the end of the day you just push him, and when he finishes he becomes a very frustrated chap. Why didn’t they allow these kids to follow their chosen path?
Students from Strong Tower Academy will not be like that, because from day one through care and diligence they would be able to discover their purpose in life.
Considering the enormous cost of the school project, how do you hope to raise the needed capital to achieve your set objectives?
The project is bigger than one man. It is been bankrolled by a group. I am just the anchor man. The Almighty God has endowed us to do it and we are not borrowing a dime from any bank for now and we will not borrow. By the time the school starts, there will be fees-paying students while others will enjoy some form of scholarships, courtesy of the board.
Given a choice, where do you hope to see the school in the next five years?
Well in the next five years, I see Strong Tower becoming a known name not only in Nigeria but internationally too because already we are going to run the promo and jingles on Ben TV in London, AIT International. We would not only concentrate mainly in Nigeria. In the next five years, we see the school bringing in expatriates to man some of our key curriculum, so I see it becoming a place where parents will come and buy into the future of their children.
lt seems you are passionate about younger ones, how true is that?
I ventured into school project of Strong Tower academy as a result of my passion and interest in modelling and impacting people’s lives positively with primary influence of my believe in Jesus Christ and leaving them a better person than I met them.
Testimonies of this abound in the life of those who have related with me for over two decades of establishing Lekow Associated Service and for this new ministry of running Strong Tower.
It has been very challenging and interesting and very tasking too. Challenging in the sense that it was a passion I left for almost three decades as a youth copper in the then Gongola state as a school teacher.
Thanks immensely to credible people we have the school board chaired by Mrs Akinyemiju, the director of Dansol High school, who is miles ahead of me in school administration
The interesting aspect is when you see the transformation of these future leaders grow from baby to matured individuals who you no longer pass instructions to but discuss freely with them .
How have you been able to achieve this?
What we tell people is that take any child and you’ll see what we’re doing. It goes beyond mathematics, we are preparing them for reality. We look at the future and prepare them according to what would be relevant in the future. So, you’ll find out that they are already developing for the future.
I have often sat down to ask myself this particular question: and my honest answer is this project is less of my personal achievement, as it is more of the numerous support of those who God have used, at every point in the development of the vision, to make this happen. I love to recall Harry S. Truman’s saying- “You can achieve anything in life, provided that you don’t mind who gets the credit.”- that is a powerful statement that reflects my intricate values. Simply put, “God gave me the vision of this school; orchestrated my path to cross with individuals, who prefer that their immeasurable efforts towards the achievement of the vision remain quite” .
But you’re doing it for profit?
The motive is not for profit, but I know much later, profit will come in. The desire is not for money but to ensure that the kids get adequate training so that they will fit in properly for the leadership positions in the future. I know what to do here and make a lot of money, but that is not the desire.
If you go into any business for the purpose of making money, you will end up chasing money without getting it, but if you venture into anything with the desire to add value, in no time money will be chasing you. When Kanu Nwankwo started playing football, he never knew it would turn out with so much money chasing him, he was playing it under the bridge until he was discovered and it paid off. So, if it was for passion and to change people’s lives, then the end is always better.
You have to give before you receive. God gave his only begotten son and got the whole world. It is the divine principle. So, don’t let your primary reason be about money , if it was money that made me go into this, I would have been out of it by now.
How do you combine this with your freight forwarding business?
Everything I go into, I try to prioritize my time. The courier business have grown for the past twenty years, and if you do any business for that long and you are still tied to it, then you’re not making any progress. It means your business after some time should not depend on you.
You must have a succession plan that will endure. So, what I do is merely to take some policy decision because I have valuable people who run the business. But Strong Tower is a new baby, besides, I don’t even run it. I have experts and seasoned professionals who know better than what I know. Besides, technology has made it possible that you can even work without you being there.