Dr Abiodun Laja is the Executive Director of the Lekki British School,
Lekki, Lagos. She started a private school at 27 and recently celebrated
her 40th anniversary in the education sector. In this interview, she
told Samson Folarin how becoming pregnant at 19 changed her career path
and the challenges she had faced over the years.
You started a private school at 27 at a time when such venture was a preserve of retired teachers. How did it happen?
Back in my secondary school days at St. Loius, Ibadan, I was good at
mathematics and my father, who was an accountant, felt I would make a
good accountant. Unfortunately, I had a baby immediately I left
secondary school. My father was very angry with me and I was angry with
myself as well.
He took the baby from me at 11 months and I went to London to study.
The early motherhood, however, changed my perception. While I was
nursing the baby, my mind switched from being an accountant to education
When I got to England, I started doing child education as a course. It
wasn’t challenging enough and I wanted to pull out. However, I had a
college mother who advised me to finish my first diploma in education
before changing to accountancy. I listened. In the course of my first
year, my interest got developed and I stayed in the field. After three
years, I finished. When I returned and my parents introduced me to my
child, he started calling me aunty. He was calling my sister mummy. And
it has been like that till date.
However, I observed that I loved children. I taught at Adrao
International School for two years. There I saw that not only did I love
children, they loved me as well. At times they would go home and start
writing notes about what I wore to school. When I got to the school in
my car, they would fight over who will carry my bags.
I later moved to St Saviour’s School, Ebute Metta, which was headed by a
British woman. I got fulfilment in that school and became attracted to
the British curriculum.
That summer, I went to Disneyland in Florida with my kids. I saw there
was much to attract children. I saw a lot of things and characters –
like Mickey Mouse, and the rest of them. So, I decided to start a school
when I was only 27 years.
But why didn’t the early pregnancy break you down? This is what has
damaged the future of many teenagers. Why was your case different?
It is because of my person. I don’t know how to give up. I have lived my
life accepting challenges. I have never given up. I can cry all night,
but once it is morning, I am done. But to say that something is
impossible, it is never in my dictionary.
The man I had my first child with was the one I had all my children
with. It was not planned, but I made up my mind not to abort, even
though I was 19 years old then. I was telling my classmates that time
that I was expecting a baby and they thought I was joking. I was still
the leader of the basketball, volleyball and netball teams.
I believe it was to give me a turnaround in life. That time, it was like
a crime as well. One cannot move forward; but I didn’t allow it to move
me. The boy is now a brilliant lawyer; a New York attorney.
I once wanted to go into oil business and I met my uncle, the late Bank
Anthony. I told him and he laughed and said it was a mafia thing. I
laughed and told him to give me the form for mafians. He liked my
aggressiveness in business and he supported me. I run with three mottos
in life which have kept me going: “Don’t let anybody disappoint you”,
“Nobody is indispensable” and “Be politically and financially strong”.