Many young people lack determination to succeed against all odds —Professor Balogun

Professor Abiodun Oladele Balogun is a celebrated professor of Philosophy and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. He also doubles as one of the foremost senior clerics of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). In this interview by KEHINDE OYETIMI, he speaks on leadership, his teaching career, mentorship and his attainment of the age of 50.

What recollections do you have of your parents?

My parents were of lowly background. They, including myself, grew from a rocky foundation. My father was a trader and my mum was a primary school teacher. Even at that, both of them were strict disciplinarians. They never allowed any of their children to be wayward. They helped in imbibing moral discipline in us and both of them were Muslims.

While you were growing up did you have picture in mind of what you wanted to become?

As a boy, I had intended to be a great lawyer; my ambition then was to study law. But I discovered that at some stages, the dream had to change. I grew up a Muslim but that was my dream. But when I became a Christian, I began to have the dream of becoming a pastor. This was understandable because I was usually associated with a man of God: Pastor E.A. Adeboye. When eventually I got into the university to study Philosophy, I also had the dream that I would become a professor which the Lord eventually made a reality.

Anybody would assume that going by your narration you had an easy transition professionally considering the fact that today you are a professor. What were the major challenges that you had to confront?

It was not all rosy. I grew up in a polygamous family. I usually crack the joke that my father had 8 wives and 23 children and that he contribute his quota to national productivity. If you grew out of a polygamous family of that description, you could imagine the kind of domestic conflict, affliction and pandemonium.

Along the line when I was to get into the university, my mother died and that changed the whole story. When she was still alive (she had just two of us), she took good care of us. She died mysteriously. Her death brought untold hardship on us. Nobody was available and willing to take care of us. A lot of challenges came our way. When I eventually was able to get into the university, I didn’t have more than three clothes. After I would have struggled to pay the fees for a session, I would begin to work seriously to raise the fees for the coming session. The school fee was N180 (one hundred and eighty naira).

What were you forced to do to raise money?

I followed one of my uncles to building sites. I would fetch water for the bricklayers and at the end of the day they would give me some money. I also carried bags of cement for them. I also had the opportunity of cutting grass but I refused to do so because I did not have enough strength. I was part of their labour team. I saved the proceeds to pay my fees. It was so bad to the extent that when I was in my final year (knowing full well that I would not pay another school fees), I decided to sew a jacket. When I wore the new jacket to class, everybody shouted and I burst into tears because prior to that day, they had never seen me in such better attire. I survived through the university by God’s grace; it was not easy at all. But today when people see me, they wrongly assume that everything was rosy from the beginning.

You have painted a picture of someone who was determined to create a successful space for himself. Given the positions that you occupy as a pastor and a foremost professor, do you find such determination in the younger generation today?

No. Many of them do not have such determination. If you look at the younger generation, they are bent on making progress on a platter of gold. They want everything in quick successions without having to sweat. They are not resilient and determined: many of them.

You are a professor of philosophy and also a Christian cleric. Today, however, we find many religious parents discourage their children from studying philosophy. The assumption is that it drives them away from God.

There are elements of truth in that. I didn’t study philosophy at the university intentionally. It was by divine arrangement. Originally I wanted to study law; when I finished my A Level exams, I had t10 points and with 7or 8 points it was easy to gain admission to study law. As at that time, you only needed to have 4 points to study philosophy. While I was getting set to apply to study law, my pastor in church told me that all lawyers would go to hell. In those days, we had much reverence for our pastors unlike what obtains today. He told me that lawyers are liars. He didn’t permit me to study law. That was why I picked philosophy. I should also mention that I had no clear idea of what philosophy was when I applied for it. I didn’t want to go to hell so I decided to jettison law because my pastor had a lot of influence over my life. I applied to OAU and Ogun State University. When I submitted my application form to Ogun State University, they called me from the admission office insisting that I had made a mistake. They advised me to apply for law since my entrance score was indeed high. They assumed I made a mistake. I told them it was not a mistake. Eventually the list was out for philosophy and my name was number one both at the Ogun State University and the Obafemi Awolowo University. But I decided not to go to OAU but Ogun State University. I hail from Ogun State and therefore I wanted to stay close to home. I felt that if I was close home, I would be able to get financial support.

Studying philosophy was by divine arrangement. I dare say that I have no regret studying philosophy. It is what everybody needs in life. It is true that some people believe that if you study philosophy you are likely to stay away from God. This is so because there are some philosophers that are atheist. But not all of them are atheists. In history of the study of philosophy, we have had non-atheists like St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas. They were Christians. But if the study is not handled carefully, it can make you to rise against God.

You are one of the foremost senior clerics in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and we know that the RCCG is one of the fastest growing churches in Nigeria. Obviously, you have risen very fast in ministry. What will you ascribe to such?

I will describe it as a result of mercy or divine favour. The grace that an individual carries is different from that of others. It is true I rose quickly but this is mercy and favour. Permit me to say that I joined this church in 1983. I was in Form 4 then on my way to Form 5. I left secondary school in 1984. As at that time, not many educated people were members of RCCG. I am very curious by nature. I got that from the training we got from Quranic school. We were taught to be aggressive in anything. When I became a Christian, I carried this over.

What would you say have been your major challenge in leadership and how were you able to overcome?

Like John Maxwell once said that leadership is all about influence. But the major challenge of leadership is from the people you are leading. They can actually destroy you. God described Moses as the meekest. You can imagine what the children of Israel did to Moses to have behaved the way he did. Someone once said that some of the children of Israel were Nigerians. They provoked and frustrated him. I always believe that every challenge is surmountable and God has always been faithful to His word.

How do you create a balance between your career as a professor of philosophy and a pastor?

As a professor, I teach. As a pastor, I also teach. But philosophy has enabled me to be a good teacher. It helps me to think rationally. It helps to decipher good reasoning from bad reasoning. It makes you to subject things to critical analysis before embarking on it. Jesus said that when a man wants to build a house, he must sit down and count the cost before he begins to build. What Jesus was trying to say was that you must imbibe the elements of philosophy to succeed in life. When it comes to that aspect of philosophy that will make me annoy God, I forget philosophy because philosophy deals with fact and Christianity deals with faith. Facts and faith sometimes contradict each other.

How do you attaining 50?

I feel great and grateful to God. The devil never wanted me to live perhaps he knew that I would coming to this world to fulfil destiny. Storms have raged; winds have blown but God kept me. My request to God is to give me long life to enjoy the fruits of my labour.

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