Hers is a recommended study in perseverance, determination and dogged pull-back from the precipice of hopelessness. Daily Trust’s Jeremiah Oke reported that when Toyin Qudrat’s father, Pa Oladejo Salami of Apamadari’s compound, Arikalamu Street, Oluode, Osogbo, Osun State, died when she was only six years old, despair set in the family.
Her mother, Madam Rabiat Oyinloye, was an uneducated small-scale mat dealer in Ilobu, near Osogbo and headquarters of Irepodun local government area in Osun State, with understandably no great financial means. Any hope of primary education, let alone the tertiary, appeared evaporated after Pa Salami’s demise.
But young as she was, an inexplicable force kept her going, as she set herself to keeping her nose to the grindstone in both petty trading and academics, using the proceeds from one to drive her pursuit of the other. After many years of selling mat, selling fried fish, studying hard in-between, and even an ‘accidental discharge’ resulting in a pregnancy just after her secondary education, Toyin Quadri Ajala is now a PhD holder and lecturer at the Distance Learning Centre of the University of Ibadan.
Dr (Mrs) Ajala told Eko Trust that, for her, it was a gruelling sacrifice of time and money to come up the ladder. She said that despite the difficulties at the time, she was so passionate about gaining knowledge right from her secondary school that apart from buying books and other school items from her meagre income selling mat and fish, she employed the services of a private teacher she was paying N15 monthly to peruse every essay she wrote, which she did daily, and be corrected.
She also had the services of a private teacher to take her through major subjects after every hectic day of hawking mats. She divided the seven days of the week into two and determined which trading business would go for the first three days.
Barely out of secondary school, young Toyin became pregnant for a young corper, Aderemi Suleiman Ajala, who himself is now a professor of Anthropology at the University of Ibadan. It needs no telling the pregnancy happened out of wedlock.
Unlike what most girls would risk, Toyin decided to keep the pregnancy, but with her sight still focused on educational heights. She kept faith with that focus as, not long after she was delivered of a baby boy named Biola, she headed to the Osun State College of Education, Ilesa, to read French and Yoruba.
All the while, she was mixing academics with business as she had to earn money legitimately to drive her dreams. In Ilobu, her mother’s hometown, she gained fame selling fried fish. In the town, the business earned her the sobriquet, Kudi Eleja or Iya Biola Eleja (Kudi, the fish seller.)
She spoke of numerous challenges and endless stress that attended nursing a baby, and doing business and academics at once. “Life became more miserable though the fish business was doing well at its own level. I didn’t regret my action and I didn’t allow it to weigh me down. I was up and doing in my business. I would sometimes take seven cartons of fresh fish in a day from the cold room to fry for sale, even in my condition,” she said.
After seven years of having her first baby, a fortune of marriage smiled on her. Ajala, who had sort of captured her with a pregnancy as ‘a youth service corps benefit’ when she was barely out of school, decided it was time they tied the marital knots. They would later have two other kids, Ademola and Adebola.
Mrs Ajala got admission into the University of Ibadan for her first degree programme, where she began another business life. She said, “I gained admission to the University of Ibadan in 2000. This is another terrain entirely. So I had to change my business plan. I started buying and selling underwear to sell to female students in the hostels. Whenever I was going out, I would go with two bags, one bag for my business and the other for my work (academic). I was also teaching Nursery school pupils.”
She explained that despite the occasional challenge of settling the school fees, she didn’t allow any negative thought hinder her dreams.
“People knew me on campus as a business woman and mother and they gave me the name Iya Ajala. Immediately after my first degree, I applied for my Master’s in Early Childhood Education. Today, I am a Ph.D holder in Early Childhood Education. My thanks go to the Almighty God and my husband. My husband was supportive, especially during those hard times,” she said.
There is no stopping Dr (Mrs) Ajala yet. She has vowed to continue her research work until she becomes a professor.
“My research work is on nomadic education; it is titled ‘Parental and School Factors as Determinants of Enrolment, Attendance and Completion of Primary Education among the Fulani Nomads of Oyo State, Nigeria’. I am working on how to encourage children of the Fulani community in Oyo State to see education as their second address. I postulated a theory called, ‘Educate me and my animals’. The outcome of my research work revealed that many of the Fulani children and their parents in Oyo State do love education but they hate anything that will strip them of their job, which is animal rearing.
“In some schools, they allow them to bring their animals, while some don’t. In schools where they allow them to bring their animals, the enrolment, attendance and completion are always encouraging. So government can as well push such an idea to encourage them. During my research work, I slept in the midst of Fulani people and I can tell you that they are loving people. Some of them were at my convocation to celebrate with me. I want to encourage them to send their children to the University of Ibadan after their secondary school,” she said.
Dr (Mrs) Ajala is encouraging people with poor financial backgrounds, especially women, never to allow any obstacle determine their future. “It baffles me when people dwell on their past rather than moving forward. My advice for people with poor educational background is to have plans and work towards them. They should believe in their God, plan and make a move. Look at how I started and today, I appreciate Almighty Allah for what he has done for me,” she enthused.
So what has become of her business proclivity at this level of her life? The mother of four promptly replied she cannot live without engaging in, at least, a business. She quipped, “I still do my business even with my PhD. I have a shop. I started this shop with N46,000 and today, it is a big business venture as Mozrafits Nigeria Limited.”
For girls who may mistakenly be impregnated while in school, she urged them to take charge of their destiny. “Thank God I didn’t terminate the pregnancy I had before I did my NCE. The boy is now an engineer. He was among winners of the Tony Elumelu Foundation grant in the year 2015, was winner of the Africa Energy Generation Prize in 2018 and is doing great in his field as a renewable energy specialist,” she said.