Dr Abiodun Juliana Laja was a pioneering educator, who was a leader in transforming the private education sector in Nigeria over a period of forty years.
Dr Abiodun Laja
Dr Abiodun Juliana Laja was a pioneering educator, who was a leader in transforming the private education sector in Nigeria over a period of forty years. Born on 7th January 1950 to Gabriel Oluwole Laja and Flora Durorike Reis, she grew up in Lagos and attended St. Louis Girls School in Ibadan before proceeding to the United Kingdom to further her education. After earning her Diploma in Education from the St. Nicholas Training Centre for the Montessori Method in London, she returned to Nigeria to work as a Montessori teacher, first at Adrao International School and then St. Saviour’s School. However, her indomitable entrepreneurial spirit soon led her to found her own nursery and primary school, ABC Nurseryland, remarkably becoming the youngest person to start a private school in Nigeria at the age of twenty-seven. Indeed, this was only the beginning of a string of firsts in her career as an educator – others include the use of brightly coloured lettering for the logo of the School (which led to a protracted battle with the Ministry of Education that reduced Dr Laja to tears of frustration before they would approve it), as well as the decoration of the external and internal infrastructure of all her Schools with easily recognisable cartoon characters, all in an effort to create the most exciting and conducive environment for her pupils to learn. As she said in a press interview in December 2017, “I noticed that anytime a family drove past that place, the children would point…saying that was where they wanted because of those characters and attractions.” Today, these are all standard in primary schools across the nation. From its launch in 1977, ABC Nurseryland grew to become a group of nursery and primary schools across four locations in Lagos and Ogun States and was a household name that was renowned for providing a solid foundation to children from different backgrounds and age groups. Many of her early pupils have gone on to become wonderful ambassadors of Nigeria in the wider global community.
Dr Laja constantly sought new challenges and soon turned her attention to secondary education. Remarkably, she quickly identified a gap in the market – Nigerian parents who desired international qualifications for their children but wished to retain the benefits of the Nigerian culture. This led to the founding of Lekki British School, the first school in Nigeria to focus exclusively on the national curriculum of England and Wales, with student facilities and the pastoral care that one would expect from schools in the United Kingdom. Essentially, Dr Laja believed that while Lekki British School students were likely to go abroad for their tertiary education, spending their formative years in Nigeria would make it more likely for them to return to Nigeria and make a valid contribution to our country’s development. It is worth mentioning that the founding chairman of the Board of Governors was the late Dr Rilwanu Lukman, the former Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Resources and Secretary General of OPEC, who was deeply impressed by the business concept of Lekki British School. Today, LBS consists of a Pre-School (for children aged 2 to 5), a Junior School (for pupils aged 5 to 11) and a Senior School (for students aged 11 to 18).
While Dr Laja’s professional achievements in the education sector cannot be ignored, she also found time to live a full social life. Her lifelong passions for fashion, music and dancing were known to all her friends. In her twenties, her birthday parties at the home of her cousin, the late Chief S.O. Akinwunmi, were so legendary that when she switched venues for her 30th birthday party, many uninvited people still showed up at his home that day expecting to find the usual celebration! Dr Laja was certainly known for hosting great, well-attended parties and her love of dancing, her energy and her beautiful smile made her the life of many parties. In later life, Dr Laja became a born-again Christian who devoted much of her time and resources to further God’s kingdom. She often sponsored Pastors and Music Ministers on global missions to enhance their ministries and the enrichment of the body of Christ and was actively involved in supporting the music and women ministries in various churches across Nigeria.
Dr Abiodun Laja came, she saw, she conquered. Her incredible achievements and lifetime commitment to the development of the Nigerian child are without parallel and her philanthropy was noteworthy. She received numerous national and international awards for her work in education and was most recently honoured by the Commonwealth University with a Doctor of Education Degree. Although she travelled extensively for her work, she remained fiercely proud of (and loyal to) her Nigerian identity and culture throughout her life. Until her passing to glory on 26th May 2019, she remained a firm believer in the Nigerian child, education and humanity. Simply put, Dr Laja believed her mission was to change lives and she deployed all her strength and substance in pursuit of this objective. She was a woman of great courage who inspired other women to do great things. She was survived by her children, Francis and Christian Idehen and her grandchildren, Tobias, Jeroham, Joshua and Eli Idehen.
After a life well lived, may her soul rest in perfect peace.