Mr. Gbolahan Olayomi is the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder of Equipment Hall. In this interview with John Iwori of Maritime Bits on the sideline of the official commissioning of a modular classroom block with interactive touch screen and sport facilities at Vetland Junior Grammar School, Agege, Lagos, he bares his mind on how the project was conceived and the impact of technology in the education sector of the economy. ithe
Can we know you sir?
My name is Gbolahan Olayomi. I am the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder of Equipment Hall and Equipment Hall is the brand owner of WOMBI which is what we’re celebrating today; the achievement of WOMBI is what we’re celebrating today.
How long has WOMBI been in place?
The parent company, Equipment Hall has been in existence since 1998 but WOMBI came on board in 2014. WOMBI is Africa’s pioneer manufacturer of interactive touch screens built for schools and meeting rooms. It has now evolved into becoming a building and construction organisation specialising in pioneering architecture which is called modular infrastructure in education.
When did this initiative with Vetland Junior Grammar School started?
It started in the year 2019 when we began to think of how we can house our technology in a building. We have the technology but most people did not understand what it was. The technology was miles away of its time so for it to be able to gain ground, we have to find a unique and novel project where we could house our technology in a building. In that way it will now make a lot more sense to stakeholders in the education industry. In a nutshell, our technology is replacing white boards, black boards and projectors. Whilst doing that, we found out that our technology has not gained ground in education in Nigeria. What that means is that we are swimming against the tide. As far as I am concern, this project situated in Vetland Junior Grammar School was a divine idea. In fact, I use that word with all sense of responsibility because the idea came to us and we said, you know what, take this technology and find an envelope to house it. The envelope to house it was to use shipping containers. This made it more unique because modular infrastructure which is what we use shipping containers had never been used in public school set up. This was the idea that birthed the Vetland Junior Grammar School project. Indeed, it was a divine orchestration. The idea took a new dimension when in February 2020, we were invited to the first education summit of the Lagos State Ministry of Education and we were given a five minutes slot to present at that event. This was just two days after the idea of a modular building came to us and we quickly put our heads together, put our presentation together and used our technology at that summit at Eko Hotels and Suites where the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu was in attendance. When we finished our presentation, the governor said to us there and then in front of all the stakeholders “go build me one.” That is the story of Vetland Junior Grammar School. It is the first of its type. It is also the first modular interactive hybrid learning school. What we call the Wow school in Nigeria. It is never been done before. It is also the first time is ever happening anywhere in Nigeria and today is a landmark in the history of education in Nigeria. This was the landing point for modular technology housing interactive learning technology in the same environment.
How much did this project cost?
I think we are still working on the numbers. This is because there is an aggregate of modular building, technology, services, training, furniture, and off grid power supply. In other words, this school 12 blocks is 100 per cent solar. There is no back up from public power supply. It is purely running on solar energy. Therefore, when you put all of that integration together, it cost hundreds of millions of Naira.
Do you see the
DLagos State Government replicating this in other schools in the state?
That is our prayer and that is our desire. The reasoning behind the Vetland Modular Interactive School; the wow school is global adoption. The children easily learn using technology. They are used to smart phones. They are used to tablets. In fact, from age six to eight months, if you want a child to keep quiet, just put a phone before him and play a video, a crying child will immediately keep quiet. So for them, it is native to use devices and technology to learn or to play. We are simply building on a foundation of video-base learning, thereby becoming a standard for learning. It is what is happening in all the first world countries and it is
What is going to come here in Nigeria whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not. Now that it is here, we only hope and it is our earnest desire that beyond the Lagos State Government, we will make this project accessible to as many as possible and beyond that, we want all children in Nigeria to be exposed to technology as a framework for their learning.
What is the duration of this project?
The duration of this project was six months but in terms of practice, it took us 10 months. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides, this building is seating on the lowest basin area. This is due to the fact that it is the lowest part in this area. It is like a valley of the whole of this area and all the water gathered here. So while the building was ready, being a pioneer building, in about nine to ten months, it took us another three to four months to channel all the water out and rebuild an absolutely fantastic drainage system to ensure that no matter how heavy the rain is, not one drop of water is retained within this place.
In essence this is an entirely new building?
This school was a dilapidated school. Totally run down and was in a very bad shape. In a nutshell, it was an old school knocked down and rebuilt. The interesting thing is that Vetland Junior School is one of the leading schools in terms of students’ performance. Already, it had students that were winning national prizes. Therefore enabling them with technology is just going to bring out much more out of them. These include their creativity, their innovation, their critical thinking skills and communication. All of that is catered for by the technology that is going to run this school.
Does that inform why it was made the first choice in terms of start up of this technology?
Well, I do not know how government decided to site it here. We were just told to come and build it here which is why we are here to build it. It is the Lagos State Government that selected the location. It is not our company.
What is your plan to penetrate into other states of the federation?
Vetland is the first born. However, it is not just the first born but also the first of its type in the country. It is the first modular interactive hybrid learning space in public education in Nigeria. The intention is that many more people from all over the world have seen what is happening at Vetland. We can only be humbled as the ones who were given the opportunity to birth this project. We believe that the one who made this project possible will also announce it to the whole world. We anticipate that in the next one week, there will be many tourists and visitors from far and wide who will come and take a tour of the school because they do not believe something like this exists. So we expect visitors from far and near to come and take a tour to see ‘is this possible?’ How was this done? As they see it and see the transformation in our children. They will also be inclined to adopt it because really, learning interactively and using this technology that we have is irreversible. It is like moving from a black and white television to a colour television. You can only delay it but you cannot stop it. The longer you delay it, the further behind you fall as a country with regard to your education. Therefore, education is now technology driven so the earlier we comply and make ourselves comfortable with it, the better for us. It is our desire that many more will come and see what is going on here and adopt it because it is what the children are demanding. We should let them learn in a way that is native to them now which is the use of technology.
Have you on your own sold the idea to any of these big private schools?
Today WOMBI is pleased to have as its customers both education institutions that fall into all types of cadres; what you call the ‘A’ schools in terms of what they charge as school fees. That is the leading private schools. I am glad to have many of them as our esteemed customers across the country. These include CIS, Green Springs, Atlantic Hall and Chrisland Schools.
Are you saying that the private schools have been patronizing you and it is only now you are just making a foray into the government schools?
Yes. Many of the leading private educational institutions are our clients. We are proud to be a service provider to many them in terms of their technology. We are not limited to secondary educational institutions. Many private universities including Covenant University and Babcock University are our esteemed customers.
I heard you mention the word divine on more than three occasions. As a Pastor I am sensitive to that word. Does it give an inclining of your religious background?
When events that are beyond your control and what you cannot explain happen, you can only attribute it to what is beyond your grace. The power to conceive this idea was divine. The people who came together to make it into what you see from planning to execution was divine. Who would have thought that after making five minutes presentation the Lagos State Governor will say “go and build me one of that” I do not think that that has ever happened before in any public school in Lagos State. It is not just that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu followed through on that and informed the Commissioner of Education by himself who ended up calling me and directing me to the Chairman of the Special Committee for the rehabilitation of public schools in Lagos State, Mr. Hakeems Smith. It was the Commissioner of Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo’s platform that we were to be able to speak before the governor.
The Governor hears us and we do not know him before. He is the architect of this project. This project is his dream and today it has become a reality. He made our dream become his reality and that is the only way we can explain it.
Were there any challenges you faced in the course of executing this project from start to finish?
We faced many challenges in the construction but through it all the only thing we can see in it is that we are mortal but we know there is something beyond us that pulled all of these things we see today together. We cannot explain what we are seeing today. But I want to put it on record that WOMBI is indebted to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. He did not know us from Adam and we did not have any connections. We put a proposal together. He looked at it and said I’ll take that risk, you go build this for me and today that is what we are now celebrating as a pioneer project in this country.
Against the backdrop that this a secondary school, do you have any intention to delve into primary schools?
On the private side, we have a lot of private primary schools customers who use our technology but it is government that will decide for the public schools.
Does this technology apply to all the subjects?
Yes, it covers all subject matters including Physical Education (PE), Music, and French. It covers the sciences, arts and social sciences. In fact, it covers everything. Can you explain what you meant by “it is cutting edge technology and it is local”?
WOMBI is a local organisation that belongs to Equipment Hall and the assembly line is here in Gbagada, Lagos where all the devices are assembled. The trainers are here in Lagos and the service support is also here in Lagos. As a standard, we give a two-year product warranty extendable to five years. By so doing, we ensure that there is a fantastic return on investment for anyone who is investing with us and that is why all our clients can look with confidence. Some of them have been with us for up to five years so when it begins to reach seven years, when we begin to see they have had this product for long, we also offer them buy back. This means that after seven years, we could buy our screen back and give them what is new again. They get a discount on that and keep moving. Then we can pass those used screens to schools that cannot afford the brand new ones and we keep on entrenching and growing our used items.
Do you need internet to operate this technology?
No, absolutely not.
What do you meant by modular and shipping containers in the construction of Vetland Junior Grammar School?
Basically, the Vetland Junior Grammar School is built with shipping containers. When we say modular building, it means it was built with shipping containers, the containers that come from the high sea. So 52 shipping containers were put together to build where you are in now. They were arranged, assigned addresses and placed, and after placing, fused together, welded together, and then put a roof on top of it and then electrical done like a building and then the building is done.
What is the advantage of a modular building?
It is speed. While it takes you a lot of time to lay the foundation for a building with blocks, the container is already set. The advantage is speed. It means that instead of throwing away these containers littered all over the place, we bring them and we re-use them here and that is what we call being green, refurbishing and that is the way the world has gone. What we are doing is to set a new standard even for building and even for engineering. This project is a fusion of architecture, engineering and technology. All these three disciplines coming together to create what we are here to commission today.
Beyond education, where else can we use this kind of technology?
Absolutely, we are huge on corporates especially in the corporate meeting rooms. In fact, anywhere there is a meeting space, our technology is sitting there. It is replacing projectors. When you go into a meeting room, you put our screen there, and you can bring in anyone using zoom or any of those applications. We have a lot of corporate customers. I want to thank these corporate organisations because they have been subsidizing the cost for the education. The corporates organisations are helping us. As they buy, we are able to make this technology more accessible for a lot of our schools. Our corporate organisations in certain instances deliberately help with regard to subsidising the cost for our education system because truly the cost of this technology is high.