The grim reaper and Nigeria’s academics

Church Blog

Jide Osuntokun


NEWS about the deaths of Nigeria’s academics particularly professors have been rather frightening and depressing in these days. There is no doubt that many of our people are succumbing to the ravages of Covid-19. This is a personal tragedy for me because some of the people dying are personal friends, colleagues or younger brothers in the African sense. It’s not every one of them who passed on that is coronavirus victim. Some are dying of old age because of wear and tear after years of work in environment that is not conducive to mental exertion and with very little material earthly things to show for it. Some are also victims of depression after seeing their life’s work fall apart or into decay because of government policies characterized by lack of consistency and continuity.

I have sometimes looked in bewilderment at the state of collapse in places where I have worked in my youth and adult lives go into disrepair and disrepute in the present dispensation which pays little attention to merit, integrity or excellence. It is very difficult for anybody of my age not to wonder if life has been worth living with all we worked for going to the dogs with those in authority unable or unprepared or incapable of doing something about it.

When I discuss these issues with my friends, we all share the same feelings of despair and disappointment. If you are also a thinking person and who is aware what is in offing for black peoples in the future, the ignorance of people in government who seem to worry more about their bellies and their pockets and about who is in or who is out and what ethnic group, persons holding office belongs to or who are engaged in perpetual permutation about offices they intend to hold in the future, you realize that our people have lost their senses and our future as a country and a race is a lost cause. How many of our people are aware of the whispering discussion about reduction of the population of the world and getting rid of the useless part of it which they suggest are Africans. One tends to dismiss these talks as hoax but there is no smoke without fire. This is why the gradual withering of our country’s intelligentsia is a cause for concern. The total lack of preparedness for all future eventualities is frightening.

For example Nigerian newspapers reported that Nigeria is expecting 100,000 Covid-19 vaccines soon. I hope this is not true! Isn’t Nigeria said to have an estimated population of 200 million?. What fraction of our population will the expected vaccines take care of bearing in mind that two doses are expected for a person . What a joke of a country. Is this country not sufficiently endowed in knowledge and wherewithal to have assembled its own scientific community to produce this vaccine even if we had to import the manufacturing equipment from abroad? Iran is doing this, so are India and Pakistan. When are we going to stop being journeymen in the grand journey of human history? The answer is blowing in the wind! Until a Black country is successful others in the secret covens of white supremacists who deny the humanity of black peoples will be planning and targeting Africa as an experimental field of drastically reducing human population through sterilization or scientifically or secretly poisoning them under the guise of controlling diseases which invariably seem to come from Africa as erroneously propagated by the racist Western and Eastern press. The swirling dangers surrounding the black man is unfortunately matched by the woeful ignorance of the black governmental leadership on the African continent. It is not a matter of self-protection only  that eternal vigilance is required always but it is a matter of life and death for a whole people and unless we wake up now it will be too late before we  are all led like sheep into slaughter houses at least metaphorically speaking .

On a personal level, the loss of our intelligentsia is doubly painful because of the threat against us as a people. When I heard the death of Femi Odekunle, I felt it as a personal loss. Femi was a person who will ask why not when everybody was saying why? One does not have to subscribe to Hegelian dialectics to realize that scientific truth can only be attained through conflict of ideas. In positioning himself this way, Femi nearly lost his life to the Abacha terror. I shared this unfortunate experience with him in my incarceration in military detention for six months under Abacha for speaking truth to power. But for the sudden death of Abacha, Femi would have been executed along with General Oladipo Diya for knowledge about a phantom coup! This is why it is so painful seeing him dying in harness while serving his country to the coronavirus pandemic. His father died when he was over 100 years old. Longevity was in his gene. It was at the burial of the old man that I last saw Femi. I feel sorry for his family and his relatively young wife Ruki .

Oye Ibidapo- Obe was my junior brother through his marriage to the sister my departed friend  Segun Ojutalayo. I watched his meteoric rise from lecturer to professor and vice chancellor. He was vice chancellor when I retired from the University of Lagos. He comes from a family in Ilesha whose ancestors fought alongside my great grandfather in the Ekiti parapo war of 1876 to 1893. He had always been close to me. He was always full of life and his services were in high demand everywhere. In spite of this, he was highly principled. I was impressed that he opposed President Jonathan’s decision to rename University of Lagos Moshood Abiola University as political move to curry Yoruba votes. God knows Abiola deserves monuments in his honour but not an old institution with traditions and long history like University of Lagos or University of Ibadan. Oye stood his ground despite the fact he was serving as one of the vice chancellors of Jonathan’s  12 “democratic dividend “ universities hurriedly put together without planning about staff or financial cost.

I knew Professor Ajeyalemi at the University of Lagos. I knew him at a distance so to say but he related to me as a big brother. Academics is a leveller and there is no feeling of senior or junior in the university system. One earned the respect of others if one merited it. Ajeyalemi was one of those who earned the respect of others.

Of course it’s not all the professors who died in recent times that died of Covid-19. Some died as a result of age and ailments associated with aging. Professor Tunji Oloruntimehin , the famous historian of the Western Sudan, I believe died of natural causes. He will be remembered for his erudition and scholarship. For a man who did not go through secondary school but rather a teachers’ college to achieve all he achieved is a mark of perseverance and distinction. He served for several years as editor of the academic journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria. He also edited publications of the Nigerian Academy of Letters before subsequently becoming the president of the academy a position which he held with passion, dedication and dignity.

Prof Olu Longe, former head of computer science department in the University of Ibadan was a quiet and deep man knowledge-wise. He passed on due to old age. He was the first professor of Computer Science in Nigeria. He was also a distinguished old boy of that city on the hill, Christ’s School Ado – Ekiti.

There are many other professors who crossed the line of Divide between this earthly place of weariness and wickedness to the other side beyond the pearly gates of heaven. I know of professors Ekeh and Onwundiwe and others. I know them by their reputation which will remain imperishable.

I remember what Professor Gerald Graham, emeritus professor of Imperial History at the University College London and one of my mentors and supervisors of giants like JF Ade Ajayi and Kenneth Onwuka Dike told me in the University of Western Ontario, Canada in 1971 when we were both on the staff of the Department of History of that university. He said an academic never dies as long as he has published books which will serve as a permanent memorial to his name wherever there are libraries in the world. This is absolutely true of such recently departed professors like Ladipo Akinkugbe and others.

Monuments may be destroyed or wear out; the words on marble will always remain. If this will serve as a consolation to the families of departed academics, I commend this tradition and belief that academics just like ideas don’t die. In any case, we are destined to die one day and as masquerades in my home town of Okemesi, are wont to say on the last day of Egungun festivals when they are on their way back to heaven as people pretend to believe, they would say “Heaven needs not be in a hurry because we are all going there”.

How philosophical!