Reflections on Great Ife and her sliding fortunes
By John Mabayoje
Ife started sliding in the summer of 1975 after the overthrow of General Gowon, the Massive Retirement Exercise and the unceremonious removal of Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi after the University was Aquired from the Western State by the Federal Government under Murtala Mohammed.
The main reason for the acquisition was to terminate the Nuclear Program following the approval by the International Atomic Agency for the installation of a Nuclear Reactor or Accelerator after the Opa Dam was commissioned on Road 1 now renamed Oba Adesoji Aderemi Avenue to guarantee constant Water supply to the cooling system of this Nuclear device.After it’s acquisition, the Nuclear Device’s installation was terminated.The Governor Brigadier Rotimi had been removed and retired.
Some Elements within the Academic Community instigated and supported an agitation by the Student’s of Adeyemi College of Education against their Principal Mr Rotimi who was the older Brother of the former Governor. He had ruled the place with an Iron fist partially influenced by his “ greater role “ as Professor Oluwasanmi’s clandestine conduit to his younger Brother the Governor regarding many things especially this Nuclear Program getting the Important Accelerator installed.The money for the Opa Dam and much more came through that conduit to line up all the “ ducks “ and many other “ ducks “ in that 1971-1975 period.
Bisi Kay Aiyedun and Ogedengbe the PSU at ACE Ondo were the Principal agitators along with Banji Adegboro the PSU at Unibadan. After all hell broke loose including fake news of Rusticated Students involved in ‘fatal car accidents ‘ the Adeyemi College Of Education Agitation was thrust to the forefront as a “ Burning National Issue “ of High Handedness “ carried over from the “ Disgraced Gown Regime”.
A Commission of Inquiry was set up by the FGN and I was included alongside Professor Ijalaiye Dean of Law and Professor Adarelegbe Dean of the Education Faculty.
We were established to look into the widely publicized allegations against Mr Rotimi the Principal.We came to the Campus and my presence calmed things down as we sat daily Monday to Fridays taking recorded Oral Evidence from all the parties. Professor Babatunde Fafunwa the Former Dean of the Faculty of Education and the Deputy Vice Chancellor took the witness Stand towards the end of our Sitting over a few weeks.I had known Professor Babs Fafunwa since 1958 when I was just 5 Yesrs Old, at the time,his Pipe along with his “ Uniform an Awo Cap over Buba and Sokoto “ made him unforgettable .He , my step mother Stella McIntosh and Uncle Alex started Esso Nigeria Limited. What is now known as Exxon Mobile(Uncle Alex is Dr Alex Ekueme). I need not introduce him any further Uncle Alex’s Surname was not known to me until 1980 after he became the VP of Nigeria.
He was simply Uncle Alex the tennis player to Distinguish him from Uncle Alex Nwokedi the Cricketer. In our parents circle of friends. When Professor Babs Fafunwa got up to take the witness stand, I got up to after whispering to Professor Ijalaiye the Tribunal Chairman that “ is it Okay for Professor Babs Fafunwa to be sworn in and give his testimony from the arm chair he sat in through out the Hearings he had been attending?”. It was granted. Professor Babs Fafunwa with his wisdom, understanding and utmost Diplomacy answered all our questions as an insider from 1966/1967 session when he and Professor Aluko left the University of Nigeria Nssuka to join the University of Ife Academic staff to the present time. He testified until Lunch time. Come lunchtime we recessed. Professor Ijalaiye then asked me if I didn’t mind if Professor Fafunwa joined us for lunch, I said “ not at all”.
The Chairman Professor Ijalaiye invited him to join us for Lunch. It was over lunch with us 4 panel members that Professor Fafunwa became “ Uncle Bab’s Fafunwa “ to me. All the other Tribunal members addressed Him as “ Sir “. Over lunch Professor Babs Fafunwa told them off camera how the University of Ife had been assisted tremendously by Mr Rotimi the Principal of ACE and that important issues regarding funding of Projects on Ife Campus were discussed between Oluwasanmi and Governor Rotimi clandestinely at ACE at weekends regularly, with his older brother playing a key role. It was all to the benefit of the progress achieved at University of Ife during his tenor of office as Governor from 1971-1975.One of the allegations the Student’s made against Mr Rotimi was that he used his position as the elder brother to the Governor who he had educated at the University of Ibadan to tyranize them. Professor Fafunwa even told us that Professor Oluwasanmi and Mr Rotimi addressed each other as “ Sir and Sir “.
Uncle Babs thanked me for the gesture of respect I had given him in public as he called me Sonny the nickname my father gave me shortly after I was born,to which a shocked Professor Ijalaiye made the remark that “ Bibi re ko she fowo ra”, after Professor Fafunwa ,Uncle Babs to me explained the relationship between us. He knew that my Sister Omolara and his Eldest Daughter Sheri were the best of friends.Actually 4 of them Omolara, Sheri Fafunwa, Helen Ordia and Ann Graham ( Now Supreme Court Justice Amina Augie)were almost inseparable as friends and core members of the Championship University of Ife Womens swimming team.
Back to the Politics of Mr Rotimi , Professor Oluwasanmi and Governor Rotimi. Professor Babs Fafunwa’s enlightenment offCamera was the most important insight into the Role Governor Rotimi played in funding Ife. We just knew that the Infrastructural needs of that Campus never lacked in funding.
Faculty after Faculty expanded at a phenomenal rate , money frugally utilized by Oluwasanmi was never a problem. From 1971 to 1975 when King’s College Lagos and University of Ibadan Educated Col Oluwole Rotimi was Governor, Ife University expanded its infrastructure at a Phenomenal rate with Western State money.
We witnessed it and I confirmed how it all took place as PSU from 1975-1976 on that Federal Tribunal of enquiry.Whatever Mr Rotimi was accused of High Handedness was identical to what Jimmy Adeniyi – Jones had accused Professor Oluwasanmi of in his confrontational position as PSU in 1973-1974 Session at Unife.It was the same system Ayo Olukotun the Secretary General in 1973-1974 ,PSU 1974-1975, architect of “ Gowon must Go “ and my predecessor in office accused Oluwasanmi of but in a more “tepid manner”. Ayo Olukotun is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science presently. With that insight and the knowledge I had going back into the 72-76 period at Unife, we sat down to write our Report for the FGN on the Visitation panel and Tribunal of Enquiry into the Adeyemi College of Education Disturbance of 1975.ACE Ondo was a Satellite Campus of the University of Ife. When it came to the Question, what do we do with Mr Rotimi?, I asked Professor Adaralegbe a Question “ Sir, can’t you find a position for him to continue in at Unife Campus in your Faculty?”. The other 2 Members and Professor Adaralegbe looked at each other.
He was “ moved “ to the Faculty of Education of the University of Ife as a Senior Lecturer as part of our recommendations to the Federal Government. This was at the height of the “ retire this one, retire that one “ hysteria and the VC Professor Oyetunji Aboyade knew exactly how much I resented that retirement excercise.
One day in early 1980 after the selection of Shehu Shagari as President, I had finished all my coursework and was waiting to Sit my final medical school examinations.I went out of nostalgia back to the Campus alone and to the Park on the foot of the Main Hill near the Faculty of Arts building. It used to house the Education Faculty etc.There are Concrete seats there and we to quote Dele Fajemirokun in his Autobiography “did anything we liked”, in those numerous Parks in our early days at Unife, 1972-1974 particularly that Park and the Park between Fajuyi Hall and the Sports center which Larry Gassaway the Haarlem born American Foreign Exchange Student in 1974-1975 session named “ Heads Park “….. it held a lot of memories for me…. I was sitting alone reminiscing when I caught a glimpse of an elderly man walking towards me glancing up looking towards me from about 200 yards plus. away.You get a feeling of things of that sort . As he got closer and closer I made out the silhouette of Mr Rotimi, the former Principal of Adeyemi College of Education Ondo making his way up to me. It was a pleasant surprise I had never anticipated.
I “ prepared” for his entry into my immediate space putting out the “ cigarette “ I was smoking so as not to offend the old man.I got up to shake his out stretched hand with both my hands. He sat down next to me.His eyes spoke deeply of gratitude through his glasses as he said Thank You to me , I answered him with the words “ No sir we should say Thank You to you for all you and your brother did for the University of Ife “…. He opened his mouth as a typical Egba Man would in exclamation as he said, “ So you know everything about what really happened?” in Yoruba. I nodded as I answered in the affirmative. After a few words of expression of his gratitude for saving his career from a disgraceful ending plus prayers for Gods guidance in my life ahead,I escorted him back to the main Road. I didn’t tell him that part of the reason I had a special interest in the “Rotimi Brand “was because I had known his sister-in-law, Mrs Folake Rotimi from 1968-1969 as the Librarian at the American Library opposite City Hall . I read there during and after School in Class 4 and Class 5 at the Methodist Boy’s High School where to our American Educated Principal Mr D. A . Famoroti, there was nothing like breaking Bounds, Snitching on your mates,or ‘Student smoking Cigarette”. Just pass your exams and have good manners “ Otan “.She allowed me to keep my Books neatly always in a corner of the American Library where I studied for my WASC. I always signed in once a day and signed out at closing time often leaving my Books on the seat tucked under the table out of everybody’s way overnight.”She never scolded me or seized my Books and she always had a smile on her face for me. Her assistant Reggie Urumbe had been my Senior at King’s College Lagos and a fellow “Day Goat “ for two of my Six terms at King’s College Lagos.He was in form 5 when I was in form 1 in 1964.Anyway I saw her husband come to pick her up from work quite often in his official 250 S Class Army Olive green Mercedes Saloon Car during those 2 years. He smiled often and was reserved.I greated him respectfully whenever he came to pick her up and we had circumstances to interact. I Came to look for her and thank her in 1970 after my WASC exam. results came out .
Closure of the matter came in 2007 at the Wedding of Dr and Mrs. Tayo Delano (Chief Amuludun of the US Virgin Islands) in St Croix. One of the Guests at the 2 day Carnival and unforgettable Wedding was the Vivacious Ebony skinned Vice President of the Students Union of ACE at That time. She came to greet me on my Table.To cut a long story short,I related to her while her Husband listened with wrapt attention to the true story of the “ Mr Rotimi Saga at Adeyemi College of Education. “
I asked after Bisi Kay Aiyedun (an unforgettable character and the principal plotter against Mr. Rotimi who won Professor Ijalaiye’s heart as he scored point after point in building up a case against Mr Rotimi to which Professor Ijalaiye would say out loud ““ Goal “ next point “. Towards the end of the tribunal’s task, we had reconciled all the parties. The rusticated students who came to give evidence had resumed classes.
One day, a group led by Ogedengbe the PSU actually came up to Mr Rotimi to tell him that they were Broke and Hungry and would appreciate’ something ‘ for the Boys and Girls.. Mr Rotime right in our presence gave them a few 5 Shilling notes to which they all cheered him.He laughed.I learnt so much about conflict resolution in that Tribunal, treating people right and so much more.
Ogedengbe graduated after his rusticating was rescinded. Tragically he died in a Motor Vehicle Accident sometime after.Banji Adegboro our colleague and PSU at Ibadan and staunch ally of the ACE Aggitators got rusticated at the end of the 1976 Academic session Kola Awodein , Aketi and I were saddened but we were not surprised. We used to warn him about the “ radical clique “ of Ola Oni and Co who exposed Radical Socialism to him but it was too late. In September 1977, after “many strings were pulled”, he resumed in the Faculty of Arts at Unife after signing an undertaking never to participate in Students Politics while at Ife. He graduated from Ife and went to do his NYSC . He and I grew much close during his stay at Ife. Sadly Banji Died in a tragic Motor Car Accident. His older Brother Olu Adegboro had been President of the NUNS for 1971-1972 session when the National Secretariat was at University of Ife Campus.
Mr Rotimi continued a distinguished career as an Educationist in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ife , he retired to live in Abeokuta where he set up and ran a Remedial School into his 10 th decade. I wonder where he is now. Please say me well to Him and also Mrs Folake Rotimi. I would love to reestablish contact with her.
Needless parochialism in display in the city of Ile-Ife in recent days over the appointment of the Vice Chancellor is totally uncalled for. There are great lessons about life ,conflict, resolutions, managing each other, exercise of restraints, peace for progress in what I have shared about Ife University. The work done by Professor Ajose. Professor Oluwasanmi, Baba wa Oba Adesoji Aderemi, Governors Awolowo and Akintola, Military Governors Fajuyi, Adebayo and Rotimi deserves better than this myopic parochialism we are being treated to…. Ife University is a Dream – the dream of the Yorubaland Yoruba for the Excellence that Africa is capable of delivering and achieving.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that one day Ife University will be returned back to Yorubaland Yoruba and the people of South Western Nigeria who developed that great institution as a testimony of what African excellence can do mean to offer.