By Kunle Ajibade
My 50 Great Ife Years: 1969 -2019 is Professor Adebayo Lamikanra’s illuminating record of his exemplary life and remarkable experiences at the Obafemi Awolowo University in the last fifty years. The memoir is a sequel to Igbobi Boy, which is an account of his secondary school years in Igbobi College, Lagos, where he spent seven years to study for Ordinary and Advanced Level examinations which he passed in flying colours. He left Igbobi College in December 1968 and worked for a year in the Pay Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance at Mosaic House in Lagos. Since the Nigeria-Biafra war was raging at that time, the Ministry of Finance under Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Central Bank, which was very close to it, had the additional responsibility to pay huge cash for arms and ammunition. Lamikanra’s job, as the most junior clerk in the Pay Office, was to prepare leave vouchers which he did for about nine months. He was paid sixteen pounds ten shillings a month. ‘‘Looking back”, Lamikanra writes, “I can conclude that it was indeed an enjoyable interlude. I arrived at work early in the morning having been given a ride to work by either my father who worked in BP House around the corner in Broad Street or Mr. Jemiyo who worked in the Federal Ministry of Justice on the Marina. Those rides were usually uneventful as we left home in Ilupeju Estate early enough to beat the brunt of the traffic streaming into Lagos Island every morning, as with us over the Carter Bridge or for others over the newly completed Eko Bridge.’’ From UTC, the then biggest departmental store, where he always went for snacks, he could watch with absolute pleasure the heavenly Marina. And because Apapa docks were on the other side, he could also watch how ships were sailing gloriously into port. During this gap year, he also spent a lot of time with ‘Uncle George’, actually his father’s cousin, who worked on the sports desk of The Daily Sketch which had its offices on Broad Street. Together with this journalist, he watched for free all the marvelous games played at the Onikan Stadium — the Principal Cup, the Challenge Cup and Manuwa Cup competitions. Lagos was, at the time, the centre for cricket in the country and Lamikanra was a regular playing member of the Lagos Amateur Cricket Club (LACC). The Lagoon by Onikan Stadium was still a beauty to behold. True, the traffic congestion was already becoming a problem, but buses ran on time. Lamikanra describes that period of his youth as ‘‘balmy days.’’ The pleasant Lagos of the 60s that Lamikanra rhapsodises in the book, we must remember, was the upper middle class Lagos.
But this Lagos Boy had to leave the city in September 1969 in quest of knowledge at the University of Ife. When his name appeared on the admission list of the university, published in The Daily Sketch, his father was far away in Geneva attending the annual International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference as part of the Nigerian delegation. In appreciation of his son’s feat, he bought a relatively expensive automatic wrist watch for him which he used for a long time. His father, a graduate of St Andrew’s College, Oyo, was the one who encouraged Lamikanra and his siblings to study medicine, or Pharmacy or any professional course, definitely not any of the arts courses in which Lamikanra was obviously excelling. That’s why Lamikanra describes him as the author of his destiny in this book. He was still an arts student until his first term in form five at Igbobi when he registered for Science subjects. Not a few of his classmates were surprised — they thought he couldn’t be serious. Like many other things in his life, he regarded their contempt and mockery as a challenge. And he rose mightily to that challenge. In the end, he made decent grades in all his papers. By the time he got admission to the University of Ife, he had never been to the Ife campus. He only chose the university because it was the only one of the first generation universities that had Faculty of Pharmacy. When he finally got to the campus, after a delay in Ibadan because of the Agbekoya unrest, he simply fell in love with the beauty of the campus. The memory of that beauty is painstakingly described in the book. Lamikanra says that he was proud right from the start of ‘‘this magnificent institution in which I immediately began to look forward to spending three, rewarding years.’’ After the January 15, 1966 coup during which Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region whose government was a clog in the wheel of progress of the young University of Ife, had been assassinated, the new man in the saddle, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, took it upon himself to actualise the dream of the Obafemi Awolowo government of building, not just the most beautiful university in Africa but one of the best in the world in terms of the quality of its research and learning. Fajuyi was so passionate about this big dream that he chose Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, one of the planners of the university, as the Vice-Chancellor. The high standard for which Professor Oluwasanmi had been justly praised and the grace of his conduct in office, are the yardsticks with which Lamikanra judges successive Vice-Chancellors of the university. His insistence on this highest of standard brought him in perennial conflicts with some authority figures in this university who may not forgive him for his unbearably scathing yet objective assessments of their personalities and their mediocre styles of governance in this memoir.
Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi had spent three years as Vice-Chancellor by the time Lamikanra entered the University of Ife, which was then a giant construction site. Although he did his orientation at the new permanent site, it was to the old Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology at Ibadan, a temporary site, which housed Faculty of Pharmacy that he returned for his training. With the University of Ibadan very close by, it was as if he was admitted to one university and got another one for free. Lamikanra, the Lagos boy, socialised so easily and confidently even when the then Faculty of Pharmacy had a reputation for being so difficult. He was very active in sports. He was a member of Hi-Soc Circle. He even contested for the post of Hall chairmanship and lost. To be sure, he decided to contest on a whim because a student had boasted that nobody could challenge a candidate who was already presumed a winner. Lamikanra campaigned vigorously in good English but politics, as we all know, is not only about eloquence, so he was roundly trounced at the polls. After the election, many of the students told him that he was a better candidate with excellent programmes but his problem was that he spoke too much English! One of the memorable events of his undergraduate years was the murder of Kunle Adepeju, student of the department of Agricultural Economics, University of Ibadan, on February 1, 1971. The students of the University of Ibadan were only protesting against the authority for the poor quality of food when the then Vice- Chancellor called in the police who started shooting sporadically. Adepeju was killed by stray bullet in front of Queen Elizabeth II Hall. The entire nation that had not experienced this kind of tragedy before was shell-shocked. Lamikanra was at St. Anne’s Church for Adepeju’s funeral where he met the young and already famous Wole Soyinka, who was also there to pay his respect to Kunle Adepeju.
The Faculty of Pharmacy that Adebayo Lamikanra was admitted to in 1969 was a very difficult faculty. Indeed, according to him, students of other faculties knew that ‘‘Pharmacy is three plus x years where x is unknown.’’ Meaning you could spend many years for a three year course if you’re not so brilliant and diligent. But Lamikanra finished his studies on time. He writes in details about how he surmounted this difficulty. He observes that there was no doubt that the quality of the Pharmaceutical education that his generation of students was exposed to was very high, and there were many highly competent professors to take those students through their paces. He celebrates the diversity of those professors who had come to Ife from different parts of the world, thereby giving the universe in the university a true meaning. This was not limited to the Faculty Pharmacy—the entire university embraced this diversity at the time. Lamikanra pays a glowing tribute to the memory and achievements of many of his teachers who worked tirelessly to raise the standard of this first Faculty of Pharmacy to that of any of the best universities in the world. In his final year, his marks were the highest that the faculty had ever recorded in Pharmaceutics, which was why he was the winner of the Boots Prize for Pharmaceutics that year, yet he was not one of the few students who made 2.1. He made a 2.2. The young man was devastated. Even his father, whose advice he always listened to, could not console him. He then went straight to his Head of department, Dr. Ogunlana, to complain. Ogunlana told him that he was very, very close to 2.1. The sympathetic Ogunlana would soon travel down to Lagos just to ask Lamikanra to apply for a position of Graduate Assistant in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. He recommended him over and above some of his classmates who had 2.1 degrees. That was how Lamikanra returned to Ife as a young teacher, having to teach some of his classmates who had extra years. With its Staff Development Scheme in place, University of Ife paid for his doctorate at the University of Manchester. Professor Ojo of the Department of Physics, who was the chairman of the College of Science, tried to to encourage him to choose Pharmaceutical Technology, not Pharmaceutical Microbiology, but Lamikanra said it was Pharmaceutical Microbiology or nothing. He would have missed the chance if Dr. Ogunlana had not written the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, who rapidly approved the sponsorship.
On September 27, 1973, he left for Manchester. As a football lover, one of the major things the young Lamikanra started looking forward to was watching live the Manchester City Football Club games. And he had more than enough of those games during his three year stay. He worked hard on his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Michael Charles Allwood, who informed him at end of his first year to proceed from a Master’s Programme to the PhD programme after a satisfactory performance. Lamikanra was not a nerd at the University of Manchester. Together with his Nigerian friends, he organized parties to which other nationals were invited. He was also a member of the University of Manchester’s Staff Cricket Club which played three games every week. He played five-a-side football too. He watched a lot of sports programmes on the television. He learnt how to cook, how to sew, carrying out often minor repairs to his own clothes. He subscribed to The Guardian of London and read it inside out. He also read a lot of fiction and non-fiction. It was, most crucially, at the University of Manchester that he read a lot of books on Socialism. He was convinced that ‘‘no alternative to socialism as a way to deliver social justice.’’ In 1973, he had witnessed in England the mess that the Conservative Party made of the economic and social lives of the people under Edward Heath and the progress made with the pro-people policies of the Labour Party when Harold Wilson took over. When the University Manchester decided to discuss the government’s proposal that the overseas students fees should be jerked up, Lamikanra, who was the only overseas student on the Faculty Committee, told the Committee that increasing the fees of overseas students was neither justified not justifiable as those of them from the former colonies of Britain had contributed immensely to the development of Britain. He further argued that if Britain insisted, the Soviet Union would be more than willing to admit those students to its universities. In the end, the proposal was suspended. Lamikanra admitted that at this period in his life he was a pampered child of the University of Ife, for the money never for one month failed to come at the right time. This is one major reason that he has stayed in Ife as a way of paying back the school that was more than generous to him. It was also his own way of passing on the kindness. When it was time to write up his thesis, he threw himself into it such that his supervisor, Dr. Allwood and the external examiner, Dr. Denver Russell, a leading authority in his field, never stopped praising the quality of the research, and particularly the quality of his writing.
Two days before his 27th birthday, October 14, 1976, Dr. Adebayo Lamikanra returned to Nigeria, ready to nurture generations of students and contribute to the body of work in his field. His parents were so happy that it was that same year that his brother, Dotun completed his medical studies at the University of Lagos with highest distinction and Biola, his sister, made a 2.1 in Zoology at the University of Ibadan. Within three years that he was away, the country had taken a turn for the worse. His much beloved idyllic Marina was gone. Crass materialism which led to frenetic worship of money had become the guiding principle of the country. Apapa ports were jammed with cement armada. Crooks had multiplied. Stupendous waste of money became the habit of the wealthy. Lamikanra knew that his country was on a cliff hanger politically and economically. Yet it did not appear that many people were ready to do anything concrete about the decline. The University of Ife which was owned by the Western State had now been taken over by the Federal Government. And the great Professor Oluwasanmi had been removed by the Federal Government fiat. Like other universities in Nigeria, the University of Ife that used to have all his examinations in June, now had two semesters — Harmattan and Rain. With his doctorate, Lamikanra resumed work in 1977, taking over courses taught by Dr. Peter Hugo who had gone to the University of Benin. It is interesting to note that the office which he inherited from Dr. Hugo in 1977, which is right opposite the laboratories of Pharmaceutical Microbiology, remained his office till his retirement this morning. His resolve was to promote the spirit of academic excellence in his students. He was determined to get his students to think because thinking to him ‘‘is perhaps the only thing that separates man from other animals.’’ He also resolved to be courageous — never to call a spade by any other name in the course of doing his legitimate duties of teaching, researching and rendering administrative services. Strong-willed, very upright, Lamikanra always rejected temptations for easy satisfactions. Whenever it was necessary, Lamikanra criticized severely all manner of mediocrity in the university. His positions on issues concerning his faculty, students, ASUU, Senate and Council recounted in this book show that he cares about dignity and self-respect. He accepted all students that approached him to supervise their theses. Following the tradition of Dr. S.H. Khalil, one of his favourite lecturers in his undergraduate days, he never lectured from notes — he never dictated notes to students. Fifty years on, he has produced many successful pharmacists some of whom he mentions with joy and pride in this book. He has written 86 peer-reviewed articles in reputable journals. He is still involved in research which hopefully will yield more publications in the near future.
He has served the university diligently, admittedly with belligerence, in various administrative capacities. It has always been his major concern that the Faculty of Pharmacy in Ife which is the premier school of Pharmacy in Nigeria should be treated as a treasure. As the Dean of the Faculty, apart from the much needed renovation of dilapidated parts of the faculty which was quickly carried out, he raised money from the pool of wealthy alumni who were CEOs and directors in many of the multinational pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, May and Baker, Glaxo, Smith and Kline, etc., etc. to refurbish and build more laboratories, donate equipment and consumables. Sadly, when the alumni wanted to start work, the then Vice – Chancellor, Professor Wale Omole, insisted that ‘‘the (alumni) committee had no rights to build any permanent structure within the faculty even though the laboratories were to be built following the plans which had been approved by the Capital Projects Committee several years before.’’ Professor Omole wanted the alumni to hand over the money to the university authority. At the prompting of Lamikanra the committee refused. In the end, the parties agreed that the Capital Projects Unit of the university should only supervise the construction. To the annoyance of the VC, Lamikanra stuck to his guns. The new laboratories were eventually built.
That was not the first and the last time that Lamikanra would have a run-in with some authority figures in the university. There are many instances in this memoir of his belligerence, which remind us that his house master, when he was in form II, had written in his report card that he was a belligerent character. But his belligerence has always been for a good purpose. Consider this example of Lamikanra’s belligerence. After he had been denied a deserved professorship for several years, he finally got it. And the registrar wrote to him asking that he should send reams of paper with which the university would publicise the news of his promotion. An angry Lamikanra wrote back, not just to the registrar but also the Vice-Chancellor telling them that if the university could not buy its own reams of paper for the cyclostyling machine which was in vogue then, it should not bother to announce his professorship. The truth of the matter is that Professor Adebayo Lamikanra doesn’t suffer fools gladly — whether they are vice-chancellors like Omole or student union leaders like Tony Fash or a supplier of equipment who wanted to bribe him or parents who desperately wanted him to bend the rules to admit their wards to the Faculty of Pharmacy. He contested for the post of Vice-Chancellor three times and lost, even after he had made the short-list cut, not because he was not qualified, as this memoir shows, but because he just would not play the game of sending people on his behalf to the president of Nigeria who, ultimately, appoints Vice-Chancellors for all Federal Government’s owned universities. It is this kind of anomy that he rails against in his Op-Ed pieces in The Guardian for which he is well known and highly respected outside of the academia. There are stories in this book about how he started writing for The Guardian; about all the students’ clashes with the university authority and his roles in solving the problems that led to them; about the university zoological garden that used to be an interesting fixture of the campus life now rendered prostrate; about student – armed robbers who terrorized lecturers in the Staff Quarters; about his well-kept garden; about the various sports clubs he started and ran successfully with others; about his scientific and cultural discoveries in Sweden when he was there on sabbatical; about how he turned around, as Sole Administrator, the moribund Staff Club; about how he became a lover of Jazz music and the Jazz club in the university to promote the music; about the Ife Poetry Festival, the oldest running poetry festival in Nigeria which he started in 1998; about how he became Chairman the Osun State Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors and how he ran it; and about his passion for imaginative literature generally. In this book memories wake up history, amnesia surrenders to nostalgia.
Finally, given Lamikanra’s prodigious memory, his very rich imagination, his facility for words and the discipline to manage these gifts, it is no wonder that he writes penetratingly and lucidly. His eloquent words simply roll out precisely and purely. Each time he analyses political events he is adept and meticulous. He is a benign and thrilling clarifier with a keen sense of higher purpose. We encounter in this book the goodness of the science of Pharmacy, the power of curiosity and the power of dissent. Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard University, told some students recently that ‘‘History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story to accountable evidence.’’ To a very large extent, the carefully articulated argument in this memoir is about the necessity for a restoration of core values and principles that will nourish and extend the frontiers of Enlightenment — or, if you like, Modernity.
Mr. Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor/Director of TheNEWS and PM NEWS read this review on 16 October, 2019 at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.