Sunday, April 30, 2017 3:04 pm
By Shaibu Hussein
For those who knew and admired the engineering giant, when the news of his untimely death was announced late in the evening of 23 September 1984, the world stood still. While arrangements were on for his well attended internment at Ikorodu (his hometown) on Friday 12 October 1984, encomiums poured in from home and abroad, all eulogizing the indisputable engineering giant and a great son of Nigeria and the continent of Africa. Those who wanted to be economical with words described the Lagosian and patriot as the most brilliant engineer ever to come out of the continent of Africa. Others simply said he was a man too big for his own shoes.
To many. Professor Awojobi or the giant of Akoka, an appellation he earned as a result of his activism at University of Lagos was that enigmatic personality who left this world, the don of all university dons, the first Nigerian to hold a Doctor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, a great philosopher and thinker, a revolutionary, a professor of litigation, a fearless critic and a social reformer who left an indelible imprint in Nigeria’s academic and political history.
Professor Ayodele Olatumininu Awojobi was born in Oshodi Lagos on 12 March 1939. He had his early education at CMS Grammer School Bariga Lagos where he distinguished himself as a student of all subjects and master of all. His school mates attested to his extraordinary IQ that marked him out as a potential genius.
From CMS Grammer School, Awojobi proceeded to the Nigeria College of Arts, Science and Technology Ibadan and a similar school in Zaria. His quest for the ‘golden fleece’ took him to London where he enrolled at the Imperial College of Science and Technology and the prestigious University of London where he obtained his B.Sc in Engineering with First Class grades. He specialized in vibrations ( a field in Engineering). He later obtained a PhD in the same discipline from the University of London where he taught for two years before he returned to Nigeria.
On his return in 1966, Professor Awojobi joined the University of Lagos as lecturer grade one in the department of mechanical engineering. He had a meteoric rise in the academic sphere when in rapid succession he became Senior Lecturer in 1969. Associate Professor in 1971, Professor and Head of Department (HOD) of the department of Mechanical Engineering in 1974 and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Lagos.
Beyond his exploits at the University of Lagos, Professor Awojobi was known for his contributions in the advancement of learning especially in the field of numerical and analytical methods in Geo-mechanics. He shot in the pinnacle of his career when at twenty seven years of age he became the first African to be awarded a D.Sc in his field of specialization from the University of London. That degree came in recognition of Awojobi’s significant contribution to knowledge as evidenced by his scholarly publications, lectures, speeches and the various workshops, seminars and symposia that he had conducted and moderated in his lifetime. His outstanding contributions thus earned him world acclaim.
Though a mechanical engineer, Professor Awojobi also partook remarkably in the nation’s political development. He formed a political movement called the National Association for the Survival of the 1979 Constitution, in the second republic. He later became spokesman and one of the foremost human rights and political activists whose knack for constitutional litigation caused quite a stir in the ousted civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari.
One of the hallmarks of Awojobi’s political struggles was his numerous lawsuits and demonstration against individuals and the State. Professor Awojobi once staged a one man demonstration in protest against the staggering emolument that legislators of the Second Republic were said to have appropriated in 1983 under the auspices of the National Association for the Survival of the 1979 Constitution. Prof. Awojobi instituted a lawsuit against President Shehu Shagari and the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) praying the court not swear in Shehu Shagari as President of Nigeria, that celebrated case was eventually struck out. A similar thing happened to the suit he filed during the dame period challenging the validity of Dr Samuel Ogbemudia’s candidature for Bendel State’s gubernatorial seat.
Professor Awojobi became politically relevant again when barely thirty minutes into a press conference that was being addressed by Governor Bisi Onabanjo of Ogun State in the Second Republic, he reportedly gate-crashed and halted the conference for minutes describing it as a hoax.
Though he did not train as a lawyer the distinguished professor was reputed to have appeared in the law court more times than some lawyers do in their lifetime. On each occasion he argued his case himself. Out of the seventeen cases that the self styled ‘one man constitutional vigilante took to court, only one that of the presidential contingency fund got the nod of the numerous trial judges he has faced. Awojobi’s litigious propensity, he once explained was to ensure the survival of democracy and the rule of law. An orator of no mean stature, the Akoka giant will be best remembered for his political and humanitarian activism especially for providing what most people termed the lubricating oil of the wheel of progress which crushed the corrupt administration of the ousted second republic of President Shehu Shagari. The engineering prodigy will also be remembered in Nigeria’s giant of engineering who is second to none in his area of academic specialization. The late Professor Awojobi will indeed remain in the memory of those in the learned world and will be strongly remembered as the teacher who infused in his students a deep regard for logic and experimentation and an abiding faith in the vast and unlimited potentials of human rationality.
Originally entitled “Fearless Critic and Social Reformer,” Shaibu Hussein contributed this article to People in TheNEWS, 1900-2000, a special publication of this medium in year 2000