Tuesday, January 28, 2020 8:50 am
By Omojuyigbe Dele
It shouldn’t, in a true sense, elicit surprise in any circle if utmost pleasure is derived from reading the autobiography of a professor emeritus of English. The fluid expression and lucid thoughts in the book can be taken for granted. The surprise, however, is that an 85-year-old man could sit down, quietly, for long hours and many days or weeks, despising the cruel stress, to write his own story in a compelling 248-page book. Sheer grace, that is, which is not just historic but also historical.
Professor Ladipo Ayodeji Banjo, first ever two-term Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, turned 85 in May, 2019 and chose to celebrate the birthday with an engaging autobiography. He called it Morning by Morning. “In an autobiography, the author tells his own story in his own way”, he says. “It is doubtful if even the best biographies can be as authentic as an honestly written autobiography”, he further observes in the book’s introduction.
The book, as should be expected, presents a myriad of gripping tales replete with refreshing, fascinating details. Of special interest is the insight given into the politics and intrigues in university administration from the top to the faculties, and down to the departments. The overwhelming influence of proprietors and governing councils on the overall top is equally highlighted, the reason why the minister and commissioners of education as well as university administrators should hurry to read the book. A few quotes and revelations from there should suffice.
1. “My mates and I (in primary school) were beneficiaries of the most up-to-date developments in curriculum and teaching methods. We were made to read and write in Yoruba before being taught to do the same in English — a language-learning methodology which successive Nigerian governments seem to be struggling in vain to establish throughout the country.”
2 “Many of the private universities are having to weather the storms of inadequacy of finance and staffing, calling to question the worth of the degrees being awarded. The National Universities Commission was established to keep an eye on the overall orderly growth of the university system … As for private universities, once licenses are given to the proprietors, the Commission seemingly considers its task accomplished. Thus the Commission controls the number of private universities but does nothing to guarantee their standards.”
3. “The department (of English, UI) had, from the beginning, maintained very high standards. As at the late sixties, it had produced, in thirty years, only two first class honours graduates — Molara Ogundipe and Dan Izevbaye. But there was one occasion when we were obliged to give in to the external examiner in the person of Norman Jaffares from the University of Leeds. I noticed that he had come with a pile of answer booklets which he neatly placed in front of him. As usual, no first class was awarded, though it was unanimously agreed that one candidate came pretty close to it. At this point, Jaffares pointed to the pile of booklets in front of him and said: ‘This is a first class.’ As we already felt that that was indeed, we all acquiesced without any debate. And that was how Biodun Jeyifo became the third First Class honours graduate of the department of English.”
4. “To fill the increasing number of vacancies created by the growing number of universities, standards have to be compromised, at least, in a number of universities.”
5. “Not much confidence is shown in the other tertiary institutions because of the country’s awful reward system. Other countries have been able to produce happy and successful professionals from their technical colleges, but Nigeria has not been able to make other tertiary institutions attractive to school leavers and yet there is a crying need for the active participation of the products of such institutions in the country’s development.”
6. “In 1975, I became a professor of English language. A band of scholars in English studies was building up at this time; it was the era of the first generation of such scholars. Prominent among them were Ayo Bamgbose, Bisi Afolayan, S.H.O. Tomori and Biodun Adetugbo. I was happy to be numbered among this group.”
7. “It is advisable for the country to go back to the old system of 6-5-2-3: six years of primary, followed by five years for ‘O’ levels, which in turn is followed by 2 years of Sixth Form, the products of which then enter university more mature in age and intellectually than what we have now. The first degree in universities would then take three years.”
8. “A clear case can be made for allowing all universities in the country, without discrimination, to have access to research funds from the Federal Government. Exceptional academic staff, wherever they may be employed in the country, should be able to have financial support for their research. This is common practice in many countries.”
9. “I started school in 1938 in the kindergarten section of St Andrew’s Primary School (Oyo), the demonstration school of St Andrew’s College. My headmaster turned out to be none other than D. O. Fagunwa. Like us, Fagunwa lived in the staff quarters of the college; and in fact, his residence was not far from ours. I recall many pleasant moon-lit evenings listening, in company of some other staff children, to fantastic Yoruba stories told in his inimitable Yoruba accent by our headmaster as we gathered round him at the quarters.”
Call this autobiography a compendium of revelations, you are just right. You need it.