By Femi Adesina
I hate to see professors die. And in recent days, we have lost three of them to the strange ailment called COVID-19, currently ravaging the world. Within two weeks, we lost three professors in quick succession. Habu Galadima, Director-General, National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Femi Odekunle, renowned criminologist and member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). And Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, former Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos.
Each time a professor dies, I say to myself: what a waste! All the learning, gone. All the intellect, perished. The research, the knowledge, and quest for more knowledge, kaput. Sheer waste!
I have firsthand experience in losing a Professor. My elder sister was one. She was a Professor of Dramatic Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In December 2015, she was traveling from Ibadan to Lagos, when that famished road consumed her. All the learning, gone. All the intellect, perished. The knowledge, and the quest for more knowledge, kaput. What a waste, sheer waste of all that is bright and beautiful.
I have seen Professors die. Young, middle aged, old. But at whatever age, the sheer sense of loss always weighs on me powerfully. Habu Galadima was only 57. Not ripe at all. Professor Ayodele Awojobi, perhaps the most brilliant Engineer from this part of the world, was only 47, when he passed. Waste. Sheer waste.
I knew the three Professors that just died, personally. Habu Galadima I’d met each time he visited the Presidential Villa, either solely, or with his students at NIPSS
Just 17 days before he passed on, he had led members of the Senior Executive Course 42 on a visit, to present their research findings on Population Growth and Human Capital Development: Challenges and Opportunities, to President Muhammadu Buhari.I was Master of Ceremonies at the event, which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa.
In my capacity as compere, I consulted and related closely with Prof Galadima. We discussed who would do what on the program, and were engaging till the about two hours event was concluded. We both had our face masks in place, and still tried to respect the principle of social distancing, even as we conferred.
You could imagine my shock, when 17 days later, I heard of the death of the erudite Professor. He had reportedly been admitted at an isolation centre in Abuja on December 19, but sadly, he lost the battle for life the next day. All the learning, gone. All the intellect, perished. The knowledge, and quest for more knowledge, kaput. What a waste, sheer waste.
President Buhari says usually of COVID-19: ‘You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, you can’t hear it, but it is there, causing havoc all over the world.”
It kills the rich, and the poor. It eliminates the old, and the young. It has no respect for learning and research, so it takes even Professors. “Death lays its icy hands on kings, Scepter and crown must tumble down, And in the dust be equal made with the poor crooked scythe and spade,” wrote James Shirley.
And death takes everyone, everything, including Professors. How rude. Impudent. Even supercilious. No wonder John Donne wrote that death shall die one day.
“One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” True.
Professor Femi Odekunle I probably knew closest among the three fallen scholars. I visited his home in Wuse area of Abuja regularly, very regularly, and he had a way of saying: “Femi, please let’s see on your way from church on Sunday.” And I usually did.
Odekunle was a Buharist, and we usually had a lot to discuss about our principal, trends in government, the anti-corruption war, and many others. When he needed background information on certain issues, he usually sent for me.
And the President loved and respected him, too. There was a time the Professor needed private audience, and he sent me to the boss. I mentioned it, and pronto, he granted the request. You can’t beat President Buhari in terms of loyalty to his allies.
When COVID-19 came, the Odekunle home took all the precautions. You must wear face mask before you were granted access, and someone was always by the door to apply sanitizers to your hands. So, how did the Prof catch COVID, or rather, how did COVID catch him? Mysterious. Inscrutable. Baffling.
As former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission, Dr Olu Agunloye, has succinctly put it, I was in a way involved in the last ditch effort to ensure Prof Odekunle lived. After he had spent 11 days in an isolation centre in Abuja, the wife became restive about the quality of care he was getting. So also the son, Dosu. I began to talk with them back and forth, and the wife asked if the DSS hospital could take her husband.
I made the contacts, and the way was being paved for his transfer, when the unthinkable happened. Professor Odekunle lost the battle for life. All the learning, gone. All the intellect, perished. All the knowledge, and search for more knowledge, kaput. What a waste. Sheer waste!
And then, Professor Ibidapo-Obe. I had known him since his days as Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos. We had invited him to grace The Sun Awards, while I worked with The Sun Newspapers. He came, and that was the beginning of our acquaintanceship, which lasted till last weekend.
It was a shock for me to hear the news. He was a first class brain, best graduating student in his set, who had his Master’s and Ph.D in record time. He was President of the Nigerian Academy of Science. But impudent COVID-19 did not respect all that . Now, all the learning, gone. All the intellect, perished. All the knowledge, and search for more knowledge, kaput. What a waste. Sheer waste!
On Tuesday this week, our country recorded 1,354 new cases of Coronavirus infections. It was the highest daily record so far, and deaths have hit 1,319, in all the 36 States, and the Federal Capital Territory. Fellow Nigerians, it’s no time to be careless or reckless. The second wave of Coronavirus is not smiling at all.
The worst enemy is the one who can see you, and you can’t see. It strikes stealthily, and fatally. And with Coronavirus, “you can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t touch it, but it is there, causing havoc round the world.”
May God save us from such implacable foe.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity