Tribute to the Late Professor Mabogunje

Tribute to the Late Professor Mabogunje

Friday, August 5, 2022 5:48 pm


Professor Akin Mabogunje

By Kayode Samuel

I first heard the word “Matatu” from the erudite Professor Akin Mabogunje, Nigeria’s foremost development scholar.

It was in 1997 and we were planning the first Oil Sector Community Development Roundtable for the major oil companies operating in Nigeria. At one of the meetings, Prof. Mabogunje let loose the tale. He always loved to lighten up the stress of long meetings with such repartees. It went thus:

“The Pope died and on arrival at the Pearly Gates, he was welcomed to heaven by the gatekeeping angel. ‘Pope, you served the Almighty very well while you were on earth. For your service, you have been assigned an accommodation in one of the exclusive quarters in heaven.’

“The accommodation turned out to be a posh bungalow on the way to a grand edifice that the Pope immediately assumed was the abode of the Almighty himself. Soon after, the Chief Imam of Mecca also died. On arrival in heaven, he was also assigned to another bungalow across the road from the Pope.

“Soon, both got together to reflect on the fact that they never saw anyone go in or come out of the grand building up the hill. One day, they enquired from the angel who lived in the house. The angel told them that the occupant would soon arrive. They both wondered who could be more deserving of such an ornate building better than themselves. Maybe the Messiah, they reluctantly concluded.

“One evening as they strolled in the garden, they noticed a commotion on the approaches to their abode. Upon closer inspection, they noticed that it was the hosts of heaven carrying a scruffy-looking black man shoulder high towards the grand building with much singing and dancing and drumming. Soon, the delegation returned having installed the black man in the building.

“The Pope and the Imam felt sufficiently agitated to approach the angel to express their concern. ‘While on earth we served God with all our heart and strength yet we were not considered worthy to be installed in that building. We were not even received with so much rejoicing. Now, who is that scruffy black fellow that even the angels carried shoulder high and put in that building?’

” The angel answered: He is a Matatu driver. ‘What’s that?!’, the Pope and Imam chorused in unison. The angel replied: ‘The Matatu driver operates in Nairobi, Kenya and the daredevil way he drove his bus while he was on earth drove the fear of God into many more people than the two of you combined’!”

I always feel drawn to persons of high achievement who maintain a great sense of humour. The late Professor Akin L. Mabogunje was one such eminent figure. One day, a colleague and I had visited him in his home in Ibadan for some work related discussions. The meeting done, he then offered us lunch but we were in a rush to get back to Lagos. He tried to persuade us to stay and eat as no one could predict the erratic traffic on the Expressway. We were still hesitant.

Then he threw in his punchline. “My wife is at home and she is the one preparing the lunch. I am not sure how she will take your rejecting her offer of a meal that she personally prepared. And anyway, this is probably the only chance you fellows would get in a long while to eat pounded yam personally prepared by a Justice of the Appeal Court!” His amiable wife, the Honourable Justice Titi Mabogunje then sat as a Justice of the Court of Appeal. I cannot recollect what we did about his offer of lunch thereafter but I suspect that we did not leave for Lagos immediately as planned.

My deep condolences go to the Hon. Justice Mabogunje, the children and the entire family. May the soul of the great Professor rest in peace. Amen…

We were approaching the close of a truly tiring workshop and it had been a draining day-long session. Suddenly, some oversabi participants started to clamour for additional discussions to agree what they called “Next Steps”. Loud grumbles went round the hall, especially as the ones calling for the additional session were the same people that prolonged the earlier sessions needlessly with their nitpicking interventions.

Mercifully, the Chairman of the Wrap Up session ruled in favour of us tired and thoroughly harassed folks. “You fellows return to your various offices and organisations to discuss the recommendations of this workshop with your bosses. Out of those discussions would emerge the action steps which you could then communicate to the organisers. From where I am seated”, he said, “the only next steps I can see should be in the direction of the exit door over there and towards the restaurant!” A loud applause issued from many of the worn out participants. The Chairman was no other than the late Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, who had been saving the day since 1900! May his pleasant soul journey well…

Professor Mabogunje passed on Thursday morning, aged 90. He lived a richly productive life. May his brilliant soul rest in peace. Amen.

*Mr Kayode Samuel, a former Information Commissioner in Ogun State, writes from Lagoa

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