Whilst we mourn and celebrate Professor Adefuye, our lasting tribute to his memory should be commitment to his first love, quality education.
A month before Professor Ade Adefuye’s shocking transition on August 27, his name had cropped up in a conversation I had with two colleagues—Ademola Oyinlola and Ayo Akinkuotu—both of Tell Communications at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in Victoria Island. We were bemoaning what we saw as the less than edifying situation of our public educational institutions.
We had complained about inadequate funding for scholarship in Nigeria, the corruption in the system, which keeps many of our scholars who went into diplomatic service or served in international organisations from returning to the world of research, teaching and publishing.
We had expressed the hope that Professor Adefuye would at least create some platform through which he would periodically share with the academia what he has learnt in diplomatic service. Now that he has gone the way of all flesh, we must hope that the family, in the fullness of time, would work with his associates to share with the public the benefits of his yet to be published writings.
As attested to by many who came in contact with him, I confirm that Prof. Adefuye was a great mind, who sought to bring out goodness in others. He was my teacher in 1977/78 at the University of Lagos, who made teaching fun and teachers respected; he was the student’s delight who challenged many to rise above the average.
He was a teacher who came into the lecture room with two pieces of chalk and no notes. Amid banter, he would keep our two-hour East African History class engaged with penetrating wit and compelling arguments, reeling out authoritative references and sources.
He did not give or sell handouts to students, but the attentive student was sure to write a minimum of four pages of notes at every lecture. He was even more fascinating in tutorial classes where students are broken into smaller groups for more interactive sessions with their course mates and teachers. Initially, I did not take tutorial classes serious.
There were a handful of mature students, probably older than the lecturer, who often dominated discussions at such tutorials. Before the lecturer said “a”, they had said “b”. They made some of us feel inadequate and for some strange reason three of these old men were in my tutorial group in two other classes. For me and two other friends, they were a vexation to the spirit and we felt it was better to avoid them.
So, ignorantly, we stayed off tutorial classes, promising ourselves we would meet in the examination hall. My ignorance about the premium attached to tutorial attendance was erased when Dr. Adefuye (as he was then) announced in class that all those whose names appeared on an offender’s list should see him in his office after lectures.
Along with my buddies, Tunde Babarinsa and Kunle Bolujoko, we called at his office where he asked us why we were not attending tutorials. Looking dead serious, he told us he would not allow us to write the final exam if we did not score the required attendance at tutorial classes.
Since I was the frailest among the lot, he said to me: “Smallie, so what do you do when you are not in class”? I blamed the vexatious older students for my absence. Unimpressed, he admonished me like an older brother would that I wasn’t in school because of them. From then, the three of us turned a new leaf. But Adefuye was not done with us. If he asked the tutorial class six questions, three would be directed at us.
He structured discussions in his class in a way that made sure everyone that had something to say had a day in the sun. The intimidating old men were contained and we all had enriched understanding of the course. The teacher-student relationship soon developed into brotherly love. He watched out for our progress over the years and we kept in touch with him, exchanging correspondence.
On two occasions, I requested him to contribute articles for publication in Thisweek, which he gladly did. He, in turn, offered regular critiques of Thisweek under my editorship. A news buff, who appreciated the power of information, he did not rely only on the dispatches from the foreign ministry to keep abreast of developments at home when he was appointed Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Jamaica in 1987.
He arranged with me to buy and mail to him in Jamaica every week, Nigerian newspapers. This was before the advent of the Internet and New media, when postal correspondence was the conventional mode of communication. The arrangement went on for a year before he found a more reliable method. I suspect that this drive to extend the frontiers, this thirst to engage, and this willingness to bring out the best in others explain his success and appeal in life.
Whilst we mourn and celebrate Professor Adefuye, our lasting tribute to his memory should be commitment to his first love, quality education. As he said in the 2011 S. O. Awokoya Foundation Lecture, entitled “The Imperative of Quality Education for Nigeria’s Transformation”, Nigeria must continue to compete with the best worldwide.
“With quality education and a responsive, responsible and committed government, we can recreate and improve on our glorious past and fulfil our manifest destiny of being the leader of Africa and the black world. Yes, we can do it and by the grace of God, we shall”.
May the heavens accept his patriotic soul!
•Lanre Idowu is Editor-in-Chief of Media Review