My first real encounter with Prof. Tekena N. Tamuno was in 1998 through an article written by the highly cerebral Professor of Virology, Tam David West, for “This Day” newspaper. In the article, “On winning war and winning peace”, published on June 28, 1998 (p.3), Prof. West made several compelling allusions apart from citing a galaxy of world political and opinion leaders to buttress his points. I wondered then as a final year undergraduate student how so much information could be packed in a single article as brilliantly done by Prof. Tam David West.
Of all names, including those of Charles Darwin, Hebert Spencer, Richard Morris, Thomas Hobbes, Julius Caesar, Horace, Aristotle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther and authors of books on the Nigerian Civil War like Olusegun Obasanjo (My Command), Ben Gbulie (The Fall of Biafra), Alexander A Modiebo ( The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafra War), among others, evoked in the article, it was that of Prof. Takena Tamuno that struck me most. This was due to the timeless profundity of the words quoted from him.
Prof. David West recalled that after Prof. Tamuno was forced to “throw in the towel for the statutory second tenure or term as Vice-Chancellor”, he delivered his valedictory on November 17, 1979 as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan where he was concerned that “All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, Nigerians kill them all.” The words stuck to my skin.
His submission always haunts my sub-consciousness as Nigerians have a penchant for “killing” all things bright and beautiful, including the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola and Chief Bola Ige. A recent example is that of the character assassination campaign launched against the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari. I know quite a number of “bright and beautiful” personalities that Nigerians sought to “kill” one way of the other.
Fortunately, I had a physical encounter with Prof. Tamuno in April 2012. I was a member of, and Secretary to, the Organsing Committee of the 2012 Annual Lecture of the Nigerian Academy of Letters that the University of Ilorin hosted between April 25 and 27. The lecture, delivered by the late Prof. Nur Alkali on April 26 was on “Nigeria’s Road to Nationhood”. It was so nice to have an opportunity of interacting with Prof. Tamuno, a Fellow of the Academy, and serving other big names in the Nigerian academic community.
My last personal encounter with this intellectual Titan was when he came to the University of Ilorin again last year, precisely March 24, 2014 for the opening of the 8th International Conference and General Assembly of the Society for Peace Studies and Practice. At the event, Prof. Tamuno was applauded for laying a solid foundation for the University of Ilorin as the first Principal of the then newly established University College in 1975.
In his remarks, he said the University of Ilorin was fine in 1975 but it wasn’t he who created the beauty that he could behold in the University. He urged all stakeholders to strive more to even make the University more beautiful. That was his humility.
I was privileged to discuss with him at a more personal level and it was so great to drink from his fountain of knowledge and experience. His gracefulness was striking, his words were soft and carefully chosen and his ambience was peaceful. I can therefore confirm what Prof. Francis Egbokhare said of him: “For a man of his kind of stature, an intellectual and an administrator, he was unbelievably accessible to the younger ones, unlike others who would strut like Emperors. If you were with him, you may forget you were not with your age mate.”
To learn of his death while attending the African Peace Research and Education Association (AFPREA) conference last Monday (April 13, 2015) in Abuja was really devastating. Our last encounter was at a peace conference and I was to learn of his death at another peace conference. He was a man who lived for peace and radiated peace in all he did.
Born on January 28, 1932, in Okrika, Rivers States, and educated in Nigeria, United Kingdom and United States of America, Prof. Tamuno was an embodiment of all the qualities of a true scholar: truthful, honest, humble, deep, rigorous, versatile, humane, prolific and disciplined. A former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, he was the Chairman of the Presidential Panel on National Security and the Panel on Policing Nigeria Project.
Adieu, man of peace; Prof. T.N.T., rest in peace!