“Man becomes discourse after his demise/ Be a good discourse for him who observes” – Arab poet
It was as if I was hit by a missile and I could feel my heart catch shock waves as my jaw dropped. Prof. Felix Ayotunde Oladele was a virtuous soul for whom everyone had utmost respect. Though we interacted mostly officially, I knew the late Professor of Plant Biology as a gentleman par excellence, a through-bred scholar, an award-winning PhD supervisor, an academic extraordinaire, a deep source of inspiration and a proverbial full tank that made the least noise.
My first acquaintance with Prof. Oladele was between June 8 and 11, 2010 when the University organised a retreat for the revision of its Strategic Plan at Whispering Palms Resort, Badagry, Lagos. I served in two or three sub-committees during the exercise including the one on Environmental Policy with Prof. Oladele as Chairman. I found working with him very rewarding as his depth and humility struck a chord in me.
My superlative impression of this magnetic personality would receive a seal of authority later in the year when the University inaugurated the Unilorin Anti-corruption and Transparency Unit (ACTU) on December 20, 2010. As part of his address on the occasion, the then Vice-Chancellor, the well-known Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede (OFR), had said that “everyone should be a soldier in the war against corruption in the country because the consequence of corruption is an acid rain that wreaks havoc indiscriminately.” Now, the consequence of corruption he talked about is grinding us to a halt with long queues at filling stations, sky-rocketing prices of goods and services and the entire mess some past vagabonds in power had made of the country.
But lest I digress, the former Vice-Chancellor found no one to be his General in the “War against Corruption” than a man of transparent honesty and unimpregnable integrity, Prof. Oladele. The appointment was thus an attestation of his character and quality as such a position required more than just academic qualification.
As a pioneer, Prof. Oladele laid a solid foundation for ACTU upon which his successor, Prof. A. O. Ogunlela, built such that when the former American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Walter Carrington, came to deliver our 29th Convocation Lecture on Monday, October 21, 2013, ACTU reflected in his lecture. As I noted in “Carrington’s tribute to Unilorin,” which appeared on this page on November 4, 2013, Ambassador Carrington said, “I congratulate you, Vice-Chancellor Ambali, for the University’s Anti-Corruption and Monitoring Unit. Your address on the occasion of the Public Presentation of the ACTU Handbook two months ago is one of the best that I have read. With your indulgence, I would like to repeat a few of your words which cannot be heard too often….” In essence, ACTU attracted international attention and acclaim to the University.
It was in acknowledgement of Prof. Oladele’s personality that he received such a huge support of the University of Ilorin Senate when he was overwhelmingly elected Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the 226th meeting of Senate on Friday, May 25, 2012 consequent upon which he assumed office as DVC (Research Innovation and Technology) on June 19, 2012, a position he meritoriously occupied till 2014.
Give it to him, Prof. Oladele had this conviviality and affableness around him that always made you feel secure. Always armed with a disarming smile, he would greet you with respect and tap your hand playfully in a friendly manner. The opening words of the University anthem, “In love, peace and harmony, we shall build the tower” actually characterised him as he was generally loving, peaceful and harmonious. He was so angelic in demeanor.
It was such a rare icon, versatile scientist and academic role model that we lost last Wednesday. With Prof. Oladele’s death, again, the academic world, nay humanity at large, has lost one of its finest and brightest members. Yet, our consolation lies in the fact he lived well and he still continues to live in the hearts of several thousands of those he had positively influenced, including this writer.
May the Almighty God give the family, the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdul Ganiyu Ambali (OON), and the entire University community the fortitude to bear this huge loss.
Adieu, Prof. Felix Ayotunde Oladele, the pure soul! “May your gentle soul rest in peace!”