By Mubarak Oladosu
A few weeks ago, the world of the well reputed University of Ilorin was bedazzled with a galaxy of new professors. Each of them, shinning at its brightest. All of them, radiating uncommon brilliance through their smiles. These were the people who made things happen in their study rooms, research fields and laboratories.
At that moment however, they could only watch excitedly, with the purity of a child’s soul, as a great thing happened to them all, simultaneously. They had reached the pinnacle of their academic careers and they were earning the ultimate reward for hard work as university lecturers. Nothing is greater in the career path of a University don than being appointed a professor. Nothing is truly better for that class of intellectuals. That is the climax, other appointments sit on the plateau of that climax.
The lecturers had risen from being members of their faculties to also being members of their University’s senate. Other appointments would follow but those would be like colourful icings on their cakes, but not the cake. They would be multiple-coloured feathers in the cap, never the cap itself. Being a Professor is the cake for a university don and it is the cap.
On account of his proximity to my world, one of those academic stars is the subject of this piece, and I have chosen him as a metaphor for the rest. Singling out Professor Mahfouz Adedimeji was an easy choice for me to make because I had spent more time with him than with any of the other shinning stars. He also belongs to my generation, and I had seen him pay tribute to his predecessor Profs.
My trouble however begins when I realised that I am effectively making an attempt to pay a master back in his own coin. That, certainly, is no easy enterprise to embrace, for how do you salute the master of salutations? Tell me, how does one pay tribute to a man whose pedigree, heritage and postulations are all direct tributes, I dare say tributaries as well, to divine creativity? For his success had been in the making, before he ever was; an apple he is that has not fallen far from the tree.
The first person bearing the name Mahfouz whom I will ever be aware of as a young literary enthusiast was the Egyptian Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz Adedimeji happens to be the second and that was at the twilight of the last century and millennium. He was one of the two fellow students who captured my imagination as a fresher at the University of Ilorin Mini Campus.
The first to literally bewitch me, was Wasiu Raji, now an Associate Professor at the Department of Geology and Mineral Sciences, University of Ilorin. I had watched Raji deliver a moving speech one fateful evening at the Aluta grounds of the buzzing Mini Campus. He articulated his points without a flaw that eve of a Student Union Government (SUG) presidential election. The debate was a thorough trouncing of his opponent. Indeed, the debate is better described as a walkover because his opponent could hardly stutter his words through. We all chorused, while harbouring no iota of doubt: B’o ti e di’bo, o ti wo’le (Even without casting your vote, you have won). But in that microcosmic contraption of this geographical experiment called Nigeria, though the worst didn’t happen, the best, as we came to realise at the end of that election, was also impossible. Some twenty years on, however, Associate Professor Wasiu Raji has had many greater wins which consign that experience to oblivion.
The second of those two model students who created a lasting impression on my nubile mind was Mahfouz Adedimeji. While I never encountered him personally, glowing words about his uncommon brilliance which were on the lips of other students inundated my consciousness. It was not until my career in Public Relations kicked off under him, that I realised that everything I ever heard about him on campus was true.
I had earlier been initiated into the practice of Public Relations under the prodigious playwright, poet and historian, Isiaka Aliagan, who headed what was then known as the Information Unit of the University of Ilorin, during my mandatory one-year national youth service. After the youth service, I would saunter into my former work place and help with some writing chores. I walked in one day and found a new man in charge. I was delighted that the man taking over from my kind-hearted boss was his partner as an author: Mahfouz Adedimeji. The new man in charge subsequently requested that I show up at the office more often.
One Tuesday morning in the September of 2008, I was having a nap when my phone rang and the Officer-in Charge of the University’s Information Unit asked me to resume daily. Fifteen months later, I received my appointment letter with the full compliments of emoluments. All that while, we were both the only editorial staff of Unilorin Bulletin and we were mandated to start publishing weekly. Work took its toll on my health but my boss paid with more. It wasn’t long for me to conclude that if Adedimeji were a star, he would certainly be the sun because those days were not the days of jaw-jaw with the national body of the academic staff union.
My boss, who was in his thirties, was the theatre commander in the frontiers of public policy and public opinion for the University. Although he was only armed with words, he melted icebergs of opposition and the climate under which the University operated changed favourably as we ultimately won the minds of Nigerians. The University has secured that ground till date as the institution remains the most sought-after Nigerian University. I did not only see my commanding officer shine brilliantly on countless occasions, I also felt him sear and scorch as well, as a boss in charge. I even saw the sun set on his face after troubled days at work and watched him rise to work again with the greatest of vigour and the most beautiful of smiles. He always eventually dismiss the most daunting of challenges with the wave of his hands.
In the heat of those battles, Adedimeji completed his PhD among other personal goals that he scored. At some point, I spent my weekends at his bohemian study as I assisted him in finding one piece of information or the other. I discovered that he pries on information and preys on knowledge. He is deeply religious and he was constantly working on his piety. Similarly, I thought of him as someone who while young as he was, was a father and a father figure to many. Until he told me, I never knew that the reward for hard work is more work. We were both lucky he didn’t commit manslaughter at the instance of that principle! I remember him informing me during the Association of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (AVCNU) conference, that in addition to our weekly bulletin, we had to publish a newsletter at the end of each of the two-day conference.
Over about a period of two decades, Professor Adedimeji grew and superintended over the newsroom and the classroom. He became a giant in the media and academia, while inevitably earning his fair share of fans, fanatics and critics alike. Now in his forties, this don has definitely established himself as a fledgling intellectual colossus whose prodigious output is enough to fulfil several worthy lifetimes. He is undoubtedly vast and versatile, without losing that substance, which is only guaranteed by erudition.
Apart from the intellectual effusions on his jaw dropping website, which ruminates on genres that vary like a rainbow mosaic, Adedimeji is to his University in this generation what ‘Bayo Lawal has been since the last generation. Little wonder that when Professor ‘Bayo Lawal was to choose a reviewer for his poetry collection entitled ‘’Music of the Muezzin’’, he found no one else fit enough for the task on that red-letter day, but Adedimeji. Following that feat, this Public Intellectual has emerged as what I like to describe as the written word equivalent of a university orator.
At the University of Ilorin, Adedimeji amplifies our joy when we win and celebrate, just as he calms our soul with soothing words whenever there is a reason to be pensive. On such occasions, when the winds arriving at our campus speak to the coldness of death, such as when we lost our pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Adedimeji took us on an excursion to the heroics of Professor Akinkugbe towards securing critical material and non-material assets which made the University become one. Upon the demise of a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, he reminded the University community that Professor Felix Oladele was a virtuous soul, and when Professor Hashir Abdulsalam similarly transited, Adedimeji made us feel as though celestial bodies mourned with us, in his reflection on the moon eclipse which coincided with the passage of the cleric-don. He similarly highlighted the indelible great works of art left behind by the inimitable Professor Ayo Akinwale just as he did when Mr. Doyin Mahmud, Unilorin Bulletin’s Editorial Board Chairman while he was in charge of the University’s Public Relations, died. Adedimeji also spoke our collective mind in his tributes to Professor P.O. Balogun of the Department of English and Miss Adedola Adepetu, his former student, when they crossed their Rubicon.
Well-schooled in native wisdom and the best of the traditions of the cradle continent, Professor Adedimeji’s description of the giants he celebrated were apt. “Dons of distinction” was how he described R. D. Abubakre and Y. A. Quadri. Temidayo Oladiji is certainly true to the description of “exemplary confluence of conviction and character” which he thinks of her. When it was Is-haq Oloyede’s turn, Adedimeji described him as “a man for all seasons”. Olu Obafemi was the one he called “a living legend” upon his retirement. Similarly, no one will disagree with Adedimeji that Zakariyau Oseni is “an outstanding scholar”. He also educated those who were hitherto not in-the-know that Liad Tella has been “a time-tested Titan”. As for his last word on A.G.A.S. Oladosu, he described him as “a man in a million”.
No doubt, Professor Mahfouz Adebola Adedimeji is flamboyant in intellection while frugal in letting his affluence make his statements. He is certainly not just like a morning star; he is also a diamond, in the University’s sky.
Mubarak Oladosu is a Principal Information Officer at the Directorate of Corporate Affairs, University of Ilorin.