His eclectic academic background is an attestation of a man who is ahead of his time. At a relative young age, he burrows into the circle of Nigerian scholars. From primary school to the university level, he shone brilliantly winning laurels. After completing his doctorate degree at 37, he became a professor at 45. Perhaps, the icing on cake was when Prof. Mahfouz Adebola Adedimeji was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Ahman Pategi University in 2019, becoming one of the youngest university administrators in Nigeria. In this interview with Funke Olaode,
the Osun State-born scholar recounts his odyssey into academics.
Can we have an insight into your background?
Iam Professor Mahfouz Adebola Adedimeji. I was born in Iwo to the family of Shaykh Ahmad Mahaliy Adedimeji, one of the leading Islamic scholars of Yorubaland at the time. My mother was Khadijah Abeje, daughter of a famous business tycoon. As expected, I was exposed early to Islamic education. I started my primary education at the age of five, when it was ascertained by the Head Mistress of Roman Catholic Mission Primary School, Ile Idisin, Iwo, that my fingers, on crossing my arm on my head, could touch my ear. A year earlier, I cried when my older siblings went to school, I was taken to school for enrollment but I was disqualified. Going to school wasn’t as exciting as wanting to go. Nevertheless, I had a terrific experience.
How would you describe your growing up?
Growing up in Iwo in the late 70s and 80s was a mixed grill of sweet, sour and stale experiences. It was sweet because I grew up within a large family, including my father’s relatives who were living with us. It was also partly sour as I was often bullied being the youngest in each class but it was a crime for a child to be reported to Baba. He considered it embarrassing for his child to be involved in a brawl. I didn’t like it. I remember the day I couldn’t take the shenanigans of a bully any longer and I fought right outside our house. I didn’t know how I even managed to beat the boy, who was bigger than I, and I was hailed. That victory made some bullies to back off afterwards. It ingrained in me the belief that God would always fight for me if I am right.
What about schooling?
With modesty, I have had a fulfilling academic journey by the grace of God. After my primary education at Saint Mary’s Grammar School, Iwo, Osun State between 1985-1991, I proceeded to the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, for my first degree and Masters’ degree in English language. I eventually obtained a Ph.D. English Language in 2010. I also obtained Fulbright FLTA Certificate at the International Institute of Education, New York in 2006. By the special grace of God, I have been privileged to enjoy scholarships; winning prizes. For instance, I won the Best Graduating Student, Departmental Prizes 1997/1998 Session, Modern European Languages, University of Ilorin, Ilorin 1999 Osun State Scholarship Award 1994, Best Arts Student Prize, Saint Mary’s Grammar School (SMGS), Iwo 1991 amongst others. Looking back, I couldn’t have done this without the support of my parents, mentors and my teachers who believe in me. I am eternally grateful.
How would you say parental influence has shaped your life trajectory?
Enormously. My father only had standard six but was well grounded as an Islamic scholar. He also insisted on excellence. I wouldn’t know if it was a threat or encouragement that if I didn’t come first in my class at the end of primary education, he wouldn’t support my secondary education. Towards the end of my secondary education, he said if I didn’t make my WAEC result at a sitting, that would be the end. I made it and he had to support my university education. My first JAMB UME form was obtained for me by my elder brother, Barr Adam Adedimeji, who has always been encouraging me tremendously. My immediate elder brother, the late Dr. Abdul Hafeez Adedimeji was also a positive influence.
Prof, have you always been a gifted child? When did you realise that you were indeed a ‘special kid’?
Ah, that’s a generous compliment. The truth is that I haven’t really been extraordinary. I wasn’t also a special kid or a genius. I think what applies more is what Thomas Edison said, “If we did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” I do what I have to do and the results are fantastic. Having had a solid academic background, I aspired to be a scholar. Yet, I haven’t, like most people, been able to do all I am capable of doing but I am gratified that I enjoy God’s grace.
Has it been your childhood dream to study Language or it is by accident?
All I wanted was to be knowledgeable and educated. I left the Science class as I felt I wasn’t interested in being a medical doctor that was being drummed into my ears. Then, I became inspired by our English teacher, Mr Tunde Adedotun, who joined my school when we were in SS1. I belong to the first set of 6-3-3-4 system of education in the old Oyo state. Mr. Adedotun combined competence and performance. He liked me and related closely with us. I initially wanted to study Mass Communication in Lagos but I later settled for English in Ilorin.
What excites you about this subject that many dread because of its technicality?
Being our official language, many people are comfortable with English, I think. It isn’t Chinese or Arabic requiring a new system of writing. It is exciting to know the inner workings of a language that billions of people work with and then penetrate the thoughts of men. It is also exciting to know that the most important language in the world is one’s specialisation. Though to many people, English is just grammar but it is a wide subject that straddles various areas in which language is used. By the time I was in 100 level, I had determined to study English and before I graduated, I had published my first book. Five years afterwards, I was a lecturer and media practitioner rolled into one. As an undergraduate, I founded a press club, wrote a lot of poems and articles and organised tutorials for my mates and junior course mates. I knew what I could do.
At below 50, you are an achiever as you are evidently upwardly mobile as revealed in your profile. You have done this and that, as an author, co-author, editor of journals, etc. You seem to be constantly on the move. What is responsible for that?
Life moves on, really. My attitude is based on the life philosophy of carpe diem. This is a Latin expression that means “seize the day” to which I add “because tomorrow is not certain”. Though the expression was first used by Horace to mean that one should enjoy life when one can, it has more meaning beyond the hedonistic interpretation. The truth is that life is short and you can just do the best you can when you can. Incidentally, this philosophy was reinforced by my interactions with mentors like Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede and Prof. R. D. Abubakre who I used to see to work as if life depends on it. So, one only lives here once and one owes life a duty of leaving one’s footprints on the sands of time, so that one would not be the proverbial snake that crosses the rock without leaving a trace.
At a relative young age, you belong to the circle of Nigerian scholars. You became a Professor at 45 and now a Vice-Chancellor of an institution. What is your driving force or better put your staying power?
My driving force is partly the conviction that there is no time. Our students used to say “Aye o po,’’ meaning there is no sufficient time when you don’t want to do anything. But the true meaning of it can be found in the fact that we shall pass through this life once and whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. I am also driven by what Saul Maby said when he defeated the younger 41-year old Larry Barnes in New York years ago: “You live right and you do right and blessings will be bestowed upon you.”
What are your agenda for this great institutions that will place it on the global map?
I thank THISDAY because I had the opportunity of outlining part of my agenda in an interview published on April 7, 2021 titled “Ahman Pategi University needs competitive researchers to attract funds.” Universities are established for teaching, research and community service. My plan centres around providing quality teaching and making students have fantastic learning experiences. It is about galvanising the academic staff and students to be globally competitive academically and making the university a beacon that will further illuminate Kwara state, Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. As a matter of fact, I articulated my agenda in “Vision 5:25:50:500” which means that in five years, God willing, I plan to make APU one of the best 25 universities in Nigeria, one of the topmost 50 in Africa and one of the foremost 500 in the world. Of course, I anchored the actualisation of that vision on three factors that are critical to making universities world-class: concentration of talents, abundant resources and favourable governance. By having the right students and staff, getting sufficient resources to operate a 21st century university and being allowed to run the university it be should run, I know the sky is just the beginning. But when these three conditions are lacking, the vision remains a vision.
Can you mention your low and high moments?
I have put all my low moments behind me and concentrated on the exciting ones. You said I became a professor at 45 but my plan was to be a Prof at 40 like some before me. But you plan, Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners. Of course, I have had many high moments when I won/co-won the research cum conference grants of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), TETFund, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) among other strings of accomplishments.
When was your best moment?
I had best moments, not one, when I won the Fulbright fellowship to the US; when my daughter was born after waiting for about seven years followed by a set of twins; when I got my PhD at a record time despite being immersed in other university assignments; when my professorship was announced and when I was appointed Vice-Chancellor. How many can one count in the multi-layered dentition of ‘Adipele’?
Recently, it was widely reported that you had a clash with the Speaker of the House of Representatives. What actually happened?
You know the media and sensationalism. In his The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown actually refers to the media as “the right arm of anarchy.” I canvassed a return to a unicameral legislature arguing that ours is the most expensive legislature. Journalists felt it was a good angle to engage him. He had a different opinion, which was fair. It was a contest of ideas, not of personalities. There wasn’t any clash.
The Nigerian educational sector (particularly the ivory tower) is living on the past glory with many clamouring for a total overhaul of the system. What is your view on this?
I think the Nigerian education system, especially the ivory tower is good but the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. We seem to be suffering from Xenophilia, love of the foreign. We don’t usually appreciate what we have, be it education or goods. Our medical doctors are some of the most sought after internationally. Our lawyers trained by our universities are so good that at a point we were providing some African countries legal and jurisprudential services up to the level of Attorney General. We are the intellectual capital of Africa and those we denigrate in Nigeria are honoured abroad. Overhauling is welcome as there is a big room for improvement at the levels of welfare, conditions of service, infrastructure, quality, access and so on. The NUC is doing a marvelous job as a regulatory agency by ensuring that there are minimum academic standards. JAMB is also demonstrating impressive candour. The good can be better.
On a personal note, for how long have you been married and how did you meet your wife?
I have been married since February 2002 to my amazing wife. We both attended the same secondary school in Iwo. I knew her when she was younger. My initial motivation was to bring her closer in a wide institutional environment. I was her senior and Senior Boy in secondary school.
What lessons has life taught you?
Life has taught me 1001 lessons. Life has taught me that hard work pays; that nothing lasts forever; that human beings are deceptive; that patience, prayers, persistence are potent powers; that he who follows a successful person will also succeed, that honesty is the best legacy, that proper preparation prevents poor performance.