FELL A GREAT OAK TREE: A YEAR REMEMBERANCE OF PROF. OLAFENWA AYENI
Life is not about the years but the life in the years; and the dead can only be gauged by the fullness of life; life is but what you make out of it, it is a continuous system where mortality reigns. Also, as the sages say: life is not about how long but about how well. This aphorism can be used to qualify the life and times of one of Nigeria's acclaimed Professor of Mathematics, an erudite scholar, distinguished educationist, a philanthropist and an Omoluabi par excellence; who within the space of 64 years, had come, seen, conquered and left in a blaze of glory.
A year ago, the death bell tolled for one man and in the case, the LAUTECH Community and its environ was swathed in tears when the news filtered in that the most revered Senate of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, had lost one of its prominent baobab trees, in the person of Prof. (Chief) Reuben Olafenwa Ayeni- a reputable Professor of African Diaspora. He passed on after a brief illness, on September 30, 2012, at the age of 64; it was a day darkness seemed to have descended at noon in the University community.
He was interred on the Nov. 30, 2012.
The encomiums and tributes that greeted his glorious exit and the celebrations witnessed even in death particularly the presence of people from all walks of life, were resounding testimonies of the life and times of this great man. It is on the face of his sterling qualities that the tributes at his passage came down in avalanche.
Going through them is like going through all pages of books at the national library. The relevant factors in the compendium of celebration of a quintessential life spanned from his brilliance of disposition and academics, exemplary scholarship, an inimitable skill in administration, friend of the everyday people, creative lecturer, devoted and unblemished public servant and so on and so forth.
In his lifetime, Prof. Ayeni epitomized the ideal scholar:
hardworking, dedicated to scholarship, knowledgeable in other disciplines, uncompromising in standard and principles, progressive minded, nationalist to the core and striving to achieve excellence in whatever he did at all times. He was simply a scholar par excellence and a model to students, scholars, scientists, nationalists, progressives and administrators.
Prof. Ayeni, begat June, 19, 1948, of Owode-Ketu descent, Yewa North LGA of Ogun State; He attended the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, in 1973; and left for Cornwell University, United States for a doctorate programme; got his PhD when he was 29 years old, and later became a Professor of Mathematics in 1990.
He was a prodigy from the word go; and there are many things that still stand out about his personality even in death and which need to be stated for posterity. He was once the Head of Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho; he was also once the Dean, Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences; later, he became the Pioneer Dean, Students' Affairs of LAUTECH. He was the longest serving Dean of Students' Affairs, LAUTECH.
Prof. Ayeni was the former President, Mathematics Association of Nigeria; the Chairman of the Committee of Deans and Provosts. He also chaired the panel set up by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to provide curriculum on Mathematics for primary and secondary schools, which was later transformed into syllabus presently being used by both WAEC and NECO.
Professor Ayeni's academic as well as administrative contributions in and out of the university system are qualitatively enormous. He maintained the tradition of vibrant scholarship that was ideologically based and theoretically grounded while remaining connected to the diminuendos of the Nigerian society; He was among the few scientists who worked on herbal cure for sickle cell.
He was an active member of several national and international academic bodies; a member of both the commission on History of Mathematics in Africa, as well as American Mathematical Society; a visiting Professor to many Nigerian Universities and also was at various times a visiting scholar to many African countries and beyond; with so many scientific publications in respected National and International journals to his credit.
Prof. Ayeni breathes academia and lives the ivory tower; a Mentor to many, a father of the Students, a great Mathematician. He was like a great oak tree that has offered shade to many scientists, and indeed a prestigious lake that offered water to several thirsty persons both in Nigeria and abroad. He was a unifying force in the mathematical community in Nigeria, and the Big Daddy to young Mathematicians in this country. Prof. Reuben Olafenwa Ayeni, on the community level was a High Chief; the Odofin of Ketu-land, Ogun State.
As a lecturer, he was a pillar of support for many students, as many students would take fares from him for transport to their hostels; he was also a great stabilizer of LAUTECH Community during Students' and Staffs' loggerheads. This is the juncture where both the warm and cold spring of life made the human mix in him to become both unique and a rarity and made her generally acceptable, admired and loved by all, most especially the students, as he's fondly referred to by the students as BABA EWE.
The death of Prof. Ayeni was significantly a harvest of personal loss to scores of people around the world, particularly in Nigeria and the immediate LAUTECH Community. Nigeria and the World at large had certainly lost one of its most prolific sons and most resourceful persons it has ever had; a scholar of immense repute whose contributions would for a long time remains to benefit humanity.
The departure of this patriarch of substance (is) a monumental loss.
No one can replace him: who will fit in Ayeni's shoe; how many will replace his committed attitude to work; who can equal his knowledge of the workings of governments in Nigeria and internationally; who can match his capacity to initiate quite simple solutions to apparently complex problems; who has the intellectual wherewithal to fill or reduce the size of the vacuum created by his loss, who can match his charisma, elegance, eloquence, oratory, courage and fearlessness; who will replace his enthusiasm towards students welfarism; who can spare his private earnings to extend help to others in need; begging for answer(s)!
To say he's missed is an understatement; to say that the students have not yet come to terms with his demise is to be economical with the truth. We all are despised for his loss, but we take solace in the recognition that he was a scholar who contributed immensely to scholarship through his publications in Nigeria and international journals, and taught thousands of students who are now leaders in today's society. As we continue to mourn Professor Olafenwa Ayeni's loss, May God continue to grant his gentle soul eternal repose; Amen.
Oluwatomilola Boyinde, TOMI'NIGERIA, PRO, Union of Campus Journalists, Lautech. [email protected], 08032434218, 22DC20FB.