PROF. SIYAN OYEWESO: THE MARK OF A SCHOLAR, UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATOR AND MENTOR
The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr. – Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)
It was the Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) who once said: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Carlyle's thoughts above wouldn't have meant anything save for the fact that it was to tell the significant essence of great men in any society. His argument based on that great work of history On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History was premised on the fact that the rise of world civilisation we know today was but the actions of heroes. Heroes are great men who did extraordinary things. They are exceptional in their dealings with society and have always had their names ingrained on the sands of time. You know a hero or great man by the positive legacies he left behind. It is no wonder therefore; why people take time to study such individuals because their lives revolved around making their society, no more, no less, a better place.
I was a pioneer student in the Ikire Campus of Osun State University, Osogbo (UNIOSUN) when the university kicked off in 2007. Attempting to secure admission into a relatively new yet unknown university as this was a risk I had taken despite being admitted in one of the older universities in Ondo State. A university that had claimed to have mounted world class facilities, deployed first class academics, one of the brightest governing councils and senate, permanent structures across six campuses or colleges among others, to hit the ground running seemed to me a university that was not only serious but ready to hold its own in a country where the university system was fast decaying. I had passed through a very rigorous post-UME test which came in form of a long essay coupled with an oral interview which pointed to a university that showed how serious it was in terms of selecting the best brains as pioneers. Having successfully passed both test and oral interviews, I resumed sometime in September as a student of English and International Studies.
Sooner had I started receiving lectures when I and about 30 of us in the same class some weeks later were quickly transferred to the Department of History and International Studies. I had wanted to know why I in particular was abruptly moved from my choice of study to one I was never familiar with and never wished to study in the first instance. This would bring me on a collision course with the pioneer Provost, Ikire Campus of UNIOSUN, one Professor Siyan Abdul-Gafar Oyeweso. All pleas to allow me return to my previous department proved abortive. He would, however, keep saying that I will one day come back to appreciate him for sending me to the department of history and international studies rather than my preferred choice, a statement and action I would truly forever be grateful for.
Today, I work as a highly rated publicist for a multi-billion dollar oil and gas company in Abuja. I had studied history, why would I be working as a publicist, people may ask? The answer to this is not far-fetched. Apart from diverse knowledge historians are known to exhibit, studying under the unique tutelage and mentorship of Prof. Oyeweso was a rare privilege. I could recall vividly his first class and course under him, Culture History of Africa where I learnt a wide range of evolutionary history of African societies. It was a class which till date remains one of my favourites. Right there, our relationship blossomed. I had been taught Military in African Politics, Philosophy of History, Special Paper I and II among other interesting courses that shaped my perception about local and global politics. The way and manner Prof. Oyeweso imbibed in us academic knowledge remains worthy of mention. It was with a special and unique professorial touch lacking today in most Nigerian universities that we all later became proud and respected historians. Prof. Oyeweso's firm grasp of diverse fields of study in the humanities turned a rare gift I would come to emulate. This he brought to bear in all of his classes. It was under him we first knew about the Martinique-born political theorist and revolutionary thinker, Franz Fanon whose struggles led to Algerian independence through his violent propositions against the French. Under the course Revolutionary Wars in Africa, we got to understand the very nature of colonial struggles among African people and how each movement yielded the positive declaration of independence in most parts of the continent between the 50s and 60s. I would understand through him that Portuguese rule in Africa ended in 1974 only because Portugal had also been swallowed by a revolution.
Prof. Oyeweso, beyond the classroom, meant quite a lot to many of us. He was not only a mentor, but an avowed disciplinarian. He never condoned disrespect to authority or acts of indolence. That is not to say there were no available channels for us students to express most of our grievances. The Student Colloquium he always anchored held at least once every semester provided viable interaction and debate, in the absence of a student union at the time, between staff and students on a wide range of issues bothering us. While most were resolved, others remained pending due to bureaucratic bottlenecks. These sorts of engagements, once again lacking in most universities today, created an avenue for peaceful resolution of disputes and allowed an atmosphere of cordiality throughout my student year. This idea was of course credited to Prof. Oyeweso and the many think-tanks that UNIOSUN was endowed with at the time.
I could recall how he always impressed it on us that education and character go hand in hand without which a student remained superficial. Many of us today have exhibited in our different places of work and abode and also in our thoughts, deeds and actions such simple life lesson which we mostly owe to him. For many who know the State of Osun too well, a town like Ikire 9 to 10 years ago was nothing but an abode of dodo-Ikire. It was a town people rarely knew existed. The emergence of UNIOSUN, Ikire Campus would however come to put Ikire on the world map. Remarkably, the amiable relationship between town and gown in Ikire was cordial in that students not only patronised the emergent landlords in the town but also helped to drive a once poor economy into a boom. This would not have been practicable without the avid linkages Prof. Oyeweso set on track with a wide section of the Ikire populace ranging from the traditional ruler, the Alakire of Ikire to religious leaders, the local government Chairmen, local vigilante groups and the who is who in Ikire. It is on record that Ikire campus has since inception never recorded any form of acrimony between town and gown unlike elsewhere.
During the 2008/2009 and 2009/2018 session, we embarked on an educational trip to Ghana. This trip was aimed at exposing us to the tourist attractions in Ghana and a number of other historical sites like the popular Elmina castle. The trip was initiated by Prof. Oyeweso who felt, beyond the theoretical narrations in class, we needed to see some of these monuments and historical sites Ghana was endowed with. The trip not only came to broaden our horizon educationally but also placed a special attachment with us towards the effects of slavery of our people by Europeans.
For a new university, it was believed by many that we may never get the much needed accreditation by the NUC because UNIOSUN was still evolving. Being positive minded and a go-getter, Prof. Oyeweso hit the ground running. Between my very first semester and the last, each and every one of us was tutored by first class lecturers drawn across first generation universities and scholars from Ivy-League universities abroad. There came international scholars like Insa Nolte of Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, Regennia Williams from Cleveland State University, USA; Vincent Harribaren from University of Leeds, Jendele Hungbo from University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Chidozie Okoro from University of Cape Coast, Ghana and Dr. Akin Oyetade from School of Oriental and African Studies SOAS, London. Back home, Ikire had the privilege of tapping from the well of knowledge of such outstanding scholars as Professors Akinjide Osuntokun, Femi Osofisan, Ayodeji Olukoju, Biola Odejide, Diji Aina, Charles Quacker Dokubo and Kunle Lawal (late), Victor Osaro Edo and Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN). While some came to deliver epochal lectures and seminars to wet our academic appetite, others remained for as much as two to three sessions, teaching and giving us the best knowledge offered.
With such rich calibre of scholars mounted in Ikire Campus, and other enviable structures, the College was given full accreditation of its four Programmes in June 2010 by the NUC accreditation team who were very much impressed by what they saw and met on ground. Remarkably, Ikire Campus will be the only College in all of the six campuses of UNIOSUN to attain that feat in the 2010 Programme Accreditation Exercise. This would not have been achieved without the personal sacrifice and painstaking efforts of the Provost, Prof. Oyeweso and support of the Vice-Chancellor and Staff. It is worthy to note that this accreditation, without its success, would have denied 92 out of the original 115 pioneer students of the College the opportunity to serve in the following year's national youth service programme.
Prof. Oyeweso's contributions to the growth and development of not only Ikire Campus but also the University as a whole remain indubitable. As one of the university's founding fathers, he helped built the university from the scratch and turned it into an enviable university which has grown in leaps and bounds today. His penchant for academic excellence and love for the university left resounding achievements and legacies that include the construction of 25 offices, 88 toilets, 2 libraries, Provost's Chalet, 6-Room Studio Apartments, one building dedicated to ICT, 120-seater one Language Laboratory, Communication Studio, one 300-seater library and a twin Lecture Theatre. Aside these, Prof. Oyeweso with staff of the university initiated a number of co-curricular cum educational programmes like Students Inter-Collegiate Competitions (debate, essay writing and football) which Ikire Campus won at all levels and helped set up sociable organisations like Ikire Creative Arts Club, Ikire Campus Joint Press Club, UNIOSUN Cultural Troupe, Ikire end of year get-together among others. Interestingly, Prof. Oyeweso chaired the Committee that produced the UNIOSUN Anthem.
One could go on and on, however, one of the most resounding legacies of Prof. Oyeweso is the mentorship he provided most of us even after graduation. While some of us, soon after our compulsory service year, went on to work in both public and private sectors of the economy, others pursued one form of postgraduate degree programmes or the other. It is instructive to note that Ikire Campus would be the first College since the graduation of the university's pioneer set to produce its first Masters Degree holder in person of Miss Oluwafisayo Fatima Abdul. Miss Abdul was a 2011 graduate of the Department of English and International Studies, Ikire Campus who bagged on the 17th of November, 2013 an M.A in Global Media and Communication at the Coventry University, United Kingdom. Since this enviable feat, other Alumnus of the College has also graduated in one course or the other across universities both in Nigeria and abroad. This writer on the other hand intends to enrol for his PhD this year, having earlier bagged an M.A in History.
Wherever most of us are today, we owe our success largely to UNIOSUN and the diverse number of teaching and non-teaching staff that dot the university throughout our period in the university. They moulded us into thoroughbreds and individuals who could hold their own anywhere. If the success of Ikire campus could be talked about quite a lot with envy, it is because few people took the pain to drive it to where it is today. Their sacrifices should therefore, not go in vain. Their sweat should not be for nothing. They should, rather than vilified, be appreciated. Thomas Carlyle was not wrong when he said no great man lives in vain. Prof. Oyeweso for us is a great scholar and man. He must be accorded all the dignity a scholar and great man deserves.
Written by Raheem Oluwafunminiyi.