The Ahmadu Bello University that We Attended, By Jide Omotinugbon

We used to say back then (and I know they did also atIbadan) that there were only two universities in Nigeria: ABU Zaria and all the others combined! I just wonder if we could still say that about of our beloved ABU today.

I did not miss the headline of PREMIUM TIMES that was flashed on the demise of the foremost Nigerian scholar at Oxford, Professor Abdulraufu Mustapha. The name brought a whole lot of memories of the good old days at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Like the late professor, who taught and introduced us to the political economy of Nigeria, we were lucky to have also met other erudite scholars. We had Professor Bala Usman of the History department, Professor Femi Odekunle (who used to head the Sociology Department and taught us criminal sociology). There were also Professor Wilmot (the Jamaican later deported by the Babangida administration) of the same department, who taught political sociology and Professor Okello Oculi (a Ugandan) who asked us to review Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa in his introductory political science class. We also had Dr. Yusuf Bangura (a Sierra Leonean and foremost Marxist scholar.) The list is unending. We also had conservative scholars but they were not the ones that made the FASS “tick” back then. That essentially was the Ahmadu bello University that we knew. Not the one that produced the likes of a “A je kun iya ni o je!” joker.

I do not know of any student that would pass through a number of or all the famed scholars above and not be able to do some critical thinking on any issue. The beauty of it then was that we could cross departments to choose elective courses, which saw me, a political science major, taking courses in the departments of sociology, history and international relations (a sub of political science back then).

I remember asking Professor (then simply Mr.) Mustapha of his views on the seemingly selective killings by the Nzeogwu-led officers who carried out the first military coup de tat. His answer was that he had his own opinion about this but he would not want to saddle me with it, that he already gave us the information about the situation then, and as scholars, we were supposed to make our own deductions.

Dr. Femi Odekunle had this myth and/or aura about him, which made one always wish to hang around him to hear what he had to say on issues. He was the first lecturer I ever saw who would come to class and light up a cigarette! We were regaled (unverified) with the stories of how he carried out his doctoral research degree in criminal sociology by staying in prison with condemned prisoners for a long duration. Maybe it was true; otherwise, how else would he have survived the Abacha gulag with all the atrocities he allegedly faced in prison then?

The political sociology class taught by Dr. Patrick Wilmot was always full. He told stories of how he had adviced the then military administration of Murtala/Obasanjo not to waste money setting up any panel to look into which companies were doing business with the then apartheid government in South Africa. He provided them with the list and I think that started the wrath of successive administrations with him, which I believe eventually led to his deportation. Who did not know that those controlling the economic and military power were also the ones doing business with the then apartheid regime? I remember this story in particular because as he finished telling it, a uniformed military personnel showed up in front of the class. You could cut the silence with a knife. He later came back in to tell us that everything was okay and that the officer brought a letter of invitation from Jaji to deliver a lecture. One more encounter with Wilmot. After making a tutorial presentation in his office one day, a student who happened to be a lieutenant in the military then alleged that I must have presented a copied job. Wilmot prodded him to ask me any question regarding the presentation because the art of copying and knowing what to copy was an intellectual thing in itself. The guy apologised there and later in private. There were insinuations at that time that both Odekunle and Wilmot refused to be conferred with their professorial titles by the then vice chancellor, Professor Ango Abdullai because they did not consider him intellectually and morally upright enough to confer such title on them. One is still not sure how true this information was.

Professor Okello Okuli, originally from Uganda, operates from another planet. Students used to come from the other departments (as far as from the Kongo campus) to attend his classes and listen to his lectures. I know because I brought one such friend from the business administration department all the way from the Kongo campus. Okuli also organised the OAU mock summit that took us to Bayero University and University of Jos campuses. The mock summit entailed us representing each country in Africa, writing speeches and acting as the head of state or president (as the case maybe) of the assigned country. The most flowery representations back then were of Libya and Burkina Faso, with those acting this out coming dressed in the full military regalia, akin to those of Muammar Gaddafi and Thomas Sankara respectively. I happened to represent the in-coming chair of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) then (now the African Union) settling issues between feuding countries. It was fun and at the same time rigorous and academically challenging. Dr. Yusuf Bangura, the foremost Marxist scholar from Sierra Leone, taught us all the theories of Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, from where we were able to coin our own language, ending in all kinds of “isms.”

Other well-regarded conservative scholars then included Professor Amdi and Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who was in and out as the director general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and the foreign affairs minister for the short-lived Buhari/Idiagbon administration.

I graduated in 1986 during Ango Abdullai’s “only four people died” infamy. Why do I still remember all these that happened over thirty years ago without opening any book? That was to show the kind of education some of us were lucky to have. The idea of this piece on our beloved ABU first came to mind during the “famed” senator’s certificate imbroglio, when a job that could be and should have been handled by a middle level officer in the academic affairs unit had the whole vice chancellor going to the congress to deliver this in full televised public glare! I just imagine what the response of any of the above named scholars would be.

We used to say back then (and I know they did also atIbadan) that there were only two universities in Nigeria: ABU Zaria and all the others combined! I just wonder if we could still say that about of our beloved ABU today.

Jide Omotinugbon, jideo18@yahoo.com, writes from Louisville, KY, USA.

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