FEMI ODEKUNLE (1943-2020)
By Abiodun Adeniyi
Like many others, Olufemi Odekunle, Nigeria’s first professor of criminology, public intellectual, administrator, and reasoner, has fallen to the pangs of COVID-19. He has been killed by the stupid pandemic. Here he was the other day, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, mixing, meeting, and greeting, charting, chatting, and cheering; and complete in his trademark sartorial elegance, highlighted with a corduroy pant, a smart top, and a bowler hat, portraying, once more, the image of the natty dresser.
There he was stepping hither and thither, over there and yonder, his back slightly plunging, in what somewhat reflected aging, but presented in the typically stylish Odekunle fashion. That was Odekunle, the scholar who was not just a fine cross between the town and the gown, but also the bridge between the social absence of the teacher, and the societal enthusiast. He is now gone, anyway, and forever too- and definitely only ahead of the rest of us. Life!?
I bumped into him in this hotel and tried to prostrate in the typical Yoruba way of revering an elder. “Common” he screamed, “Don’t do that. Remember, you are now a professor as well?” “There are professors of professors, Prof” I replied, and then we teased, and bantered, and parted, not knowing it was going to be the last. See!
I was privileged to be his student at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. His charge was Sociology, and then Criminology at the advanced stages. This was at the then Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. His colleagues in the same faculty were other famous scholars like Bala Usman, Patrick Wilmot, Eboh Mensah, Bjorn Beckman, Ibrahim Gambari, Yusuf Bangura, Mike and George Kwanashie, Mbulelo Nzamani, and much else.
It was in the days of strong ideological divisions between the left and the right, between the Marxist thinkers and the Capitalist protagonists. It was when the faculty was regarded as a ground for indoctrination, into the Marxist ideology, when a major change was inevitable, if the society was to progress. The feudal, blood sucking, capitalist elites were to be overthrown, in an impending revolution, for the liberation of the common man (the proletariats), and the rule of the majority-a classical form of textbook thinking, consistent with the teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin! This pedagogy gained national prominence when a certain General Abisoye Panel of Inquiry into the 1986 ABU student crisis eventually alleged that teachers were “teaching what they were not paid to teach”. Hahahaha !
In those days at the Faculty, teachers were divided along this ideology. You were of the left, or of the right. Those on the left were progressives, while those on the right were retrogressive. Students often aligned, as well. There were always seminars, workshops and talk shops, where Usman, Wilmot, Bangura, Beckman, and the rest will stimulate thoughts on the fact of change. While the socialist thinkers did their thing, Odekunle was literarily on his own.
His peculiarity soon became an attraction for students, who will frequently mill around him to hear him out. And trust him to never fail. Still in his trendy appearances, sometimes defined by an unusual left side placing of his belt knuckle, the teacher would tickle his young listeners with his variant of change, zeroing on a need for integration, for getting into the problematic system, and then effecting the desired change, through the prism of principles and vision.
While you listened to the robust arguments of the strict ideologues, you will also fancy the originality of his flavour, founded on independent thinking, irrespective of his minority status. He never minded he was occasionally called a bourgeois thinker, or a capitalist apologist (as the then Marxists Scholars will describe him), for his love of some good things-posh cars, natty dresses, and his beautiful wife, Rukayyat.
Odekunle was however not found wanting in his primary calling: he was similarly a star teacher, an excellent researcher, author, polemicist, and presenter. He had lots of publications as proof. He was a suitable match for everyone else, from his departure points. From that mix of differentiated thinkers, students emerged from that famous faculty, appreciating divergence, romanticizing change (from different worldviews), and somewhat groomed in the arts and the sciences of being and becoming.
Dying at 77 would seem old, if you imagine spiritual references, welcoming death at 70. But see: the next American president, Joe Biden, will be sworn in at 78. Nancy Pelosi is 80. Mitch McConnell is 78. Anthony Fauci is 78. Let’s come back home. Our president is 78. The great Wole Soyinka, co-founder of the Pirate Confraternity, where Odekunle was a proud member, is in his eighties. So is Olusegun Obasanjo. How about Chief Afe Babalola Chief Ayo Adebanjo, and Alhaji Tanko Yakassai? They are blessed in their nighties. These men are all still strong and productive.
What is more? Odekunle in the last few weeks was bright and bubbly, spirited and sparkling; and you could not have seen death around him. COVID-19 is here, though-and still vociferous, vicious, and virulent, and he has taken Odekunle away. This thinker could still have lived some more years, but for this virus. Shame! Sad! Hope no one else will fall to it? Pray! We might have to watch some more, for death is in the air, waiting in the wings to close eyes until eternity. Where should we run to? Oh, God! Please help your creations!
A biographical account notes Odekunle as having “conducted studies into virtually every aspect of crime-prevention and control in Nigeria and has about sixty (60) publications. He has attended and presented invited papers in about a hundred academic and policy conferences/seminars/workshops in Nigeria and abroad, about crime-prevention and control, corruption, security and related topics. He has made significant contributions in community service, having served the Federal Government in many committees, and has been a member of many international professional associations.
“In 1994 he was detained on allegation of participating in a coup plot but later found not guilty and acquitted. He has received many academic and service awards. He is a Fellow of the Social Science Academy of Nigeria (FSSAN) and currently the President of the Nigerian Society of Criminology and Criminal Justice Administration. He is cited in published ‘Who’s Who’ in Nigeria and abroad and was elected a ‘Life-Member” of the World Society of Victimology over ten years ago”
Born May 2, 1943, Odekunle attended Methodist Primary School; Ilesha Grammar School, Ilesha; Molusi College, Ijebu-Igbo; University of Ibadan; and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. He has taught at the University of Lincoln, and University of Ibadan, before berthing at the Ahmadu Bello University, Samaru, Zaria. He was lately known as one face of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC). Odekunle came, he saw, he acted, and he is now gone- but not without a mark. Goodnight, Boss. God rest your soul.
Abiodun Adeniyi teaches Mass Communication at Baze University, Abuja.