The drums rolled out recently for one of Nigeria’s most celebrated academics, Professor Titus Adewale Omole who turned 70 on Monday August 13, 2012. He did well in kick starting the celebration with appreciation to God through a special service partly held in his honour at the Arch Bishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral in the Government Reservation Area of Ikeja, the Lagos state capital.
Naturally, the event attracted a lot of people from his terrain - the academic circle and of course, his new found turf, business and politics. Of the hordes of academicians, I recall sighting Professor Oye Ibidapo Obe, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, adorned in a brown kaftan, staying somewhat off the crowd, yet close enough to be spotted by a bird of similar plumage turned cleric, Rt. Rev Professor Bayo Akinde, Presiding Bishop, Lagos Mainland Anglican Diocese. Seated in the central row of the beautiful Cathedral was Professor Tade Omole, marked out in his customary bow tie, currently, Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile – Ife, an institution once headed by Professor Omole. For most of the service Tade Omole seemed to be monitoring the goings on with Mr Bayo Ogunnruku, the institutions Registrar, but later gravitated towards Prof Ibidapo Obe and from their jiggling and bantering; they were excited about the event unfolding before them.
As an Alumnus of Great Ife, I could recognise among others, Prof Kunle Kehinde, former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University and Prof Mrs Simisola Odeyinka, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture. At the service were distinguished Nigerians, Politicians and businessmen like Mrs Titi Laoye -Tomori, Deputy Governor, Osun State, who led the state delegation to honour their Ewu Ijesha, Osun State son. Also present was former UACN Plc boss and Head of State, Chief Ernest Sonekan, as well as former boss of the Nigerian Security Prints and Mints Company Limited and Action Congress, strongman, Senator Biyi Durojaiye.
The religious sector was not left out. Anglican clerics adorned in cassocks showcasing myriads of colours from plain white and coloured hoods to arrays of colours that seemed to get the more complex with seniority. Some hailed from Ijesha land, and for whatever reason, some were from Ifo Diocese and of course the host community of Arch Bishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral.
Trust the Nigerian women especially my in-laws of the Yoruba extraction, they were there live to felicitate with Mrs Folashade Omole. They were solidly in her support. It is said that behind, pardon me, beside a successful man there is a strong woman. They came in tens and twenties gaily petalled, and of course with bags and shoes to match. They jammed the airways and airwaves with their head gears … geles and spiced the air with perfumes that titillated our olfactory lobes. To think that all this was happening on Monday morning in Lagos! Pray, whatever happened to the counsel of the late chief priest of Kalakuta Republic - the irrepressible Fela Anikulapo Kuti to the effect that: lojo Monday, Eko Oni gbagba ku gba? That song a counsel that Lagosians are so business minded on Mondays that they have no room for leisure or nonsense!
Na Fela sabi, didn’t he ever learn that all work and no play make Jack a dull brat? The seeming omnipresence of Boko Haram bombs notwithstanding, the pervasive social ills, several other debilitating circumstances in Nigeria, winning medals at the Olympics or not, Nigerians still afforded bagging the renown of being one of the happiest people on planet earth.
Should you begin wondering who this man is to have deserved this show of solidarity? I would attempt enlisting his achievements, afford a vista into personal encounters with the man, especially as one of his students in the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Ife,(now Obafemi Awolowo University) in the early 1980s.
Despite the downward drift of the Nigerian educational sector, there is relief when there are encounters with ones who merit their onions. Professor Omole commenced his brilliant academic career at the University of Ife bagging a Bachelor of Agriculture degree and an MPhil in Animal Science in 1968 and 1970 respectively. Thereafter, he proceeded to the University of Alberta, Canada obtaining a Doctorate degree in Nutritional Biochemistry in 1973. He paid his dues at Great Ife, learning the ropes as Assistant lecturer, to become Lecturer and Professor, Animal Science in the early 1980s. He became Dean, Faculty of Agriculture in the same Alma Mater between 1983 and 1985. He had a brief stint at the Alabama, A& M University, USA in 1986-1987 as Professor of Food Science and Animal Industry. His academic career was capped by becoming Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife between 1991and 1999. Thereafter, Professor Omole became a citizen of the world bagging several awards and playing different roles in different fields.
Some of his achievements are summarized below: Trustee, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, 1991-1994, Chairman, The World Bank Projects for Nigerian Universities, 1994-1997, Chairman, Committee of Vice- Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, 1997/ 1998, Member, Executive Board, Association of African Universities, 1997-2001. Within the period, 1997-1999 he served as Member, Executive Board, Association of Commonwealth Universities. He is on the board of trustees of several educational initiatives, among them Trustee, Oladele Olashore International School, 1993-date and Van Leer Nigerian Education Trust, 2002 till date.
In business, from 2001 till date he has been Chairman, Consortium of partners involving Compaq-Hp, Microsoft, European Travel Network (ETN), Total Health Trust, Health Care International, Managed Health Care Services, Valucard with 43 banks and CHAMS Nigeria Ltd producing a multi-application, multi-functional payment card. He is also involved in construction and marketing communication.
He has also bagged several awards. In 1995 alone he was Deputy Governor, American Biographical Institute, 1995, Fellow, Computer Association of Nigeria and Fellow, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Man of Achievement, Cambridge International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, U.K, 1996, Distinguished Citizen of Osun State Award, 1998 and Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR .
My inspiration in scribing this piece about the respectable Professor Omole apart from the intent to appreciate his intellectual guide into the complex field of Animal Biochemistry, is a celebration of his humane disposition in impacting knowledge. In my time and I imagine it largely still is, the University of Ife had a merited renown of a complex institution. Thanks to scores of lecturers who rather than earning their pay and attending to the assigned duty of guiding students through the intricacies of their fields, found delight in intimidating them. Their disposition seemed to be that if Ife must retain its primus inter pares positioning, they had to draw aqua and blood from the students. Rather than create an amiable loving environment to get the students imbibe knowledge, some lecturers relished sending cold shivers through the spines of the students! Sadly, this is the tribe of academicians that flourished during my privileged five year sojourn (1979 – 1984) in the great citadel of learning.
Gladly, Professor Omole was far from being in such mould. You would wonder why, especially as he was an Ife student through and through, having bagged Bachelor and Master degrees from the institution. His classes were lively. He delighted and enthralled us all, especially with his unparalleled understanding of the complexities of the elements of biochemical chains and structures - the bewildering divine brilliance in constructing the links, relationships and perplexities of the metabolic pathway. In our cognitive feebleness and limits, we ordinarily take the complexities that accompany food degradation, digestion and the absorption of released elements for granted. However, therein lie the thin lines that sustain our lives – the resulting nourishment of cells, tissues and organs all get our systems working, so we could live.
Professor Omole surely knew his onions. He was always atop of the game. I cannot recall him coming into the class with notes. He would have done his homework. He dictated without reference to physical notebooks or textbooks. He always simply reached his grey matter to draw up those biochemical chains and activities -always compliant with what any textbook in the field would tell!
Till date, I recall how through providence, I was able to score a B+ (60 – 70%) in ANS 203 – the introductory course in Animal Nutrition and Biochemistry that Professor Omole taught. As a teenager, I was the type of student who didn’t merely pass through the university, but had the university pass through me. I devoted plenty of time to socializing; I was actively involved in campus journalism, politics, and drama and Christian activities. These activities quite exposed and molded the mind, but often contended with adequate time and passion for the course of study. Biochemistry, the Science of life needed a calm and dedicated study which the many distractions didn’t give room for. Before saying Jack Robinson, the exams were staring in the face. Pray, how do I decode the hands, tails and heads of the several biochemical structures that Professor Omole had adorned the board with? It seemed that the more I looked, the less I was seeing. Confusion was let on loose. Somewhat within me I had an inner voice guiding me in a way much akin to the still small voice that saved Prophet Elijah from the gallows of Jezebel – “My son, concentrate on these”. I resisted for long but minutes before entering the hall, I gave heed as I safely still do now. To my surprise, the inner voice was right. I had before me a compulsory question that attracted 40 percent which I thankfully downloaded for Professor Omole. With a little effort on some other questions, I was able to merit the high score.
Barely months ago, at a forum on mobilizing support for the Faculty of Agriculture, I was able to tell the gentleman Professor, his charming wife beside, the tale of my escape. They had a good laugh. I then queried how he was always able to download such complex biochemical structures off hand. He explained it as grace. Then, he told a tale of the unexpected, he told me he could still re-enact the feat even now, despite his sojourn in academic politics, in national politics and business. By Jove! This grace is indeed a strange one.
Despite his endowment, he was neither scary nor intimidating. What seemed to be his second nature was a disposition to help, to guide and to explain. He still found way around being strict; I cannot recall any student misbehaving during his classes. Students loved him and most wished that they had him supervising their projects or being their adviser.
He became a professor in the early 1980s, and in a short time, he succeeded another distinguished academician, Professor Caleb Adeniyi Osuntogun as Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture. Within the period, there were copious changes in the faculty. Having passed through the faculty, he conducted affairs with the disposition of a shon of the shoil coming to the rescue. Its three decades between then and now and unfortunately, the demands of living especially in our Nigerian circumstances have had a great toll on one’s memory. I cannot now succinctly recall his accomplishments, but I remember that the farm practice programme was largely improved upon. Students seemed to get whatever we wanted. I recall that he made the faculty bus available in 1982 / 83 and we were able to embark on a trip to as far as Bauchi, having fun with Elephants, antelopes, several monkeys and chimpanzees at the Yankari games reserve. We also safely explored the alluring Jos Plateau visiting the Jos zoo, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies among others. Oh, how has this lovely one - family country degenerated? Pray, which parent would not sue a Vice Chancellor now for exposing his son or daughter to the missiles of Boko Haram on the bloodied terrains of Jos and Bauchi! This is truly saddening!
At the ceremony marking the 70th birthday, I was able to observe his unguarded moments. In the midst of hand shaking and the excitement in the air, he kept passing on gifts (I guess cash and cheques) and cards either to his beefy son who looked on in obvious excitement about the achievement of his dad or the grandson who was also relishing the fun. The grandson seemed to be his chip and was there for grand dad. When someone needed to know the residence where the merriment would hold after the church service, the six – seven year old simply pointed at the direction as if he could lead there. He did that in simplicity and unison with his own dad. There and then, I realized that Professor Omole’s disposition to simplicity was no fluke. Thankfully, he has passed it on to his genetic contribution in a world needing peace and sanity. Wishing the distinguished Professor, peace, good health and many years of sojourn on this terrestrial ball.
Mr Niyi Egbe an Agriculturist and Media practitioner lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached through