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On Saturday, 27th February, 2021, all roads led to the ancient town of Ede in Osun State; the occasion was the “International colloquium and public presentation of books” in celebration of Professor Gafar Siyan Oyeweso’s 60th birthday. The two books presented on that day were “Ede Mapo Arogun: A celebration of a city, its history, monarchy and people” and “Ede icons and the making of modern Nigeria”.
Academics from all walks of life emptied themselves into Ede to honour one of their own. Oyeweso is a Professor of History lecturing at Osun State University. The “who is who” in Ede town itself also trooped into the Western Sun International Hotel, Ede venue of the event to honour a “son of the soil” that has brought much honour to the town of the revered Oba Timi Agbale Olofa ina (the King with the flaming arrow). It was a veritable meeting of Town and Gown, as it were!
The event was both virtual and physical and it started promptly at the advertised 11.00am; no so-called “African time”. I was surprised that Yusuf Olaolu Ali, SAN, was chairman of the occasion. Perhaps, I should digress a little. Gafar, Yusuf and I were course mates at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) aka “Great Ife (1978 -1982). After Part One, Yusuf went to read Law while Gafar and I went to the History department. I finished with History/Political Science (Combined Honours) while Gafar did History (Single Honours). We were all in the same Adekunle Fajuyi Hall whose Hall Chairman I was in our final year (1981/82).
On campus, I was a member of the Marxist/Leninist Alliance of Progressive Students and the Movement for National Advancement (MONA) while Yusuf and Gafar belonged to the Muslim Students’ Society (MSS). At a point, I think Yusuf was president while Gafar was Secretary respectively of the MSS. Both of them were fire-brand Muslim radicals whose paths often crossed those of us Leftists. Once both of them got to know I had Muslim background, they spared no efforts harassing me and insisting I return to the fold. They would call me my Muslim surname instead of the Bola Bolawole I had changed into. I, too, would call Yusuf Ali his Yoruba name of Olaolu. I never knew Gafar was Siyan. So, it always was a dog and cat!
Many years after we had left school and Yusuf became a SAN, I sent him a congratulatory message, to which he did not respond. Years after, I ran into him at the old local wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and I asked him whether he did not get my congratulatory message. His response was that perhaps he did but did not recognise the name Bola Bolawole! Maybe if I had used my Muslim surname…!! But two years ago, someone spotted me at the Obafemi Awolowo University’s Guests Chalet area, honked and reversed his car shouting “Bola, Bola”. He alighted from his car and, behold, it was Yusuf! We embraced, exchanged banters and went our way.
After we left Ife, Gafar became Siyan. Initially, I didn’t know it was him when I heard of one Siyan Oyeweso at LASU. Eventually, it turned out it was him! But I cannot say whether he is still Muslim or not. The IV he sent out simply read “Prof. Siyan Oyeweso @ 60”. No Gafar! But throughout the ceremony, he was addressed as Abdul-Gafar.
At Ife, Oyeweso was known as “Gafar”; Yusuf, who was the more “troublesome” of the twosome, I deliberately called “Olaolu” instead of Yusuf. It is important we do not forget or down play our Yoruba ancestry, especially in times such as these. Besides, religion or religiosity, as some would call it, amounts to nothing. God searches the innermost parts of man. Just as He told the Prophet Samuel who had been sent to the household of Jesse to choose a replacement for rejected King Saul, men look on the face whereas God looks on the heart. God’s golden rule as espoused by Jesus Christ is love: The love of God and the love of our fellow human being.
Service unto God is not about what we wear. And it is not when we kill our fellow human beings, thinking we fight God’s battles. The religion that is acceptable unto God is that which does unto others what we would have them do unto us. God is love and he who does not love is not of God. Many so-called religious or outwardly pious people wearing whatever and mounting the roof-tops like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old are nothing but brood of vipers and white-washed sepulchres.
Therefore, the hullabaloo over hijab in Kwara state should never have happened, except that it is a time-honoured diversionary tactics of the ruling elite to divert the attention of the long-suffering people from the glaring failure of the powers-that-be into needless and unnecessary religious and sectarian conflicts. Otherwise, Kwara should have learnt useful lessons from Rauf Aregbesola’s hijab fiasco in Osun State. Yoruba land is one delicate area where any religious war will consume the entirety of the people because there is hardly a family where there are no adherents of both Islam and Christianity.
Now, back to the Oyeweso celebration: There was no better person to chair the occasion than Yusuf Olaolu Ali, SAN: First, judging from the story I have just told and considering Yusuf’s trajectory as a pro-chancellor in the past four years and still running. My surprise was that I never knew Gafar and Yusuf were still that very much together. Yusuf made informed contributions as someone who had seen through the university system: he admonished that we expose our own people to their own history, noting that a people without history has no future. He lamented that many Yoruba people today cannot speak the language and, what is worse; our leaders today address their people in the English language!
On Prof. Oyeweso, Yusuf boasted that whatever the parameters used, the professor of History will maintain his stand and retain his professorial chair anywhere, any day. This, he said, is the hallmark of a true academic. Yusuf then spoke to the problem that I have heard many university vice-chancellors complain about: The need to change the curriculum of our universities. Reports have it that no university can determine its own curriculum but the National Universities Commission does for all of them!
Yusuf also advised that our graduates be built to purpose. The world, he said, is leaving us behind. “Having been a pro-chancellor for four years plus, we have to change our curriculum. Our graduates should be able to compete with graduates from other places”, he added.
Another surprise for me was the multiple award-winning Prof. Toyin Falola of the Department of History, University of Texas at Houston, the United States of America, who virtually moderated the event as well as presented the honoree. I remember that Falola, in those days as a young lecturer at the History department at Ife, showed a lot of promise. Looking at what he has achieved over time, he has not disappointed.
Falola posited that Oyeweso belonged to various worlds and the ability to bring all of these together was a testimony to his character. “If an event can be so well attended in the age of COVID-19, imagine what would have happened without COVID-19. Oyeweso and Nigeria are of the same year (but) measuring achievements, he has left Nigeria behind. Nigeria has a catching up to do. Individuals try to catch up with their country but the reverse is the case here”.
Falola said “12 issues” stood Oyeweso out; among them are that he is a blend of the local, national, and international; as a scholar he has an expansive capacity and impressive capability to take on a wide range of issues and do justice to them all; as an administrator he had served in various capacities inside and outside the university and on the international level; he is a community builder who has a passion for the development of his people and who knows inside-out the history of Islam and Christianity in Ede; among others.
Speaker after speaker eulogized Oyeweso as a man of peace, who is never bitter even when he loses out in a competition, and who is broad-minded. Everyone who spoke also attested to Oyeweso’s “Omoluabi” traits. The books were reviewed by Prof. Olutayo Adesina (Head of the Department of History, the University of Ibadan and elder brother to presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina); Pastor Funso Akande, presiding pastor, Ori-Oke Baba Abiye, Ede, unveiled the books while Dotun Babayemi and Gen. Bashir Adewimbi were chief book presenters, among others. Osun State’s Gov. Gboyega Oyetola was represented at the event by the SSG, Prince Wole Oyebamiji.
In our university days at Ife, Gafar was hard-working and studious; those usually referred to as “Effico”! Therefore, his remarkable success is not a surprise. Surely, after toil comes reward!
Published in today’s New Telegraph newspaper, Wednesday, 24th March, 2021.