Date: Friday, August 12, 2016. Place was Offa, Kwara state. Being a Friday, it was not unusual that series of activities to mark the birthday of one of Africa's illustrious sons culminated into a special Juma'at service. August 12 was the birthday of Professor Muhammad Jamiu Mosobalaje Olayooye Oyawoye, CFR, the Aremo (Crown prince) of Offa and Africa's first professor of geology who turned eighty-nine on the day.
This piece is not intended to join the unnecessary debate as to which individual, dead or alive, is the greatest individual to emerge from Offa because the controversy appear closed because even those that ignited it realize the futility of their effort. Nevertheless, this piece should be seen as what it was intended to be: a deserved tribute to an icon who, without any doubt, remains the most recognized, the most decorated and the most respected individual who singularly placed Offa on the world map.
For most people in the evening of their life, the next natural thing to do is to commence the process of stock-taking. At 89, Baba Oyawoye or Aremo Mosobalaje, as Professor Jamiu Oyawoye is variously referred to, is in the evening of a well-spent life: a life dotted by selfless service to humanity. It is safe to say Baba has been taking stock for the better part of the last three decades when he returned to his birthplace to busy himself with improving the lives of members of a community that has largely been appreciative of his achievements. Save for party politics which Baba wisely avoids, there is hardly any aspect of community life in Offa that Baba's wise counsel has not been sought.
Born August 12, 1927, Professor Oyawoye, geologist, teacher, researcher, field worker, ambassador of peace, religious cum community leader and a bridge was educated at Offa and Ibadan till 1949 and later worked at the Geological Survey of Nigeria from 1950 to 1952. The brief spell at the Geological Survey of Nigeria must have made a great impression on his young mind because it was from here that he began a career that turned him into Africa's first Professor of Geology fourteen years later. Between 1952 and 1959 he was at the Washington State University at Pullman in the United States, for his bachelors and the University of Durham in the United Kingdom where he took his doctorate degree.
After seven unbroken years abroad Baba Oyawoye returned to Nigeria and took up a teaching appointment at the University of Ibadan where he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the department of geology. That was in 1959. Seven years later, he was appointed Professor of Geology. Now Offa community did not only have her first Professor, but the community, by the feat of one man, provided the African continent her first Professor of geology. Many landmarks bears his name at the University of Ibadan where Professor Oyawoye groomed the nation's and Africa's first generation of geologists.
The academia helped shape Baba Oyawoye's world view and actually prepared him for life's endless battles. In fact, elders of Offa even today still discuss with nostalgia how Baba Oyawoye was the clear choice of Offa kingmakers when the throne of Olofa was to be filled in 1970. Baba was 43 and must have reasoned that a life of seclusion in a palace, inspite of its attraction to some, was not his line. He reportedly turned down the offer, politely, and continued the search for more experience which he was to later deploy to impact on his community. It turned out to be a well thought out decision.
Very few people in Offa who will fail to attest to Professor Oyawoye's love for his community. He has, since the 1960's been involved in virtually all projects aimed out lifting Offa and her residents. Three years ago, Baba spoke passionately about his life ambition of witnessing the establishment of the first university in the town. That day may not be far off as two universities have been planned for Offa. One of them, in which Baba Oyawoye has been very prominent is the Summit University, Offa: the other is the proposed University of Offa.
Without any doubt, two universities is a brilliant idea in a community that also hosts a federal and private polytechnic, a college of education, a specialized naval institution, a school of health technology, a school of Basic and Remedial studies and a study centre of the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, to cater for the educational needs of Offa and its environs. It is in recognition of this love for community that Professor Oyawoye was named Aremo Offa more than five decades ago.
Now, this love for community and service to humanity has not been devoid of some draw backs. And Baba Oyawoye by his upbringing, education and training knows very well that no man attains the status and stature he has without somebody waiting for the slightest opportunity to jump on their backs. And Baba has such a fat back capable of carrying everything that comes his way. Such irritants abound in Offa but Baba's luck is that those who sneer at him in the past clearly did so out of ignorance. Or, how do we describe a man, barely literate, who publicly claimed a Professorship obtained in 1966, when he was not born, was worthless as the 60's, in his words, were years of ignorance in education!
Baba has seen it all and conquered all. He is one of Nigeria's most decorated intellectuals and certainly one of Africa's best gift to the world. He is a man widely respected across Nigeria and widely honoured abroad. And for his contribution to the world of research, he was given the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic, CFR, and has a street named after him in a strategic location in Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital city. It is a mark of Baba's humility that his home is a mecca of sort for people from far and near to consult and tap from Baba's wealth of experience.
Baba enjoys good health. A sign of this is that, even in his advance stage, God has given him the strength to occasionally venture out of his domain to attract more goodwill for his community. As family members, friends, well-wishers, former colleagues and students from far and near and the entire Offa community united to celebrate an icon on August 12, Professor Oyawoye should, in his characteristic humility, accept the honour, in a manner of speaking, of being a tree that makes a forest.
Happy birthday, Baba Aremo! Many more years of good health.
Hajiya Hafsat Magaji firstname.lastname@example.org is a staff of the National Examinations Council, NECO.