Way back in the 70s right up to the 80s, a fiery enigmatic genius bestrode our land like a Colossus. His name was Ayodele Awojobi.
He was in his 30s when he became a professor of engineering at the University of Lagos (Unilag), the youngest ever then, after a First Class B.Sc. from University of London and PhD from Imperial College, London, at the age of 28!
His engineering wizardry saw him singlehandedly converting the driving wheel of a motor vehicle from one side to another when Nigeria changed her road driving laws from left-hand to right-hand. He named it AUTONOV I. Then went further to design AUTONOV II, a bi-directional automobile that can be moved forward and backward without turning it round. Awojobi’s vehicle had two steering, four gears and three seats and, we are told, remain on display in the Unilag Mechanical engineering workshop.
But it is in his passion for and commitment to a better Nigeria that Awojobi towered above all. Like Tai Solarin, and Gani Fawehinmi – crusaders who gave their lives to the cause of a greater Nigeria and humanity as a whole, using all legitimate means (the law courts, protests on the streets) to demand for justice, human rights and good governance. And, as does happen to all those who want “to save the world”, Awojobi died in the process – in 1984 at age 47! Were he alive today, he would be 72.
But Nigeria, time and time again, proves she is not a country worth dying for. In other climes, the likes of Awojobi, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, would have monuments erected in their names by the country they died for, national holidays would be enacted as America did for Martin Luther King Jr., national institutions and major streets would be named after them. No, not in Nigeria; those are reserved for the rogues in our midst, the vagabonds in power, as the equally great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would call them. In their meanness of heart, after robbing the state coffers dry our leaders try to rob us of the memory of those who died for the country. Hence, till today, it remains a vain struggle to accord MKO Abiola the national recognition and honour due to him.
Last week, however, the peerless governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, once again rose up on the side of the people to give the late Prof. Awojobi, a deserved honour by erecting a statue of him at the Onike Roundabout, Yaba, Lagos, near the University of Lagos where he lectured, a university that has not found the grace to name anything on the campus after the late genius – not a block, not a road, not a department!