Professor Ayodele Awojobi, The Self-Advocate By Olusina Akeredolu

Professor Ayodele Awojobi, the tall, handsome, brilliant and light complexioned Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos was always in the Court in the early 80s. He was so obsessed with agitations and his good intention of seeing Nigeria moved into greatness. He was always his own advocate preparing and filing his case in the Court himself. We knew that he was not eccentric but there was no doubt that he was practically envious of the law profession that the law students at the University of Lagos were calling on him in that early 80s to join them in their faculty to study law in order to properly become a lawyer. If he could summon the courage to read law, preparation of cases, filing and handling in the court would all become easy for a world-class Professor of engineering.

As an academic celebrity and because of his fame as a Professor of Engineering when merits still matter in Nigeria, he was not prepared for that. How can a very brilliant Professor go back to class as a student under some other professors? And the law faculty of the University of Lagos at that time showcased Professors of Professors. I am talking of intimidating and eminent law Professors and academics like Prof. Agbede, Prof. Abiola Ojo, Prof. A. A. Adeyemi, Prof. Adeogun, Prof. Oviaghara, Prof. Olawoye, Prof. Ajomo, Prof. Jegede, Prof. A. Adesanya, Prof. Jadesola Akande, Prof. Obilade, Dr. Jelili Omotola, Dr. Akanki, Dr. Uchegbu, Dr. Akin Oyebode, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo and etc. So, for a world acclaimed Professor of Engineering to have to go through these people’s tutorship just to become a lawyer would put him under unnecessary stress but one thing was clear, he must fight for the common man and it must be through the Court.

When you look at his Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim in his processes filed in court against President Shehu Shagari and the Federal government of Nigeria, you would instantly burst into laughter knowing that he could only be good as a Professor of Engineering and as an activist that he was. To him, what was important was the use of English language to put the correct figure of Nigeria’s money that the government of President Shehu Shagari was misappropriating before the Court for adjudication. Presenting it professionally did not really matter to him. He only needed to make his point before the Court and because of his fame and the motive behind his court actions, the court did not intimidate him on the basis of having no proper processes and presentation.

Although it could be argued that he was his own lawyer because he could not afford to retain the services of a professional Barrister. If he were to be in a society where lawyers must provide pro bono services, lawyers would have been on hand to handle his cases for him. People said his salary even as a renowned Professor at that time was N1,000 (one thousand naira) per month and that he had only N300 (three hundred naira) in his bank account when he died. No matter what the value of the Naira was at that time, he was clearly not a rich man but thirty years after his death, his good name, reputation and character have continued to live on. So, whether as an Engineer or as an unqualified self advocate, he did his bit before he surrendered to untimely death in 1984, asking for budgetary prudence by the ruling government of President Shehu Shagari to see that Nigeria was not reduced to a failed state through corruption and mismanagement by those in charge of its affairs.

Professor Awojobi became restless and too agitated because Nigeria, to him, was witnessing a mad season in term of corruption, graft and mismanagement of resources by the ruling National Party of Nigeria and its officials in charge of the federal government during the second republic. Nigerians did not know at that time that the Professor was just complaining against nothing if we compare what obtained at that time with the level of corruption in our Country now-a-days. His time was only the beginning of the end of “Ariya” Nigeria. He did not actually see acute poverty and suffering on the faces of Nigerians. Nobody would ever believe at that time that any Nigerian will have to go to the dust bin to look for food. That was a time that as a student, with your 50 kobo ticket, you will have a very good meal in the cafeteria of any of Nigerian Universities and other institutions of higher learning. We were told that even before then it used to be 10 kobo ticket for breakfast, 20 kobo ticket for lunch and 20 kobo ticket for supper. You needed only N90 (ninety naira) to secure a very good accommodation for an academic session in any of the higher Institutions in Nigeria at that time.

Those were “ariya unlimited” days for the people of Ogun and Lagos states. Seven days a week, you could see social parties all over the place until the military under Muhammadu Buhari struck. Those were indeed the hey days of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and many other Nigerian musicians who were very lucky to be on stage when there was still a pillow for Nigeria to lay its head. You have to book any of them twelve months prior to your party or social engagement or else you won’t get their services. That was a time that one United States dollar was the equivalence of Nigerian 60 kobo and with your 10 naira, you will buy a carton of Harp or Star lager. You needed only N560 (five hundred and sixty naira) air ticket to fly from Lagos to London and back to Lagos. A flight from Lagos to Ghana and back to Lagos was just N80 (eighty naira). Good old days.

The real mad season started in Nigeria with Babangida as military president. He smiled away decency and integrity from Nigeria and brought in instead illegal settlement and monumental corruption. In order to justify his coup, he rubbished everything that Buhari and Idiagbon had put in place. Remember that Buhari’s government was publishing their income and expenditure from time to time so that Nigerians will know what their Country had. Nigerians had just embraced orderliness in their daily private and public lives. They will no longer cross those dangerous express roads in the cities but will instead go through pedestrian bridges to get to the other side of the road no matter how long it will take. Nigerians were no longer urinating on the street but will prefer to use public toilets or manage to get home to do it. Properties and assets confiscated from second republic politicians adjudged by the military Tribunal under the Buhari administration as having been acquired illegally through corruption were returned to their owners by Babangida.

Buhari had his very bad side too. Some of them: The Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree 4 of 1984 through which two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were imprisoned. The judicial murder of Lawal Ojuolape (30), Bernard Ogedegbe (29) and Bartholomew Owoh (26) was another misstep of Buhari’s regime. His keeping Shehu Shagari under house arrest in Ikoyi while he detained Shagari’s Vice, Alex Ekweme in Kirikiri prison. The long terms of imprisonment imposed on mainly southern opposition politicians. The 53 suitcases allowed to go through custom’s uninspected clearing. He closed his eyes on the case of Alhaji Alhaji Alhaji who was caught with a lot of foreign currencies while he sent Fela to prison for having foreign currency that was not up to $50 per each of his band members traveling abroad with him. The NSO (now SSS or DSS) officers who executed detention order or warrant under Decree 2 of the Buhari and Idiagbon administration abused it. The blank detention order which was pre-signed by Idiagbon was used indiscriminately by the NSO officers against perceived enemies. All they needed to do to detain any person indefinitely was just to fill in the name of the person they wanted to detain in the blank photocopy of the detention order which had been pre-signed by Idiagbon. The Decree 2 ousted the jurisdiction of the Court and so, any detention under it could not be challenged in Court.

Professor Ayodele Awojobi died at the age of 47 agitating for a better Nigeria. That death that took him away at a very young age has shielded him from experiencing the agony of torture of education in Nigeria by those who are supposed to raise its standard, the almighty politicians who control Nigerian treasury using it as personal possession. The untimely death prevented Prof Awojobi from seeing Nigerians go to the dust bin to look for food. It prevented him from witnessing PhD holders like him apply to be trailer drivers. The death indeed prevented him from witnessing the free fall of the value of Naira, the Nigerian currency and many long strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) fighting for living wages for its members while those at the corridors of power and their political cronies in Nigeria live in opulence.

NOTE: This piece has been revised by Bode Dolu from its original issue which was published in the in 2009 –OA.

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