I am deeply saddened by the passing of Prof. Adesegun Aderibigbe. A role model of integrity and ethics, he was much admired by friends, colleagues and students for his remarkable contributions to teaching, research, engineering practice and academic administration. He was a first class scholar. Most of all, he was an example of perseverance and endurance for those who were fortunate to know him.
Segun as we fondly called him was my great friend, colleague and a person with strong opinions with well measured straight forward approach and a “tell it as it is” attitude. I first met Segun in the early 1980s when I joined to lecture at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Lagos.
Our first encounter was unforgettable. During my first month in the faculty, I was asked to give a presentation of my just completed research on electrochemical metalizing the central part of my Ph.D. Thesis at the University of Birmingham. I was most enthusiastic to share my findings with the audience. During the question/answer period after my presentation, a serious-looking man seated in the front row who had listened to me with rapt attention leaned back in his chair, folded his arms, and started to drill me.
I was rattled or probably amazed by his “effrontery” of questioning me on the model of “Electrochemical AC Frequency Response Analysis” which I believed was my major contribution to the wide body of knowledge, as it was said. However, my ego aside, deep down in me, I could visualize from his critique, the value he was encouraging me to add to my research effort.
Afterwards, I asked an older colleague, “Who was that guy?” He answered, “That’s Segun Aderibigbe. Don’t take it personally. He is a passionate scholar. Consider it a compliment that he has shown such enthusiastic interest in your research work. He would have publicly ripped you to shreds if he felt that your work was not up to standard”.
Two days later, Segun knocked on my office door with a well prepared proposal for further work with him based on my earlier presentation. He requested that we commence the collaboration immediately to make the findings commercially viable. I enthusiastically accepted the invitation.
From that day, we became research partners for years even when I relocated to other institutions. I then began to appreciate the brilliance and thoroughness of Segun, and grew to respect the incredibly high standard he held himself and others to. I looked forward to my weekly lunches with him when we were both lecturers in UniLag. During lunch, I would hear his favorite MIT experience stories and his usual complaints about the government of the day. We would also talk about the issues that only best friends can — personal matters, problems that were coming up, problems with our courses, research funding and sometimes our students, etc. We would debate the issues and no matter when I did not agree with him, he did not hold a grudge or allowed a disagreement to have an influence on our friendship.
In the course of our collaboration, we traveled a lot together on many foreign and local trips. Segun was a pleasure and great company during our travels. An important gift that Segun possessed was a sense of humor. During most of our time together, whether researching or socializing, he made us laugh a great deal.
Although an academic, Segun never lived in an ivory tower. He always wanted to share his knowledge with the “Joe Bloggs”. Segun, was not afraid to express a dissenting opinion even when his was the lone voice and he was speaking back to power. Ironically, looking back at Segun’s life closely, especially in his latter days, one gets the impression that Segun hardly rested. He always gave his best to everything that he did and died doing the work he loved so dearly.
Segun was a towering figure at technical meetings. He was intelligent, articulate and enthusiastic. The Nigerian community of engineering and sciences have lost an engineer with a great passion for the technological advancement of our country.
His research interest covered several topics in the field of thermal sciences, such as steel manufacturing, foundry technology, power plant, thermal radiation, combustion processes, pollution control, fluidized beds, production of fuels, coal gasification, two-phase flow, solar energy, optimization of heat exchangers, etc.
His large body of technical publications spanned more than four decades, and is invariably characterized by the highest standard of quality and pristine clarity. The publications exemplify his consistent engagement in both hard, difficult fundamental subjects as well as in applied engineering.
At the time when the word innovation was not so much in vogue in universities, he always remained in close cooperation with the industry by offering extension courses to engineers as well as leading applied research projects.
During his career, he taught hundreds or maybe thousands of undergraduate and graduate students in disciplines such as materials and metallurgical engineering, heat transfer, steam generation, thermal radiation, two-phase flow, etc.
Very akin to his own personal style, his lectures were always neatly prepared and elegantly delivered. He did not need to speak loud or make theatrical gestures to keep the attention of his students, even the most absentminded ones. Segun knew his students by name, and kept a warm class interaction by encouraging questions from the students.
As with the best professors, only after diligent hard work, could a student expect to pass his courses. The students who had the good fortune to do their undergraduate or graduate research projects under his advisory, and they were many, found the best jobs.
Segun was consistently demanding, always expecting the work to be carried out at the highest level of excellence. There was no compromise on this. When he revised a text, the papers could return all marked in red many times, until the student produced a truly good material. Although a demanding advisor, he would never lose his patience and sense of humor. When a student was falling way behind schedule, he would only need to say: “I’m getting worried about you”. Message understood.
Segun and I were highly elated when we were both nominated to receive the esteemed Award of Excellence of the Ijebu Professional Excellence Foundation in May 2017, in our hometown, Ijebu-Ode. During the ceremony, I had a great sense of nostalgia when I recalled our days of research collaboration in the 80s and his consistent words of advice to me: “Toyin, if you genuinely have anything positive to contribute to Nigeria, do not wait to be invited because you will most likely not be called; just find a way to get into the system to offer your quota”.
I took Segun’s advice and it worked positively! One cannot speak about Segun without saying a word about his deep humanity and spirituality. It was always a joy to talk to him about the “good things of life”.
He enjoyed literature and the arts in general but it was Yoruba folk music that lived in his heart. He used to say that he could not imagine life without music. He talked a lot about the purpose of our existence in spiritual context. He shared explanations as to why bad things happen to good people and the role karma plays. Though I often got lost in the discussions, I never failed to appreciate his plausible stance on our purpose in life.
Segun was once compared to the striving oyster that produces a pearl after being hurt. In fact, when an undesirable impurity contaminates the interior of the oyster, this impurity becomes involved with layers of nacre to turn it into a pearl. In his life, Segun endured fierce hardships on more than one occasion. Like the oyster, he covered those hardships with layers of love, to turn them into wisdom, which he so generously shared with people who were fortunate to know him. He never lost his unshakable faith in humanity.
Segun had a genuine desire to help other people.The same could be said of his genuine desire to help academic institutions and the entire community of engineers in Nigeria. We will always be thankful to him for this. The engineering community and indeed Nigeria in general, have lost a gifted patriot. It is only fitting that those of us who called him our friend or colleague and others who worked with him strive to uphold some of the values that he possessed, to honor his memory and contributions.
His love for his country goes unmatched. Apart from the pain of losing this great scholar whose devotion to our country will be his legacy, there is one question that has haunted me since I learned of his death. The question that has kept coming back to me is simple: Where is the replacement? Will we find a suitable replacement with the same level of knowledge, patriotism, passion and commitment to the cause of change?
Segun, my brother and friend rest in peace. To the family – may God’s blessings and peace dwell amongst you all…Amen.
– Prof. Toyin Ashiru is MD/CEO Tricontinental Group