A STRIKING recollection of his activities showed the depth of his scholarship as well as his role as a promoter of science. Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe was President of the Nigerian Academy of Science from 2009 to 2013. “Last February, he did something in the academy about artificial intelligence. You would think as an old man he would not know, but he was so knowledgeable,” a member of the academy recalled. He died on January 3, aged 71.
Ibidapo-Obe was not only a brilliant scholar but also a distinguished university administrator. His creditable performance as vice-chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG) from 2000 to 2007 earned him the Best Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for the Nigerian university system twice (2004 and 2005). He was also Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. It was a mark of his administrative distinction that after his leadership years at UNILAG he was the pioneer vice-chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike Ikwo, Ebonyi State (2011-2016).
Before becoming vice-chancellor of UNILAG, he had served as Dean of Engineering and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. His rise was a story of commitment and focus. “By the time I was moving rapidly within the system, an idea came to me that, look, I can be a Vice-Chancellor,” he recalled in an interview. “This came to me when I was the MD of UNILAG Consult. By this time, I had sufficiently understudied the system and also had the wherewithal in terms of my scholarship and experience.”
He was widely sought after to help develop universities within the country, and brought his immense experience as well as enormous energy and passion to the role. Until his death, Ibidapo-Obe was the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of three universities: Crawford University, Igbesa, Ogun State; First Technical University, Ibadan, Oyo State; and African University of Science and Technology, Abuja.
Born in Ile-Ife, in present-day Osun State, he had a long history of brilliance, which was first highlighted when he was the overall best graduating student at UNILAG in 1971, after his secondary education at Obokun High School/Ilesa Grammar School in present-day Osun State (1962–1966), and Igbobi College, Lagos (1966–1968). He had a first class degree in Mathematics. He earned a master’s degree in Applied Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science in 1973, and a doctorate in Civil Engineering specialising in Applied Mechanics/Systems in 1976, both from University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
He was a Visiting Research Associate Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at State University of New York at Buffalo, USA (1980-1981). He became a professor of Systems Engineering at UNILAG in 1983, at the age of 34. He was a Visiting Research Professor at Texas Southern University in Houston, USA, in 2007.
Outside academia, he had a stint as a director at Ikeja Hotels Plc, Lagos, which demonstrated his thirst for knowledge. “That was the company that built the Sheraton Hotels at that time. So, I also got my hands dirty building a big hotel that was linked up with chains of businesses,” he said.
His scholastic accomplishments brought him honours. In 2010, he was elected a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), which is focused on transforming lives on the African continent through science, and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), formed to “promote scientific capacity and excellence for sustainable development in developing countries.” Ibidapo-Obe’s membership of these science-based, development-oriented academies reflected his thinking that science is essential for development. He also became a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 2015.
The Nigerian national honour he received in 2004, Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), was a symbol of recognition. Ibidapo-Obe left a legacy of scientific scholarship and constructive leadership.