Professor Ladipo Akinkugbe, who died on Monday June 15 at 86, led a good life. I don’t know whether life could have played one a better hand than it did Akinkugbe; teacher, author, physician, orator, professor of professors, nationalist, raconteur and builder of lives. He was simply exceptional. He embraced fame and fortune with benign equanimity.
Akinkugbe was the first vice-chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Unilorin, and the first chairman of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB. He was later transferred from Unilorin to succeed Professor Iya Abubakar as the vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His appointment to ABU was part of a national experiment by the Obasanjo military regime to use Federal universities for its ideology of One Nigeria.
Thus, Akinkugbe was succeeded in Ilorin by Professor Akin Adesola. James Ezeilo of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was moved to Bayero University, Kano. Professor Mahmud Tukur was moved from Kano to the University of Lagos, but he declined and Obasanjo ordered him to retire. Kwaku Adadevoh was later appointed for UNILAG, but when he ran into trouble, Akin Adesola was moved from Ilorin to UNILAG and he was succeeded in Ilorin by Professor Afolabi Toye. Professor Ojetunji Aboyade declined to be re-appointed vice-chancellor of the then University of Ife (now Obefemi Awolowo University) and he was succeeded by Professor Cyril Onwumechili.
Both Akinkugbe and Ezeilo were to receive chilly receptions in Zaria and Kano. Indeed it was while in Zaria that Akinkugbe collided with the reality of the other Nigeria. A section of the university was hostile to his appointment, claiming that he had come to implement a hidden agenda of the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime over university admission. This was the meaning read to his chairmanship of JAMB, though the chief executive of JAMB was also from the old North.
In the heat of this debate, a radical wing of the Muslim Students Society, MSS, had attacked a gathering of the Kegite Club at the Samaru campus of ABU, inflicting serious bodily harm on many members. The attack, according to the report of an investigating committee of the Senate, was totally unprovoked. The committee recommended that disciplinary action should be taken against the erring MSS officials. The report was submitted to the vice-chancellor who therefore sent out a notice for the Senate to meet. But the offending students got wind of their impending punishment and mobilized their colleagues to attack the vice-chancellor.
After the Friday prayer at the university mosque on May 18, 1979, the militants of the MSS attacked the V.C Lodge with the open intention of killing the vice-chancellor, but Akinkugbe, who got wind of the impending attack, had escaped 10 minutes earlier. He later met with General Obasanjo at the Dodan Barracks, Lagos, with pictures of the carnage, including that of a portrait of the Head of State that was smashed to the ground. Obasanjo immediately summoned his deputy, Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Theophillus Yakubu Danjuma and confronted them angrily.
Akinkugbe recalled the incident in his enthralling autobiography, Footprints and Footnotes. Said Obasanjo: “I know you were not enthusiastic about these postings and can only hope this event was not triggered from the outside the campus. See Prof. here – we thank God he is safe but let me warn that if a hair of his body had been touched, this country would not be the same again!”
The MSS leadership who led the assault on the ABU vice-chancellor’s lodge were never apprehended, though they were well known. They were later smuggled out of the country only to return years later to become leaders of radical Islamic movements, including the Shiites, which in recent years have become torn in the flesh of the Northern establishment. In the wake of the ABU incident, Akinkugbe resigned his job as vice-chancellor.
After the turbulent tenure at ABU, he returned to Ibadan to enjoy the bucolic felicity of his home presided over by his wife, Professor Folasade Akinkugbe, a formidable intellectual in her own right. He had been an Ibadan boy since his days at the Government College, where he shared the same class with the likes of Wole Soyinka, Abel Goubadia, Muyiwa Awe and Christopher Kolade; all of whom were to become giants in their chosen fields. Since his GCI days, Ibadan had become his city. At the age of 35, he became a professor of medicine in at the University of Ibadan where the likes of Benjamin Oluwakayode Osuntokun, were among contending giants.
For Akinkugbe, Ibadan was full of fond memories. As the Dean of the College of Medicine, he was the father of all the students. One day in 1969, one of his young student-nurses, a Miss Victoria Zakari, fell in. She insisted on doing her exam instead of going on admission as her doctor advised. Akinkugbe was told about the stubborn girl. The girl was summoned and Akinkugbe chastised the “silly little girl” who preferred to do her examination instead of taking care of her health. He ordered her to be admitted and she took her papers some weeks later.
Several months later, Akinkugbe joined the chairman of UCH, top management staff and other senior academics of U.I and UCH to receive his old student nurse at the Ibadan aerodrome. She was paying her official first visit to Ibadan as Nigeria’s First Lady having married the young military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon in 1969. Victoria Gowon was full of excitement and she said to her old teacher: “Do you remember the silly little girl sir?”
“Yes Your Excellency!”
Akinkugbe was a member of the intellectual First Circle of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Africa’s leading soldier-statesman. In 2012, Professor Akinkugbe asked me to contribute to the book, Olusegun Obasanjo, The Presidential Legacy, 1999-2007. The Foreword of the book was written by the venerable President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. The book editors were five prominent Nigerians led by Akinkugbe. The other editors were Alhaji Ahmed Joda, journalist and retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos, Professor Friday Okonofua, former Special Adviser on Health during President Obasanjo second term and Professor Babatunde Idowu, the current vice-chancellor of Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State.
Professor Akinkugbe lived a full, fruitful and fulfilled life. His corpus of works and his impact as a teacher and administrator has enshrine his name conspicuously in history. He has achieved almost everything possible for an intellectual except lived longer than his mother who died at more than 100 few years ago. He won the game of life.
But Ibidun Ighodalo’s journey was decidedly different. Ibidun was in the first season of life unsteady game when Fate struck on June 14, few weeks to her 40th birthday. She had been married to the popular Pentecostal pastor, Ituah Ighodalo and after many years of waiting they were blessed with two children. But Ibidun’s impact was more than being a pastor’s wife sitting pretty in the Lord’s Vineyard. Her philanthropic deeds and capacity for empathy portrayed her as a Christian of deep passion for impacting lives of the poor. Her death came as a shock. She had left her husband for a short trip to Port Harcourt only to keep a date with death.
The news of her death was brought home to her husband at 2:00 a.m. He had already agreed to preach at the burial service of another friend who died earlier. Despite the shocking news, he bravely kept the appointment. It was during the obsequies that he gave the lugubrious elegy proclaiming that “I am in deep pain!”
Some people, especially the young, complained that Ighodalo should have stayed home to grief for his beloved wife. They do not understand that grief has no defining politeness. Grieving has a beginning but has no end because it inhabits our memories, and when the limps are finally immobile and the memory fades to embrace eternity, then grief would depart from its dwelling. But as we move about the humdrum of daily life, grief can intrude through a whiff of smell, a flurry of colours, the cadence of a stranger’s voice, the sudden crack of laughter, the sonority of a song and the plaintive cry on the sidewalk. In the land where the missing and the dead would finally meet, that is when grief would be buried.