Olopoenia; a tribute – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

Olabode Lucas

I feel it as an abiding duty to write this tribute in memory of my late friend Dr. Razak Afolabi Olopoenia, who gave me an undiluted and sterling friendship for almost 54 years before his sudden demise on Tuesday, May 5. My friend was the son of the frontline politician, Alhaji Olopenia of Okeiho in Oyo State. The formative years of Razak was spent in Ghana, from where he came home to Nigeria to have his higher education. He attended Olivet Baptist High School Oyo, where he excelled academically. From this school, he came to the premier University of Ibadan in 1966 to read economics under the legendary Professor Ojetunji Aboyade and other notables like Comrade Ola Oni.

It was at the University of Ibadan that we met ourselves in 1966. He was in Kuti Hall while I was at independence Hall. The physical distance between our halls and the different academic orientations of our academic programmes were not sufficient to prevent us from being friends. We bonded together very well and we interacted in Queens Hall, in the political arena of Students Union and at our famous reading room, located at the now demolished fabricated building housing the Population Unit headed by the then Dr. Chukwuka Okonjo. Our evenings in those days were spent together at Trenchant Hall, listening to expositions of political and social issues by lecturers like Professor Essien Udom,  Professor Ayo Ogunseye, Father O’Connell. Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, Ukpabi Asika, Ola Oni, Lawrence Ekpebu and others who enlivened our political space in the University of Ibadan in those days of yore.

In the 1967/68 session, Razak was elected as the vice president of the University of Ibadan Students Union to serve in the administration of President Leye Ajayi whom he helped to win Kuti Hall narrowly in the election, over his opponent, Afolabi Davies of Mellanby Hall. During that administration, I too got elected as a member of the Students Representative Council representing Independence Hall. We really had a robust students’ unionism during this period. The voice of students of university of Ibadan was heard loud and clear on national and international issues. For example, the students demonstrated against the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Ian Smith of the then Southern Rhodesia. Some of the students too, went to the war front to cheer up the Nigerian soldiers during the civil war. Theirs was a responsible students unionism then as issues were promptly ironed out between the university authority and the Students union executive.

Despite Razak involvement in high level students unionism, he was the toast of his class academically and he narrowly missed getting a first class degree of University of Ibadan in Economics. This brilliant performance at Ibadan, propelled him expectedly to a postgraduate programme at the famed Michigan State University in Anna Arbor USA, where he bagged M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Public Finance. Razak Olopoenia was the first indigene of Okeiho to have a Ph.D. degree and this first inspired many young people in that ancient town. After his successful academic career in USA, he came back to Ibadan as a lecturer in 1975. I was happy to link up with him at Ibadan in 1978 when I joined the services of University of Ibadan from Nigeria Institute of Oil Palm Research, Benin City. I thank Dr. Omololu Oluloyo for facilitating this transfer.

At Ibadan four of us, professors Femi Osofisan, Jacob Adeniyi, myself and Razak forged a very enduring friendship which is still subsisting. At Ibadan, Razak’s activities revolved around his teaching and academic pursuits in his department and faculty, university services and activism and social life in the University of Ibadan Senior Staff Club. I am aware that Razak Olopoenia had connection to the university mosque but he kept this to himself because he felt religion was personal matter which one did not need to flaunt about

Olopoenia was a quintessential academician, a born teacher and a man deep in the discipline of Economics. His wealth of knowledge in the subject and his uncanny ability to impart the knowledge had been attested to, by many of his numerous students in their tributes. Many have raised the issue of him not becoming a professor despite his erudition, but my interactions with him on this issue convinced me that he was not bothered at all. According to him, his joy was in grooming future economists who would develop economic policies and parameters that would put Nigeria in a high economic pedestal that would be better than the present pedestrian level. My candid view on this is that the present promotion system in our universities is unfairly skewed against people like Olopoenia who took joy in teaching and grooming future leaders and policy makers of the country. What is wrong in giving teaching load and schedule, the same weighting with that of publications in the consideration of professorial chair? The present system of ‘publish or perish’ needs another critical examination. Despite the travail of Razak Olopoenia under the present punishing system, he was never jealous of anybody who could successfully navigate the labyrinth of the system to become professor. It is to his eternal glory, that he was the first to congratulate me when I became a professor and he bought the drink we used for the celebration.

Razak Olopenia’ s contributions to the growth of the University of Ibadan were also noticeable. He served the university in various Senate and Congregation committees. In his Faculty of the Social Sciences, he served as Sub Dean Postgraduate. Razak also served Academic Staff Union of Nigeria University (ASUU) UI branch as secretary. He was a fearless and robust speaker at ASUU meetings and at such meetings, he inspired young lecturers to fight for their rights and to uphold the cherished academic freedom. His friendly dispositions were equally well appreciated in the Senior Staff Club of the university where his contributions on social and political issues were salient and relevant. Razak was noted to give considered and reasonable views on any topic on earth from local politics to Japanese martial arts. All his friends on our table where he exuded knowledge regularly regarded him as an ‘Encyclopedia Olopoenica’. He always enlivened our table with his erudition as senior colleagues listened to him attentively while junior colleagues listened to him with admiration. I will never forget him for my numerous encounters with him on our table in the club.

On the national scene, his forage into national politics was not unsuccessful as he lost the election to go to the constituent assembly during the military regime of General Obasanjo in 1978. Personally, I think it was good for him because the Razak Olopenia that I knew had no stomach for insincerity, back stabbing and debauchery associated with Nigerian politics. During that military regime, he was a member of Oyo State Economic Advisory Council under Brigadier David Jemibewon. He was also a member of Board of Directors of Nigeria-Romania Wood Industry Ondo representing Oyo State until 1980. At the second coming of Obasanjo as civilian president, he was appointed as the chairman of the Governing Council of Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri – a job he did with his characteristic honesty, openness and fairness predicated on his love for our country.

As somebody has written in one of the tributes to him, behind the tough face lies a man of calm dispositions, cerebral, generous , a neighbour’s keeper and a loyal friend who can go to any length to  be of help to a friend in need. He is a man who did not tolerate any misdemeanor even by his friends and he had friends in every stratum of the society.

  • Professor Lucas writes from Old Bodija, Ibadan.

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