Akin Oyebode’s Exogural at 70, by Tony Iyare
At one of the stormy weekly meetings of the “Think Tank” at the Catholic Secretariat, Lagos, where he presided as chairperson, Prof. Akin Oyebode, former Vice Chancellor, University of Ado Ekiti, almost caused some stir when he broached the word “Exogural”. We all thundered in unison: “What’s that prof?” He offered to decode this “bomb” when pressed by members who had grown curious.
Relaying how one of the female professors at the University of Lagos proposed at a senate meeting that since professors deliver “Inaugural Lectures” to herald their height of academic attainment soon after their appointment, Oyebode said it was the lady’s view that they should also render an “Exogural Lecture” at their point of exit.
“Exogural?” Many of the professors, including Oyebode, who’s deeply immersed in rich diction, were astounded by this new addition to academic lexicography until the female professor offered some explanation. As he bows out after 44 years of enviable scholarship and teaching, Oyebode, an erudite professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, certainly owes us his “Exogural”.
When he delivered his Inaugural Lecture on December 7, 2011, titled: “Of Norms, Values and Attitudes: The Cogency of International Law,” laced with quotes and anecdotes from many renowned works, the hall shook. He challenged the Nigerian political elite to “jettison its obscurantism and anti-intellectual attitude” concerning “policy formulation and implementation on international matters by encouraging informed input from academics and experts”.
But some will argue that Oyebode, who turned 70 on Saturday, had already rendered his “Exogural” by his sustained incisive and brilliant interventions on raging issues in the country. From Politics to Philosophy, Economy, History, Sociology, Law and Revolution, he has emitted and radiated his radical intellection. In my “Toast to Akin Oyebode at 60” written in 2007, I narrated how he kept Oduduwa Hall alive with his prosaic quotes in September 1980, which coincided with my baptism as a jambite.
I had written: “The imposing and magnificent Oduduwa Hall located in the alluring Ife Varsity’s epicentre almost shook to its foundation on this sunny day. This acidic lecture laced with epic quotes from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Ghandi, Nkrumah and Cabral and rendered in the ‘English that filled the mouth’ had put aglow this architectural masterpiece.
“Delivered by Akin Oyebode, then a budding scholar from the University of Lagos, it elicited thunderous applause which reverberated through the campus. The packed filled hall yearned for more and more. You didn’t need a mug of coffee to stay awake.
Almost akin to a similar fiery lecture by Ebenezer Babatope at the old British Council Library in Yaba, in 1976, we were kept glued to our seats as we savoured this erudition.”
My path has crossed with Oyebode severally. Although he was many years ahead of me at the popular LA School, Ikeja where I later had a stint in my formative years, this lecture saw my berth into the revolutionary movement at Ife as I got enlisted into the Alliance of Progressive Students shortly after.
Our path crossed again as members of the “Think Tank”, created by Fr. George Ehusani, then General Secretary at the Catholic Secretariat, to support the Bishops Conference. It was part of an idea earlier kick started by Reverend Father Mattew Hassan Kukah to generate ideas on politics, economy, development and other social issues as a feeder to the Bishops Conference.
Oyebode who has taught many including the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has an exceptional eye for details. No lose writing including punctuations ever miss his eagle eyes. He was honed through the mill of rigorous scholarship by his PhD supervisor who ensured he re-wrote his thesis five times. When he was VC, he did not buckle under to admit even his son who did not make the 200 cut off mark. As a man of integrity, he was not given to bending rules to pander to any interests. His views are as constant as the northern star.
He was at the Kyviv National Taras Shevchenk University in Russia between 1967 and 1973 where he bagged his LLM with the highest distinction. He then proceeded to Harvard Law School between 1974 and 1975 for his Masters of Law (LLM), International Law and Legal Studies. He capped it with his PhD in Jurisprudence, International Law and Legal Studies at York University Osgood Law School, Toronto, Canada between 1981 and 1988.
Born on December 9, 1947, Oyebode became a professor in October 1988 and was the founding dean, Faculty of Law, Ondo State University, Ado Ekiti from February 1992 to January !997. He was later appointed VC of the now renamed University of Ado Ekiti, where he served between February 2000 and January 2004.
Are we still angling for his “Exogural”? Just three months ago, he warned: “If drastic measures are not put in place urgently to contain it, corruption may result in the mortality of Nigeria.” This was at a roundtable organized by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy.
Delivering a paper on: “Strategies for Mobilizing Mass Action to Demand Anti-Corruption Reforms and End to Impunity for Grand Corruption in Nigeria,” he insisted: “Mass action by the citizens is urgently needed to end impunity for grand corruption in the country.
“The people must be enlisted in the war against corruption. Nigerians should start anti-corruption clubs in schools, radio jingles should be put in place to fight corruption, carry placards, go outside, organize sit ins like SERAP is doing presently, Nigerians should be mobilised against corruption and now take their destiny in their hands. The fight should not be left alone to organisations like SERAP and when the state want to attack organisations like SERAP, the masses should fight for them.”
Oyebode also called for a concerted effort to extinguish the NGO bill now before the National Assembly. He said: “The recent attempt by the National Assembly with the NGO bill to control, monitor and eventually sequester CSOs all because of the excuse that some CSOs are corrupt should not be allowed. Cutting off the head is not the cure for headache, the bill is an over kill. If they cage organisations like SERAP, who will fight for the masses? The government do not want anybody to act as impediment to their thievery activities.”
Ahead of the nation’s 57th independence Anniversary on October 1, he did not mince words that Nigeria was a “creation of British imperialism” during an interview with Channels Television. He said: “When Lugard amalgamated various groups into what he called Nigeria, nobody asked our forefathers, our great, great, great grandparents whether or not they wanted to live under one canopy. So Nigeria was a creation of British imperialism. And if you read Lord Lugard, ‘His Dear Mandate in a Tropical Dependency’, which he wrote in 1918, he confessed that the British came specifically for raw materials and market for their manufactured goods.
“You cannot talk of Nigeria as you could talk of the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots or the English. So this has been the undoing of Nigeria, bringing into existence a political system that should address the needs and interest of over 400 ethnic nationalities.”
Oyebode makes the teaching of International Law a great delight. He exudes Law all around him. His wife, whom he says “shared my pan-Africanism as well as my radical socialist sentiments”, is also a lawyer. His father in law was a lawyer. Two of his siblings are lawyers just like two of his three kids are also lawyers.
He told Vanguard: “I could be a very difficult person as an academic. You don’t talk to me when I am busy or studying some articles in the newspapers or watching a very fascinating programme”, he reeled. But his wife understands him perfectly.
“My wife understands me. She knows when to approach me and when to back off. She is a wonderful lady. She reads me like a book. She is the only person who can play me like a guitar. She knows that my bark is worse than my bite.”