Professor Felicia Adetowun Ogunsheye, nee Banjo, the first female professor in Nigeria clocks 90years today. She was born on the 5th of December, 1926 in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. Her younger brother was the late Colonel Victor Adebukunola Banjo, a hig-ranking officer in the Biafran Army who was later executed by the late Biafran leader, Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojuwku, leader of Biafra.
Young Adetowun had her secondary school education at the prestigious Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos where she was admitted in 1939. Upon finishing from QC, she proceeded to Yaba Higher College then to the University College, Ibadan where she studied from 1946 till 1948. She bagged her Higher College Teaching Diploma at the institution (she was the first female undergraduate of the Yaba institution) and jetted out of Nigeria for Newham College, Cambridge and Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, the United States from 1949 to 1952. At the University of Ibadan, she had bagged the prize for the best female graduating student and got a scholarship to proceed to Cambridge.
Upon finishing her studies in America in 1952, she was back in Nigeria to teach at Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, Ilesha (now St. Margaret’s School). She also taught at the St. Anne’s School, Ibadan before returning to Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts in 1961 for her second degree programme. By 1958, she was back in Nigeria and joined the Library Staff of the University of Ibadan where she worked in various capacities. In 1973, she became a Professor of Library Studies and retired in 1987 from the university system. But ever indefatigable, she took up some other public assignments.
Ogunseye was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Nigeria Book Fair Trust during its 11th Nigeria International Book Fair from the 7th to the 12th of May, 2012 at the Afe Babalola Auditorium, University of Lagos, for her contributions to the growth and stability of publishing and book trade in the country.
Mama Ogunseye is a nonagerian of tremendous faith. And she was divinely healed of low blood pressure in 2014.
Her memory remains sharp, her voice resonant.
Ogunseye speaks to The New Diplomat crew on sundry issues ranging from the state of the country, falling standard of educational, secret of her longevity, among others. Excerpts.
|How does it feel to be 90?|
Looking back, I feel I am a favoured person because I can see and understand life better. I understand the political and economic development and the trend in social development in Nigeria in a better way. I was very happy to be in position and still have the mental ability working in place. I am glad I enjoyed a relatively good health.
In 2014, they were going to insert a pace maker in me but I was disturbed about the aftermath of such surgery. I researched about the machine and found out possible challenges that might come with it. I was so engrossed with the fact that I might not be able to use a cell phone again and I might not be able to do so many things.
I tried to see if I could go for something else but the surgeon who was to carry out the operation never bothered about my dilemma. He was rather busy telling me that nothing would change the proposed surgery and that my son had made provision for it.
But I had a strong belief that God could heal me without any operation.
Four days to the operation while I was on the hospital bed at the University College Hospital UCH, Ibadan I prayed to God. I told God I knew he could heal me and then asked why he had not. And God told me that I had not asked Him. And that all I had done was to research into the possible fallouts of the surgery. I then intensified my prayer, telling God I believed in his divine healing and that he should help my unbelief.
Lo and behold, the very following day, three days, to the operation, my miracle began.
I was admitted to the hospital because my purse rate was declining to below 40. Suddenly, I noticed an improvement in my health that same evening that I prayed. The following morning, I told the surgeon that I thought the Lord had healed me and that my money should be refunded because I wouldn’t need the surgery after all. Two days to the Surgery, the lead surgeon measured my pulse rate and found out it was 80 and he had to believe my claims.
A day after, my pulse rate had even improved better and the main Surgeon came to observe me and declared me healed.
I am happy to be alive but just I am upset at the development in the country.
How would you compare the Nigeria of your youth and Nigeria of today?
In my youth, I was proud to be a Nigerian. My father was that kind of civil servant transferred around the areas of the South-west, Cameroun and Makurdi. The whole of my primary education was in Victoria, now Limbe because Cameroun was still part of Nigeria then. I felt more Nigerian then and I don’t know what has happened. We are divided in the country and ethnicity has risen to a very high level. Many of my friends then didn’t see any difference in each other despite our different ethnic backgrounds. Queens College was a school where people from all over the country sent their daughters. We were all looking forward to the Independence and I did remember I defended that thought in Cambridge that Nigeria would develop faster and would witness tremendous progress if given her independence. But now, we are so divided and I am very disappointed that Nigeria has not grown. In fact, we have pulled apart.
Apart from ethnicity, in which other areas have you felt disappointed in Nigeria?
I have been disappointed by the education system that has collapsed, especially in the South-west. I was on the Banjo Commission set up by the late Awolowo to go through the whole of the South-west to know the challenges of education and propose a solution to them. It was a free educational programme. And if you look at the first paper we presented on education then, you will notice my special bias for the library. I ensured we made library essential for any level of the institution. There was a very strong input on library then. We seem to have lost track now. We have stopped implementing the system that was established then. They later brought 6-3-3-4 and now is 9-3-4 which doesn’t make sense. We worked very hard to produce the teachers who would implement the 6-3-3-4 but I don’t know what happened to those teachers. All the new idea of bringing out a wholly educational person with skills and knowledge of science have been dropped. And we have stopped educating the youths, now we only train them to pass exams and have certificates.
Everybody wants to get to the university through any means. We are no longer educating our youths for living and things are now difficult. We have neglected certain areas of the society and they are the ones that are the terrorists that we are building. It started with the almajiri’s…in the North but we are now building our own almajiris in Dugbe market and other areas. South-west used to be in the forefront of education before, but we are now behind.
All sorts of racketeering are going on among our public teachers in Nigeria. I also figured that the absence of the board of governance and the inspectors are parts of what is responsible for the decline. There are lots of work to be done.
But the things that has hit me hardest is the level, the height and the debt of corruption in this country. It is mind-boggling.
Thank God for Buhari. If we can team up and fight corruption, there will be hope for Nigeria.
Don’t you think we are fighting it?
We are fighting it but some people are already trying to justify the deeds by the judges. The one that really hit me is the corruption among the judges. I am surprised that anyone could say that and I was wondering how the younger ones would feel. Policemen too are corrupt.
What is the way out of this mess?
The Tempo of Buhari’s anti-graft war should be sustained and we just go on with prayers and consistency. Dedicated people who can resist corruption should be appointed to serve. Corruption destroys and it can never build the society.
It was suggested in some circles sometime ago that if we speak or adopt a common indigenous language, it could foster unity or cohesion, which of the three major languages will you suggest?
Naturally, I will suggest Yoruba because we are the largest. I think I battled that at a meeting of Nigerian Council of Education in 1973 when some people wanted to enforce the Hausa language on us. The Hausa were very clever and they had briefed their spokesman who incidentally came from Edo.
The man came and put forward his argument, but I kicked, asking them to explain on what grounds. I told them I have done more library works on the Nigerian languages and I found that Yoruba seems to be more documented. I also faulted them on cultural grounds that the language of the people is their culture. And when it was mentioned at another forum, a Hausa man presented my position on that and the idea was dropped.
With your exposure and level of education, why are you passionate about the Yoruba race?
I was passionate about the whole of Nigeria because I have watched my brother who stood for one Nigeria. He stood up and fought for the protection of the Igbos when they were massacred. He stood for them; that the Igbos had been maltreated and massacred. He defended them when they were again attacked during the genocide so that they were not overrun. He prevented them from being overwhelmed. It was documented in my book.
But it appears we were overrun surreptitiously using Chadian soldiers. When we subsequently had leaders of thought meeting in theWest, it appeared the Northerners had decided that the Igbos should be allowed to go. They said what was left of Nigerians was enough for them. But the Westerners insisted at that meeting that if they let the Igbos to go, the Yoruba too would go. And so we became their target of subterranean terrorist activities. They sent for Banjo and he supported him. He burrowed a boot for Ojukwu but he (Ojukwu) never believed that he could succeed until he got to Ore. When my brother got to Ore, Colonel Banjo was recalled and detained for making a statement that he was not coming as a conqueror, saying the Midwest would determine where they wanted to go. My brother felt that the army had no right to dismember a country that was given them in peace. Banjo was pleading that Nigeria should stay as one nation. Shortly after this, Ojukwu called back my brother and got him arrested. My brother sent an SOS to me, saying if he couldn’t make it back alive, I should help him raise his children and ensure that they are raised as Nigerians. My brother’s case went down like that without any further investigation. But when they do their army book, my brother’s name was declared missing. He was declared missing in a book published 20 years ago. Ojukwu later had him shot and the Yoruba did not squeak.
These soldiers nearly detained me as well. They came to our house in the University of Ibadan and searched my drawer, hoping to see some documents. But they never saw anything. When my brother was imprisoned, my husband and I got permission to see him.
There was also a time some Yoruba’s names were shortlisted for assassination. I have details of this account in my book.
With this stance of your younger brother and the action of yet another your younger brother of yours during the regime of Abacha, will it be right to say that radicalism runs in your family?
My father was a civil servant with a brilliant background. He learnt various languages but he was principled. He taught himself law. He later sat for the exams and passed. He was later appointed a judge. From childhood, my father was always up with the rule of law and he helped a lot in writing petitions before passing the exams. My father who attended St Andrew’s College taught briefly at the Mission Grammar School in Lagos.
When there was a corruption issue in that place; the people there picked him to investigate. He was a defender of the truth and my grandmother used to tease him as “wigless lawyer”. My great grandfather was a prince and he was in a group that ambushed the British soldiers. According to history, my grandfather came back from that battle with a bullet in his body.
If you came to our house with another person’s pencil, you are in trouble. It is true it runs in the family but I don’t call it radicalism. It is a way of life for the Yoruba. We were brought up not to cheat, not to cut corners and to fight for others. We were trained to practice our religions and respect our culture.
You are the First Female student of the Yaba Higher College, the First female African Professor and your father took a similar lead, does this run in the family too?
My father pushed me. He loves education and his children. He coached us for many exams and he had one exceptional feeling for his female children. My father was ambitious for all his children but particularly for his female children. He was unusual in that respect. My sister who had a problem while studying for her PhD. I advised her not to continue but she told me that she could not drop it because she had long promised our late father that she would do her PhD. She eventually did in America and came back to be a staff in the Physics Department in 1975. She was part of the people retired during Obasanjo retirement regime. She is Mrs Ngige.
My Sister also did science and we were all graduates. My late soldier brother was the first Nigerian engineer to get a degree. Banjo was a senior to Gowon at Sandhurst. He did his A-level and went to that college. He taught briefly at Egbado before joining the Army.
My father and mother were educated. It was a good family, tough my parents had their own issues then.
What can we do to realise the Nigeria of our dream?
I think the competiveness between the ethnic groups is unhealthy. Nigeria needs to practice true federalism. Let each of the groups develop at their own pace and allow the development to get to the rural areas and not just the urban. Basic amenities should be accessible to all. We should also discourage conspicuous consumption. Let’s have good governance just as Lagos government is doing. I am glad at what they are doing in Lagos because they are gradually getting to the society. Let all the rich stop their aggressiveness to get rich. Why should some members of our society steal billions of naira? They are obviously sick and they are average of poverty. The corruption has extended into the banking industry. They are now conniving with some people on the nation’s forex.