Professor Ladipo Adamolekun’s latest book, I Remember: The Autobiography of LADIPO ADAMOLEKUN (Ibadan, Safari Books, 2016, 352 pages), is not just an autobiography. Rather, it is really an academic book, full of illustrations of best practices in intellectual engagement. The book amply illustrates the classic quintet of methodology, data, findings, conclusions, and recommendations. It is also a book about stylistics, that is, the choices of linguistic expression in particular contexts.
I begin with methodology and then take the remaining quartet as an interconnected group. Finally, I briefly address some of the implications of the book.
The data for the book came from various sources, including diaries, notes, letters, introspection, and the author’s academic output. A keen sense of observation and involvement also aided the recall of specific events. The first set of diaries was kept by his father and by his mother. The latter employed scribes to record “jottings on her children” and “notes on her trading activities” in “well-preserved notebooks”.
The second diary was his own, which he started keeping since 1962 at age 19. To enhance his diary-keeping habits, he moved from yearly to 5-year diaries in 1986, his current 5-year diary (2016-2020) being the seventh in the series. As he finally embarked on writing this book, Adamolekun decided to write 52 weekly recollections from January to December 2013.
The events described in the book, spanning xvi Roman and 352 Arabic numeral pages, derive largely from the data sources listed above, dating back from his birth, through his academic training from primary through tertiary education, to his wide intellectual and public engagements at home and abroad.
Rather than provide a synopsis of the chapters, I want to pursue two interesting strands, at once overlapping and at other times contradictory, which dovetail into each other throughout the book.
One is the growth and development of the author from infancy to date. At every stage, we saw the author blossom and excel until he became a professor at age 36. The grooming at Oyemekun Grammar School, Christ School, Ado Ekiti, the Universities at Ibadan and Oxford produced a first class scholar and administrator. With self discipline and dedication to academic pursuit, he attained Olympian Heights as he served universities across the globe, various governments, and world bodies, particularly the United Nations and the World Bank.
At no time did he fail to exhibit the finest tradition of scholarship and intellectual probity; not even when he styled himself as an “Independent Scholar”. Whenever he feared or experienced any compromise in ideals, he either declined or withdrew his service. For example, in 1965, he resigned as the Public Relations Officer of the Student Union at the University of Ibadan when the Students Union Executive decided to intervene in the conflict between the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar. “I cannot compromise my principles”, he wrote, “and I have, therefore, decided on the only available path of honour –to resign and continue the fight for my principle among the general body of students” (p. 54).
Similarly, in 1978, he declined what would be considered a “juicy” offer today–the appointment as the Director-General of the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (pages 127-128). Two years later, he sued Nigerian Tribune for raising false allegations against him in his management of the Local Government Training Programme at the University of Ife. He won the libel suit and was awarded damages.
The other strand has to do with Nigeria’s development. Since Adamolekun’s personal growth and development could not be divorced from the development of Nigeria, one could not but be held up as a mirror unto the other. Like Adamolekun’s contemporaries, he had his early education in colonial Nigeria, completed undergraduate education during the first decade of independence, and had much of his university teaching career in the country. Adamolekun’s growth kind of mirrored that of the country, but only to a point.
From about the mid seventies, he outgrew the country because, while upholding the quartet of factors which propelled him –strong family values, educational excellence, meritocracy, and effective public service (buoyed by strong institutions) – the country had allowed these factors to collapse, beginning with military intervention, which gradually decimated values and institutions.
With the collapse of values, institutions, and basic infrastructure came the bastardisation of academic culture and the denigration of public service. Unbridled corruption has turned civil servants into what one Governor once termed “evil servants”. The civil service became politicised and civil servants joined politicians in replacing public interest with self-interest. In lectures, articles, and books in the course of his career, Adamolekun decried these failures and proffered solutions to the malaise in education and the public service.
He did so across the pages of I Remember. I only have space to focus on his key recommendations for revamping the education sector, which include: (1) devolution of educational development, including the repeal of the UBE Act so that the funds could go directly to states and local governments; (2) increase in funding, including doubling the average annual Federal Government allocation to education of about 8 per cent; (3) provision of reliable education statistics to aid effective planning; (4) investment in information and computer technology and broadening its use in education; and (5) the enhancement of university autonomy, including the scrapping of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board and a critical review of the functions of the National Universities Commission.
Adamolekun and I had similar experiences of teaching at Ife, moving to the United States, and retiring home, except that I have never for once left the university institution, even now in my retirement years. Just last week, Professor Kole Omotoso and I had to abort a week-long workshop we mounted for the staff at a state university, because of dwindling attendance as the workshop progressed. Adamolekun recorded similar experiences with seminars for staff and postgraduate students at a federal university (pages 251-253). Map poor teaching, substandard research practices, destabilising union activities unto the foregoing deficiencies, and you get a picture of a dysfunctional university education system.
I hinted earlier that I Remember excels in style, typified by the lucidity of the prose. If ever there was an unfamiliar word in the book, it was contextually decodable. I particularly like the nuanced way in which the author communicated his father’s busy schedule with his three wives and his ability to forge unity among them and their children: “I was the third of three children born, in May, June and July 1942, to my father’s three wives … we were given names at a common ceremony in August … This assertion of family oneness and a touch of non-conformism were some of his distinguishing characteristics” (page 1).
One interesting finding in I Remember, which I find particularly valuable for my own research on literacy practices is the observation that Adamolekun’s mother could read but not write. This punctures the traditional conception of literacy, which privileges a joint engagement with reading and writing practices as a necessary condition for defining a literate individual.
Adamolekun did not excel as a scholar, researcher, teacher, and public servant without some down moments. He lost his first child and first wife, and grieved for five years before taking on a second wife. Yet, in the moment of grief, he still found space to intellectualise his pain, by reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief.
Above all, I Remember is a profound lesson on how to remember, one that every citizen should own and cherish.