Thu. May 16th, 2024

Aremo Jamiu Oyawoye, is the first Professor of   Geology  in Africa and a forerunner of the international event that birthed the Congress of the Geological Society of Africa series, a flagship event roundly described as the “Olympics” of African Geosciences.

Oyawoye: The Man

I served in most of the important committees that were in the university at the time; but I had to leave because some things just didn’t go well and I felt that if the drift wasn’t arrested, the system would malfunction. I couldn’t continue with the turn that the university governance was taking and I did not want to be a part of that twist.

I left the money behind because I did not want any financial benefit from a system I did not believe in.

A university doesn’t function when you take away rights and allow interest, religion, tribe and so on to get in the way. If you allow that, you are not going to get the best. In 1975, there were military interference curtailing our independence.

In 1977, they took the University of Ibadan out of the Commonwealth of Universities and put us in the Ministry of Education; the university was not part of the civil service before that time. A university is a global institution and needs its independence to remain globally relevant and competitive.

Our pensions were no longer contributory and they introduced a new set of packages which appeared big at the time. I realized that what they were doing was dangerous. They wanted control, they wanted to be the ones to appoint the VCs, I could see the university losing its pride, its independence and inevitably its ability to function efficiently and I resigned.

I donated my pension and gratuity to the department I was leaving behind in the University; I believe the department of Geology still benefits from that package till date. I left the money behind because I did not want any financial benefit from a system I did not believe in.

Professor Oyawoye, crown prince of Offa Kingdom in North Central Nigeria, is well celebrated as the father of African Geology who has distinguished himself in many other fields of endeavor besides Geology.

cacheblog.org editor, Jennifer Abraham, went to his home in Offa, Kwara State in August 2016, to have a chat with him in recognition of his pioneering status and contributions to the advancement of the geology profession in Nigeria; especially as the 26th Colloquium of African Geology which held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan from November 23 -27, 2016 was approaching.

Aremo Jamiu Oyawoye, as the first Professor of   Geology  in Africa is a forerunner of this international event that birthed the Congress of the Geological Society of Africa series, a flagship event roundly described as the “Olympics” of African Geosciences.

The Congress of the Geological Society of Africa series is an initiative of Prof. Oyawoye while he was Head of Department of Geology, University of Ibadan and late Prof. R. Black of the Department of Geology, Haile Sellasie Ist University, Addis Ababa at the time.

It all started  during a conference on African Geology hosted by the Department of Geology, University of Ibadan in 1970; the Geological Society of Africa (GSAf) eventually took off in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in December 1973 with Prof. Mosobolaje Oyawoye as its first president. Mosobalaje Oyawoye is a pioneer member of NMGS Patron Council, a Fellow and Past President of the Society, and one of the foundational fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Science.

A committed supporter of science and geoscience education, Professor Oyawoye dedicated his retirement package to the Department of Geology, University of Ibadan where he had enjoyed an illustrious career as the first indigenous Head of Department and where he earned a professorship within a yet unsurpassed record of 6years.  

The library in that department is named after him. The Faculty of Science, University of Ilorin, Kwara State also enjoys the support of this eminent son of  Offa town, through the Faculty of Science Endowed Lecture he instituted in 2003.  His son, Prince AbdulGaniyu Oyawoye is administrator of the endowment.

 At the 9th edition of the Annual Lecture on July 29, 2013, the Vice Chancellor of UniIlorin- Kwara State, Professor AbdulGaniyu Ambali, spoke glowingly of the uplifting outcomes the university has been harvesting from this auspicious gesture:

“On Thursday, 13th November 2008, the 5th Mosobolaje Oyawoye Lecture was held in this auditorium and the topic was Space Weather Exploration: Radio Sounding of GeoSpace Plasma. The lecturer of the day was Prof. Bodo Reinisch of the University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts, USA.

A year after the lecture, the University of Ilorin started its radio transmission project… It was that humble beginning that culminated in the award-winning Unilorin 89.3 FM that we have today.

“On Tuesday, 29th June, 2010, the University hosted the 6th in the series of this lecture on the topic, Professional Instructional Design for Computer Technology in Higher Education.

The Guest Speaker was the Dean of Information and Computer Design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa, and Professor of Educational Technology, Johannes Cronje. Shortly after the lecture, we established our Centre for Open and Distance Learning…

“Last year, precisely Wednesday 25th July, 2012, the University hosted Prof. Hillary Inyang of the Department of Environmental Engineering and Science, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA.

The topic of the lecture he delivered was Leachability of Contaminants from Exposed Wastes and their Necessary Control Measures in the Humid Tropics under the topic, Integrated Waste Management: A Global Perspective.

Today, just like yesterday, this University is acknowledged by all and sundry as having one of the best environments in the country, to put it modestly…

When the House of Representatives Committee on Education came here on May 7th, this year, the leader of the team, Hon. Shehu Garba, said: ‘I feel very hopeful and I feel elated that in the midst of the decay that we have an institution of excellence…

“Your university has the largest and best kept environment in the country”. The same feeling was expressed by the Senate Committee on Education when its members, led by the Chairman, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, said that the University has “manicured premises and serene environment…”

These contributions and many others have not gone unnoticed as awards and accolades have continued to rain on this distinctive scholar, professional, father, mentor, boardroom guru, philanthropist.

In July 2014, Prof Mosobalaji Oyawoye, was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree, D.Sc, by his Almer mater, Durham University, United Kingdom during Durham University 2014 Congregations in Durham Cathedral.

Speaking on the occasion, Prof Chris Higgins, Durham University’s outgoing vice-chancellor at the time said: “All of our honorary degree recipients have made outstanding contributions to their chosen fields. They are role models for our students in terms of what can be achieved with drive, determination and skill.” The University of Ibadan also awarded him a Dsc. degree in the same year.

Pofessor Oyawoye, is also founder and patron of the Monmodu-Jamiu Oyawoye foundation, a charity that particularly focusses on poverty alleviation and education of the poor.

He is also a religious and community leader. He is the  Balogun Imole Musullumi of Offa and a Foundation member and trustee of Egbe Offa Mesi, established to promote the economic, social, educational, cultural and political development of the people of Offa, his home town.

In his modest study furnished with books, souvenirs, awards and pictures, 89year-old Professor Oyawoye spoke with Jennifer Abraham on his times, convictions and motivation.

Much of the lessons derived from this delightful encounter were exuded but unspoken- humility in spite of his status and achievements, clarity of mind in spite of his years. Empathy, an elusive virtue amongst Nigeria’s privileged few comes effortlessly across as he addresses the youths and other vulnerable persons to whom a large part of his life in retirement is devoted.

Professor Oyawoye was Chairman of Guaranty Trust Bank for ten years and has chaired and sat on the board of many reputable public and private corporations in Nigeria. Enjoy the read:

THE HAND OF DESTINY

First, parentage: This town was founded by my ancestor some 300-400 years ago. I belong to the Anilelerin (meaning, apart from having a house, also has an elephant) Royal Family.

The two photographs; Oba Wuraola Isioye he was the last of the great kings of this town. Amongst all our ancestors, he is the one who was so interested in my education and insisted that I must be enrolled in Offa Grammar School, even though I was two years too young for it, having not completed my primary education.

My grandmother Jolade Efunike. I lived with her as a child, right from babyhood. I lived in the palace till I was 10years old. All the male children must leave the palace at the age of 10years; that did not apply to the princesses though. She took me as a small god and they worshipped me every two weeks.

I didn’t start school until I was eleven years old, having left the palace at age 10. I was taken to my parents. My grandmother felt that as a prince, I didn’t need to go to school and this offended the Ministry of Education Law which insisted that every child must start primary education between the ages of 5-6years. So, at the point of enrolment, they removed 3years from my age so the school inspectors would not question them.

After 4years at Offa Grammar School, we were not allowed to proceed to the school certificate class because we had no graduate teachers but there was a nurse in the city then, who prevailed on my parents to ensure that I completed my secondary education. So, my mother took me to Ibadan Grammar School where I completed my secondary education.

There, I met Rev. Alayande, the School Principal who played a role in the career path I was to pursue. When we finished our School Certificate Examination, he was in the habit of seeking employment for his students and after he heard of a vacancy at the Geological Survey, he gave me a letter to a clerk there. Before that time, I knew nothing about Geology. I wanted to be a medical doctor or an engineer.

When I got to the Geological Survey to give my letter to the Chief Clerk, I met three of my classmates there and 4 of us were taken as Geological Assistants.

It was there that I got my first exposure to the world of geology. I still didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, I felt it was less than being a medical doctor (laughs). In those days, you waited for two years before getting a scholarship and so, it was like being occupied while waiting for what I really wanted.

While I was there, an American organization published a scholarship advert for geology and architecture and out of the fifty that applied, two of us were awarded scholarships- one for geology and the other for architecture. I was given Geology; to go to the Washington State College, now Washington University in Pullman in the United States of America where I got my bachelor’s degree. I accepted and that changed my destiny. I now became firmly married to Geology.

I arrived 1952 and left 1953. It is usually a 4year programme but during summer, I took courses that reduced the time to 3years for me. We didn’t have equipment and we couldn’t go on field trips but I did summer school with the University of Illinois.

As destiny, would have it, a visiting professor, Professor Rhodes from Wales a graduate ofthe University of Durham, in the United Kingdom, who supervised mapping during the summer school, took an interest in me. He was impressed with my fieldwork (an advantage I gained as Geological Assistant before I came to the University); he loved the way I shaped my rock specimens flat and neatly.

One day, as we were sitting on a rock, Prof Rhodes asked if I would like to go to the UK to do a PhD. He recommended me to Professor Durham and he accepted me on the condition that I complete my bachelors programme in the UK.

Durham is one of the first four universities in the United Kingdom. It is in the ranks of Oxford, Cambridge and so on. It was exciting for me to be accepted there so I did not even wait for my convocation after completing my course. With this letter, I was inspired to carry additional workload and complete my B.Sc in record time.

You are acclaimed as the father of geology in Nigeria, and indeed Africa. I learnt from some of your children in the NMGS that your reputation as an erudite attracted foreign students and other researchers to Nigeria in the 60s and 70s. Today, we now go outside the country to consult their professionals, what could have gone wrong? Who do you think is in the best position to make it right today in 2016?

A WORLD SOUGHT-AFTER SCHOLAR AT UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN

Anxious to move on to UK, I did not wait for the convocation. Prof. Durham encouraged me to wait for a scholarship from Nigeria; the scholarship was almost automatic with full monetary incentives. I arrived UK, met Durham, and he said I should take a topic from Nigeria for my PhD Project.

Most of my work was on the younger granites but at the Geological Survey (in Nigeria), they wanted a study of the sedimentary basins, the Precambrian rocks in Bauchi. This was completely different from what I did there before. This was how I got into the Precambrian rocks.

Perhaps because of the rarity of geology, we didn’t have chemicals so my post graduate degree was heavy with field work. My map shows every outcrop where I took measurements for joints, dikes; it was very original. It had never happened before. I became a professor in under 6years. I don’t know if anyone has broken that record, if there are, they would be quite few.

I was first employed as a lecturer grade 11 in 1960 and promoted to the rank of a professor in 1966; making me a person who had listened to the call of destiny. Two years later in 1968, Professor Burke made me the Head of Department. I am forever grateful to him because when he voluntarily handed over the position to me, he and TJF Dessauvagie, another expatriate and Senior Lecturer, always supported me with ideas and supported things that I initiated.

Auspiciously, Nigeria would be hosting the 16th colloquium on African Geology for the first time- what does this mean to you, a pioneer in Africa and how would you advise that we make the most of this opportunity?

The Geological Society of Africa was founded with the joint efforts Prof.  R. Black at the Addis Ababa University and the University of Ibadan while I was the Head of Department of Geology. The idea came up at a Conference of African Geology hosted by the Department of Geology University of Ibadan in 1970 to mark the 10th anniversary of the department.

We started discussing GSaf and it was dominated by African Geologists who were Directors of geological Surveys in their countries and they began to own it. It became more policy directed and the researchers and other practitioners now had to participate through the Geological Surveys of their individual countries but that was not the original idea.

That meant that the geologists in the individual countries could not participate without the recommendation of the directors of Geological survey in their countries. That has since changed. The foreigners who came from Europe and all of Africa appreciated them. It was eventually ‘reviewed’ to include the academia, researchers.

We have always believed that better association and intimacy amongst African earth scientists is necessary and useful. The association at the African level will benefit participating countries. It means we can cooperate to expand the knowledge of African geology and we can share ideas.   No doubt Nigeria would benefit a lot from the networking opportunity it would provide.

Could you compare the Geological Survey of that time with the NGSA of today? Would you say we have moved forward?

We haven’t moved forward. If anything, we have moved backward. In the colonial days. the Geological Survey was like a ministry and its Director was a Special member of the House of Representatives; indeed, all the directors of important departments were members of the legislature. There was funding. The colonial government was interested in exploiting the resources of the country and so they invested in it. Even we as students at the time were well funded.

Under that system, there were frequent geological expeditions, everyone worked very hard. They had targets for mapping the whole of Nigeria. The initial scale of 1:250 was very low and by independence they had started producing maps to the scale of 1:50,000 and had almost completed it when they abandoned it and started trying to scale it up to 1: 100,000. That 1:50,000 would have given a lot of information had it been properly completed.

During that period, every mapping unit published completed reports with full descriptions in what was called the Bulletin of the Geological Survey, giving generalized information. At independence, the Geological Survey which the Nigerian Director inherited was no longer doing research. In colonial times the composition of Directors of the Units, many of whom were doctorate degree holders, continuously researched and periodically published bulletins so, findings were results of cumulative work.

The last bulletin published is the one done in the colonial days.

I always criticized the latter directors for not continuing what the colonial directors did. This is not to say that the quality of geologists was poor.

No, we had and still have accomplished geologists but successive governments have not been funding geological survey, they concentrated on oil, which indeed is only one mineral, a product of previous surveys. Gradually, the Geological Survey took the backstage after oil was found and no meaningful effort was made to develop other minerals.

Today, we have the Geological Survey Agency, a good organization with well-trained staff that lacks the money to work with. Whereas it is the GSNA staff that should train staff for the oil industry.

For example, the Geological Survey of Texas is the leading institution for research at all levels- be they oil and gas or other minerals. In the case of Nigeria, the geological Survey has been relegated to what they call solid minerals; not treating all the resources of the country equally.

The person with the best knowledge of the Oil and gas Industry should be in the Geological Survey but that is not the case. The foreign investors are not made to feel obliged to do anything for the Geological Survey Agency. The place is under-staffed, yet, there is still so much work to be done. The scale is not good enough to attract investors.

From one government to another, there is a basic lack of understanding of what geology is about

From one government to another, there is a basic lack of understanding of what geology is about. In most advanced countries, they are doing it at a scale where they are unable to overlook anything. They set up committees to find out more minerals whereas we set up committees to go and look for more minerals. Geology doesn’t work that way.

Geology is a regional thing which focuses attention on certain areas. The work of the Geological Survey should be cumulative and that leads to discoveries.

They should be supported to continue sustained mapping and we would eventually find the minerals, the attitude of setting out only in search of some minerals is wrong. There is presently a dislocation and a total lack of understanding of what geology is and how to go about investigations.

In the early days of geology and mining, most minerals were discovered by laymen who heard anecdotes. Most deposits were not found by geologists but by interested travelers.  We have plenty of graduates but the profession is not moving forward.

For example, how many geologists are stationed to map Ilorin? Government departments and the university are two separate organs and the geology departments in the universities ought to be funded through the GSNA; commissioning certain studies for PhD students etc., to get materials to further their own studies.

If you were to advise the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, what would you ask him to do to move the sector forward?

The Minister of Solid Minerals should see the GSNA and the universities as instruments to be used to achieve his objectives. His conversations should start with them and not with people who do not have a good understanding of how this sector works.

He should see them as his empire and help them to grow. He should find a way of making them to work together to elucidate the geology of this country. A lot of information with the GSNA is not known by the people in the university and this leads to a lot of duplication of effort whereas all the money comes from the same government under different sections.

They can be harmonized for greater efficiency. For now, the people in the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency do not even see the universities as part of them. The Minister should bring all these people together; anybody who is interested in the industry should be of interest to the Minister, nobody should feel left out.

Firstly, he should invite the universities with the NGSA Director present. The asset in Geology extends beyond the survey department. They are using public money for research; they should work together.

Secondly, there should be a special fund for investigation to be reposed with the NGSA and he should direct the funds appropriately. For example, PhD students can be funded to do their research in specific areas that are of interest to the GSNA.

Let geological investigations be well funded. Funds should be fully utilized by tapping the available manpower resources in the country be they in industry, in the universities or at the GSNA. For now, the universities appear to be working on parallel tracks and this is not good enough as the GSNA does not seem to perceive them as their partners so a lot of works achieved in the universities are unutilized.

Thirdly, it is when you put maps together that you see gaps; the picture will emerge and you would be able to make predictions. The systematic production of geological maps in a way that helps investor decision has been stopped for too long.

Final year students who are doing mapping can be given financial support to map a sheet of an unmapped area. When the GSNA collates the results from various universities, the maps will start emerging. You just don’t set out to go and find minerals, you go out and map areas; it is from those maps and the ensuing discussions that major discoveries are made.

You moved with speed, distinction and influence in the field of geology and soon left it to conquer other territories; could it be that geology was not challenging enough?

There are so many opportunities in this country, if you want to make your services available you can do a lot. I left at the peak of my career in the upper part of 1976 when some things happened in succession thatled to my exit. If you look at the academic activities up to 1975, I was very active in the university.

I served in most of the important committees that were in the university at the time; but I had to leave because some things just didn’t go well and I felt that if the drift wasn’t arrested, the system would malfunction. I couldn’t continue with the turn that the university governance was taking and I did not want to be a part of that twist.

I left the money behind because I did not want any financial benefit from a system I did not believe in.

A university doesn’t function when you take away rights and allow interest, religion, tribe and so on to get in the way. If you allow that, you are not going to get the best. In 1975, there were military interference curtailing our independence.

In 1977, they took the University of Ibadan out of the Commonwealth of Universities and put us in the Ministry of Education; the university was not part of the civil service before that time. A university is a global institution and needs its independence to remain globally relevant and competitive.

Our pensions were no longer contributory and they introduced a new set of packages which appeared big at the time. I realized that what they were doing was dangerous. They wanted control, they wanted to be the ones to appoint the VCs, I could see the university losing its pride, its independence and inevitably its ability to function efficiently and I resigned.

I donated my pension and gratuity to the department I was leaving behind in the University; I believe the department of Geology still benefits from that package till date. I left the money behind because I did not want any financial benefit from a system I did not believe in.

I honestly didn’t see how I would survive in that system. When I told my wife about my decision, she asked. “what are we going to eat?” and I said, “God will provide”; and God has been providing.  When I left the university of Ibadan, I asked myself, “what do I do? I could go to USA and take up an appointment; there were opportunities for me to go to other countries as a visiting professor.

For example, in Zambia where I had helped them establish a Department of Mining and Geology. I had observed that Zambia was a mining country but had no indigenous institution that could offer training in the geosciences and I wrote a letter to the President at the time, Kenneth Kaunda, and I was invited over to help set it up.

In appreciation, an open invitation was waiting for me to pick up whenever I was ready to come over as a visiting professor. I also had that offer from several other institutions; they would have been happy to have me but my level of involvement in Nigeria at both state and federal levels made me feel I should remain in the country and fight on.

As God, would have it, I soon got a series of appointments not related to Geology. I was appointed to take up the Nigerian slot for the chairman of WAEC, I was made Chairman of the Federal Capital Development Authority, and then Chairman of KRPC Kaduna- they were all coming at about the same time, one after the other.

Even here in Kwara State I was made Chairman of various boards. During that period, I was told of a group of people who were working on floating a new bank with a difference in ideals and orientation and I decided to subscribe to it. That bank is today’s GTbank and I later served as Chairman of its Board of Directors for 10years.

Since they were all part-time jobs, I established a consulting firm involved in the design of dams, irrigation systems and city water supply projects. The company has been very successful, employing geologists and mining engineers.

Could you tell us more about yourself- what motivates you. How could you leave so much behind, could it be that princely part of you…?     

It’s very difficult to explain to you. In the University of Ibadan in those days, we were one big family. We saw ourselves as people who would defend the university from external forces, from exploitation by African Governments. We always saw ourselves as different in attitude about what Government could get away with. 

One day, the Chairman of Council appointed by the Federal Government came and told us the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon would be hosting Emperor Haile Selassie and the Head of State wanted him honoured with a Doctor of Law Degree in UI.

This was brought to the University and the Senate said he did not meet the stipulated conditions because the king was immune to the problems of his impoverished people. In those days, Ethiopia was a favorite destination for conferences but visitors were always besieged by an army of beggars because of the overwhelming poverty in that country.

The University gives degrees for learning and for character but could still award degrees to people who have made significant contributions to the advancement of humanity and we would read a citation on them at the ceremony. On this occasion, we could not defend the award, we had nothing to say about the emperor’s achievements. The University should not lie. Nobody could find anything to say for his citation to justify the degree.

The University of Ibadan collectively declined granting the President’s request. They had to change the King’s itinerary and he went to Ahmadu Bello University Zaria instead where he was awarded the degree. Interestingly, the emperor was deposed in his country on September 14, 1974, the day after he received the Doctorate Award from ABU.

You left Sir, did you notice that your colleagues stayed behind, did you feel bad about it?

UI as a university has a lot of unwritten rules. Tradition believes that because you feel this way, we don’t all have to do the same. People have the right to follow their individual convictions.

There are certain things which all of us would not do. They agreed with me in the university and even held a send-off party for me which I really appreciated. We didn’t judge each other. People should be allowed to make their own decisions. We all maintained our integrity.

However, a lot of things changed after the government took over. Many of the expatriates left within two years and operations gradually started falling below global standards.

It also affected the liveliness of the community then. A lot of recreational activities, Christmas carols, we all enjoyed started fading away gradually. The decision has also taken its toll on the standard of education generally as lecturers no longer command the same authority they previously could.

Consequently, lecturers have had to form a union, go on strike- If I had still been in the system, I would have opposed it. Students should be protected irrespective of what the Government is doing.

I feel it is wrong for university teachers to go on strike because of their own conditions or for more money. On many occasions in our time, we refused to go on strike. The university should have been left under the commonwealth membership and all the standards it represented; including autonomy.

It’s only a few people that are causing so much harm to the system and smearing everybody but it will end someday. I encourage the youths to be patient and to have faith in God. It was not like this in our time.

You are a role model Sir, what would you say is the key to success?

First of all, people like me are considered as controversial, because we insist on standing for the truth. However, if that stand is right, everybody will go around and end up owning up that ‘he was right’.

Could you give a word of advice to upcoming ones in these difficult times?

Realize that nationally now, we have the semblance of a government but we don’t have a government. They are not working in the interest of the people who voted for them in. Some people who graduated 15years ago have never been employed at all. Nigeria is sick at this time. Nothing is real, people do not have rights, no justice. People just wash their hands off you and that is very sad.

Until things change, they must live with that. The solution is not very simple. Everybody can go to their village and start farming but what of the financial implications? The society is not sympathetic about the plight of the people. It’s very difficult to know what to say to a young man. We have a very dangerous situation. In the real sense, there’s no effective government anywhere.

I would advise, “don’t get that desperate. Just do what you can to survive this period. It must end, I don’t know how but I know it must end. We must continue to support one another; I don’t go to people to ask for favour for myself; I can have powerful friends but I do not ask them for things for myself but I can ask for the community. Because of that, even my own children lack jobs, I share what I have with them. We have started farming and we employ people. We also try what we can to help the less privileged around us.

It’s only a few people that are causing so much harm to the system and smearing everybody but it will end someday. I encourage the youths to be patient and to have faith in God. It was not like this in our time.

By Jennifer Ihuoma Abraham

Jennifer Abraham holds a bachelors degree in English Language and Literature and a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. She has practiced journalism since after her national youth service assignment in 1989 as an independent TV producer/presenter and magazine editor; focusing on entrepreneurship, personal and community/natural resources development. She has attended broadcasting courses sponsored by the United States Information Service and Science Reporting Workshops with the African Technology and Policy Studies Network. She is also a teacher, a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ and has partnered with NGOs, Government Agencies and individuals to promote philanthropic causes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *