Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:43 pm
Between Thursday 21 and Friday 22 January 2016, friends and well wishers gathered at the Conference Centre, Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, venue of the Biodun Jeyifo @ 70 Conference to celebrate the second leg of the 70th birthday of Professor Biodun Jeyifo, a University of Ibadan, UI, trained scholar who is currently teaching at Harvard University.
The first leg took place at the Arts Theatre of UI. The programme which was spiced with performances by Uncle Jimi Solanke, pupils of Sunshine Nursery and Primary School, Ile-Ife, students of and Department of Dramatic Arts, OAU, drew students and eminent Nigerians from the academic and other works of life to the Conference Hall of the centre. Among them were: Governor Rauf Aregbesola of State of Osun and his head of service, Sunday Owoeye, Professor Femi Osofisan, Professor Kole Omotosho, Professor Mary Kolawole, Professor Bene Madunagu, past ASUU President, Professor Abdullah Sule-Kano, Professor Idowu Awopetu, Professor Wale Adegbite, former ASUU Chairman, UI, Professor Segun Ajiboye, Chairman ASUU, ABU Zaria, Professor M.K. Aliyu, immediate past ASUU Chairman, Professor Ade Akinola, former DVC Academic, OAU, Prof. Funmi Togonu-Bickersteth and her husband, Engineer Lanre, Vice President, ASUU, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, Professor Tunde Fatunde, Professor Segun Adekoya, and Professor Adebayo Lamikanra.
Others were: Mr. Kunle Ajibade, Mr. Odia Ofeimum, Dr. Edwin Madunagu, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Dr. Ahmed Yerima, ASUU President, Dr. Nasir Isa, Head, Department of Dramatic Arts, OAU, Dr. Bayo Afolabi, ASUU Zonal Coordinators, Akure and Kano, Dr. Alex Oduyi and Dr. Rabiu Nasir, OAU ASUU Chairman, Dr. Caleb Aborisade, ASUU National Treasurer, Dr. Demola Aremu, Convener of Labour Committee, ABU, Dr. Usman Ladan, Chairman, ASUU Nnamdi Azikwe University, Dr. Dennis Aribodor, Dr. Taiwo Soneye, Dr. Seinde Arigbede and his wife, Duni, Dr. Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, Dr. Dipo Fasina, Dr.Ogaga Ifowodo.
At the event, Jeyifo threw up a mild drama by refusing to sit as permitted when his citation was being read as he declared, “I will prove it to you that a 70-year old man can stand”. Uncomfortable with this position, Dr. Sola Olorunyomi, who felt that the celebrant is not agile to stand for a long period, said that he would make the reading of the citation brief but Jeyifo responded, “Make it as long as possible”.
All the speakers at the forum eulogized the celebrant describing him as a friend of the masses. They further described him as intellect per excellence, iconic teacher, a selfless leader, an administrator and a rallying point for those who believe genuinely in the project of Nigeria. “Jeyifo is extremely lucky to clock 70 years”, Falana.
Jeyifo, who felt humbled by the activities organized by his associates for his birthday, betrayed his emotion as he shed tears because his mother died before launching a book he dedicated to her. He said, “My mother did not see the book I dedicated to her.”
Jeyifo was quick to point out that what he took away from Nigerian universities had not been given to him by any other university, even Harvard University where he is currently teaching for few decades saying, “Harvard doesn’t come close to what I took away from Ife.”
He lamented continuous denial of the rights of the Nigerian youth by the government, stressing, “The youth of today don’t enjoy what I enjoyed when I was in school. Nigeria has continued to deny its people their rights. We must fight to reclaim the past glory. Everything in Nigeria is in a complete mess and disarray. We need to rededicate ourselves.”
He concluded his speech by promising, in response to a request from Nigerians that he has made up his mind to return from Harvard University to Nigeria. He said, “I am coming home soon”.
Femi Falana, SAN, who chaired the occasion did not hide his disgust over the ills of Nigerian society especially corruption, which permeates the entire system of the country suggesting conscious, deliberate and drastic steps to address them.
He berated the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan for the monumental corruption perpetuated, several attempts to rig the last presidential election in favour of the acclaimed largest party in Africa, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as well as desperation to prematurely sack the former Chairman of Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega for his efforts to organize credible elections. According to him, the prophecies of the former first lady, Patience Jonathan that many atrocious individuals would go to jail if Muhammed Buhari wins the last election is coming to pass adding, “She said, I don’t want to take food to my husband in the prison custody”. Jonathan proposed to fight corruption with technology. But when Jega introduced card reader, he did everything to frustrate its usage. But he didn’t succeed.”
Berating members of the legal profession for aiding criminality in the country, Falana said, “If you pay a lawyer well, a case can be kept in court until the state is frustrated. Somebody stole money and former NBA president went to court to say that immunity of the father should be extended to the son. But the judge said that even the immunity of the father stops the moment he leaves office, stressing that the father’s immunity has expired. Is it not funny that in Nigeria, you can have immunity for life? It is in Nigeria that the court will jail a governor after leaving office, jail his wife, jail his girlfriend and jail his mother for stealing so much.”
Commenting on the hullabaloo surrounding the handcuffing of some big men to court, he said, “There were protests and agitations because somebody, the publicity secretary of the largest party in Nigeria was handcuffed to court from Kuje Prison. And some of us are joining them to ask why a big man should be handcuffed to the court. The same thing with the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun as people also asked why Tafa would be handcuffed to court. This is the concept of big man in our country. Today, we see policemen and women carrying bags for politicians and public office holders. After what happened to Tafa Balogun, the president called Nuhu Ribadu to tender public apology and Ribadu said that he would rather resign than tender apology to a suspect. Then the president said that “since you are stubborn, go back to your job” and he ordered the chief of army staff to tender the apology”.
According to him, in the case of ordinary people, they are not only handcuffed but leg chained to court while they use Limousine to take big men to court. Unfortunately, when a big man is being prosecuted, nobody talks about the gravity of the offence that has been committed. Is it not crazy that people moved N68b from CBN in a day and EFCC is not talking about armed robbery but money laundering? Instead of charging a thief with stealing, they will say that he has laundered money. If a common man is arrested on the street, they will charge him with wandering, but if it is a big man, they will charge him with strolling or walking. That is the Nigeria we are”.
He also condemned the media houses that were involved in corruption and shared N120m belonging to the nation saying, “Nduka Obiagbena of ThisDay collected N670m from the last administration and he said that I am not the only one that will collect this money and was instrumental to 12 newspapers also collecting from this largesse. 12 newspapers collected N9m each. They donated N1m to the running of running Newspapers Association of Nigeria, NPAN, secretariat. It is only three newspapers that the government seized and they used that excuse to collect N120m; that is a crime against humanity. It is a crime against humanity because they shared money that is meant for the people, they shared money that is meant to buy arms and ammunition to fight the enemies of the nation.
“That is not all. They sent soldiers, who were between 21-24 as at that time, to the war front to fight Boko Haram without weapons. Some weapons given to them were outdated and they did not give them bullets for the outdated AK47 and the Boko Haram they were asked to fight had enough scary ammunitions. Sending soldiers to war front without ammunition is simply saying that they should go and commit suicide. What did Ministry of Defence do with about N5trillions that was given to them in the last five years? They sentence those soldiers to death because they asked for weapons to fight Boko Haram. After, the sentence was reviewed and it was commuted to ten years imprisonment. That is not fair. The government should squash the case preferred against them, set them free and reinstate them back into the army”.
Falana, who described the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as the greatest disaster that has ever happened to the nation, condemned the celebration of Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, IMF, Christine Lagarde in Nigeria saying that about four hundred and thirty-million Euro fraud is hanging on her.
He added that it was pathetic that some of the nation’s senators have been involved in the mismanagement of the nation’s resources, “Corruption is assuming a dangerous dimension in this country. Before, if any child is involved in corruption, the father will disown him but today, we have a situation whereby a father and son stole money and they are locked up in the same prison custody. These are the people we allow to take care of the affairs of our country. Governor Ayodele Fayose stole N1.2b, he has murder cases and now he has immunity”.
Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor Gbemisola Adeoti, in his speech pointed out that the celebrant contributed immeasurably to the university through teaching, research and community engagement adding, “The name BJ registers a dedicated teacher of literature and a combative literary critic of Marxist ideological/persuasion. In another respect, it evokes the image of a social critic, a political activist and a trade unionist whose activities as the president of ASUU demonstrate his conviction about the bright prospects of the oppressed people of the world to achieve liberation through collective struggle”.
According to him, Jeyifo is many things to many people adding, “to some, he is a struggling playwright, an accomplished critic. He is an avid debater and a fine newspaper columnist who takes a position and barrages the other side with persuasive premises to establish beyond reasonable or unreasonable doubts, the rightness of his argument”.
The Convener, Dr. Wunmi Raji, thanked those that contributed in one way or the to the success of the programme stressing that Jeyifo’s worth is unimaginable as he is larger than what anybody can think of.
Delivering a keynote sppech on the theme of the conference, “The Complexity of Freedom: Biodun Jeyifo @70”, Jega went down memory lane disclosing that he met the celebrant in 1986 during the ASUU Delegates conference, which took place at OAU, and during which he was elected as Vice President, with late Professor Festus Iyayi elected as President. “I remember him chairing the Left, or is it “leftist”, Caucus meeting of the Delegates at which Festus and I emerged as candidates for the elections. (I remember my initial difficulty in distinguishing Professor Olorode from Biodun Jeyifo! They all looked lean and lanky and fiery in speech, and balding!) And I especially remember Biodun Jeyifo’s calm and cool demeanor in presiding over that meeting, with his apt summary of issues discussed and astute and commendable effort at consensus building. As a young activist, I, along with many of my colleagues, were inspired by his personal example (and others like late Mahmud Tukur); in serious scholarship, activism and personal sacrifices, in building ASUU as a strong and credible union of academics; and in establishing appropriate rapport and unity of purpose with the Nigerian labor movement.
“He remained ASUU’s representative on the CWC of the NLC until 1987 or thereabouts. Although he departed from Ife in 1987 (I must here confess that we were disappointed by his departure, because we believed there was a lot his presence would have offered the struggles) and I lost personal communication with him, I have remained inspired by his example; his passion for radical and humane scholarship, his combative (or is it combatant?) intellectualism and his popular engagement with the struggle for a better Nigeria, reflected in his interviews and contribution to newspapers and other media. As a reputable literary critic, cultural theorist and scholar of Marxist literary and cultural theory, in his sojourn abroad, he has become a great symbol of credible Nigerian intellectuals who have made us proud by their accomplishments and intellectual contributions, which have profound impact globally”, he said.
To the thrust of his lecture, Jega advocated radical transformation of Nigeria and called all Nigerians to be part of bringing out Nigeria out of its doldrums and position it for the betterment of everyone including unborn children.
Earlier, Professor Charles Akanbi, representing OAU VC, Professor Bamitale Idowu Omole, Femi Falana, described Jeyifo as a literary scholar adding that he is the pride of the country having contributed to literary studies and performing art.
Governor Aregbesola used the occasion to reveal how State of Osun has become incapable of paying workers’ salaries as at when due attributing it to the fall in the federal allocations coming to the state. However, the conference promised to get back to him on their position on failure to pay workers’ salaries.
The programme also held various sessions looking at Jeyifo from different angles; Jeyifo in the struggle for a revolutionary transformation of Nigerian society, as a theorist and critic of literature, drama and theatre, Jeyifo in the struggles of ASUU, Jeyifo as a public intellectual, and Jeyifo as a teacher.
In one of the sessions, Professor Osofisan said, “No one has talked about ‘Jeyifo with women’. Some people can be very active in the night”. The comment drew some snide remarks among the participants with someone asking, “Are they not birds of the same feather?”, drawing more laughter.
The celebrant, Jeyifo, was born on January 5, 1946. He attended the University of Ibadan, completing his studies with First Class Honours degree in English in 1970. Following his graduation, he enrolled for a doctoral programme in Theatre Arts in the same university, with Wole Soyinka as the supervisor. Soyinka, who was later to become a Nobel Prize winner in Literature, used his position to get his mentee interested in African American Drama and Theatre, and the young Jeyifo soon found himself on the way to New York University, USA, where he would obtain a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1974.
Jeyifo returned to Nigeria immediately after his programme to take up an appointment as a lecturer at UI, and instantly linked up with the late Omafume Onoge to design and introduce courses in Marxist Sociology of Literature. In 1975, he resigned his appointment at UI, withdrawing together with other Marxist comrades including Seinde Arigbede, Dunni Arigbede, Edwin Madunagu, Tony Ngurube and Segun Akintunde to a commune in Ode Omu, a small laid back town in Osun State, to plan for a Marxist-Socialist transformation of Nigerian society.
Following the breakup of the group in 1976, Biodun Jeyifo took up an appointment as a lecturer in the department of Literature-in-English, University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. In 1980, he was elected president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), a union that had just then emerged from the ashes of the Association of University Teachers (AUT).
During his two-year tenure as president, Jeyifo, together with other comrades that included Mahmud Tukur, T.U Nwala, Festus Iyayi and Dipo Fasina, worked hard to build ASUU into a strong, politically sensitive trade union and professional organization.
In 1987, Biodun Jeyifo resigned his appointment with OAU to become a professor of English, first in Oberlin College, USA, and a year later, Cornell University, Ithaca. In 2006, Jeyifo crossed to Harvard University where he remains, till date, Professor of Comparative Literature and African and African American Studies.