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Cranky octogenarians and professors – Part 1

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Prof Youdeowei IPPAD award

Within a month, four of my friends turned 80 or 81. Nearly all of them are healthy except one. I have also watched a lot of younger men look at us. Their look is suggestive of a combination of emotions, some of them contradictory. They wonder at how we have reached this ripe old age. There is confusion about what these old men still doing here: “why una never die”? There is blame that we are the cause of all the problems of Nigeria. We could not fix the problem yet we incessantly talk about them. The young feel that we are leaving them with the intolerable burden of fixing a broken Nigeria. There is impatience; get out of the way so that the young can fully accept the mantle of leadership.

The young and the old speak different languages. When young people talk or sing or write poetry, the old have not the slightest idea of what they are saying: Neither do we, the old, share their dress code and values. The old seem relentlessly determined to go on. None of us has any political power, but some have influence. We meet regularly and those meetings constitute the fuel of our lives. We engage in major disputations which to the unwary may seem like massive quarrels. This further confuses observers who, coming from the internet age, cannot understand why we laugh and talk so much. Our old bones creak painfully along, we prop ourselves with endless drugs, walking sticks and so on. Our minds have begun the inevitable deterioration following that of our bodies. We are forgetful and often cranky.

My friend, an agronomist, who had reached the apex of his profession, retired but has fallen victim of the scandal of several years of delays in his pension entitlements. To survive, he had begun to sell some of his houses to the horror of some members of his family. To manage the situation at home he promised various people in his various bequests.

One such promised bequest he was forced to sell but still intended to fulfill his promise to one branch of his family. (Oh, I forgot to mention that if you live long enough you are likely to have more than one branch (or it is a root) of inheritors. Indeed part of the inscrutable look of the young is about what they would inherit when we are no longer around).

He sold the promised house intending to keep only 10 per cent of the proceeds, leaving the rest to those he had promised it to. He was attacked by armed robbers on the day the payment started to come in. Four armed robbers climbed the fence of his house, robbed his wife and forced her to take them to his room. They woke him up, removed his pyjamas and poured acid on his body and face. He screamed. The robbers ran away. His wife and children went in hot pursuit of the assailants. Meanwhile, my hapless friend, with stupendous presence of mind, rushed to the bathroom to wash off as much of the acid as he could. But the damage was done. His face was badly burnt; acid had entered his eyes and ears. However, he was soon stabilised. But he needed treatment overseas at a special clinic. A massive deposit was made. He is recovering but it is a slow traumatic process. He can now talk, eat but still very ill. His friends have put up some money but not nearly enough. He turned 80 last week. Contributions are still welcome.

Prof. Tony Youdeowei also turned 80. He is another friend who went to University of Ibadan and Cambridge, same as my acid-burnt friend. Prof. has had a glittering career as an international specialist and civil servant in entomology, agronomy etc. He spent well over 30 years with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and other United Nations (UN) agencies. He is enjoying his retirement visiting his many children scattered around the world.

They came together in London last month to give him a well-deserved birthday celebration. There was a Nigerian band, plenty of food and drinks. But what was special was the doting and love of the children and grandchildren for this distinguished academic and his wife.

Prof. Youdeowei has not only advised governments and farming communities around the world on the problems of pest control and other related subjects, he has written extensively on these matters. I like his approach to these problems. First, he writes a book about the problem. Then he writes another about the solutions. Then he writes a handbook for extension workers who are to deal with the problem. But he is not finished yet. He then writes a book for teachers on the problem, and yes, another one for the students too.

To be continued tomorrow.


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