Sesan Dipeolu: Iconic librarian, socialist and Awoist – Part 2
Dipeoolu worked diligently with fellow travellers at the University Senate to ensure that equity and fairness prevailed. As a Principal Officer of the University he contributed to shielding the institution from the intolerance and excesses of military mandarins in Lagos. The University’s output of patriotic nationalists and defenders of public causes and human rights is a testimony to the democratic conditions that prevailed. For example in 1974, the Ife students decided to embark on a long trek of over 250 km to the Dodan Barracks seat of the military government in Lagos.
They were to protest General Yakubu Gowon’s abnegation of his 1970 promise to hand over to elected civilians in 1974. The military junta panicked and deployed soldiers and anti-riot police along the Ife-Lagos highway to forestall the protest. But many brave students still found their way to Lagos to register their anger and disappointment. The student leader of the “exodus” was Ayo Olukotun, now a professor of political science. Although the Government was embarrassed, it did not rusticate the student leaders from school nor did it order the termination of the appointment of members of the University Management. The presence of the Dipeolus in the administration was a restraint against military high-handedness.
In 1976 there was national uprising of students against increases in education costs, otherwise known as “Ali Must Go” in the annals of education in Nigeria. Riot police killed many students in Lagos and Zaria. The military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo reacted by sacking lecturers sympathetic to the students. The student leaders headed by Segun Okeowo of the University of Lagos were dismissed from their schools and banned from ever gaining admission into any institution in Nigeria. Once, again, Ife found an ingenious way to flout the unjust order. In the 1980s, the Senate of the University offered admission to Okeowo into the English Department headed by Professor Oyin Ogunba. The Vice-Chancellor who took the audacious step was Professor Ojetunji Aboyade. Dipeolu, Soyinka, Segun Osoba, Toye Olorode, Oladipo Fashina, Segun Adewoye, Idowu Awowetu, Akinwunmi Isola, Kole Omotoso, Biodun Jeyifo, Yemi Ogunbiyi, and others played a “conspiratorial” role in this drama of freedom from persecution. Dr Ogunbiyi is the current Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council at Ife. Birds of identical ideological plumage flock and act together.
Dipeolu and his vanguard of liberals resolved a similar conflict in 1988. The Student Union decided to induct Chief Gani Fawehinmi as a Life Member of the Union. Being an intransigent defender of human rights, Fawehinmi was a thorn in the flesh of military cabals. In this instance, General Ibrahim Babangida, the self-styled “Evil Genius” was the head of state. The government instigated the University Authorities to stop the ceremony. The students defied the instruction, insisting on their inalienable right to honour the legal luminary. Apprehension was high; under-cover police infiltrated the campus community, military helicopters hovered like vultures in the air. The students dared the military to enter the sports arena to stop the event. The government even lied that Gani planned to set himself on fire to embarrass Babangida. The induction rites went on successfully. I presented the honouree’s citation with the title “Ganicidal Self-Combustion”. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wande Abimbola and his management team applied great tact and patriotic judgment to handle the situation. No student leader was arrested, suspended, rusticated or victimised in exams. Dipeolu and the famous Ife Socialist Collective were at the heart of this epic drama.
It is a philosophical truism that great historical figures do not emerge from cyber space; they are products of concrete historical and socio-economic conditions. Dipeolu is a scion of the Ijebu enterprising and enlightened dynasty of the twentieth century. Not held hostage by suffocating feudalism as was experienced in neighbouring Oyo and Benin empires, the Ijebu people burst into Nigerian history with a missionary mandate of modernisation and prosperity. They made maximum use of their geographical location vis-à-vis the British colonial heartland of Lagos.
The rise of the Ijebu to greatness is also explained by their leading historian, Professor Emmanuel Ayandele. In his 1992 book on the Ijebu, he celebrates the spirit of survival and adaptability shown in their “enthusiastic consumption of Western literacy education and adoption of modern techniques of entrepreneurship”. Thus Chief Awolowo of humble origins could self-develop himself like Comrades Vladimir Lenin of Russia and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He galvanised the three kingdoms of the modernising elite, namely, the commercial, intellectual, and political and from the 1950s, Yorubaland became the centrepiece of British-influenced development in education, industry, and social welfare schemes. This background explains why the Ijebu people rank among the most educated and prosperous in Africa. Librarian Dipeolu developed and worked in this dynamic milieu.
Librarian Dipeolu’s long sojourn of 90 years plus on earth epitomised the highest ideals of responsibility and quest for justice. Many benefited from his simplicity and generosity. In 1984 he offered a library job to my wife, Philomena Opha then fresh from secondary school. Dipeoplu did this to help stabilize our one-year-old marriage and to enable me to concentrate on the activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of which I was the Ife branch chairman. His gesture steered our conjugal raft along pacific waters. After retiring to Lagos, Librarian Dipeoplu was always at events connected with intellectual and creative endeavours. He and Professor J. P. Clark were like David and Jonathan in the Bible. He was in the hall with J. P. and Ebun Clark in March, 2017, when I gave the Faculty of Arts Distinguished Lecture on “The Humanities and the Redemption of Africa” His animated and nuanced responses to my references to scholarship and geniuses in ancient Nile Valley civilizations confirmed that Dipeolu could have been the Librarian in any of the Black African Universities of antiquity such as those where Moses and Jesus Christ studied as undergraduates.
Professor Darah, a former chairman of The Guardian Editorial Board, is of the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa State.
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