Professor Ajibero: A biographical tribute
I came close to Professor Matthew Idowu Ajibero in the late 1990s at the University of Ilorin where he came in from Bayero University, Kano (BUK) to assume office as the University Librarian under the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor Professor Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem.
To Oba, Ajibero was “a brother, friend and compatriot, with whom he shared a life of mutual trust and commitment, a man blessed with the instincts of a clergyman, lived the practical life of a social mediator and problem solver.”
Today, Saturday, September 25, 2021, as the body of Professor Ajibero is committed to Mother Earth, I remember with mixed feelings a pathfinder, who created his own path through stoic focus and uncommon discipline. His life story is a lesson in tenacity, hard work, diligence, humility, and spirituality, especially the Samaritan spirit.
Born on September 21, 1950, in the city of Jos, Ajibero, was fathered by Chief Obamupin Ajibero, a proud scion of the revered Obadofin Babaoloko of the Ogbagi clan within the Odolu Ruling Group of clans.
One of an indomitable spirit, he rose above the challenges of his childhood environment to carve a niche for himself, especially in the trinity of academic, political, and religion. He struggled, in the words of Professor Solomon Adebola, Vice-Chancellor, Adeleke University, Ede, Osun State, to a modest beginning, but with high altitudes in life’s achievement.”
With no access to early education due to the death of his father in 1960, he began his primary school at age fourteen in St. Mary’s Primary School, Kabba, through the benevolence of his uncle, late Chief Paul Oseya. He completed the seven-year training in five years due to his academic brilliance, a feat that caught the attention of the school’s headmaster, Mr. Jerome Gata (J.G.) Arokoyo. He was not only promoted twice above his peers but also appointed the Prefect of the junior section of the primary school, the first of its kind in the history of the school.
The young Ajibero proceeded to St. Clement Junior Seminary, Lokoja in 1969, and by 1972, his set was moved to the St. Theresa Catholic Minor Seminary, Oke-Arin, Ibadan to complete the course. His priestly ambition was palpable, given his role as a Mass server while in primary school. Besides, Chief Oseya, his guardian, was a devout catholic who ensured that young Matthew attended morning Mass. This virtuous habit Ajibero lived throughout his life.
Instead of moving on to St Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan, which was the next priestly training ground, Ajibero opted for the world of academics. His choice was deliberate. Taking a look at the vows that go with the priesthood (celibacy, poverty, among others), he had concluded that it would amount to “deceiving God”, which he considered a heresy, if he had gone ahead with plans to become a priest. Tough as that decision was, his superiors and mentors, notably, the then Bishop Alaba Job, Rev. Fr. Joseph Ajomo and Rev. Fr. John Onaiyekan, respected his decision.
In my discussion with him, he recalled with nostalgia the visit of Rev. Fr. Onaiyekan to him in Kaduna, where the decision to opt-out of the seminary was finally resolved with the spiritual blessings of the clergy. Nevertheless, the vestments Ajibero let go in the sacristy of the Catholic Church, he later found in the gown of the hallowed chambers of the ivory tower as a distinguished Professor.
The transition from the seminary to the secular life had its challenges, but it brought out the best in the young man. Apart from the demands of a new job in the Federal Office of Statistics in Sokoto facilitated by his cousin, Michael Oseya to meet his financial needs, he also faced the task of preparing as a private student for the Advance Level General Certificate of Education (GCE) examinations in less than six months.
Consequently, he registered for two subjects, History and Economics, instead of the conventional three; these he passed to qualify for university education. Ajibero was offered admission by the universities of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello to study Political Science and Library Science respectively. He settled for the latter where a Federal Government of Nigeria scholarship had already been secured, besides that it offered the prospect of a rewarding career in the new discipline of Library Science. From the accolades he received along a highly successful career path, his calculation was just right.
He graduated in the Upper Division in 1978, subsequently undertook his National Youth Service Corps assignment at Bayero University, Kano (BUK). As a youth corper in BUK, the same brilliance that consistently distinguished him was observed by the University Librarian, Dr. Halid Said, who ensured that Ajibero was moved from the Library’s administrative job where he had been posted to academic duties in the Department of Library Science. The school retained him as a Graduate Assistant, until he proceeded to the University of Pittsburg, USA, for postgraduate studies.
With diligence and the lifeline offered by another scholarship offer from the Federal Government, Ajibero completed his postgraduate training in record time, returned to BUK in 1984 and rose to the position of a Professor in 1995.
Professor Ajibero’s sterling leadership qualities were evident in his ten-year tenure as Head of the Department of Library Science in BUK. His capability was respected so much that his colleagues in the department saw no need for a change in leadership until he voluntarily relinquished that position in 1998. His classmate at ABU and later colleague at BUK where they both lived on the same street, Professor Auwal Yadudu, described Ajibero as “a deeply religious person, hard worker, humble and self-effacing who took both his spiritual and [secular] responsibilities very seriously.”
While at Ilorin, Ajibero infused into the University of Ilorin Library new vistas into the operations of the library. In 2006, he was appointed Rector of the Kogi State Polytechnic, Lokoja. He served the statutory two terms of eight years. His passion for functional educational systems and human capital development spurred him to accept to serve. The era witnessed the monumental transformation of the institution especially in areas of infrastructural development, harmonious management-labour relations, and high academic standard of staff and students.
Upon the completion of his tenure in 2014, the professor’s accomplishments must have prompted the decision of the then governor of Kogi State to appoint him Special Adviser on Higher Education. With the change in government, he returned to his first love as Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Ilorin. He voluntarily disengaged in 2018.
Down to earth and approachable, Ajibero was humility personified. Folu Ologe, Professor and ENT surgeon at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital narrated his personal observation of Ajibero thus: “he will come in person with his patients at the University of Ilorin, younger people who are far below him in pedigree, and stay with them throughout the sometimes long process.”
What the world missed in Ajibero as a priest, he displayed in his spirit as a liberation theologian and a true Samaritan; he fought for the oppressed and gave succor to the needy. He exemplified this in his membership of the Knighthood of St. Mulumba, where until his transition, he was the Metropolitan Grand Knight of Ibadan.
Professor Ajibero, the indigent students on your scholarship scheme weep; the scores of unemployed hoping on your vast social network to get jobs are confused; the needy of your monthly stipends are distraught; the church, priests, and the different societies you belong to and served with energy, time and other resources can’t believe you are gone! How will the harvest bazaars in many a Church parish look like without you Prof?
For a man described by L.O. Aina, Professor and Chief Executive of the National Library of Nigeria, as “unassuming and a team player, who mixed with a broad spectrum of people,” the academia where you strode like a colossus has missed a refined and urbane gentleman. Students who were fortunate to pass through your tutelage are grateful that you were a great model.
You “made indelible marks in the professional lives of many of us,” as attested to by one of your mentees, Ifeoma Roseline Echezona, Professor and University Librarian at the University of Abuja. Your Kabba community is in gloom over the passage of an incomparable community leader and a generous giver, a mobiliser of people, and a defender of their values, culture and heritage.
Your company of friends are grateful to the “Papal-Politician Scholar” in the words of Professor Olu Obafemi, for the moments shared, the benevolence and uprightness that defined your person. The nuclear and extended families you left behind say farewell to a devoted and loving husband, a caring father, a generous brother and relation, in sum, a lover of God and humanity, whose exemplary conduct in both private and public lives are worthy of emulation.
It is our human nature that we wish that God allowed us to continue our good deeds. But in His infinite wisdom, He has declared He wants you by His side to put an end to your human pains and discomfort. Today, as we solemnly pay our respect and lower your body in the grave, we are reminded of our mortality. May God forgive your shortcomings and grant you eternal rest in his paradise. Adieu my beloved mentor and advocate, adieu.
Professor Rotimi Ajayi, Federal University Lokoja.