Yesterday, the remains of Professor Emanuel C. Edozien was committed to mother earth in Asaba, Delta State. Ordinarily and customarily we would say we are sad because the nation has lost a gem. However, looking at it from another angle for a number of us who referred to him as “Our Teacher,” the overriding emotion at this time is not that of grief (since no one would be physically here forever).
Rather it is that of celebratory gratitude that we ever got to meet and know him as our teacher, mentor, and friend, who significantly influenced our lives. Many of us came to know Professor Edozien in the mid-1960s, as a young dashing lecturer in the Department of Economics, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Ibadan. He had just returned from the United States of America after earning his PhD from the University of Michigan An Arbor, bubbling with zeal and energy to impart knowledge and mold lives. At a time when Universities and lecturers these days are more in the news on account of either indefinite strikes or “sex for marks” scandals, rather than academic excellence, it is useful to reminisce on the life and times of Professor E.C. Edozien, at the University of Ibadan.
Professor Edozien lectured in the University of Ibadan in an era when lecturers earned the love, affection and respect of their students. It was an era when lecturers and students were drawn to one another in genuine friendships, not engineered by ethnic or religious affinity, or for sexual gratification in a terrorising master-servant relationship, but by an overriding motive of pursuit of academic excellence.
More often than not, at the conclusion of a major examination, some if not most lecturers would seek out the excellent students in order to know them more closely. It did not matter whether you were the gregarious type who would want to be recognised, or the quiet self-effacing type who would rather want to be left alone. They went out of their way to identify you, cultivate your friendship and let you know that by your performance, you had become a younger colleague of theirs, who deserved to be treated with such esteem and respect.
Professor belonged to this class of brilliant lecturers who genuinely bonded with students and earned their respect and admiration, such that students aspired to being like them in every way possible. We even sometimes sought to emulate some of their “vices.” Professor Edozien was always with his ubiquitous tobacco pipe he puffed around. Some of us would have gone on to copy this habit, but for our religious convictions. He of course later kicked the habit and shared with us the reason why he did. This is just to illustrate the kind of compelling positive student-teacher relationship that existed between Professor Edozien and his students, and how he and a number of others like him, perceived their mentoring role. This is in sharp contrast to the atmosphere that now prevails in some, if not in most of our university campuses today.
Amongst this group of lecturers were people like late Professors Ojetunji Aboyade, Essien-Udom, Adamu, and late Ukpabi Asika; there was also Lawrence Ekpebu. They had genuine love for brilliant students and sought to reproduce themselves in them. They endeavoured to make themselves available to the students in every manner possible and unlike the proverbial saying that “familiarity breeds contempt,” the more you got to know them, the more they commanded awe, admiration and respect from their students.
With Professor Edozien, it was such that a great number of us began to affectionately refer to him as “Our Teacher”, sometimes including those who never took any course with him. That awe-inspiring charm and affectionate relationship with which a large number of us identified with him continued into old age and to the very end.
Some of us perhaps did not know part of the reasons why he left lecturing to venture into business at a relatively early age of 50 years. Some have speculated that he wanted to make money than stay on in academics until the normal retiring age; this may have been far from the truth. Professor Edozien took leave of the classroom in 1979 to serve in the Shagari Administration as Chief Economic Adviser to the President. As to whether he should be blamed for the economic policies of the Shagari administration which were never popular on the campuses or in the country in general, is a verdict that should be left to history. Like in everything he did, either serving on campus in an academic community or as a chief in Asaba community or as a leader in a church community, Professor served the Shagari administration faithfully. At the end of this stint in government, he returned to the classroom. It is said that he began to lose interest in the classroom when he noticed that students from the back of the classroom occasionally heckled him whenever he made any reference to his time in government.
If this wasn’t the only reason that led to his early retirement, it must have weighed heavily on him. Why, because, according to him, a situation whereby he could no longer command the respect of his students was untenable. This was Professor Edozien the way we knew him- a man of honour, dignity and integrity to the core. He subsequently left regular academic life to venture into business where of course he also made significant impact, with great success.
Professor Edozien in his second career would remain Professor Edozien. He left the campus but with no bitterness towards the career and the academic community he had always loved. He would in later years make several significant contributions to the advancement of scholarship and mentoring, of which I would make brief reference to just two episodes. As more Professors in the Department of Economics, University of Ibadan approached retirement age, those who were desirous and seen to have potential for continued relevance to the department were appointed Distinguished Service Fellows. This is an honorific title, which enabled the department to retain them, without being necessarily styled “Emeritus”, a title often associated with tottering old age.
The problem of space to accommodate them with younger colleagues then arose and became acute. Professor Edozien came to the rescue, by donating a magnificent building to the department to provide office space for retiring lecturers willing to remain active in the department, without competing with younger lecturers for space. In another area, though Professor Edozien was no longer active on campus, he remained an active member of the Nigerian Economic Society (NES) as one of its strongest sustaining pillars to the very end.
What more shall we say, Professor Edozien was simply a great Nigerian to whom ethnic, religious, regional, and other barriers that easily pitch us against one another these days did not matter much, if at all. We sometimes wondered in our undergraduate days how he could strike friendship with a young army officer we always met in his Benue Road residence where he lived with his beautiful wife, Betty. We later discovered that he and this young army officer (later General and President Olusegun Obasanjo) shared a common passionate love for Nigeria and a strong belief in her future greatness.
Professor Edozien’s legacy lives on in us and hopefully in future generations through whom his legacy would be passed on as a loving and humble, but great university teacher. He endeared himself to and commanded to the uttermost, the respect of his students, teaching by example what student-teacher relationship ought to be in our universities. Truly the academic world and indeed the entire nation, has lost a rare gem. Adieu OUR TEACHER.
Professor Sam Olofin is a Distinguished Service Fellow, Department of Economics University of Ibadan.