By Abdulfatai Tomori
Sometimes in 2014, there was a call for nominations for the Nigeria Centenary Honours Award; the award was the first of its kind in the history of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Centenary Honours Award was a special event organised by the Nigerian Presidency led by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 to honour 100 distinguished Nigerians to celebrate one hundred years of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of the country by the then British colonial master through the then Governor-General Lord Lugard in 1914. The Presidential Committee on the Centenary, which was charged with working on the pre-nomination selection, had called for nominations from individuals and corporate organisations. The Centenary Honours Award was divided into 14 categories. Among them were pioneers in professional callings and careers and distinguished academics.
When we saw the call for nominations on page 43 of Thisday Nigeria Newspaper of Friday, January 10, 2014, our organisation, Biohisocultural Resource Hub (BiohistoHub), as part of our duties, which included but were not limited to biography and academic research writings, publishing, proofreading, ghost-writing, journalism, cultural orientation, and nominating individuals and corporate organisations for awards, we thought that was the opportunity to showcase one of our icons, a geologist, teacher, researcher, ambassador of peace, religious and community leader, and the powerful crown prince of Offa, Professor Jimoh Mosobalaje Olaloye Oyawoye. We immediately swung into action by conducting background work on him. The information of people like Prof. Oyawoye is everywhere; by the time you ask two or three people, you will have all the information you need.
After we have crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, we thought it was good to inform our nominee of our plan and possibly show him what we have done; maybe he would have something to add or remove. Yoruba would say, “A ki fari leyin olori”—it is not done to shave a man’s head without him being present.
To fast-track our access to him, we contacted his son, Kola, who appreciates us for identifying his father as worthy of the award. Kola assured us he would facilitate our meeting with Baba.
We arrived at Baba’s house early enough on our appointed date so that we could be attended to early. We understand Baba’s home was a Mecca of sorts for people from far and near.
Many would want to consult him and tap into his wealth of experience. After waiting for some hours, we were ushered into his private office, located within his palatial mansion. After our idobales, we introduced ourselves. Although that was not our first time meeting him. We have met Baba on different occasions to learn from his wealth of experience. We became more popular with Baba after we wrote the biography book of Dr. J. D. Soleye, “Blessed to Serve,” in 2013. After a little chit-chat, we informed him of our mission, and he told us he had been briefed about the project. He commended us for finding him worthy of a nomination. He also praised the FG for initiating the award. Baba Oyawoye said he would not be interested in the award because he was busy with the Offa project. Hence, he doesn’t want anything that would distract him from seeing Offa, who we will all be proud of.
We were not surprised by this; his contributions towards achieving the “Offa Tuntun” of HRH Oba Mufutau Gbadamosi Esuwoye II cannot be overemphasised. Baba also threw a rhetorical question at us: “What have I done with the array of awards I have acquired over the years? He used his right hand to show us some of the plaques strategically placed on his office wall.
True! Baba Oyawoye was one of Nigeria’s most decorated intellectuals and certainly one of Africa’s best gifts to the world. If Prof. Oyawoye were to wear all the garlands around his neck, it would be difficult for him to wear a quarter of them without being pulled to the ground by their sheer weight.
For instance, in 1984, his contribution to the world of research earned him the prestigious Alumni Achievement Award from Washington State University. In 1991, he was also awarded Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists and made Honorary Citizen of Lubbock, Texas, USA. In 2000, he received the Right Hon. Nnamdi Azikwe Medal. In the same year, Prof. Oyawoye was decorated with the national honour of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON). The government of President Jonathan also awarded him the national honour of Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) in 2010. Baba also has a street named after him in a strategic location in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital City. Despite all this, we still believed he deserved the Centenary Award, so we went ahead with our nomination. We nominate him under the ‘pioneers in professional callings and careers’ category. Professor Oyawoye had contributed immensely to the development of the human race, which qualified him for whatever categories of awards his name appeared in.
Aside from being the first professor of geology in Africa, Prof. Oyawoye was the first African member of the Board of the International Geological Correlation Programme and the founding president and first fellow of the Geological Society of Africa. He was also the first coordinator of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Ibadan, among others. Although his name was not shortlisted when the final list for the centenary award came out, perhaps the reason was that the selection committee was trying to restrict the number of honourees to 100 when there were actually thousands of them. To the best of my knowledge, all the people whose names appear on the honour roll were qualified. They all deserve to be honoured, as they have done their best for the country. That doesn’t mean those whose names were not shortlisted didn’t deserve it. It was one American writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (best known by his pen name Mark Twain), who said, “It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.” What mattered was to do the right thing, whether or not anyone was looking. Baba Oyawoye was an accomplished teacher and community leader. He was also a seasoned administrator. His story cannot be told in one short essay—not even his autobiography, ‘Path to Destiny,” covers his life entirely.
Born on August 12, 1927, in Offa, Kwara State, Oyawoye was a descendant of four major Yoruba royal families: the Ajase-po and Offa royal families from his father’s side and, from his mother’s side, the Ila Orangun and Ikirun royal families. Thus, Prince Oyawoye was indeed Omo Alade Merin. However, despite being a prince from four different royal families, Prof. Oyawoye was not born with a silver spoon. Most of his life’s achievements would have been impossible without the contributions of many others. For instance, it was the advice of Boda Sanusi that kicked off his educational career. Boda Sanusi had advised his father, Mogaji Monmodu Babalola Oyawoye, that the young Jimoh should be taken to Ode Olomu because he was too playful and needed to be distracted with something interesting, something that would make him focused. Ode Olomu was a playground for the children, and at the same time, it was a kind of organised primary school because that was where Methodist School was located. The early missionaries used this system to encourage children to learn while playing. The advice appealed to his father, Pa Monmodu, who took Jimoh to Ode Olomu, where he eventually started his educational career.
Young Jimoh later attended few other primary schools within Offa before Boda Popoola, whom his mother usually referred to as “teacher,” took him to Ede under his care so that one day “he would become a teacher and dress like him in Western-style clothing.”
He later completed his primary education at United School Esa-Oke under Boda Popoola as headmaster. Prof. Oyawoye was among the pioneer students of Offa Grammar School (OGS). He was at OGS until 1947, when he transferred his education pursuit to Ibadan Grammar School, where he completed his secondary education in 1949. Between 1952 and 1959, he was at Washington State University at Pullman in the United States for his bachelor’s and at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, where he took his doctorate degree. He returned to Nigeria in 1960 and started his career at the University of Ibadan as a geology lecturer in the Department of Geology. Within six years, he reached the top to become the first African Professor of Geology in 1966 and was appointed Head of the Geology Department of the University two years later.
Although he resigned from his appointment at Ibadan University suddenly in 1977 in protest against the then-military government’s encroachment on university autonomy, his academic career was meteoric. His footprints are indelible, and his humility in service is infectious. He was not just a prolific producer but also a foremost planner and strategist. Here was a man who was able to persuade the University of Ibadan to establish a fully-fledged Department of Geology given the emerging petroleum industry and the manpower challenges in the country. As Chairman of the OAU Team of Experts in the Inter-Africa Centre for Earth Sciences, Professor Oyawoye promoted awareness among African countries of the economic importance of a strong geological survey staffed with indigenous geologists, particularly in the Eastern and Southern African countries that depended on mining. His foresight was proven right in light of the tremendous achievements that Nigeria recorded in the petroleum industry sooner rather than later. His successful academic and professional career will surely remain an inspiration to many budding scholars for a long time to come. Professor Jimoh Mosobalaje Oyawoye was a rare role model and a trailblazer. He had produced many students who are now dominating executive positions in the mining and petroleum industries. No wonder Prof. Oyawoye is fondly called the “Father of Geology” in Nigeria.
After his resignation, Baba continued his service to his community by playing an advisory role in matters that concerned his people. Prof. Oyawoye has been involved in virtually all projects aimed at lifting the town and its residents. In fact, elders of Offa even today still discuss with nostalgia how Baba Oyawoye reportedly turned down the offer to ascend to Olofa’s throne in 1970, despite being the clear choice of Offa king-makers. His achievements as a former national secretary and later national president of the Offa Descendants Union (ODU) are there for all to see. The realisation of the Summit University in Offa was one of Baba Oyawoye’s achievements. Also, the magnificent Central Mosque of Offa came into being through his initiative and fund-raising efforts, assisted by like-minded people. Equally, as a former Kwara State Chairman of Jama’atu Nasir Islam (J.N.I.), Professor Oyawoye single-handedly completed the JNI Central Mosque in Ilorin and Offa. No wonder he was turbaned as Balogun Imole (leader of Muslims) in Offa and the first Baba Adinni of Kwara State. It is safe to say Baba has been taking stock for the better part of the last four decades since he returned to his birthplace to busy himself with improving the lives of members of a community that has largely been appreciative of his achievements. Save for party politics, which Baba wisely avoids, there is hardly any aspect of community life in Offa where Baba’s wise counsel has not been sought.
As people, the way we live our lives becomes a discernible indicator of the condition of our hearts. What people saw from interaction with Baba, day in and day out, was benevolence, decency, grace, and wisdom. And that was what made him so endearing. He leaves a legacy and an example that will stretch nearly all of us to a higher form of humanity. He leaves us with a solid message of service, virtue, duty, and solidarity. His life was a model of integrity, kindness, simplicity, humility, piety, and charity. He made a huge impact on anyone who came into contact with him. He was kind, carried himself with an assured posture, and possessed the kind of generosity of spirit that our forefathers had. He was part of the incorruptible generation and was popularly known for his stern defence of his honour and principles.
He had a prominent and wise voice. On many occasions, he was misunderstood on issues affecting Offa, so some thought he was always controversial. Whereas, if you know Baba Oyawoye, you will understand that he was a strong advocate of due process, probity, and accountability in leadership, just as he believed that leadership is a call for service to the people. Baba Oyawoye would always like to be associated with the truth. Baba Adinni of Kwara State was a unique leader; he led by personal example. He was simple and humane, and he was a man who had always had the fear of God in him. Prof. Oyawoye, though a geologist, was a good writer; his autobiography, “Path of Destiny,” had won him the award of best biography by the National Library of Nigeria. He was among the “Who is Who” in Nigeria, Africa, and the world. Indeed, Balogun Imole of Offa was successful in all ramifications of life. Prof. Oyawoye died in the early hours of Tuesday, the 22nd day of May 2023, at his home along Offa LG Secretariat Road, age 96. He was buried on Wednesday, the 23rd, at his house according to Islamic rite.
Aremo of Offa will be remembered for many good things. His name would always be written in gold whenever and wherever geology and community service were mentioned in Nigeria. The memory of the righteous is blessed, so while he may be gone, his memory will remain with us because of the great imprint he leaves in our hearts. Baba lived a good life; he invested his life in many people. His life and times are worthy of emulation in every respect of good works and service to humanity. He has made Offa and indeed Nigeria proud in different forums. He will not soon be forgotten.
As the five-day Fidau prayers for the repose of this great African man take place today at his Alma Mata, OGS, I join the family, friends, associates, and people of Offa to pray that God forgives the soul of Prof. Jimoh Moshobalaje Oyawoye and makes his reception honourable. I pray to Allah to keep him safe and sound, protect the place where he has rested, make his entrance wide, bless him for his good deeds, and surround him with a garden filled with beauty. May he receive the gentle blow of a cool breeze, be washed with snowflakes, ice, sleet, and water, and everything be pure and cleansed of sin as a white cloth is purified perfectly. I pray Allah admits him to Paradise, and may his grave be spacious and filled with light. Amen. Ká tó ri erin ó digbó; ká tó ri Ẹfọ̀n ó dọ̀dàn; ká tó ri ẹyẹ bi Ọ̀kin ó di gbére, Ká tó ri eyan bi Óloogbe Ojọgbọn Jimoh Moshobalaje Oyawoye, o di arina ko, o d’oju ala. Sunre re o Baba Kitibi, Baba Diekola Omo Mogaji Oyawoye Omo Alade Merin!
Abdulfatai is an independent researcher, writer, and editor. He is also the Chief Coordinating Officer of the BiohistoHub. He can be reached at email@example.com.