Monday, September 01, 2008

Tribute to Professor M.O. Ogedengbe

At one time or the other, we meet individuals whose relationship with us indelibly impacts our lives. One of such is Professor Martins Olusola Ogedengbe. A civil engineering professor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Prof. (as he is popularly referred to) comes across as a personality with a docile demeanour. However, on closer association one would come to discover a man of strong will and seasoned character that never condones indolence and anything short of excellence. This stance almost always places him on controversial spots.

A man of witty, philosophical and insightful words, Ogedengbe never hesitates to smack an individual with his opinion often times, sarcastic while his facial expression might suggest otherwise. One of such occasions presented itself when he gave us an assignment after his first lecture during our penultimate year. I can remember clearly the comments he minuted on our various assignment papers. The research-based homework had to deal with writing about water-borne diseases and stuffs like that. Without much ado, I laid hands on a medical textbook and I plagiarised almost a couple of chapters like no man’s business – after all, what does a freaking engineering undergraduate know about coli forms, bacteria and viruses.

On receipt, our various papers were painted red with his interesting comments leaving all of us with points closer to 1 than 10. After reading through my “well-researched” paper, I think Prof. was overwhelmed with my over-dubbed argots. Sardonically, he queried:

“Can you explain all these jargons to Grandma in Yoruba (my native language)?”

His comments on Bolaji’s papers still remain a reference for most of us till today. A very intelligent chap though, BJ (nickname) never completed his assignments until a couple of hours to submission. Moreover, his works reeked with disjointed words or sentences and avoidable errors. Prof. summarily commented:

“The wife of a careless man is almost a widow!”

Today, Bolaji is married and we’re earnestly praying…

Ofuya (another brilliant but otiose colleague) was never on time either for submission of homeworks or lectures i.e. if he ever showed up! Our man Fusqo (nickname) deemed it fit to submit his first assignment a couple of days after the deadline and of course you can trust Ogedengbe – he succinctly concluded:

“People like Ofuya will never get the job.”

Interestingly, a couple of weeks ago Ofuya was one of the groom’s men for a friend’s wedding. As the procession commenced, Ofuya was nowhere to be found. He was called on phone and responded he was just around the corner. Ofuya wasn’t sitting in the pew until the tail end of the more than 2-hour church service! Talking about how people change (or do they remain the same?) more than seven years after graduation!

Ogedengbe does not tolerate remissness or any semblance of it. On a particular occasion, Paul (our class rep) and I accosted Prof. in his office requesting for an extension of deadline with regards to the submission of a term paper due to the prevailing conditions on campus (there was no electricity and water). Ogedengbe was appalled that a few considered “responsible” students could make such a request. He lamented:

“If gold would rust, what would iron do?”

He made us to understand that:

“Work will always fill the time allotted to it.”

No matter how short or long the deadline is, the Ofuyas of this world will never meet up. Thence, he lectured us on how to forge ahead in life in spite of adverse conditions. For the next couple of hours we stood sweating in the non-air-conditioned office, with forced rapt attention listening to the issues he was battling with – being a widower, his ill-health, unaccomplished goals – as he intermittently illustrated on the chalk board in his office, trying to drive home his point. For the most part, we remembered more the pains in our legs while standing than Prof.’s golden advice. Moreover, we didn’t get any deadline extension – instead, Paul and I were denied some two hours we could have ploughed into working on the paper.

Incidentally, Paul’s and Bolaji’s final year theses were supervised by Prof. I guess the twosome will not forget this life-changing ordeal – not in a hurry.

Prof. Ogedengbe is often misjudged by colleagues and his students. He comes to many as sadistic and often times unwavering. As a result, Ogedengbe is in many individuals’ not too white books. Howbeit, this is an extremely scrupulous man – he will never excuse the undotted i’s or the t’s that miss their crossings; not the Ogedengbe I know. He inexorably emphasises the need for an individual to demonstrate the three “I’s”: Industry, Initiative and Intelligence. Prof. has an overwhelming sense of profundity, aptness, organisation and orderliness. I consider him to be one of the “last of the academic Mohicans” – a rare breed of intellectuals already facing extinction. Particularly, his technical writing skill is impeccable.

This is not to portray a picture-perfect individual as many might wont to imagine but a thoroughbred fellow who’s only in touch with his essence. After all, to err is human whenever Prof. does.

A couple of years ago, Prof. Ogedengbe sent me a mail (for whatever reasons) he titled “If Wishes Were Horses!” It spotlighted an undiscovered part of this reflective man. It reads thus:

“At this point in time, as a professor of civil engineering I sometimes wish I could spend a typical 24-hour day something as follows, I might call it an Olusola Ogedengbe Day:

Conduct usual wakeup preliminaries, have some breakfast, give lectures to one undergraduate class and one postgraduate class; perform some administrative chores plus interact with undergraduate and PG students under research supervision in office and/or in the lab; attend and participate intelligently and intellectually in a seminar in my department, in the Faculty or elsewhere in the university. This in particular will include diverse disciplines/subjects/topics: Greek Mythology, Forensic Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology; possibly hear arguments among subject experts there as to how the early Darwinian view of evolution (the steady upward march from simple to complex, with man the crowning glory) contrasts with the modern view which is proving to be a more random, haphazard affair full of dead ends and bizarre twists; or on a comparative analysis of the philosophical bases of Aristotle, and two thousand years later, Lamarck, in their belief systems reflected by postulations such as for example, that 'all relatives are related'. And so on.

Back in my Department: Visit with my PhD student and his current setup in the lab on the study of electrophoresis in the treatment of industrial wastewaters. Lunch and/or supper take their proper places.

At sundown, go out on a little exercise, walking among trees, flowers, the brooks. Back home, take a shower. Go take a lager, likely a warm one (partly diuretic, you see) and while lingering on it engage others at the OAU Ile-Ife Staff Club 'Elders Corner' in discussions (arguments, really) on random/diverse issues: UFOs, Jingoism, POWs, Banana Peel Syndrome, Mona Lisa or Van Gogh's (boring old) Chair, AWOL, Where Babies Come From, Whether We are Happier than our Forefathers. And so forth.

Back home at night, hum a few hymns from my YHB (Yoruba Hymn Book) and reflect on a few passages in the Scriptures. Time to prepare for bed. In bed, light reading, maybe some old stuff: James Hadley Chase's 'Gold Fish Have No Hiding Place', 'An Ear to the Ground', 'The Guilty are Afraid'; Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart'; Sydney Sheldon's 'If Tomorrow Comes', 'Rage of Angels'; or Wole Soyinka's 'The Man Died' ('Igilango Geesi'). In due course switch off the light and listen to the sound of silence. A brief prayer of thanksgiving to the Almighty God. For EVERYTHING. And then…That's it.

Life's Illusion Perhaps? No. Probable New Day Renaissance. In my beloved University.”

A couple of years ago, I made contact with his department to indicate my intention of carrying out a research/fieldwork using the department as a platform. I was informed Prof. had been ill and I decided to send him an SMS text since he seldom picked his calls due to his failing hearing ability. In his usual brisk and straight-from-the-shoulder manner, Prof. responded:

“Mr. Ajani, I expected your brilliant self to know I’m ill and on sabbatical. Anyway, it’s good to have you back. Looking forward to meeting you. MOO.”

During the course of the fieldwork, Prof. eventually granted me audience after a number of previously scheduled cancelled interviews. He received me with much warmth and appreciated my work. He informed me I had to shout during our discussion due to his ill-hearing. Anyone peeping through his office would have been confused seeing me sitting and shouting my lungs out, thinking Prof. and I were having a brawl while our disposition suggested otherwise.

My eyes glittered with both tears and pride listening to a man talked about his work, department and school with so much passion. My writing pad and voice recorder were busy downloading from this immense human archive. Prof. Ogedengbe was the pioneer of the 30-year-old civil engineering department – a mission that was daunting. In the face of an economic downturn that jeopardised the prospects of civil engineering in the mid 80’s (due to sky-rocketed cost of building materials) and lesser funds available to universities which successively resulted into human capital flight from the department, Ogedengbe stood by and with his brainchild.

With flourishing professional and biological offsprings that have proceeded from his loins and well-positioned on the globe, Ogedengbe is an accomplished man. ‘Kunle Ogedengbe and siblings do have a father to be proud of – so do some of us, his mentored progenies.

As he approaches three scores and ten years, and being an emeritus, what else could one wish the father of OAU’s civil engineering other than more years spiced with good health and an indescribable sense of fulfilment every achiever deserves.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for that beautiful writeup on my granduncle. I didn't realize what a wealth in wisdom I was leaving untapped. Dolapo Ogedengbe.

Adewale Ajani said...

@Dolapo: You're right. You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Algun said...

sitting right here in my living room where iam concluding a project in my marketing professional course and feeling good about the level of work i've done particularly with my good technical report writing skills, i remembered the man who honed those skills-thru fire,molten lava&any other hot something- Professor M.O. Ogedengbe. i pick up my BB and change status saying "Thnks Prof of Profs-Prof Ogedengbe-;dose skills u helped build into me are a lasting legacy!". i den drop the BB and do a search on the internet for Professor M.O Ogedengbe and i find this piece. Such an apt description of the 'man of men' who i met as a result of the fact he was on sabbatical in FUTA in my final year. I remember vividly how the HOD discovered only 2students registered for his couurse which was an elective and commanded that we all registered it as a 'compulsory elective'. i remember so many tins abt prof but most touching was his inspirational life.u knew Prof will neva take laxity from anyone,he wld always ask u gave 100% all of the time-afterall he was a widower who had hearing challenges,shaky hands,had to travel to ife every week or so for medical checkup yet made all his lectures,tot with impeccable skills,gave assignments(projects more like)every week, marked them by reading thru every word and commenting accordingly,checked textbooks to confirm your quoted&cited references matched and never complained-. He is indeed one of the last of a breed at the brink of extinction. Iam a trained engineer, today a marketeer&project manager and maybe tomorrow anythin i choose to be afterall a giant once told me "iam not training you to be good engineers, iam training you to be the best in anythin you do. you can do". That giant, that master of engineering, that master teacher, that inspirational leader,that M.O Ogedengbe. Bless.

Adewale Ajani said...

@Algun: Thanks for your comment. Incidentally, Prof and I are just about completing his biography. There is a section therein which contains people's opinions of him. If you don't mind, I would like to include your comment. However, could you provide your full name and your relationship with Prof. Thanks.

lamikayty said...

awesome reading and glad you posted this long before he passed on! Eyin won a da!

Joshua Obaniyi said...

I stumbled across this write up while browsing the internet and I was very impressed.

I spent some time in Professor Ogedengbe class around 1980/81 while I was in University of Ife. The class was STATICS; one of the engineering foundations.

One thing I remember about him was his approach to problem solving; you have to get the procedure and the answer right to qualify for a full mark. His explanation was that in the real world, if you were contracted to build a bridge; you have to be on point in your calculation and procedure. If not you will have a bridge that is falling down. And this is not acceptable.

This made an impression on my young mind and it's something that I lived by. Thanks for imparting this knowledge as a Professor..........and may you rest in peace. You are remembered well.