Role models embody human values virtues and behavioral system held up as a standard for emulation by others in a bid to improve society. Without role models, it suffers atrophy, degeneration, death, decay and extinction. The society may be there in a solid, physical form. But its electromotive, driving force is gone, leaving it in a vegetative form.
Point of departure.
In June 2011, one role model emerged on the Editorial screen of Weekend Observer. She is Miss Owen Omo-Ojo, daughter of Hon Orobosa Omo-Ojo special adviser on Arts and Culture to Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomhole. On June 30, 2011 she made history by graduating in medicine at the nubile age of 22 from St Petersburg State Medical University Russia.
If she is not a role model, show me one. Imagine, at 22 she has not only graduated from a university, she did so in medicine. At this age, most of her peers are still struggling with their SSCE; parading our streets in nude, pornographic dresses; or watching home video throughout the day.
Much more, by her achievement she became an instant publicity material for Nigeria, proving that “something good can come out from maligned Nigeria.”
Bye-bye Owen Omo-Ojo, welcome Miss Anne Imafidon. The Nigerian Observer of August 17, 2011 reported that at 20, Anne Imafidon joined the league of young students who bagged a combined master’s degree in mathematics and computer science from the prestigious Keble College, United Kingdom. She is certainly another role model worthy of commendation in these days when only 30% of students passed SSCE in the 2011 WAEC result released last month.
Well so far, so good. Lets us proceed from the Owen_Anne standard platform to celebrate more role models around the world.
In the search for role models with a committed sense of professional excellence, I am taking a trip to the historic days of Colonel Sodeinde and Dele Giwa. To start with, Colonel Sodeinde was a professional soldier to the core. He showed this character during the January 15, 1966 coup.
Major Tim Onwuatuegwu, one of the coup makers, was detailed to arrest him. As usual, Major Onwuatuegwu demobilished the security cordon through around his residence in the wee-hours of the coup day. Having done this, he barged on Colonel Sodeinde’s door to gain forcible entrance into his home.
But this wasn’t possible. A hard boy. Angry as well as drunk on coup alcohol, he began to bang the colonel’s door. It was at this point, Colonel Sodeinde dressed in his pyjamas, walked to the door and opened it.
No sooner had he done so, then he saw the barrel of Major Onwuatuegwu’s sten machine gun pointing at him. “Sir”, screamed Major Onwuatuegwu in a staccato, drill voice. “You are under arrest!!”.
Expectedly, the major wanted his boss to surrender. But he didn’t. it was unprofessional for a major to arrest superior officer, Colonel Sodeinde reasoned. It is an abomination. If this was allowed, where is the regimental discipline in military ethics? He thought.
Given this midset of his, he looked at major Onwuetuagwu with a sneer. Then, he turned half a circle and began to walk away, refusing to surrender. Thereafter, the major pulled the trigger. A burst of fire!! Colonel Sodeinde was hit by bullets. He died, not as a coward but as a professional soldier par excellence. And so he became a role model for soldiers who want a reference point of what authentic rank structuralism demands of them. Today when you cannot really differentiate between a sergeant and a captain in some cases, Colonel Sodeinde’s example is indispensable.
In journalism, Dele Giwa, founding editor-in-chief of NEWSWATCH, was similarly professionalism personified. He studied English at an American university for his first degree. Later, he bagged a masters’ degree in public/mass communication in addition. Armed with these degrees, he worked briefly in a newspaper in America before returning home to practice journalism, his first love.
He started off with Daily Times; as features editor then, he migrated to Concord Newspapers as editor of its Sunday title. He ended up at NEWSWATCH as founding editor-in-chief of the news magazine. It was his last journalism bus-stop before he was killed by a letter bomb on October 19, 1986.
Dele Giwa worked as a journalist for about eight short years in Nigeria before he met his untimely death. However, his name became a household name because, unlike his colleagues he gave professional journalism its due! How?
He was an editorial perfectionist during his years as features/newspaper editor as well as a columnist. One other reason why he blazed a trail in journalism was that he took time first to master the art of writing before journalism while studying English in an American university. He realized, earlier enough, that journalism needs writing but writing may not require journalism to arrive at the hall of fame. In other words, great writers often make quintessential journalists.
However, if a journalist wants to transform into a writer he has to give writing depth to his journalism. This is because, as Dele Giwa told me in a chat, as a Youngman journalism schools only teach a microcosm of writing. To drive home his point, he brought in the analogy of a professional driver and a mechanic.
Hear Dele Giwa: “A sound mechanic can become a good driver but an ordinary driver can never be an expert mechanic”.
Now, given Dele Giwa’s unique background as a writer, his features in journalism glowed like a million stars. He knew when to use a pyramidal or inverted pyramidal paradigm in crafting his articles or columns. He was acquainted with the standard eight ways of paragraph construction.
If you ask him to differentiate between a paragraph and a paragroup, he will tell you. He understood the dynamics of headlines and topics. Thus, he was aware newspaper’ articles carry headlines, not topics. Yes, you will never find Dele Giwa filling his newspaper with topics. Neither would you discover him publishing esoteric essays as columns or articles. His sub-editorial pen was always handy recasting topics into headlines as well as converting turgid essays of contributors into readable, flowing articles with a human interest face.
In addition, Dele Giwa had a waste paper basket for dumping worthless or unresearched articles. He would never publish them. Also, he discarded sloppy stories that ran dry of investigative journalism.
He equally had an eagle’s eye for good syntax, grammar and style. What you say and how you say it with prose cadence mattered a lot to him. In his days, if he discovered that you were having problems with style, he gave you a copy of the great book for all aspiring writers features articles. The book, titled ELEMENT OF STYLE, is written by E.B. Whyte and Strung. While at UNILAG, I bought a copy of the book at Academy Bookshop near the university. However, the book was “kidnapped” by one of my friends from my library.
Infact, there is so much to write about Dele Giwa, the loved professional writer and journalist. But suffice it to say that he didn’t keep his knowledge to himself. He gave it to his willing surbordinates. Hence, he helped to produce the Nosa Igiebors, Amman Ogans, Louisa Aguiyi-Ironsi Ayonotes, May-Ellen Ezekiels, Kayode Soyinkas … and Dele Omotunde who won a Pulitzer Award in journalism in mid-2000 while in America.
All said give his track record as a fearless editor, journalism, teacher and prose stylist, Dele Giwa remains a foremost media role model. His death, which derived from his brand of journalism, further reinforced this status. Death didn’t kill him. It only immortalized his name.
Diligent, academic scholarship
In these days of brazen plagiarism in our wooden, not ivory, university and idle photocopy studentship, we need to look up to role models like Professors Ayodele Awojobi, Olikoye Ransome Kuti and J.B. Schuyler for succour.
First of all, let’s undertake a short bio-graphies of them, none of them believe in money and sex for marks. You pass, you pass; you flunk, you flunk. Garbage in, garbage out. Also, for them there is no half measures in scholarship. You have to drink deep from the piering spring of knowledge or you are left ship-wreck on the dry dock of ignorance to perish!!
On a personal level late Prof. Ayodele Awojobi – a simple and unassuming academic – had a first class in mechanical engineering capped with a Ph.D and D.SC in the discipline. Before Nigeria “killed” him with its trauma, he was reading law. Too true, he wanted to be an all-rounder in scholarship. Although a mechanical engineer, he loved to possess macro chip of every sphere of human knowledge. He was not that professor of geography who in 2000 didn’t know that Abuja has been Nigeria’s capital since August 27, 1991.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Prof. Ayodele Awojobi didn’t deploy his knowledge, energy and time to oppress the poor in Nigeria. He was instead a political-cum-human rights activist who fought the windy, corrupt government of Shagari until he breathed his last. His cause was vindicated. Not long after he died as an honest critic of government, Shagari was overthrown by the army in December 1983.
On his part late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti was a humble academic and a renowned pediatrician who plied his trade at Lagos University Teaching Hospital. He believed in the virtue of diligent service to humanity, not the phantasmagoria of materialism. For this reason, he was fond of his simple French suits and sandals. He wasn’t a fashion maverick.
Because he was a chip of the Iconic Ransome-Kuti family, he had a rugged work calendar. Put simply, he was a duty punctuality freak. No African time for him. Also, he was who tore up the official time sheet. This explained why, at most times, his secretary reported for work only to find him in his office already. Also, sometimes he had only as companion his driver and security at work late in the evening long after closing time. A role model, he was.
Late Prof. J.B. Schuyleran was also a workaholic like him, combining academic work and scholarship at the University of Lagos with priestly duties.
He had many virtuous attributes. But the one calling for mention in this Magazine is this: He saw a university for what it really was an ivory tower, not a glorified secondary school. This was why he was a lecturer who refused degradation to the status of a secondary school teacher within a university system. So, he never dictated notes to photocopying students. Prof. J. B. Schuyler’s style brought forth from his academic womb students that could pass public examination with one had. You won’t find Schuyleran students among the 80% of first-class and second-class upper degree applicants who recently failed NNPC’S simple recruitment test. Impossible!
More role models. Fela Anikulapo-kuti, popularly called Fela by his fans, was one of them. He started off as a highlife musician in 1963 at his Lagos base soon on returning from a course in music in London. Subsequently, he veered into protest, Afro beat music after a trip to America when he met a radical lady Sandra Smith of the Black Panthers Party and was exposed to the black consciousness ideology of Malcolm X.
Thereafter, Fela became a “rebel with a course” which used his music, lifestyle and dress code to unleash venom on the corrupt Nigerian state, elites as well as their comprador supporters. Before he passed on in 1997, he waxed over 400 songs of protests in accessible biting pidgin lyrics. All of them had Afro centric consistent messages calling on Nigerians not to batter away their cultural roots. They revealed the antics of the elites and in addition painted the sorry, prostate condition of Nigeria.
At no time did he depart from his self-appointed professional of a conscientious critic in his life time. He was unlike his peers who eloped with commercial gospel music when this became the open sesame to the bank.
A high point of Fela’s sincere anti-establishment posture was captured in the seventies. He bought a new Mercedenz Benz saloon car in vogue at the time and used by Nigeria’s bourgeons elites to do “Shakara”.
Then, he piled wood on its roof before driving it around Lagos to demonstrate the worthlessness of the novel craze of Mercedes benz culture at the time.
Invariably, Fela’s relevance as a role model doesn’t lie in his morality but his conscientious, consistent and honest protest against satanic public conduct of the rich and poor in Nigeria still in place today. Everyone knew where he stood on all issues. In contrast, can one really say were most Nigerians stand even within a fleeting second? Nigerians can win competitions with chameleons!
Tai Solarin was equally a true man of protest who also chose unorthodoxy to do so. For instance, to make a strong anti-fashion statement, he wore only Khaki shorts and shirts with khaki hats to match. Not for him expensive agabadas, suits, shirts, caftans or other dress codes.
Infact, he cast his lot with Khaki dresses to demonstrate his servicom for humanity a fact alien to Nigerian elites.
You also saw Tai Solarin’s protest in action as principal of his school May flower College, Ikenne. Unlike his grandstanding, exploitative, and arrogant peers, he joined his students in their meals, work and games. You hardly can pick him out as the principal of his school unless a third party introduces him as one.
A case in point. On one labour day. Tai Solarin, dressed in the Khaki fatiques, was working with his students in the fields. A visitor drove up to the students, asking for the principal. Tai Solarin walked up to him and said” “Oh! You want to see the principal? Just drive down the road to that office over there. Then wait as I go and call him from his house for you. You are welcome”.
Moments later, Tai Solarin joined the visitor in his office still in his khaki outfit with caked, dry sweat all over his body. Surprise.. Surprise.. Surprise for the visitor. All along he had thought Tai Solarin was a gardener leading the students in work on their labour day.
What happened on labour day was vintage Tai Solarin a trail blazer in positive service unconventionalism. However today, what do you find? It is largely teachers, headmasters, principals, chief executives, our president, governors, lawmaker’s local government chairmen and their ilks displaying inaccessibility once elections are over.
Professors Chinua Achebe and Tam David-West qualify also as role models worth mentioning. Chinua Achebe, seeing through the “failure” and “comedian” that Obasanjo was as Nigeria’s president, rejected his bribe of national award. Similarly, Tam David – West turned down such an ward from President Musa Yar’Adua. To them, the best award, a president should give his people are good governace, transparency and public accountability. Nothing less. Since this “award” was lacking in the administrations of Obasanjo (1999-2007) and Yar’Adua (2007-2010), the conscientious objectors in Achebe as well Tam David-West distanced themselves from the leprous awards their regimes were giving out.
Yes, meat when you no go eat no take teeth divide dam. Well, Professor Wole Soyinka ignored these wise words of the Etsako elders. He accepted a national award from Yar’Adua he criticizes. But he sent his son to collect it. In other words, Soyinka’s left hand accepts what his right-hand rejects. A dialectic contradiction. A case of a man hiding stolen goods behind his back in a market. Who is deceiving who? Koni man die, wayo man go buryam.
Given this Soyinkarist ambivalence, not a few people agree that he is a role model in protest unlike Achebe and Tam David-West.
More role models
In our increasingly wicked and selfish tuke-tuke world it is a breath of fresh air we still have or had several Nigerian role models in transparent philanthropy. Late Chief M.K.O. Abiola was one of them. In his life time, he empowered many Nigerians. Sonny Okosuns, his friend, benefited from his catholic philanthropy. After a visit one day, Abiola remarked as Okosuns was about to depart: “You have been visiting me. So soon I will return the honour. But wait o. I would like to visit my friend in his own house. Not a rented apartment. Therefore, tell me do you have a house”?
Okosuns said no but announced with pain that he was building one. There and then, Abiola issued him a cheque to help him to complete his house. How many Nigerians can behave like this?
In addition, Abiola gave a scholarship to a blind man to study computer science in America. The man today is a guru in the discipline. Abiola preferred empowering him for life with his OWN money instead of giving handouts to him on a daily basis. Furthermore, Abiola awarded a scholarship to one Bola to read medicine at the University of Lagos without meeting him. Bola is a medical doctor today in the United States.
Surprisingly, unlike Abiola, we have governors who refuse to use government money for scholarships.
Enter detriabalised Prof. Jide Osuntokun, a great writer, historian, former ambassador to Germany and lecturer at Covenant University. He took his Ibo mechanic to Germany without any conditions. As you read this magazine, the Ibo man is happily married to a German woman and is living in Germany.
People like Owen Omo-Ojo, Anne Imafidon, Colonel Sodeinde, Dele Giwa, Ayodele Awojobi, Olikoye Ransom-Kuti, J.B. Schuylaer, Fela, Tai Solarin, Chinua Achebe, Tam David-West, Abiola, Jide Osuntokun as well as a rare breed of others subscribe to this African proverb: “You only live once but if you live right once is enough.” Their type are difficult to find these days. Role models are vanishing, indeed, with ammonium chloride effect. QED.