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Celebrating Egbokhare at 50!

Published by Tribune on Wed, 24 Oct 2012

IT was in 2007 ' an unforgettable afternoon headlined by the ruthless descent of the sizzling sun. Three very ambitious campus journalists bent onfounding a campus tabloid had embarked on a trek to the house of a professor on a help-seeking mission.Being the least academically placed of the trio, I listened as the other duo conversed on the meeting ahead. One said the professor had just been recently displaced as the youngest professor in the prestigious University of Ibadan (UI). And the other added: he had recently been appointed the director of the university's Distance Learning Centre (DLC).When we reached his house, Ohimai Godwin Amaize (now the Special Adviser,Advocacy, to the Minister of Youth) and Abimbola Ojenike (now a brilliant attorney with Lagos-based cross-border law firm, SimmonsCoopers Partners) eased into their waiting seats while I lagged behind, fumbling with my shoes at the door.'You can come in with your shoes,' boomed a hoarse voice from inside. 'My house is not a mosque!'The following minutes turned out an antithesis of the scenes that we had played out in our heads: the professor joked and smiled and laughed with us as though we had been friends for eternity, amidst a gritty and mesmerisingly pithy message on the importance of a virile campus journalism to the successful running of the university. It was difficult to imagine that this was a lecturer who became professor at just 37, who was heading an institute that some of his own lecturers had fallen over one another to have, whose well-documented brilliance easily melted the hearts of UI students who treasured excellence irrespective of their discipline; it was difficult to believe that he hosted some lowly undergraduates ' in his house and not his office!Five years after, at 50 years old (albeit with looks belying the age), Professor Francis Egbokhare has not changed one bit, and continues to live a life shorn of the trappings of professorial power, maintaining a very rarely seen bond ' in fact, friendship ' with students, in addition to inspiring them as a teacher, writer, broadcaster, preacher, role model and mentor.In the evening of 22nd September 2012 when Prof clocked 50, he had managed a walk-on appearance at the wedding of a former student of his, which held on campus, running into a 'common' security man whose telephone number he sought and saved with a promise to call later in the evening. But is Egbokhare such a lowly figure as to be undeserving of exhibiting even just one of the many big-man syndromes that have literally become de rigueur in Nigeria' Not exactly!Born Francis Oisaghaede Egbokhare on 22nd September 1962 in Edo State, he attended Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Auchi, and the University of Benin(1979) where he finished in 1983 as the best graduand of the set at just 21 years. Arriving UI in 1984 in pursuit of a Master's degree, he was named professor after another 15 years, and has now written tens of scholarly articles in learned journals, delivered tens of lead papers, published many books and supervised successful doctorate programmes.In his earlier years as a professor, the grants he enjoyed from the US State Department-funded Colleges and Universities Affiliations Programme for UI/SIUE interdisciplinary research and exchange from 2002 to 2004 birthed a Memorandum of Union between Southern Illinois University and UI, with more than 20 academics and administrative staff and students already benefiting from it.His tenure as director of UI's Distance Learning was hugely successful in many regards. In less than five years, he increased the programmes from four to more than 30 without compromising standards, transforming the centre the best open distance learning outfit in Nigeria, as acknowledged by the Open University of United Kingdom (OUUK) and the National Universities Commission (NUC).Today, Professor Egbokhare is a member of the prestigious Nigerian Academy of Letters (2012), Fellow of the Institute Development Administration of Nigeria (2007), Fellow of Alexander Von Humboldt-Stiftung,and he has received hordes of awards from associations in UI and UNIBEN, where, for example, the Library of the Department of Linguistics is named after him.It is such a shame, from the student perspective, that a man of Professor Egbokhare's standing and impeccable values lost out in last year's race for the vice chancellorship of UI, emerging the third favourite candidate. His visions, tolerance for dissenting opinions, respect for the strengths of everyone around him, dislike for injustice notwithstanding the height of the oppressive individual or authority, and passion for standards are qualities that would have served the genuine interests of both the staff and student community of the university.Still, Egbokhare continues to maintain a leading role in the evolution of a new UI and Nigeria, particularly from the standpoint of helping students imbibe some of the values very rarely seen in the university's and country's public life. One example, despite the utter unattractiveness of the responsibility, he continues to staff-advise the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ) ' an organisation that has, for many years, never really been like the darling of university authorities.So, it is not a surprise that even before he was 50, Prof. had reached the zenith of his career, not exactly in terms of scholarly achievements but rather, as it concerned the true essence of the lecturing profession ' knowledge impartation. Thousands of alumni and alumnae of UI will look back at their time on campus, and allocate a lion's share of their heart for lecturers to the likes of Professor Egbokhare. And I am one of them: when a graduate of Animal Science writes on a Professor of Linguistics, the story of a professor's versatility in knowledge sharing and dissemination is, at once, explicitly told!Soyombo wrote in from Lagos.
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