Ogunye: Giant Strides in Engineering Education, Research and Innovation.

A Festschrift in Honour of Professor Ayodele Francis Ogunye 
University of Lagos Press. 447 pp, 2012
Edited by: AO Denloye, LO Oyekunle & A Ogunbayo

OA Fakinlede
Lagos, July 30, 2012

Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher who died at 41 made the remarkable observation that, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”. This provides part of the context to critically analyze the festschrift prepared to celebrate the life, the times and the contributions of the man AF Ogunye.

Biographical Sketch

The book begins, appropriately, with a compelling autobiography. But for the absence of the leaves thatches, you can almost relive the nascency of 70 years provided in a clear color photograph of the actual house!(5) Further on, there are depictions of the circumstances, the chance events and the early achievements that foretold the professorship to be attained at the early age of 36; the family background and the economy of those pre-independence days of a rural people under the colonial tutelage of the British; the early missionary school system with the dedicated teachers whose decisions had long term effects on the life and careers of their pupils; The sacrifice of the parents of successful children of those days. You will also see the motivation for success and what once provided the bragging rights in the discussion among successful “cash crop” farmers of our early agrarian “British servant” economy.

At a tender age of 13 – rare for the times, AF Ogunye was already in secondary school, a Molusian! One academic achievement followed another, leading to the enrollment for Higher School at the prestigious GCI and later to the University of London’s Imperial College on a Federal Government scholarship. The crowning glory of student days as a Waterloo University postgraduate student under Professor Willis Harmon Ray, Marriage and early family life preceded the tremendous decade of the 70’s. Right at the middle of his life to date, between the ages of 30 and 40, like Julius Caesar, it was time of “veni, vidi, vici”: First at Ife, and later at Unilag, He came, He saw and He conquered.

What was remarkable about the success at Ife and Lagos was the fact that he came into a star-studded class! The elite schools represented at Unilag engineering faculty included Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Cornell as well as London, Cambridge, McGill, etc.

In the political intrigues of academia, AF Ogunye was a kingmaker, he was there when Awojobi was prevented from getting to the deanship. In that battle, was a mobilizer himself as the leader of the Chemical Engineering wing! When it came time to remove the new “king” Enahoro, he was again in his element. He was never neutral player.

This was not a well-known story to those of us who were students at the time. AF Ogunye, as his students and colleagues testify in this book, was the man with a passion for the Chemical engineering program. He carried the load and it was as if it was his alone to carry! The enduring mental picture of the safari suit, the beards and a couple of files carried in a hurry was noted even by the young son (p81), Wale at that time! This book gives the clue to the tremendous pressures under which he worked in those days! It was somewhat strange that Chemical engineering, as the newest program attracted even better students than the other more established engineering departments in its earliest years! These were the students that AF Ogunye and his colleagues, all under 35 years of age, turned to world beaters in those tremendous years!

What was his family like? What did the children think? His students, peers and mentors – all this is covered in the biographical section. The spectacular achievements and the support he had from such mentors as Vice Chancellor JF Ade Ajayi and late dean Oladapo, among others, who remained treasured friends to date. His devotion to his students and those he mentored is legendary. Such care and devotion went far beyond the boundaries of their legal relationship. He does not seem to appreciate the enormity of this. Instead, his emphasis was always on how much he had received from his own mentors with Professor Ray and his family as a special case.

Following his premature retirement from Unilag, the book went into details as to how he struggled to success afterwards: The uncertainty, travail and pain that gave birth to financial success as well as the tremendous, though unplanned, contributions that came his way in the post Unilag period. Professor Ogunye did not intend to go into Engineering practice and business. He was compelled by circumstances. Later events showed he was duly prepared to excel here also. What he did with his wealth; or what can we learn from the magnanimity of endowing a trust with the proceeds of the pension resulting from the hard-won case against the same University of Lagos!

In AF Ogunye, we get a good look at the life of some of the earliest scientists and engineers who trained up to the doctorate level. These were the same people who were to be the “first this, first that” in the history of Nigerian engineering education. They were extremely capable people. They achieved success here in Nigeria and did extremely well in the best universities this world had to offer. Most of these people were professors by the time they were two score years. They lived well and were quite comfortable in later years. They did well for their families and most had no regrets for carrying their enormous talents into the dreary role of a teacher among the other competing opportunities they had. AF Ogunye is a leader in the amount of mentoring and impact on younger people, many of whom, today, are great society leaders in their own rights. He can easily tell that he has paid his dues to society. When you add the number of people he goes out of the usual call of duty to assist, then we can even justifiably say he has done more. More on this follow in the biographical sketch from family, colleagues and former students completing the first section of the book. His children are also successful. Notable among whom is the engineer in the brain-drain lane. What can we say to such a tremendously successful life?

Other Articles

Section B of the book is a set of scientific papers. This is led by “Early Fundamental Contributions by AF Ogunye to the Fields of Process Modeling, Optimization and Control” by no less a personality than Professor W Harmon Ray himself! Others include papers on various topics by associates such as VOS Olunloyo, Oye Ibidapo-Obe and former students such as RA Bello, BA Ogunnaike, etc and his son, Ayowale Ogunye.

The Section D is a set of papers by friends and associates such as AO Denloye, OA Bamiro, BO Solomon and RI Salawu. Various energy issues presented seek to address the power sector and infrastructural quandary we face in Nigeria at this time. Alternative energy solutions! We have more on paper than in actual in this area. The paper “Solar Energy, An Alternative Energy Source in Nigeria” by OO Adewoye is specially mentioned here because of its reporting of a welcome development at the NASENI to manufacture solar panels here in Nigeria. A step in the right direction that we hope will be followed by a more massive private initiative that will address our energy imbroglio. These emphasize the fact that lasting energy solutions will require that we look into all possible sources of energy including coal, wind, solar and biomass. The present knee jerk method of building turn-key gas turbines will need to be augmented by these other means to get us out of the energy infrastructural deficit. These articles address the issues that will arise as we try to do these.

Analysis

A book of nearly thirty chapters with various authors is not easily reviewed. A small summary of each article cannot fit into this program. Yet we must give some time to a small amount of critical analysis. For this purpose, I choose to place the Section C of the book last in this discussion. As we celebrate the admission into the Septuagenarian class of the celebrant of today, we must note here that a few questions need to be answered.

As the early biographical section clearly illustrates, the life of AF Ogunye, just as that of us all can only be understood backwards. We have in this book, much more than the private moments of a man albeit a great man. The story here is the story of a nation as well. It has been argued that no nation achieves industrial development in modern times without some attention to the chemical industry. AF Ogunye traversed land and sea to bring the knowledge of chemicals processing to us in Nigeria. He endured the mischief of an unjustifiable retrenchment at Unilag; the uncertainty of the murky waters of fetching his daily bread under the military dominated governments of Nigeria; He trained and mentored a lot of Nigerians in high positions in the industry today.

Industry! What industry?

Nigeria, despite these efforts, remains a monoculture wholly dependent on the exportation of crude oil and suffers a chronic shortage of energy in useful form despite the fact that the main product for which it obtains its income is energy. I find myself unable to improve on the picture Professor Layi Ogunkoya sets this in relief in his article “Outstanding Service to the Community” Chapter 13. “After spending my entire working life (1965-2000) living in the residential quarters of Obafemi Awolowo University campus where the provision of basic amenities, like water and electricity, was taken for granted (then), I faced an entirely new life on retirement living in a rural community in Ijebu-Igbo where these basic amenities virtually assumed the character of ‘rare commodities’.” This is the very essence of underdevelopment or, equivalently, lack of industry!

The beauty of the Section C of this festschrift is that it does not shy away from the rigorous analysis we need to do at this time. The debate has already begun. Notable among these is Oyelaran-Oyeyinka’s article on “Industrialization, Chemical Engineering and the role of Elites in Nigeria’s Development”. I am not sure if there was a typo there and he had meant to say “…role of Elites in Nigeria’s Underdevelopment”. I am aware of the fact that Nigeria aspires to be one of the top 20 leading nations in West Africa by 2020! (The difference between what I have said and what you may think I should have said is also the difference between what the government is doing and what it is saying!) EE Ubom, in his chapter 22 article on “Assessment of Nigeria’s SMEs Sub-sector and Opportunities for Effective Contribution of Chemical Engineers and other Entrepreneurs to Economic Growth” seems to imply that Chemical Engineers are, ipso-facto, entrepreneurs – something that is difficult to defend as things presently stand. However, maybe those of us in education can take that challenge and endeavor to make it so. The opening of FO Akintimehin’s article on “The Prospects, Challenges and Benefits of Natural Gas Utilization in Chemical Process Industries in Nigeria” that “the economic development of any nation is largely dependent on its natural resources” appears to run on the opposite lane to the huge Asian success stories of Japan, Singapore Korea and even the People’s Republic of our day. Yet these articles, taken with Funsho Falade’s “Emerging Trends in Engineering Education: Nigerian Perspectives” provide a very good starting point for the serious questions we must ask ourselves as we celebrate AF Ogunye and his generation of Nigerians presently leaving us the baton to carry on the struggle they started.

Someone had joked that there are only two jobs in Nigeria: Looting and Begging. Well, maybe that is an extreme position. Nevertheless, the truth we must face here is that our monoculture is aided by a deep rent seeking attitude that we all find convenient. Oyelaran-Oyeyinka’s article analyzed this in great detail and demonstrates why development eludes us as we have levels of “business leaders” that are able to do very well without positively impacting society. They essentially collect rents to share with their masters in government. The current Farouk-Otedola saga as an example of the whole subsidy scandal, when taken with the fact that the only other major news item after the latest Boko-Haram victims is the next committed fraud all show why we have been moving circles and may continue to do so for a while.

The response of Government to the lack of capacity to train people at higher degrees as reported happily by Engineer Ubom is to “to select the best graduates from the nation’s universities and train them on scholarship in the world’s top 25 universities in order to build a pool of brains that would sustain the country’s transformation.” In the same section, going by Funsho Falade’s analysis, these people will not likely return to Nigeria! Is it therefore not arguable that the presidential initiative here is not any innovation but the application of tired ideas bereft of a sense of history. (Seeking partnerships would be a more robust solution).

This ineffectual solution has been in place in short busts for more than sixty years. It is taken through a fresh iteration every twenty years save the Abacha years in the 90’s. It means that AF Ogunye’s associates and students such as Ayo Jeje, or BA Ogunnaike or Soji Adesina who are presently in those kinds of schools abroad can have the opportunity to supervise these students to PhD level. However, if the same people had returned or stayed at home like AJ Kehinde and RA Bello did, they will be exempted! Is it not arguable that the proper thing for government to do is to find out how to equip a few of these people and give them the challenge of mentoring our own students in a better environment here where they can work on our problems?

Whichever way we look at it, the debate has begun. I believe there is no better tribute to the celebrant than to start a process that will make his tremendous achievements as that of others in his age group to matter in the social empowerment of our nation at large. That way, we may accelerate the process to quit mass poverty and become a nation to reckon with in Africa and the world.

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