Professor Babatunde Ayodeji Ogunnaike 1956-2022

It is tempting, as one sees the flood of tributes that naturally follow the news of Tunde’s departure, to feel complacent and assume there may be no need to say anything. Afterall, Tunde Ogunnaike is the closest we get to a polymath. His life influenced people in several seemingly unrelated ways. That brings in friends from a wide variety of human interests that, on the surface, look incompatible: Hockey and Statistics, Drumming and Chemical Engineering, Chess and Bible Study, Calligraphy and Differential Equations, Fine Art and Control Systems, Football coaching and PhD Supervision! If you can navigate the connections between things like these, then you are beginning to know Tunde Ogunnaike.
Other tributes have delved into this, I shall therefore stay in my personal space.
The last time I visited Tunde and Anna in Delaware was in 2017 – shortly after the loss of my own wife. That visit was eventful only in the fact that it was, perhaps, the only time we spent such a considerable time together without concluding it with a game of chess! Anna, knowing how he longed for chess was always so happy I was playing him! The last time he visited me in Lagos was 2020 when he came to Unilag as a visiting scholar. We had Ogbono soup for a meal since he would not take carbohydrates. I knew he was being careful about health. But Tunde sometimes takes decisions that discomfit; for example, eating the white and forgoing the yolk of an egg! I suspected no serious problems.
As we entered Unilag together at the same age in 1973 and he graduating a year earlier than me, we maintained a friendship that climaxed at the time we went through the most consequential decisions in life: Marriage and work. And we talked several hours into the night on each of these! I know the struggles with living at Oshodi and the effects of a harder Nigeria on his young family. The gradual pauperization of Nigerian people that started in the 1980s and its effects. I know he tried all that was humanly possible to give back to Nigeria.
What did Tunde not do? Many know that he authored books. How many know that the first one, written at the Chemical Engineering Department at Unilag was hand-written? That is an example of the extent Tunde would go if he wanted to do something. He never was the one to take “no” for an answer! Of course, he had a good handwriting and was an artist so he could do all the illustrations, he did these because he had no better choice. The book must come out! No excuses! And, came out it did while he was in Nigeria. As he went back to the US, many of the publishers could not accept the work as original until they had no choice, but to do so! This time, it got properly published.
In the past 24 hours, knowing that Tunde leaves us, a little over a month before a birthday, my mind is on overdrive, trying to make sense out of it all. This dynamite package of a human being, quietly influencing things around him, had to go. He was on loan to us for a set time. That time is over! Easy for me to say, mighty hard to bear for those who know and love him best. To Anna and children with young families, only the mighty grace of God can comfort and thoroughly console. Even that has to have the cooperation of Father Time.
The last major thing Tunde and I did together was to connect the work going on at the University of Delaware on Covid response to the University of Lagos and the Nigeria Academy of Engineering. The personal funds that Tunde expended on this project is perhaps only known, on this side, to Professor Tokunbo Denloye and me. Despite his calm demeanor, Tunde was a warrior! And warriors always go with a battle salute! Farewell my brother and friend, Tunde Ogunnaike, you have fought a good fight!


One comment on “Professor Babatunde Ayodeji Ogunnaike 1956-2022

  1. Tolu says:

    This just tells me how fragile life is, my consolation is that his life, living and dead, is in the hand of his maker. Indeed, may we all learn to number our days, That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭90:12‬

    I pray God to console and comfort sister Anna and the rest of the family.

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