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A mentor and pathfinder

University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan

If not for the risk of being charged with impudence, the heading that came to my mind for this piece was “The mentor and pathfinder”, making the definite article “the” say it all. What is the story?

I will come to it presently. What editors call the curtain raiser can be gleaned in the crowd that thronged the Catholic Hall, University of Ibadan, Saturday, 30 June.

All were there not only to witness and celebrate the memorable marriage but to pay homage to the illustrious memory of the groom’s father.

The hall was filled to overflowing and guests milled round outside the hall.

What can be read into the presence of the innumerable guests is a display of love and affection and appreciation for the positive impact the life and times of Professor Joshua Dada Adeniyi, one-time Dean, Faculty of Public Health, UCH, exerted on their lives.

Professor Adeniyi, pioneer head of the Department of Health Promotion and Education, was a multi-dimensional colossus that bestrode the world of academia and community development.

His name was not one to grab the headlines, but in the words of Professor Oladimeji Oladepo he was a mentor par excellence, renowned for big-heartedness.

“He was a man who was always doing things for others without looking back for recompense.”

In the reckoning of Professor Adedoyin Soyibo, “One cannot but become friendly with him.

Quiet, witty and quite unassuming, Professor Adeniyi would disarm even Muhammed Ali with his smiles and characteristic mien. He had a way of providing leadership by example.

Professor Adeniyi always exhibited thoroughness and depth in all he did; insisting on keeping deadlines and ensuring that all those on the team were dedicated. ..a quintessential leader and father-figure.”

And from his bosom friend, Professor Oyediran, former vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, “Josh was a highly endowed, articulate, hardworking academic and professional health education specialist who manifested admirable leadership qualities.

He was a loyal and dependable friend and colleague whose opinions and counsel commanded my great respect and attention.”

The foregoing testimonials came from colleagues who met him later.

But who was he and why bring out these moving tributes at this time of the celebration of the marriage of his son, his last child?

Joshua Dada Adeniyi was born on 06 January, 1940, in Kishi, Oyo North. By 1945, just about five years he began his primary education.

Getting him to place his hand on his head to touch his ears, the accustomed practice for choosing prospective pupils, was waived.

It soon became clear that little Dada was a child of promise.

He began schooling at Baptist Day School in the town but finished in 1952 at the Native Authority School as was the practice at the time.

In 1953 he proceeded to Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta passing out with Cambridge School Certificate in 1957 the year students in Form Six and Form Five sat for the school certificate examination together.

Adeniyi was in Form Five. For the people of Oyo North also often referred to as Oke-Ogun, and his hometown of Kishi in particular, that is not the story, motivational as the struggle to get his secondary education at the time was, a struggle that at a point he rode on a bicycle all the way from Kishi to Abeokuta.

After the secondary education, a focused and determined young man, he went to the School of Hygiene, Ibadan, for a three-year course which earned him the Royal Society of Health. It was while in the School of Hygiene that his patriotic zeal and unquenchable love for his community unravelled.

From 1958, he would come home to his town during holidays to organise coaching for pupils in the final primary school year.

It was not just so that the pupils could pass in flying colours in the primary leaving school certificate examinations, but to prepare them to pass entrance examinations into secondary schools, high schools or modern schools.

In his bags were forms for those who might show promise, forms procured with his own money.

Going to Modern School was the more appealing out of limited understanding and the preference of parents that the stint there was shorter and their wards would be able to come out quickly, earn income and support the family.

Yours sincerely was among those who moved to District Modern School, Shaki.

Indeed, one could hardly count on his finger tips those who did not first have to go to Modern School before going to grammar school.

We had hardly settled to catch our breath than Dada Adeniyi showed up in Shaki. Words went round that he was in town and he would like to see us.

We gathered at Baptist School in Shaki and behold, there came Dada Adeniyi, again in his bag, entrance examination forms for us to wind up at the Modern School and proceed to grammar school.

Again? The grumbling was loud and clear: “Why will this man not leave us alone.

What is it, really?” We were the generation after his, and so we dispersed to different secondary grammar schools upon passing the qualifying entrance examinations.

While in the Modern School, his elder cousin, Jonathan Gbenjo Aderounmu, and Dada Adeniyi organised us into a corps of education crusaders under the umbrella of an association they called Adasobo Literate Union.

During the Christmas holidays with them leading, we moved from house to house to entreat parents to send their children to school. Aderounmu travelled to Ghana to address the larger township association, called Kishi Progressive Union.

It is unbelievable that a town which had its first primary school in 1940 and Local Government Authority in 1946 had to be persuaded in 1959, by 1960, to send children to school and take full advantage of the free education of its Region, the West, by 1959, by 1960.

By the time we were in secondary school and Adeniyi himself had finished at Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, and joined the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, the scale had dropped from our eyes, but not from his shoulders the burden he had taken upon himself.

During holidays, a number of us would carry our bags to gather in his house at Oke-Ado and later at Bodija, Ibadan, feeding free in the morning, afternoon and night.

We would cram into his car to follow him to Eruwa and Igbo-ora where he had demonstration projects.

He took us with him to fire our ambition, to ask us questions on what we would like to do in life, to counsel and guide.

His doors were open any day, any time to us. Members of my generation whom he drew so close to him, related to him or not became his brothers, addressing him “Buoda Dada.”

We got him to cede to us the address “My dear” for his wife to us and restricted him to simply address her “Mama Tunji.”

So was it that a time came we were content to just speak to his wife to assure us that “Buoda” was hale and hearty.

He became the admission officer in practically all higher institutions of higher learning for any in my generation who desired educational advancement.

All you needed to do was to pass your exams, then leave the rest to him.

It was not until we went our own way in life and married that we knew the sacrifice he had made in our lives. In our marriages and the marriages of our children he was the ubiquitous head of the family.

He would fly down from what engagement he had within and outside the country, and the engagements could be unceasing!

We had thought that his devotion to serve and help others was directed at us only until we met others who had crossed his path in one form or the other.

The programme the University of Ibadan organised for him titled “Life and Times of Professor J. D. Adeniyi” dispelled such a notion.

Colleagues after colleagues at the University College Hospital said one after the other that he had a likeable personality, and took care of all cadres of staff.

He was described as a teacher of inestimable class, a teacher’s teacher par excellence, a mentor of mentors, a seasoned researcher who generated result to benefit mankind.

They said of him that he devoted his attention to helping others without a word of it being mentioned; he preferred serving others to being served.

He was humble and an embodiment of educational principles, he indisputably was.

This resolve to motivate people and recognise them was bolstered by his fond parable of Okolo who ages past served diligently in a palace, making everybody happy but whom nobody recognised. What did Okolo do? He set the palace on fire!!

After Professor Kale said of him that he was clear and had analytical mind and Professor Olayiwole Babatunde Shittu spoke glowingly about him, his first son, Dr. Tunji Adeniyi, regaled the gathering with how his father carried his approach as an academic home.

He would ask his children to write him a proposal on their demands! Professor Adeniyi was a WHO consultant to the National Government of Lesotho on Medium Term Plan for AIDS control, the same assignment he undertook in Uganda and Tanzania.

Just as he was renowned in academia, a product of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and John Hopkins University also in the United States for his higher degrees, his memory will linger among the people of Oke-Ogun for a long time.

He was the president of Oke-Ogun Development Council, a vehicle he used to vigorously push for the creation of Oke-Ogun State, a project very dear to his heart.

It cannot therefore be surprising that all roads led to Kishi with full attendance of all the traditional rulers from the zone at his funeral service at first Baptist Church, Kishi.

The second anniversary of his departure from earthly life is next week Saturday, 23 July.

He participated in brain-storming on the Yoruba Agenda at a meeting that took place at the Palace of Ooni in 2014 as part of the final resolutions of the Yorubas taken to the national conference of that year.

With a man like that, invitations to him from several places for chieftaincy titles were uncountable. He was Agbaakin of Kishi.

At the programme on the “Life and Times of Professor J.D. Adeniyi”, at the College Auditorium, UCH, his students sang of the hits of Michael Jackson which went in part as follows;

There is A Place in

Your Heart

And I know That It is Love

And This Place Could

Be Much

Brighter Than Tomorrow…

The wedding of his son, Adeola, was attended by a huge crowd of well wishers who came to demonstrate love in reciprocity for the great love and pay homage to the great memory of his father.

The hall was filled with the mighty and the lowly, academics, professionals.

People from his hometown came in bus loads, with the traditional ruler, Iba of Kishi, Oba Mosoud Oyekola Lawal Arowoduye, leading .

They were at the Methodist Church, Bodija where vows were exchanged and the solemnisation of the marriage took place.

It was a deserving day of glory for Prof.’s wife, Yetunde. She was overwhelmed.

On my way back to Lagos the accustomed bedlam on both the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and on the Lagos- Badagry Expressway kept me on the road for seven hours 37 minutes before reaching home at 11:37p.m.

The sacrifice of Professor Adeniyi for my generation was worth the ordeal.

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