Prof. Adefuye my teacher, my friend
TEACHERS play a crucial role in society. The noble occupation is undertaken by volunteer spirits for whom personal gain is not the cardinal consideration for enlisting in the corps of those on whose shoulders the task of building future generations rests. Teachers mould destinies. They identify and nurture leaders. They build nations. I was privileged to have had Prof. Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye (January 1947 – August 2015) as my teacher and I, like many others, acknowledge the positive turn of my life and career to God through (to a large extent) the efforts of great teachers like Prof. Adefuye, who was my lecturer in the Department of History, University of Lagos when I was an undergraduate in the early 1980s.
Professor Adefuye was a towering presence in the Faculty from the time of his arrival as a fresh PhD in 1974 to his exit in 1986 when he became Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Jamaica. Alongside many of my teachers – Professors Antony Asiwaju, TGO Gbadamosi, Jide Osuntokun, BA Agiri, Nina Mba, Jeremy White and many others, Professor Adefuye prepared us well for our future.
Although he arguably became much more celebrated and famous when he transitioned to becoming a diplomat due to the opportunity the diplomatic service offers practitioners of his pedigree to be celebrated and to engage global leaders and royalty in the hallowed courts of the worlds’ capital cities, I pride myself in being one of those to have encountered him early in the modest classrooms of UNILAG’s faculty of arts. His Diplomatic History class remains indelible. Without a single sheet of paper, he would deliver two hours of lecture extempore on topics as wide-ranging as the Age of Enlightenment in Europe to the role of Nigeria and the United States in the Anti-Apartheid struggle in Southern Africa.
I fondly remember an occasions – in fact the first time after the UNILAG years, when we had cause to meet on opposing ends of the barricades. It was in the year 1992 during the military regime of General Babangida when those of us in the pro-democracy movement in the United Kingdom decided to add more verve to our agitations by picketing the Nigerian High Commission in London as one of our strategies.
The pickets gained traction over time and became a source of embarrassment to senior diplomats at the Nigerian High Commission – Prof. Adefuye was at the time the Deputy High Commissioner of Nigeria to the Court of St. James, after his stint in Jamaica as High Commissioner. On one of such pickets, Prof. Adefuye ventured out of his office and on seeing me at the forefront of the protests pointed at me saying, “I know you, I know that one, he was my student.” I wasn’t surprised he could recognize me. I however shrugged off the confrontation ensuring the irreverent name calling and singing that characterized those civic actions of that era increased in tempo to drown out his voice. That was a defining moment in our relationship and sign-posted some of the ideological differences we had in the means and tactics we chose to achieve our common ends.
Long after that rather unsavoury episode when I was caught up in the cross hairs of my former teacher, we had the opportunity to smoothen out the relationship as our paths crossed more often at international gatherings when he served as Special Adviser on Africa to the Commonwealth Secretary General and later Deputy Director, Political Affairs at the headquarters in London and then during his brief stint at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja. At his last station as Ambassador of Nigeria to the United States, during which I became Governor of Ekiti State, he ensured he carried me along in almost everything he did, particularly his efforts to attract foreign investments to Nigeria. He pragmatically collaborated with stakeholders in the business community and other interest groups to organize a number of conferences to this end, some of which the Government of Ekiti State participated in. It is to his credit that one of the most successful initiatives we recorded in the Agriculture sector in Ekiti State was brokered at the Agric Summit organized by the Nigerian Embassy in the U.S. in 2011.
It is to his credit that the relationship between Nigeria and the United States of America did not break down totally during one of the most tumultuous periods of diplomatic engagement which saw tensions between both nations simmering under the surface largely due to differing positions on the approach to tackling the insecurity challenges in Nigeria. He will be remembered for fearlessly articulating the positions of the administration he served most loyally in the finest diplomatic traditions of tact, clarity and firmness. His intellectual jousting with former US Ambassador to Nigeria and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, John Campbell was remarkable in this respect. He never skipped a beat even after the change of government in Nigeria in May 2015. Prior to the inauguration of the new President, he was already reaching out to the State Department and the White House and to those he knew on the President-elect’s team on a range of issues including the possibility of a visit to President Obama by the incoming President. The credit for President Buhari’s visit to the U.S. in July 2015 was largely due to his efforts. He was unrelenting in strengthening those links and his sterling relationships with institutions like the Constituency for Africa, US Chamber of Commerce, and the various think-tanks in Washington DC contributed significantly to his success in office. He was arguably Nigeria’s most effective Ambassador to the United States in the last two decades.
He loved his job dearly and wouldn’t have disapproved of an extension to his stay in the United States. We discussed the possibility of his memoirs and I suggested he should target his 70th birthday in January 2017 as the time to unveil the memoirs. He had been involved in so many events in the last three decades in active international diplomacy and his memoirs would have enriched so many in international diplomacy. He said he was thinking of spending some time at NIPSS in Kuru, Jos and was equally eager to complete his house in Abuja.
I will forever hold fond memories of his brilliance, his warmth and his generosity of spirit. His wife, Aunty Sola, was always a gracious host during my many visits to their residence in America. I am indeed privileged to have been touched by the intellect, wisdom, humility, graciousness and faith of such a great Nigerian. I join all men and women of goodwill to salute one of my most cherished teachers and mentors – a man of deep humility, great conviction and profound sense of patriotic purpose. And I pray that God gives his wife, children and the rest of his family the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.
• Dr. Fayemi is the immediate past Governor of Ekiti State.