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I Remember, a book for all

1-6Having read Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun’s illuminating autobiography, I Remember, I felt justified by my enthusiasm in accepting from the publishers, the privilege and challenge of bringing it to the attention of prospective readers via a review.  There are not many individuals who approach life as if they have had a premonition that they could be important at some point in history.  The culture of documenting events, be it in a diary or a notebook, requires exceptional discipline and commitment. Professor Adamolekun reveals that he has kept a diary since he was 19, and the foresight is a trait he might have inherited from his parents – both father and mother are said to have kept records in their own ways. This has resulted in a most authentically-documented personal history.

Adamolekun hardly requires an elaborate introduction.  He is one of Nigeria’s most outstanding academics, a world-class scholar who once rejected a prominent political appointment in order not to truncate his drive towards the very top of his academic calling.  He was a beneficiary of many scholarships and has won several awards, including the prestigious Nigeria National Order of Merit (NNOM), the country’s “highest national prize for academic and intellectual attainment.” His academic discipline, “public administration”, has more or less become synonymous with his name.  His numerous academic publications, according to WorldCat Identities, enjoy close to 3,000 library holdings worldwide. There can hardly be any doubt that Adamolekun is truly an accomplished scholar.

Autobiographers share their experiences of both failures and triumphs.  So, what factors or experiences have shaped the life of this autobiographer, and endeared him so much to a community of knowledgeable and decent people? The first influence in his life, as is the case with most individuals, is parental.  He was lucky to have had parents who, even when they themselves did not have the privilege of formal education, encouraged education in the family. Young Ladipo Adamolekun, 14th in a family of 19 children, had the “good luck” of having to be guided or coached by older siblings who included the legendary Nathaniel Kolawole Adamolekun, who was the first indigenous Registrar of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university.

The Adamolekun family, even though a polygamous one (Baba had 3 wives), enjoyed peace and harmony among its members.  The autobiographer attributed what I once had cause to describe as “management polygamy” to “fairness” on the part of a father who never spared the rod.  Of course, a background of strong Christian culture also contributed to the healthy co-existence in the family.  Even when the patriarch of the family had sponsored the education of his children through hard-earned agricultural proceeds, children provided a helping hand to one another once they were in paid employment. So, the first important lesson in this autobiography is that of guidance and good home management by parents.

The role of parents can only be foundational; it would require a combination of talent and hard work for any individual to achieve as much as Ladipo Adamolekun has achieved in his academic career and other endeavours.  He made a First in French at the highly competitive University of Ibadan in 1968.  But it is in the field of Public Administration – his research interest at the University of Oxford – that the world of scholars now celebrates him.

Reading through his autobiography, it would appear that his engagements at Oyemekun Grammar School (Akure, Ondo State) where he first met his best friend, the equally famous Professor Kole Omotoso, had prepared him for that discipline.  He was School Librarian and Senior Prefect and Head Boy in his penultimate and final years respectively.  At the famous Christ School, Ado-Ekiti, where Adamolekun obtained his higher school certificate, he was also entrusted with leadership roles: he was a prefect and head of the school’s Literary and Debating Society. Dr Abiodun Adu, now a consultant gynaecologist in the UK and his junior at Christ School, talks about him, albeit with nostalgic admiration, “Oga was one smallish genius often seen with nothing but heavy books in his hands”.  Professor Adamolekun’s library, in his hometown, Ladipo Adamolekun Public Affairs Library, boasts of about 4,500 books.

The delicate frame and gentle disposition of Professor Adamolekun must not be taken for granted. Just as it is with many smart minds, Wole Soyinka and Gani Fawehinmi for instance, there is a stubborn or rebellious edge to his character.  He is very strong-headed in matters of principle and conviction.  Even at secondary school, he did not hesitate to tear up his examination sheet before a teacher who had awarded him marks in English which made a mockery of the high marks he had attained in a mock examination in which he came first in the class.  As one political activist of the Awoist persuasion, he once risked his life by shouting at a convoy of ruinous NNDP politicians sometime in 1965.  More significantly, when the Tribune newspaper, sometime in 1980, published an article which impugned his character and integrity, he successfully sued for libel. He would joyfully celebrate that victory with colleagues at the University of Ife Staff Club.

But it has not been all joy and celebration for Professor Adamolekun.  The darkest moment in his life was when his beautiful and intelligent wife of more than 30 years, Dr Olukemi Adamolekun (nee Ajayi), was murdered by armed robbers at Ibadan on May 4th 2002. The narration of his years of nightmare is moving.  A genuinely loving and devoted husband and father, it took many years of pleading and persuasion by family members and friends, for him to eventually remarry in 2007.  His new wife, Olajumoke, is equally beautiful and intelligent.  Both are warmly acknowledged in “I REMEMBER”.

There is a saying that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.  Professor Adamolekun’s autobiography has some messages for all of us.  His parental upbringing has a message for parents generally; his exploits as a student at school and university have a strong message for students.  Of course, his experiences as an accomplished academic at various universities (Obafemi Awolowo University, in particular), and as a leading professional at the World Bank, should provide useful guidance to those who seek to operate at the highest level of professional calls.  His description of academic standards at the University of Ibadan in the 1960s should forever shame those who have been responsible for the current decadence of educational standards in Nigeria.

Professor Adamolekun, even in retirement, has continued to project the highest ideals of a true academic determined, as he obviously is, to leave society better than he met it. His publisher, the charismatic Chief Joop Berkhout, enthused over Adamolekun as the quintessential professor and not the “Tokunbo” (half-baked) type – I agreed.

“I REMEMBER”, the autobiography of Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, is an impressive and well-indexed 352-page publication of Safari Books Ltd. Ibadan.  Adamolekun’s account of his life is a balanced narration, unlike the hagiographic sketches that are sometimes labelled as biographies or autobiographies.  As expected, the style of presentation is fluent.  Significantly, in my view, he did not insult or malign the character of another in a quest for self-promotion.  The only missing links are his philanthropic gestures, known to this reviewer, which he might have chosen not to trumpet out of sheer modesty.  A book that serves as a role model for generations, it is with great enthusiasm and a sense of professional honesty, that I recommend “I REMEMBER” to individuals and libraries worldwide.

Akinola lives in Oxford, U.K.

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