‘How time, destiny shape human desires’
For Professor Afis Ayinde Oladosu, 52, who was just elected the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan (UI), “time and destiny make things happen.”
The Ikirun, Osun State-born scholar has not only made marks in his academics but has equally proven to be a good administrator who sees public office as a place of service, where people are given rare opportunities to write stories that would be told about them tomorrow. No wonder, he broke the record as the first lecturer from the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies to head a faculty that is as old as the University that was established in 1948.
However, Prof. Oladosu did not see his success at becoming a Professor in UI at the age of 41 and other positions he has held as a result of his ability and hard work alone. Rather he considered it as a privilege and divine arrangement.
Studying Arabic language and Islam seems a choice he grew up to love particularly given his Muslim background. He started learning Arabic and Islamic culture very early in life and as such when he was offered admission into UI to study Arabic Language and Literature, that became a delight.
Speaking about his background, Prof Oladosu said, “We were privileged to have studied at institutions where cultures intersect, where the East meets the West. In other words, in our world back then, there is no East and there is no West. In our world back then, we learnt how to write from the left, the same way we were taught how to write from the left to the right. That is the kind of intersection I was talking about; that was the kind of environment in which I grew up.
“Besides, faith and destiny made it possible for me to attend the University of Ibadan where I read Arabic Language and Literature, where I studied Islam more closely. I travelled to Sudan, visited Egypt and other parts of the world. At the end of the day, I specialize in Middle East, North African Studies. My expertise is multifaceted; I have competence in cultural criticism and Middle East and North African studies.
“In other words, my worldview is ‘Quranic’ in the sense that the Quran sees the world as one entity which cannot be bifurcated; any attempt to contemplate the world simply as parts without looking at it as whole, one would fall into a kind of error that is similar to those into which the blind men who wanted to know the features of the elephant in the dark fell into. Their perception of the elephant in the dark, the latter being a metaphor for reality, eventually became invalid because they took parts of the elephant for the whole.
“I always encourage my mentees to look at the world as belonging to them; that the world lies in each and everyone of them; that they are products and producers of the world; that they have to overcome the accidents of birth, of race and of colour; that they have to see the other as a member of a larger family created by the Almighty.”
On his recent election as the dean of the Faculty of Arts and the differences between elections in the university system and the town, he said, “I agree with somebody who says, ‘everything in life is like an experiment, it falls or rises by its result.’ I am one of those who believe that occupation of public offices should not be a matter of life or death. Some years before, election on campus used to be an extension or metaphor for the electioneering processes in the larger society. But few years ago, I joined some colleagues in the academy here in calling for a return of dignity and decorum and the preservation of the traditions of the academy. Before the election, I told those close to me that whoever wins, that would be the will of the Almighty, nothing more. In fact, a particular incident comes to mind now. Before the election, a younger colleague in Department Y promised to support me but when another contestant and colleague emerged from his department he quickly sent a message to me saying ‘Prof, now that Prof XYZ has signified his intention to contest, he is my teacher and mentor, I don’t have option but to support him.” Immediately I read it, I smiled. I thereafter sent a reply to him as follows, ‘please give my colleague the maximum support you could; this election will not define us; we are greater than this election.’ I guess he would have laughed when he read my response; but that is the kind of posture I thought should all take on this topic. When eventually we went for the election and the ballots were counted, by God’s will, I became victorious. Being a Muslim, it is my firm belief that no leaf will fall from the tree except by His permission, To Him belongs all the glory.”
To Prof Oladosu, the election in the university system should be a model for the society because the campaign was issue-based and devoid of inducement. He said, “Unlike the recent elections in the country, campus elections are largely devoid of the shenanigans and the bad blood that have become the cankerworm that we see in the public sphere. In fact, one of my messages is that I stand for dignity; I stand for decorum. I won’t foul up and pollute the academy just because I have the desire, not and never an inordinate ambition to serve the academy in the capacity of the Dean of my Faculty. This was posture and position were equally that of my co-contestants. We contested the elections as colleagues; we saw it as a page in a book. If the larger society begin to see elections this way, as an opportunity to serve, our country will be better for it.”
He reminisced on his previous assignment as Sub-Dean (2005 to 2007) thus, “I was opportuned to work with a very humane and very energetic Dean by name, Professor Aduke Adebayo from the Department of European Studies. She provided the leadership that the faculty needed and I worked as an assistant to her. We have an annex in the faculty where my department, Philosophy and Theatre Arts are located. It was during her tenure that we did the flooring of the ground floor of the Annex. Other Deans have tried to build on that. But there are more to be done. I remember that I had to make allusion to that during the campaign before the election. And this is instructive- public office holders should always ask themselves: what am I going to be remembered for after I leave office? I also had the opportunity of serving the faculty as its representative at the Central Appointment and Promotion Committee where people’s “fate” are usually determined. I worked with the current DVC (Academic) who was then the Dean of Arts. We did the best we could to ensure that all the cases we took there were successful. We were thorough; we were methodical in our approach to matters concerning promotion of colleagues. In essence, service is all about adding value to people’s life when you are in public office; it is about being conscious of accountability not only to the Almighty who watches over all of us. These are the principles with which I work.”
As the first person from the department of Arabic and Islamic Studies to emerge as Dean of the faculty, he said, “With all humility, I say ‘yes’. But again to say ‘yes’ is to recognise and appreciate previous attempts made by one of my teachers namely, Prof. M. O. Abdulrahman, the Chief Imam of the University of Ibadan along this line. As faithful subjects, I firmly believe that things happen in line with His plans, the Almighty. So destiny has a way of working things out; it is either you work for it or people ask you to do it or you make effort to get it or you did not succeed in getting it. I give glory to the Almighty. I also appreciate deeply, the support I received from Prof Abdurahman who gave me the go ahead to contest.”
Oladosu said the issue of infrastructural decay in the faculty, being the oldest on campus, will attract his attention and his desire to rebrand the faculty will define his tenure. Promotion of lecturers and welfare of students also top his 12 points agenda to breath new life to the faculty.
Peeved by the misconception of people about faith and acquisition of knowledge, the eminent scholar said, “It is a manifestation of half literacy, in the sense that those who claim to know may actually not know and may not know that they do not know. They are the ones that say faith and knowledge are antithesis; opposites that do not meet. It is not correct. In a curriculum of our department we have a course titled: “Reason and Revelation.” Reason is about human faculty, ability of human beings to derive meaning from the material world and to see the extent to which knowledge of the materiality of the world would intersect with the knowledge yielded by revelation. What we mean by revelation is Quran. An example often cited with reference to the interaction between reason and revelation is what I alluded to previously- the story of blind men who desired to have knowledge of the elephant in the dark through their sensory organs only (the sense of touch).
So one of them touched the trunk of the elephant and quickly came to the conclusion that the elephant is like a pillar. Another one touched the elephant’s ear and said the elephant was like a fan. They touched different parts of the elephant and came to different conclusions. This is the metaphor for the circumstance of those who rely solely on reason as source of knowledge of the world. It shows that holistic knowledge of reality, of the world can only be provided by revelation. Thus, the only path to complete knowledge of entities in the world is that in which both reason and revelation are partners. What I am saying in essence is that knowledge and faith must go hand-in-hand.
“See what is happening now in the global word; in the United States for example. There you have a country found on reason and on reason only. There reason has made the ordinarily abhorrent fashionable; there men are getting tired of being men and women are getting tired of being women. All these are in part manifestations of the valorization of reason to the exclusion of revelation. Only God knows where the global north is headed. Coming back home, as Nigerians and men and women of faith, our counseling has always been that both reason and revelation must go together in order for us to have a sane world. Without that, we are going to descend into insanity.”