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The Weakness I Saw In Oriaku – Remi Raji 

Ola ‘Kiya, Reporting

PROFESSOR of Literature and award-winning literary poet, Remi Raji-Oyelade, has carefully pointed out the weakness of retiring Professor Remigius Onyejekwe Oriaku of the Department of English, University of Ibadan.

Stonix News reports that Prof Oriaku, who clocked 70 on Sunday December 4, 2022, eased out of the academic system formally on retirement.

Prof Remi-Raji, popularly known as Remraj in Ibadan literary corpus, in an Ode to the transgenerational academic, let out what he considered as the very weakness of the one who was his tutorial master, lecturer, colleague, fellow traveller and collaborator.

Identifying the hubris, the former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), posited, in his article he titled “Remigius Onyejekwe Oriaku: A Celebration,” thus:

“…I travelled with you regularly on the CUAP staff exchange programme between UI and Southern Illinois University, US, under the coordination of Professors Francis Egbokhare and Ronald Schaefer.

“So, I can conclude that you have a certain weakness: you lacked the ability for guile or doublespeak.

“You have been, indeed, a straightforward and congenial personality who speaks with care and proverbial indirection.

“In your relationship with both staff and students, your nature has been a fine composite of steadfastness, perseverance, industry and trained patience.

“Do you know you pick your words as the Samurai pick their swords, with calculated precision and deliberately?”

Read Remraj’s full tribute to Professor Oriaku, who’s reputed to have built generations of literary practitioners:

Remigius Onyejekwe Oriaku: A Celebration

ABOUT thirty-eight years ago, you served as an invigilator, under the supervision of Professor Dan Izevbaye, for one of the final year courses in the Department of English. That was four decades ago. Mr Oriaku is now Professor Oriaku, your active years fully dedicated to the training of generation of students who have had the good fortune of passing through the first Department of English in Nigeria’s higher education history. I was one of the students in that record-breaking class of 1984, a class of less than 50 students with 12 or 13 graduating with Second Class Upper degree. This was the class of Olakunle George, Oluseyi Balogun, Babajide Adetunmbi, Olufunmilayo Dukiya, Kehinde Adegbola, Mgbodo Ikkideh, Adenike Otubu, Morenike Soyinka and our three Cameroonian brothers including Cheng Oazutelegheife and Emmanuel Fru Doh. 

In those days, Heads of Department had the great freedom to search and recruit from anywhere the best lecturers who would add to the scholastic tradition of the disciplines. With your Bachelor of Arts (English) degree from Benin in 1980 and the MA earned in Ibadan in

1982, Prof Izevbaye must have gone to great length, like Pep Guardiola, to poach you and offer you the life-changing appointment in 1983. You would join the likes of Harry Garuba and Emevwo Biakolo to complete the triumvirate of the youngest tutors in the department. You taught my class in English Literature and the African Novel Tradition. In those days, Assistant Lecturers also took on the duties of tutorial masters. It was in the intimacy of the tutorial class that most memorable things between the taught and the teacher happened. With you, the most graphically remembered episode happened in the examination hall in our course in “Literary Theory, History and Criticism.” The details of the episode are less important as the lesson taken after our encounter. You may not remember vividly because I was only one of the members you attended to. But if you remembered the student who wrote down all 28 lines of the seven-stanza W. H. Auden’s “The Fall of Rome” in your sentry presence, that was it. As the invigilator, you wore the enthusiasm and alertness of a natural teacher on your sleeve. At that time, you must have noticed the stubbornness, a certain headstrong confidence, in this student of yours that you sought more information from Mr Garuba, the mentor and “assistant supervisor.” Our friendship started outside of the class.

As a young lecturer myself, arriving a decade after you joined the department, I saw things through your lecturer eye. I noticed that you were more tranquil than I thought. You were a quiet and regular member of the Poetry Club. You offered insightful critical advice to our creative writing and you used to join the Garuba-Biakolo train occasionally to the SUB after the reading/performance session in the historic Faculty of Arts Room 32. You were the proverbial lamp who gave illumination to space and to others, and must be acknowledged.

I have related with you for 40 years within and outside of the Department of English. I have heard you speak at departmental meetings, on the floor of ASUU, Board of Studies and at Senate among other situations. I have worked closely with you on the Postgraduate School Project when excellence defined choices and representations. I travelled with you regularly on the CUAP staff exchange programme between UI and Southern Illinois University, US, under the coordination of Professors Francis Egbokhare and Ronald Schaefer. So, I can conclude that you have a certain weakness: you lacked the ability for guile or doublespeak. You have been, indeed, a straightforward and congenial personality who speaks with care and proverbial indirection. In your relationship with both staff and students, your nature has been a fine composite of steadfastness, perseverance, industry and trained patience. Do you know you pick your words as the Samurai pick their swords, with calculated precision and deliberately?

This is what I would write were I to deliver your reference to a body of patrons: Professor Oriaku’s scholarship, in the African Novel Tradition and in the autobiography as a defining sub-genre for identity and image-making, remains a reference point for further intervention by other scholars in the literary field. During my tenure as the Dean of Arts, and without interference wth the directions of the award panel, Professor Oriaku was declared as the “Distinguished Lecturer of the Year 2014” in the Faculty of Arts. This I think is a sincere testimony to his status as a distinguished literary scholar and teacher.

After my memorable encounter with you in Room 71 on that gritty examination day in 1984, the rest has been literature, collaboration and friendship garnished by service and respect.

Here is to you, my tutorial master, lecturer, colleague, fellow traveller and collaborator, Professor Remigius Onyejekwe Oriaku. As you retire formally from the services of the University of Ibadan, and as you mark this special day, may the blessings of God continue to be with you and your family. I wish you many happy returns of the day in everlasting joy and sense of fulfilment. All best wishes, always. Happy birthday, sir.

Remi Raji 04/12/2022

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