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Avoidable Losses of Distinguished Nigerians Lives: Late Prof Festus Iyayi

Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi

By Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Prof. Festus Iyayi was said to have been born on September 29, 1947 in Ugbegun in Ishan, Edo State of Nigeria. He rose from the obscure and became a Professor of Business Administration and head of the Department of Business Administration, University of Benin in Nigeria. He had many publications to his credits in both National and International Journals in his area of studies. He was also a literary writer, having published some fictional novels. His work had earned him the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He died at the age of 66 years when unfortunately he was involved in an auto-crash while on ASUU services possibly to end the much awaited ASUU 4-month old strike.

Former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Festus Iyayi

Former president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Festus Iyayi

He was well trained. He was educated at Annunciation Catholic College, Edo State and Government College Ughelli, Delta State. He had obtained a Master Degree in Industrial Economics from the Kiev Institute of Economics in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and a PhD from the University of Bradford, England. He had a balanced training in both western and eastern axis. His training in Russia might have influenced his overall activities and life. He is a pioneer of social realism, a literary approach that analyses society and its problems in Marxist terms. His works deal with the everyday oppression of the common man by his fellow Africans and clearly describe the concept of class struggle. His novel, Violence has been referred to as one of the first truly proletarian novels in Nigeria. Thus he might not have been a friend of our rulers who soon after assuming office always promote themselves to living above the law.

Thus the Nigerian students, who were eagerly looking forward to a resolution of the stand-off between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and their parents, are the first victims. ASUU has pushed off their meeting for a resolution to end the strike because of the lost of a dear colleague and a comrade. Prof. Festus Iyayi had been a former national president of ASUU, who was a committed promoter of a just social system, improved welfare for university teachers, a society that is equitable to all and one that promotes dignity in human labour. They may have to stay off campus a few more days. All that are happening are no accidents but they happen so that things must go through their full cycles before the dusts can settle. A ball must hit the ground before it can bounce back high. The only surprise is why Prof Iyayi or the others that are critically injured at this time? We must be able to read the times and these events.

Prof Iyayi had been a renowned non-conformist and he died in the course of prosecuting the battle in which ASUU had been engaged with the Federal Government of Nigeria. He was fighting for the revitalisation and improvement of the Nigeria University System; the course we also believe in. He was the leader of ASUU from 1986 to 1988. In the course of his leadership of ASUU the then military junta led by Gen Babangida proscribed the union and Iyayi was detained. He suffered interdiction, loss of job and was jailed for the cause of ASUU, but he stood by the union all through. He was on his way to Kano alongside other members of ASUU, where they were billed to attend the NEC meeting in which the final and crucial decision on the position of ASUU on the protracted ASUU strike was to be taken. That was his last battle. Hence the academic communities, the intellectuals, Nigerian leaders including the governors and the presidents would miss him. He was big enough and would no doubt remain in our mind as a benchmark of his own right.

The incidence and circumstance of his death in a road mishap ought to bring to mind the recklessness of siren-blaring “big-boys” in Nigeria. These big-boys (and big-girls too) are the so called Presidents, Governors, Ministers and many political office holders who think that the other road users are less important; to them we, other road users, must leave or die because they perceive us as potential enemies rather than friends, relations or electorates. Yet these are the first officers whose first responsibility is to build our roads, be role models in all manners of behaviours and be duly patient so that we learn from them. Instead their agents like the Nigeria Police, Road Safety Corps and all others assist them to wipe us from the road forgetting temporarily that they too are ordinary commoners. Hence the Prof Iyayi’s death may help us to continue the struggle he was unable to complete. Any of ASUU’s struggle, caused by the passing away of Prof Iyayi, must genuinely continuously be on the improvement of our society until it is a just and equitable for all. I happen to believe that Prof. Iyayi was lucky to have died this way in the public eyes and not as the military junta might have wished him or his colleagues. In any case each one of us will be dying soon or later, only the when, where and the how remain.  Therefore let us be less sorrowful but sending our condolences to each other especially the family he left with us.

For the few that knew him we would recall that Prof Festus Iyayi lived a life as a struggle. He translated his life into writing novels of his radical and sometimes tough stance on social and political issues. Iyayi employed a realistic style of writing, depicting the social, political and moral environment and system both the rich and poor live and work in. This is where I believe that his brief sojourn with the Russians took hold of him passionately. Communism is an excellent ideology but nobody has been found truthful to it.

Obviously late Prof Festus Iyayi was a towering moral figure and indefatigable warrior in the people’s army when it comes to academics, social issues and justice to humanity. He had a deep resentment to oppression of man by man for whatever cause. We are all going to miss him greatly. Nevertheless we must draw some consolation from his life and his death, from his writings and his administration as ASUU leader or HOD in Uniben. Let us not be sad therefore but mourning him with our heads held high on our shoulders because we all have only one life each to live. What we do with it makes a great difference to our society that is fast fading away and becoming death traps wherever we turn but where leaders hesitate and linger on decision taking until the whole society is on fire. Tomorrow the next victim may be two governors blowing sirens on each other on the patchy and narrow pot-holes filled called roads.

Prof. R.A. Ipinyomi,
ipinyomira@yahoo.co.uk or/and raipinyomi@unilorin.edu.ng
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