Education: Ogo Ofuani @ 70

By Sunny Awhefeada,



My class in the Department of English and Literature at the University of Benin resumed in the early days of 1992.

Having stayed at home for an unusually long stretch of time, our eager feet saw us rushing to UNIBEN, as it was and still known, to resume as fresh men and women, popularly called jambites. It was a trying moment for many reasons. The screening process was complex, tedious and tasking if not daunting.

The Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) had conducted two examinations in the previous year, 1991, arising from some socio-political disruptions which affected the school calendar. Successful candidates in both examinations were herded into the universities as one set. What followed was overcrowding which frustrated every activity we were engaged in.

That experience tried our patience no end. January, which was the month in which we resumed, was not the friendliest of months. The harsh harmattan wind blew hardship into our lives. Broken lips, dried and white skin, clogged nostrils and general unease were our lot. Dust and haze buffeted us, but we didn’t give up. Like the travellers in T. S. Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”, we plodded on, concluded our registration formalities, began lectures and waited for that memorable ceremony and rite of admittance called matriculation.

My experience was particularly difficult as a typing error led to the omission of my name from the admission list. It was the intervention of the then Drs. Tony Afejuku and A. R. Yesufu that saved the day for me.

In the course of registration, we were handed many documents. One of which was the faculty handbook. It contained information about all the departments in the Faculty. Each student excitedly ran through the pages to look at his or her department and get familiarized.

Alphabetically, the Department of English and Literature occupied the initial pages. With mounting excitement, I looked at the staff list and the academic qualifications attached. It was impressive: Professors Romaus Egudu, Steve Ogude, Virginia Ola, Drs. Okpure Obuke, F. Okeke-Ezigbo, V. U. Longe, M. C. Onwuemene, R. Masagbor, Ogo Ofuani, A. R. Yesufu, C. G. Okafor, A. E. Afejuku, Titi Ufomata and younger names, then without strings of degrees, like Stella Ugwu, Diri Teilanyo, Tunde Adeleke and Toyin Adepoju. The Faculty building which housed the Department was a massive complex with stolid walls that looked impenetrable and intimidating.

The building exuded a density and inspired an awe that haunted us while we studied in UNIBEN. Those years were made up of tough and nervous days.

In the Department were offices with doors bearing the names we had encountered in the faculty handbook.

That was thirty years ago. Looking back, and I do so most nostalgically, I remember all the names on the door and their positions, which came first and what part of the building. We actually didn’t meet or see some of the bearers of those names for the nearly five years that we spent in UNIBEN as they drifted with the brain drain of the 1990s to America and Europe. Today, as I look back, some of them are no more having gone the way of all mortals. I salute them. This piece, as the title indicates, is a tribute essay to Ogo Ofuani, one of the names mentioned above. Professor Ogochukwu Augustine Ofuani recently turned seventy and retired from active university service. When word got to me a few days to his retirement, I was compelled to look back at the period spanning 1992 to 1996. What I saw or recalled was a light skinned handsome man. Smart and neatly dressed, a bit distant, unsmiling, but ironically very pleasant and warm when spoken to. We had no encounter with him in our first two years, but our seniors had told us that he was “a wizard” when it came to Syntax and Stylistics. Some of us were anxious wanting to encounter him, but we had to wait till we got to our third year.

The then Dr. Ofuani walked into our class for the first time in early 1995 and introduced himself as our lecturer for Advance English Syntax I. We held our breath as he reeled out the course outline and recommended textbooks. He took us down memory lane to remind us what we had done or known about Syntax as fresh and sophomore students. Dr. Ofuani didn’t look at any book or paper for the two hours that he taught that inaugural class. Yet, each statement he made was apt and Quirk, Leech and Greenbaum who wrote that famous book on Syntax would have nodded and applauded him. He wiped the board no less than five times because he wrote examples on it as he spoke. When the class was over, many of us concluded that we were in trouble because it wasn’t going to be easy to satisfy such a masterful mind. It was in our third year that he became the acting head of department. He was also active in the activities of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which he served as UNIBEN chapter secretary.

Dr. Ofuani again surfaced as our Stylistics lecturer in our final year which ran from around January to December 1996. By this time, we had come to know him as a very amiable personality. All he wanted from us was diligence and no sloppiness. He was kind enough to lend us scarce books. He was principled, disciplined and unyielding when it came to standards. His Stylistics classes were lively, very much unlike cold and stony Syntax. He was then an Associate Professor. It was after we had graduated that he was promoted to the rank of professor and backdated to 1993! Years later, Professor Ofuani had his season of migration to the South when he sojourned in Southern Africa. However, unlike his other compatriots, Professor Ofuani always returned to Nigeria and UNIBEN.

Educated at the University of Ibadan and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Ofuani worked with Guinness Nigeria Ltd., before the pull to academe.

He spent forty-three years teaching generations of students at the University of Benin and was at different times, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and the Dean of Students’ Affairs. Married with children and grandchildren, I last met him three years ago at an event organized to honour distinguished alumni of the Department and I had a long interaction with him.

He was delighted that I had become not just a professor, but Dean of Faculty. As we interacted, my mind went back to the days he taught us in classrooms B1 and B2 and I was overwhelmed with emotion, a student and his good old teacher! He waved at me as I got driven off and I cried. Professor Ofuani wrote a strong recommendation for me when I applied for postgraduate studies at Ibadan in 1998.

To him I pay tribute this day as he clocks three score and ten! Professor Ofuani was passionate as a teacher, his brilliance was sparkling and he inspired many of us to sign up for academic excellence. He was our impactful teacher. This is wishing Professor Ogochukwu Augustine Ofuani many more years of good health and everything good. Congratulations, Sir!!!

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