By Sunny Awhefeada
It was with mixed feelings that I received the news of Professor Ademola Omobewaji Dasylva turning seventy and retiring from active university service. Mixed feelings because I rejoice with him on his attainment of this landmark age in good health, but at the same time I look back and see how time flies and undo a lot of things. Looking back, it appears as if it was just yesterday that the then Dr. Ademola Dasylva taught my postgraduate class in the Department of English at the University of Ibadan in 1998. Dr. Dasylva was a dynamo. Although not of a massive body frame, he was a very energetic and highly motivated teacher. Teaching for him is a calling and he taught with all his being.
My first encounter with him was through his book. I arrived at the University of Ibadan campus one Monday morning twenty four years ago and after making enquiries at the postgraduate school, I walked across to the university bookshop where my eyes caught a book titled Dramatic Literature: A Critical Source Book with the author’s name as Ademola Dasylva. The information on the author says he teaches literature in the Department of English at the University of Ibadan, the same department where I was to study for the next few years. I was excited. I bought the book and finished reading it in three days.
I then waited with excitement to meet the author in person in the classroom.
That moment of physical meeting came a week later when he walked into the classroom to teach us ENG 756 Oral Literature.
He appeared ascetic in dressing in a way that I liked. Ever so besotted by Marxist inclinations, I was elated that somebody who appeared like a Marxist was going to teach me at a time when all the Marxists had either recanted or bolted in search of greener pastures.
What was more ideologically exciting for me was the discovery that his car was Volkswagen beetle! When he spoke, his voice was loud, clear, convincing and authoritative. He spoke and taught with the confidence of a teacher who knew his onions. He seems to have packed so much in his head and he taught effortlessly. He was to give assignments and seminar topics for us to write on.
The next few weeks saw us presenting seminars during which we took positions, expressed our views and in some instances took Dr. Dasylva to task. Some of us questioned his views on some aspects of oral literature and he took our objections in good faith. He was humble enough to explain his position and on one occasion asked me to write my own essay on the subject of our disagreement and we all laughed.
A good teacher as already noted, he was also a disciplinarian of the first order. He never brooked sloppiness of any kind. He emphasized simplicity and clarity of expression in speech and writing. Some of us who wanted to impress him with “isms” and “tions” had to descend from our high horse. He set a standard that he wanted us to get used to.
Those ahead of us in the programme had warned us about the lecturers’ zero tolerance for lateness to class or submission of assignment. The recurring names of lecturers in my set were Dr. Remy Oriaku, Dr. Obododinma Oha and Dr. Remi Raji, all of them professors now. They cited practical examples of those who failed because they submitted take-home examination late. Dr. Dasylva split the class into five groups for seminar presentation. When the day of our presentation came, the fellow assigned to type the paper came late for the morning class scheduled for eight o’clock. My group was the first to be called for presentation, but our paper was not available. That was red card for everybody in the group. Although, the fellow with the paper came in about fifteen minutes later, our appeal to be allowed to present was spurned. The sanction for that infraction was loss of marks for presentation and it affected the grade of everybody in my group for that particular course. Some of us felt bad, but our lecturer was right. Lateness must not be condoned in academics. It was part of the training.
I was fortunate to function as a teaching assistant and I taught courses in drama and poetry under Dr. Dasylva and the late Professor Sam Asein. It was a massive learning curve for me. Dr. Dasylva had by then become the Head of Department, while Professor Asein was Dean of the Faculty of Arts. They were very busy and the lot fell on me to do much of the teaching. Dr. Dasylva guided me and taught me many things about life as an academic. He was very free with me and we discussed a lot. We spent a lot of time together even in the office on Saturdays. He called my name with a fondness that was avuncular. There were times we rode in his famous beetle car to different parts of Ibadan and I was thrilled that at last I was in company of a teacher with Marxist inclinations.
He was quite vociferous and spoke against bad governance with a passion. He condemned acts of malfeasance within and outside the campus and it was quite easy to know on what side of the moral divide he ranged.
When my supervisor, the late Professor Asein, passed away in 2002, it was Dr. Dasylva and Dr. Oriaku, as they then were, who intervened to save my doctoral studies. Both of them, incidentally supervised by Professor Asein, jointly supervised my thesis and ensured that I obtained the PhD. They were thorough and profound in their appreciation and evaluation of literature. After completing my studies and bidding Ibadan farewell, I was to meet him at different fora and during my occasional visits to Ibadan. He always looked younger than his age, agile in physique and mind. In discussion after discussion, his views remained as strong and as profound and original as they were many years ago when he first taught me. His fertile mind has also produced a remarkable body of poems in the award winning collection titled Songs of Odamolugbe (2006) which I had the privilege of reviewing for The Guardian.
Professor Dasylva’s pursuit of scholarship is profound, convincing and consistent. He ran a cultural studies group, published seminal books and travelled extensively within and outside Nigeria to attend to academic matters. He was a culture exponent. He became the Dean of the Faculty of Arts in later years. Professor Dasylva’s story is multilayered in a number of ways. Born as Michael Anthony into a Catholic family, he dropped off Catholicism, but remained in the Christian fold and if I remember clearly he wore the pastor’s collar and may be still wears it. He was an activist and may be a radical unionist earlier in life having played a significant role in the emergence of the College of Education Academic Staff Union during his days at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo. When the military took Nigerians for a ride and it was time to route them, Dasylva stood up to be counted in the vanguard of the struggle against military dictatorship. He is also a committed family man who shares a strong bond with his wife and children. I know his first son, and look alike, Gbenga quite well.
Professor Dasylva, my teacher, is an example of what the Yoruba call omoluwabi! I celebrate him and pay him tribute as he turns seventy and takes a bow from active service. Like many other academics pushed into retirement as they became septuagenarian, Professor Dasylva still has a lot to offer the world of academics and humanity. We will continue to draw inspiration from him and teach what he taught us; read your books, let nobody come late to my class, be of good behaviour…..
Congratulations and Happy birthday, Sir!!!