The fall of a Giant: A tribute to Prof. Olofin- Murtala Uba Mohammed
By Murtala Uba Mohammed (PhD)
“The source of concern is not in losing an erudite but getting his replacement” Hausa adage
It was around 1:54pm of Tuesday 14th June, 2022 that I learned about the death of the Emeritus Professor Emanuel Ajayi Olofin, popularly known as EAO among the staff of the Department of Geography, Bayero University, Kano (BUK).
The sad news was first broke to us on the departmental WhatApps platform by his colleague and our respected teacher, Professor J. Afolabi Falola. Although already octogenarian, the death came to many as a surprise because we were not aware that our professor was sick.
Born in 1941, Olofin started his Bachelor of Geography at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, but due to the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, he and his course mates, were transferred to the University Ife where he graduated.
He was also the first Nigerian to attend the Malaysian Premier University of Malaya for his master’s degree. He joined the services of BUK immediately after his return to Nigeria and later went to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria for his PhD where he specialized in Fluvial Geomorphology.
Professor Emanuel Ajayi Olofin was not only a teacher of teachers of Geography, his name was synonymous with Geography at BUK. Until his retirement from the services of Bayero University in 2015 and his subsequent demise, Olofin remained the first name to know and remember in the Department of Geography.
Until he left BUK, Olofin had been one of the most respected names in the defunct Faculty of Social and Management Science (SMS) and the University at large. While many at times scholar is respected for the depth of his/her knowledge or soundness of his/her character, Olofin was respected for his exquisite mastery of Geography and those who came across him would testify to that.
Here was a man who crossed the proverbial seven oceans, came to settle in a foreign land, and not only made a name but secured a good position, having been nicknamed mutumin kirki by the university community, which is located in a predominantly Muslim society. The Ekiti born Professor of Geography remained the longest serving staff in BUK and he served the University for forty one years (1974 to 2015).
I first heard the name Olofin in 2001 when I was still an IJMB student at the Kano State College of Arts, Science and Remedial Studies (CAS, Kano).
The name was mentioned several times by one of his students and my teacher, Malam Adamu Mustapha (now a Professor of Hydrology), during Landforms classes. When I was admitted to study B.Sc. Geography at BUK in the year 2003, my hope then was only to meet this man we were told that he was a reservoir and encyclopedia of geographical knowledge. Interestingly, he was the only person who was described in the Departmental Handbook as the Professor of Geography (others were either Professors of Rural, Water Resource or Soil Geography).
Throughout my level 200, I always yearned to meet him, thinking that he would teach us Kano Region (GEO 2201), for which he authored a book titled Some Aspect of Physical Geography of Kano Region together with Human Response, which remains, until now, the most authoritative guide for teaching the course. Unfortunately, that very year, the course was assigned to, and taught by, another veteran geographer and his only contemporary then, the late Mr. Oyeniyi.
The first course that connected me with Olofin was Introductory Geographical Hydrology (GEO 3214). Frankly speaking, I never came across any person teaching hydrology in a simple and innovative way as Olofin. In addition, I also attended his lectures of two level 400 courses, namely, Environment and Development (GEO4302) and System Approach to Geomorphology (GEO4325). For all his courses, Olofin did not only lecture us, as the tradition was in those days, but also recommended good teaching materials in addition to the books he had authored for which he gave as guides to student to xerox. The beauty of Olofin’s class was in its good illustration, use of lucid language, and deployment of humour and riddles as well as imparting good morals. In addition, Olofin had curved named for himself as embodiment of good character, whose course one hardly failed unless they were not either attending lectures or failed to sit for exam. It is well known that Olofin informed his students as to when he would take attendance.
I recalled that in one of his classes, Professor Olofin complained with a gloomy face that some students would fail a course no matter how much one tried. When we asked for his reason, he narrated what transpired between him and a course mate of ours. The story was that the student missed his test, which was announced weeks before it was conducted.
The student did not complain to the Professor, rather it was Olofin that came to the class and looked for the student; he asked the student to see him after the class. When the student went to his office, he queried if the student was ready to take the test and he responded that he was not ready. Instead, an assignment was given to the student to write before the closing hours.
The student submitted the assignment to the Professor in time, but when he checked the assignment he suspected that the writing looked so good to be ascribed to that student. Therefore, he passed a paper asking the student to write his name and registration number. Unfortunately, his handwriting was conspicuously different from the one on the assignment. Olofin asked the student, “who wrote the assignment for you?” After insisting, the student informed him that it was his friend, a lady that wrote it for him! He counseled the student to be committed to his studies and always be honest and forthright.
Professor Olofin had retired from active service and only taught as a contract staff when I joined the services of the Department in 2012. I could not recall a single time when he missed his lecture or refused to attend staff meeting, or submit his marked sheets/scripts late.
In fact, Olofin always submitted his marked sheet earlier than any staff of the Department in spite of his age and the fact that all the staff of the Department, except late A.D. Maiwada and Prof. J.A. Falola, were his students at their undergraduate or postgraduate levels.
Olofin can be described as jovial and accommodating in terms of inter personal relationships. I recall his famous joke and parable on Nigeria that when Almighty was creating nations of the earth, he gave each nation a resource or two, but when it came to Nigeria, he put so many resources under its land.
People out of inquisitiveness asked why did He do so? The Almighty replied: “wait and see the kind of humans I will populate it with”. This parable describes the real situation of the so-called “African Giant” that it is paradoxically rich and poor; it has all it takes to blossom as iroko but remains a low dwarf shrub due to its corrupt leadership and docile followership.
Olofin was not only an epitome of good character and knowledge, he was faithfully dedicated to his job. I can testify to this though not to extent of his old students. From the little I learned when we were neighbours (for his office was next to mine), he used his office hours mainly for writing, teaching and research.
He rarely engaged in frivolous discussion outside classroom or meeting. He was constantly working with his computer, reading different genres, and reviewing students’ dissertations/theses. It is for this that he was not only a geographer but a consummate poet and essayist. His anthology of poetry titled Lifeless Line is an eloquent testimony.
By way of conclusion, I wish to say that the death of Olofin is one of the greatest loss to Geography as a discipline and Nigerian academia. It is not only because he was the first Professor of Geography in BUK and the first in the Faculty of Social and Management Science; it is not because he was the longest serving member of the faculty; it is not because he was among the first five to be awarded Emeritus Professors in BUK; but because he was an amalgam of sound knowledge of his discipline, dedication to duty and moral uprightness.
In the realm of geographers, Olofin name can only be written with those of other giants such as Akin Mabogunje Nurudden Aloa and RK Udo. It is for these reasons, I write to extend my condolences to his family, colleagues, students, Bayero University, Association of Nigerian Geographers and academia at large.
Murtala, a lecturer at the Department of Geography, Bayero University Kano can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org